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Fightcraft: The Mixup Theory
  Posted by Mike Renner on Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

I wanted to approach my next discussion less from a vague tutorial function, and more into the vague ramble about fighting game design itself.

That's the place I'm going to find myself in when I discuss mixup situations, and the whys and the hows for what makes these situations so important. Not just for learning to fight, but for why they're important for the overall design of fighting games.

For the purposes of this discussion - and, really, for any discussions I have on this website when it comes to fighting games - I don't talk about 3D fighting games like the Soul series, Tekken, or Virtua Fighter. It's not that I don't like them, it's that I don't really understand them on the same level that I understand 2D fighting games.

Every fighting game - or at least, every good fighting game - has the offensive functions of pressing buttons to attack, and the defensive function of blocking. Blocking will either happen through holding back to block (as in 90% of all fighting games), or holding a button to block (primarily in the Mortal Kombat series). Blocking is a powerful mechanic when left on its own. You can't get hurt if you block, or you'll take very minimal damage when you block ("chip damage"). So if you couldn't get around the block, all your opponent has to do is touch you once or twice and then run away screaming from your fists as you futily try to hit them in kind.

So there are always, always mechanics that get around block. The most prominent of these is the throw. A throw is an unblockable move that damages your opponent and (usually) puts them on the ground. It's a move that very often swings the tide of a fight in your favor and either puts you in a good position to mix your opponent up or creates separation, to use a term often pounded into my head by terrible WWE announcing standards. Since the days of Super Turbo, there's always been mechanics to block a throw ("teching"), though you have to see it coming in time to properly do so.

Of course, fighting games are never long block and throw fests, either. Blocking is only as perfect as the player doing it. There are ways to confuse the guard of even the best players, and they form the fundamental basis of the mixup.

There are lots of different mixup situations that I'm going to cover.

First of all, a "knockdown" occurs when you're hit in such a way that you're knocked off your feet and sent to the ground. There's actually two states of knockdown - a "soft knockdown" has you more or less landing on your feet when you hit the ground, and a "hard knockdown" has you landing on your back and unable to act until your character returns to their feet. Most mixup situations occur in the hard knockdown situation, but either state will be a disadvantage either way.

"Okizeme" is the situation in which one character is getting up off the ground from a knockdown, and another character attacks them as they're about to wake up in some way - usually with either a "meaty" or with a "mixup". This term mostly has its roots in Arcsys fighting games like Guilty Gear, but it's been known to be applied in the context of Street Fighter as well.

As I explained in the Ryu article, a "meaty" or "meaty attack" is an attack where you time an attack as your opponent is getting up so that it hits them the moment they're standing again. For example, if Ryu throws a hard punch as you're getting up, it's a "meaty hard punch" or "meaty fierce". The idea behind it is to attack the opponent in the last few frames of the animation and then hit a combo afterwards to knock them right back down. The opponent won't have much choice other than blocking, or perhaps trying to counter with a move like a Shoryuken. In most situations (the opponent doesn't have an invincible startup move like a Shoryuken), you either hit the meaty and combo them or they block the meaty and may have to face other attacks. Depending on the meaty, a character could be left at frame advantage, which allows them to do another move before the opponent can get out of block stun to act, themselves.

Some games will give you the frame data of certain moves, such as Injustice and Mortal Kombat X. Others have it in more limited form such as Killer Instinct. And most others will require you research it yourself.

A "mixup" goes one of two ways. You either go for a "high-low" mixup, or you go for a "left-right" mixup instead. Or you mix the two up and do a left-right-high-low mixup. Or maybe it's a high-low-left-right mixup. Well, either way.

The high-low mixup is where you attack an opponent with an attack that can only be blocked while standing (the "high") or blocked while crouching (the "low"). Returning to Ryu here, but Ryu has a standing overhead out of forward+medium punch - this is called the "Collarbone Breaker" in-game, but this kind of attack is usually just called an "overhead". It's slightly slow to come out, but the purpose of this attack is not really damage. The purpose is to keep the opponent from just blocking low, because low blocking will block any standing move *except* overhead attacks like jumping attacks or, indeed, the Collarbone Breaker. So Ryu knocks down the opponent and then throws out the overhead, and the opponent instinctively blocks low and takes a fist to the brain for their troubles. Ryu knocks the opponent down again and the opponent blocks high... and then eats a low forward into a Hadouken.

The left-right mixup can come one of two ways, but it involves attacking in such a way that you on either side of the opponent. Most characters usually do this with the "crossup". A crossup is a jumping attack whose hitbox can hit an opponent as you're flying over them. Not every jumping attack is a crossup, but the ones that are will often be the best jumping attacks for when you're attacking after a knockdown. They're a way to further create situations where an opponent might have to guess how to block, especially if the attacks becomes ambiguous enough that it might not hit before the character even crosses the opponent's head. You might think "well, that's not fair", but crossups can still be defensed. You need only guess which direction the opponent is coming in from - left or right. And there's nothing stopping you from using the invincibility frames of a Shoryuken or even just a decent teleport to get out of the situation entirely. Just don't be predictable about it, such things can be punished if you guess wrong.

