Monday, February 23, 2009

Theory Fighter: Volume 1: Breaking down normals and specials

A little introduction: Given the amazing success of Street Fighter IV already (it was sold out in Japan on day 1 and is tough to find a launch copy in Canada/USA) and the massive influx of new players, the Street Fighter community is bigger than ever. Even though the game is new, there are already a lot of very good players out there, but for most people, this will be their first Street Fighter in over a decade! To help those people, I welcome you to "Theory Fighter." In each installment I will try to explain some of the concepts that seperate a noob from a pro using practical examples and setups for varying characters. For the most part, these are concepts that can be used in any Street Fighter game, and in some cases, any competitive game period.

Note that this series of articles will very much be geared towards newcomers, so if you're a Street Fighter Veteran the information here may be of limited use. Also note though, that these articles will assume you're at least familiar with the Street Fighter (IV specifically) core mechanics.

Remember, there's a huge difference between a noob and a scrub. A noob knows (s)he's a beginner, but willing to learn. A scrub is convinced he's already good before (s)he's learned anything.


Here's a short list of words I'll be using that you need to be familiar with. You can skip this section if you're confident you understand this terminology.

A central principal in Street Fighter is understanding that the game runs its animation in frames. What is a frame? Street Fighter IV runs at 60 frames per second. Therefore, a frame is 1/60th of a second in game time. When you perform a move, it takes a certain number of frames. In this series of articles we will NOT get into specific frame counting, but it will refer to the duration of moves in both frames and seconds (you'll see why in this article).

A normal is any move you get when you press a face button on your pad/stick. The normals are Light Punch (LP), Medium Punch (MP), Hard Punch (HP), Light Kick (LK), Medium Kick (MK), Hard Kick (HK).

A command normal is a character-specific move you get when you press a certain direction + a face button on your pad/stick. For example, Ryu's overhead punch is toward + MP.

Anytime you see the letters "cr" followed by an attack (LP, MP, HP, LK, MK, HK), this indicates "crouching." Otherwise, assume standing.

A special is any move that requires a joystick motion and a face button. For example, Ryu's Hadoken is done by pressing down, downtoward, toward + punch.

Blocking is your primary defensive technique in Street Fighter, and is performed by holding away from your opponent. There are two kinds of blocks: a standing block and a crouching block. Standing blocks will block any move that hits high or mid. Crouching blocks will block any move that hits low or mid. It is important to note that most jumping attacks hit high and most crouching KICKS hit low. Therefore you must block these accordingly.

To miss a move completely.


Theory Fighter Volume 1: Breaking down normals and specials

In this first installment we will be looking at the composition of each move in your repetoire.

Every move (normal, command, special, super, ultra, you get the idea) in the entire game is composed of three parts.
  • Startup - The number of frames from the time you input a command (i.e. press a button) to the the ACTIVE time (see below). These are non-hitting frames.
  • Active - The number of frames that a move can actually hit someone.
  • Recovery - The number of frames after the active time to the time when you return to a neutral stand/crouch at which time you can perform another move.
Understanding these three factors is VERY important, and the first barrier to shedding some common bad habits. Contrary to popular belief (among noobs), not EVERY move for EVERY character is useful. Some characters have moves so bad you don't ever want to touch them. Strictly in terms of time (there are other factors like range and priority which we will leave for a later article), a GOOD move is one with short startup, long active, and short recovery.

Example 1
Let's compare Sagat's Tiger Upper and his Tiger Knee. Both moves have near instantaneous startup time. Both moves also have a very long active time. However, if you miss a Tiger Upper, it leaves Sagat far off the ground. The time that it takes him to fall from the peak of his uppercut to the floor again (and for the half second it takes for him to gather himself after he lands) is the recovery time. At any point during this recovery your opponent can (and should) exploit you and attack since you cannot block during recovery. This makes the Tiger Upper a very dangerous move to spam indiscriminately.

Sagat whiffs a Tiger Upper and gets comboed even AFTER he lands.

Now compare this to the recovery on the Tiger Knee. Not only does Sagat have less distance to fall, but he also falls faster. This gives the opponent much less time to think of a counter before you are in a state in which you can block again. In fact, the recovery on this move is SO good that often times you can block your opponent's counter attack and counter his counter!

