Sprites, Combos, Hitboxes, and Other Things

My brother and I have always had an interest in video games for as long as I can remember, one of my oldest memories is of a video game. At one point, circa 2003, we were playing games like Street Fighter III 3rd Strike and Guilty Gear. My brother had also obtained a DVD containing footage from the Evolution tournament that took place in 2000 (and of another year that I can’t remember, tho prolly 2002). Watching these DVDs and playing these games, I had mentioned to him that I would have liked to attend one of these types of events, and so my brother suggested I look on the Shoryuken forums for information. Everything went downhill from there -- and thirteen years later I still have not attended an Evolution tournament. I have been to quite a few local events and to the North East Championship (NEC) event many times, but the only time I’ve ever made it out to the West coast was to attend a Poverty Fest.

Though, his suggestion is what led me to end up wallowing in the cesspools of the Shoryuken forums, circa 2004, and during that time I had gotten interested in creating forum avatars from observing some threads in the Image Mishmash sub-forum. My first inclination was, of course, to make something gaming related and since I was into Guilty Gear at the time I decided to make something that featured I-No. Several internet searches resulted in nothing useful, so I decided to load up the PC version and make some sprites myself. This was an activity that my brother witnessed: I was painstakingly trying to perform moves with one hand while screen capturing with the other hand, then loading the image into Paint Shop Pro and manually removing the background, one pixel at a time. An incredibly tedious and unreliable process, but I’m proportionately stubborn so I kept doing it for several avatars.

I never actually asked my brother for an easier method, it was just his observation of my inefficient method that inspired him to create a better way. I’m not a programmer so I don’t really know much about the sprite ripper that he created other than the program was reading data directly from memory as it was being written. But because this program would rip raw data, that meant perfectly clean sprites, so things that would otherwise be impossible to clean off of a sprite were now being spit right out automatically. Particle effects, projectiles, overlapping/transparent sprites, etc. were all rendered separately and automatically, resulting in perfect sprites and turning a huge project into a one day project.

A sprite file would only be created for a particular image if that data actually went into memory, in other words: The program wasn’t going to produce the sprite files for I-No’s Chemical Love projectile if you never perform that move while the program was running. You had to actually do the move while the program was running in order to get the files for it. But OCD + stubbornness = I ripped them all. It was fun looking through the files anyway because there were a lot of easter eggs that I may never have noticed otherwise, but honestly I just wanted to have every image.

Of course, once everything was done, might as well share it with the Shoryuken forums right? Well, at that time I hosted some of the files on my ISP’s FTP server. That’s when I was approached by the owner of the site that is now titled “Just No Point”. I honestly can’t remember the site’s original name or the owner’s screen name at the time (I think it had something to do with Ky) but his real name was Keith. He noticed the sprites files and offered to host them on his site. Once they were hosted I was again approached by another person, his screen name Adex, and he offered to create a website design for the files (seen: here*). I’m guessing this was sometime around 2005/2006. Everything just kind of sprang up around me without me doing much of anything, without me even asking.

My brother and I had no ties to the Mugen community and no prior experiences with its members, but apparently it was the Mugen community that valued the sprite rips the most, as well as the program which my brother provided the open source code for.

My stubbornness also gave rise to my brother creating something else: Modifications to the emulator known as Final Burn. Around this time, my brother and I had become avid spectators who enjoyed watching match videos, but we had also stumbled on quite a few combo videos in our searches for more match videos. Some of these were so fantastic that I was rather inspired to try and make my own combo videos. Of course, if you’ve ever spent time trying to do the combo challenges for an entire cast of characters then you know this can be rather tedious, but like I said I’m very stubborn and OCD. Well this time I did actually ask my brother if he could help so I am guilty (this time), but he accepted because he wanted to be entertained by “wacky” things that no human could do, such as the type of thing you can see in Tool Assistant Speed Runs of other games. So, he created a re-record function and a frame-step function for Final Burn.

Now, it is my understanding that at this time it was already possible to manually edit a replay in order to get the desired results, or you could use a programmable controller to program the sequence of events as desired instead. So the concept of “tool assistance” wasn’t necessarily new to Fighting Games, but it did provide an entirely new way of looking at it: Live and interactive. The undo function allowed you to save during a recording and load from that save state, so if you were doing a 50-move combo you could go back to the 25th hit and change the rest of the combo without having to redo the first 25 hits. Or you could know what the CPU AI is going to do before it does it. Unfortunately the AI in just about every fighting game is pretty lame and there’s only so much you can do to make it fun and interesting to beat them up (DP’ing every move for a double perfect is boring AF). Fortunately, some characters have an interesting enough design that you can do wacky things regardless of what the AI is doing, and that’s what gave rise to the video for Samurai Shodown 4 bust Basara (seen: here*). It would have been more ideal to do it in Samurai Shodown 5-SP but at the time I didn’t know it had been emulated. Still, that one video wasn’t enough, and the AI was far too disappointing in most games, so the thought occurred to me: What if I controlled both players at the same time. It was certainly possible with frame advance, going frame by frame and inputting commands as I go.

Thus, the four infamous Garou: Mark of the Wolves “match” videos were not choreographed or staged. Rather, they were created, by me. All the players were me (seen: here*). There was actually a fifth one that involved Tizoc (Griffin Mask) and Freeman and was apparently too boring to circulate. Unfortunately, my harddrive where they were originally stored died, so unless someone is able to miraculously resuscitate my old HD then the fifth video probably will never see the light of day.

It was an interesting exercise though and gave me some pause for thought. It made me appreciate the concepts of reaction, anticipation, a player’s overall speed, and matchup experience. I realized knowledge and strategy of a game was really a small fraction of actually being able to play a fighting game well. I knew enough about the game to make the videos but I still sucked at actually playing Garou MotW, so knowledge alone doesn't make you good.

