Why Icons has offline input lag

by AJ "Tyron" Martinez @ worldsbe.st • July 17 2018

Lately, r/iconsgg has been going back and forth about Icons' input delay: the game adds extra delay, even offline, and it’s on purpose. For a community of curious Melee players, a group of people that can probably whistle the tone of a powered-on CRT by ear, the idea is horrifying. I’ve seen a lot of concerned players making posts like this:




As weird as it might sound, though, that offline input delay is integral to Icons' design—not just its netcode, but its entire approach to competition—and it’s got perks.

Nothing is lagless. Even the most responsive fighting games clock in at around 3-frame response times, with most hovering in the area of 4-5. Melee itself, even on console with a CRT, has floating input delay between 3.6 and 5 frames.

If you’ve played any fighting game for longer than a few hours, you’re already used to delay. If you’ve played that game online, you’re used to even more; to compensate for distance, most fighting games add input delay in netplay, with higher distance leading to slower response times.1

Icons has 3 frames of natural input delay, but adds a minimum of 3 extra frames for compensation, even offline. Three frames is a noticable difference, and it’s magnified by Icons' twitchy movement, but there’s a reason it’s always on—as long as you’re under 50ms ping, it makes netplay and local play feel exactly the same.

Developers benefit from a stable play environment, allowing them to design systems that feel fast and fair everywhere, without worrying about whether a mechanic or move would be frustrating on high delay. Players benefit from netplay that can be taken seriously, making matchmaking and online tournaments just as legit as offline games; you can play for real whenever you want, and take full accountability whether you win or lose. And even if you never play netplay, you benefit from the game’s increased accessibility, since every player has easy access to practice in a competitive environment, cultivating a stronger playerbase and keeping players active when events are scarce.

It’s not perfect. Delay is still delay, and I can’t really blame anyone for reacting negatively to it. With that said, almost everyone playing Icons is also adjusting to its differences from Melee; it’s easy to blame the input lag for movement flubs when it could just as easily be controller sensitivity, subtle speed differences, or general unfamiliarity. If you’re interested in the game, give yourself some time to adjust.

Fighting games are rarely designed for first-class online play; the goal Icons is striving for would be a huge paradigm shift, potentially opening platform fighters up to a whole new mode of competition, and I hope the game can surive its rocky launch to get there.

Buff Zhurong.

  1. There’s a way to get around this too, called “rollback” netcode, but it comes with potential visual stuttering—it saves frames by guessing what an opponent’s doing, and when it guesses wrong, it has to update the game state to get things right. It’s really smooth to play in when done correctly, and Icons uses it in combination with standard delay-based compensation to minimize stuttering. ↩︎