A lot of people ask me how long a frame is. I reflexively measure timings in games using frames (assuming 60fps), and I have a rather good sense of it. This comes both from being an animator, and experience with games in general.
So I had the idea, why not make a tool that helps show how long a frame can be by giving people an interactive example? So I got into flash, putz’d around for a bit, and ended up with this.
To operate it, click the Go button to start the arrow moving from left to right. Press any key, or click the stop button to stop the arrow. The goal is to stop the arrow when it’s yellow, just before it hits the end.
You can configure how long it takes to get from the beginning to the end by changing the Frame Total text box on the left. And you can change how long it turns yellow with the Frame Window text box on the right.
By changing frame total, you can give yourself more or less waiting time before it turns yellow. By changing the frame window, you make it turn yellow for longer.
If you stop it while it’s green, you did it too early. If you stop it while it’s red, you did it too late. Use the arrow getting close to the end as your visual cue.
By default I set it to 40 frames total (to give you a decent amount of reaction time before you gotta press the button) and a window of 7 frames, which is the window for parries in 3rd strike and L Cancels in Melee. Try setting it to all different periods and trying it out. Try setting it for different periods of time just to see how long they are, like 60 frames is 1 second, 30 is half a second, 20 is a third of a second, 10 is a sixth, 5 is a twentieth.
For reference, here’s some other frame windows from various games and my description of how easy/hard they are.
1 frame: Reversal window in Super Turbo and Guilty Gear before Xrd. Kick Glitch Window in Mirror’s Edge. 1 frame link timing. This is the hardest possible single input in a 60FPS game. Obviously combination inputs can be harder. Coincidentally, I had to jerry rig the setup to allow this window (it would otherwise show red on the last frame), and I managed to test it was working successfully on the 3rd try.
2 frames: Reversal window in 3rd strike, power shield window in Melee, throw tech window in guilty gear. Boost Smash/DACUS window in PM. This input is almost perfect, allowing just enough leniency that people can feasibly get consistent at it.
3 frames: Smallest possible window for a link in SFV, reversal window in SFV and GG Xrd, common window for links across fighting games. This one has a tight timing, you’ll feel that it’s really tight. It’s practically the exact moment that the thing hits, except significantly more lenient than 1 or 2 frames. I can do these consistently in SFV. Any mediocre fighting game player can do these in their sleep.
4 frames: Perfect Shield window in Brawl. Slightly less tight, but still enough to be difficult.
5 frames: Reversal Window in SFIV, parry window in DMC3/4. This is where the window becomes wide enough to let you get the input even if you mashed it (unless of course there’s a lockout period to dissuade mashers, like the DMC parry has)
7 Frames: 3s Parry Timing, L Cancel Timing in Melee. There’s a bit of wiggle room here. You’re no longer pressing the button just as you reach the end, just as the fireball is about to hit you, or you’re about to hit the ground. If you do it a bit early, you are forgiven.
15 frames: Average human reaction time. Throw Tech Window in Blazblue.
20 Frames: The Tech Roll window in Melee. This window is so wide, there should be no reason to miss it if you see it coming, it’s completely outside average human reaction time.
30 frames: Half a second. Blazblue has a 27 frame throw break window for throws during hitstun/blockstun. The Parry Window in Metal Gear Rising is this long. The parry window in Rivals of Aether is this long.
50 frames: Seth Killian once said that the counter window in Batman Arkham Whatever is like 40-50 frames. This is so long that it’s practically impossible to miss.
By the way, if anyone wants me to make a 20 fps or 30 fps version of this tool, then I can do so easily. I tried to add another box that let you change the framerate manually, but it didn’t work.
I get a lot of people asking me how to learn the basics of Melee. Here’s some essential resources for learning how to play Melee:
This video is a great rundown of the basic mechanics, in an order that is good for beginners:
This video is probably the best place to start, it lays out most of the advanced techniques that are still in use today. Some of the terminology is a bit outdated, some of the topics like DI aren’t explained in as much detail as they should be, but it’s still a pretty good guide overall. If you’ve NEVER played before, pay attention to the in-game how-to-play tutorial shown at the beginning of this one.
Rising Thunder, Pocket Rumble, Divekick, Rivals of Aether… what’s the point of all these “beginner-friendly” games? Traditional fighting games are overwhelming at first, but you have to keep PLAYING them to git gud. Playing these baby games won’t magically make you a KoF/GG/Melee champion.
How many games do we need to dumb-down (oh, I mean, “simplify”) mechanics for scrubs before we realize that they won’t learn no matter what. Also, enough with “we want to explore the strategic element”. You can do that with all these other games that don’t need some 1 or 2-button control scheme.
The point is, I can bust out divekick and get anyone off the street playing in seconds.
King of Fighters can be overwhelming to someone who only plays Street Fighter, Guilty Gear is overwhelming to anyone who hasn’t played an arc sys fighting game before. Playing Street Fighter won’t make you a champion in those games, but it will give you a leg up, and you’ll certainly be able to wreck anyone starting fresh in those games. I know I’ve picked up random fighting games and been able to fight on par with people experienced in them just using fundamentals.
Having a simpler game to learn allows beginners to focus on the few tools they need to win, like fireball/anti-air, like the basics of footsies, meter management, simple combos, and so on. That’s a game that needs to exist in my opinion. If you don’t have games with a greater accessibility teach people the basics of the harder games, then it becomes a lot harder to get people into those harder games.
I’ve gotten people to play traditional fighting games with me and tried to give them the introduction and they were like, “This is cool, but there’s way too much stuff for me.”
How many games do we need to dumb-down (oh, I mean, “simplify”) mechanics for scrubs before we realize that they won’t learn no matter what. Also, enough with “we want to explore the strategic element”. You can do that with all these other games that don’t need some 1 or 2-button control scheme.
People will learn. Releasing new games with simpler control schemes isn’t harming the games we already have. They’re not establishing a new competitive standard. The further point I made is that these games are unique and do things other fighting games aren’t necessarily doing, which by itself validates their existence.
Being bad at a game does not make you a scrub. It does not make sense to write people off as irredeemable when they could potentially learn. If nothing else, these games are a useful tool to me personally, for introducing people to traditional fighting games in person.
These games teach you more with all their additional mechanics. Why regress. If you feel overwhelmed, there’s always the early entries in a respective series (e.g. SFII).
Except SFII is still too complicated for a lot of people, and on top of that, has the worst input read algorithm next to SFI, making it hard to even play the game at a beginner level unless you’re better at special move inputs than you’d need to be in order to play a more complex recent game.
Depth comes at the price of complexity, and sometimes people need a scaffolded experience or they simply get overwhelmed. It’s a regular pattern, beginners have so much to take in all at once to even play the game, they go a ton of rounds fumbling with the few controls they know and mashing buttons.
Simpler games with more straightforward basic functions can help alleviate this and allow people to develop the basic skills to understand the more complex games. Otherwise fighting games become a genre with no entry point, and that’s dangerous.
And there’s also the part where you glorify sub-SFII games like Divekick and Pocket Fighter. These games aren’t really good for learning either, I don’t care how you spin it. How many people have played those games and then seriously taken up more complex fighters? Usually, people get serious about FGs are actually playing with other people (friends, tourneys). Or through their desire to improve. These types of 1 or 2-button games are just gimmicks that become boring after a short period. They might be worth mentioning because their simplicity lets you easily discuss more fundamental concepts in the genre, but that is about the extent to it. I mean, people don’t discuss level design in NSMBW because it’s obviously too difficult, so they stick to the simpler SMB, and that’s fine for educational purposes, but we can’t keep teaching 1+1=2 over and over, nor should we glorify the work of people who think that coming up with 1 (not even 1+1, but literally just 1, which is what Divekick and Pocket Fighter are) is some revolutionary new idea. Basically, if someone comes out with a sub-SMB platformer (like an autorunner), we ignore it, correct? So why behave differently for fighting games or any other genre? That kind of started as one ask, but turned into another.
