Thursday, February 26, 2009

Thoery Fighter: Volume 3: Offense and Defense 101

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.

Don't forget to read Volume 1 and Volume 2
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Lexicon
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.

Wakeup
A situation when one player has been knocked down and is starting to stand up and the other player is bearing down on him/her.

Crossup
An attack aimed such that you hit them on one side of their body, yet land on the other side.  This is useful for confusing your opponent.

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Theory Fighter: Volume 3: Offense and Defense 101

Now that you know the compositions of your moves and the different ways you can alter them (see
Volume 1 and Volume 2) we're ready to start setting up our approach to the fight. Before we get into the specific strategies you can use in the game though, it's worthwhile to spend an article examining the principles Street Fighter was designed around.

At its heart, any competitive game is a test of one human will versus another. This is true of Street Fighter, poker, hockey, chess, even Monopoly (both the board game and the business world -
har-har aren't I so clever?). Remember that Street Fighter is just the tool, the real competition is happening between you and your opponent. Street Fighter is an exceptionally well designed tool, but it is still just a tool. Ryu doesn't beat Ken. You beat your opponent.

Yomi
(Note, this section borrows heavily from David Sirlin's "Playing to Win." Check out his
online book if you have a chance.)

Yomi is a Japanese term which roughly translates to reading another's mind. In Street Fighter, knowing what your opponent will do and when (s)he will do it is key to forming the right counter strategy. You're probably already using Yomi without even realizing it. You see your opponent jump a lot, you predict a jump, you counter with an anti-air. You realize your opponent always does a Shoryuken when he stands from a knockdown, you block it, and punish with your bnb combo. These are both examples of Yomi.

However, Yomi exists in different "levels." Predicting an opponent's jump is called Yomi Level 1. But what if your opponent predicts you prediction? (S)He can use an appropriate counter to that! Then you need to find an appropriate counter for that and so on and so on.

Street Fighter, more often than not, exists in a CIRCULAR YOMI LEVEL 3. Before explaining this, let's look at an example.

Example # 1
(This is a
greatly simplified example but will work for the purposes of demonstration.)

Let's say Ryu has Ken locked in a corner and is pressuring with repeated fireballs just inside half a screen distance. If Ken continues to block the fireballs, he will get chipped to death (because blocked special moves still deal a bit of damage). If Ken tries to throw his own fireball, he'll probably get hit on startup. However, Ryu's repeated fireballs are predictable, so he jumps forward over the next one and attacks. This is
Yomi Level 1.

Now let's say Ryu knows he's being predictable, or even doing this on purpose. He knows Ken will jump, so he looks out for it. When he sees it, he uses a Shoryuken to hit him out of the air. This is Yomi Level 2.

Now we get into the fun part. Say Ken wants to jump, but knows Ryu will Shoryuken. In this case, Ken can jump straight up. An antsy Ryu will Shoryuken and miss him, giving him ample time to counterattack while Ryu recovers. This is Yomi Level 3.

Finally, say Ryu expects everything we've outlined above. How does he deal with a straight up jump? He throws a slow fireball. This way, Ken will land on it when he comes back down from his jump. This is
Yomi Level 4.

Whoa whoa, back the truck up. Didn't we just say this was a 3 level system?

Good observation, I just broke the design of the game. Or did I? Look at the solution for Yomi Level 4. Notice that it is exactly the same as Ryu's initial move (repeated Hadokens). If Ken wants to counter with a Yomi Level 5, he would jump over the slow fireball. But then that means Yomi Level 5 = Yomi Level 1! This is why we call it a Circular Yomi Level 3 system. You and your opponent can read eachother's intentions over and over and the system won't break down. As long as you know what move your opponent is going to do, there is a set way to counter it.

In general, Street Fighter is nothing more than this situation over and over and over.

Street, Paper, Scissors
(Note, this section borrows heavily from user
"Derek" on the capcom-unity forum)

In terms of
Circular Yomi Level 3, Rock Paper Scissors is the perfect competitive game. The game is designed in such a way that if you know what your opponent is going to do, there is a way to counter his/her move with 100% certainty. If you are at a higher level of Yomi than your opponent, then you are rewarded. In a similar way, you can think of every situation in Street Fighter as a Rock Paper Scissors standoff.

Well, almost.

