Note: No one comes out playing better after reading this. Like the title says, this is about perspective. Someone might enjoy it.
Fighting Games are often compared to high-speed chess.
It’s not even close to high-speed chess. The comparison itself is terrible even if it sounds charming.
Fighting Games are like Slapsies. I.e. high speed guessing game. Quick decision making.
Several things happen in that game:
1- You predict the slap (guess)
2- You try to move your hand before it gets slapped (execution)
3- You’re correct, or you’re not. If you are, you gain the advantage and you’re the one slapping next. Otherwise, you go back to being at a disadvantage and having to guess (result)
I’m not going to get into Slapsies and dwell in little details like being able to bait your opponent and whatnot. I believe the analogy stands on solid ground for the rest of the article.
Different fighting games vary in how they approach this “model”.
They can vary in:
a) How often you have to guess
b) How much time there is between each guess
c) How powerful each result is in the end (the weight of each guess)
Before I exemplify with games, I’ll divide the two major types of guessing in Fighting Games, and put one of them aside. Also, one extra type of “thing” happens in fighting games, and I’ll list that as well.
One is Pure Guessing (like Rock Paper Scissors)
The other is Fundamentals (guess based, but on a whole different level: movement (footsies), poking, zoning (projectiles or not))
The last one is Setups. Setups are automatic, like Option Selects, Vortexes, Safe Jumps, Okizeme stuff, etc. Depends on the game, but overall, setups are the only thing Fighting Games have in common with Chess. I’ll deal with this part separately.
To give you an example: Tekken has all three, but Virtua Fighter barely has Fundamentals. It’s mostly Pure Guessing (High Speed Slapsies, constant RPS) with a few Setups thrown in to catch tech rolls (among other setups, but usually comes down to Okizeme).
After you read the article, you’ll probably be able to see how the games you play fit into each category, how characters actually work, how you should approach them and the game itself, etc. I’ll be doing most of my talk based on Street Fighter 4 from here on out.
In Street Fighter 4 you have all three of those listed above.
What dictates when each show up is the characters themselves.
A character with low walk speed can’t play footsies (I’ll reinforce that footsies isn’t poking). So even if they can poke (Makoto) and/or zone the opponent with fireballs (Sagat), the truth is that they lose a part of their Fundamentals. Hence, if we assume that Pure Guessing + Fundamentals + Setups globally fulfill 100% of a character’s tool set, then the Footsies portion that certain characters lack will have to be spread out among the other categories (Pure Guessing, Setups and other parts of Fundamentals).
The example above was very specific, but you can already see how it pans out for other characters.
Seth, for example, is not really a Pure Guessing character. You’ll have to do the guessing when you’re blocking him. He, on the other hand, is a Setups character. He can also zone you out. His fundamentals allow him to hit-confirm you easily and stay safe. He can get in without taking many risks. That means that when you play Seth, he’s playing the Chess game. You’re the one playing Slapsies, and the result is usually in his favor.
Why? Because the second step in Slapsies is Execution.
So even if you guess correctly (you know you should back dash in that precise frame window), you might not have the execution to succeed. Hence, he’ll slap your hand, and you’re back on the disadvantage, ready to be slapped again.
There’s a lot to be said about Throws in Street Fighter. Not just the ranges themselves or the damage, but the opportunities they present afterwards. For some Setup/Pure Guessing characters, throws provide the biggest advantage. For those characters who have no Okizeme (a meaty fireball is not Oki dear Guile players), throwing serves very little purpose other than force some distance between you and your opponent, whether they tech or not (Dhalsim, Guile, Sagat, etc), or just cut them out of their blocking.
Pure Guessing is when Abel decides to Tornado Throw you assuming you’ll stand still or try to throw (TT is throw-immune).
Pure Guessing is when Abel decides to use close HP assuming you’ll try to jump out.
Pure Guessing is when Abel decides to f+mk or dash again, assuming you’ll try to back dash.
When Daigo throws a Hadouken that’s clearly jump-able and punishable, that’s Pure Guessing.
When Daigo throws a Hadouken that’s just out of “jump in punish range” (or nonpunishable by most means), that’s Zoning, that’s Fundamentals.
So, how should you approach any Fighting Game?
First, you must understand and accept that you will have to play guessing games, and you will make both right and wrong decisions. You will be correct, and you will not. You will feel good about guessing right very often, and you will feel bad about guessing wrong very often.
And just to make it perfectly clear on what “random” is: Random is when you do something that you had no intention of doing (thoughtlessly; execution error) and it somehow hits against all odds. Not because it was unpredictable (you could do something you didn’t want to do, and it could actually be predictable), but because the other player didn’t guess correctly and/or had an execution mistake as well.