Maybe they’re not good for learning? I don’t know yet. I haven’t had a serious chance to test out teaching people through them. So far I’ve mostly just been going with 3rd strike because it’s free and online.
I don’t really know how well they work as an introduction tool. They’re still pretty new. I admit that I’ve barely gotten to play pocket fighter, and never with another person.
I think they’re worth a try. Maybe I’m wrong and they don’t translate into anything. How about we wait and see?
The other thing is, Divekick is absolutely 1+1. There’s a lot more going on in Divekick than in an autorunner. I know it looks simple to you. Even I thought the concept was kind of stupid when I first saw it, but after playing it with other people it clicked and became interesting. Divekick asks a lot more of the player than any autorunner does. There are a lot more “inferential judgments” going on. (totally coining that term on the spot here, might even throw it in the glossary)
It’s like footsies in a traditional fighting game, it doesn’t make any sense to you when you first start playing, so you just mash, then you wonder why the other guy is hitting you more. I know I’ve had many people get surprised when they actually sit down and play divekick with me and realize that there’s a lot more to it than they initially thought.
And Pocket Fighter is more complex than Divekick, so it probably has more complex strategy to it.
The other thing is, fighting games are way more complex than SMB. If you strip away SMB you have something that is barely a game, if you strip away fighting games, you still have something left that is arguably just as complex as SMB.
When you get ‘stuck’ in a fighting game, like, say, when you play against a character you don’t know how to fight and you just don’t understand how to deal with them because all of the moves of that character seem to have priority or the char. just has better ledge game (in SSB) or this one move you just don’t know how to counter, what is your process for figuring out how to deal with or counter this character (or a certain tactic)?
I almost never get stuck, because I generally have a good understanding of how the systems work. Mewtwo teleports at me, I know I need to have a hitbox on the spot he’s about to appear before he’s there. I’ve worked out plenty of anti-jank tactics versus snake’s grenades and mines. I’ve spiked lucas players trying to tether to ledge for free. I’ve uppercut dhalsim’s limbs. I’ve faultless defense’d Faust’s blockstring pressure into his unblockable (so he can’t run up into it as fast because FD pushes him away further, and since it’s an unblockable, I can’t jump out like with a throw). I pointed out to my friend in KoF98 that Athena’s hard autocorrect divekick was probably really unsafe on block, because it wouldn’t make sense to be safe on block (turns out, yeah it’s really unsafe).
Everything always has a counter. Either you hit them before they do it, you punish them after they try to do it, or hit them in the middle of it. Good understanding of the system as a whole, good expectation of the trends in the system (like knowing which moves are probably unsafe), being able to recognize what happens with the move in different situations, and thereby being able to diagnose the move’s weakness. Like Dudley’s cross counter in third strike doesn’t counter low attacks. I never read a guide mentioning this, I just played a lot and noticed it as I played.
If I’m having trouble with a character, I usually look up guides for the character I’m having trouble against. Learning how they see things from their perspective is helpful because it also includes their weaknesses and what they need to watch out for. Investigation into framedata can be helpful too, as it was with Necalli in SFV, learning that his blockstrings into the stomp special are tighter with the light stomp, but more disadvantageous on block, and have a gap with the heavy stomp, but more neutral on block.
There’s a large number of resources you can potentially look into in order to learn how to beat characters for any popular fighting game.
I recently played PM after a long time and for the first time against a player and how the FUCK are you supposed to fight Marth? ALL his moves have priority over everything I did (not to mention longer range). I could only beat the player using Charizard and his giant-ass hitboxes with flame-tip and claw sweetspots.
Hahaha, that’s funny. Marth has an advantageous matchup against charizard, because charizard’s tail isn’t disjointed and marth can just whiff punish slash it, also because marth gets good combos on floaties and can space against Charizard in shield really well (and charizard already suffers against shield pressure).
I play with the second best Charizard player in the world actually, and as you may know, I main Marth.
Some key things to remember are, priority doesn’t apply to air attacks. Air attacks cannot clank, so forward air from Marth will cut through your hitboxes.
Marth’s big weakness is that he doesn’t have any attacks that come out particularly fast, and his attacks don’t have great recovery. His fastest ground attacks are jab, down smash, and Up B, all coming out on the 4th or 5th frame.
If your friend is spamming SH double fair, you can either move out of the way, then hit him right when he lands (charizard has an amazing dash dance) either with a grab or forward tilt (charizard’s forward tilt is amazing), or move in closer to him and shield on the spot where he’s going to land, so he’s forced to land in your shieldgrab range. These apply to any character.
Marth’s dash attack sucks, can be beaten by shieldgrabbing or just letting it whiff and punishing it.
Marth’s down tilt is his best neutral move because it has amazing IASA frames, so it effectively has a short recovery. Also has a reasonably fast startup of 6 frames. He can usually dash out of it before getting shieldgrabbed, but it’s still susceptible to whiff punishing.
You want to DI marth’s fair chains out, to avoid getting spiked. His up tilt and dash attack have a trajectory that sends you in at Marth, so you’ll want to DI down and in at Marth. Those three moves are how he sets up most of his combos. His grab is normally useful in combos, but charizard is so heavy it rarely comes into play. Just be sure to DI down and away from him when he forward throws you. On lighter characters, he can also down throw as a DI trap into fsmash, so you’ll have to guess which way to DI to avoid getting fsmashed.
His fsmash by the way, has almost no shield pushback, so you can shieldgrab it no problem. If he’s out of range, then let him whiff the fsmash and you are totally free to run in and do whatever you want to him. I do this to a lot of marth players I know are worse than I am when I feel they’re about to fsmash. Just wait at the very edge of their fsmash range, let them miss the attack, dash in an grab.
As charizard, watch out with your dash dance, your tail lags behind you, and can be slashed if you’re not careful.
Any tips for Ganondorf in PM? I wsa using him and couldn’t do jack to Marth until I picked up Charizard. I’m surprised Charizard has a bad matchup against Marth, though that’s probably because the other guy just wasn’t that good. Also the setup was laggy so that might have given fatso charizard the advantage.
Ganondorf, he’s also on the lower tier side like charizard, hard to say how his matchup against marth goes. I think marth still has the advantage. Luckily I alt Ganon. Ganondorf is all about single hits and spacing, Marth is also about spacing and has disjoint. Ganondorf kills in a few hits, Marth has nice combos, though none of his grab setups work on Ganondorf because he’s too heavy.
Basically, you want to hit him when he misses you. Ganondorf gets great followups off his down throw versus marth. At lower percentages, he can regrab (marth can DI forward or behind ganondorf, so turn appropriately to catch him). At higher percentages down throw gets guaranteed followups into fair or bair depending on DI. Ganondorf can’t move that well to whiff punish grab marth, but he can move in on marth forcing him to land in bad positions and be open for a shieldgrab.
Ganondorf has a nice jab, much faster than any of marth’s moves (one of marth’s central weaknesses is that he has no good fast moves), so that can be useful in a pinch.
Ganondorf’s down B can outprioritize all of marth’s grounded moves, but it loses hard to aerials or shield. Side B is good for shenanigans, when you scare him into shielding you, or if he tries to shield while on a platform and thinks he’s safe (since normally you can’t grab people unless you’re on the same ground they are). Air version gets better followups, ground version has better range and can avoid attacks like Dudley’s short swing blow. Ground version can be teched before ganon can do anything about it, air version does a small juggle which ganon can usually at least jab off of before they get a chance to tech. Up B is also a grab and can shenanigan people in much the same way, grabbing them when they think you don’t have the grab option.
Most of the matchup is going to be moving carefully, and poking at marth before he swings or waiting for him to miss a swing and poking him. You’re just gonna have to get used to reading a lot harder and winning neutral more with worse tools. Ganon has nice range on a lot of his attacks, technically better than marth’s on fair, you need to get better at figuring out when he’s going to attack, avoiding it, and hitting him back. You don’t need to win neutral as many times as marth does, because you get bigger rewards for winning neutral.
