So I wrote an essay about counterhits, how they function in SFV, and how they should be designed. I’d appreciate any feedback before I go posting over at Capcom Unity, since I think the counterhit game is lacking right now. I did it all in one go, so if you see any errors in my logic please point them out, as this was just kind of thrown onto a word processor.
A Groundfloor Theory of Counterhits
A counterhit is when you strike an opponent during the startup frames of an attack or throw. This grants you additional damage, stun, and frame advantage in Street Fighter. In this essay I wish to explore how a player generates counterhits and how moves can be designed to make counterhits a strong part of a game. This essay won’t touch upon more advanced issues such as baiting reversals or delayed teching, but rather establish a basic understanding of how counterhits work and what can be done to make them useful and fun in Street Fighter V.
Now, Street Fighter V has two different kinds of counterhits; regular and “crush counter hits” henceforth refered to as CCH. A CCH, in addition to granting more damage and stun, also puts the opponent into a staggered state which can be followed up with more attacks or throws. On an aerial counterhit the opponent is put into a juggle state which can also be followed up upon.
To begin, there are three main ways that a counterhit occurs in Street Fighter; setups, stuffing, and scrambles. There is a fourth method present in many anime games where counterhits include active frames and often recovery frames (the latter which has been added to Street Fighter V for dragon punches), but we’ll be focusing on those methods present in this game.
Scrambles are the way that most counterhits occur for beginner level players. When left close to an opponent without frame advantage, many players will both try and get their attack out first in order to sieze the momentum. Scrambles tend to be unpredictable and thus can’t be counted on for creating damage or positioning; the classic button mash scenario. As both players tend to be trying to get quick moves out, the useful counterhits in this situation tend to come from jab moves, which if they are mashed in an attempt to get one out first will result in very little effect from generating a counterhit as opposed to a normal hit. Jab links may also been seen here by more level headed players, such as in the Beta build of SFV where Bison can link his cr.lp into a cr.mp for a combo. As these generally come out of quick pressure buttons, these tend to be the least important type of counterhit.
Stuffing occurs in the neutral game, in which one player puts out a poke that catches the startup frames of an opponent’s normal; it is effectively the opposite end of whiff punishing. In SFV, there are CCH moves designed for this such as Cammy’s cr.hp which has solid range but normally doesn’t lead into anything but is safe on block thanks to its range. Other times you have moves such as Bison’s cr.mp which can link into itself on counter hit, granting more damage and positioning. Fast long ranged moves tend to be best at this; you are generally not just hoping that an opponent will walk into your move but that they will press a button that expands their hurtbox or simply let you get into a threatening range. The opposite end of stuffing, whiff punishing, often comes from a failed stuffing or when the opponent expected you to walk into their limb. This creates counterplay, as stuffing is weak against a patient opponent who attempts to whiff punish but is very strong when you get an opponent “on tilt” and can bully your way into your optimal range while your opponent wants to press buttons.
Setups are the final and arguably most important type of counterhit generating mechanism. A setup is fairly simple for most characters; you leave a slight break in your pressure during which the opponent can act. During this gap they must guess if you plan on striking them or throwing them. If they think you will throw them and go for a tech but are wrong, your button catches them during the startup of their throw and counterhits them. If they guess strike and block but are wrong, they get thrown. This is known as a frametrap and also applies to meaty pressure after you’ve knocked down an opponent and make them guess strike or throw. Generally moves used for setups can also combo on normal hit if your opponent tries to jump or backdash, albeit often into weaker combos. Frametraps which have a small enough gap that any button press will get counterhit (generally 1-3 frames) will be called small gap frametraps.
Now, the other side of setups is when you space your frametrap so that you can do it from just outside of your opponent’s jab/throw range. This way you can still threaten to hold forward for a moment to throw them, but if you go for a frametrap you are safe against an attempted tech or jab. These frametraps tend to have larger gaps because they don’t need to worry about being thrown or jabs during the gap, and thus can lead with scarier moves which have longer startup. The other threat to your opponent is that you can walk back in and start doing the smaller gap frametraps and they should hit a button to push you out, which can be counterhit. These frametraps will be called spaced frametraps.