High-lows are very common in Mortal Kombat, as the "hold a button to block" concept means that the left-right mixup doesn't work as often since the opponent isn't just holding back to block. Likewise, left-right blocking is a lot more effective in games where air blocking is present, as a character can jump up and block attacks and not have to worry about high-low mixups - this kind of blocking is commonly called "chicken guard" or "chicken blocking".

So, why are mixups in the games? Surely, the ability to confuse an opponent's guard is cheating the game system, right?

Not really.

Every single thing I have discussed is perfectly defensible, deliberate additions to many fighting games. Being able to defend against these takes dedication and experience, however. It's easy to think that concepts like crossups are broken when you can't consistently block them, and it certainly *looks* broken when you look at the screenshot I took from Super Street Fighter II (see left). It probably wasn't the most fair-looking example of a crossup in fighting games.

However, the concept of the mixup is important for the overall strategy and metagame of a fighting game. It is one of the most important concepts in all of fighting games. It turns what could be a shallow genre into a high-octane, easy-to-watch, hard-to-master chess match. When you get to start a mixup, you are pressing an advantage that you've taken on the opponent. And when you're being mixed up, you're being put on the defensive. And there's decisions that have to be made on both sides that could end in a myriad of ways. The aggressor could maintain or lose their advantage. The defender could continue to get bopped and be on the defensive, cause the fight to re-enter the neutral game, or even turn their disadvantage around into an advantage.

Basically, a mixup situation becomes a scramble of advantage and disadvantage. It's fascinating to watch and crazy to experience once you begin to appreciate it.

And yeah, you'll get blown up. I've been blown up many times in bad mixups that I should have been able to defend against. The only thing you can do is just experience it and learn to watch out for it.

Don't Distract Me With The Sexy, Son.
  Posted by Mike Renner on Monday, June 22nd, 2015

So, I was going to talk about actual fighting game theory, but instead I was reminded of a little story I had as a kid.

I should probably preface this story by saying that my memory is very bad sometimes when it isn't focused on my pop culture-poisoned encyclopedia of a brain. It isn't that I'm forgetful, it's that I'm not really that detail-oriented if the details don't matter to me all that much. What I do remember is pretty accurate to what happened, though.

The year was 1995.

1995. Let me stop myself right away.

That's twenty years ago. Jesus Christ, telling this story is reminding me exactly how old I am, and how close I am to living a life where I sit on a rocking chair on my front porch and yell at children to get off my lawn. That's slightly more than 3/5ths of my life ago. Where does the time go? I was between the fifth and sixth grades, about to enter the worst and most stressful moments of my life (otherwise known as "middle school"), and the primary video game console I had was a Super Nintendo. We still used VCRs, and I'm pretty sure that some of you don't even know what the fuck a VCR is.

Bill Clinton was president, and he hadn't yet had sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. The 49ers curb-stomped the Chargers in the Super Bowl. Oklahoma City was being bombed. The DVD was first announced. WCW was getting ready to launch Monday Nitro to compete with the WWF. And in a little nothing arcade in my little nothing town about thirty miles from the suburbs of Memphis, Tennessee, I first played Marvel Super Heroes.

I had briefly played X-Men: Children of the Atom earlier in the year, but this was the first Marvel-styled fighting game I'd become accustomed to, and man, I loved Marvel Super Heroes. I loved the characters, loved the animation and quality of the sprites, and I loved playing both Psylocke and Juggernaut. The arcade wasn't the busiest place in the world, as this was during a time when my town only had a population of maybe 200 people, as opposed to now where it has over 6,000, but it has a few regulars including myself. I loved fighting games and this arcade catered to that love: not only did it have Marvel and X-Men, but it also got X-Men vs. Street Fighter (which blew my fucking mind when I first saw it), Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, Soul Edge (which also blew my fucking mind when I first saw it), Street Fighter III, and a few other games I don't quite remember.

I stuck with Marvel for a time, trying to learn combos that were written in text off of Compuserve. This was back during the times when we didn't have YouTube, and even GameFAQs wouldn't be around until the end of that year. To say that I wasted a lot of quarters trying this stuff would be an understatement.

Once in a while, though, I'd play against another human being. I won't say I always won such encounters. It's much more likely that I'd go 50/50 in these cases. My end of Tennessee didn't exactly have much of a scene, and I'm not quite sure what kind of scene exists now ever since I'd become a hermit. Twenty years later, I only really vaguely remember two fights I ever had in Marvel Super Heroes, specifically.

The first was a fight I had with a Blackheart player, against whom I played Hulk. I lost that one via timeout, not being able to really figure out how to get around Blackheart's zoning at the time. I didn't call bullshit. I'd have done the same thing if the situation was reversed, and even as a 12-year-old Renner, I knew that. Sometimes, 12-year-old Renner could be surprisingly mature.

The second is the subject of this story.