I beat a guy playing falcon yesterday every single time while I played Bowser. In Melee. If you have good enough instincts, anything’s doable.
Okay, movement in Smash Bros is a tricky topic, there’s a lot of nuances to it that don’t exist in any other game I know of, so lets get down to business.
Up above is an image (made by Kadano) detailing all of the actions possible from a neutral standing state using the control stick alone, assuming you are facing right. When you tilt the stick forward, you will begin to walk forwards, with speed proportional to how far forwards the stick is pressed. If the stick is moved into the dash region within 2 frames of it being in the dead zone, it will initiate the initial dash animation, if after 2 frames it is not in the dash region, a dash cannot be initiated regardless of the movement of the stick until it enters the dead zone again. If the stick is moved back into the tilt turn or smash turn areas, then the character will initiate the turning animation, if it is in the smash turn area on the first frame of the turn animation, then the initial dash animation will be started in that direction.
While walking, you are allowed to perform any standing action, forward tilt, down tilt, up tilt, fsmash, down smash, up smash, and all your B moves. This means walking is a nice and delicate way to move while being capable of performing any attack at any time.
As noted above, when you “smash” forward, you’ll enter an animation state called initial dash. This animation plays for a different number of frames per-character, and if the stick is held forwards, it will transition into the run animation when it ends. If the stick is released, the initial dash animation will continue to play until it concludes, but you will not maintain your speed forwards, with friction slowing you to a halt (this is called a fox trot).
During the initial dash animation, you are not allowed to crouch, attempting to do so will make you crouch after a fox trot. You cannot perform any tilt or smash attacks during the initial dash animation, except for up smash (because jump cancels into up smash, and you are allowed to jump from all grounded non-attacking states.). If you smash turn during the initial dash state, you will re-enter the initial dash state in the opposite direction. There is a 2 frame leniency for this (unlike the 1 frame leniency for trying to dash in the opposite animation from standing), not reaching the opposite side fast enough will result in a fox trot.
This means that you can rapidly alternate directions to begin the initial dash animation over and over again in the opposite direction. This is called dash dancing. If you allow the initial dash animation to play out completely, entering a run, attempting to turn back will result in a long turnaround animation playing where you lose a lot of your speed and cannot perform any action except jump. Jumping during this animation will orient you in your original facing direction in Melee, and the opposite facing direction in Project M (called reverse aerial rush).
Because the turnaround animation during run is so long, many players elect to stay in dash dance to get the fastest turn times, allowing them to move with more agility than the run animation over a shorter range. The thing to get familiar with is learning how long you can hold dash in a direction before needing to turn around. This means that there is effectively a distance you’re allowed to move before needing to turn back. When you learn this distance well enough, you’ll be able to move at maximum speed over short distances, weaving in and out of opponent’s attack ranges. It’s possible to run across the stage, staying entirely in initial dash by turning back, then forwards every time you’re about to hit the edge of your range. This is a great way to practice using the dash dance purposefully. Varying your dash lengths and having great precise control over your dash will allow you to whiff punish any move.
During the initial dash animation, the only attacks you’re allowed to perform are the dash attack, grab (the running grab animation is slower, it’s recommended that you jump cancel grab to get your faster standing grab), your B moves, and up smash. However every time you turn during the initial dash animation, there is 1 frame where the character is in a neutral standing state. On this single frame, you are allowed to perform any neutral standing option, assuming you have good enough timing and dexterity. Performing an action on this frame is called a Pivot. Pivots are extremely tricky, but allow you to move at maximum speed and attack with impunity. Because they’re so difficult, many people only use pivots for specific applications, like moving in for a quick smash attack.
Once you enter the run state after the initial dash, your options increase a little, because you are allowed to cancel run with crouch at any time, and perform any move you normally can out of crouch (all special attacks, all smash attacks, all tilts). Worth noting is that crouching, then dashing the opposite direction is faster in a run than trying to do the run turnaround. This is called a Cactaur Dash.
Wavedashing is a technique performed by airdodging at an angle into the ground as soon as you leave the ground from jumpsquat. When you hit the ground, there are 10 frames where you cannot act due to landing lag. This means wavedashes effectively have a startup time of 10 frames + your character’s jumpsquat, assuming you do the wavedash frameperfect. You can also do this as you land from a jump or come up through a platform (fastest way to land on most platforms), incurring the same 10 frames of landing lag. The wavedashes of most characters are slower than dashing, with the exception of the characters with the absolute best wavedashes, like Luigi and Ice Climbers. Wavedashes are nice because they allow you to move at dash-like speeds without committing to the more limited set of dash options, as well as retain the same facing direction. So you can wavedash backwards while facing forwards. They help fill in a few holes in most characters’ mobility options. Wavedashes are bad, because they have a longer startup time than dashes and walking. During the jumpsquat, the wavedash inherits whatever momentum you had moving forwards, so dashing into a wavedash will make the wavedash move further.
The angle at which you dodge into the ground also affects wavedash length. More shallow angles that are closer to parallel with the ground will travel further along it. More deep angles that are perpendicular to the ground will travel with less distance. You cannot wavedash perfectly to the left or right, you’ll just get an airdodge, however you can waveland perfectly to the left or right when you jump up through a platform, or land on the ground. You need to do this exactly as you land, close to frame perfect if it isn’t totally frameperfect. Doing this will move you a lot further and faster than a normal wavedash, allowing even characters with terrible wavedashes like Ganondorf to move amazing distances.
If you are facing with your back to a ledge and have momentum, you will slide off the edge. Wavedashes allow you to do this, making them great for grabbing the ledge quickly to edgehog. Sliding off a ledge also can cancel any special animation, allowing you to attack faster, and attack animations can slide off ledges both backwards and forwards. In shield, sliding off ledges will put you into tumble, which can be taken advantage of by opponents.
Alright, here’s my footsies speech. I wrote this for my local smash group, and now I’m passing it on to you.
A lot of beginners when they learn to dash dance, don’t really know what dash dancing is for. They just do it because they know it’s tech and makes you unpredictable, then they get scraped because nobody’s going to respect someone who just DDs in place. Dash dancing really starts to work for you when you learn how to use your dash purposefully. You gotta understand that dash dancing isn’t just moving back and forth to be less predictable, it’s about your character having a certain range of space on the ground that they can move at maximum speed through, capable of weaving around attacks, and as long as you keep turning back at the periphery of this range, you can keep weave around anything. It’s helpful to be familiar with all the movement states in Melee, I might cover those in a different guide.
The first component of this is whiff punishing. When someone attacks you, and it misses, there is a period where that attack must recover. Dashes in Smash Bros are so fast that they can get in on people during that period, and usually grab them (depends on the character). So what you can do is, if someone comes at you with an attack, you can stand within that attack’s range, dash out of the range, let the attack whiff (miss you), and dash back in to grab them. This is the basic whiff punish.
You can whiff punish grabs, dash attacks, SHFFLs (on almost all characters), most tilts, most smash attacks, and a lot of other options, as long as you have enough space to move back, then forward, to hit your opponent when they miss. Because whiff punishes work on so many things, they’re extremely useful. They can beat out a lot of air and special move options too, forcing the opponent to respect whiff punishes on the ground.
Your other two footsie options are Pokes, and “Going Deep”. Pokes are moves you throw out to prevent your opponent from moving in on you. Poking too close to an opponent can lead to getting shield grabbed, so you want to poke at max range, while still hitting them. You want to throw pokes into the space your opponent is about to move into. Pokes are almost always fast startup moves with fast recovery and decent range, so Ftilts and Dtilts on many characters apply, as well as many character’s SHFFLs. Pokes get beaten by whiff punishes, unless they connect with either the opponent’s body or their shield.
