3D Basics for 2D Players: Understanding and Implementing Sidestep

By on August 11, 2016 at 1:00 pm

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the writer, and do not reflect Shoryuken.com as a whole.

Last time, we talked about blocking, and the differences between the way 3D and 2D games handle it. By now I’m assuming this concept is under your belt! Once you have an understanding of how guard shapes 3D games, you will be prepared to make intelligent decisions on how to practice for the 50/50s different characters can throw at you.

Now roll up your sleeves! Because that’s peanuts compared to the other big, distinguishing characteristic of 3D games.

It’s time to actually move into the third dimension.

When we discussed 2D jumps before, it was specifically in the context of testing your opponent’s reactions. For the purpose of that discussion, we ignored Jump’s evasiveness. That’s where we are picking up from! It’s not a perfect analogy, but stepping, like jumping, can get you out of some hairy situations. It’ll only do so, however, if you step correctly.

I know, I know. That’s pretty nebulous: what the heck is “correctly” stepping?

We’re going to use this set above between 꽃게랑’s King (a name shared with a crab cracker snack!) and Gakxini’s Lars for the large majority of our examples. Not (just) because it’s Tekken 7, but also because there’s a lot of really fantastic examples of GREAT intentional stepping. (It’s also very likely, if you follow Avoiding the Puddle, that you’ve watched this footage before. Which is good. You’ll have some familiarity going in!)

The Basics of Sidestepping

The way stepping is implemented in 3D games can be as wildly different between games as the way jumping is in 2D games. KOF hops, SF4’s more static jumps, Guilty Gear’s air dashes–they all do very different things for the game’s spacing and pacing. Such is also true for Tekken, Soul Calibur, Pokkén… even though they all are made by the same company, they handle lateral movement in completely different ways. Hell, corner a Calibur or Tekken player and you’ll find out step works completely differently between its sequels. Yikes!

There’s a world of data in each game on how step works, but we want to talk about ‘Step’ as a general concept. For now, these are the most basic concepts to understand about stepping in most 3D games:

  1. Stepping is primarily used to cause close-range whiffs, then punish.
  2. Successfully stepping is a combination of timing and reading/guessing.
  3. Attacks can be stepped to one side, both sides, or not at all. Thus, there is (usually) a risk to stepping.
  4. There is a difference between hitboxes and “tracking” when it comes to how moves interact with your step.

Since most of you are probably Tekken hopefuls, you might enjoy this quick breakdown of Tekken Tag 2’s movement systems from Tekken Zaibatsu. I will try to pepper in some other games’ examples here and there for flavor, but Tekken will be our focus, given its impending release.

Creating Whiffs

Let’s jump in! Go to 3:02 in the above video. I HIGHLY recommend using YouTube’s speed settings to slow this down to 0.25 speed, and to watch it in another tab.

The situation:

Lars hits King with his d/b+2,1 string. This leaves Lars with a large frame advantage. King considers options A and B for his defense.

A) If King presses most of his fastest buttons (jab, crouch jab, etc), he will get counter-hit by many of Lars’s moves, but he will beat slower moves.

B) If King freezes and tries to block, he’ll have to deal with 50/50s or block pressure, but he won’t get counter-hit.

Pretty straightforward! Not at all different from any other fighting game. However, instead of choosing A or B, King chooses C and Sidewalks. And what a decision it was! Lars assumed King would try Option B, and went for a mix-up with his ff+4,3: a low-hitting sweep that’s difficult to block and does big damage. Despite its animation, though, it doesn’t cover step well, and the whole string doesn’t even track.  (“Tracking” is the ability of a move or string to realign with the opponent. We’ll cover this more later.)

It’s such a huge whiff that King is able to get all the way behind Lars, and probably has time to do a few jumping jacks before getting his free launcher.

There is a lot to chew on from this one decision, but this fits neatly under concept #1: Stepping is used to cause close range whiffs, then punish.

(Tiny note for Tekken-specific players: King SIDEWALKED here. Sidestep and Sidewalk are similar: sidestep lets you cancel into block/actions quicker, but covers shorter distance overall. It’s unimportant towards understanding step as a concept in all 3D games, but it’s the sort of series-specific nuance you have to look for in any game that you play!)

Why It Worked

Why was King’s step successful in this specific situation?

Short answer: it worked because both players performed their actions at somewhat similar times, with only a few frames difference between them.