To use Slapsies as the bridge here: random is when the person who’s slapping is going to miss by a few cm because they did it too fast (execution error), but the person dodging the slap also had an execution problem and dodged to the wrong side, thus getting hit by the slapper.
Ergo: Random occurrences are Freak Accidents. They’re not ridiculously rare. They’re just impossible to predict unless you’re watching two rookies playing and you predict that they’re both going to make a mistake. If you can predict that, you shouldn’t be playing Street Fighter, you should be playing Poker.
This ties into “How you should approach a Fighting Game” in a simple manner: stop thinking about “random”. Your opponent is not random. He’s just making decisions you’re not able to predict.
Newsflash: making decisions in fighting games, for the most part, is a kid’s game. The more you think, the better you can plan out your stuff and make intelligent schemes. But you also turn more predictable. The less you think, the more impulsive you are, and usually the harder it is for you to be predictable. I’m talking about being wild here. Not about being angry and jumping 5 times in a row. If you’re jumping 5 times in a row, you’re positively thinking: “I’m going to jump and punish him now for all those times he hit me”. That’s predictable.
Even a 10 year old can make good decisions in a Fighting Game and come out on top. All he needs is execution, and there are 6 year olds who play piano better than you. Fighting Games have got zero to do with how old you are.
Alex Valle is not winning tournaments, and Kusanagi is not losing like crazy.
What matters is your decision making. And since most Fighting Games can be summarized to Nitaku (2 choice situations), it’s mostly binary. You either go left, or right. You either pick 1 or 0.
You either throw your opponent, or you do a normal and frametrap them.
And that’s where reversals show up. They break the nitaku. Every game has them. Tekken has low/high crushes, VF has them as well. They’re there to break the flow of the game.
But all in all, they’re part of the Guessing Game too. They’re wild cards, but they shouldn’t be interpreted as so. You should never see your choices as binary. You shouldn’t see them as choices. You should simply read your opponent and execute your option, no matter what. Then deal with the result, and go back to guessing.
If your opponent surprises you, accept it as normal, and prepare yourself for the next guess. If you are surprised, you are arrogant. Why would you be surprised? You will not guess everything. You’re either surprised because you underestimated your opponent and you didn’t know they could/knew how to do that, or you’re surprised because you thought you knew what they were going to do in the first place. Either way, you’re full of yourself. Everyone is.
Accept whenever you’re wrong and whenever your opponent is right. Do not be surprised. Learn to lose because you guessed wrong several times during the match, instead of losing because you were in awe after focusing on a particular wrong guess during the entire match.
So we learned that Fighting Games are successions of situations where players have to take guesses and swap places in terms of who has the advantage and who hasn’t.
But how should characters be approached? I’ll now give you a few examples, and I believe you can work your way afterwards.
Guile vs Cody
Guile has chip damage in the form of his Sonic Boom. Being that way, if Cody blocked for an entire round, Guile would need either a gigantic amount of Sonic Booms to win by chip damage, or around 9 throws (1000/120=8,3 throws).
9 throws imply 9 correct guesses.
On the other hand, Cody, being the high stun, high damage character that he is, would require 2-4 correct guesses to win a match. But two is the probable minimum due to his high stun.
Now, this doesn’t mean that Cody is a Pure Guessing character. He’s actually setup and fundamentals based. He can be played as a Pure Guessing character as well, but it’s completely unnecessary.
Thing is, like Seth, since Cody has such a powerful weight behind his options compared to Guile, Guile has to make more choices to both survive and deal damage. So Guile players strive on other players’ mistakes. They make their own game based on the opponents’ wrong choices. They’re not “punishers” (as players like to call certain characters). They just force the opponent to take certain chances to get in. A Guile player guides the opponent the same way a Chess player would. So Guile is completely Fundamentals and Setup based. He schemes. He throws a projectile so you jump, so he can then Anti-Air you. He traps you.
Cody can do the same, but for the most part, he’ll want to be in Guile’s face, forcing Guile to guess if he’s gonna get thrown or eat a frametrap. If Guile is thrown, he’s back on the “slappee” side, having to figure out when the palm is gonna hit him once more, and from which side.
The game is crooked (no game is balanced) because certain characters have:
a) Setups with pretty much no bad repercussions if the other player guesses correctly, thus allowing them to just run away, whereas the player using the setup takes no damage for guessing wrong (Ibuki/Akuma/Seth)
b) Scales tipped in favor of their choices, since each choice they get correct leads to brilliant results, plus they get more chances to force the opponent into guessing more often (Cammy, for example)
c) Characters with the complete opposite of the above.
