COMMENT: Guilty Gear Strive's netcode sets the gold standard for fighting games

(Screenshot: Arc System Works)
(Screenshot: Arc System Works)

Guilty Gear Strive (stylised as Guilty Gear -Strive-, GGST) is a newly-launched fighting game by Arc System Works, and is the latest instalment to the Guilty Gear fighting game series. Other notable fighting games made by Arc System are Dragon Ball FighterZ and the Blazblue series. The game’s visual style closely resembles Japanese anime and Arc System Works have been specialising in anime fighting games for over the past two decades.

Fighting games have a long history of terrible online play, because most fighting games prior to Street Fighter V and the like were always made for the arcade first before being ported to consoles or PC.

In the arcades, game cabinets were always side by side and next to each other, with no absolute use for a good quality netcode that can span regions and countries. When games are ported to home consoles, however, the netcode is what holds the game up, especially when you want to play with friends or challenge people that are across the country from you.

What is “netcode”?

Before we go any further, for the uninitiated, the netcode of a fighting game (or any game for that matter) refers to how the game communicates and exchanges data in an online environment.

When a game is built for an arcade environment, most of the time, they will apply a form of netcode called the delay-based netcode.

To put that in simple terms, delay-based netcode usually relies on peer-to-peer connection, and is very dependent on how fast your connection is to the other player.

This is obviously amazing for arcade play, but when it comes to playing it online in the comfort of your home, if your opponent has extremely bad internet, you are in for a rough ride.

Older games like Street Fighter IV and Marvel vs Capcom, even the old Guilty Gear games use this type of netcode.

When you have a terrible connection with your opponent, the game usually slows down (hence, “delay-based”) to make sure that the games on both sides are in sync, and this can mess up input timings and sometimes even destroy the enjoyment of the game.

As you can imagine, delay-based netcode makes it extremely frustrating to play with players that are far away from you.

Rollback netcode

Another netcode that is currently only being explored by recent fighting games is the rollback-based netcode.

Rollback netcode deciphers the game a little differently than delay-based. Again, to put it in the simplest terms, it doesn’t slow the game down like how delay-based netcode does it, but keeps the game running by making a few predictions if there is a lag spike between the two players.

For example, if a player is in the middle of blocking an attack and a lag spike happens, the game will still continue and assume that the player will still be blocking. This will create the illusion that the game isn’t slowing down to compensate for the lag, and it will feel like nothing happened at all.

Usually, these lag spikes don’t last more than a few frames, so most of the time, you will feel like the game is going smoothly between the players, even if there was a slight lag.

However, if the connection between two players is extremely bad, this will result in teleportation of the characters around the screen as the game struggles to predict and keep both the players in sync with each other.

Guilty Gear Strive’s netcode

GGST implements the rollback-based netcode at its core, and it is done beautifully.

Because of how well the game implements the rollback netcode, players from the United States could very well play a match with players from Japan with little to no lag.

The game also features a counter in every match to tell you the latency between you and the other player, and usually the game only becomes unplayable when it hits beyond the 200ms mark.

Thus far, fighting game players have been praising GGST for making online matches extremely playable and fun for everyone to enjoy.

But hey, didn’t Street Fighter V also implement rollback-based netcode into their game? Why does it play so much worse than GGST?

As you might have guessed, it is not just the netcode that matters. Implementing and programming the game to handle the predictions of the rollback netcode also plays a part in making the online experience playable.

SFV’s implementation of the netcode is far inferior to GGST’s, probably due to rushed programming and the like. Capcom did redeem themselves by perfecting the netcode on Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite, but that game flopped due to its visual style and lack of fan-favourite characters.

Other fighting games with immaculate rollback-based netcode are Microsoft’s Killer Instinct and Reverge Lab’s Skullgirls.

Why is this so important?

In today’s pandemic-ridden world, players and esports personalities alike aren’t able to travel across the globe to take part in fighting game events.

This has led to regional events surfacing to keep the fighting game scene alive, but it is definitely not ideal, as players still need to travel across the country to participate.

With GGST’s netcode, regional events could still be played from the comfort of your own home with little to no hitches. Travelling isn’t necessary, and some say that even continental tournaments could take place with no issue.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, while tournaments for first-person shooters, multiplayer online battle arenas and the like were able to move from a LAN setting to online, those fighting games were less likely to do so.

You could play games like VALORANT with your friends who are across the country, or even region, and you would only notice very minor lag in game. In fighting games however, if you did attempt to play with the same friends, you'd to deal with slowdowns and teleportation due to the bad implementation of the netcode.

With GGST’s release, we saw 30,000 players playing it concurrently on Steam. Compare this to SFV’s peak of 13,000 players, which is still not broken till this day (and SFV is arguably the more popular franchise out of the two).

Even a long-running game like Tekken 7 had only 18,000 players its peak. The only other fighting game to surpass GGST is Dragon Ball FighterZ, which peaked at 44,000 players, but that’s a given, as Dragon Ball is a very popular long-running franchise (and the game was also made by Arc System Works).

For the vast legions of gamers, being able to play with their friends across the world is an important thing, especially these days.

GGST has created the new baseline for all fighting games to follow in the future. If a fighting game fails to implement the same efficiency as GGST’s netcode, you are definitely going to see a quick decline in the player base really fast, as they may find themselves unable to practice with other players, or unable to have an enjoyable time playing against people across the globe.

Big players like Capcom, SNK and Bandai Namco will certainly be taking some notes. Hopefully this will mean games like Street Fighter VI, Tekken 8 and King of Fighters 15 have good online play, unlike their predecessors.

GGST definitely has set the gold standard for all fighting games moving forward.

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