In the remainder of this mini-series, Ill try to list and explain the many advantages that flow from another central facet of top play: Control. Consistent winners always control the pace of their matches. Controlling the pace of a match sets up the key dynamic behind most every match- dictator and reactor. When I return to the second part, Ill discuss the various ways of achieving control. Here, Im jumping ahead to a juicy bit- an advanced way of exploiting the control youve earned.
One of the trademark moves of perpetual champion Alex Valle is the so-called “psychic DP”. The match is progressing normally, just sort of rolling along. You do something completely non-dangerous (like a low forward poke, or whatever)- bang. Its hit with a DP-outta-nowhere (of course this trick doesnt work only with the DP- substitute supermoves or whatever as appropriate). WTF.
A lot of scrubs will watch this and swoon, amazed at the ability to react to things in an apparently “psychic” way. This is a mistake for two reasons: 1) Its wrong. Even the best players arent psychic, even when youre just talking about their ability to predict your random moves. Theyre setting you up in ways you dont realize, then waiting for you to fall for it. 2) Like most of the beliefs that constitute the scrub mythology, believing in a better players “god-given ability to predict” just gets you off the hook. If predicting an opponents moves is just something that youre “born with”, then you shouldnt very well be blamed for not having it, right? Wrong. It is something you can develop, but you must first recognize that doing so is a real possibility, and have some idea of how to proceed. Belief in “psychic” powers is just another subtle excuse for your own weakness. Consider:
While probably a lot better than the average for the general populace, relative to top Street Fighters, my reaction time pretty well sucks. Im the Hans Moleman of tournaments. Yet I can “react” fast enough to hit things as quick as my opponents low short with a super. And I can do it fairly consistently. What gives? If Im not “really” reacting, how can a comparatively slow person like myself pull stuff like that off? Am I just guessing right a lot? No.
Heres the key: By effectively implementing my gameplan, Ive reduced my opponents number of effective approaches dramatically. Thats what a good gameplan does. It makes the most of what your character has, while seriously limiting (or even negating) your opponents threats. The Doom + Blackheart traps in MVC2 are one simple example (basic fireball traps in general are the archetype here)- many characters have no effective response, and for those that do, their initial responses can, in turn, also be dealt with, and negated. Very frustrating. On the other side, of course, finding new techniques that circumvent the opponents gameplan is one of the great joys of high-level SF. Cracking a good players defense (or offense) is like solving a complex, dynamic puzzle. These puzzles get harder as the players get better. Contrast this with the scrub, one of the prime characteristics of which is a lack of creativity, insight, and innovation. Theyre falling all over themselves to explain why what theyre up against is “unbeatable”, instead of thinking about it for a bit and trying something new. More on this when I get back to part 2 (this beat goes on!). At any rate, a good gameplan acts to limit the opponent. By controlling the match, youve reduced the number of things you need to look out for from some very large initially possible number to a very small one. This enables “reactionary anticipation” (No, I dont have a catchy name for this- bug off).
“Reactionary anticipation” is different from regular ole anticipation in that it allows you to effectively counter (react to) the things youre looking for. When youre just playing a normal match, without controlling anything, you might be “aware” of the many different threats your opponent has, and in that sense, you “anticipate” what might happen to you. This kind of anticipation, while necessary, does you very little good at high levels of play. You need to know not just what you might get hit with, but to also be ready to counter it. For most players (even the best), youre only able to reactionarily anticipate a very small number of attacks (one is the number most people can manage- seeing the game in abstract, somewhat detached terms seems to be the key to increasing this number, but explaining how this is done is beyond the scope of this article). Thats why an effective gameplan is so important. By implementing it, you bring the number of their possible threats down. Ideally, you bring it down to (or even below) the number of things you can reactionarily anticipate. This kind anticipation will increase anyones “reactions” to what would otherwise seem like superhuman levels. You know what youre looking for, and when you get it, you can punish it almost instantly.
Amusingly enough, of course, you have to be at a certain level of ability before this type of Jedi mind trick will work on you. For example, you have to be smart enough to understand that trying a lot of the stuff Im not expecting you to do would be very dumb, and that you shouldnt have wanted to do it in the first place. As in jujitsu, the top SF player will use your own knowledge and understanding against you. (Watch if you dont believe me- the amazing “reacting” players just dont hit total scrubs with psychic DPs. Thats because a total scrub isnt smart enough to know what they “should” (or shouldnt) be doing, and thus gains the advantage of deep unpredictability. Unfortunately, they have no supporting gameplan, or skills, so theyll of course still get creamed, just not in quite the same way.)
