Hit The Ground Running #4 - Setting Goals

An article series by Jay "Viscant' Snyder.  

At this point everyone has the final copy of the game in their hands...unless you ordered from Amazon.  Don't worry, all you missed out on was a lot of 2100d.  But even if you don't have it right now, you'll have it soon.  This week we're going to go over the first things you should do now that you have the game and you're ready to get started.  There are three things I usually do when I first get my hands on a new Street Fighter game.  Setting goals, examining key SF-centric mechanics and checking for old mechanics.

Setting goals

This is a part of general life philosophy more than anything else but it's helped me out a lot in competitive games.  When I start anything for the first time I try to set some goals for myself that will both give me a sense of satisfaction when I've achieved something and keep me motivated to stay on target every time I sit down to play.  It doesn't matter what level you're looking to play this game at, casually or competitively, just pick a goal that means something to you and write it down.  It can be anywhere from learning a new character to getting into gold league online to get the trophy or all the way up to getting top 8 in a major.  As long as it motivates you to sit down and improve yourself every session.

I find that it's better to make the goal something concrete that has definite and specific win conditions rather than something vague like “get better”.  What does “get better” mean?  When will you be satisfied and ready to tackle a new goal?  How do you make incremental progress towards this?  How can you be sure that you're closer today than you were yesterday?

Take something simple like learning a new character.  Let's say you're someone who only plays shotos in Street Fighter and this time you want to branch out and see more of the game.  Say you want to learn Nash.  First pick a victory condition.  When will you be satisfied?  When you get a certain amount of points online?  When you can beat a certain person at your locals?  Again, it doesn't matter as long as it has meaning to you.  Now break that down a little bit.  

A good first step would be to get down all the appropriate combos.  Look on the SRK forums and find a listing of bread and butter combos for your character.  Your first mini goal can be to work in training mode until you can do all of the combos at least once.  Then until you can hit each combo 5 times in a row without dropping.  Then you're ready to move on to something else.  Next you can work on anti-airs, or throw teching, or footsies, or counter hit recognition, anything you want as long as you can work towards it.  Are you closer to your goal today than you were yesterday?  That's all that matters, as long as you can just get a little closer every day until you finally succeed.

Maybe that's not how your brain works but it definitely works for me and keeps me focused.  

Next, let's look at important Street Fighter mechanics, how they've functioned in previous Street Fighter games and what's different in Street Fighter 5.  Seeing how these mechanics have functioned in previous games can help us better understand them in this one.


The projectile game

The fireball is the most important move in Street Fighter.  Just by understanding the role of the fireball, you can get a pretty good sense of how the game is going to be played.  For example in older SF games like the SF2 series and Alpha 2, fireballs were both strong and multipurpose.  They controlled space at full screen, had fast recovery in the mid range and were generally safe up close.  Plus they usually did pretty good damage and stun.  It sounds strange to say this now that we're so many years away from those days, but Ryu fireball in the face or sweep into fireball in the face was a hallmark of traditional Street Fighter play for awhile. 

And then in other games, Capcom went out of their way to make fireballs not as strong.  In Alpha 3 fireballs would do almost as much damage on block as on hit at full screen.  Combine this with fast meter building and it was clear that Capcom was trying to encouraged players to fight in close and to discourage full screen play.  If you were playing just to zone someone out, they could just whiff a throw 10-15 times and get their v-ism meter back except against Dhalsim.  (Side note:  Dhalsim was really good in that game.  These ideas are probably related.)  The Street Fighter 3 series is another example of where Capcom tried to discourage full screen zoning with the parry game and the meter building system.

For SF4, Capcom struck a happy medium.  In SF4, fireballs are generally strong with some characters like Guile and Poison specifically balanced around a dominant projectile.  The balance to a strong fireball game is that fireball COUNTERS were strong also.  Focus was designed as a universal deterrent, to give the defender a little tangible benefit.  

But more importantly than focus, many characters were designed to have some kind of mid range/poke range fireball counter.  Every character I ever played seriously in SF4 had a practical 1 meter counter to projectiles and/or max range strings ending in projectiles like SF4 Ryu's low forward into fireball.  Zangief had EX green hand which gave a knockdown and a great setup in early versions of SF4 and a standing reset in later versions.  Poison had EX love me tender which did big damage and got a knockdown.  Dee Jay had EX sobat which would give him a major chunk of screen position back.  Bison had EX scissors which gave him a knockdown and screen positioning.  And Blanka had EX ball which...was actually unsafe in earlier versions of SF4.  Man, Blanka sucked, remind me not to pick garbage tier in SF5.