Pokes can be beaten by other pokes, these are called counter pokes. Like a SHFFL will beat a dtilt frequently, and many ftilts or utilts can beat SHFFLs, but dtilts can go under those or outspeed them, beating those out. Poking before your opponent does will also beat their poke. Again, these options vary by character.
“Going Deep” is the equivalent to Throwing in Street Fighter, the idea is that when your opponent is non-commital, trying to bait something from you to whiff punish. If you go deep, then they need to poke you to force you out, or they get hit. Many attacks are great for this, especially because you can run cancel when you go outside your dash dance range. Dash attacks work for this on many characters as well. The idea is to overlap the space they’re going to dash in with a hitbox.
Pokes < Whiff Punishes < Going Deep (< Pokes again)
So you have this counter triangle, Pokes stop your opponent from moving in on you, going deep. Whiff punishes will beat pokes by avoiding getting hit, and retaliating. Going deep will beat noncommittal dash dancing, so it beats whiff punishes. Of course, poking to keep people out of your space can itself be whiff punished, so you can move into people’s space then out of it to bait a poke, and whiff punish that poke. Moving in is pressure, moving out is bait.
The goal is to watch what your opponent is doing, because you get to see what they’re about to do based on the way they move before they do it, then make a read, and try to beat whichever one of these three options they attempt, and convert that into a punish ideally. Figure out which of these three they’re relying on the most, and try to focus on the options that beat their particular play style, as well as read which option they’re going to go for right here and now.
All of these things open you up to risk, none of them are perfectly safe. Everything counts as a commitment in its own way. If you get scared, then you’re not going to make yourself safer by overly committing to any one option. Victory depends on your ability to figure out your opponent’s patterns while they simultaneously try to figure out yours, and both of you adjust on the fly based on what you just saw your opponent do. But this isn’t perfect rock paper scissors, you get hints based on what your opponent does before they actually commit.
So have some fun, change up your patterns, and figure out what theirs are before they catch on to you.
SSBMtutorials by Kira did a video on this topic and has a similar basis to mine with different terms.
Please explain frame inputs to me. I always see people saying that a move starts on frame 2 or has a 3 frame input. But a frame is 1/60th of a second… so how the hell do people even react to that? Can a button even be physically pressed in a frame?
Average human reaction time is 13 frames. This means we have a blind spot of 215 miliseconds before we can react to something that we are expecting in advance and have a planned reaction to. This time is shorter for reactions to things we hear, but we can only hear one thing at a time (we can select what among multiple things we’re listening to).
In DDR, to get a Marvelous (better than perfect) you have to be really close to frame accurate. But I just said that we have a human reaction time of 13 frames, so how can this be? It’s because we can get much closer in accuracy when we have something external as a guide, then we can calibrate our internal sense of timing to match the guide in our blind spot. Furthermore, for a lot of actions, we don’t just do it one time, we practice it. When you practice it, you develop a better sense of how long the thing takes and at what points you should act, so your internal record of the timings for that action improves. When you practice one of that sort of thing, you get better with others, so you don’t just get good at frame perfect combos in street fighter, you get better at them in say vampire savior too.
Many beginners at fighting games don’t know the inputs, but they know the motion their hand went through to get the result it did. Many people actually remember tough timings in a similar way, except they also know the inputs too.
I was doing JC grabs wrong in smash bros for a long time, because I had this reflex of quickly sliding my thumb and index finger off the X and Z, and this used to work for me, but over time my muscle memory (internal timing record) for that thing had gotten so faulty that the motion was horrifically inconsistent, even though it’s very easy to perform. So I had to restart from scratch and very carefully and intentionally do the motion each time.
I had a similar issue relearning DACUS in Project M. I learned to do DACUS in Brawl where the window was so lenient you could hit them with your dash attack and still DACUS. In PM, the window is 2 frames, 1 if you use the Z button, which I do, and I knew I could not unlearn (otherwise I’d need to use a custom control setup and none of those were conducive to how I play). I would grind it out in training mode but still get nowhere. I analyzed the way I was pressing the C-stick down, then the Z button, and could not understand what was wrong until I realized that my thought of it was, “press C-stick down, then Z.” Because I was thinking of them one after another, it didn’t matter how fast I was trying to do them, I was putting in a delay. Instead I changed my thought to, “Do these both simultaneously” and suddenly DACUS was coming out. Because 2 frames means they’re almost right on top of each other.
Shorthopping is a similar thing in Smash Bros. You asked if a button can even be pressed in one frame. Sure, but not released! To shorthop in smash bros, you need to press the button and release it before your character goes into the air. So with a character like Fox, he only squats 3 frames before going into the air, you need to press the button and release it within 3 frames. A lot of people have trouble with this. I’d guess that people have a huge issue pressing and releasing buttons over a 1 frame period. There is a trick in Link to the Past any% (no exploration glitch) where you need to hover over a pit, by pressing the button to dash forwards, dashing 1 pixel, then releasing it and repressing it again within one frame. I heard that this pit takes 27 frame perfect inputs to cross, one of the hardest in all of speedgaming.
I still remember how much trouble I had (and technically still have) doing links in SF, I would sit there in the trial mode confused over how on earth it was ever supposed to work. It became a matter of developing this reflex, to want to act, to do the next action in sequence at the very first possible frame, as soon as possible from when you’re allowed to again. Now that I’m a bit better at that, I’ve gotten accidental link combos on characters I don’t play.
The fact of the matter is, people do things in video games with relatively small timing windows all the time, because they’re partially predicting what is going to happen. To jump accurately in Mario requires releasing button within maybe 6 frame windows to get mario to jump the height you want him to.
2D Fighting games are essentially a big game of rock paper scissors, except the players have a lot of options and there are multiple games of rock paper scissors going on all at once, and each of these is affected by the timing, positioning and move choice of both players. Understanding fighting games is a matter of understanding your character’s options, and how they interact with the options of your opponent.
The first thing to understand is the basic controls. In Street Fighter, the character you choose is controlled using 6 attack buttons and an 8 way directional pad (like an arcade stick). Moving closer or further is done by pressing forward or back. Pressing any of the 3 upward directions will have the character jump in a fixed arc in that direction. Pressing the downward directions will have the character crouch. While jumping the character has access to different jumping attacks. While crouching the character has access to different crouching attacks. These movement basics are the same in every traditional 2D fighting game.
Blocking attacks is important to survival. Blocks are performed by holding directions relative to the way your opponent is facing you. Holding back or downback while your opponent is attacking will cause you to go into a blocking animation. All attacks are broken down into 3 categories, Mid, Low, and High. Most attacks on the ground are mid, and can be blocked with either a high block or a low block. Crouching attacks, especially kicks, are usually low, and must be blocked with a low block. Jumping attacks and a few rare ground attacks called Overheads are blocked high. Since the majority of ground attacks are either mid or low, most of the time on the ground you can block low and keep out most attacks by crouch blocking (holding downback). When your opponent jumps or winds up an overhead that’s a signal to stop crouch blocking and block high instead by just holding back. Overhead attacks are a few rare ground attacks that can hit your opponent high, these are typically designed to be slower than other attacks so that you have time to react to them and block high, or interrupt them with a faster attack. One example of an overhead is Ryu’s forward medium punch. Some aerial attacks have hitboxes that are close enough to the center of the character to still hit you when that character has crossed you overhead. These need to be blocked the opposite way of a normal attack, by holding the direction forward of where your character is facing, which is now away from the person attacking you. You’ll see your character block while facing away from the opponent if done successfully. These are called Crossups. You always block by pressing away from the direction your opponent is, no matter what side they’re on.
In Street Fighter specifically there are 6 attack buttons. These are broken up into punches and kicks, and each scale up in power from light, to medium, to hard. So all 6 buttons are light punch (also called LP or jab), medium punch (MP or strong), hard punch (HP or fierce), light kick (LK or short), medium kick (MK or forward), and hard kick (HK or roundhouse). The names like jab, fierce, and roundhouse are old names for the attacks on the original arcade cabinets for street fighter. They’ve stuck with the game since and are still used by some people. These 6 attack buttons are the convention specific to Street Fighter. Other fighting games tend to use their own convention, though a couple rare ones use the same 6 buttons.