Long answer: as a 2D player, you understand that your character always snaps to face your opponent whenever they can. Half of your mix-ups in 2D games are based off of cross-ups, after all! But, (opinion!) I don’t believe this idea was originally put into fighting games as a “mix-up”. I imagine it was more of an elegant solution for trying to minimize the chaos of game production. The fact that there’s a mental game centered around a basic function of the system is, much like the well-documented history of combos, a nice quirk that has enriched the concept of the genre as a whole.

3D games have this “snapping” function too, but only when you actually perform an action. Go into a 3D game and step around a dummy. The dummy will not realign. (This makes sense, of course, because if both characters always realigned without player input, you couldn’t actually step around them, now could you?)

However, if you’re directly to the side of your opponent, or even a little off center, your opponent will realign to face you and perform whatever action it was told to do. This is fairly universal among 3D games–even the free-roaming field phase of Pokkén attempts to always realign with the enemy once you perform an action. Go into Pokkén’s field phase, turn away from your opponent, then press any attack button. Your character turns back around. Simple.

It might seem like I’m going on a tangent, but bear with me.

Look at 2:26. It’s an almost identical situation: df+2,1 from Lars hits, Lars attempts immediate throw, but gets stepped.

When King stepped, he was at frame disadvantage. Lars committed to his throw immediately. Therefore, Lars was already aligned to where King was before King started stepping.

If King had delayed his step, there’s a much higher chance he could have gotten thrown, as Lars would have aligned to King as he finished his step.

Likewise, if Lars had delayed his throw, it would have been more likely to hit, too. King would have been ending his step by that point.

So why did this work, in the end? Why does ANY step work?

King stepped Lars’s attack in the right direction, at the right time. Concept #2. Successfully stepping is a combination of timing and reading/guessing.

It’s not enough to know what move is coming, and it’s not enough to know your opponent is about to attack with something you think you can step. Your timing has to be on point, AND you have to be avoiding in the correct direction. And the only really way to know what is “correct” is through doing your homework.

Compare 2:30 (King sidewalk) and 8:40. (King sidestep) This is the same Lars move (d4) being stepped in the same direction (King’s right) yet one situation results in King getting hit. Both situations are when King is at frame disadvantage. (10-strings, the thing King started to use at 8:40, are usually at disadvantage even on hit.) There’s a slight range difference but outside of that, the only real difference is the fact King walked further.

The reward for stepping is high, but there’s a lot of difficult factors to consider. It’s deep, interesting, frustrating, and something that either hooks you in training mode or doesn’t.

Which Way Do I Step?

One of the deepest parts of any 3D game is trying to find out what side a character is typically weak on. Much like how you eliminate some mix-ups by knowing slow low animations, you shave off a large part of a character’s effective move list when you know that half their moves won’t hit you when you step left, for example.

(Soul Calibur 2’s Raphael nods knowingly, while weeping.)

This is likely something you are already familiar with, my 2D friends. Oh, I knocked down a character with no invincible reversal in a 2D game. Free mix-up. Oh, I’m jumping at a character with no anti-air at this angle. They have to block. You get it.

Nobi, over the course of several broadcasts, shared his thoughts on how to step properly versus various characters in Tekken Tag 2. Avoiding The Puddle compiled these suggestions here. You will notice something right away: these are recommendations, and not an exact science. It’s slippery. It’s fluid. Stepping, and defeating stepping, is oftentimes inexact and of-the-moment.

But that’s just beating moves that “cover” a side. There’s also something else to keep in mind. Check out 3:00 vs. 9:38.

At 3:00, King hits a low d+3, then steps right. Lars mashes out db+2,1. The first db+2 misses the step, but King is forced to block the second hit. Attacks can be stepped to one side, both sides, or not at all. And here, King can’t get around the string in this direction, no matter his timing.

At 9:38, Lars lands db+2,1. King attempts to step right and gets hit by another db+21. We can conclude from this that the second hit from db+2,1 “tracks” opponents to some small, situational extent. This makes this a reasonably difficult string to get around, as the game will attempt to align Lars with the stepping opponent even if you get around the first hit.

We know from our previous examples that he’s getting hit in 9:38 because of timing. We may not have Tekken 7: Fated Retribution frame data in its full, but this matches up with the data both of these moves had in Tekken Tag 2. (In those games, for you numbers nerds, Lars db+2,1 was +6 on hit, King’s d+3, which used to be Armor King’s, was +1 on hit)

This is the concept of Tracking. Instead of the move having built in coverage on a side, the move will try to realign to hit the opponent. This is not uncommon in Calibur and Tekken, and is virtually half the meta in Pokkén’s field phase, where you have to commit to a evasive roll in order to avoid homing moves. To beat these moves, you either need much tighter timing on your step, or you need a different answer all together.

