How do you spend your attention? - A theory of FG Strategy

Hello SRK!

I’ll start by introducing myself. I’m DeathZeroZX aka “Death”, “DZ”, “MunchMunch”, etc. You’ve probably seen me around in the Art Threads as I have customized close to a couple hundred of sticks for people. I used to be part of the HD (High Desert) Crew when I had the time to attend our local sessions and go to tourneys. I used to play Bipson in SSFIV and AE and was pretty decent with him but I just couldn’t devote time to it anymore due to a new job. That, and life throwing me curveballs to last the whole 9 innings…

Back to the topic I want to bring up to your attention(heh…) I have recently taken up the hobby of riding motorcycles. Took an MSF beginner course, got my M1 license, and a new bike =). Some helpful riders suggested that I read Keith Code’s A Twist of the Wrist Vol. 1 and 2. So I picked up a copy and read through the first volume. I found an interesting introduction on ATTENTION.

Now the chapter was meant to be applied to riding but I couldn’t help myself relating it to many other things, fighting games mainly. So, I thought I would share my theory on this with all of you. Take for it what you will but I hope this provides you with a little insight on how you play and be aware of what you do when you play.

Attention. We always pay attention. When we don’t, we come back asking questions. What just happened? Why did that hit me? Why wasn’t I looking for that? How did I lose? What am I doing wrong? These questions help nobody level up. If you don’t know how you did something how can you improve on it? Take those negative thoughts and throw them out. Start thinking on what you actually did and what you can do to improve when you do it again. Sounds more reasonable than trying to improve something you didn’t do, right?

Getting back to attention, we all have our limits of how much attention we can give. So let’s give that amount of attention a number. Say we have $10.00 of attention and you spend $5.00 on one aspect of your play style. Well, you still have $5.00 to spend on the rest. Spend eight and you have two left. Get the picture?

Some players will say that they do things “automatic”. That they just do that without thinking. Not true… It’s just that they’re spending less attention to do it. New players have to spend more attention to do more basic things. “I have to slow down and focus on inputting this combo or else I will screw it up”. You can say that the new players are spending dollars at a time when seasoned players are spending nickels and dimes. You, as the player, need to make hundreds of decisions during a match. If you understand how to make the correct decisions you’re probably a fairly good player.

When we don’t understand something, our attention is taken up by it. Something unexpected happens and you panic. You can’t think about anything else but what’s going on. You’re fixed on the situation. You spend $9.99 of your attention trying to figure out what’s going on and you only have a penny to spend on your action to get out of it. You’re overdrawn to be able to cover the situation. However, if you knew what to expect beforehand, you could have prevented it or at least responded quick to get out of it and still be able to keep calm and ready for the next situation that comes.

Now lets split that $10 to individual categories of playing.

We can have Defense, Spacing, Reaction, Timing, and Meter Management.

Let’s see some situations. When a match starts, one may spend most of their attention on Spacing and Reaction at $3 each. They want to read the opponent and counter to set up their offensive. Well that leaves them with only $4 to split for Defense, Timing and Meter Management. I’m gonna take a quote straight from Keith Code himself.

“Your senses don’t ‘see’ into the next moment. Your plan does”

Your plan is what’s getting you through every set. Every match. Every round. If you don’t have a plan for what’s next, what’s going to happen to your attention? So this player didn’t plan to manage their meter and they get their self into a sticky situation where an EX move, a Super Bar or Tension could have been used had they set up a plan for it. You need to focus on the whole picture.

The opponent then gets in your face but you’ve luckily spaced yourself out of their poke reach and then react by counter poking and starting a block string or frame trap. Well you leave too much of a frame gap and get thrown because your Timing was off. You weren’t thinking about timing that jab to fierce that you should have practiced in the lab so that you didn’t have to think about it during a match.

Now you’re on the ground. You didn’t plan for this and now you panic. What’s your attention going to be spent on? A lot of players might just go “$10 on Meter Management! I’ll just wake up with something that should keep me safe and on my feet”. Well your opponent either expected that and baited you or he crossed you up hitting you right on the tip of your hurtbox. The situation happens all over again. You don’t have a plan for what’s going to happen next. Being knocked down is frustrating but you need to have a plan to handle it and spend your attention to what matters.

Instead, think about how you can Defend. Your opponent’s Spacing. Timing your reversal. Reacting to a possible cross up. Manage if and how you should spend your Meter. The more you have a plan for everything, the less attention it will take up.

Lets go to another scenario. You’ve got your opponent in the corner and you’ve got full meter/s and can pull off a good combo to finish them off. You decide to spend your attention on Meter Management and Timing. You plan on hitting them with this combo and you’re going to finish it with something that really hurts. $5 on Meter. $4 on Timing. $1 for your Spacing and Reaction. What ends up happening? Your opponent throws out a counter poke but does not connect and does a block string anyways and jumps out of the corner while you’re still in block stun. You didn’t plan for the opponent’s block string and you didn’t react to their unsafe poke. To top things off, you’re in the corner now.

I hope you’re getting the picture by now. I would like you to start thinking about what you do in the lab and how it’s really working for you during the match. You can practice that same damn Vergil combo hours upon hours but did you even experiment on how to Stinger Dash Cancel to space yourself to set up for the combo? How will you land the combo if you didn’t plan on how to start it? We all know that during a match, nothing is as perfect in a match as placing your dummy in the corner or keeping them at half screen. Plan for things to go awry. Set up panic situations to deal with. Know how your opponent can move around and attack. To put it simply, BE READY FOR ANYTHING.

