IFComp 2020: Fight Forever

It seems like one of the trends in this year’s Comp is a rising presence of highly procedural and rule-based works, where the player’s attention is more on systems than on prose. Fight Forever takes this to an extreme. At root, it’s a menu-based sports management sim, where you make choices about a fighter’s training regimen, then set them loose in the ring. It’s at a level of abstraction that reminds me of old BASIC games like Hammurabi, but much more elaborate.

Important to note: the fighting itself is not interactive. That’s not where the focus is. You don’t even get a procedurally-generated play-by-play, just a brief statement of the outcome and how it affected your stats. If the output text is to be believed, there are quite a few stats it tracks — not just the obvious things like power, speed, and stamina, but things like mindset and “rockstar juice”. Even individual body parts like knees and elbows have numbers associated with them. (“Heart” is a frequently-mentioned stat, but I’m pretty sure it means it in the metaphorical rather than anatomical sense.) There doesn’t seem to be a way to access the full stat list, though — all the main menu shows you is two numbers, “Mind level” and “Body level”, which I’m assuming are derived from the more specific stats, along with some unrelated stuff like your win/loss record, age, and cash reserves.

So if there’s a complex simulation going on, it’s pretty much hidden from the player, both in cause (all you see is the two stats) and in effect (all you see is win/loss, not the reasons why). Maybe some specific sorts of training will help you more than others, but it’s blind guesswork. This makes for a pretty boring game. It’s effectively just grinding, and you’re expected to iterate on it a lot to get anywhere. I personally gave up well short of the Comp’s two-hour deadline, shortly after winning a silver medal in the Olympics and going pro (at which point you suddenly start losing a lot again).

The thing is, there’s clearly a lot of the game that I never accessed, mainly stuff under the “Life” menu, where you can travel, try other sports, have a social life, and buy status symbols like fancy cars. I could easily believe that there’s some actual story hiding in that tree. But nearly all of this stuff is grayed out at the start, locked from use, and I never unlocked any options beyond those I had at the beginning. There’s also the option to retire and raise children, who I assume can become fighters in turn, creating a dynasty of champions, like an Ascension system in a roguelike or idle game. And that makes me think: This might be better experienced as something like an idler game, where you make progress in bits over a long period, rather than cramming as much of it as you can into two hours. That would lessen the tedium. It wouldn’t solve the blind guesswork problem, though.

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