Stepping It

In fighting games there's a certain element that stands as an amorphous blob. Rather, the players themselves have to deal with the ever changing and ever non-changing flow of "the game" which we call challenge.

In almost all fighting games, one strives to maximize damage to the opponent while minimizing damage to their own character. Sounds like simple logic, but the reality of things is not nearly as simple, because when you are face to face with an opponent you need to deal with things like reaction and anticipation and sometimes even luck. Frankly, you can't know the best possible action at any given moment, because that may or may not be what your opponent will do or what they want you to think they'll do. In fact, your opponent is trying their hardest to be better than you, and so they are making sure that you don't know what's coming next. Thus, there's usually more than one option at your opponent's disposal that they're trying hard to implement in order to ensure that you don't get it right every time. After all, isn't that what you try to do.

Actually, some well-seasoned players willingly sacrifice damage in order to lead in to ideal mixup/rushdown/pressure situations. So sometimes it's a really good idea to not maximize damage to the opponent in order to capitalize on human weakness.

Just take a look at any Tool-Assisted "Speed Run" of a fighting game and compare that to actual human matches, then it should be obvious to anyone why no one plays like that. Sure it'd be sweet to be right all the time, but we're human.

Situation: Let's assume you've been spotted on life and given a lead where the opponent has been knocked down and must stand directly up. This is such an ideal situation to anyone familiar with the genre that it needs barely any explanation. The words "Rush that shit down" should suffice. But I will elaborate in saying that in the grand spectrum of things you have the potential to hit from multiple different directions of your choosing, which makes the opponent have to either correctly block high-right(6), high-left(4), low right(3), low-left(1), or do an unblockable move such as a throw. This is a concept that I personally tend to call the 5-way. In a lot of games, you can't react to it. You might plainly think that if the player does a crossup you can just block the other way, which is only true if that's all your opponent ever does, but it's definitely not the case if your opponent switches between the 5 options to the point where you can not react or predict which way you need to block (or not block). You might then rely on trying reversals or other defensive/offensive options to try to get out of this so-called (in recent years) "vortex".

Because of this, there are an overwhelmingly large number of players that will mash an attack button in this situation, or hold up to jump, or try and execute a reversal, anything to "get out of having to block correctly". One might think the reason for this to be obvious: if you can't react then you have to guess, so guess away!

But none of these mashy options actually work in the long run, they typically end in fail initially or the risk/reward outweighs them in the end. Making it a bad idea.

However, there's quite a lot more going on than just that, in addition to the prospect of having to "deal with it" there's also the consideration that the setup is not free at all. Meaning, you can't just put yourself in the position to land the 5-way just because you pressed a button at the start of a match, rather you have to work for it. So that leads also to the argument that if you think it's bullshit to have to deal with a mixup, then don't get yourself in the position where you have to deal with it in the first place.

The 5-way is not guaranteed success because the opponent has a correct action to prevent damage, but the 5-way is in itself a potential reward for putting the opponent in that disadvantageous situation. Like saying: "I deserve this mixup, because I put you there.". While it's not guaranteed that you earn damage off it, the reward for good midrange is the potential to capitalize.

This leads to the concept of midrange, and how do you put the opponent at such a disadvantage that you can land the 5-way (or lesser-number ways thereof), or on the flipside to avoid the 5-way yourself. I've talked about this sort of concept from hither to far, but something that came up along those lines was "what happens next?". What this question actually plays out to is following general gameflow per each step successfully, and then stopping -- the trick here is that the player doesn't know it, or knows it and doesn't know how to move forward. Basically: intuitive failure.

In order to understand this concept however, you must learn the "No, you can't do that" (concept). This is a concept opposite of the 5-way, wherein the 5-way means there is no correct answer but to guess. The opposite being that there is a correct answer but you're forced to choose that option.

As said previously, a lot of players will mash in hopes that it works out of them, knowing that they can't block correctly. What your "nope" job is: "to knock it out of them". So hence the "no you can't do that" concept. To use an example, a SF4 player might knock the opponent down and do a safe jump to avoid a potential reversal uppercut. As seen with SF4 Ryu doing a sweep, then using an immediate jump roundhouse, it's safe because if the opponent reversal uppercut then Ryu can land and block but if the opponent doesn't reversal uppercut then they have to deal with the Ryu j.HK. This is the most blatant example of "no you can't do that", in the sense that: no, you can not mash out a reversal uppercut in this situation, it always fails.

Now granted this also falls along the lines of option selects which automatically choose the right/best option for you, or mindgames where the opponent is put in a position where every option he chooses ends in failure/damage, but to me it's simple because the opponent should never do the wrong thing so it's really a "no, don't" situation. I other words: just deal with it, and you won't get hit. Another way of putting it would be "here I am doing this, and if you don't take the right action you'll get hit, but I also have something else I can do instead -- deal".

This could also be seen as a process of elimination. This brings us to the point of what happens next. Well, the goal of minimizing self-damage while maximizing opponent-damage involves being right more than your opponent. In order to be right, you either have to be very lucky, very intuitive/psychic, and/or go through the process of elimination by taking advantage of the bad habits your opponent has while not faltering with your own set of bad habits.

What that means is stepping it up. Enforcing good habits. In the (glorious) example of pressuring your opponent into the corner, and instilling so much fear into them that they will not even attempt to poke with an attack in order to keep you out because they are afraid of the psychic dp (or some such other), the next step is: the ballpark is yours. Hit them with a high, throw them, do a low when you expect them to block high, jab them when you think they will try to throw break/tech, etc. At that point you've successfully gotten into their head and dominated: you're right, because everything running across their mind is wrong.

Your opponent is afraid to do anything because anything they do seems to lead to failure, you've done the process of elimination so much that they see each action as failure and take no action, but when they are afraid to do anything their inaction leaves them open to abuse, shenanigans, tomfoolery -- they are an open oyster.

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