As you can see, with all of these practical 1 meter solutions to the fireball game, SF4 was able to have strong projectiles that were still balanced in terms of risk vs. reward.

Now that we're in SF5, one of the most common complaints I heard during the earliest beta tests was “fireballs are bad” or “fireballs feel weak” or even the huge overreaction of “zoning's dead”.  Close range projectiles weren't as safe as people expected them to be; Ken target combo into fireball was not safe.  The basic Ryu low forward into fireball was not safe at many ranges.  And at longer ranges it seemed like a lot of characters v-skills were designed specifically to neutralize fireballs. 

As the cast filled out though, I feel like the nature of fireballs in SF5 changed and the early assessment of “fireballs are bad in SF5” didn't adapt to the new reality.  First off, consider how many non-standard projectiles were added later on in SF5's test period.

FANG has multiple fireball trajectories to go along with his v-skill projectile.

Laura has a semi-projectile that's more of a shield than a true projectile.

Rashid's tornado has a unique arc that makes his zoning patterns fundamentally different from other character archetypes.

And Dhalsim's fireballs were changed to be more trappy and less space control based, forcing you to spend an EX meter to get a straight fireball.

Also remember that the huge class of moves that had full and early projectile invulnerability in SF4, those moves mostly don't exist anymore.  There are plenty of moves with first frame projectile invulnerability like Zangief lariat and Ryu/Ken strong shoryukens.  But these are in close moves, not moves that can be used as a counter at poke range.  And there were multiple moves that have projectile invulerability that you can use from a distance like Mika EX shooting peach or Cammy EX spiral arrow, but they don't gain their invulnerability on the first frame.  In fact one of the only moves in the beta that seemed to operate like a SF4 fireball counter with first frame invulnerability AND use at a distance was Vega's EX roll.  So an entire class of move that players depended on was almost completely eliminated from the game.  This was not an accident.

So there are multiple questions we have to ask ourselves regarding projectiles as we go into SF5.  Are projectiles bad in SF5 or is it just that standard, space controlling, straight projectiles don't work the same way we're used to?  With the game specifically weakening counters at a specific range is the game emphasizing jumping more than SF4 did?  And with many characters having bad jumps, would that make fireballs good?  What does zoning look like in this game?  I think answering these questions for myself will be key to understanding the general flow and balance of SF5.  


The meter game

So this ties into the above question about fireballs a bit.  In SF4, for some characters, holding meter was very important.  Zangief without meter was basically free to characters like Gouken or Poison.  But when he has meter, the whole match changes.  He can scare them off their gameplan from half screen or closer once he demonstrates that he can EX green hand on reaction.  And Zangief with 4 meters becomes a monster; any hit confirm leads to damage and a full setup.  

In SF4, meter meant not just damage but options.  EX moves changed matches with the extra options they opened up.  And they were so good overall in SF4 that you rarely saw a character combo into super.  Rose did it pretty often, characters with raging demons would go for it occasionally and really Zangief's red focus into siberian suplex was a super, it just didn't have a cool animation, but most characters just seemed to have something better to do with their meter than to save it up.  Meter was so important for some characters that the first few seconds of round 1, they'd concentrate more on resource gathering than fighting.  

One thing I noticed after studying my play in the beta is how often I wound up with full meter with all the characters I was concentrating on.  It wasn't the worst thing in the world since all the characters I played had a good use for their critical arts, but it struck me as odd coming from SF4.  I felt like I had all these resources and nothing to do with them.

It felt like to me that EX moves didn't have as much utility as they did in SF4, that they didn't change the neutral enough to be used as often as in SF4.  So I was never consciously saving meter thinking “OK just another 10 seconds or so and I'll be stocked”, I just wasn't using meter often enough and would wind up with full meter.  Was I making a mistake here?  Was I playing poorly by not using my meter with EX moves throughout the match, bringing too much of a SF4 perspective into SF5?  Or was I accidentally playing correctly by saving up?

There's going to be no one size fits all answer to this, but it's something to think about when you try to learn the cast.  As you start exploring all 16 characters, ask yourself at all times “am I using my resources properly?”  Take note of how others are using the characters you're interested in.  Do all the Karin players use her meter for anti-air with EX ressenha?  Do they spend meter on EX dash for mixups?  Or do they save for critical art?  Even if you think other players are making a mistake with their resources, finding out what the crowd THINKS is optimal is almost as important as figuring out what actually IS optimal.  The goal of the game is to beat people not necessarily to play perfectly.



