As Melee gets older, many people in the community have begun speculating about Nintendo releasing an HD version for the Nintendo Switch. There's currently a large number of barriers to entry for people trying to get into competitive Smash Bros. Melee. You need a Wii or Gamecube, a CRT Television, a Gamecube controller, and a copy of Melee itself. Thanks to Nintendo releasing new Smashball controllers for Smash 4, controllers are thankfully easy to find and fairly cheap, but the rest can be fairly rare and expensive, especially getting a copy of Melee. Bringing Melee to a newer platform would allow newcomers to get into the game more easily and would significantly ease tournament setup and it could potentially include an official online play mode on actual hardware, but despite these obvious advantages to a Melee HD rerelease, I think that the potential downsides of Melee HD are too dangerous to make it a worthwhile proposition.
The most obvious issue with a rerelease of Melee is the question of which version of Melee they would use. Would they use the NTSC 1.02 version of the game, which is currently the preferred competitive standard, or would they use the PAL version, which was released later and has a number of balance changes and bug fixes? While the PAL version is arguably better balanced, most players enjoy and prefer the NTSC version of the game, because the top tier characters are more powerful and have more options, which makes them more fun to play. Given that the focus of competitive play is just the top tier characters in both PAL and NTSC, this makes the NTSC version of the game more fun for most players, where they can still spike people with Marth's down air, and the late hit of Falco's Down air, or perform Sheik's chaingrabs.
Beyond the issue of just the version, could we trust Nintendo not to tamper with the way the game works? Capcom had a similar issue with Street Fighter 2: HD Remix and Street Fighter III 3rd Strike: Online Edition. HD Remix was a complete rebalance of the game, but ended up being poorly received by the community. Thankfully the designers of SF2: HDR had the forethought to include the original version of the game, so players who were unhappy with the new balance changes could still play with the old version of the game, but ultimately players ended up moving back to older releases of SF2, due to subtle engine differences. When Capcom was considering whether to release a version of SF3 with similar balance patching, they asked the community what they wanted and we ended up with 3rd Strike Online Edition as a completely true to the original port, right down to the game crashing when you kill Makoto with Ken's Knee pummel grab. Some people like Bafael and Mike Z later lamented that such a balance patch didn't happen, but their lamentations weren't available when the game was being considered for rerelease. Changes can potentially improve a game, but would Nintendo be in tune enough to make the right changes? Would we accept changes in the first place, even if they were the right ones?
With Nintendo put in a similar place, would they release the game as-is with no changes, or would they try to issue their own corrections? Many Melee detractors like to joke about Nintendo releasing a version of Melee HD where all the bugs and exploits used in competitive play are fixed, viewing it as just punishment for the competitive players who, in the view of detractors, play the game "wrong". While the glitch status of things like Wavedashing are debatable, other oddities such as the Invisible Ceiling Glitch are a lot more clear-cut and may be removed without regard for whether they have a positive or negative effect on the game. And unlike Capcom, who rounded up a bunch of America's top players to balance SF2 HD Remix, it's unlikely that the competitive playerbase would be consulted on these changes to the game, given Nintendo's current lack of response or support for the Smash Bros competitive scene. Balancing a game is tricky, especially without the input of high-level players. Making the right changes requires data and experience over a long period of time, which Nintendo by themselves do not have. The PAL version, while arguably better balanced, still has some erroneous balance decisions that nerf characters who don't need it, like Ganondorf and Captain Falcon. Further highlighting how tricky it is to balance a game, the PAL nerf to Marth's weight is actually a small buff, because making him lighter barely pushes him past the breakpoint where Fox's waveshine will work on him.
Assuming they put together a satisfying release of the base game, there's still the issues of handling new features added to the game. Would Melee HD support Gamecube Controllers? Would it support control rebinding, like newer Smash Games? How would the netplay and matchmaking be implemented? Despite Smash Bros for Wii U having gamecube controller support, we don't know if this would be guaranteed for a Switch Port. The Gamecube controller converter for Smash for Wii U does not have compatibility for any other Wii U game. While it is possible that they could code drivers for it in Melee HD on Switch, they may neglect to do so because the Switch itself does not have a standard USB Port, only the Switch's dock has a standard USB slot, while the Switch unit itself has a USB-C port, which the existing Wii U Gamecube Controller Converter is not compatible with. A lot of the way Smash Bros Melee is played is connected to the Gamecube controller itself, which was a part of the controversy over the Smashbox. Losing Gamecube controller support would be a significant blow to long-time fans of the game.
