This is More than Mashing, a column on amazing demonstrations of skill in video games where I try to collect and showcase the best the net has to offer in skilled game playing and break it down so anyone can understand. This week I’m going to show off a bunch of videos relating to Directional Influence in Super Smash Bros Melee and other recovery techniques.
Smash Bros Melee is really unique among fighting games in that you can influence your knockback, affecting where you are sent flying when you get smashed. I gave a short run over of different types of DI in last week’s video and I decided to devote an article to it, teching, and meteor cancels this week.
In Smash Bros, as you get hit more your knockback percentage increases. As it increases you get knocked back further and further by attacks. When it’s high enough, nearly everything kills you. To combat this, you can influence your direction by tilting your control stick and C stick to try to stay on the screen. This is called Directional Influence or DI for short. There are 3 types of DI, regular Directional Influence, Smash Directional Influence, and Automatic Smash Directional Influence.
Regular directional influence is done with the control stick (or C-stick, but the control stick takes priority if both are pressed). Regular DI influences the trajectory you fly when you get hit. If you get knocked diagonally upwards, you can DI downwards to fly more horizontally, or DI upwards to fly higher. In general you want to fly into the corners of the screen because it gives you the furthest distance to recover from. DI can be used both for survival and to escape combos, and you need to be careful which you do, because pushing yourself away from your opponent can be dangerous when you are being hit with a powerful move, because it may kill you, and pushing yourself closer can be dangerous when hit with a weak one because it can lead to getting combo’d.
Smash Directional Influence is also useful for recovery, but works in a completely different way. SDI is done during the hitlag of a move (all moves have a small period where it freezes both characters when a hit connects, in other fighting games this is called hitfreeze) and it is performed by tapping either stick repeatedly (the C-stick takes priority so it is typically used for SDI, which is how it got its name, because the C-stick does smash attacks on the ground). Each time the stick is tapped, the character moves over a little bit before they’re launched at the end of hitlag. On some characters this is more noticable than others, like Luigi, who can use SDI during Zapdos’s shockwave attack to fly around freely. SDI is counted every time a cardinal or ordinal direction is pressed on a stick, so many players SDI more effectively by moving the C stick in repeated quarter circle motions (like down, downforward, forward). This generates 3 SDI movements every time it is repeated, which is effectively 2.41 or so of an SDI movement in the second direction pressed.
Automatic Smash Directional Influence is similar to SDI, but it occurs automatically based on the direction held when hitlag ends (C-Stick takes priority again). Most of the time it’s not very useful unless you’re not confident in using SDI. The exception is Crouch Canceling, which only exists in Melee and is a function of ASDI. Crouch Canceling lets you brace yourself against the stage, resisting a lot of knockback. At higher percentages it can be dangerous to crouch cancel, because if you are knocked back hard enough you can go off the ledge, and pushing down usually means DIing into the pit, leading to a quick death.
DI works a bit differently in each Smash game. In Smash 64 it’s almost nonexistent, because only SDI existed at the time, making combos generally inescapable. In Melee, DI was radial, meaning it adjusted trajectory based on polar coordinates, with perpendicular directions being the most effective and parallel directions being the least, also SDI was significantly harder before Brawl. In Brawl DI is additive, so the most effective DI is always diagonally up and towards the stage, or left/right if you are being knocked directly upwards. SDI got changed slightly in brawl, or rather hitlag did so it lasted longer, making it easier to see and influence SDI, additionally some moves were given higher SDI values, making them easier to escape.
This is a video made by Magus420, a really influential Smash player and one of the lead programmers on Project M. It uses a combination of DI, SDI, Ledge Teching, and momentum stalling to survive tremendous knockback. He begins each one by resting (so that he can press directions on the two control sticks without accidentally moving Jigglypuff around) then getting hit by a powerful attack. What he does next is he SDIs/ASDIs down and DIs diagonally downwards and away, towards the ledge, so he can Ledge Tech, which I’ll be explaining later, but for now all you have to know is it cancels out hitstun, allowing him to act again. Following this he still has a lot of momentum left over from being smashed, which he cancels out by using Jigglypuff’s side B attack, which propels Jigglypuff to the side, fighting the horizontal knockback.
This is really more of a proof of concept video than something to actually be used in a match, but it’s a great demonstration of how flexible Melee’s DI system is overall, enabling skilled players to survive far beyond normal limits.
