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Is rollback netcode the future for SNK's fighting games? The recent Garou: Mark of the Wolves patch inspires hope for online warriors

SNK have been working with Code Mystics to experiment with rollback for their older titles, surely there has to a good reason why...

Posted by Nicholas 'MajinTenshinhan' Taylor • February 27, 2020 at 10:31 a.m. PST • Comments: 43

A few weeks ago, something quite unexpected happened when I started up my PlayStation 4 and got a notification that a new patch had begun downloading for Garou: Mark of the Wolves. Obviously, this game is anything but new so new content was completely out of the question, and even patches to adress issues with the port seemed unlikely given that this particular re-release of the game was already over 3 years old, having been released on December 3rd, 2016.

This was a patch which came completely ouf of left field and what it did was revamp the netcode of the game by implementing the coveted rollback netcode which is heavily favored by the majority of online players to the game, making it a much more pleasant experience online when network environments aren't optimal (which they almost never are). This patch was done in a collaboration between SNK and Code Mystics, who have previously brought their rollback netcode to other classic SNK titles like Samurai Shodown 5 Special, The Last Blade 2 and The King of Fighters '97: Global Match. Now that we've seen rollback implmented for some classic SNK titles courtesy of these collaborations, the natural question becomes: what's next?

The first thing we need to consider is that no matter how easy of a fix it may sound to us regular consumers, patching games is never something companies can just afford to do for free. The return of investment on a patch for a very old game, which has been available on the PS4 for a few years already, which simply modifies the way it's played online is not likely to be high.

Even so, SNK greenlit this patch and made it happen for a reason. It's highly likely that SNK are trying to gauge not only how well they can get rollback to work with their older games, but also how difficult it would be to replace a currently existing netcode with something new and have it actually work as well as looking at the level of engagement a relatively niche title like Garou: Mark of the Wolves receives when changed in such a way.

An important thing to consider here is that despite SNK having something of a renaissance these last few years with King of Fighters 14 launching to a monumental 50-character roster right out of the box and doing well to finance two separate DLC waves and then the success of Samurai Shodown bringing the classic weapon-based fighter back into the spotlight in a big way, they have also had the same major criticisms with all of their games as of late.

This major criticism that SNK just hasn't been able to shake off with any of their games for quite a while now, even as far back as King of Fighters 13, is that the online play in their games simply is not up to a reasonable standard. This reputation has stayed with them for both King of Fighters 14 and Samurai Shodown, where the vast majority of players will rain praise down upon the games themselves but lament that the low quality of their online environment makes them not want to keep playing the titles.

This is why it's hard to buy that SNK simply decided to patch rollback netcode to Garou: Mark of the Wolves on a capricious whim. Surely, if they're aware enough of the community's requests for rollback netcode in fighting games, they must be well aware of the mixed to negative reception the online play of their own titles has had.

While there hasn't been any official word from SNK in any manner, the gears in one's mind starts to turn and it seems increasingly likely that this patch is simply a testing ground for something bigger, and that SNK may very well be looking at not only using rollback netcode for their future titles, such as King of Fighters 15, but also possibly bring it retroactively to the games they currently have out on the market.

As it stands right now, SNK have continuously been bringing out new versions of their old classics with rollback netcode added and now they've taken it a step further by patching an already released port to have it implemented post-launch.

Clearly, SNK have been looking at the feedback online and deduced that the outcry for rollback netcode has at least some level of merit. The only question is how satisfied they are with the results thus far, and consequently if they'll keep pushing for it in the future.

Personally, I try to avoid online as much as possible since I don't think it meshes well with the genre of fighting games and I'm lucky enough to have people in relatively close proximity I can play offline sets against, so I don't have much of a horse in the race. But how do you feel about it?

Would you like to see SNK roll out rollback for their more recent games as well? Do you think they're going to work it in to King of Fighters 15, and future projects? Or do you think that this Garou patch is just a complete fluke? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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