As previously mentioned, I like playing with Psylocke in Marvel Super Heroes. I think she's pretty cool and I liked playing a character who had the zig-zag magic series. My opponent in this game was a black kid around the same age as I was, who also picked Psylocke, and the way he played could be best described as "push button win game". I wasn't sure he even knew how to throw fireballs, is what I'm saying. Of course, I should still point out that even if you know how to do all the moves, you'll lose fights to opponents who "just push buttons" if you don't have a strategy on how to use your moves. Trust me, I am living proof that one can run into stupid normals all day and die even when they know how to play fighting games.

So I'm fighting this kid, and I am beating his ass. It was as though, for once, it was I that beat someone up for their lunch money and not the myriad of bullies that full-nelson slammed me on the lunchroom floor hard enough to give me a concussion. This kid knew it, too. I was about to take his quarter home like a trophy I'd mount on a fucking wall.

So he pulled out his secret weapon.

He pointed at Psylocke's boobs and tried to get me to pay attention to them. "Look at the boobs!"

I have to admit, it might have worked on most other boys my age. Psylocke is a comic book character in the 1990s, which means that she was designed strictly for fanservice. Psylocke basically had sprited jiggle physics going on in the old Marvel games, which make her a truly distracting experience. If you weren't used to it. I was. So, needless to say, when I finished my Concerto of Ass-Beatings in A Minor all over this kid's face, he promptly accused me of being gay and stormed out of the arcade, leaving behind his dignity and his good comebacks as he went.

You know, in retelling this story, perhaps I should feel bad.

I mean, based on where his interests were, he could have become a Dead Or Alive player.

The Five Characters That I Want To See In Street Fighter V
  Posted by Mike Renner on Friday, June 19th, 2015

I'm taking a break from rambling about fighting game mechanics to openly discuss the five characters I would most want in the next Street Fighter.

Street Fighter V is already looking really good and is a game I look forward to playing in the unlikely event that I acquire a PS4 or a PC that functions well enough to handle it. It's even the first Street Fighter game to make me look forward to playing as M. Bison, a character I like on an aesthetic level but not in playstyle. So I thought I'd come up with a list of five characters I would like to see make a return to the Street Fighter series, based mostly on how much I like playing with them and how much I think they could change up the current roster of six (Ryu, Chun-Li, M. Bison, Charlie Nash, Birdie, and Cammy).

1) Rolento
It should come as no surprise that the very first character I'd want in SF5 is also my USF4 and Street Fighter Alpha main - Rolento.

Rolento represents a very different kind of character compared to the six characters already listed. He is a character who relies on pokes and trickery to overcome his opponents, while having a weak overall defense that leads him very vulnerable to getting mixed up if he ever gets knocked down. So this forces Rolento to be both offensive and careful about how he fights opponents, and if a character has better pokes than he does, he's going to get bodied pretty hard. One of my favorite things he can do is the pogo vault (pressing down+medium kick in the air), which causes him to bounce off the ground when he lands and makes his movements even more crazy - though it's significantly more useful in SF4 than in Alpha, as you can do another air attack after his bounce, and that leads to some really crazy mixups depending on the character he's up against.

In terms of matching well with the current cast, I note that much of the current cast harkens back to the Alpha series - every single one of the six playable characters are in the Alpha games. Rolento made his Street Fighter debut in the Alpha series, which makes him fit quite well with the current SF5 cast.

Also, there's something to be said about a guy who brings grenades to a fist fight - not to mention his pipe, wires, and throwing knives. More dudes should take after the Tao of Eddie Guerrero like Rolento does.

2) Alex
Not a lot of guys got as raw a deal as Alex probably did.

One of the first ever "strike grapplers" (or a character who better fits a "Juggernaut" playstyle than a "grappler" playstyle), Alex was originally supposed to be the main character of Street Fighter III - if you can believe that given how frequently you'll see mainstays like Ryu, Chun-Li, and Ken over him in more recent Third Strike artwork. Alex is one of the most egregious examples of a character that should have made the cut for Street Fighter IV, but got passed up by many fellow SF3 newcomers like Yun, Yang, Dudley, Elena, Makoto, Ibuki, and Hugo. Even Hugo's manager got into SF4 and he didn't.

So it kinda sucks to be Alex when your only appearance since Third Strike has been a spot on a very forgotten crossover title like Tatsunoko vs. Capcom.

The time is ripe for Alex's grand return to the world of Street Fighter. Make it happen, Capcom. Everyone wants this dude back.

3) Urien
The most nakedest man in all of Street Fighter, Urien hasn't been seen since either Third Strike (or Capcom Fighting Evolution, which shouldn't freaking count for anyone).

I'm not sure where Urien fits as a personality, but as a fighting game character, Urien is one of my favorites to simply watch. Watching this guy throw shoulder blocks and Aegis Reflectors and mix people up like no tomorrow is one of the most incredible things to watch in THird Strike, right next to Makoto's damage potential and Evo Moment #37. Plus, dude shouts "KILL! CRUSH! DESTROY!" whenever he attacks, and this is a guy who's generally pretty articulate when he's not murdering your face off.

