After a long discussion with a friend of mine about what the best way to effectively train a beginner in a fighting game is, we ended up identifying 9 fundamental areas of skill where players excel. Some areas can be developed by practice easily, other only come through lots of dedicated work. I figured I’d share this since some people were interested.
I’m trying to avoid being general and vague as much as possible. I’d also like to point out that this was developed in reference to 3-D fighting games, but I still believe it applies to 2-D fighting games.
Concentration is the ability to stay focused within a match. It’s the ability to play regardless of external distractions, as well as the ability to utilize one’s knowledge and technical within a match. When two equally skilled players are playing against each other the one who’s concentration breaks first will almost always be the first to lose. Sometimes concentration can break due to a strange set-up, an untimely whiff, or some kind of activity from spectators.
Concentration is absolutely essential within a tournament environment. Talented players often fail to perform well at tournaments, because they haven’t developed the level of concentration needed to get them through matches. Some players can get distracted by their opponent’s friends cheering them in the background. Or they might be distracted by hecklers. It could even be they are playing a well-known player and aren’t used to a large crowd. Regardless, without the ability to stay focused on what the opponent is doing in the match a player will not go far until they improve their concentration.
Reaction is the ability to quickly respond to an opponents moves, particularly their mid-low mix-ups. The average player can defend against a 27 frame mid-low mix-up on reaction. Someone with high level reaction can defend against 20-23 frame mid low mix-ups on reaction. (Note: some of my friends and I are able to do this, but other friends can’t do it at all.)
The ability to react against a move is not something that occurs in a vacuum. How well a player can react to a move depends on their familiarity with the visual cues of a move. Moves that have very distinguished visual cues are easier to react against. If the initial frames of a move’s animation are unique many players will be able to respond to a move. Kunimitsu’s ss3+4 in TTT is a 16 frame move, which should make it impossible to react to, in theory. Yet virtually all players can block it on reaction due to the sidestepping animation that proceeds it. Likewise, slower moves that may appear similar to other moves start up frames may be harder to defend against. Other moves have auditory cues that players consciously or unconsciously react to.
Players with high level of reaction ability do not have to guess as often as those with average to low level reaction ability. Reaction is one of the most difficult skills to train.
Observation is the ability to identify set-ups, simple patterns and recognize player mannerisms and habits. Players with high level observation skill often have an eye for detail. What strikes average players as minutia, strikes people with good observation as important details. High level observation ability allows people to identify patterns and determine what move is coming next. Not to be confused with experience or rhythm.
High level observation skills allow players to overcome unorthodox players with high originality. Observation is more of an inherent tendency than a skill which can be developed, but it can be trained.
Spacing is the understanding the range and hit boxes of a characters moves, as well as a characters various option at certain ranges relative to the opponent. Players with good spacing only use moves at their optimum range, whiff punish often and only miss when their opponent jumps/sidesteps/backdashes or performs another evasive movement.
Players with terrible spacing throw moves out at ranges where they can’t hit. They whiff moves without their opponent even evading and leave themselves very vulnerable to whiff punishing. This is not to be confused with a skilled player who throws out a move that recovers quickly in an attempt to bait the opponent.
Having a sense of a hit-boxes shape, and angle also contributes towards one’s understanding of spacing. Spacing also encompasses the geometry of projectiles, particularly in Versus games. Understanding a character’s offensive and defensive options and how they change from range 0 to full screen is a product of spacing.
There is no substitute for good spacing. It can be a big factor between two otherwise equally skilled opponents. Fortunately spacing is something that can be developed with practice with minimal difficulty.
Execution (or Technique) is the ability to consistently perform combos or movements that require strict timing and which often involve long and/or complex inputs. Players with high level execution are able to perform “just frame” moves consistently, and pull off long, high-end combos with little or no error. High level execution is largely a matter of manual dexterity.
Consistency is the key factor in determining a players execution. While many players are able to perform complex combos, many are not able to perform them reliably against an opponent. Players with high level execution are much less concerned with dropping combos than other players are.
While execution comes easier to some than others, it’s also a skill that can be developed very well with practice.
