Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I like to move it, move it!

Hey All,

Remember that dance song from the mid 1990's "I like to Move it" by Wil.I.Am? It was one of those songs that you could see Jim Carey, Will Pherrell, and Chris Cataan jutting their heads too. It always reminds me of my younger days when I used to be a goaltender for a high school ice hockey team. That song always seemed to come on when someone would get scored on. If we scored, it would come on, and if I got scored on as well. I liked the song, but I hated hearing it when I would be on the short end of the straw. It does remind me of one thing though...Defense. I've been thinking a lot about improving my defense lately in Street Fighter. I realize that I need to block more. Sure, I do some blocking, but I've come to realize that I need to ride out block strings longer. Longer than I think I should. It's really easy to get hung up on watching mind games, mixups, offensive strategies when watching a fight video, but it wasn't until recently that I really started focusing on just how long some of these guys will sit there and block! I watch the vids and try to think "Ok, when would I have caved and thrown out a poke or tried to tech a throw". More often than not it is much sooner than I should have.

What if I would have never blocked or only blocked some of the time when I was playing Ice Hockey? It would have been pretty dismal most games. I try to think of SSF4 in the same sense. I have to play goalie and ride out many shots on goal if I want to give my offense a chance to succeed. They can't score goals constantly, but when they do score I want to make sure those goals count and that I just don't give away what my team has earned. To translate this to SSF4. When I'm given the momentum or any chance to do some damage my defense needs to reciprocate by not allowing the opponent to do the same thing. It is something that must be focused on intently and with extreme patience.

One thing that someone said in a blog on SRK that has stuck with me is that I need to embrace those situations where I am being forced to block and tech throws. I should almost purposely put myself in those situations so that I can get as comfortable as possible when they count. This makes total sense to me. Online play is just practice anyway and if defense is my weakness then why not practice it by resisting the urge to reversal or jump out of the corner at the first opportunity. Who cares if I end up losing? I can just look at it as another hockey practice.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Having the balls to fight Alex Valle

Hey folks,

So last weekend at the level|up tournament in SoCal that I was fortunate enough to attend I got the 'one off' chance to fight a Street Fighter legend: Alex Valle.

I went to the tournament with the intention of having a couple of drinks, watching some great matches, and getting caught up in the hype. There was no shortage of those things, but also there was this "Beat The Pro" segment that I had read about on the level|up website, and heard about on the "Wednesday Night Fights" stream. In my bravado, I had told myself that I would definitely register for it at the tournament. Once I got to the tournament, however, and saw the spectacle, the huge screen, the crowd (150+ easily), and the big names (Jwong, Choi, Ortiz, ShadyK) I began to feel intimidated. I began to take a reality check and tell myself that 'I'm a six month Ryu player wanting to take on the best 15 year Ryu player in the country in front of all of SoCal on a massive screen!? I can't do this.'. I didn't want to be a laughing stock, the comic relief in a sea of otherwise intense matches going on.

So when they announced "Beat The Pro" registration for the fifth time I had all but made up my mind until Alex Valle got on the mic and said something that struck a chord, "I want to see every tournament player in here on the list for "Beat The Pro". If you want to ever be a top player in this game and your name isn't on this list to fight me then you don't care about being the best you can be." Alex looked at me after he said this and I began to think about his statement. I thought about a year ago, I thought about learning to throw a fireball on a stick in April of 09', I thought about the countless hours of training mode, and the rage inducing online matches, this blog that I write, and my desire, despite my life, work, and time constraints, to be a top player in SF4. I thought 'how can I walk out of here with any self respect in regards to SF4 if I don't at least register for the chance to play?'. I also thought what if I don't play? I get to watch the tournament, but an opportunity passes me by that I can never get back and there will always be that 'what if?' factor. So I went up to the table, and put my name in the drawing.

The list of names was a long one, 80 people at least. When I saw it I was almost comforted in a way. I mean, I registered, if I didn't get picked to play...at least I registered right?

Alex announced that he only had an hour to play and so only a few people would get the chance.

I was the first named called.

No backing out now, I went up to the stage. Talked to Alex briefly and sat down at my station. I tried to feign nervousness. I mean, I'm a Navy veteran that has had to deal with intimidating instances on more than one occassion so my hand remained steady plugging in the stick, my voice calm and confident when talking to Alex, but underneath it all I was a bit of a wreck.