Later on, when they released Super Street Fighter IV's "Omega mode", they gave Seth a load of Urien's moves - particularly his shoulder charge. But it's not the same. Not until Urien has his Aegis Reflector and kills, crushes, and destroys everything he sees.

Although I think Urien looks cooler in his suit. Though he kinda vaporizes it when he starts fighting. Dude must either buy the cheapest suits possible or he's rich. Just saying.

4) Juri
Prior to Rolento's entry in Ultra Street Fighter IV, this psychopathic kick-happy Taekwondo practitioner was my favorite character to use in SSF4. She was also one of my main characters in Street Fighter X Tekken (along with Asuka and Lili). And if I had to pick one character that originally came from SF4, Juri is my first choice.

I originally picked up Juri after I bought a fight stick for my Playstation 3, because (much to my embarassment) I have a lot of trouble doing Shoryuken motions on a stick compared to a pad, and Juri is one of the few characters in Street Fighter IV that doesn't have such motions. So I picked her up and learned how she worked, even though I probably don't really do it right. She has a cool fireball storage mechanic that lets her hold a fireball and release it later, allowing her to build combos that involve cancelling into up to three fireballs, which Juri can link into more attacks for big damage. Her Feng Shui Engine mode is one of the most difficult-to-use, yet one of the most powerful Ultras in SFIV. Her moves are generally all pretty cool and unique. She's a quick character with a lot of good anti-airs, but much like Rolento above, she has a lot of trouble dealing with mixups without getting rocked.

Juri is more important for her character and personality, though. She's Street Fighter's only true female villain, an unrepentant sadist who gets her jollies off of beating an opponent into the ground and then kicking dirt in their eyes while they're lying around bleeding and crying. Then she walks away for a second to get a can of salt to pour on them, and then she kicks them some more. She doesn't like Bison or Shadaloo, but that doesn't mean she's heroic - it means she's got her own agenda and she's out to use and abuse the entire lineup of Street Fighter if she has to.

That's Juri's character. How could I not want a character like that in my fighting games?

5) Someone New
We could talk all day about past characters I'd want in Street Fighter V until the cows came home. There's plenty of great characters across many Street Fighter games that we hadn't seen in a while, the likes of Sean and Q and R. Mika and Karin.

But every Street Fighter needs new blood. Every Street Fighter game needs some cool new characters to play with alongside the old, already cool characters. SF3 gave us so many new characters. SF4 gave us several. As much as we want to reach to the past to fill out Street Fighter V's roster, I want to see them also include some brand new characters with some new playstyles that can turn the old matchups into new ones in the blink of an eye.

If Capcom is smart, and they follow the examples of the previous titles of the series, they'll add some new characters. In fact, I dare say that there'll be four new characters, just like with SF4.

Street Fighter V is still in its early builds, and there's still a lot of characters they can add on top of the six already there. My hope is that... well, I'm sure Capcom's not listening to me, specifically, but I hope that Capcom can meet or exceed my expectations with the newest entry into the series.

Learning To Fight: Step Three - Choosing A Character And The Grind
  Posted by Mike Renner on Thursday, June 18th, 2015

I've probably spoken about thirty years about the various kinds of character archetypes that you can expect to find in fighting games.

So here's a question that you're probably asking yourself. "How do I pick the character that's right for me?"

That's up to you.


I'm not a professional fighting game player. I'm barely at the intermediate level. Sure, I understand the deeper mechanics of the genre, but I'm going to be the first to admit that I lack the reflexes needed to get very good at fighting games. It's why I complained about how difficult Blazblue is from a gameplay standpoint - because I genuinely don't have the execution skills necessary to get the most out of the game. That's why I tend to stick to games that have easier execution requirements (Marvel, SF4) and really only play Arcsys games to figure them out.

But let's say for a moment that you actually came to me for advice. God knows, you could have found someone better. You can follow this little guide of mine to learn how to pick up a new character.

1) Pick a character that's aesthetically pleasing to you.
The first thing I'll tell you is to pick someone you like. The best part about fighting games is that you can look a character and go, "That one's awesome!" and then you can play as them. Many fighting games boast a wide variety of characters you can play with. Some bigger than others, even. It's not hard to find a character that appeals to you from an aesthetics standpoint, and learning how to use them.

2) Find the training mode.
If your game has character-specific combo challenges, you can also use those to get a feel for what your character is expected to do. Spend some time getting familiar with your characters' normal and special attacks, getting a feel for how fast they come out, what kind of recovery they have, what their effective range is, and what you can cancel into other moves. Then you need to learn some practical combos that you can do in any situation. I know it's great and awesome to do the flashy, crowdpleasing combos, but you're here to learn from a mediocre fighting game player about how to play fighting games. Savvy?

Combos vary in difficulty depending on the game, and so it's best to learn the simple stuff first until you get comfortable. As a general rule, most fighting games have two things called "hitstun deterioration" and "damage scaling". These two are terms that together mean "it's hard and unnecessary to do very long combos". The actual length and effort it takes to get a good combo greatly depends on the game - in Street Fighter IV, you can do great with simple strings. In Marvel vs. Capcom 3, though, most of the best characters can kill a character of modest health in one touch, in one long combo, without spending too many resources. Those are two very different games, with two very different systems.

