Yes, yes, hadouken, but why hadouken, and when?
July 8, 2014 5:27 AM   Subscribe

"How to play Street Fighter: a fighting game primer for everyone" explains the dynamics of how 2D fighting games work and why.
posted by Pope Guilty (28 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Your hitbox is touching my hurtbox!
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:44 AM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Next in the series, "How to play Ultimate Marvel Vs Capcom 3: The fuck if I know, I'm just trying to avoid a seizure".
posted by PenDevil at 5:55 AM on July 8, 2014 [16 favorites]

1. Move joystick.
2. Mash buttons at random.
3. ???
4. Profit!
posted by Foosnark at 6:06 AM on July 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

Yeah, I can at least pretend to sort of know what's going on in a Street Fighter match. Marvel is just like... whaaaaaaaaaaat.
posted by kmz at 6:19 AM on July 8, 2014

As a basically lifelong Fighting Game Enthusiast who doesn't actually know how to play a fighting game the way the pros do, Polygon's fighting game coverage has been awesome.

(Also I am kind of good at UMvC3 but I am not entirely sure how or why because I know I'm not button mashing but I also know I'm not executing anything of particular skill or ability.)
posted by griphus at 6:22 AM on July 8, 2014

Yar, beat me to it. Nice call posting this.
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:28 AM on July 8, 2014

posted by DoctorFedora at 6:29 AM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Isn't EVO the tournament that banned Smash Brothers one year because the SSB "pro" scene is full of shrieking jackasses?
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:32 AM on July 8, 2014

Not sure if it is what you're talking about but last year Nintendo was trying to shut down the EVO stream of SSB and/or keep the game out of the tournament, but they relented.

The SSB pro scene is, in fact, full of shrieking jackasses, however.

Also, has anyone actually played the new version of Killer Instinct? Is it still all the fun and excitement of dialing a phone number real fast?
posted by griphus at 6:38 AM on July 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

The story I heard was that one year the winner of a SSB tournament was this kid who was thought of as being worse than the runner up, but had won because he'd practiced with items and his opponent, considered by the community to be technically better at the game, had no real experience of playing with items. In response, a bunch of SSB fans cornered the winner and tried to force him to give the runner up his trophy, and in response to that, EVO declined to have Smash the year after.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:43 AM on July 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

There were a couple of years during which my roommates and I would play Capcom vs. SNK 2 for hours a day. As a result, I got very good with Blanka. A year or so after we all parted ways, I was in an arcade that had an old Street Fighter II machine. I popped in a quarter, selected Blanka, and proceeded to beat the game (on that single quarter), much to the amazement of both myself and an 11 year old kid that had started watching me at some point.

At any rate, I miss those days of two-player fighting games with friends.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 7:37 AM on July 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

What a fantastic article. Such intricate detail, too much really, but all necessary for the mix of thinking and pure twitch reaction timing required to be really good at a game like Street Fighter. I never got that good when the game was a big thing in my world, but I was able to play Chun Li competently. I'm gratified to read a whole section on "tick throwing" because at the convenience store I played at, the culture was that tick throwing was cheap and dishonorable. Which was terribly irritating playing Chun Li, since her mid-kick to throw combo was a primary strength. Bah.

I'm playing a lot of League of Legends these days and part of what's fun about watching the pros is they are playing games at this level of tactical complexity. Moves and countermoves, 2-3 choices a second. Here's a 4 minute video detailing one play, for example, by the mechanical legend Faker. I could never play the game this well, wouldn't even understand it happening if I were in the game, but it sure is fun to look at it in detail.

But LoL is more than a twitch game. It's 5v5 team play, and all those tactical plays are happening on a larger strategic map with goals in a larger context. Pure mechanical skill is an essential part of the game but not all of it. Good thing for me, since now I'm age 40+ I'm way too old to compete with young 'uns on reaction time contests.
posted by Nelson at 7:52 AM on July 8, 2014

Isn't EVO the tournament that banned Smash Brothers one year because the SSB "pro" scene is full of shrieking jackasses?

No, EVO is the tournament that included Smash Brothers because fans and players donated nearly $100,000 for breast cancer research. And what a weird choice it is to single out Smash to describe EVO, a huge fighting game tournament with a decade+ of Street Fighter history-- especially in your own thread about Street Fighter.
posted by knuckle tattoos at 8:38 AM on July 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

street fighter played as only a computer could (tool assisted speedrun)
posted by jepler at 8:46 AM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I always had the most success playing Chun Li and doing her forever kick move. It requires no actual skill to play and is an incredibly annoying move for the other player to have to get around. Plus it is guaranteed to piss off all your friends. Ask me how I know
posted by Librarypt at 10:29 AM on July 8, 2014

nothing will ever alter my opinion that street fighter iii: 3rd strike is the pinnacle of fighting game design and balance. i can assure you that this has nothing to do with the literally thousands of hours i have spent on it, and it being the only video game i have ever been good at
posted by p3on at 10:56 AM on July 8, 2014

SF3: Third Strike is certainly the pinnacle of 2D fighting game animation. Jebus, that game is gorgeous.
posted by Peevish at 12:32 PM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is a very nice article.