Setting this up effectively requires it to be one part of an overall independently tight gameplan, which leaves the opponent pinned or otherwise frustrated for a large percentage of the match (Ill talk more about the different forms of effective gameplans next time). But then it lets up! The storm clears, and the attacks have stopped. An apparent hole has opened up. People whove been trapped (or even just kept off their primary gameplan for some period of time tend to react very predictably when first freed. They seize on the first chance to initiate their own attack, often doing so in ways that even they would realize are clumsy and ill-considered if they had time to reflect on it. Theyll jump in, fire off a super, CC/VC, or whatever the equivalent of “instant offense” might be in the game being played. Of course, although usually effective, this wont help here. Why? Again, two reasons: 1) Theres virtually zero chance of you hitting with this. Why? The apparent “gap” has been left intentionally, as an invitation for you to try and bust (predictably) out. Since hes just sitting there waiting for you to try exactly this, its very little chance hes going to let that happen. The (sad) best case scenario is that youll trade your hard-earned meter (which often also represents your capacity to really threaten someone) for some block damage. Weak. 2) Many of these reflexive “instant offenses”, while generally safe, are quite counterable when you do them predictably. As youre not only doing what you were expected to do, but doing it precisely when he was “inviting” you to try it, it doesnt take a genius to see that if its possible to punish it, thats exactly whats going to happen. Such is the life of whomever allows the pace to be dictated to them.
The advantage given by this kind of reactionary anticipation, when exploited by a master, can be really brutal. Yes, its bad because you (using the original “psychic DP” example) got knocked down. And yes, you also ate the damage from the DP. But it goes deeper, and gets worse. There are hidden and sometimes lasting effects of getting hit like this (I consider it the mental analog of being hit with Gens “touch of death” countdown super). The insidious bonus effect of hitting someone with a “psychic” DP (where they know you werent just guessing) is that it scares them. Not that theyre actually scared- I think we all understand this is just a game- but it shakes them up, knocking them out of their own gameplan for a second. It makes them nervous about sticking out what they thought were innocuous poking moves, etc. They become less sure of their approach, generally. This is the fall of the first domino in the chain of your destruction: starting to second-guess yourself. What you thought was safe now has to be reconsidered, and that takes time. Of course the time involved isnt much, but its enough. Especially because the guy who hit you with that psychic DP knows that youve been thrown for a loop. He knows that youve got the little birdies circling your head mentally, even if not on the screen.
This compounds the time it takes you to react. Knowing this, the “psychic” has an extra fraction of a second to walk in and throw you (which is also very disconcerting to most people), while youre paralyzed trying to re-evaluate whether what you wanted to do was really safe or not. Then, as youre thrown, you realize that youre getting thrown because you were paralyzed by self-doubt resulting from that psychic DP, so now youre second-guessing your second-guess. Thats the sound of the rest of the dominos going down. You lose.
You can watch top players completely destroy people with this. Its truly a thing of beauty to watch their victims go to pieces, a bit too late on each realization, getting pimped at each turn, until they find themselves half a second too late to realize that theyre already dead. This highlights the ability to recover from this kind of paralyzing “psychic” attack as another feature that separates the good from the great (although, as there are precious few players who fully exploit the psychic attack, guarding against it is perhaps less important for most of you. You wont ever be lucky (or unlucky, as it were) enough to face someone against whom it would matter). As Ive mentioned, John Choi recovered from his paralysis within the same match and adjusted, after being rudely introduced to the “Valle CC”, one of the most powerful and scary tactics in all of Alpha2. Others are not so lucky.
During his exhibition matches against some top US finishers at the Alpha 3 World Championships, Japanese champion Daigo Umehara completely annihilated Jason Coles excellent Dhalsim. Even playing as comparatively weak a character as Guy, Daigo was able to hit Cole with a succession of “psychic” attacks (a symphony of throws, DPs (Guys hurricane), and supers). Cole was so stunned that he actually appeared paralyzed. He just sat there in disbelief, second-guessing himself, and paying for it every time (as immortalized by Ben “tragic” Curetons cat-call from the audience “Hit some buttons, Cole!”).
The moral of the story is this: get in the game. Take control. Once you have the opponent under your thumb, youll be amazed at your magically improved ability to “predict” his moves. Then punish them mercilessly, and watch the dominos fall.
– Seth Killian