Really, just play around until you get a little comfortable with how the game works.

A good thing you can do is to go on Youtube and look up tutorials of the character you want to play with. Don't look up combo videos, as fun as they are, because most combo videos are just demonstrations of the fullest extent of a character's capabilities and often don't include options that are practical to actual fights. You want to stay as boring and practical as you can, to decrease the likelyhood that you'll drop a combo at a crucial moment in a match. Your goal is to get comfortable fighting other people. Learning huge, cool-looking combos, while nice, will ultimately cost you more matches than win them.

Or, in other words, Keep It Simple, Stupid.

3) Find the character that you like playing with the most.
Once you get a little more comfortable, be sure to dance around the roster and see what the other characters play like. The reason for this is because every player has a character they like aesthetically and every player also has a character that they like playing with - these two things don't often go hand in hand unless you're stubborn enough to learn the character because you genuinely like that character.

For example, when Persona 4 Arena first came out, I started playing with Elizabeth. I liked Elizabeth's elevator lady design. However, her playstyle didn't fit with how I liked to play fighting games, and I eventually switched to Labrys.

By the way, both Elizabeth and Labrys are like the worst characters in P4A, so... um. Don't be me.

4) Pick some fights.
My failing as a gamer is that I'm incredibly anti-social at playing video games. I'm the guy who plays World of Warcraft and never raids or PVPs - although I've done both before. I quit playing Final Fantasy 14 because it forced me to party up with people to progress the story. Generally speaking, I am a living dumpster fire when it comes to interacting with people. So I rarely actually play fighting games with other people.

So in a lot of ways, I fail at doing this very piece of advice that I'm now giving to you, the unfortunate person who's coming to me for fighting game advice.

You can jump into training mode and fight AIs all you want, but an AI can be exploited for weaknesses that no competent human player would have, and all training mode does for you is let you practice your moves and some situations you'll find yourself in. To really start getting good, you have to get out there and find some real human opponents. You can either go out to a local tournament, or, if that's not an option like it isn't for me, just go online. Sure, online netcode can be touch and go depending on the game, but if you have no local scene, it's your best bet.

Steel yourself, kemosabe. This will not end well.

5) Learn from your mistakes.
Don't look at your win-loss record like it matters. It doesn't. Anyone who thinks a win-loss record playing online in a fighting game matters are kidding themselves. What matters is that you learn how to play, and learn what the other players do. It takes some time - not only do you have to get used to what moves are best for what situation, you're also dealing with an opponent who will be throwing all of their best moves in your direction as well.

Once you start hitting a wall, you stop and you go back and you look to see what mistakes you made and try to work on them for later.

Most modern fighting games have a function that lets you save replays of your matches. You'll want to use this function whenever you have a match where you made a clear mistake or you're not sure how you lost, so you can go back and re-examine these mistakes and losses and see how you can improve in those ways.

That's really what learning fighting games is about. It's about learning what to watch out for and responding appropriately. Sometimes, your responses will need to be swift. Sometimes, you'll want to respond before you even realize that a response was necessary.

These are things that help with fighting games overall.

6) Dance around the roster.
Once you've gotten a bunch of matches in and gotten a bit comfortable with how the game works, you'll have no doubt seen a wide variety of characters on display. Maybe you've seen a character or two that you liked the style of, and maybe you'd like to take them for a spin.

This is actually encouraged a bit. One way you can learn matchups is to wear another character's shoes, so to speak. You can learn in greater detail what some characters have and start to develop strategies on how to deal with their moves and mixups.

7) Have fun.
Really, that's about all I got for this.

This might all sound like a big grind from the way I presented it, but it's really a lot of fun to learn fighting games and making sense of it is a large part of the appeal for me. Not everyone is going to be a tournament-level player, but if you just play fighting games for fun, you'll find that it is exactly that.

Oh, and one last thing.

8) Never rage quit, teabag, or otherwise be disrespectful to other players.
If you do any of this, we can't be friends.

Next time, I'll go into some more detail about particular gameplay concepts.

Learning To Fight: Part Two (Continued) - The Non-Standard Character Archetypes
  Posted by Mike Renner on Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

I wanted to branch off from the last article by talking about a few character archetypes that aren't really as mainstream as the ones I listed the other day.

Fighting game characters go through a lot of permutations on the basic archetypes I listed before. There are, however, a few fighting game characters who are... strange. They might fit in one or more of the archetypes, but they're also better defined as an archetype of their very own. Some are very well-established for what they are, and others are just ones I have a name for of my own. Keep in mind, the examples I give here aren't always the shining example of the archetype. They're characters who have mechanics like the ones I'm about to describe, but they don't always fit neatly as described.