The first round began and all of my training went out the window. My gameplan? Don't get perfected. But, I did more than not get perfected, I picked up the first round! I looked at Alex and he gave me a nod and a smile. He and I both knew that I got lucky, but in that moment I knew that I had forged a memory that I would have never had had I not had the balls to get up and fight Alex Valle that day. Sure, I went on to eat mixup after mixup, bait after bait, and my nerves made the entire thing a blur, but the experience was something that can't be taken away. It was a private lesson from Mr. Alex Valle himself, not in how to option select, not in how to set up frame traps or baits, but in how to overcome your nerves, your preconceived notions, and stand up and fight in front of everyone. Without this valuable lesson that can only be taught in this manner, I would possibly never become a top player. Alex knows that this aspect of performing in front everyone and trying to do your absolute best while remaining calm, despite the nerves is the X factor that made him the winner of so many past tournaments and the player that he is today.

So, if you're on the fence about attending a local tournament, or you are afraid of embarrassing yourself, or maybe you are a tournament player that loses it when too many people start watching remember that its the experience that counts.


I'll be back next week with some thoughts on how to improve execution and a few notes on what I saw in my match with Mr. Valle.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Your life for 100 damage? Your life for....100 DAMAGE!?

Hello again,

So I was at a local ranbat playing casuals against one of the top players in my area and he said something to me that struck a chord. It was the third round of a Ryu Vs. Abel match and I had Abel on the ropes. Abel had Ultra and I was closing the gap and trying to get past his standing light kick and forward middle kick footsie game. I was throwing out a few random pokes trying to bait something...a jump, but mostly an ultra when I thought to myself "This guy knows that I know a fireball would be stupid right now, so maybe if I throw an EX Hado at mid-screen range it will surprise him and land me some of the damage I need to A: Win and B: Advance." Wrong Answer. I get close enough to his 'grill' and go for it only to be Ultra'ed through on reaction for the loss. He turns to me and says "Resist the temptation, man... your life for 100 damage? Your life for....100 DAMAGE!?", of course he was referring to the EX fireball that I threw and its 100 damage output. I read somewhere on Gootecks' website that the number one difference between top players and everyone else is smart Risk vs. Reward decision making. The majority of us who play Street Fighter think we are doing something smart like the above mentioned situation only to find out that it was maybe the dumbest thing we could have done. We think we are going to 'pull a fast one' on a good player and win. But, when you think about gambling your life for 100 damage, the answer seems pretty cut and dry....don't do it.

This is not to say we shouldn't take risks. Taking smart risks is how good players win. It's deciding when to take a risk and what the reward might be and also what the punishment might be for such risk. I often wonder "How can someone think so clearly about risk vs. reward so quickly while they are playing?". The answer is probably experience. The more you play, the more you see situations and strategies, and the more you see different kinds of opponents the easier it is to adjust to them.
So, like everything Street Fighter related we just have to keep at it and ask ourselves if we really want to put our lives on the line for 100 damage.

Well, it's off to California this week for work. I'm out there for three weeks, and will be fortunate enough to attend the "Level Up Tournament" hosted by Alex Valle. It will be fun to be at something in-person that I would normally be watching over the internet. I wanted to enter, but registration closed pretty quickly. I would have most likely been dominated anyway as my major achievements include reaching G2-D and beating a 40 year old drunk guy who had never touched a controller before...oh well, there is always next time eh?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

How I learned to learn from match videos

Hey all!

I've had a revelation recently in regards to watching match videos. Normally, when I watch match videos I'm watching it with the same sort of mindset that I have when I watch a television show or a movie. I'm watching and waiting for the rise and fall of tension, the drama, and the end result. I never intend to watch match videos this way, but it is almost like my brain goes on auto pilot and says "entertain me!". For instance, I'm watching Daigo fight Iyo in the gamestop national finals, but I'm not 'seeing' what is going on. I'm not taking anything from it other than 'Wow, that was awesome! Holy shit, FULL SCREEN SUPER! Daigo is sick...etc, etc..". I've watched countless match videos, but never really learned anything from them. Like in the film "White Men Can't Jump" when Wesley Snipes character told Woody Harrelson's character he is "hearing James Brown, but he's not listening to James Brown". I thought I was learning, and sure, I was picking up some tidbits i.e. a cool combo or punish, but to really get something out of these videos I've had to approach watching them in a different way.