Just like with fireballs, throws are a staple of SF and 2-D fighting games in general, but are often very different game to game.  Because the universal crouch tech mechanic was taken out of the game, people assumed that throws were going to be really strong in this game.  It's far too early to know right now, but in order to assess throws, let's look at how the most recent SF (and SF-like) games handled throws.

SF4 throws were 3f with a 7f post throw tech window according to the SRK wiki.  Given that the baseline for jabs was 3f/4f this was a pretty strong throw on paper.  Some characters had kara throws which made the throw mechanic even better.  On top of that, throws led to hard knockdowns and setups.  For characters like Blanka who couldn't really combo into hard knockdown outside of jump attack into sweep, getting a throw was one of the only reliable ways to set up pre-canned pressure.  By the end of SF4 the player was expected to maximize their throws and have a setup or at least some kind of a plan to get something on top of the normal grab damage.  So with all of these positives, having a crouch tech mechanic helped to balance out the throw a bit, but throws were still very good on average.  Throw vs. counterhit became a major, if not dominant, part of the game.  And to look at it even further, blocking was a strong mechanic overall in SF4 since the game had no guard meter and low chip damage so a strong throw was necessary to offset strong blocking.  

Compare this to another recent Capcom game in Street Fighter x Tekken.  Before the 2013 patch, throws were 7f startup.  In a game that still had 3f/4f jabs, that's already one strike against throws on paper.  Even worse, command grabs were designed slower also.  Zangief SPDs were 5f/7f/9f.  Crouch tech still existed.  This seemed to be a deliberate design decision with Capcom telling the players not to play like SF4, don't look for the counter hit vs. throw approach to open up a defender, rely more on high-lows and setups into left-right mixups.  

So what happened there?  The weak throw mechanic with a strong throw counter made the game play a lot slower.  Additional attack mechanics like overhead into tag weren't enough to balance things towards the offensive side of the equation.  This had a domino effect.  With throws being weak, blocking became even stronger.  Even on the occasion that a throw was landed, they didn't do enough damage relative to risk.  

This equation was generally unsatisfying to players.  Capcom tried to balance it out in the 2013 update by lowering normal throw startup from 7f to 5f and giving an extra benefit of having throws take away the active character's entire stock of recoverable life as well as the normal throw damage.  This helped to balance out the throw mechanic relative to the block mechanic but the damage was done.  SFxT had already earned a reputation as a turtle game; even though the core mechanics had changed it was too late.

So what do we know about SF5 throws?  Throws are 5f startup with a post throw tech window of 7f, as near as I could tell from testing in the beta.  They're still slower than jabs and shorts which have a baseline of around 4f although there are a smattering of 3f jabs floating around in the game.  Worse, throws no longer lead to a setup like in SF4 and SFxT.  The quick getup mechanic makes taking throws from some characters almost a pressure release valve; getting thrown can be the end of the mixup, not the beginning.  

So on paper this looks like throws are weak with a lot of negatives to the mechanic.  There are mitigating factors though.  The counter hit game boosted by crush counters makes players more likely to block up close.  Jabs and shorts lead to less damage and the input priority system of favoring mediums over lights and heavies over mediums also further discourages the player's use of jabs and shorts.  Also as mentioned, crouch tech no longer exists in the game, meaning that trying to tech a throw by read instead of by reaction is a bigger risk that could lead to standing counter hit or crush counter damage.

Plus as we learned from past games, the throw mechanic and the block mechanic are closely intertwined.  SF5 features a weaker block mechanic as the opponent takes white life damage from blocking medium and heavy attacks.  So even though throws look a little bit weaker on paper, having the mechanics that throw is designed to counter be weaker may even it all out to a point where throws are still “strong” in a relative sense.

It's going to take a lot of experimenting to figure out exactly how good they are.  There's a tangible benefit to figuring this out quickly though.  In SFxT, figuring out that throws just weren't good enough to create a credible counter hit thread led to a big time benefit for the players.  I attribute a lot of my tournament success at SFxT to coming to the early conclusion that throws were terrible and just blocking it out when people tried to use the same counter hit setups from SF4 on me in a new game.  People said I had good defense at the start of that game, but I say it's a lot easier to defend mixups if you're ignoring half of them.  Figuring out how good throws are for SF5 will likely provide a similar benefit.  