The fundamental flaw in this logic is this. You could play 10 games of Rock Paper Scissors and if you win 6/10 games, you win overall. However, in Street Fighter, winning more confrontations does not always win you the match. If I manage to counter your missed fireballs with MK 5 times, but then leave myself open to your Ultra combo once, it is more than likely that will put me behind.

You must always be mindful not only of the damage you can potentially do to your opponent, but of the damage that can be done to you as well.

Example # 1

Let's examine a situation on wakeup. A wakeup occurs when you've been knocked down and your opponent is bearing down on you as you stand up. More often than not, if you stand over a beginner as they wake up, they'll go for a Shoryuken or other anti-air. This works well to stuff opponents who want to push an attack, because the Shoryuken is completely invulnerable during its startup frames.

However, the Shoryuken is a risky commitment, particularly if your opponent is not jumping in. There's no guarantee your opponent is going to attack you. In fact, it's just as likely they're trying to bait that high risk move out of you so they can go for a punishing counterattack. The Shoryuken is one of THE WORST moves to have blocked, and against good competition can cost you up to half a life bar.

Dan scores a knockdown on Ken, then baits an EX Shoryuken which he punishes with an Ultra

So what other option do you have?

Wake up and block.

Yes, sometimes you'll miss out on the opportunity to hit a homerun with your Shoryuken. However, if you stand up and block, what do you lose? Nothing. In fact, you may even catch your opponent off guard long enough to land a throw. No it isn't as damaging as a Shoryuken, but it is a much safer option that still has the possibility of scoring you damage.

This is not to say never do a wake up Shoryuken. What it does mean is to be smart about your options. If you see your opponent jump infront of you, that is an obvious situation to use a wake up Shoryuken. If your opponent has a tendency to stick out a move as you're getting up, then a Shoryuken is probably an acceptable risk. However, too many players go for risky Shoryukens on every wakeup, hoping for big damage, and then getting slammed on a reversal. Whatever work they put into the match up to that point suddenly doesn't matter, because they're behind again. In this way, you can think of Street Fighter as Weighted Rock Paper Scissors. You want to choose the option that affords you the most gain, for the minimum risk.

Natural Selection

There is a natural culmination that emerges from both the concept of Yomi and the design of Rock Paper Scissors, and that is the notion of adaptation.  To win at a high level in Street Fighter, you must not only be aware of what your options are, but those of your opponent.  One of the most famous quotes from the Sun Tzu (also known as The Art of War) is: 

"To know yourself, but not your enemy, this is a half victory.
To know your enemy, but not yourself, this is a half victory.
To know yourself and to know your enemy, is to win 100 out of 100 battles"

Before we get into this subject, let's take a look at two videos from the same player.

Example # 1



Let's take a look at this Blanka.  I'm not sure who this is, but he posted his video publicly so it's fair game.  Beyond his talking, look at the actual way he plays Blanka.  It's not too shabby.  He certainly has the concept of cross-ups (attacks that force your opponent to block the wrong way), mixups, and hops into bites (3 strategies crucial to playing Blanka).  Especially considering Sakura seems to have no answer for the rush down, this guy is playing "his" game very well.

Now let's look at a second match featuring the same player:



Here is a telltale sign of the inability to adapt.  First off, some of his complaints are legitimate. There is a degree of lag in the game and in general, Zangief's Spinning Pile Driver (SPD) and Ultra are both very very good.  

That being said, neither of those reasons applies in this match.

The first indication that this is a player's fault is at the 1:00 mark when he HIMSELF calls the fact that his opponent is trying to pull an Ultra.  The Blanka player here has all the advantage.  He is at a higher level of Yomi AND he has the lead (health-wise).  Yet what does he do?  He presses his attack with both a risky slide AND a dash forward.  He claims he's done nothing wrong, yet he's made two crucial mistakes already.  This isn't even mentioning the fact that even had his opponent NOT used the Ultra, the Blanka player had willingly put himself in the corner!  In this case his Yomi is useless because he doesn't act on it.  He is locked into his own game and can't see options outside of it.

The optimal solution here would've been to stay back, poke with cr. HP, and Vertical Roll any jump attempts.  Even if Zangief managed to get within this perimeter, a simple jump would've avoided an Ultra or SPD.