Punishment is the ability to consistently capitalize on another players mistakes, whether it be a whiffed move, blocked combo, or dropped combo. Though partially a product of reaction and experience, some players are far more proficient at punishing minor mistakes than others. Good punishment ability it determined by how consistently a player is able to punish mistakes. Thus more opportunistic players will reap the benefits from punishing moves that have small risk associated with them, or more consistently punishing moves with larger risk. In some instances, high level reaction is required to punish a move.
Virtually all players who excel at punishment have high concentration ability, but the reverse isn’t always true. There are plenty of players able to maintain their focus on a match who don’t punish moves as often as they should.
Originality is simply uncommon responses to common situations. Originality is reflected in movement, combos, and various set-ups. Players with high levels of originality tend to play their character in a very unorthodox manner. Or players with high originality often use combos and set-ups that are unique or rarely seen.
Original players can often go online and view match videos and see that either their combos, or tactics are not used by other players using the same characters. Or they can attend tournaments, find success, and see droves of players copying their tactics/combos. Often the best combo videos online are produced by players with high levels of originality.
Originality runs counter to experience. Player with highly distinctive play styles are often able to overwhelm experienced players who are used to a particular character only being played one way. Originality is also the ability to come up with creative responses to an opponent within a match. Thus a player with a high level of originality may be able to develop a strange set-up on the fly, or a distinctive counter to an unfamiliar tactic.
A sense of playfulness, is one of the most important elements of originality. Playfulness allows a player to be willing to experiment.
Players who are original in their tactics, may not necessarily be original in their move selection, or their combos. Some are original in all areas, and those players are difficult to overwhelm. However originality can be overcome by a player with a good sense of rhythm.
Rhythm is the ability to recognize an opponents sense of timing and flow. It is often misunderstood and lost under the blanket term of ‘adaptability’ but it is far more specific than that. Each player has their own rhythm, which is largely predicated by the moves they use.
Often players will get crushed in a match an not understand why. Their opponent will suddenly start hitting them with flashy, and often unsafe moves, and they will connect seemingly out of now where. This is because the opponent has discovered their rhythm. They may not understand exactly what move is coming next(pattern), but they understand when the next move is coming(rhythm). Players have an easy time consciously changing their pattern, but often have a difficult time consciously changing their rhythm. Predictable patterns make it easy for players to pick up rhythms.
In 3-D games, experienced players, whether novice or expert can have difficult with complete beginners who mash buttons. This is because a player who is randomly button mashing without any sense of what they are doing, has no set rhythm, and they cannot be read or anticipated. It’s one frantic, annoying, unpredictable tempo, which can force even the best players to fall back to blocking and punishing.
Players with a great sense of rhythm are adept at delaying and pausing to throw off their opponents timing. In addition to picking up their opponents rhythm, they are able to consciously change their own rhythm.
Experience is knowledge gained through gameplay. Experience can be knowledge of set-ups, tactics, combos, character properties, match-ups, strengths, and weaknesses. Players who have played a wide variety of human opponents, or who have consistently played a smaller variety of highly skilled opponents tend to be more experienced.
Most players gain experience through tournaments, and/or online. However there are players who are able to study their character in training mode without human competition and still develop highly effective tactics. Experience allows a player to effectively deal with familiar tactics that a less experienced player may be incapable of dealing with on the fly.
Knowledge of match-ups is a huge part of experience. Some players might be intimately familiar with popular characters, but be unfamiliar with an unpopular character. Lack of experience against an unfamiliar characters can be quickly lead to defeat in many cases. This is largely do to the fact that players who use unpopular characters can quickly develop experience against more popular characters, but the reverse isn’t true.
Experience is staple for all skilled players but it is not the same as skill. A more experienced player does not necessarily possess better execution, faster reaction, more originality, or any of the other skills mentioned.
Of all skills, it is the easiest and most fundamental to develop. Experience can be gained through both interaction and observation.
Originally my friend and I wanted to develop a rating system, allowing a player to rate themselves in each category from a 1 to a 7. The problem was that certain skills such as were too difficult to quantify in a simplistic easily understood manner. While players who’ve attended a lot of tourneys and had a lot of competition probably have a great understanding of how good their skill are relative to others, people who lack experience probably aren’t able to make an honest assessment.
I was hoping some folks on SRK could help me to come up with a way to develop a rating system for each of the nine areas. Even if you’re not interested in giving input, thanks for taking this time to read this huge post.