To briefly touch upon punish counterhits as there are in SFV against dragon punches, these truly only matter in so much as they denote a character’s optimal damage punish combo. This is more about balancing the risk/reward of a failed reversal and has more to do about designing a character’s peak damage output than what I’d like to address here. The free counterhits should be taken into account but this is of tertiary concern.
So how do we design counterhits in a game such as SFV? It is important to look at what jabs can link into on counterhit for scrambles, but that situation isn’t as important for giving slower normals purpose. Which means we need to focus on stuffing and setups.
Let’s separate stuffing counterhits into two types; pokes and neutral winners. A poke is fairly simple; something like your bog standard st.mk. This move doesn’t normally lead into anything but can often control space fairly well. On counterhit it often gives enough advantage to link back into itself, which more than doubles its damage and stun. This doesn’t win you neutral in that you often are still too far for setups such as frametraps, but does grant you a solid edge.
Neutral winners are moves that get you in your opponent’s face at advantage so that you have your full range of setups and they have to stand there and guess. A poke which leads into a sweep on counterhit (and is visually confirmable) is one of these. Most CCH moves are these, as you can dash in and get a combo into knockdown or reset. To bring back Cammy’s cr.hp, this is a perfect neutral winning counterhit move thanks to its solid range getting you damage on hit while being confirmable after a CCH into a Spiral Arrow or Critical Art.
Therefore CCHs that have decent range such as Cammy’s cr.hp can be designed to work as neutral winners. Their job is to get you some damage and positioning if an opponent walks into them, but on CCH you get a combo into setups. These moves are long ranged and can be minus on block but generally should be safe, although they may lose you some positioning on block.
This leaves us with two types of setup counterhits; the small gap frametraps and the spaced frametraps. For the former, due to the fact that any button will get counterhit tend to use faster moves, often medium buttons and sometimes the fastest of heavies. This limits their damage somewhat compared to using big nasty moves, but reduces the risk of getting jabbed or thrown. A spaced frametrap often uses a very heavy and somewhat slower button due to not having to fear jabs/throws due to range, but it also tends to counterhit less often as the wider gap means the opponent may whiff a move as opposed to getting hit out of startup. With jabs that can chain on whiff however, these moves can still get counterhits thanks to there being no recovery, just startup and active frames.
So how do we use CCH moves here? Placing them on small gap moves is incredibly strong as it puts your opponent into a very risky situation while you can gain a huge amount of damage. Placing them on spaced frametraps tends to lead to few counterhits as you’ll often end up catching whiffed jabs and if the move puts forth its hurtbox before its hitbox then you run the risk of running into a jab or throw.
Balancing where to put CCH on moves is thus a tricky situation. Street Fighter V compounds this by having very few small gap frametraps due to having very little block advantage on many normals. Many players feel little incentive to hit buttons right now which decreases the power of counterhits. So what can be done?
A simple solution is to increase the counterhit vulnerable frames of throws. Right now throws have a 4 frame starup, which means there are 3 counterhitable frames. Thus any spaced normal which has a gap of greater than 3 will not get the counterhit. Increasing the counterhit frames of a whiffed throw (and throw tech) attempt will give slower CCH moves a solid purpose. Another possible way to make counterhits and CCHs solid is to increase blockstun in order to make small gap frametraps more viable while letting the spaced frametraps able to catch slightly slower buttons or delayed throw techs easier. Throws can also be made more threatening, incentivizing people to hit buttons such as mashed jabs by increasing throw range so that spaced frametraps are scarier and can be done more often. This can also be done through increased walkspeeds which allow one to threaten the throw from further away without having to commit to a dash the opponent can react to and punish.