There are a few things that will always happen in every round of every match of Street Fighter with maybe the rare exception. Someone will always get knocked down, and someone else will always have the advantage of a knockdown, and going a step further than that someone will always be trying to get in for a knockdown while someone else will be trying to avoid it while fishing for their own. These are situations common to us all and the key to unlocking true match video analysis. Some questions I've found myself asking since I've discovered within myself the ability to analyze are as follows: How did Player A get around Player B's fireballs? Maybe he jumped? Ok, how was he able to jump? Was it a psychic jump or was it based on pattern? Did he somehow condition the other guy and bait him into throwing it?". And, conversely, now that Player B just got hit with a big combo and is knocked down what is he going to do? What would I have done? Did it pay off for him or did it fail? Would my way have worked better? What did player A do to keep the pressure on? If applicable, what did he do to give away his momentum?. How did player B get in on Player A without jumping? What pokes are they using? Why is player A getting combo'd? Is it because player B conditioned A to think he was going to throw?

Basically I've had to ask "Why?" the pros do what they do down to the random jab from full screen to the seemingly random vertical jump at mid-screen. By questioning these things I've been able to at least attempt to get into the heads of these players. Consequently, I've been asking myself "How would I have handled that and how is my game different from theirs?" My hope is that I will re-program my brain to always think of the smartest answer to these questions during my own matches. With enough proper match video analysis it really is only a matter of time, like all things Street Fighter.

If you are already doing this or learned to do this after sometime I'd be interested to hear if you saw a big difference in your improvement and how it made you a better player.

Until next time, glhf.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Footsies Experiment

Howdy partners,

What are footsies and how does one get better at them? When I first started Street Fighter (wow, its been damn near a year) I heard the term footsies, but had only a very basic and abstract version of what the term actually meant. It's an abstraction with many different meanings in a way, and kind of hard to pin down with short definition, but recently, as Jeffrey Lebowski aka 'the dude' once said "New shit has come to light".

Street Fighter is like a game of paper, rock, scissors. We've heard this a lot, and most of the time this can be applied to the wake up game. You have to ask yourself often "What should I do now that I'm knocked down?" and, conversely, "What do I do now that I've knocked him down." Now combine this with "Simon" that old memory game that starts out really simple and then mindfucks you by level 3. If someone knocks you down, and then goes for a throw, you have to log that into memory banks, you then prepare for it next time, he either goes for a throw again, or he goes into a block string, or does nothing (there really is a plethora of options) and it becomes about remembering what your opponent did before and reacting to it or learning his pattern of lights and sounds if you will. If you played the memory game right your defense holds up and your opponent will either adjust to the game of 'Simon' or he will continue to fail.

Now take this school of thought and apply it to ground game. I'm talking fireballs and normals. This is really the secret of 'getting in'. Jumping rarely works. We've all discovered this yet some of us just can't stop doing it. It's because it's kind of a high risk/high reward maneuver that pays off on a lot of lower level players. It's also a very lazy way to play the game. Alex Valle talks about thinking of the stage as a soccer game. You have to push your opponent into his goal (the corner) and he is trying to do the same to you. Well, how do you do this? It's not easy! It's a lot easier to jump in on someone who doesn't anti-air well, but against someone who does you really have to be creative. I've really begun to ask myself 'what buttons does this guy like to press and from what ranges'. For instance, you are fighting Ken as Ryu. This Ken likes to use f.mk to c.mk. If you notice that happening you can answer back with a counter poke. For Ryu c.mp will stuff f.mk and c.lk will stuff Ken's c.mk more often than not. If you can predict what the Ken player is doing based on his pattern (essentially you are playing simon here again) you can use the proper counter poke to push him back. So, you really have to watch what pokes your opponent is using. Now to go a level beyond this, you can bait your opponent into using the pokes you want him to use and punish them. If you are two steps ahead, you are going to win.

Maj has some sick articles under the strategy section of shoryuken.com entitled "footsies 101". It's a highly recommended read that goes far more in depth on footsies than I do here.

