The lie Soulcalibur VI’s Netcode tells you

Soulcalibur VI just wrapped up its open network test, and it had its ups and downs. The game itself was relatively fun, but the matchmaking needed quite a bit of work. Unless you had absolutely no filter options on, you had to wait for ages just to get a match. In addition, it seemed as if the connection quality rating meant nothing. Four bar connections played horribly and one bar connections were sometimes smooth as silk. So it’s clear that Bandai Namco has a little work to do in order to get Soulcalibur VI’s online suite into working order.

But I’m not here to review the netcode. This was just an online network test and its purpose was to find issues like this and fix them. Rather, I’m here to unravel the way the netcode works, along with one crafty lie that makes the game seem like it has better netcode than it actually does.

A matter of delay

Let’s get one thing clear to begin with. Soulcalibur VI uses delay based netcode. Yes, this is the same netcode that I said was archaic in the DBFZ beta, and it still is. This means every time you push a button, your action is delayed until it’s received on the opponent’s end and vice versa. The worse your connection, the longer the delay between button press and action. It’s archaic because rollback netcode practically reduces the delay between button press an action to zero, at the expense of a few glitchy stutters here or there. Overall, most fighting game fans agree that rollback netcode is the better netcode.

But we are stuck with delay based netcode with Soulcalibur VI and no amount of moaning is going to get Bandai Namco to change that. However, you may have noticed that matches in Soulcalibur VI don’t actually feel that bad, even at high network delays. Want to know why that is? Because Bandai Namco is screwing with your head, in a quite clever way to be honest.

Here’s the big lie. Bandai Namco has inserted artificial button delay into the game’s offline mode. Try it out when the game comes out. You’ll notice that it takes a while between a button press and a character’s action even in training mode. You can slow down videos and streams of pro players, listen for their button taps, and watch the video frame by frame to see this in action. You can also compare videos of Soulcalibur VI and previous entries in the Soulcalibur franchise to see that they too differ greatly in terms of button delay.

Why? Well the answer is quite simple. Bandai Namco is trying to get you used to button delay. If every match of the game has a certain amount of delay, you’ll simply adapt. You’ll time your combos, attacks, and blocks around this delay since it exists in offline and training mode. This is just how the game is “supposed” to feel.

Then, when you go into online mode the game engine likely removes that delay and instead lets normal internet delay take over. Since the offline delay is based on what an average online delay would feel like, both modes would feel very similar. There’s still a delay between when you press a button and perform an action, but it’s the same delay that you get in offline mode. You are tricked into thinking that online play is lagless but in reality, offline play simply has more lag introduced.

A little white lie

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The reason fighting game fans hate bad netcode is because their offline and online experiences differ to the extent that they aren’t able to use the same combos and techniques. However, Bandai Namco has set it up such that the two experiences won’t differ much at all, just in a way we didn’t expect. If you get used to offline play you should be able to play online with relative ease.

For that matter, this wouldn’t be the first fighting game designed with offline delay. Many older fighting games from the 90s would have offline input delay, simply due to necessity. The technology wasn’t advanced to the point where button presses would correspond to character actions within a few milliseconds. We adapted to those and we will adapt to Soulcalibur VI as well.

Some fans have been complaining that Bandai Namco is forcing this on us. They would have rather had this fake delay be an option. However, that actually causes a whole bunch of problems. Do tournaments use the option or not? Is the option a global thing or a character by character thing? Also, wouldn’t most people turn the option off and then just complain about the online experience.

The reality here is that Bandai Namco is telling a little white lie and, frankly, everyone is going to benefit from it. The single player of Soulcalibur VI is not unplayable by any means and most players aren’t even going to notice the input delay. It took quite a bit of detective work to even notice it in the first place.

It’s hard to actually judge a netcode objectively. The thing that makes a netcode good is quality of matches, or in other words, how the matches feel. This decision has caused online matches to feel quite good without actually having to do much other than tweak offline play. I’d say that’s pretty crafty, and not really something you should be angry about. After all, you might have to cope with a small bit of button delay, but so does your opponent. We are all in the same boat.

Besides, you can now always blame the fake delay any time you lose. Bandai Namco just gave you a get out jail free card for holding your losses.