Thanks for all the fan mail and praise regarding my first column. You all have excellent taste. However, it seems that most of you are forgetting that this is a questions and answers column; what I really want to hear are your thoughts and questions on those sticky SF issues.
So, since you bozos didn’t give me any questions this past week, I will forge ahead as best I can. With tournament season in full swing, here’s a brief reflection on a few of the distinct player styles that seem to crop up
“I’m the hustlin’ QB known as McMahon,
When I hit the field I got no plan,
I just throw my body all over the field…”
-Jim McMahon, future scrub, “Superbowl Shuffle”
This is the theme song of the Scrub (my theme song is “Let’s Hear it for the Boy”. Do not ask why.), as it encapsulates the chief failing of many tournament wash-outs. They’re in there, they’re playing, and they might even be pretty good. Without a “gameplan”, however, their goodness is limited to situational scenarios. Sure, maybe you can super through that fireball for massive damage, but unless you’ve also got some way to force or trick your opponent into actually throwing that fireball, you’re depending on them to hand you the win.
To succeed, you’ve got to take the initiative. To the extent you do not do this, you’re just allowing them to bring their game to you, and surrendering control of the match. This in itself in no way guarantees you’ll lose, but it has the obvious (and serious) drawback of allowing your opponent to try and cater to his character/personal strengths, while you’re forced to simply react. You may actually be better overall, but if you don’t control the
match sufficiently to give yourself the opportunity to employ your skills, it’s pretty easy to lose. He can match his strengths against your weaknesses. You won’t last long this way, especially against an opponent with some really scary strengths.
Examples: Too many of these players to list (although I’ll mention Ultima anyway, for, let’s say, old times’ sake).
Letting the opponent bring it to you isn’t necessarily bad, of course. Indeed, this might even be your gameplan. Enter: the Turtle. Most people write this off as boring, skill-less play, and sometimes it is just that. But not always. There can be clever turtling. Basically, when you turtle, you’re betting that your defense is superior to your opponent’s offense. Against a lot of players, this is a good bet.
The success of the best Turtles comes from rethinking the game entirely. People typically play to win. Duh, right? Not the Turtle. Turtles play not to lose. Their chief concern is to avoid making mistakes. If you’re doing nothing but avoiding mistakes, and your opponent isn’t, he’s more likely to make them. Then you exploit them. If he’s not making big mistakes, even little ones are enough to give you a lead, which, comined with the timer, can
add up to a win, or at least an increased chance that the frustrated opponent will make more (bigger) mistakes. The effectiveness here varies widely from game to game. Some games simply cater to Turtles more than others (e.g. the SF3 series, where parrying offers an all-purpose, highly effective, low risk counter to virtually any offense. Combine this with easy tech throws, and you get the bore-you-to-tears/why-am-I-trying-so-hard/why-even-bother Third Strike.). The verdict is not quite in yet whether MVC2 will turn out to be a Turtle’s paradise as well. Dull in any venue, your mileage with turtling may vary. The key to cracking the Turtle is to make his lack of offense itself count as a mistake.
Ex: Jeff Schaefer, any character, every game.
“Gimmicky Pete”: This player depends on gimmicky or “trick” offenses, meant to take the opponent by surprise and overpower him before he can work out a counter. The success of this style usually varies directly with the effectiveness of their gimmick. These guys thin out toward the end of a tournament, becuase if the trick depends
crucially on an element of surprise (and it often does), it’s effectiveness is drasticaly limited against the better players. Better players either i) already know about it, or ii) adapt too quickly for you to depend on it. This ability to adapt often really separates the good from the great. Watch John Choi get briefly crushed before adapting to Valle’s devastating first use of the so-called “Valle CC” in the B3 finals. This is perhaps the most impressive recorded instance of quick adaptation. If you’re not quick, even a stupid gimmick can beat you. The only question most tournament matches answer is: who won best of three? Some piece of gimmicky crap might steal two matches from you before you even realize what’s going on, but that’s enough. It’s irrelevant that, if you’d
played best of 10, it wouldn’t have ever worked again.
Ex: Tom Cannon’s SF3:NG Tengu Stone Oro, anyone playing WM/GWM in MVC (where the trick is so effective, it doesn’t really matter how familiar with it you are- it works anyway, much to the game’s detriment), AHVB hijinks in MVC2.
The Stylist: Often thought of as “better” than their tournament results typically reflect (assuming you don’t simply equate tournament success and skill). This is for, in one sense, good reason. They’ve often got impressive kinds of abilities that don’t get showcased in tournament matches. This is because tournament matches are, more
often than not, really ugly. Being abile to cross-up into a Cammy 7-hitter, or do that 82 hit non-infinite Megaman combo won’t usually be a factor. Although everybody loves these guys, and they’ve typically got physical abilities in excess of basically everyone, these players are often weaker on certain fundamentals. Their primary downfall tends to be unrealistic evaluations of the relative usefulness of certain cool-as-hell tactics. Also, by allowing a certain focus on showboating, they’re that much less centered on the bottom line. At their worst, they can be punished for trying too hard for improbable set-ups. At their best, they wipe you out, and do it with style.
Ex: James Chen, Mike Z.
This style fundamentally affects the play of everyone facing it.
Grumpy Old Man (or “Thank you Sir, May I have Another?”): In some sense, this is just a variant of Gimmicky Pete. In this case however, it’s not a surprise tactic- it’s usually a very basic, central move, used in it’s ordinary fashion. The “gimmick” is simply that they keep doing the move over and over again. Sounds stupid, right? Wrong. Regions where you find a number of these players are typically the best, because the style forces you to rise to the next level, or lose every time.
This is a strong style of play because it sets up a background expectation of what’s coming next, and an effective one. After you throw 20 sonic booms in a row, your opponent tends to expect another sonic boom. This expectation makes anything you might do that isn’t a sonic boom seem that much more unexpected (remember, unexpected (at least non-suicidal unexpected) moves = very good). This is contrasted with a “bad” background expectation. Like, if you’re the sort who likes to jump in a lot, and your opponent figures this out, you can be made to
pay very dearly. Not so in the case of the “good” background moves, a few of whic are mentioned below. This also sets up elite mind-games like the following “Okay. He just threw 20 sonic booms in a row. He can’t possibly throw another sonic boom, right? That would just be stupid!” So, you walk in, he throws the 21rst sonic boom and it hits you smack in the face. He combos into a low forward, you go dizzy, eat four fierce, lose the round match, and tournament, and your girlfriend leaves you (for unrelated reasons).
Depending on how apparently offensive or defensive the move may seem (contrast Sam Kim’s off-the-wall “offensive” Vega with Sirlin’s “turtlish” low-stronging Rose), this style may also be mistaken for turtling. It isn’t. There’s an offense, if a simple one, going in virtually all of these styles. It seems like turtling only because if you don’t beat it, they won’t do anything else. But why should they? You have to rise to the challenge that the background, repeated move expectation presents. If you don’t, you lose, and they won’t even have to think about how to beat you.
Ex: Sam Kim’s “off-the-wall (yes, again)” Vega, John Choi’s “sonic boom” O.Guile, Jeff Schaefer’s “low tiger forever” O.Sagat, Lavar Watson’s “fierce FB” O.Ryu, David Sirlin’s “come and worship at the Church of Low Strong” Rose. Advanced versions of this style include Eddie Lee’s “run away until I get 50%, then VC!” V-Vega (basically all V-ism characters from A3, actually, which is part of why A3 stinks a little, IMO).
– Seth Killian