So here is my gameplan... I'm going to play a month without using special moves. I'm going to master my normals as Ryu. I'm not only going to master them, but I'm going to master baiting people with them and I'm going to master what normal beats out what. I'm not going to care about winning and losing. Winning and losing to me will be something like this...I win if I land my poke or successfully bait something, and I lose if I do neither. SHGLBMX (top socal blanka and super cool guy) told me that is what he did to improve at the footsies game. This month I go back out to socal on a work trip, but the following month I will starting this venture. I'll see you all when I get back!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Some updates

Happy New Year!

I've been really binging on SF lately, more so than the usual. I stayed home for the holidays and had plenty of time on my hands to get down and dirty in training mode and get some matches in online as well as offline. I've read in more than a couple of places that to really get a combo down you have to practice it 100 times on both the 1 player and 2 player side. So I've been working this idea as best as my ADHD will allow and I've now found the ability to hit a crouching jab after a solar plexus strike which leads to all kinds of focus crumple opportunities for big damage with Ryu. So, its a small addition to my arsenal, but fighting games are about baby steps. I've also been fighting consecutive matches/sessions a lot more online. I feel like I'm starting to break through that 'losing' barrier that I talked about in one of my first blogs. I'm not getting down on myself after a loss, rather I'm shaking it off rather quickly, and learning from it. This has been my biggest hurdle as of yet playing street fighter. I think if someone already has the natural ability to not get angry or demoralized after losing multiple fights then they are one step ahead of probably the majority of us, but fact of the matter is, most of us are very competitive and they have to deal with this challenge. How have I done it? I had to shed the ego a bit. It's a tough thing to admit, and even though I knew I was bad, I guess I thought that I had a better aptitude for fighting games than most people. Where I got that notion I still don't really know for sure and while I do see the sky as the limit I know that I have to take my lumps like everyone else to get there.

I fought Chris Hu's Ryu online a few hours ago. That guy is a beast. I added him to MSN after a post he made at one point. He didn't have a whole lot to say when I told him that I can BnB consistently and FADC consistently into ultra (at least on the 2 player side, haha). He even went so far as to say I sounded too confident. That may be, I don't know, but anyone that knows me knows that I've been far from confident in my playing. We had a set of 5 in which he won all of them, all rounds, but I took heart in the fact that I was hanging in there. It didn't feel like total domination to me. It was, but it wasn't. There were some rounds that I could have clutched out had it not been for him clutching them out instead. In one instance he focus dashed through a close fireball and FADC'ed me into Ultra. It was awesome, not going to lie. I really appreciate Chris taking the time out to play me and hopefully when he gets some time he wouldn't mind breaking down for me some of the things I need to work on. After that I fought SHGLBMX in a first to five. SHGL has an awesome blanka and he kind of dicks around with some other characters as well. It was a good set that he could have ultimately won all matches off had he been playing blanka the whole time. It's very laggy when we play given that we are on opposite coasts, but I felt a did well, and I felt that I played better against his blanka than I have any other time I've fought him. I even picked up a round I think, so that was nice. Dude's a beast. So, I've been trying to up the level of competition online and only fight known players, or players that just blow me away in champ mode. I never really have played champ mode much until a couple of days ago, but honestly the level of competition there is better, and I can meet people to have player matches with later, so its win/win.

Offline I went to my first local gathering last night for casuals. It was really cool! I took a friend who is brand new into fighting games and we sat around on couches talking stick mods and watching fights for a few hours. It was nice to get my first real taste of fighting some of the local competition outside of the odd match here or there at a tournament. I beat a couple of people, and lost to a couple of people, but it was interesting getting advice while I was playing and it's just another rung in the ladder as far as experience playing in front of people as well as just meeting people to play with regularly. Everyone that I have met from the fighting game community thus far has been personable and willing to help. Only a little arrogance here and there, sometimes people take that approach when they are very good at something and someone is seeking out the free knowledge that they had to earn the hard way.

I'm in a quandry for SSFIV...do I stick with Ryu or move on? I actually really like Ryu, but it would nice to be a little more mobile. Time will tell eh? I read an interview with Kokujin and he said he kind of just picks his character based on how they feel. I might try that approach.