Examples: Gen (Street Fighter), Zappa (Guilty Gear), Kagura Mutsuki (Blazblue), ARIA (Killer Instinct), Phoenix Wright (Marvel vs. Capcom 3), basically 90% of Tekken characters

With very few exceptions, every fighting game character has X amount of standing, crouching, and jumping moves, where X is the number of face-buttons meant for attacking. In Street Fighter, this gives you three sets of six normal moves. In Marvel vs. Capcom 3, this gave you two sets of four normal moves, plus another three moves for crouching (the fourth button on the ground does the same thing regardless of whether you're standing or not). And so on. And a different move that comes out when you hold a direction and press a button is called a "command normal".

There are lots of ways to change up a basic fighting game character, and none are more severe than the stance character.

Gen is a character that has been in Street Fighter since the very first Street Fighter. As such, he was mostly forgotten about until Capcom brought him and a few other Street Fighter I characters into their modern (at the time) games with the Street Fighter Alpha series. Gen was reimagined into a dying old master of martial arts, so powerful that he could utilize two different fighting styles - a mantis style and a crane style. These fighting stances appear in the image just above this paragraph.

Gen's two stances have their own movesets. In normal attacks alone, this gives him double the amount of normal attacks that any other character would have - thirty-six, and not even counting command normals or special moves. Gen has super moves that can only be activate in each stance. In SF4, Gen also has four Ultra combos - two per stance. Gen changes his stance by pressing all three punches (mantis) or all three kicks (crane), and can generally change his stance no matter what he's doing - hitting someone, taking a hit, recovering, etc.

While in canon Gen is amazingly strong despite the fact that he's dying from leukemia, in practice, Gen is the most complex character in Street Fighter Alpha or in Super Street Fighter IV. Not only do you essentially have to learn twice the moveset compared to the rest of the cast, you must also learn how to constantly flow between his stances to maximize his effectiveness. Gen can leap across walls to mix up opponents and then follow up by hitting them with Gen demands the kind of execution that I, personally, would never have without ramming my face into a wall until it stuck with me.

So, is Gen worth the effort?

Xian is here to say, emphatically, yes.

The video here - of the Evolution 2013 Grand Finals between Xian (Gen) and Tokido (Akuma) - was a whole version of Street Fighter ago. Things have changed since then with the system of Street Fighter that have made Gen's tactics less effective, namely things like delayed wakeup and a small amount of nerfs to Gen since Xian's victory. But let's not take away from the fact that Gen is the only one of five characters to have won a Street Fighter 4 grand final, alone with Ryu (twice), Fei Long, Akuma, and Rose. Freakin' Gen.

Watch the way Xian flows with his Gen. He makes that old man move in ways that would give most men born in the era of World War I shattered backs. Not only does Gen consistently outpoke Akuma in this matchup, but whenever Gen gets a clean hit, he rips Akuma's small health bar out from his body and beats him over the head with it, Deadpool-style. That is the flow of Gen. It is far harder than it looks for mortal men such as you and I. That is why Xian can sign his business cards with "Evolution 2013 Super Street Fighter IV Champion", and I can't. Not that I'd accuse Xian of putting that on a business card. It might not fit.

Some characters have command stances, which put a character into a different state until you press a button to activate a move exclusive to that stance. You're usually not able to block until you do the move or cancel the stance, though. A solid example of a character like this is Kagura in Blazblue, whose moveset is mostly based on this concept.

Stance characters aren't always as secretly powerful as Gen. Despite the fact that I love him so, Phoenix Wright is often considered one of the worst characters in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, since he lacks a lot of the tools that make the strong characters strong (mobility being the main problem). He can be effective in the hands of someone who knows what to do with him, but unfortunately, Marvel 3 is so dominated by far stronger characters and teams that only dedicated specialists really take the time to play with him.

For the most part, this sort of character is difficult to utilize correctly, but can usually be pretty strong depending on how well the character's moves flow into each other.

Oh, and Tekken might as well be an entire game of stance characters. Not that I'd really know about that. I'm not into Tekken as much.

Examples: Carl Clover (Blazblue), Zato-1/Eddie (Guilty Gear), Shadow Labrys and Ken (Persona 4 Arena), Ms. Fortune (Skullgirls), Lieselotte (Arcana Heart)

Arc System Works has a weird love affair with weird, mechanically unusual fighting game characters. However, there is one kind of character that appears in every single one of their fighting games, and it's the "puppet" character.

A puppet character is best defined as a character who is literally two characters. Whereas a stance character is just the same character who pulls out a different moveset on the fly, a puppet character is a character who controls themselves and a "puppet". These characters are initially among one of the most difficult characters to truly access, and to this day, I have never been able to successfully play a character of this archetype properly myself.

The goal of a puppet character is to move your two characters around to make it more difficult for your opponent to act. They're strong controllers of space because their puppet can hit in areas that the character itself isn't present. It's a goal of the character to trap their opponent between themselves and their puppet and then unleash a brutal series of attacks that are difficult to defend against. The puppet is often slower than the master, and the master usually has fairly weak attacks of their own, so they have to work together to bring down their opponents. When played to these strengths, a character like Carl Clover (pictured above) becomes a monster and it's generally because of this that Zato-1 in Guilty Gear is considered one of the best characters in the entire series.