If you want proof that people are going to be playing SF4 style for the first couple weeks of SF5, go online right now and play a few matches.  These don't really count for anything, doesn't matter if you win or lose, it's just information gathering.  The first few times you jump in and the opponent blocks, watch to see how often they throw you.  Go into replay mode and look at their inputs after the match.  You notice how much down+jab+short you see?  Against some players you'll even see a wall of inputs, 4 or 5 in a row.  Those are people still crouch teching, still playing SF4 in SF5.  This will continue for about a month or two, it always does.  We played CvS2 for the first few weeks of arcade SF4.  We played A3/3s for the first few months of CvS1.  That's how our scene operates.  Against people who you know haven't made the adjustment you can create crush counter setups just to punish them for not adapting.

Another way to get the jump on how SF5 throws will work out once people learn to play the game, do a little more information gathering.  Take a few throws in pressure situations and quick get up or back roll on wakeup.  Does this relieve the pressure?  Some characters like Laura can still stay in after a successful throw, but others can't.  Make notes of which throws you have to respect and which ones you don't.  

On the other side, once the crouch tech mania has died down a bit, play a few matches where you throw a little bit more than you usually would and track opponents responses.  Do people reaction tech in this game or do they tech on anticipation?  This is another case where watching replays with inputs on would be a major help to you.  Do people seem overly afraid of throws or are your opponents just not respecting the grappling game at all?  All of this is useful information.


Old mechanics in new games

Something else I like to do when I get my hands on a new game is check for old mechanics that used to work in previous Street Fighter games.  If you've been playing the SF series for awhile you may notice that some mechanics seem to cross over game to game so it's always good to keep an eye out, see if the developers missed something along the way.

For example, kara throws have been in our games for so long that it's getting into “it's not a bug, it's a feature” land.  We know that kara throws existed in some builds of the beta. Chun-Li had a strong kara in the first public beta and Necalli had one in the second public beta.  Capcom has tried their best to get rid of as many as they found but it's a good bet that one or two slipped through the cracks.  Take a few minutes to test kara cancelling each button with your character and see if anything pops up.  Even if it's a tiny improvement, like 1 training mode square, it may save you down the line.

Stored inputs is another thing I like to look for.  What this means is, sometimes you can enter the command for a move, then do something else with the joystick for a little while, then hit the button and the special will come out anyways.  The most famous stored moves came in Super Turbo where Chun-Li could input the b,f,b,f motion for her super, hold forward or down forward for as long as she wanted, then hit the button and the super would come out anyways.  There haven't been examples THAT blatant in 20 years but due to input leniency it's something that's in most Capcom games and was in the beta versions of SF5.  Necalli could do the half circle back motion for his command throw, take a quarter step forward (really only a handful of frames) then hit the button and the throw would still come out.  The range extension was nothing to write home about, really just a tiny bit of extra range, but it's proof of concept more than anything else.  Just like with kara inputs, take a minute to look over your character in training mode and check the input leniency on all of their specials.  You may find something interesting.

As a long time charge character player, I like to look for charge partitioning also.  That's breaking up the charge with another input, usually a dash in SF3: Third Strike, then finishing the charge and having both periods of charge time “count”.  In earlier versions of the beta people theorized that maybe charge partitioning was in SF5 because Chun-Li's low jab, standing strong, low forward into forward spinning bird kick combo didn't seem possible without it.  As near as we can tell so far that's NOT an example of charge partitioning; spinning bird kick just has less of a charge time than we thought and her low forward can be cancelled later than we thought.  But it doesn't hurt to look if you plan on playing a charge character.

Finally, there is a juggling system in this game.  In previous Street Fighter games, juggles were done on “points”.  You'd have X amount of points to use on a certain starter and only certain moves would juggle.  This may be how it works in SF5 but maybe not.  For example on streams I've seen Nash throw a sonic boom as anti-air, the opponent would land on it and then short sonic scythe would hit.  You saw that a lot in the beta with projectile + normal landing in the air together in a short period of time.  Maybe projectiles were just juggle starters in the beta?  Or maybe the system has changed.  It's something else to explore and mess around with as we start breaking down exactly how the engine of this game works.


That's all for this week, thanks for reading.  Next week we're going to look at the avalanche of tech videos that will soon be coming your way and see how we can make the most of them going forward.  See you then!

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