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Sunder Iyer
Sunder Iyer

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Core Mechanics of Fighting Games

This document describes fundamental concepts found in the Fighting Game video game genre. The target audience should be familiar with video games but need not have played Fighting Games before. By the end of this document, the audience will be familiar with Fighting Games and primed to enjoy some virtual combat!

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Victory Conditions
  3. Achieving Victory
  4. Importance of Time and Space
  5. Conclusion
  6. References


A Fighting Game is a type of video game where Players engage in close-range bouts with Avatars. An Avatar is a graphical representation of the Player and is more often called a Character. Bouts are generally fought between two Players within a limited space and limited time. The goal of each Player is to defeat their opponent by providing well-timed input to the video game. The Characters have different abilities and react to input in different ways.

Because of the variation in Characters and Player abilities, bout outcomes are uncertain. This uncertainty leads to exciting moments that fans of the genre crave and adore. Alongside unpredictability, fans love Fighting Games for its visual spectacle and cultural representation. And because it's in a video game, anyone can take part and have fun!

Victory Conditions

Fighting Game sessions consist of Matches and Matches consist of Rounds. Since Fighting Games are games of contest, a Match must have a Winner and a Loser. Because Matches need to conclude, the number of Rounds is finite, commonly 1, 3, 5 or 7. The Winner wins the maximum number of Rounds first; the Loser does not.

The purpose of a Round is to defeat the opponent. To do this, Players must deplete a finite resource that represents the opponent's Character's ability to play. The name of this resource may vary from game to game but it is often called Health and denoted by HP for Health Points. It may also be called Energy. A display element called Life Bars commonly depicts this resource onscreen. Since the outcome of the Round revolves around the values of these resources, Life Bars are prominently shown at the top of the screen. Some games supplement (or even forego) Life Bars by depicting these statistics on the Character itself. These include:

  • body damage such as bruises and gashes on humans
  • removal of armor or appendages
  • special visual effects such as sparking or bleeding

When a Player's Character runs out of HP, the Character can no longer fight; thus the Player can no longer play and has lost the Round. But, if all opponents of the Player lose all HP, the Player wins the Round.

When Matches impose Time Limits, the Players need to win the Round before time runs out. If the timer expires before a Round is won by any Player, the Player with the most HP wins the Round.

Note: It is sometimes possible for all Players to run out of HP at the same time or to have the same amount of HP when time runs out. This condition is rare but can still occur! It is called a Draw. Draws can be resolved in a few ways:

  • Award the Round to all Players
  • Award the Round randomly to one Player
  • Nullify and Restart the Round
  • Enter a special Tiebreaker Round

Tiebreakers can have different rules but a common one is Sudden Death. In Sudden Death, the Player causing the first resource depletion (of any amount) wins the Round.

Achieving Victory

If a Player wants to win, all their opponents need to lose the resource that allows them to fight. This can be done conceptually in three ways.


The most common way of reducing HP is to connect an attack onto the opponent. The Player performs inputs which cause the Character to attack. If the Character's attack fails to connect with the opponent's Character, it is a miss and no HP is lost. If it does connect, the opposing Character loses some predetermined amount of HP. If enough attacks connect, the Player can completely deplete their opponent's HP and win the Round. But most attacks come with some cost and risk so Players need to evaluate and execute as needed.


Ill-timed attacks can place Characters into states where they are more susceptible to an opponent's attacks. It's in the Player's best interest to enable their opponents to reach such a condition. This is accomplished by letting opponents attack them while in a defensive state. This may be called Defending or Blocking. While blocking an attack, a Player can avoid HP loss; if they do lose HP, it's often a fraction of what they would have lost if they weren't defending. The trade-off is it can create a window of opportunity for powerful Counter-Attacks. Some games also feature Evasion and Parrying techniques to accomplish the same.


Positioning or the placement of the Characters is crucial. Often, it determines whether attacks connect. But in Fighting Games where the Stages (arenas where fights occur) can affect HP, displacement is an important tactic! For example, some Stages contain hazards like spikes or electric fences. By forcing opponents into those hazards, it can cause them to lose HP. In some games, the Character can also be removed from the Stage if they are too close to its boundaries. In other games, any Character displacement off the stage immediately depletes its HP to zero resulting in a condition called Ring Out!

Importance of Time and Space

It should be no surprise that timing and positioning are critical elements of Fighting Games. For example, most attacks have a distinct starting phase called Windup. This is the period when the Character prepares to execute an attack. Attacks that have a long Windup generally cause a lot of HP loss. But they are also prone to interruption by attacks with shorter Windups! Quicker attacks may cause less HP loss to the opponent but with perfect timing, they can disrupt a stronger incoming attack. Being good at fighting games is about being in the right place, at the right time, making the right move.


The core concept of Fighting Games is simple: deplete your opponent's ability to fight. But the depth and strategy involved in doing this is immense. It's easy to learn but challenging to master.


Information from this guide is sourced from personal experience with the genre. Other references include:

Cover Image Credit: Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

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