Pressing an attack button will, of course, produce an attack. The attack produced is relative to the movement state the character is in. If they are standing a different attack will come out than if they are jumping or crouching. A few attacks are also accessible by pressing a direction and a button, like Ryu’s overhead forward medium punch. These are called command normals, and they tend to have special functions. In general, punching attacks hit higher up tending to be a bit faster and stronger than kick attacks, while also being shorter range. Kick attacks are usually the ones that hit low while crouching, and have long ranges which make them great for pokes on most characters. Jabs and shorts (LP and LK) are fast short range attacks, good for getting an opponent off you if they’re too close. Medium kicks tend to be the best poking tool for hitting opponents who are further away from you. Crouching hard kicks sweep your opponent, knocking them off their feet. Crouching hard punches tend to be angled upwards, making them great for hitting people trying to jump in at you. Normal attacks are important to success in Street Fighter as they tend to be quick to come out and quick to recover, making them more safe than the flashy special attacks.
How to Do Specials
Special attacks are performed with specific commands involving multiple directional presses, like Ryu’s quarter-circle-forward punch for Hadouken or quarter-circle-back kick for his whirlwind kick. The quarter circle forward motion consists of pressing down, downforward, and forward in one fluid motion, then pressing the button as you reach the forward position to activate the special. Quarter-circle-back is the same thing starting from the down position and moving to the back. Importantly, specials will do a tiny amount of damage to people even if they block (called block damage or chip damage), so people can’t just block specials forever without getting chipped out.
The Hadouken can be performed with any of the 3 punch buttons and the whirlwind kick with any of the 3 kick buttons. In Street Fighter, special attacks will vary depending on the strength of the button you press. For example projectile attacks like Hadouken will move faster or slower depending on whether you hit hard or light. The whirlwind kick moves further across the screen and will do more damage if performed with a hard kick instead of a light kick. Remember that you don’t always want to do the strongest or fastest version of a special attack, because they typically have other drawbacks, and the slower or weaker versions usually have their own advantages.
Other types of special command inputs include half circle back or half circle forward, which are similar to quarter circle motions except they start from the front or the back position and move through the downward position to get to the other, making up the bottom half of a circle.
Massively important is the Dragon Punch motion (DP or Shoryuken motion), Forward, down, downforward. It looks a bit like a Z and it can be tricky to perform for new players, who might mash out something similar to a super input. It’s worth it to learn the dragon punch movement because important moves like the Dragon Punch are usually tied to it. Ryu and Ken’s Dragon Punch are powerful moves that do a lot of damage and can hit the opponents out of the air, and beat most ground attacks too, however don’t use them unless you’re sure you’ll hit, because it leaves you extremely vulnerable afterwards.
Last are the charge inputs, these are on characters like Guile and Chun Li. Charge inputs involve holding a direction, like down or back, to “charge” your special, then pressing the opposite direction and an attack button. Guile has 2 charge attacks, back to forward with punch, and down to up with kick. Holding back then pressing forward and punch will produce Guile’s Sonic Boom attack, much like Ryu’s Hadouken. Holding down them pressing up and kick will produce Guile’s flash kick, much like Dragon Punch for Ryu. Charging for charge characters has no onscreen indicator, so players need to learn the charge timing internally. In all Street Fighter games, the charge timing is exactly 2 seconds, though looking at the clock will not help you very much. Charging for charge moves is constantly going on at all times you’re holding the back or down directions. This is true even if you’re jumping or doing other moves. You can even charge both down and back simultaneously by holding downback to have both a sonic boom and flash kick ready to go. Charge characters can be a bit tricky to understand for beginners, but some people might find their inputs easier than regular command characters.
Next are throws. If your opponent is blocking, then you can try to hit them high and low to get around it, but a good player can react to either and keep you out. Throws are fast short range attacks that do a lot of damage and cannot be blocked. If your opponent is blocking and not attacking, you can walk right up to them and throw them, usually knocking them down and dealing a lot of damage. Because throws are short range, they typically lose out to longer range attacks. In Street Fighter 2, throws are performed by holding forward or back, and pressing any medium or hard attack button. If the game detects that you are close enough to your opponent to throw, then both your and your opponent will be locked into a throw animation. In SF3 and SF4 throws are performed by pressing LP + LK. If you are close enough you’ll throw, and if not you’ll do a failed throw animation. Throws can also be done in the air with specific characters, like Ken, Cammy, Chun Li or Guile. Air throws can only be done against aerial opponents and ground throws can only be done against grounded opponents. To avoid getting thrown, it is usually best to use a throw of your own, hit them before they can get close enough to throw, use an invincible attack like a dragon punch, or to jump so you cannot be thrown by a ground throw (beware of people who expect this and anti-air you).
Supers are powerful attacks that can only be done when your super meter at the bottom of the screen is full. Super inputs are different for most characters, but the most common is 2 quarter circle motions, like quarter circle forward, quarter circle forward punch on Ryu to do his Shinku Hadouken. Super meter fills every time you hit your opponent or use a special move. Super attacks are powerful, but also extremely vulnerable once they finish. Many beginner players get distracted once they get a full meter, which lets more experienced ones bait out a wasted super attack that they can punish hard.
Now that you know how to control your character, I would advise trying out the various moves they have until you know generally what they all do and you can use your special attacks consistently. SF2 is a great game for starting out simple, but it’s also a lot more exact in how it reads inputs, demanding you perform absolutely correctly. SF3 and 4 are much more non-standard and they have advanced systems that might be a bit overwhelming for beginners, but their input read algorithms are more flexible, which makes specials easier to perform. SF4 is the most lenient of these to the degree that it can lead to bad habits, accepting mashed inputs as correct, which could lead to poor consistency when switching over to other games, and using the wrong move at a critical point in a match. If you go with SF4, always try to input the moves as correctly as you can. Training mode’s input display is a big help in this.
Understanding what your moves are actually good for and being able to identify the properties of a move is one of the first steps to playing any fighting game well. I went over some basics on normals earlier, but I’d like to go into a bit more detail. In Street Fighter you have 6 buttons for normals, Light Punch, Medium Punch, Hard Punch, Light Kick, Medium Kick, and Hard Kick. These are abbreviated LP MP HP LK MK HK, or also known by their older names, jab, strong, fierce, short, forward, roundhouse. Some characters have different versions of standing attacks depending on how close they are to their opponent. Close versions of attacks generally have better properties or are sometimes useful for alternate purposes, like anti-airing opponents. There are generally 3 versions of each of these, standing, crouching, and jumping.
In general the big differences between various normal moves is how fast they are to start up, how quickly they recover, how big an area they hit, what range that area covers, how much of the character is made vulnerable by it, whether they’re allowed to cancel into special moves or super moves, how much frame advantage they get on hit or block, and of course how much damage it does. If you’re unsure what a move is good for, or what the weaknesses of a particular move are, try looking at these properties for an answer.
Frame advantage or Advantage time is a term for when a move’s hitstun animation inflicted on the opponent lasts shorter or longer than the time it takes the move to recover. When a move has positive frame advantage, meaning the hitstun lasts longer than the move’s recovery, you get a chance to act before your opponent does. If you can start up another move during this time and it hits your opponent before your advantage time is over, the opponent will be hit by the second move without a chance to retaliate or even block. This is called a combo. Canceling moves means that the recovery animation of the move doesn’t play, yet the hitstun animation on the opponent remains the same, so you effectively get more frame advantage from canceling moves over waiting for them to end. This is how special moves can be slower to start up than normal moves in many cases, yet still combo when canceled into. If you hit someone with a move, let the move fully recovery, and then hit them with another move, this type of combo is called a link, it’s considered one of the harder types of combos. Frame advantage allowing opponents to attack first effectively makes your attacks slower, meaning the opponent will beat them out if they attack first.