Here you can see a more extreme version of the above example. This was done in an emulator using special tools available to program perfect SDI inputs. This moves Mario great distances before hitlag ends. To the viewer this looks like a spontaneous shift when he gets hit. Samus’s charged shot has more hitlag than any other move in the game, so it is ideal for showcasing this.
In addition to DI, teching can also help players survive at higher percentages. Teching is a type of recovery that is performed when a player hits a surface when they’re in hitstun or tumble. Teching gets its name from the recoveries in other fighting games on knockdown, its official name is the ukemi roll. When a player gets hit, they enter hitstun, if they get hit particularly hard, they get sent flying and will continue to tumble after hitstun is ended. They can exit tumble by doing anything, and can still control their momentum even during tumble. While in either of these states, if the player hits the ground, they can press L or R before impact to trigger a tech, which has a small yellow flash indicating they got it. When teching, they have the option of holding left or right to roll either way, and regardless they will be invincible for a short period as they get up. The window for the tech is 20 frames before they hit the ground (a third of a second). If they press L or R before this time, they get locked out of doing a tech for 40 frames (two thirds of a second), meaning L cancels cannot be mashed. If they hit the ground without teching, they get knocked down.
There are 2 other types of techs as well, which are both showcased rather well by this video. These are Wall Techs and Ledge Techs. Both work similarly, but apply to different circumstances. Wall techs can only be done when smashed at a Wall, and successfully teching will result in a yellow flash and complete recovery. Ledge techs are trickier. They need to be done preemptively while approaching a ledge. If you’re recovering with an up B move, you need to press L or R before you reach the ledge. Ledge Techs cancel out hitstun, so if you are ledge guarded by someone attacking off the ledge, you can Ledge Tech to recover in place and get another chance at getting back onto the stage. In the case of both Wall Techs and Ledge Techs you can walljump by holding up, even if you’re using a character that doesn’t normally have a walljump. In the previous example, Magus used a Ledge Tech to recover from hitstun after being knocked off the stage. In this example, Falco does a number of tricky walltechs and ledge techs. They’re especially hard because he’s knocked so fast, giving him a very small window to successfully tech. He also does a bunch of offstage shenanigans and Ledge Techs his way out of it.
Finally the last significant Melee recovery technique is the Meteor Cancel. Meteor Cancels were added to Melee after Smash 64 as a way of countering enemies spiking you. Most attacks that send foes straight downwards are treated by the engine as Meteor Smashes, enabling them to be canceled. Meteor cancels are performed by jumping or using an up B after you are Meteor Smashed. Meteor Cancels completely cancel all knockback and hitstun, allowing one to recover. Meteor Cancels have a strict timing window in Melee, they must be done after 18 frames. If you try to Meteor Cancel before then, you are locked out completely, so Meteor Cancels cannot be mashed and you have to wait for the perfect time to do it, and no later or you risk dying anyway. Worth noting is that some moves, like Falco’s down air, Marth’s down air, Ganondorf’s down b, and Captain Falcon’s nipple during his down air (only the nipple, the rest is a Meteor Smash) cannot be meteor canceled. For this reason they are called Spikes or True Spikes to differentiate them from Meteor Smashes. In Brawl Meteor Cancels were changed. Each character now has their own time-out window, but none of them function as a fail window, so players are free to mash out Meteor Cancels without repercussions. On average, the time-out window is a bit longer than Melee’s, with the average being around 25 frames.
Finding a good example of a Meteor Cancel is tricky, so here’s two passable examples.
In this one Fox Meteor Cancels out of Captain Falcon’s Meteor Smash with his up B, enabling him to grab onto the ledge, blocking Captain Falcon’s return to the stage.
Watch the Captain Falcon with the name Fish above his head. He gets Meteor Smashed by the other Captain Falcon, recovers, tries to Meteor Smash Ganondorf, who Meteor Cancels with his Up B that grabs Fish and sends him against the wall of the stage. Fish Wall Techs and wall jumps off the wall over Ganondorf, using his Down Air to Meteor Smash him again, killing him, then returns to the stage. This all goes by really quick, so you may want to watch it a couple times closely.
Between these recovery techniques, skilled players can survive much longer when the odds are against them. The complex and nuanced Directional Influence system is a huge part of what makes Smash such a difficult and dynamic game; players are fighting back and forth constantly, even in the middle of combos.
Do you have a video of someone doing something amazing in a video game? Send it my way in the comments and I’ll add it to my youtube playlists (Here, here, and here), and maybe break it down in the future. Feel free to have a look through, I’ve collected over 400 so far and the collection only keeps growing.
Don’t DI on me yet, I’ll need you all next week. See ya!