But it also reveals how, at the core, what fighting game enthusiasts think of their games, as sequences of hitboxes, wind-up frames, and how to manipulate them. It's one of those things where the best players are fundamentally playing a different game than the rest of us. It's a way of looking at these games that has been facilitated by examination of the code.

It's a game I could play too if I had the time and energy... and, well, interest. Because once you start thinking about a game at that level, it's still baldly interesting, but it's not really something I can get into. And neither would any of the people now playing them, if they hadn't gotten used to fighting games playing them as most of us do. If, back in the early 90s, people had perceived SF2 like this, then fighting games would never have taken off with as many people as they did. In the process of leaning to play a fighting game, good players have to learn to see "beneath the Matrix."

I'm not actually ragging on fighting games specifically for this. Most games are like this, in fact one might argue that any game of a certain minimum depth has an aspect of it. And fighters are helped that, even if what the player is doing is manipulating hit boxes, it still translates, through the game interface, into an entertaining experience to watch.
posted by JHarris at 12:32 PM on July 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

I love articles like this. Some might think this kind of detailed analysis drains all the fun out of a game (and maybe for some it does). But for me, breaking it down like this gives a glimpse into how video games -- even fighting games -- at the pro-level aren't just mindless button mashing but some kind of ungodly combination of chess/go, poker, and sheer reflexes.

Meanwhile, no Street Fighter thread is complete without a link to this video from 10 (?!) years ago of one of the most amazing comebacks ever.
posted by mhum at 12:32 PM on July 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

And now, something else.

Think for a second, dear reader, about what it requires to implement a fighting game.

The big difference between traditional programming and real-time game programming is, as I have recently discovered, game programming is essentially a giant state machine. The demands of the framerate and the limitations of procedural coding mean you have to break apart your code into frame-sized segments, use variables to hold state between cycles.

Somewhere in the code is something like this:

switch (state) {

And each of those functions implements its own state machine (attract mode, for instance, probably has a function for each submode), and you can bet there's more state machines beneath that, drilling down through the code.

The characters themselves have their own state machines. Imagine what it must have been like to design them? The names the authors of the article assigns to states like hitstun and blockstun, those are probably mirrored in the source code, each an individual timers the game uses. And it also has to read input in real time, and adjust each character's animation and flip between character states (from a large number of potential alternatives, one per move) when a move is performed.

It's almost enough to inspire me to try writing a fighting game. Maybe someday.
posted by JHarris at 12:42 PM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Church-Turing hypothesis, Mr. Harris. All computation is, or is equivalent to, a giant state machine.
posted by sourcequench at 1:32 PM on July 8, 2014

Yeah, but implementing it that way feels weird to me, although it's feeling less so now.
posted by JHarris at 1:35 PM on July 8, 2014

JH: I'm working on like 6 game projects right now (of my own, as a programmer, separate from my audio-dweeb day job) and every single one uses a giant state machine singleton to control game flow, and child state machines to parse input, high-level scripting, cutscenes, animation, etc, though I have recently learned that things like AI are perfect applications for coroutines instead of giant switch statements. Really simplifies things a lot, though it's been hard to adjust to, since I'm so used to switches!

(At the aforementioned day job, I enjoy reading through our game code because it's very clearly commented and nicely structured, and indeed, all entities and game logic are handled in giant, insanely complex switches)

If anyone is into Unity, you should definitely pick up a copy of Hutong PlayMaker, which is a graphical (node-based, boxes connected by wires) state machine system / editor, and makes it REALLY fun to design giant state machines, with tons of built-in functions that you can attach to each state, and control transitions and exit conditions. You can step through and watch each box light up as the logic ticks through each frame; it's an incredibly useful learning tool, certainly helped this novice wrap his head around the concept of implementing realtime game systems.
posted by jake at 4:01 PM on July 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

The only fighting game I got good at was one of the lesser known titles (Capcom vs SNK) which my friend insisted I play with him all the time... I took a huge liking to Haohmaru, he was one of the slowest characters in the game, such slow startup and recovery for all his moves but he hit like a truck.

I really liked the whole "concept" of playing him, you had to be so patient and wait for just the right moment to launch your devastating attacks. I really felt that the slower pace of the character really accelerated my learning of the fighting game genre - every attack you made was 100% deliberately planned, you never started an attack you didn't intend to connect with.