Light attacks typically start up the fastest, and many of them self chain, meaning you can mash the button and do them over and over again really quickly. This makes them good as a panic button, for getting people off you. They also do a small amount of hitstun, usually enough to last until the move has fully recovered, so you have a small amount of advantage time.
Medium attacks are typically less fast, but still pretty fast, however they do a lot more damage (usually at least twice as much, sometimes 3 times as much or more, light attacks are really weak to offset their self chaining ability), usually have more range, and frequently get the most frame advantage in a character’s moveset. Medium punches are typically always cancelable into special moves or supers, where medium kicks usually can only be canceled with their crouching versions. Because of Medium Attacks’ range and fast startup times, medium attacks are typically great pokes, especially kick attacks. Their relative frame advantage and cancel-ability makes them useful in combos.
Heavy Attacks typically have the most range, but the least frame advantage, and longest startup. This makes them less suited as pokes than medium attacks in many cases. This varies by character of course. Heavy attacks are also the normal moves least likely to be capable of canceling into special attacks or supers. This makes heavy attacks more specialized than medium attacks, which tend to be general. Some characters however have amazing heavy attacks, like Akuma’s standing heavy punch or Bison’s standing heavy kick in Street Fighter 4, so feel free to experiment and find out what’s right for your character. Worth noting is that on most characters, crouching heavy punch and crouching heavy kick have a special function. Crouching heavy punches typically uppercut upwards, making them good anti-air moves. Crouching heavy kicks are usually sweeps, meaning they will knock the opponent down if they hit. Sweeps in most fighting games are uncancellable, and if blocked, have massive frame disadvantage, enough to allow your opponent to hit you back before you recover. If you encounter an opponent who loves to sweep, then block it and hit them back for all that you’re worth (or just sweep them instead).
In general moves to look out for are good pokes, counter pokes, anti-airs, whiff punishes, combo moves with good hitstun on hit, and pressure moves with good hitstun on block. Common tradeoffs are that moves with long range typically have poor hitstun and cannot be canceled, moves that are closer to you have larger hitboxes, more hitstun, and can be canceled. Pokes are long range moves that prevent the opponent from moving into your space where they can get a combo off. Counter pokes are moves that go around pokes to hit the opponent. Anti-airs are moves angled upwards in the direction opponents will jump in at you. Whiff punishes are frequently like pokes, except they hit the opponent’s outstretched limb after they have poked. Many moves can be used to whiff punish, and it is highly dependent on the matchup, so it’s worth paying attention to where your moves overlap your opponents. Moves that start up fast are best for whiff punishes because they make the timing easier. Same for moves that stay close to you, like Ryu’s standing hard punch, because they don’t require you to stick out your vulnerable limb at your opponent. Combo moves usually are cancelable and have good hitstun, as well as not pushing your opponent far away from you. At a low level, it’s best just to know what moves you can cancel into special moves, doing 2 move combos with a normal to lead into a special.
When jumping, you have 6 options for attacks, though most of them are useless on most characters. The factors to consider about a jump-in move are mostly where it hits. Good air to ground attacks hit diagonally downwards in front of you, like Cammy’s jumping MP in super street fighter II turbo. Good air to air attacks hit the area in front and above you, like Ryu’s jumping MP attack in every game. Another type to look out for is crossups, which can hit the opponent from behind, because there are hitboxes behind your character as well as in front of them. Ryu and Ken’s jumping MK moves both do this, as well as Guile’s LK, and Zangief’s body slam, which was designed for this purpose. Additional factors to consider are how long the move stays active and how much hitstun it gets. Heavy jumping attacks can get a lot of hitstun if used low to the ground, but staying active for a long time like medium or light attacks often do can help them cover more of your opponent’s options.
Pressure in fighting games is something you’ll eventually run into or need to do for yourself. Pressure in fighting games typically revolves around blockstrings, mixups, attacking people on knockdown (called Okizeme), and tick throws. Each of these are taking advantage of your opponent’s disadvantage to attempt to get past their block and deal damage.
Blockstrings involve hitting someone who is blocking your attacks with a series of attacks that are safe on block, meaning they have frame advantage, or push your opponent so far away they cannot retaliate. If all the moves in the blockstring stay positive on block, then you can effectively combo their block, forcing them to keep up their guard. Because normal moves don’t do damage on block, this isn’t as helpful as real combos, however Blockstrings can still deal damage in multiple ways. By getting frame advantage on their block, you can attack before they do, hitting them as soon as they come out of blockstun. If they try to attack or escape, then they can get hit by these, since they don’t have enough time to act, they get trapped by the next attack coming in. This is called a frametrap. Frametraps are formed by either delaying the links in your blockstring (or combo if you like giving up free damage or have a way to reset the combo), or using a move with just barely less frame advantage than the next move’s startup, so the window between them is so short that your opponent cannot start up a move. Escaping blockstrings usually means either waiting them out until the opponent is too far away to continue the string, or performing a fast move to beat the opponent out during the gaps. Invincible uppercuts are especially effective here, because their invincibility will prevent the second attack of a frametrap from hitting you. Many opponents also choose to frametrap using unsafe moves that have larger consequences for you if you don’t block them, but which are punishable should you successfully block, such as sweeps. These types of moves can become safe however if spaced correctly, so that the tips of the moves’ hitboxes hit you, pushing you out of range. Always be ready to punish improperly spaced unsafe moves during a blockstring.
Mixups are usually a component of blockstrings, but are a more general concept. The idea behind a mixup is to attempt to get you to change your block zone to the incorrect one. The most common type of mixup at a low level is jumping in with a high attack, then performing a low attack. This is so common, it practically isn’t a mixup. Other common tricks are to use frame advantage to jump overhead for a crossup, or to use an overhead immediately after landing from a jump-in attack because they’re expecting a low attack, because it’s so common. Using the frame advantage of a blockstring to cover a mixup is usually an effective tactic. When the opponent expects a series of mid and low attacks intended to frametrap them, it can throw them off kilter to see an unexpected overhead attack. By design, overheads always have more than 15 frames of startup, to give the blocker time to react and block high. By jumping and attacking instantly off the ground with a jumping attack that can reach down at your opponent you can perform high attacks faster than the normal 15 frames of startup, however because you can only attack once per jump, this means sacrificing your offensive momentum to mixup your opponent for a little extra damage. This technique is called an instant overhead. Mixups more generally refer to any scenario where there are several possible things you can do, and you switch between them in the hopes of catching your opponent off guard to break their defense.
Tick throws are like the opposite of frame traps. They involve getting frame advantage on your opponent, then throwing them the instant they come out of hitstun (or depending on the game, the instant they’re allowed to be thrown after hitstun). Because you’re throwing them so fast, typically they can’t get out an attack before being thrown. Modern games added a short throw invincibility period after hitstun and knockdown to help make sure jabs or other fast attacks can beat tick throws. Unlike frametraps where the answer is to do nothing but block, tick throws need to be actively defended against by either jumping (to get off the ground where the throw cannot affect you), attacking (depending on the game), or throw teching (if the game has throw techs, otherwise throw them first). Tick throws are typically done off jabs or jump-in moves because of the low push-back on them and low amount of hitstun, making it easy to time the throw for the first moment of vulnerability. If you’re playing a game like Third Strike where command throws have a delay before activating, this is likely to help time them to hit at the first point of vulnerability when canceled off of jabs or other tick setups, even if it makes them lose to regular throws.