I should probably clarify something, though.

There are two series in particular in which the game is technically full of characters that could be considered "puppet fighters". These two games are Jojo's Bizarre Adventure and Persona 4 Arena. In these games, all of the characters (with a few exceptions) utilize a second character (a "Stand" in Jojo, a "Persona" in... well, Persona) that do things for them. Jojo pretty much invented this whole character archetype, though in practice they didn't really play like Carl does (except in the case of D'bo/Devo, to my memory). Persona 4 Arena simply uses the Personas as extra attacks that might attack independently from the main character, but the only characters with true "puppet character" mechanics were Shadow Labrys (in both games) and Ken (in Ultimax). Carl's father, Relius, actually functions more like these characters than he does the true spirit of this archetype.

Puppet characters are among the most difficult characters to learn in fighting games, and they're most certainly not for everyone. But if you can master how to effectively use one, they'll be as strong if not stronger than anything else you can choose in a given fighter.

Examples: Phoenix, Phoenix Wright, and Frank West (Marvel vs. Capcom 3), Labrys and Junpei (Persona 4 Arena), Arakune (Blazblue), Zappa (Guilty Gear), Enrico Pucci (JJBA: All-Star Battle)

This character has a problem. They got up early that morning and didn't get a lot of sleep, and now they're in the middle of a fight for their life. Perhaps they should question their life decisions before they jump into the world of fighting games, but here they are.

"Progression"-type characters are characters who need to do certain things over the course of a fight in order to get stronger, activating a stronger mode that either lasts a short amount of time or for the rest of the fight. For the purposes of this archetype, I do not count characters who have super moves that put them into a stronger state, like Dante and Vergil's Devil Trigger in the Marvel games. Those characters are already very strong, the altered state just makes them even stronger. Progression characters begin weak and become extremely strong once they've powered up.

The best example I feel I can talk about safely is a man who has covered wars, you know - Frank West.

In Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Frank West begins every fight at level 1, and he goes up to level 5. He gains experience points by taking a picture of his opponent, and gains more experience points if he takes the picture in the middle of a long combo - 5 hits to level 2, 25 to level 3, 50 hits to level 4, and 100 hits to level 5. As Frank gains levels, he unlocks more of his moveset and his damage output starts to increase. When at level 1, Frank West is best described as a fairly weak character, though strong in some ways. His normal attacks are best described as flaccid and he only has his most basic special moves - two different kinds of zombie toss projectiles and his Tools of Survival. Because Frank starts weak and can't really get to level 3 or 4 by himself without a lot of help from his assists, a very common strategy with the character is to place him after a leader and using his shopping cart assist - one of the best assist moves in the game - to pressure the opponent, hit them, and then exchange to Frank somehow to take the picture. Some quality leads for Frank include Dante, Nova, and Super-Skrull.

So, what exactly does Frank get as he goes up in level?

At level 2, the only thing Frank really gets is his roll. His roll is a fairly decent evasive mood that lets Frank pass under some moves and also lets him switch sides with an opponent. It's a fairly decent move, but it's not really Frank's best move.

At level 3, Frank's moveset undergoes its first alteration. He starts to use push brooms, spiked baseball bats, and fire axes in his normal moves and in his Tools of Survival specials. The push brooms in particular make up some fairly useful pokes at the mid-range, and they extend the effective rang of his jumping medium attack - one of the most effective overall moves in his arsenal. Frank also gains two new moves at level 3. The first is a roundhouse kick, which can either be done as a feint (why you would do this in a game like UMVC3 is beyond me), hit in the center of the opponent to knock them flat on their back, or hit them low in a move that also hits off the ground. The second is Frank's third hyper, an anti-air unblockable air grab. This move will hit in the space above and in front of Frank, and can be followed up with a combo after it finishes. There's lots of ways to set this move up, and it's pretty damaging.

Frank reaches his maximum effectiveness at level 4, as level 5 is merely gives Frank a nice blue glow and some extra damage output.

At level 4, Frank becomes one of the best characters in Marvel vs. Capcom 3. His normal moves now use the Chuck's paddlesaws from Dead Rising 2, normal chainsaws, and the Defiler (also from Dead Rising 2. His moves start to take on some absurd properties - the jumping medium punch will start to feel like it hits from half a screen away and has enough hit stun to easily hit confirm combos. His jumping S and his hard Tools of Survival will ground bounce an opponent into the fucking moon. Oh, and all the chainsaw normals start doing "chip damage" (not previously described, but this is damage that special moves do through blocking), too, just to really exasperate the opponent's dilemma. Combined with his roll and a few good assists, and Frank starts to clean house on the other team - especially since Frank does tons more damage in this form. Once you hit level 4, you can casually just hit level 5 because Frank by himself will do so many hits with his chainsaws that he can easily get there if he wanted to.

Getting Frank to level 4 and 5 is a big part of his metagame. Entire teams have to be built around him. But when he gets there, he's pretty worth it, too.

