After discussing some specifics of exploiting control in part 3, we return here in part 2.7 to an examination of how to maintain control. Specifically, this is about being relentless, and maintaining pressure even when your character itself isnt up to the task.
But wait- doesnt any gameplan have holes? You can only keep the real pressure on for so long. Eventually, the opponent gets pushed out of range, you lose your charge, you run out of super, etc., right? What then? The different ways people play in answer to this question provides another subtle-but-important way of distinguishing the best from the rest.
Its first important to admit that, yes, this is true. Apart from certain rare matchups that are complete washouts, every gameplan will have holes. There just are times during a match where your character is no longer capable of effectively pressuring the opponent. Maybe, as say Ryu, youve been bullying them around with a series of blocked moves into a fireball. If theyre not in the corner (sweet friend to the dominator), that blocked fireball may have pushed them effectively out of range of any of your real threats. In effect, this subsection of your gameplan is temporarily over, your effective control is at an end- theres a gap- a hole.
Since were recognizing that such holes are a reality even for the best players (though the gameplans of the best players tend to minimize the number of such holes), we can focus on what to do about them. One option is of course to “admit” the hole, and just stop. You know the opponent is, at least for the moment, mostly safe. Youre too far away to hit them with a normal move, and too far to throw them. Youre at the wrong distance to jump in, and fireballing isnt safe either. Of course, you may be effectively safe from your opponents threats as well, but were not concerned about simply staying safe- the idea is to keep the pressure on, to control the match. To create mistakes through unrelenting attack. A lot of players will balk at a situation like this. They end up doing something weak, like jumping away, just to end the stand-off (the extreme importance of having meter for VCs in A3 makes this (running away) a better idea than in other games, which is something I dislike about it, since it dispels the wonderful tension created by these gaps). Its not necessarily handing the other player control, but it leaves it as a toss-up- to regain the initiative, youre going to have to win it in the open field- from scratch, as it were. This wont get you killed (especially in games with airblocking/parrying, multiple jumps, etc.), but it is abandoning the control that the best strive to maintain.
So what are the non-weak alternatives? There are two primary options:
- You can use the gap as a set-up. As the one in control, you recognize when your series will come to an end. Youre ready for it. If youre smart, youll be thinking (at least) one step ahead, and be ready to react to any attempt by your opponent to take advantage of the gap. This is essentially whats described in greater detail in part 3.
Its still important to reiterate that even “artificial” gaps can be used like this, of course. In the middle of an otherwise tight series, you can intentionally leave a hole. This gap is “artificial” because you could have kept going with your series, but dont. Why not? Why let them out early? Precisely because the trapped player will ask themselves that question! Trying to prompt second-guessing and the accompanying paralysis like this is whats behind the “stutter-step” approach taken by a lot of top players- they mix-up the timing and order behind even very ordinary little series of moves (like blocked jabs into special, etc.). It sets up an interesting little meta-game among players in the know (or even players whove just been “trained” what to expect next). They have to ask, “Is this a real hole? Can I actually attack here?” Again, the decision is dangerous either way. If they decide to go for it, they may simply be falling for an intentional set-up that the dictator had intended all along. On the other hand, if they dont act immediately to try and take advantage of the apparent opportunity, they can lose it entirely. They also risk having a smart player use their moment of indecision to move into proper position to reset the original trapping series. Sucks to be you. Theyre essentially forced to gamble their relative (if dominated) safety against an opportunity to take back control and do some damage (lets not forget the initial motivator here- the trapper may have actually just screwed up!), or the possibility of something even worse. Setting up these depressing “cant win- only minimize loss” types of guessing games is something a good gameplan does a lot, and it often drives those trapped to desperate measures, even when they werent really that bad off.