When someone is knocked down, they’re temporarily invincible until they get back up. Because the knockdown period is so long, this generally lets their opponent set up with whatever move they want unopposed, even long startup moves like overheads are now safe from being stuffed with a jab. If you can knock your opponent down, then hit them with something that knocks them down again it’s possible to keep your opponent from hitting you by continually knocking them down. The idea with Okizeme, or attacking people who are waking up from a knockdown, is to time your attack to hit them at the first possible moment they get up to prevent any type of retaliation or escape, essentially force them to block the hit correctly or eat it. In addition to this, if you time it so the last active frame of your attack hits, you get more frame advantage than normal, enabling more combos or blockstring pressure setups than otherwise possible. This is called a meaty attack because of the extra hitstun on the attack. If your opponent has a move that is invincible on startup, like an invincible uppercut, a teleport, or a super move, then if they use that the instant they get up, they can extend the invincibility time of the knockdown, allowing them to also beat out whatever attack you’re doing. This is called a reversal. If your opponent is doing this a lot, you can beat their reversal by simply blocking it, or standing out of range, then punishing the long recovery that is common among reversal moves. General advice is to almost always block low when you’re waking up, especially if you’re new to the game. Most big combos are started from mids or lows, and overheads don’t do as much damage by comparison. Dragon punches can help you get momentum back, and deal good damage in the short term, but more experienced opponents will bait that shit out and if they do it’s as bad as not blocking at all.
Special moves are typically a lot more extreme than normal moves, possessing special properties like invincibility, knockdown, projectiles, movement across the stage, or incredible range. The advantages and disadvantages of special attacks balance them against normal attacks. To get their powerful benefits, there is an appropriate amount of risk. If a special attack ever seems too good to be true, check out its properties, it likely has a long startup time (fireballs), or is extremely vulnerable on block (Cammy’s spiral arrow, bison’s psycho crusher, most uppercut specials), or a point of vulnerability (chun li’s lightning legs and blanka’s electricity can be sweeped and have a limited range).
Special moves can be nearly anything, however some common types include invincible uppercuts (or other high priority anti-air moves), fireball moves, self projectiles, teleports, special overheads, divekicks, and high startup block pressure moves.
Uppercut type moves usually start up quickly, and have amazing hitboxes in the area above them, so as to beat out opponents in the skies. They often have limited forward range and coverage very low to the ground, but their invincible startup guarantees that up close they can beat most other ground attacks. The idea is that they can beat anything right now, but have such a long recovery that they are extremely vulnerable later on.
Fireballs exist to control space. Because they operate independently of the character and they don’t have a hurtbox, they can beat out any melee ground move. Fireballs force opponents to either jump, throw their own fireballs, or use another move to get through them or absorb them. Fireballs can vary in speed, with slower ones controlling space for longer and frequently allowing pressure followups on top of the fireball, and faster ones allowing quicker punishes at a range. Using a slow fireball then a fast one can frequently frametrap people at mid-screen. Fireballs get different amounts of frame advantage depending on where they hit the opponent on the screen. At point blank range they’re extremely negative, but at midscreen, the character has usually entirely recovered by the time they hit. It can be useful to cancel into fireball to push opponents out of range and get a little block damage on the opponent.
Special overheads are nice because they can be canceled into, making them more disorientating to block, and allowing the frame advantage of the first move to cover their startup.
Self projectiles typically have great hitboxes, beating out many other normal moves in neutral, but are unsafe on block.
Divekicks are awesome and occasionally just plain broken, getting large amounts of frame advantage and allowing quicker high attacks. They don’t get as much range as normal jumping attacks typically though, and are usually vulnerable to standing punches or regular anti-airs.
Teleports, ground dashes, and other movement tools can help characters escape the corner, move in for pressure, cross up, and other such things, with the additional benefit that they can be canceled into.
High startup pressure moves are fairly rare in street fighter, Hugo’s clap being one of the most prominent examples. These moves set up for big combos, but are risky to start up at close range.
On the most basic level, fighting games are like rock paper scissors, it’s a question of what beats what. From a neutral starting point both you and your opponent have a number of different options you can take, and there are different options that will beat your opponent’s options.
All the time everywhere
Attack > Throw > Block or Dodge > Attack again
Resets or wakeup games
High, Low, Crossup, throw, bait
Ryu’s basic game
Anti-air > Jump in > Fireball > Anti-air
Hop Attacks > Low Kicks > Standing Punches > Hop Attacks
There are a lot more examples like these across fighting games. Figuring out what move can beat what move is the first step in taking down opponents. Then realizing what they can do to beat that, and how to do it safely, or beat their counter-option and so on. These types of counters don’t always go in a smooth triangle, like Ryu’s basic game, if defused, typically doesn’t lead into more fireballs, it leads into a mid-to-close range ground game instead, with the threat of his basic game ever-present. No matter what, everything in fighting games always has a counter of some kind. Opponents can force you into situations with no options except taking damage, but you need to screw up first to get there.
In Street Fighter, the basic game for a shoto-type character, like Ryu or Ken, typically consists of throwing fireballs, and anti-airing people who want to jump in. Learning how to effectively do this, and how to break down others trying to do this is usually the first step in learning to play the game. Also understanding when to properly read or react is critical.
In Street Fighter, jumps take a long time to get over to your opponent. If you jump forward, it’s like asking your opponent, “are you paying attention?” If they answer, “Yes,” then they get free damage on you. The counter to jump-ins is to be doing nothing when they choose to jump in, because then you can anti-air them when you see them in the air.
Fireballs are useful because if your opponent can’t threaten you up close on the ground, then the fireball can control all the space in front of you, and force the opponent in turn to either get rid of the fireball by throwing their own, get around it with a character-specific move, or jump. Jumping is the most ready option, and what a lot of beginners stick to. However because it’s so easy to anti-air people, jumping forward is typically a risky option. Less risky is neutral jumping. If you jump straight up, then it’s a bit harder to get over the fireball, but the fireball will still be on the screen when you land, preventing your opponent from launching another one until it leaves the screen. Neutral jumps have the added benefit of being in a great place to beat earlier jump-ins, and people advancing on the ground.
To successfully punish a fireball though, you will need to read your opponent throwing the fireball and jump forward. There is a short recovery time after the fireball is thrown where the opponent can be hit. The goal is to jump almost exactly when they throw the fireball to catch this recovery time. If you space it so you land outside their anti-air range, then it’s even safer if you mess up the timing.
When you throw a fireball, you must keep the same things in mind. Is your opponent close enough to jump in on you? Are they close enough you can anti-air them if they do? Is it safe to throw a fireball right now, or should you wait to anti-air them when they try to jump in?
To anti-air you should use a move that hits upwards at the air and doesn’t expose the character much. This can vary from character to character, and may depend on spacing. For Shoto type characters like Ryu and Ken, as well as many other characters, crouching hard punch is the go-to normal move for anti-air. Characters with invincible uppercuts have an even better (and riskier) option for beating jump-in opponents.
Because normal anti-airs are only one button, they’re much easier to do in a pinch, where dragon punches with their special move input, although more powerful and higher priority, can be harder to do on reaction. A basic trick to anti-air more consistently is if you have a read on exactly when they’ll jump, input the directions for the dragon punch, then check if they’ve jumped, and press punch if they have, don’t press anything if they haven’t. If you don’t know exactly when they’ll jump, but know they’re going to, then you can crouch and keep your eyes on the sky, pressing the punch button when they jump. Beware of opponents who purposefully try to bait out anti-airs. Using these tricks to anti-air on reaction will help prevent making yourself vulnerable.
Once you can shut down your opponent’s fireballs, and keep them out of the air, you’re both forced into the ground game, which many people call “Footsies”. To beat someone in footsies, there’s a number of ways. If you expect your opponent is going to throw a move out, you can throw one out first, or in the place they’re about to move into, in order to catch them when they open themselves up. This is called a Poke.
