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The era of delay-based netcode may finally be over for good in fighting games depending on what SNK does with The King of Fighters 15

There's nothing else on the horizon that's likely to have it again except whatever the next Super Smash Bros. will be

Posted by Dakota 'DarkHorse' Hills • December 10, 2020 at 11:47 a.m. PST • Comments: 27

The father of rollback netcode, GGPO, first debuted back in 2006 to show the world a widely better way to play fighting games online, but even as soon as this year, developers have continued to use their older delay-based solutions to the disappointment of many players.

Much of that has started to shift over the past two or three years, however, and now the fighting game community is looking at a potential / probable timeline where no new title is made with delay-based networking ever again — though that kinda hinges on what SNK is planning to do with The King of Fighters 15.

We've reached a point with the launch of the next generation consoles in the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X where there's now currently only a few major fighting games in development that are publicly known.

Guilty Gear Strive is already confirmed to be using rollback netcode when it releases next year, and though there was some push back within the company, Arc System Works will likely use it as the transition point to build on going forward.

There's also Riot's League of Legends fighting game that we haven't seen in over a year, Project L, but since that's being developed by the creators of GGPO, it's pretty much a guarantee the title will have great netplay.

That pretty much just leaves SNK as the biggest question mark at the moment with The King of Fighters 15. The company did release Samurai Shodown last year containing (not that great of) delay-based netcode though there are more positive signs for the future.

"More recently, players will want us to use rollback network code, etc., to create an environment where you can play from a longer distance. I think these appeals have changed a lot from what they were before" Yasuyuki Oda, SNK

SNK partnered with Code Mystics to bring hybrid rollback netcode to a handful of their classic fighting games over the past year or so which has been well received, but there's more too.

Producer Yasuyuki Oda recently talked about the shift in importance of online in fighting games and specifically mentions rollback. Although he doesn't confirm there that KOF15 will use it, that'd be strange of them not to do after bringing it up themselves knowing the backlash from players that would certainly ensue.

"The requirements for online games have changed," said Oda. "A few years ago, players mostly demanded a stable, high-quality networking experience in Japan. But more recently, players will want us to use rollback network code, etc., to create an environment where you can play from a longer distance. I think these appeals have changed a lot from what they were before."

Where does that leave the rest of the fighting game developers then?

Well, Capcom was one of the initial proponents of rollback dating back like a decade now. While Street Fighter 5 didn't have the best implementation ever, it's difficult to imagine a world where they give up now, especially in the current state of the FGC. So, Street Fighter 6 should certainly be a lock.

NetherRealm Studios have been one of the leading champions of good online experiences since they had to remake Mortal Kombat X's original netcode from scratch for MKXL.

Bandai Namco for the longest time was probably the biggest hold out among major publishers launching games like Dragon Ball FighterZ and Soul Calibur 6 this generation without rollback plus Tekken 7 which apparently does use it but didn't perform great in practice.

"The team and I are of course aware of the feedback and comments we're receiving from players regarding rollback" - Tomoko Hiroki, Bandai Namco

Much of that's changed now this year with people like Tekken director Katsuhiro Harada and DBFZ producer Tomoko Hiroki opening up and talking about understanding the importance of strong networking which led to Tekken 7 receiving a netcode upgrade last month.

"The team and I are of course aware of the feedback and comments we're receiving from players regarding rollback [netcode]," stated Hiroki. "Although this is a feature that we would most definitely like to implement, it is technically difficult to have this supported."

Even smaller Japanese developers like French Bread are trying to work with rollback now for Under Night In-Birth though that doesn't make the process a simple switch flip.

Pretty much every indie fighting game already includes rollback now from Fantasy Strike to Rivals of Aether, so that only leaves a few potential outliers remaining.

There is of course Nintendo, who always seems to be at least one generation behind when it comes to online features and functionality, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is no exception.

Harada revealed previously, however, that he's discussed networking with Smash director Masahiro Sakurai, who has commented on the idea himself, so at the very least they seem to be aware of what players are asking for.

Koei Tecmo may also be on the fringe, but considering they stopped supporting Dead or Alive 6 after one year, who knows when the series may be revived again outside of its beach-themed spin-offs. Same can be said for Sega and Virtua Fighter.

The global coronavirus pandemic cemented the need and importance of good, rollback netcode in fighting games that players have been pushing for a long time, and it finally seems like all of the developers understand that now too.

Even older games like Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus R have seen a massive uptick in playerbases by going back and adding in rollback to existing titles, so players can enjoy the classics all over again too.

The days of delay-based netcode may finally become a relic of the past depending on the future of The King of Fighters. Its shadow will still linger on for a while longer, however, as games like Samurai Shodown and Granblue Fantasy: Versus (which may become the last major delay-based fighter ever) are still set to get continued support well into next year at least alongside Smash Ultimate.

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