The most extreme example of this I can immediately think of is Yoshimitsu’s 44B+K in Soul Calibur 2. If you have that game and want a laugh, have player 2, as Yoshi, start 44B+K, then try to get around to his side or behind him. Doesn’t matter how–stepping, jumping, whatever. Yoshi will roll, then when he’s done rolling, immediately turn to wherever you are and stab. The tracking kicks in AFTER the roll, resulting in some janky looking stuff. There is no escape from the Yoshi Roll. (Except for SC2’s “Avoid” system. Yet another game-specific step mechanic to add onto the pile.)

To the point: There is a difference between “hitboxes” and “tracking” when it comes to how moves interact with your step. I imagine, as a 2D player, you already understand that hitboxes are simply the game’s invisible way of representing attacks. Simply think of tracking as “aiming” those hitboxes automatically towards your opponent. Pokkén makes this pretty easy to understand and practice, since so many fireballs track onto your location until you dash. (the game’s closest representation of “step.”)

Tekken and Calibur may have somewhat loose ways of defining a successful step, since they are more tied to the hitboxes of the attacks themselves (which is why you occasionally get funny looking things like 1:50, where Lars’s leg clearly passes through a stepping King). This is where you really have to prepare for the particular game you’re going to play–Virtua Fighter, for example, has rigidly defined “success” and “fail” states for its step. If you step without actually stepping an attack, you take much longer to recover.

Now what if Lars wanted to prevent that step without all the guess work of timing? He would have to use a move that specifically cuts off step in both directions, OR at least to the side he see’s King stepping towards. His homing move, b+1, hits both left and right sidestep. It also hits mid, so it functions as both a step killer and a part of the mid/low mix-up he represented, AND it’s very fast, so it would have counter-hit any buttons King had thrown out. Knowing all of this, it makes King’s successful step that much more impressive: Lars had just one move that would have beat almost all of his options! These players likely play each other a lot: who knows how many times this Lars has thrown out B+1 here in the past?

What To Practice, What To Look For, And What to Think About

Stepping is a tool. It’s powerful, but it alone cannot make these games solvable. Nobi won Evo, but he knew well enough to word these as “suggestions” and “recommendations” instead of “gospel.” Yeah, Lars may overall be weak to his right, but you’re still getting hit by b+1 probably if you just step all the time.

The absolute best thing you can do with stepping is to recreate actual match scenarios you encounter in training mode. Tekken has always had an exceptional recording function that allows you to do just that. Soul Calibur too. Definitely Virtua Fighter. (Not Pokkén. Sorry, Guys.) Use it.

I’m King, and I just hit with X move vs. Y character. If I do move Z, what happens when Y…

Steps left?

Side walks right?

Crouch jabs?

Hop kicks?

You get the idea. And eventually, you’ll have a really good idea of what side King needs to worry about people stepping towards, too. You’ll start to understand move Z hits left really well, or the second hit of string Z can’t be stepped at all. On and on.

Step, and its surrounding meta, gets even more complicated when you start taking into account how some characters have moves with built in side steps into the attack itself. That’s the 3D equivalent of partial body invincibility. These alone can be scrub-wreckers if your opponent is not thoughtful enough to think about shutting down your step.

Between understanding stepping and guarding, you are more prepared, generally, for 3D games then anything else you can learn. A lot of the other smoke and mirrors in 3D games tend to be things easy to explain (juggles! combos!) or system mechanics so specific to each individual game that it’s impossible to paint a broad stroke over them as just “3D games.”

So, that’s all I can think of on stepping! Thank you for reading this far, and thank you even more so for wanting to play Tekken 7. Or DOA. Or Pokkén. Or really, anything new that catches your eye. Moving into uncharted waters, which I know a few of you are with this, is as exciting as it is scary, often times for the same reasons. The 3D arena is where I was” born” as a player, thanks to Soul Calibur 2. If young and dumb Me can learn, thrive, and stick with this genre coming from a crappy Mobile, AL arcade in 2002, then you can do all that too with the resources available to you. I hope I have, between these two articles, given you some ammo to make your transition easier . That way you can get into the fun, messy meta of these games a lot quicker.

See you in the ring.

Hey, I'm just a 3D-head in a 2D-world. I like pretty much all FGC stuff, and I really like hearing about the way people think about games.