Pokes are usually characterized as relatively fast, long range moves. If you think your opponent is going to poke, then you can yourself poke them before they poke you, or try to poke them in a way that you won’t get hit, usually called a counter-poke. One example is if they use a standing punch, you can hit them with a crouching kick, another is hitting them with a hop kick or long range standing kick if they try to do a crouching kick. Alternatively, you can attempt what’s called a Whiff Punish. When someone attacks, their limbs have hitboxes too, so by attacking, they’re increasing the range you can hit them at. A whiff punish is when you read them attacking, move out of range of their attack, and use a move that will hit their outstretched limb. It’s like baiting. Whiff punishes can be hard for beginner players and take a lot of practice. In low level games, it’s more common to rely on poking your opponent before they can poke you, or counter-poking them.
If your opponent sees you waiting for a whiff punish, trying to bait something out, then they can walk up to you and if they get close enough, then they’ll throw you. To beat this, you need to poke them, throw up a hitbox in the space they’re moving into, because they need to get close in order to throw, and most hitboxes outrange throws. In this way, the counter triangle of poke > whiff punish > throw comes back to poke again.
Of course, up close instead of throwing, they can attempt block string pressure. Block string pressure usually revolves around doing combos on block which put the opponent at frame disadvantage (into blockstun), then either throwing them, or hitting them as they try to mash out. Very common in beginner games is if two people get close, one will throw out a bunch of normals, and the other gets hit by all of them as they try to mash out. Or they get hit by one, and feeling like it’s now their “turn”, eat another move in the face.
One of the basic rules of all traditional fighting games is you cannot throw someone who is in blockstun, and you usually can’t throw someone who is in hitstun, unless it’s a special throw, or they’re in a special throw-able type of hitstun. However one thing you can do is hit them with a move while they are blocking, then throw them as soon as blockstun ends, this is called a Tick Throw. To avoid getting tick thrown, one must either tech the throw by throwing back, do something invincible out of blockstun, like a shoryuken, super, or teleport, or jump to avoid being on the ground where they are ground-throw-able. To make the throw unpredictable, most people vary the number of times they attack on block, which can push them back from the person blocking, requiring them to walk forward a little before they throw. This can also give the opponent a chance to get the thrower off them by attacking. To catch opponents like this, frametraps are employed.
A frametrap is essentially dropping a perfect blockstring or combo to allow the opponent to come out of blockstun or hitstun, giving them a chance to attack, then hitting them with an attack so fast it catches them in the opening frames of their next attack. Link combos with delayed timing become frametraps. If opponents are trying to poke you or jump when you go in for a throw, or just don’t understand whether it’s their turn to attack or not, then frametraps can help shut them down. Block strings are also useful for leading into mixups, as once an opponent learns to stop attacking into frametraps, you can mix in overheads or jumps.
Another important element is keeping the right amount of space between yourself and your opponent. Your options change significantly based on how far away you are. The speed of normal moves generally correlates to their range, so using the normal moves that hit closest to you are generally the fastest response to someone that’s in your face. Faster moves trump slower ones. Learn the range of all your moves relative to how fast they are, and the range of all your opponent’s moves relative to how fast they are. The goal is to move into a range where you can hit them, but they can’t hit you. This means using pokes effectively.
Pokes are usually your longest range moves. The idea with poking someone is to keep them out of your personal space. You want to throw out pokes when people try to move into your personal space, catch people when they walk forward. This says to them, you cannot get close to me or you will take damage. However as discussed earlier, pokes are not free, you can be counterpoked or whiff punished. If your opponent expects you to poke then they can poke you trying to poke them by attacking first. If they have a longer range poke, then they can poke you before you can get in range to poke them.
Your movement is also critical here. Many players move back and forth because they are trying to jockey for position on their opponent’s next move. Moving forward decreases space between you and your opponent, it functions as pressure, because by moving forward, you gain access to better attacks, and puts pressure on them to push you outside melee range. Moving away functions as bait. You can get out of range of attacks and whiff punish over extended attacks from here, but you’re giving up position and slowly pushing yourself into the corner. Watching your opponent’s movements as you move is important, because they’re also trying to pressure and bait you, and the range both of you are at when one of you decides to attack will change what the most effective attack for that range is, and what the appropriate counter is. If both of you move away from one another, then you deescalate the amount of risk in the engagement and make it easier to react to one another. If you both move towards each other, then you both increase the level of risk, allowing each other to use harder to react to options. It’s good to watch for the pattern the opponent moves in. If they walk towards you, then you can frequently move towards them at the same time to surprise them with a faster option. Much of the time however, both players try to keep just outside each other’s poke range, moving into range to bait out the poke, trying to get out before it actually hits and whiff punishing it.
Other ranges to watch out for are mid-screen and fullscreen versus characters with projectiles. Midscreen is where projectiles become dangerous, with frametraps and being so fast they’re tricky to deal with on reaction, however they’re also vulnerable at that range to jump-in attacks. Past that range and at fullscreen you can easily react to any type of fireball and neutral jump it, or even forward jump it without much threat of reprisal, but you also can’t punish your opponent for it.
Jumps in traditional fighting games have a fixed arc, meaning they have a specific range too, which is usually landing on the opponent at about mid-screen, usually a bit less. At close range jumps can land behind your opponent and cross up. Beginner players frequently love to use jumps because jumps hit high, so it seems like an obvious way to change their opponent’s block zone and get in for pressure or a combo. In most fighting games, but especially street fighter this is really dangerous, because once you decide to jump, you’re locked in, and the majority of the cast has time to react and anti-air you basically for free, as covered above. This means spacing your jumps can be important. If your opponent likes to use normal anti-airs, or only has normal anti-airs, it may be beneficial to space your jump to land right in front of them, then actually attacking after their anti-air move comes out to whiff punish it.
Notes for expansion:
Also focus on spacing
keeping in your characters optimal ranges to maximize the amount of good options you have, keeping out of your opponent’s optimal ranges to minimize good options they have, movement in combination with the threat of your space control to force the opponent to make decisions
Other good resources include (in order of advanced-ness):
Any fighting games you would recommend for a beginner looking to get into the genre?
I’ve been trying to work out the best fighting game for a beginner for a while now, and I’m honestly still unsure, lemme explain my candidates and reasoning.
First, I think the street fighter series is probably the best starting point because it’s generally pretty simple and sticks to fundamentals without anything too curveball-y.
I want to avoid SF4, because even though it’s popular, it has input shortcuts which teach bad habits. Going in online to get beaten up for a while in SF4 can help you get on your feet though.
SF2 would be my top pick, because it’s probably as fundamental as fighters get. It has all the basic character variations. Downside is that a bunch of things are random, input windows, damage, stun, throws on the same frame, a few unblockables. And the inputs are just plain hard. I feel like it’s a good thing for a beginner to be able to do special moves, like at all. SF2 HD Remix makes it a lot easier to input, so it’s naturally a better pick (avoid the SNES version), but there’s no input display in training mode, which is dumb.
I tried out SF Alpha 2, feeling that SFA3 would be too far off course, though I think the inputs are just as hard as SF2. It has a strong cast though and less random weirdness and still sticks to the fundamentals, so it’s good pick otherwise.
SF3 3rd Strike has an input read algorithm that I feel is as flexible as needs to be for beginners to pick it up, and avoids dumb stuff like input shortcuts. It’s just hard enough to input, maybe a bit too rigid compared to games like guilty gear. The downside is that although I like the game, I feel like the cast is a bit weird, and there are a ton of system features that can be overload for someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. That and people tend to get a bit fixated on parries which fucks with the learning process. Somehow the training mode for online edition doesn’t have input display either.
Skullgirls is a left field pick, I think it doesn’t really stick to fighting game fundamentals that well, but it has an amazing tutorial mode, good input read algorithms, and doesn’t really teach any bad habits to my knowledge. Might be a bit complicated though. Has one of the best training modes ever made.
I prefer KoF 98, others prefer 2002. KoF before XIII is generally pretty simple, and apart from shorthopping and rolling it’s pretty fundamental, but it can be tricky to play a team of 3 characters when you don’t know anyone in the game.
Try out whichever sounds and looks most appealing to you.