Guilty Gear and the Importance of Rollback Netcode

Guilty Gear has seen many iterations throughout the years, most recently being the Xrd series, with each new title being a refinement of the last entry and a focus on tight, concise gameplay. Xrd and each of its new subreleases (Revelator, REV 2, and Sign) were most definitely great fighting games in their own right, that were a blast to play with a very striking art style. That being said, as much as I could laud over them for how many hours I spent labbing with every character (but mostly just Potemkin), they were missing something crucial that its sister title. Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus R received from the outset that would have been vital to Xrd’s lifespan from the very beginning. Funnily enough, this is because XXAC+R started out as a fan project, but Arc System Works actually found out about the work the team behind the game were implementing and then immediately hired them to finish the project and Aksys would release it as an official Guilty Gear game, which is a story that deserves an article of its own. But what is this crucial element that XXAC+R received that Xrd did not? The excellent addition of Rollback Netcode implementation. For the readers who do not know, allow me to give a brief explanation of Rollback Netcode and why it is what I would consider to be a crucial component in the longevity, or one might even say survival, of fighting games in general.

The normal Netcode that most multiplayer and fighting games use that the average consumer is aware of is delay-based. It is the most well-known and widespread, but hang around those who have been in the Fighting Game Community for any length of consistent time and you will hear the hushed whispers of those who wish their favorite games ditched the dinosaur delay-based tyranny for smooth, tight Rollback. You see, fighting games are used to process both player inputs at the same time, however when your online opponent’s inputs are received they need to be sent over the network to be displayed to you on your side of the match, they will inevitably be delayed as a result. Thereby the game needs a method to deal with these late inputs to make it seem as close as possible that said opponent is playing locally right next to you, fitestick or pad in hand. Delay-based is the most common way to deal with this, so what does it do?

What is Delay-Based Netcode?

Simply put, Delay-Based Netcode delays the local player’s (in this case you) inputs by the necessary number of frames to match accordingly with their online opponent. It makes your inputs slower so the fight seems closer to local play. If you input a low punch that takes three animation frames offline, it would make that punch come out in six frames instead of three, that way the three extra frames could be used to process your opponent’s inputs and be sent to you via the network and would match accordingly. As a result of the delay, your input timing and reactions will drastically differ online, making the timing you have gotten so used to during the mix-ups and combos you have practiced near completely irrelevant. No match will feel the way you want it to, and that isn’t even counting internet spikes or connection issues. Consistency is the end all be all word us FGC freaks love. Consistency in how something feels, and how it plays. So, what exactly can we do to make consistent online matches to where you, the local player, aren’t being delayed by near DOUBLE your framedata to match your opponent?

What is Rollback Netcode?

Enter sweet baby Rollback. So what does it do since the frames can never perfectly match up for a local and online player since no matter how good your connection is, they are not right next to you? Simply put, it does not delay you at all. The local player’s inputs aren’t delayed whatsoever, and they are transmitted online as if they were being put in offline. Instead, it simply rolls back (hence the name) time itself ala King Crimson style your online opponent’s inputs to match their frames up consistently with yours. It fixes the mistakes of the frame delay by correcting the past on your screen. Yes, it’s as good as it sounds. When those inputs are missing initially, the player will have gone through time when your player pressed that button or did that action, and the game you are playing would have shown a different result on screen, and the way Rollback fixes this, is it rewinds the simulation how it played out in the netcode’s head and fixes it, applying your opponent’s input and displaying it to you immediately. Your three-frame low punch we were talking about earlier that gets delayed to six frames to match? Instead, now your opponent’s input is being rolled back to reach three frames earlier. Simply put, it’s fucking Godlike consistency in comparison to Delay-Based.

So then the question becomes, why is Delay-Based Netcode still used? Honestly, the main reason is how much more effort it takes to implement proper Rollback for development teams, is not worth the effort and extra money and time publishers are willing to throw at it, and close to half of Japanese publishers do not know the difference between them. For fighting games as a whole, the big heads of the staple franchises like Capcom and SNK, are convinced that the fans will happily accept the worst delay-based they could possibly fit inside the game, and for the most part, they are right. SFV has sold roughly 4.5 million copies as of me writing this, and yet still the Netcode is still notoriously broken. How does all of this information relate to Strive? I’ll inform you of why. Arc System Works announced from day one that they were using Rollback for Strive, and when the beta was dropped, to say that there was hardly any downtime waiting for matches and every match was fantastic with no disconnects nor delay spikes would be an understatement.

The Hype Is Real

Guilty Gear Strive is not only a fantastic fighting game from what I have played of the Beta, but it is vitally important for fighting games and the future of Netcode. There has been an absolutely monumental roar from fans about how smooth it is and how much they want more of this same online experience for different future titles from other developers. So much so that Arc System Works has talked about going back and adding Rollback into previous Guilty Gear titles! Guilty Gear Strive still brings us the many characters fans have come to know and love throughout the years such as Sol Badguy, Ky Kisuke, Chipp, Baiken, Faust, May, and my boy, the armor clad of faith himself Potemkin. It also brings us an absolutely flooring OST released so far including Smell of the Game and Society, but most importantly, it will bring us, the players, the freedom of being uncaged by the prison of horrid online match-ups. I could go on and on about the new and old mechanics introduced to the game such as wall-breaks, Roman Cancels, and Faultless Defense, but there will be another time in the near future when that will happen, and I’ll have plenty to say then around June.

The hype for Strive is real, everyone, for anyone who loves fighting games or this community as much as I do, I can’t recommend you get on this quick enough. Feel the difference in online matchmaking and what it should be for a fighting game made by people who care about the experience of the people who play it and convey that passion for their work through every frame of animation and every pixel and particle effect off each character. As of June 11th, 2021, if you have a stick gathering dust in the peripheral closet, blow it off and break it out, because hundreds of thousands are going to collide, because they already know the Smell of the Game. I’ll catch you all in the lobbies.

Find out more about Guilty Gear Strive at the official website: https://www.guiltygear.com/ggst/en/