Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Rapid Improvement: Part 2

In part 2 of this series, I want to focus on the next thing that causes beginners to lose games: Basic execution of special moves. There are two components to this.

1) reliable: Can you consistently do the move in training mode?
2) atomic: Do you think of it as one single action instead of a sequence of steps?

I'm sure everyone can identify with the first part. "My opponent is jumping in, but I don't want to risk doing a dragon punch because I'm afraid I'll screw it up". You must have a strong command of the mechanics of doing the moves that you want to do. You simply cannot compete otherwise. I've seen beginners have a difficult time with what seem to be straightforward moves like Guile's flash kick:

* Insufficient charge
* Press button too early and get a hopping knee
* Press button too late and get a jumping kick
* Move joystick too slowly to up position
* Move joystick to forward position instead of up

Regardless of why they fail at execution, the impact of the failure is clear. Assume that you deal 15 damage on successful execution of a flash kick (to simplify I won't even go into the positional advantage of setting up a crossup afterwards). But if you fail, you eat a jump roundhouse, low roundhouse combo for 20 damage.

If you fail your flash kick half the time, then on average you are losing 5 damage per flashkick. Clearly blocking is better than taking 5 damage. The conclusion from this is: It's not worth trying for special moves unless you know you can do them.

Atomic is the term I use when a move or sequence of moves is so ingrained that you cease to think of it as a series of joystick movements and button presses, and instead think of it as one "thing" to do.

It takes a lot of time and effort to think about what your next move has to be in a sequence. Here's an example from my personal play in another game, Virtua Fighter. In that game, the character Wolf has a combo whose stick motions are back, torward, punch + kick, torward, kick, up torward, punch + kick, towards, kick.

At first when I was learning this, I would get about one third of the way through the sequence on muscle memory, and then I'd have to think "what's next?", and remember the next series of button presses. By the time by brain finished remembering what was next in the sequence, I'd have very little time to actually execute.

If you can precache the entire sequence of desired moves into muscle memory, then you don't need to waste time thinking about how to do them during combat. This frees up a ton of time and attention on other things.

Level 2: The one hundred drill
In this drill, you go into training mode and do the move in question unil you have one hundred successes on each side, each day, for one week. So for example

flash kick, right hand side: 20 failures, 100 successes
flash kick, left hand side: 50 failures, 100 successes

Do this every day for one week, rain or shine, even if you are sick or tired. This will drill into into your muscle memory. You may be wondering why moves like flash kick, which are symmetrical, need to be drilled on both sides? The reason is that in play, you will be starting from a different blocking position on each side. So in play, the moves are different because they start from defensive crouch (which is different on each side).

Write down how many failures and how many successes you had each day, on what side. Post it on a public blog to track your improvement.

In the second week, do the same, but first to fifty successes.

After the second week drill is completed, do runs to twenty once a week to keep yourself in shape.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Rapid Improvement, Part 1

Recently I've been teaching a friend of mine the basics of the game. I've taught a fair number of people how to play, and I've come to realize that there are no good guides (that I know of) on how to improve, and improve rapidly.

Watching two beginners play street fighter is a lot like watching two beginners play chess. P1 makes a huge, game losing blunder. P2 then fails to capitalize on it, and makes his own game losing blunder. P1 incorrectly capitalizes on that, and makes his own blunder. It's hard not to cringe while watching.

But we've all been there. We've all started as newbies. When I was in college I had a systematic system to teach rank beginners how to play and how to improve. So I'd like to start a series on how to improve in your street fighter play rapidly.

Level 1: The blocking drill

Most rank beginners that I observe lose their games simply by failing to block. A typical losing beginner sequence will be something like the following (vs Ken)

1) Get hit by low roundhouse (should have blocked high)
2) Opponent jumps in with jump roundhouse and hits (should have blocked high)
3) Opponent follows up with a low roundhouse (should have blocked low)

I'll see this 3 hit sequence happen again and again in beginner play. The fundamental problem isn't uncommon at high level play either. I've won many games that I should have lost when my opponent simply failed to block a lethal jump in combo.

In college, I devised a drill that helped new players learn to block correctly. We both pick Ryu. One player has the role of attacker, and the other (the one doing the drill) has the role of defender.

The attacker attacks the defender with the following moves:
* any crouching kick
* any standing kick
* any jumping kick

The defender may only block.

The defender wins the drill if, by the time the timer has reached zero, he has taken no life.

Some tips for the attacker:
Jump roundhouse, low roundhouse
Walk up low roundhouse
Walk up, jump straight up roundhouse (on the way up)
Walk up, jump straight up roundhouse (on the way down)
Jump roundhouse, jump roundhouse again
Jump in whiff, low roundhouse (this one seems especially hard for beginners)
Stand roundhouse
Stand roundhouse, low roundhouse
Stand roundhouse, jump roundhouse

10 or more hits: Basic blocking is a fundamental problem. Keep practicing.
4-6 : You're getting better, but you will still lose your games because of blocking.
1-3 hits: Better. Keep doing this from time to time and strive to reach zero.
0 hits: Very good