This leads me to Tier lists.
Let’s just get this out of the way: Tier lists are idiotic. Not because tiers don’t exist, but because they’re about as correct as when people stated the Earth was flat. Tier lists are theoretical at best. You can’t put a probability on “how often X character wins vs Y character in a 10 match set”. You can’t, because we’re not machines. You want to, you really do, but you can’t.
What you can do, and what you should do is simply interpret every match-up in two possible fashions:
b) Not balanced
It’s that simple.
There’s no such thing as a 6-4, and there’s no such thing as “two players of the same caliber”, because, again, we’re not machines. It’s not T-2000 vs T-2000. “If both players go “Hasta La Vista Baby”, but one uses Honda and the other uses Ryu, then the match-up is…” No. That’s not how it works.
Forget the numbers. Delete them from your head. Delete the probabilities if you would, please. These aren’t cards, and this isn’t Poker.
When is a match Balanced?
When it’s not Unbalanced. There. One step clear. Let’s move on.
When is a match Unbalanced?
Ah, here we go.
A match is unbalanced when a given character has a very significant disadvantage when it comes to acquiring a chance to deal damage. That’s how you summarize it because that’s precisely what it comes down to.
Why is every match vs Akuma unbalanced in ST? Because he won’t give you chances to dish out damage.
Same thing happens to Dhalsim when facing Akuma in SF4. After a certain point is reached during the match, Dhalsim will not get many opportunities to hit Akuma. Since that point in particular is not hard to reach for Akuma, it’s completely in his favor.
What about Chun-Li vs Zangief, why is that unbalanced? Because Zangief has very few opportunities to dish out damage.
So, you see, it has nothing to do with “getting in” or “getting out”. It has to do directly with the chances you have of hitting your opponent, since all that matters is reducing his life gauge, even if you have to time it out in the end.
Why is Ken vs Ryu balanced and not a “6-4”? Because numbers don’t take into account the fact that both characters have about the same chances to dish out damage, and the players themselves using the characters are different as well.
If you want to put numbers on something, do it on players.
You’d say Tokido vs Ryan Hart is probably 95% is favor of Tokido assuming they use their main characters. You’ll still be making up stupid probabilities, but at least it’s in the name of fun. You’re not religiously believing that (hopefully).
Above all, whenever you play a fighting game, accept the following:
[list][*]What your character is capable of, and what the opponent's character is capable of as well (do not think about tiers, just the inherent strength, their guess/result weight ratio, their options like walking speed, normals, specials, throws, the setups). [*]You're going to make bad choices. You're going to make good choices. Try to choose correctly more often than not. If you don't know your opponent, take 1 round to test them out if possible in particular situations. Bait reversals, bait throws, bait jumps, bait a reaction from them. But try to win nonetheless. If they're scared shitless or being plain dumb with their choices, then take that round. Then use the other rounds to put into play what you learned (or you think you learned) from them. Remember, they're not random. Do not get hung up on your bad decisions, and do not be surprised. Accept everything. [*]Execution dictates if you can make your guess a reality or not. It matters a lot, and different characters have different execution. If you blame your character for losing, then maybe you shouldn't be using that character in the first place. If you blame the other character for winning against you, then maybe you should either use their character, or play a different game where your favorite character is in the upper echelon. [*]There is no ideal way to win. As long as you don't cheat or punch your opponent in the face while playing, if you end the timer or the round with more health than he does, then you win. I can't instill you the idea that "there are no beautiful wins". You might love to show off and do long combos, and you might prefer a win like that instead of a win by doing jabs the whole time. But that's a matter of preference. [*]Based on the above point: your opponent might have a different approach from yours. He might not care about combos or being "pretty". He might play very ugly. He might take a huge amount of risks. Clear your head, be cold, and worry about your own guesses and forcing him to guess. Don't fill your head with thoughts about ideals, who's playing right and who's playing wrong; the one who deserves the win is, for the most part, the one who won. Even if he started playing two days ago and you played for two years. [*]Perfects and comeback victories are beautiful when the amount of consecutive correct guesses is high. If a Seth player guesses twice correctly and achieves a perfect, that's common. If a Ryu guesses right 8 times in a row and gets a win, that's beautiful, even if he had to trade his last hit for a bit of life, not even getting the perfect. That, my friends, is the difference between a win based on decision making, and one based on high damage combo execution. You decide what you consider to be "skilled". I go with both, but when it comes to "beauty", I'm inclined towards the first.[/list]