Case in point: During an old Super Turbo tournament, Mike Watson is firing off fireballs from across the screen at a beleagured E. Honda, who cant get in. Realizing this, the skilled Honda starts just hopping straight over the fireballs- not getting in, but not getting punished for trying either. Theyre about even on life, so its a bit of a stalemate, though Watson is still dictating the pace. By throwing the repeated, rhythmic fireballs, hes established the expectation, and the basic dynamic. But then- bang- Mikes so-far consistent Ryu goes flying into the air- hes done a strong dragon punch. Huh? Such a dumb move in the middle of a sensible series is a surprise. Realizing that there was no possible way that move could have hit him (he was completely across the screen), Honda assumes (reasonably enough) that it must have been a mistake (this assumption being bolstered by the relative similarity of the DP and FB motions), and jumps in for the free lunch. Honda was wrong. While its true the strong DP couldnt have hit him under any circumstances, and that people might occasionally screw up and throw a DP in place of a FB, that particular DP was quite intentional. Since he was controlling the match, and had his background expectation established, Watson had the ability to create opportunity, even through a stalemate. He did something wacky, which seemed like an honest mistake- he had his trap in place, and seemed to blow it. He created an intentional gap in the pattern. Unfortunately for Honda, as Watson knew all along, the strong DP from across the screen would recover in plenty of time against someone as slow as Honda, especially when you factor in the moment of indecision (which is still very small- a fraction of a second) caused by the surprise of the whole thing. This leaves Ryu recovering on the ground just a bit ahead of the airborne Honda, who then eats a super as anti-air. Baited.com.
This also shows yet another aspect of the value of an effectively implemented gameplan: The good gameplan also not only negates the ill effects of predictability- it actually reverses them. It was only when seen in contrast to the general expectation (another fireball) that the surprise DP was effective enough to prompt a poorly considered attack (these types of consideration are also mentioned briefly in the “grumpy old man” player description). Youre also letting them know what youre doing next, and theyre still powerless to stop it, much less punish it. Very frustrating. This is especially unsettling to those players who think if they know what youre going to do, that should automatically enable them to respond appropriately (like the basis of whining about some keepaway in MVC2- “lemme guess- here comes another beam/Blackheart assist/photon charge!” Scrubs seem to think that their knowing what youre doing next somehow makes it no good, or less skillful-even as they ignore their own inability to get around it). Consider this a bonus point for its scrub-annoying side effects.
Lest we forget, heres the second kind of smart play when youre faced with a gap:
- The second option is to fake it. Thats right, fake it. When youre out of range to maintain your attack series, keep right on going, with stuff you know isnt really doing anything. Ideally, you use a move thats fast and relatively safe, but also highly visible.
Heres some background. Most scrubs think of the “real use” of a move in very limited kinds of ways. A move doesnt serve any “real” purpose if its not going to do damage (at least potentially), and certainly not if it isnt even going to connect! Good players realize, however, that this constant barrage of moves, whether serving the scrubby kind of “real” purpose or not, can still be highly effective. They act to blur the distinction in your opponents mind between whats dangerous (whats actually trapping, or threatening them), and whats just harmlessly random. They can act to bridge the gap between “real” traps, and provide the temporary paralysis necessary for you to set up your next approach.
You can see one of the easiest examples of something like this in top level shotokan play on virtually any of the SF games. Just relentlessly pummeling people with fireballs isnt always effective. There are lots of ranges where that just wont work. To bridge the gaps between when youre someplace it wont work anymore, and where it will, you see players like John Choi doing something as simple as firing off a couple of standing jabs before whatever he does next (its often jabs, but it varies with character and game- standing strongs seem popular in the 3 series). Does he think these jabs are going to hit? Hell no. What they do is to extend the sense that youre still being attacked. His character isnt just sitting there motionless, admitting that youre not right where he wants you. Hes moving- dynamic- just like when you were pinned down, spending all of your time trying to block, on the defensive. When hes moving like that, you continue to make the (until your recent release from the series) very reasonable assumption that hes dangerous, and that you need to look out. This extends your comparative paralysis- youre not in block-stun anymore, but his make-believe standing jabs gets you to act like you are. His advantage extends beyond its natural boundaries, and gives him the extra time needed to re-establish position while youre still trying to figure out whats really happening.
These are simple techniques, but should not be underestimated. The type of withering relentlessness that gap-bridging can bring to your game would be a serious improvement for a lot of otherwise strong players. Bridging the gaps means never having to say youre sorry- never giving away control (even when, by all rights, you should have to).
– Seth Killian
PS- I may begin to use certain matches from the soon-to-be-widely-available B4 tape as examples/background in future articles. They dont call them “textbook” matches for nothing