It never ends: A brief history of infinites in competitive Marvel vs. Capcom

By on October 31, 2017 at 1:00 pm

Ever since X-Men vs. Street Fighter hit arcades in the fall of 1996, Capcom’s Versus franchise has been defined by high-speed gameplay, flashy combos, and extreme finishing moves meant to reflect its comic book origins. With flexible mechanics focused more on creating dynamic characters than balanced rosters, infinite combos and glitches have become ubiquitous with the series, and an unavoidable reality for its players.

When talking balance in fighting games, there are few subjects more polarizing than infinite combos. Whether placed in a game by design or discovered through exploits, the ability to eliminate a character in single combo will always be a powerful tool.

At a time where the competitive fighting game scene was just beginning to solidify behind Super Street Fighter II: Turbo and Street Fighter Alpha 2, X-Men vs. Street Fighter was a game where every character had an infinite. Outside of infinites, the game was regarded as “cheap” in the classic sense, due to easy high-damage combos, and struggled to be taken seriously in the small arcade tournament landscape.

However, even as players argued about the fairness and legitimacy of infinite combos, they embraced them as a part of the game and spared no effort in pushing the combo system to its limits. David “Gunter” Dial and James Chen, two of the players most involved in documenting the infinites and intricacies of X-Men vs. Street Fighter, also spared no critique while blasting the game’s balance.

As 2-player fighting games, the VS series in general is a JOKE. As puzzle games, where the object is to find the infinite, they rule (well, XvSF does… the other two games are trash because they try to be something they aren’t — quality fighting games).
     – David “Gunter” Dial on, Aug. 1998.

For the most part, the less skill used in playing this game, the more effective your strategy seems to be.
– James Chen’s X-Men vs. Street Fighter combo guide, circa ’99.

Ironically enough, X-Men vs. Street Fighter remains a niche favorite for players and combo makers alike, because of the relative strength of the roster. When everyone has access to strong tools the resulting craziness can be more entertaining than when high-level play is restricted to a certain group of characters.

Marvel vs. Capcom 2 – A decade of destruction

By the time Marvel vs. Capcom 2 became the first Versus game added to the lineup of the B5 Championships (Evo’s predecessor) in 2001, players had come to fully embrace the chaos that was Marvel vs. Capcom, infinites and all. The existence of infinite combos did not immediately define how the game was played at a high level; MvC2’s scaling and infinite prevention system made resets much more valuable. Some characters did have true infinites, but zoning strategies from lesser known characters like Blackheart and Spiral remained relevant until players learned to dominate those match-ups with high-mobility characters like Storm, Magneto, Sentinel, and Iron Man.

With a much smaller fighting game community restricted to learning the game offline, MvC2’s fast and unforgiving gameplay again earned a reputation for being “cheap” and riddled with infinites, pushing players away from the competitive scene as the skill gap increased. However, MvC2’s huge roster and stylish gameplay, the same factors that lead to infinites, made the game a cult classic among casual fans. Even as high-level play was whittling the roster down to just a handful of relevant teams, the speed and intensity of those match-ups fueled the game’s continued growth.

Marvel vs. Capcom 3 – Optimization vs. Infinites

When Marvel vs. Capcom 3 arrived in 2011, a decade of competitive MvC2 had led the fighting game community to understand infinites as just another part of the game, a tool to be utilized or neutralized on the way to winning. With the introduction of the comeback mechanic X-Factor, 100% combos went from being “cheap” to a basic part of the game’s high-level strategy.

Still, when players began discovering true infinites for different characters just weeks before Evo 2012, some felt the game would devolve into players looking for optimal infinite setups. While some advocated for the infinite loops to be banned, Evo opted to keep everything legal, remaining consistent with a long tradition of legalizing any tactic that is not game-halting.

TAC infinites became an important part of the game as players tried to squeeze every ounce of damage and efficiency out of their team, but in many cases they were simply risky alternatives to spending meter. In other cases, weaker characters found new utility through TAC infinites: if a player could consistently perform a combo with a high-execution barrier, they were rewarded with the damage their character lacked normally.

In the end, during the game’s final appearance at Evo this year, a team based around mobility and the ability to perform infinites to maximize damage won the tournament. Chun-Li, the point character on that team, saw almost no attention throughout the MvC3’s lifespan, despite being the first character to have an infinite discovered in MvC3. It wasn’t until RyanLV dedicated the time and execution to Chun-Li that a cohesive strategy could be built around the infinite combo.

However, through the eight matches in Winners Finals and Grand Finals, only a single infinite was done to completion. When the opportunity to kill key characters on his opponent’s team came up, RyanLV chose to perform easier combos by spending meter rather than going for higher-risk infinites.

Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite – Marvel in the era of esports

Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite is in many ways a return to the roots of the series. The new combo system normalizes the difference in damage between high-execution combos and simple chain attacks into super, making it easier for players without a ton of experience to score damage and stay in the game. The system gradually reduces hitstun as combos do more damage, making it difficult to extend combos beyond 60~% without specific tools that experienced players can learn to take advantage of.

Like all Marvel games, the developer’s intentions havn’t prevented players from swiftly bucking design and developing 100% combos and infinite loops, the most infamous of which involves Spider-Man looping two attacks, Web Ball and Reality Stone. Earlier this month Capcom took the rather unprecedented step of banning Spider-Man’s Web Ball + Reality Stone loop from tournaments, calling the combo “an unintended effect that circumvents the gameplay mechanics.” The loop was then removed via a patch, less than a month after the release of the game.

Though the relative ease of the infinite and the ability to ignore counter switch probably had a lot to do with it being banned and removed, Capcom’s response doesn’t specifically answer the question of what sorts of combos “circumvent the gameplay mechanics” enough to warrant a patch. The irony is that by time the Web Ball patch was implemented, other infinite loops had already been discovered in the game using the freshly-discovered hitstun deterioration glitch.

Competitive players still need to be prepared for a combo that can do 100% damage from a stray hit, especially in a tournament that plans to give a player an opportunity to score a free combo using rules outside of the game. Furthermore, as debates over the fairness and legitimacy of infinites are reignited, some argue on behalf of spectators rather than competitors, attaching a lack of skill and imagination to performing infinite loops.

In an era where fighting game competition is becoming synonymous with esports and games develop faster than ever, some see MvC:I’s infinites as a black mark that could damage the growth of the game. If history tells us anything, the process of finding and overcoming infinites is a part of the Marvel versus Capcom puzzle, and pushing the boundaries of the game will help push the limits of competitive play.

Sources: complete X-Men versus Street Fighter Combo FAQ by James ChenLevelUpSeriesTinshiBrett H123AbegenJustin WongEvo

Kevin Webb is a player, writer and tournament organizer based in New York. When’s he’s not working on his set play or out at an event, you can catch him streaming on Twitch, tweeting about comics or throwing games of Dota 2.