(There was the Parry (or Just Defend) system where the enemy could parry your move and cause increased recovery frames for you while he basically avoids all block-stun which translates into him getting a "free" combo into you, which was part of Haohmaru's appeal, you couldn't just throw out a move if you knew the enemy was able to parry it and counter attack, you needed to get into the right place at the right time so that the enemy didn't even have the option of parrying)
posted by xdvesper at 4:40 PM on July 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've never played a fighting game until just recently when a friend came to stay for a while. Fed up with my collection of namby-pamby carebear co-op games, she asked if I had any fighting games. It just so happened that Street Fighter IV was free on XBox Gold that week so I downloaded it.

Soooo frustrating. No idea what I'm doing. Helplessly button-mashing while she methodically destroys me in match after match.

So I went online in search of some kind of user manual for this stupid game and found... nothing. Well, not nothing, but all the information was pitched at someone who was already familiar with the basic controls. Which button makes me high-kick? WHICH ONE?

I continued to flounder until I finally worked out how to block, at which point the tables started to turn. The torrents of Polish invective she would unleash when she started losing occasionally was sweet music to my ears.

This guide, although interesting, isn't much use to me. I don't want to get good at this game. I don't want to beat my friends all the time. I just want to be good enough that I don't lose every time. That's what makes it fun.
posted by um at 5:01 PM on July 8, 2014

This is a great link, but it doesn't solve the major problem I always had playing Ken or Ryu: the actual fine motor control to consistently pull off a hadouken or dragon punch. Without that all the theory in the world is useless.
posted by asterix at 10:25 PM on July 8, 2014

So, as a kid, I got really good at Street Fighter II. Like, really good. It got boring and other games started to draw my attention. Then I rediscovered it in college. I beat all of my peers. I never approached the game as technically in-depth as this article delves, but my intuition basically came to employ the exact same strategies. I think of it as trying to attack when an opponent is "hittable." You learn when they are vulnerable through a lot of practice. When you play someone else a lot of mind games can start to happen. Most good players will play footsie for a while at a distance, but it's that medium-to-close distance that gets hectic and interesting. I wish I had the version the article talks about with hit boxes. That would be so cool and helpful for understanding the game's rules of operation better.
Also, this is where I would argue that button-mashing actually may be the best strategy in the game. I'm not talking willy nilly button-mashing. I used to do things like try to press the fast/weak and slow/strong attack buttons at the same time to add a random element to my offense. So, say you're playing Ryu, who the article mostly covers. There will be a time when your opponent might open themselves up to a good old Shoryuken Dragon Fist Punch. But what will they do immediately following the attack? Well, you don't really have a good way of knowing, so press the strong and weak attack buttons at the same time. Let the computer sort it out on whatever quantum level it's working on and capitalize and then deal with the fallout. It keeps you from getting stale and being predictable.
I wish I knew this EVO thing was a thing when it came out. Although, I was most proficient in the classic Street Fighter II. I played Turbo for a while and it didn't seem to be any more interesting. They don't seem to have tournaments for the classic. I may have to start practicing and catching up. Maybe become a threat again...
posted by Demogorgon at 12:19 AM on July 9, 2014

I think of it as trying to attack when an opponent is "hittable." You learn when they are vulnerable through a lot of practice.

Of course, that's how the strategies described in the article were derived. Someone took the abstract skills they built from playing the game, honed both consciously and unconsciously, and built strategies out of them. What are the consequences of each of the different ways of dodging a fireball? Because SF2-style fighting game takes place on a single plane, there are not that many ways to avoid a projectile. A good fighting game player will know what they all are, their advantages and drawbacks.

The best players have examined the game to an extent that randomness doesn't help a great deal. When you punish an opponent, you want to get the most out of that opportunity. If there's a way for the opponent to get out of it, you want to know of it, and take an educated risk, based on what you know of the game, your opponent's playing style, and his mental state, rather than leaving it up to chance. And you want to know how to push him to reduce the time he has to think of a way to attack.

You might win sometimes by flailing. I got to a place with Kilik in the original SoulCalibur where I didn't lose very often, even though I never made a solid study of his moves. But I never played any serious players. Serious players get to that point by playing, well, seriously. Especially once prize money enters the picture, people stop treating the game as something to goof around with and make it something they want to maximize their chances at, and so bring out their best strategy -- which is the point of bringing money into it.

Being unpredictable is certainly part of that, just like a player who chooses randomly whether to raise, pass or fold in poker effectively can't be bluffed. But it also means you don't make good choices overall, which means you play worse generally than if you bluff and see through bluffs only passably well. It's at the peaks of the graph, where you have a lot riding on single games, that's where unpredictability is most effective. Otherwise it looks exactly like not being as skilled a player.

I hope I'm explaining this sufficiently well.
posted by JHarris at 2:40 AM on July 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

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