Until next time, keep at it.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Visit To The Mecca

Hello All!

It's been a little while since I updated the blog. Street Fighter is a game that requires some space in between blogs for me to hash out what I'm thinking about and to see improvement in my own playing.

So I recently had to go on a work trip to El Centro, California. There isn't much in El Centro. It's painfully hot during summer months, and frigid at night. We can attribute this to the fact that it's in the middle of a barren desert near the California/Mexico border. El Centro is far from anything fun to do other than a couple of casinos on American indian reservations (which by the way I won $1000 dollars at) and Tiajuana, home of the 'Donkey Show'. As hard as it was to avoid the Donkey Show, I somehow managed to rise above and not let proximity be a factor in having fun. Sure, El Centro is boring, but if you're not afraid of travel, and sleeping at a rest stop before you have to get back to work the next morning you can rent a car and make the four hour pilgrimage to Los Angeles.

Now, I'm new to the Street Fighter series, but since before the console version was released I have been watching youtube videos of Street Fighter 4 recorded at a place called 'Arcade Infinity'. For me, this was my first exposure to high level Street Fighter play. I hadn't yet seen any Japanese vids, any old 3s vids, or SF2 vids... nothing but Street Fighter 4. I also knew that this was one of the handful of places in America that had the arcade version. Like many living in the midwest, south, north, or southern Atlantic seaboard I began to long for the opportunity to have an arcade with SF4 near to hone my skills in. The Arcade Infinity ranbats had entertaining commmentary, and amazing skill. I loved watching Ed Ma use Ken, Valle use Dictator, Gootecks use Rog. I was hooked even before I'd touched any iteration of the SF series. So to a fanboy like myself the off chance to go to California for the first time ever and play at this arcade was very exciting for me.

The drive to Rowland Heights was scenic and LA traffic is indeed all it's cracked up to be. After making a couple of pit stops to eat, and have a couple of drinks in San Diego, I arrived with my friend, Terry, to the Arcade. A.I. is nestled in the top corner of a double story strip mall that you would swear was broken down in Tokyo and reassembled in California. Nothing is in English on any of the well-lit signs, it really takes you somewhere else and I instantly fell in love with it. Being a fan of Andrew Zimmern (Bizarre Foods), I ate a dinner of stinky tofu, pigs ears, and some kind of pig intestine concoction, I choked down half of it and made my way up the flight of stairs to the arcade. Bear in mind, I have not been in a REAL arcade since 1990 and back then it was all about 'Bad Dudes' and 'The Simpsons', so I had no idea what to expect. Once inside it was very dark, very loud, and very awesome. It was packed full of skill based specialized import games from Japan. Guitar Freaks, an insanely fast version of Guitar Hero seemed to be all the rage as well as some crazy game where you flail your arms widly underneath a miasma of sensors to a pattern similiar to DDR. I found the SF4 machines in the middle of the place, a huge HD screen duo, and a two smaller more traditional cabs catty corner. All surrounded by 10-15 people who were spectating and waiting to play. I remembered from a Gootecks podcast that I needed to put my quarter down on the machine if I wanted to play. I was actually nervous because there were quite a few people watching, I seemed to be the oldest person there (which is becoming the norm at SF events for me), and the people that were fighting as I was spectating looked very good. When it was my turn to step up I went up against an Abel who had a 5 win streak going, much to my own surprise I won! I think I surprised some of the people there because I could hear cheers and awe behind me when I pulled out a couple of my BnB combos for the win. The next guy on the machine sat down, turned to me, extended his hand for a high five and said "See, us white people can play this game too!". He picked Rog and beat me down pretty hard the first round, but in the second round I rushed him down, dizzied him and won, the third round he missed his ultra and I hit him with mine for the win! I couldn't believe that I won my first two fights at Arcade Infinity. I was on cloud nine... but the winning would stop there. I guess the good players were having a smoke break because I didn't win another fight in the next three hours, but I've never had more fun losing.