As a side note to being ready, Keith Code also explains about being ready to fall off of a bike. I think we can also apply this to fighting games. If you’re afraid of being knocked down, you will get knocked down. You will be fixated on it. Say you’re playing against Seth in AE. It’s understandable to be afraid of being knocked down because he’s got tons of mixup games for you. But if you’re too afraid of it, you’ll never be ready and will always panic when it happens. Train yourself on being ok. Tell yourself, “It’s a high possibility that I will get knocked down and that can lead to me being only damaged a little and wake up with a good defense. Or I could lose half my life or even lose the round/match” Know what to expect so that you don’t focus on it or take up your attention. Being knocked down is part of the game and learn to accept it and use it to your advantage. Playing Marvel so many things can happen. A lot of people don’t understand it and shrug while saying “that’s mahvel baby” while the pros that continue to win can see clearly what went down way before it even happened.

In conclusion, I hope this may help you out and understand how you’re playing or at least give yourself a different perspective on playing fighting games. I thought I would share this all to everyone and if you enjoyed it for a good read (or a good laugh) let me know. I’m DeathZeroZX and I’ll see you around on the forums…

Oh and by the way, if you’re interested in what I ride, I’ve got a 2013 Kawasaki Ninja 300 and I love the damn thing =D. I also decided on writing this when I couldn’t sleep… I gotta wake up at 6am to go riding with a buddy but now I think I’ve gotten a little sleepier… YAAAWWWWWNNNNNN. Good night!

This article touches on the topic of focus management as well:

A very good read. I need time to digest this.

“I wanted to educate people who don’t pay enough attention, so I wrote a rather lengthy article.”

Nah but seriously, it was a decent read. As someone whose psychology degree is gathering dust, I can say that attention is not nearly as linear as you make it out to be, but the overall picture is accurate. I don’t think good players choose what to spend their attention on, moreso their brain automatically filters out a ton of stimuli that they’re used to, and responds to it in predetermined ways. In other words, they’ve just developed a ton of good habits. This frees up more of their conscious thought process for prediction and reaction.

Comparitively, a new player is overloaded with unfamiliar stimuli, so he’s going to face the problem you mentioned about not being able to effectively divide his attention. He spends too much time processing and gets tunnel vision easily. However, rather than worry about managing his attention, he should be doing everything he can to eliminate the need to pay attention altogether. You hint at this in your post, but I feel it could be a little more concise. The gist of it is, practice situations and confirms in the most realistic way possible so you can react automatically when you’re put in those positions. Or just play a shitload of games.

Great read!!!

It may not be as linear as I laid it out but it’s easier explained that way. Also not just newbies but experienced players can learn from this. I always hear about people hitting “the wall”. They don’t know how to improve themselves and only focus what they didn’t do. Some may pick up on what they do with a few rounds while others have countless matches under their belt and still don’t get it. I can only hope that they read this and try to rethink how they’re doubting their ability to do something and improve on what they already do well. I could keep going on making references to A Twist of the Wrist and applying it to FGs but if anyone else wants to read it I would say go ahead and get what you can from it. The book talks about strategy. Seeing how something plays out. One interesting part talks about asking you to play back your lap time in your head and time it with a stop watch then see if your play back matches up with your actual lap time. Too fast and you missed out details you should have paid attention to. Too slow and you were taking too long thinking on something you were fixated on.

Ask a player if they can recall what they did the first round after a match. I’m sure they will only provide bits and pieces and not remember what they did because they were, what forum dwellers call, “on autopilot”.

So on and so forth, the book talks about looking back on videos (in this case replays) and observe how you do. Sponsorships, and how too many can be a problem or if you’re not doing a good enough job for that sponsor. Good stuff… good stuff indeed…

Learning becomes more difficult as you grow older. You try to compensate for this from your gathered experience and from the methods you already learned, Which unfortunately may be different from what you expect in a video game. Gaming changed so much in so few years!

When I see now video game matches analyzed so scientifically, I just realize how old I’ve become for video games and how much behind I was left! Trying to catch up, even if just a little. Cant concentrate 100 % on video games nowadays. Like going from Doom to COD, and from Kick Off to FIFA

Hence a newer and more importantly a younger player, will have things much easier. Whats more important, he’ll learn things much faster since there is a motive behind this.

I noticed, attention and reaction time are there. Whats missing is the ability to do things mechanically. Something which is developed from a young age, If not, you can polish but not replace the motor. Like in sports. Best age to start is from a young age. If you reach one age limit, it will be impossible to catch up/

If that were the case then playing something like SSF2T or MvC2 is actually harder than playing SSFIV AE or UMVC3. The older games take a lot more fundamentals and faster reflexes than the new games do. There were no focus attacks or x factors. Games didn’t really heavily on chain combos. I’d be getting into a bigger discussion that I don’t want to bring here.

Don’t let your age and reactions get in the way of improving. My article is a good way of doing that. By setting up situations and practicing your plans, your mind will do less thinking on what’s to come and more focus on your execution. I don’t think it’s impossible to catch up but you do have to practice often to stay at a competitive level. You need to be aware of the situations that can happen during matches. Study match ups to stay ahead of your opponent as well.

The older games were just as “scientific” as the new games are if not more. Take a game like 3S or even Guilty Gear. So many systems and meter management involved. Overheads and crossups didn’t just exist in the newer games today. Hell take a look at super turbo. That game is also extremely technical. Anyways, if execution is your weakness, then find a character (or a team) that does not require heavy execution. That will help balance your attention to timing and reactions with more attention on meter management, defense and spacing.

i like the article and agree with what you wrote.

Older games were harder but the disadvantage and perhaps also the reason, was that online resources were far fewer. So game was mostly wasted in casual offline play.Basically now i am relearning older fighters too. They are harder, if not impossible to master. Eg i had no idea about garou ab cancel combos when i first played the game in early 2000. They make fadc seem easy by comparison. Or i couldnt get the use of 3s parry. No online videos at that time.

It would have been more convenient if i were a total beginner.