On top of that, a Switch Port would inevitably mean introducing new control methods for Melee, and with them the possibility of custom control binding, as has appeared in later Smash games. While it's a small issue, Melee up to this point has not had any form of custom control binding, and even mods such as 20XX TE have refused to implement even small rebinds such as disabling tap jump on the basis that doing so would change the way the game is played, however slightly, and a competitive mod of the game should not have any gameplay differences that would give someone an advantage, even a play-style advantage, when playing on a 20XX TE setup versus a normal unmodded setup. While this is probably one of the most minor problems, it may still be an issue of contention.
Implementing quality Netplay has its own set of hurdles. Building a quality server architecture to support a large number of online players is a tricky undertaking in of itself, as Street Fighter V and Tekken 7's launches have shown, but perhaps more important is the implementation of the actual netcode. Fighting games require higher quality netcode than any other type of online game due to the fast speed at which actions can occur and the way in which landing an attack on your opponent can interrupt the opponent's attack, rather than both attacks completing successfully without issue. There's two general styles of netcode that are generally used for fighting games, Delay and Rollback, and history has generally shown that Rollback is the better of these two methods.
If you want a simplified explanation of how these work, in the video above, there is a talk by Mike Z explaining the differences between the two methods. Rollback makes tight inputs much more consistent, and Melee has a large number of frame-perfect and generally tight inputs that are made significantly harder by Delay-based netcode. Currently Dolphin emulation uses a Delay-based netcode solution, as does every console version of Smash Bros. Street Fighter V uses a rollback netcode solution, which is a significant improvement over previous netcode implementations for Capcom fighting games, though it's not quite as good as GGPO, the current best rollback netcode implementation for fighting games. Japanese companies have not adopted GGPO due to Japanese corporate values http://beaconreports.net/the-cost-of-japans-missed-ict-revolution/, and it's unlikely that Nintendo would be an exception here, given they're already not in touch with developments in the fighting game genre. So Melee HD would probably have bad netcode, likely worse than the delay netcode already present in Dolphin, which has had a considerable amount of work put into it by the dedicated coders of the Dolphin emulator and Anther's Ladder.
UFGTX: How to Make Fighting Games
With Netplay comes the issues of matchmaking. If there is a competitive mode similar to For Glory in Smash Bros for Wii U, then will it necessarily use the competitive ruleset? Anther's Ladder has done a great job implementing this for netplay with dolphin, only using the legal competitive stages and having proper stage striking, albeit, with everyone on the honor system regarding reporting. Would a competitive matchmaking mode by Nintendo do the same, or just set every match on Final Destination? Would they even use 4 stocks and 8 minutes? Would they enforce anti-stalling rules, or outright remove elements like Wobbling? Would they allow you to play by this ruleset outside the competitive mode, even though most casual players don't even like time mode? The ranking system might be a wash too, but honestly, it is for most fighting games besides street fighter.
Despite all of this, maybe Melee HD could actually turn out fine, or at least passable. Even if the netplay is ruined or there's a few superfluous features added, or there is no GC Controller support while undocked, we still have the base game on a modern system in HD. But lets be honest, how likely is this to happen, given we're dealing with Nintendo? Nintendo isn't exactly known for the most consistent business decisions, such as limiting the NES Classic Edition to selling for exclusively the holiday season, despite a much larger ongoing demand for the device existing. Other examples of questionable decision making would include Metroid Federation Force being their followup to a long gap in Metroid Sequels, long-held refusal to implement a more modern account system for digital game purchases on the Wii and Wii U, insistence on archaic friend codes even on the Nintendo Switch, trying to ban the broadcasting of Smash Bros Melee at Evo 2013, minor to non-existent involvement in Smash Tournaments since then, and omitting Smash Bros from their new series of Invitational Tournaments. https://twitter.com/NintendoVS Nintendo has not really made any attempt to convey that it cares about the interests of the Smash Melee community, and given all the potential vectors for failure here, what's the likelihood of a release that lives up to our expectations?
So is it worth it? If something goes wrong, then this could mean a split in the community between the new version and the old version, which might harm the scene more than if nothing changed. We've weathered bad times for Melee before, like when Brawl came out, and this likely won't be as bad, but it's still a possibility. Given all the possible means of failure, is this something to hope for considering the risks involved? The Melee community has sustained itself for 16 years now. Technology is coming through to allow us to play laglessly on LCD Screens, thanks to low latency monitors and HDMI converters (As is the case with the Nebulous stream setup in NYC). We have everything we need to survive, and we'll continue to do so regardless of whether we get support from Nintendo. Melee HD is a nice dream, but it's unlikely for reality to turn out as pretty.
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