With Vampire Savior, I tinkered with that game and the frame tool a little bit. Two thoughts: First, players had gotten so good at that game that even using the frame-stepper just “looked like people playing normally” and not a robotic machine doing the impossible. There was no point using a tool because humans were already on that level. Second, I tried to recreate the Bulleta (BB Hood) combo that Sakonoko often did on the fly, and I failed. He is somehow able to do something rather consistently that I can’t even do with frame-by-frame input manipulation and I still don’t know how or why. Truly he is gdlk.

I also used this tool to tinker around with X-Men: Children of the Atom. Initially I wanted to mess around with Psylocke’s shadow clones super, but nothing interesting came out of Psylocke in the end. Rather, it was actually a fluke while I was mashing buttons at normal speed that I discovered something about Storm that I didn’t previously know: There’s a 1-frame window during each of her normal moves that allow you to cancel into the next move without incurring hit-stop to Storm (the opponent still enters hit-stop). If anyone ever wondered how much hit-stop actually affected normal gameplay, wonder no more, just watch the Storm video (seen: here*) (MB Ciel clip is unrelated and unassisted). If you’re wondering what the hell is even going on, she’s simply bypassing hit-stop, that’s all. This is actually humanly possible to do consistently with her standing LK or crouching LK, but to get just-frame inputs on every one of her normal moves is not something I would expect anyone could do without tool assistance. Also you'll notice both clips are the same combo up until about halfway, another indication of using undo and save states.

Regarding my Street Fighter Alpha 3 combos, the answer is yes and no. All of the combos that I recorded for SFA3 I had to do manually in order to make sure they were humanly possible to do. However, I also needed to use frame-stepper to re-record the combos while simultaneously controlling the other player in order to make sure the opponent air teched at the right time and the combos were inescapable after tech. I was recording using an emulator which meant the arcade version of SFA3, which did not have a training mode or dummy, so I needed to be able to do the combo with player 1 while inputting air-techs and air-blocks with player2. So I did do all the combos with no assistance first, but then what you’re seeing on screen is the second recording which was tool assisted. Also, my brother provided a quick hack that disabled the background music in SFA3, which was quite useful.

This was another moment that gave me pause for thought. I had gotten some attention for creating lots of combo videos for SFA3, but it was weird to me because hacking away at a dummy for hours doesn’t mean you’re a good player. Also doing a combo successfully once on a dummy doesn't mean you know the combo like the back of your hand and can whip it out in a tournament. Some people may claim I’m a fraud or theory fighter and that’s fine by me, I never claimed to be good at the game. The assumptions of others are not something I bother influencing one way or the other. Assume whatever you like. Practice makes perfect, but if you only practice alone rather than with another human player then you will most likely never progress into a good player. I never had any experience in A3 so I never got good at it, nor did I ever want to.

With Melty Blood, there was never a tool created for it AFAIK, so all of the combos I recorded for Melty Blood were unassisted. But then, with games like that the tools weren’t necessary, since they had a training mode and dummy that could auto-tech. Indeed, the Aoko tutorial and Ikusat combo compilations were not tool assisted at all. And once netplay was available for it I became significantly less involved in combos for it, because now I had access to human opponents more frequently. From my previous experiences with playing games alone, I had decided that when I am able to play versus humans then it was always preferable, so I neglected training mode and combos almost entirely. The Potemkin Flick video was also not tool assisted even though my brother did create a frame tool for that game (seen: here*).

My brother also somewhat-anonymously created some very interesting things for an FPS games that we were both involved in, but that's a different topic.

Next: Hitboxes. Much like the initial days of the sprites, my involvement with the hitbox videos was simply that: Nothing. All I ever did was record the videos themselves. I started with an interest in the hitboxes for games because Mauve had created a tool in which players could view the hitboxes for games like IaMP, and Akatsuki Blitzkampf. All I did was record and post the videos. Various people created multiple tools and I just used them. But with BlazBlue things were not so peachy. I did record hitbox videos for BB and I uploaded them, but a representative from Aksys (NOT Ark Systems) filed a copyright claim, so my videos were removed. Actually I had uploaded quite a few, and they submitted the claims in separate groups, had one more claim been filed then my primary Youtube account would have been terminated. And along with the fact that my hard drive had died, all of my previous videos that I uploaded would have been lost forever. But in the end those claims were not enough to terminate my account, and the infractions were later lifted/removed from my account eventually. I won’t be uploading the videos back onto YouTube though as there’s really no need to. We got what we wanted when we wanted it, and now we’re onto another sequel of BB at this point so the old data is deprecated, and I’m satisfied and unscathed from that ending.

Finally, in the year 2010, a blizzard struck my hometown in northern Virginia/DC and that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I decided to move to South Florida, and I did move in 2012. But since that day, back in 2010 when I had made up my mind to move south, my interests/hobbies have shifted away from the FGC. I still enjoy video games, always have & will, but art and music have become more prominent in my life since then, so I’ve drifted away from the videos, forums, blogs, netplay, and even IRC (though people started using Discord anyway). So tl;dr: RIP 2004-2010-ish.

- Copyright © Xenozip.


Sibby said...

I actually didn't know you made those Garou matches after all these years lol.
If you mentioned it I promptly forgot.

pichi said...

"I realized knowledge and strategy of a game was really a small fraction of actually being able to play a fighting game well. I knew enough about the game to make the videos but I still sucked at actually playing Garou MotW, so knowledge alone doesn't make you good."

I would like to know what do you know about garou. We have a garou discord that is active right now, hopefully you can pass by and share your knowledge. We are compiling a big document of the new tech (a.k.a advance tech) of garou right now.... In any case please by all means join: https://discord.gg/MkSDeX