This is a topic that really grinds my gears: Ambiguous intention from developers in fighting games. I believe this sort of thing is very harmful to fighting games, and I'll be using this article to explain what in particular I have against ambiguous intention, provide some examples of ambiguous intention in several fighting games, and how I think those games would be better of without such things.
First off, let me give a solid, simple definition of ambiguous intention. Basically, it is an instance in a fighting game where a restriction the game's mechanics impose on the players can be avoided via use of one or more mechanics/techniques the game provides. There are several issues with such a thing, in my opinion:
- It adds an artificial execution barrier to the game. Anyone playing the game at a competitive level will have to manually perform something that would otherwise (and should) be done automatically or not at all.
- It makes the developer's intent unclear - do they want the restriction to be respected or not?
- It makes the game seem harder or "deeper" than it actually is.
The first example of unambiguous developer intent that comes to my mind, not to mention one of the most generally-accepted in the fighting game community, is nicknamed "chicken guarding" in the vs. Capcom series. Normally in those games, during a short period after you initiate a dash, regardless of what direction it's in or whether it's in the air or not, you are unable to block. Clearly, the developer's intent is to make dashing punishable if predicted.
However, it is possible to instantly cancel a dash into a jump in most games in the vs. Capcom series, and after you do so, to instantly block. This overrides the previously-implied restriction about punishable dashes. Now, I have absolutely nothing against making vs. Capcom dashes punishable or unpunishable; what I do have a problem with is the ambiguous developer intent: Do the developers want dashes to be punishable or not?
If the developers do want them to be punishable, then disallow blocking even after the dash-canceled jump, or if they do not want them to be punishable, then allow blocking directly during a dash, but by no means should they require the players to go through an unnecessarily-difficult input to accomplish a competitively mandatory technique which may or may not have been intended in the first place!
The second example, and one that I think is particularly egregious, is L-canceling in Super Smash Bros. Melee. L-canceling is a "mechanic" - I am not entirely certain it is deserving of the title - that allows you to cut the period of time your character cannot move or attack following an aerial attack in half by pressing the shield/block button a few frames before you hit the ground.
With the previous example of chicken guarding in addition to the 3 problems with ambiguous developer intent I listed earlier in mind, it should be immediately obvious what the problem with L-canceling is. If the developers want aerial attacks to have x amount of landing lag, then they should leave it at that; if they want aerial attacks to have 0.5x amount of landing lag, then they should do so, but they should not require players to press an extra button for something that could easily be done automatically. Artificial "difficulty" like this makes a fighting game seem more difficult and technical than it really is, and oftentimes hides serious problems behind a fake execution barrier.
The last example I'm going to give is of "kara throwing" in the Street Fighter series. Kara throwing essentially involves using an attack that moves your character forward, but before the part of the attack that actually hurts the opponent is activated, you cancel the attack into a throw, giving the throw more range than it otherwise would have. The window of opportunity to cancel the attack into a throw is usually very small - normally about 1 or 2 frames (1/60th to 1/30th of a second).
Again, it should be obvious what the issue with kara throwing is. If the developers want certain character's throw range to be longer, then they should be longer by default, or if they want throws to be shorter, then they should prevent kara canceling, but they should not require players to perform a difficult input for something which was not only unintended in the first place (kara throwing was originally a glitch in Street Fighter 3, but is intentionally in Street Fighter 4), but which obviously could be solved with a much simpler solution.
I've seen several arguments stating that mechanics like the ones I've listed are good things, the majority of which basically boil down to the opinion that the more buttons you have to press and the more complicated things are, the better. Personally, I believe the simpler things are, the more time and energy you can focus on the mental aspect of the game, which, in my opinion, is far deeper and more satisfying than any arbitrarily difficult "mechanic" could ever be.
It could also be argued that since no-one really complains about arbitrary difficulty and ambiguous intent, it is not a problem that needs to be solved. I believe there are a majority of reasons this is the case, the largest being that since practically all fighting games ever made have had some sort of arbitrary difficulty, with the recent ones intentionally and the older ones unintentionally, means that anyone who has played fighting games for any decent amount of time is quite used to this sort of thing by now. So yes, there is some complacency, but I think many fighting game players have merely failed to realize how deleterious ambiguous intent and arbitrary difficulty can really be, since they have had to live with it for as long as they have played fighting games. I think once more players realize how much simpler and easier to play fighting games would be without this sort of thing, the more they will warm up to the idea and let developers know about it.
I should note that I think there is a definite place for this sort of mechanic in video games; intentionally difficult single-player games like Devil May Cry and I Wanna Be The Guy thrive off this sort of thing, and many people play those sort of games just because of all the arbitrary difficulty - I'm one of them. However, I don't think arbitrary difficulty has a place in fighting games; I'm trying to fight my opponent, not the game, and the easier it is to do whatever it is I should to in a given situation, the better.
I think I should also make it clear that the presence of an arbitrary mechanic does not automatically ruin a game. I enjoy playing and watching many games that have a number of arbitrary mechanics, including the games I used as examples. All I'm saying is how much better those games would be than they already are without the arbitrarily difficult mechanics, in addition to a larger userbase, since a (somewhat correct) public notion of fighting games is that you have to spend a lot of time practicing arbitrary stuff in training mode before you can become good at them.
And you know what? Eliminating ambiguous developer intent and arbitrary difficulty would go a long way towards eliminating that notion.