Lab Notes is a new column about practicing fighting games. Check out last week’s column on weird tricks to level up your execution, and please leave me feedback in the comments or on Twitter. Thanks for reading![hr]
Dear Jon “Deacon” Lo,
I’m sorry, but I need something new. We play Ultra Street Fighter IV almost every day, and having the same partner(s) day in and day out can get stale. Sometimes I need to think creatively to find ways to spice up our everyday sessions, or else I’ll lose interest. And — hey, wait. I’m talking about Street Fighter. Get your mind out of the gutter. (Nice handcuffs, though.)
Most people I know in fighting games have a crew that they practice against regularly. This is great! Without consistent practice partners, it’s very hard to tell whether the changes you’re making from one day to another are actually yielding results. But it’s easy to fall into a predictable groove and get bored — and when that happens, you’re less likely to learn and grow from each session.
Rather than spend each casual session playing like it’s Evo finals, I’ve gotten in the habit of isolating one specific aspect of the way I play my main character (Ryu) and changing it up dramatically. For example, maybe I’ll spend a day focusing on trying to Dragon Punch almost everything, and then the next day barely using the DP at all. It’s a great exercise in testing out all the different assumptions you make when you’re playing your character in a tournament mindset, and since you’re experimenting against people you know well, you can clearly see how your changes affect their behavior. So! These are a few of the things I’ve been mixing up so far:
- Stay in range. Once you’re familiar with a matchup, you should have a good idea of where your character’s ideal range is. Try playing a session where your entire goal in every match is just to get in that range and stay there — even if that means giving up knockdown pressure. When you’re comfortable with that, spend a session playing at different sub-optimal ranges to familiarize yourself with your options there.
- Change your meter usage patterns. As a Ryu player against Ken, I find that I rely fairly heavily on EX fireballs to keep Ken out of his sweet spot — but if I spend too much meter on EX fireballs, I won’t have access to big-damage options like DP FADC Ultra, or threaten with Super fireballs to shut down Ken’s fireball game. Conversely, against Yun I often find myself saving meter up for a Super when I might get more utility out of using the meter on FADC/EX fireball pressure, or something. (Heck, how many of you actually use Red Focus outside of combos?) Meter can be a crutch that you use to compensate for weaker aspects of your game, and if you change the way you use it in practice, you can wean yourself off of it for competition.
- Chuck dat plasma. Characters with projectiles often live or die based on how good you are at finding the right moment to throw the right fireball (and, as a corollary, recognizing the wrong moment or the wrong fireball). Maybe your goal for the day is to throw as many fireballs within jump distance as possible to see what you can get away with; or maybe it’s to only throw safe ones, or even none at all. You need to know how to recognize when you’re in someone’s head enough to get away with unsafe fireballs, and that means learning how to set them up and see the signs.
- Block more. I’m personally guilty of just never wanting to block; put me under pressure, and I’ll burn all my meter, go for stupid wakeup DPs, and do plenty of ill-advised focus attacks to put me back on the offensive. That’s dumb and readily exploitable, so sometimes I’ll make it a goal of mine to just block everything I can when I’m in the corner without worrying about teching throws. Patience is a virtue in fighting games, and there’s nothing like practicing your most basic defenses to build up your patience a bit.
- Practice using your suboptimal tools. Everyone has a few moves that just aren’t as useful — unorthodox anti-air options, Ultras that just don’t seem very good, MP fireballs (seriously, when do you use these?). To be sure, some of these moves probably aren’t used often for good reasons, but it’s worth messing around with them just to make sure you know what they could be good for. Or maybe you’ll just learn to appreciate your best moves even more; that’s okay too.
- Use your Focus Attack differently. Focus Attacks can be used for lots of things — knockdown mixups, pressure or combo extensions, punishing pokes, and baiting out reckless moves. Figure out what you usually use your Focus Attacks for, and then experiment with the less-common uses to see what you can do with them. Also, study how different kinds of opponents react to different uses for Focus Attacks; you may start to notice patterns that will help you get quicker reads on new tournament opponents.
- Let up on the knockdown pressure. The Street Fighter IV series in particular heavily rewards post-knockdown pressure; a single throw or sweep can often lead to big damage from a series of mixups. If you find this describes you and the way you play your main, try going easy on the okizeme in favor of winning in the footsies stage of things. After all, you still need to land that first hit to get your vortex started.
- Use the clock. Knockouts aren’t the only way to win a round! Learn how to slow down the pace of the match, play your character deliberately and carefully, and eventually you can make the timer scam into a fearful tool.
If you want to improve as a competitor, your tournament main should always be evolving and adapting — which means that you should always be experimenting. So, what else should we add to the list of things to experiment with? Share your suggestions in the comments!