The following weekend I drove to Denjin Arcade in Simi Valley, Ca. I watched SBO quals this year, and it was surreal to sit down at the same machine that I saw Combofiend playing on when he won his trip to Japan. This place is jaw dropping. It's about an hour north of LA proper, but it really is worth the drive. If you are into fighting games even a little bit, this is the place to be. There are countless cabs with SF4, CvS2, Xmen Vs. SF, SF2, SF3 3S, KoF, and all of the crazy dance, guitar games are in their own small room away from the fighting games. The day that I went to Denjin there was a ranbat going on. It was to be live streamed over the internet. What luck right!? I got to be in LA, and off of work the day that this was going on. Sure, I knew that I was going to go two and out in this tournament, but I couldn't pass on the opportunity to embarrass myself in front of the world. I payed my five dollars to register and was informed that I would be fighting first. I sat down at the cab, a webcam pointed at my head, two guys on microphones next to me calling the play by play, and I couldn't help but think that somewhere some guy new to the game was watching and wishing he was in my shoes. I had no idea who I was fighting, but I was taken apart easily in four straight rounds by a C.Viper. I've never really fought a good C.Viper, so it was a learning experience to say the least. Come to find out the person I played was a well known SoCal Abel player by the name of Bustabust. I had, of course, seen him on countless streams and was just happy to get the opportunity to get my ass kicked by him. I knew that in my first fight I would be up against someone of note as the good players generally aren't put up against the other name players in the early rounds. In my second fight I fought an Abel. I don't know who he was, but I recognized him from some video where gootecks walked around talking to people at Denjin Arcade. When I sat down this time I was on the machine without the live stream. I had a deep sense of not wanting to go out without winning a round. I was a little more relaxed and really had nothing to lose. I had just had a blast playing KoF with Terry who had never touched a fighting game before in his life, I was also getting used to having 20 people behind me watching me play. I won two out of three in two straight matches, thus taking my first match in the losers bracket. I couldn't beleive it! I actually won a match at the mecca against an Abel player who could execute and definitely knew what he was doing. He hit me with a couple of really good block strings, but I had the discipline to wait it out and hit on my opportunites. Sure, I mashed a couple of times and interrupted his rekkas with EX dragon punches, but hey, a win is a win right? In my third match I lost to another Ryu player who just out-classed me. From there I went to a couple of bars...saw Rod Piazza (if you like blues you'll know this guy), and went to the Dresden Room (from the movie swingers) and had a couple of rum and cokes. It was 11:30 pm and I said to Terry that I kind of wanted to go back down to Arcade Infinity for one last run at it. Terry was totally cool with the idea and drove the hour back south to A.I. When I got upstairs I noticed a bunch of people from the tournament. I got on the machine, and was up against the Ryu player that had knocked me out earlier. I gave it five or so tries, but he beat me all five times. Each fight was better, but in the end someone put a token down and I had to give up my seat. This rufus player ended up scraping the Ryu that had beaten me at the tournament. I sat back down at the machine and fought the Rufus. He was very good, excellent execution and mixup... I fought him five times, each time analyzing and improving. Finally I had what I think was the greatest fight of my short SF career. I did everything right! He pressured me, I remained disciplined and blocked, I anti-aired where I needed to, I hit my combos, and mixed up my game...and I'll be damned if I didn't beat the guy in two straight rounds! I still get excited thinking about this breakthrough that I had. This was my first time really adjusting to and beating a highly skilled player without really making any major mistakes in the process. I'll never forget it. The guy got up and walked out of the arcade without even looking at me, and I went down to some Taiwanese bar and played a drinking game with some waitresses until last call.

I have to say to anyone that has played the game for a while, but hasn't had the chance to play it in an arcade setting...it's something you just have to do. I see the game in a different light now for some reason. I'm playing better than I have ever played, I'm not getting angry or dejected on loss anymore, and I'm calmly analyzing loss and trying to learn from it. There is something about throwing your token in and having 20 people watching you (not to mention 1000 people on live internet stream) that just makes you want to do your very best no matter how much of a beating you are taking or might have taken the 15 times prior. There is also something about getting up from the machine once you have lost and watching the person that beat you fight that is calming and not anger inducing like online play can be. I think playing without all of the emotion I've had in the time since I've started is starting up happen a little bit for me and it's been great. I feel myself improving and I'm starting to see some of the things that I need to work on. If you live anywhere near a real arcade be it Denjin, A.I., or Chinatown Fair... do yourself a favor and get there. Win or lose, you will have a good time.