A look back at Rising Thunder, and a look forward for Radiant and Riot

As you may have heard, Rising Thunder, the experimental fighting game from Radiant Entertainment, has been shut down. It was an interesting game, fusing elements of MOBAs into the tried and true Street Fighter formula, and players were only just starting to break in its giant robot characters. A moment of silence please, as we watch the last Rising Thunder combo video by pro fighter Dooplis.

But it’s not all sad news and mourning! This cancellation is a result of Radiant Entertainment being acquired by Riot Games, the makers of League of Legends. The Radiant team is already working on a new game for Riot, though little about it has been revealed at this time. Let’s take a look back on Rising Thunder and what it was meant to accomplish in order to speculate on what this new IP might be.

Making Fighting Games Easier

Rising Thunder was made to fix the biggest problem plaguing fighting games today – the execution problem. Competent fighting gameplay requires a player to have access to their character’s entire array of special moves, but most casual fighting game players still have trouble with simple quarter-circle motions. Actually learning these motions takes practice, i.e. booting up training mode and throwing fireballs for hours at a time until you commit it to muscle memory. That doesn’t sound very fun, so few casual players ever do it and, as a result, never play the game to its full potential.

Rising Thunder fixed this problem by removing special move motions entirely. Instead of the standard three punch three kick Street Fighter control scheme, it gave us three basic attack and three special attack buttons to work with. The special attack buttons threw fireballs, rising uppercuts, armored dash punches, and magnetic spinning piledrivers; all the stuff you would need to crank out complicated motions for in other fighting games.

It also reduced complexity for other commands. Throw wasn’t a two-button combination or forward and a heavy attack – it just had its own button. Even super moves, the awesome cinematic attacks that cost meter to pull off, were mapped to one button. Bursts were two buttons at once, while other fighting games tend to map them to three or four buttons at once. It was all very “reductionist.”

On a basic level, it was very effective at introducing newbies to fighting game concepts. When you could Dragon Punch at the press of a button, players would very quickly figure out that you could use it to counter jumping opponents. When throws and spinning piledrivers were mapped to a button press, players would instinctively understand to use them when their opponent was blocking. No tutorial was needed, because it turns out that fighting game basics kind of teach themselves when you aren’t fighting your stupid hands just to use a character’s basic tools.

Making Mastery Harder

But Rising Thunder wasn’t flawless. By making special moves simple, it made other aspects of the game more complex. Simply having eight attack buttons to begin with required players to excel in a different kind of finger gymnastics. I haven’t had to use my pinky to play a video game since Rock Band.

And since special moves weren’t done with motions, you didn’t have easy access to varying special move strengths (slow, light fireballs or fast, heavy fireballs for example). Some special moves could be held, delayed, or mashed to power them up, but this caused you to get the wrong type of move every so often. Unlike most fighting games, characters had loadouts which allowed them to swap out special moves before battle. But this added another level of complexity on top of an already hard to penetrate genre. Now you could be in for an uphill battle simply because you didn’t equip the right special moves for the right matchup.

Then there were its MOBA-like special move cooldown timers. While this prevented fireball spam, which was nice, it also created some frustrating situations. For example, you could correctly respond to a jump-in with an uppercut, and then the opponent could just jump at you again if your uppercut was still on cooldown.

There were a bunch of other aspects of the design that felt like artifacts from an older fighting game age. Normal attacks had long-range and close-range versions, something that Capcom decided was needlessly complex and removed from Street Fighter V. While throws, supers, and specials were mapped to a button, dashing wasn’t and still required double-tapping a direction, and frankly we have had button dash commands since X-Men VS. Street Fighter. Combo and cancel rules were not clearly explained, and the game operated off of a juggle system that was very similar to Street Fighter IV. In fact, the whole game felt a little too close to Street Fighter IV for its own good.

But Radiant was always willing to talk to fans and try and fix these flaws. They patched the game frequently, altering moves and frame data and adding new options with each patch. If anything, their dedication to making a game that feels natural to fighting game pros and casuals alike bodes well for whatever project they are making under Riot Games.

What Will Radiant Do Next?

So what will Radiant’s new project be? Since they are owned by Riot now, they will likely still be attempting to integrate MOBA mechanics into whatever game it is. I’d bet that cooldowns and loadouts are here to stay.

Rising Thunder was an online-only fighting game, which allowed for some interesting flexibility in U.I. development. Unfortunately, this also made the game slow to grow. Tournaments were hard to hold, and multiplayer lab sessions, where groups of fighting gamers sit on the couch and discover a character’s possibilities, were basically unheard of. The new game will likely still be designed for PC first, but I’m not sure if they would be willing to risk an online-only approach once more. Then again, League of Legends has done phenomenally as an online multiplayer only game, but it’s a MOBA, and the rules for that genre are obviously different than the rules for fighting games.

Radiant will likely still strive to make the game accessible for newbies, though whether or not this means one-button-specials will make a return is yet to be seen.

The running rumor is that they may be working on a fighting game spin-off of League of Legends. There already is a League of Legends-based fighting game called League of Fighters. which was made as a non-profit fan project. While the game is a little rough round the edges, it saw a spike in popularity around two years back. It shared many similarities with Rising Thunder, including special moves that operated via a cooldown mechanic, but it had nowhere near the polish of Rising Thunder. Seeing the interest that this fan game has spurred may have caused Riot to look into developing their own official League of Legends-based fighting game property.

Another piece of hopeful speculation is that Radiant follows Riot’s free-to-play model. Allowing users to play with a limited but rotating roster of characters, while letting them purchase the ones they like, is a perfect formula for a free-to-play fighting game. Many people only ever use one or two characters in their favorite fighting games, and if you could buy these characters piecemeal you could save a ton of money when purchasing the game. Tournament-enabled copies would still require a purchase of the whole roster, however, but then they could just sell the whole cast for $60, like you would any other fighting game.

Whatever Radiant makes next, it likely won’t be the next big fighting game sensation. While fighting games have found a renewed interest on the PC platform, their primary fanbase is still in consoles. But, if their new IP does succeed in simplifying the fighting game formula, it may introduce a whole new generation of PC gamers to a genre they’ve largely overlooked. After all, who the heck learned how to quarter-circle on a keyboard?