Fastforwarding to 1:33, he claims that Zangief tricks only work online and then promptly eats a whiffed Green Glove into a 360 Power Bomb.  However, this isn't just an "online" strategy. Watch countless videos from SF4 tournaments around the world and you will discover this is a legitimate Zangief setup because the Green Glove scares people into blocking. There is a functional reason to use these moves in sequence; lag is not part of the equation.  The Blanka player doesn't realize this.  He assumes any strategy Zangief uses should be invalid versus his Blanka strategy, so instead he attributes the hit to lag.

Finally, at about 2:10, we see a similar situation to the 1:00 example.  Again, the Blanka player knows an Ultra is coming, and again, he slides multiple times and fails to recognize the jump-in. The result? He eats an Ultra. Frankly, I'm shocked he didn't eat an Ultra sooner off the blocked slides, but this final example puts a heavy exclamation point on his inability to adapt even from round to round.

Am I being condescending?  I'm not trying to be, really I'm not.  It takes a man to upload a video of himself losing (although I question his motives, I suspect he's looking for commentors to agree with his rantings).  From a game perspective, his Blanka sets aren't bad, he knows a few combos, he has some hop tricks, and against most other characters a poke slide is a perfectly legitimate and effective strategy.  However, that only makes the point even clearer. The Blanka player is only playing half the game.  He expects the same sets and strategies to work on every opponent, regardless of the matchup.  In short, he is very comfortable playing is own game, but if you take him out of it he is either unwilling, or unable to adapt.  Against Zangief you absolutely want to keep him out of SPD range, not willingly move yourself into it!  The sad thing is that, given the way he's talking, he doesn't seem to realize his mistakes and thus will be doomed to repeat them.  

On a personal note, I fought one such player recently.  Oddly enough he was playing Zangief.  He repeatedly tried to jump-in and SPD, so I repeatedly hit him out of the air with a simple c. HP. This lasted two FULL rounds until I won the match.  Shortly afterward I received a personal message asking if I enjoyed being "cheap" doing the same move over and over and that he was going to report me.  I simply sent back a message that read "I don't mind."

Conclusion

There are a lot of ways to play Street Fighter.  You can play a rushdown style, a turtle style, or a zoning style.  We'll touch on the specifics of these later, but the important thing to realize is that your style is only half the game.  To play a full game of Street Fighter, you need to consider not only your options and tendencies, but the options and tendencies of your opponent.  You need to get into their head, figure out what they're thinking, and when you do that, you need to devise a counter strategy and execute it.  Once you've done that, you can ride that strategy until they figure it out and use a counter on you. This is the absolute base of Yomi. If we were playing Rock Paper Scissors, and I only ever chose rock ("Good ol' rock, nothing beats that"), why would you have any reason to choose anything but paper? Would that be "cheap?"

The first step to developing good Yomi is realizing when you don't have it. If you're so locked into your own game that you can't see the moves of your opponent, you're doomed to make mistakes and lose matchups where you're disadvantaged. Everyone loses, that's not something that should concern you. Your Battle Points shouldn't concern you. What SHOULD concern you is losing and not understanding why you lost, especially if you kept losing to one "cheap" move. More often than not, being "cheaped" means you weren't able to adapt to the situation, so there was no reason for your opponent to change it.  In these cases, I suggest you take a step back from the game and, while the memory is still fresh, think about what exactly you were doing and what your opponent was doing.  Form a counter strategy. Then challenge again. If you win, then you came up with the right counter strategy. If not, then there's absolutely no shame in going back to the drawing board.  With time, you will learn to make and adjust strategies in mid-match.

That's when you start to unearth the game within the game.

Next time: Defense, defense, defense

4 comments:

Marikir said...

Very insightful and very interesting reading. I also find that I agree with your analysis of the performance of the player. Adaptation would be the key word, I feel. I definitely don't know the game well enough, but that seems to be a key component: Adapting what you do to fit what happens. In any case, I look forward to reading further articles.

Frank said...

that player is DSP ( DarkSydePhil ) and he has played in many many tournaments and he beat seth killian to win an evo tournament in st turbo. He has a reputation of being a bit of a whiner but his skills are really top notch. However, I have to agree with your assessment of phil in that match as his frustrations and labeling of the other player as a scrub stopped him from thinking clearly.

Donovan said...

Keep up the great work. You're really making me think about SF like a game of chess, when before I thought it was button mashing.

Also, congrats on being a SRK forum member that can actually use the English language.

And, happy belated birthday.

Michael said...

darksydephil is such a fucking tool! i'm glad there's more evidence online to support this!