Balrog blocks Sagat's Tiger Knee, yet Sagat still returns to his neutral stance before Balrog can act.

Speaking in more general terms, LP/LK usually have few startup and recovery frames (and thus are safe to whiff or have blocked) while HP/HK can have long startup and recovery frames (making them very dangerous to whiff or have blocked). MP/MK is often somewhere in-between (obviously the tradeoff here is that LP/LK do far less damage than HP/HK).

This is also true of special moves. Special moves performed with LP/LK often have less startup/recovery than the same special move performed with HP/HK.

Example # 1
Consider Sakura's Hurricanne Kick. Performed with HK, this move is very dangerous to have blocked because she moves so far into her opponent and the recovery is quite long. It is almost a sure thing that getting this blocked up close will result in you eating a combo.

Sakura whiffs a HK Hurricanne Kick and eats a reversal combo

Now consider Sakura's Hurricanne Kick performed with LK. She travels almost nowhere and barely leaves the ground. However, she also spends barely any frames recovering from it. This means you can use it without much fear of retaliation. It's no coincidence that her LK Hurricanne Kick is considered her best special.


It is KEY to recognize recovery times. Some moves may not look like they're in recovery when they really are. This is especially true of forward moving body attacks.

Example # 2
Consider Cammy's Spiral Arrow (also known as the Cannon Drill). In this move, she propels forward close to the ground with her legs extended out. The HK version of this move hits twice, but travels a very long distance. Although it does not look like it, it has fairly long (and easily punishable) recovery time.

The "active" frames of the Spiral Arrow. These are the ONLY frames that can hit.

Let's say Cammy performs a Spiral Arrow on you at close range, and you've blocked both hits successfully. AS SOON as you've blocked the second hit, the active frames of her move are over. The trick with this particular special move is that her recovery frames look VERY MUCH like her active frames. As a result, you may be afraid to counter her due to a fear of a phantom 3rd hit (which is impossible). The important thing to remember is that the move can only ever hit twice. Therefore, as soon as you've blocked that second hit, you HAVE to launch your counter attack despite the fact that she is still in her Spiral Arrow animation. In fact, this is the whole point, because she won't be able to block.

Despite the fact that the recovery LOOKS like it can hit you, it can't! Be like Fei Long and go for a reversal!

Note that in this particular example, Cammy can use her LK or MK Spiral Arrow, which only hits ONCE. You can still counter these versions, but if she decides to mix them up, then you need to be cautious.

Recognizing situations like this will be difficult at first, but with more experience it will become second nature.


So what does this all add up to? The core mechanic of Street Fighter, like any competitive game, is capitalizing on your opponent's mistakes. The most basic way of doing this is to abuse an opponent's recovery time. How many times have you fought scrubs that show off dragon punches at mid screen for no real reason other than to declare to the world that they can do them? Punish them in their recovery and, if they're smart, they'll quickly stop doing it. If you block a combo that ends in a high recovery move, punish them! The absolute key difference between being afraid of an opponent and not being afraid, is whether or not (s)he can properly punish you for making mistakes. If (s)he can't, then what's to stop you from going for risky high-damaging combos? What's to stop you from relying on a single strategy and riding it to a win? Why should you be scared?

If there's any takeaway from this first volume, it's that Street Fighter is about minimizing the risks you take, while maximizing the risks of your opponent. Play tight, don't put yourself in situations when your recovery frames will get you killed, but at the same time, actively LOOK for (or even better, predict) situations when your opponent will be in recovery. I stress again that it will take a little while to recognize these situations, but they WILL come naturally with time. It is also important to note that, although it is definitely important to recognize the recovery of specific moves for specific characters, you WILL form a GENERAL understanding of recovery which is applicable to all opponents. This is the first barrier to entering high-level play.

Next time - Bread and Butter combos


Eric said...

nice, looking forward to your next one

Freddy Burgos said...

Nice info! Learned a lot, haven't played an SF game since MvC2 so it's refreshing to read it.

Haggis Founder said...

Thanks! I'm hooked. I'm a long time player but still realizing I'm very much a noob in many ways. Really appreciate it.