Examples: Spinal and Maya (Killer Instinct), Dormammu (Marvel vs. Capcom 3), Jam, Sin (Guilty Gear), Bullet, Bang, Platinum, Tsubaki, Izayoi, Hazama (Blazblue), Aigis, Yukiko (Persona 4 Arena), Green Arrow (Injustice), Olimar and Robin (Smash)

Ever play an RTS? I have. I'm fucking terrible at them, but I have. RTS games are all about quick clicks and properly managing what resources you have.

These guys work in a similar light.

This character serves as a mild foil to the Progressor - this character starts or acquires a finite amount of an important resource to their mechanics and has to spend them in order to do anything. Basically, they have a resource mechanic that's unique to their character and added on top of the resource mechanic already inherent to the system of their game. They come in one of two ways - either they "collect" this resource through various means, or they have a finite amount of it that they can spend however they want until it's gone.

A good example of the former kind would be Jam in Guilty Gear. Jam's "resource" is her ability to charge up her three kick specials, which will do more damage, hit more times, and/or have greater range. She has to stop whatever she's doing for a few seconds in order to charge up these attacks, but doing so increases the power of her moves significantly. And by "increase the power of her moves", I mean "hit like an adorable Chinese dump truck".

A good example of the latter kind would be Aigis in Persona 4 Arena. Aigis actually has two different resources to manage that she starts with right away - the ammo on her guns and her Origa mode. Aigis has a limited amount of ammo to use on some of her normal attacks, and when she runs out, she can't use those moves any more and she becomes less effective. However, the real value of Aigis and herp ower comes from managing her Origa mode. Aigis starts with her Origa meter full, and she can activate it at any time. You want to be in Origa mode as often as possible when you're playing as Aigis, because Aigis in Origa Mode is one of the best characters in Persona 4 Arena. However, being in Origa mode drains her Origa meter, and running out of this meter causes her to temporarily become vulnerable as she overheats, and makes her Origa meter recharge extremely slowly. You actually have to manually exit Origa before it overheats to let it recharge faster.

Played well, however, and Aigis is a tournament winning character.

Examples: Donovan (natch) (Darkstalkers), Litchi (Blazblue), Ramlethal (Guilty Gear Xrd), Maya (Killer Instinct), Trish (Marvel vs. Capcom 3)

I'm getting into some mechanics that keep reappearing even though I can't really name very many characters that belong to the archetype. So here's one Capcom invented and Arcsys ran with - the "Donovan".

I named this character after Donovan in Darkstalkers. They're the character whose main gimmick is to plant their weapon on the ground or throw it at their opponent. Doing so will likely alter the character's moveset slightly, as they lose access to that weapon temporarily. While fighting, though, the Donovan can call back his weapon and it'll fly around the screen or otherwise attack from where it is, which can create situations where the opponent has to block multiple simultaneous attacks at once.

They're not common, and Donovan himself isn't that great a character. But rest assured, this kind of character has found success before.

Rare footage of a Blazblue match actually being the most entertaining match at Evo.

"This is the birth of a god", indeed.

Examples: Hakumen (Blazblue), Fulgore (Killer Instinct), Robo-Ky (Guilty Gear)

About as uncommon as the Donovan, this character has a super meter that's clearly different from every other character on the roster.

In most fighting games, you build your meter by either dealing or taking damage. There might be some exceptions - a common tactic in Third Strike is to back away from your opponent at the start of a round and throw attacks from a full screen's distance away, as these whiffed, meaningless attacks will build meter. But for the most part, every character builds meter in the same way.

These guys have heard of these rules, and they decided that they weren't for them.

Hakumen and Fulgore both fill up their super gauges naturally over the course of a fight, and it fills faster when they do damage to their opponents. They both spend their meters on both special attacks and supers (shadow moves in the case of Fulgore, though he does have the Hype Beam too). Managing this meter, especially in comparison to other characters who have "normal" super meters, is a big part of playing these characters. It requires a slightly different mindset from how meter's built with the rest of the cast. You could technically roll these characters up with the resource managers, too, but at least they have normal super meters.

Examples: Zappa (Guilty Gear), Omen (Killer Instinct), Platinum (Blazblue), Teddie (Persona 4 Arena), Faust (Guilty Gear), Phoenix Wright (Marvel vs. Capcom 3), Peach, Mr. Game And Watch, Luigi (Smash)

The last character I'm going to talk about are what I call "random" characters. Simply put, they're characters who have a "random" element to their moves or mechanics.

Zappa is a particularly egregious case of this, as he is also a stance character, meaning that when you use the stance move, you'll get one of about three different stances - a ghost stance, a dog stance, and a sword stance. Your actual goal with Zappa is to build up enough orbs to activate his fourth stance. So yeah, Zappa is three of these crazy-ass non-standard archetypes at the same time. And Zappa is actually a very good character, just really bizarre and challenging to use when you first pick him up.

Most of the characters I list as examples have a move that does something randomly, be it Faust and Teddie's random item throws, Platinum's random magical girl weapons, or even something as simple as the random chance Luigi is going to blast off into the goddamn moon when he does his missile thing.

Me, personally, I'm not very fond of characters that are so unpredictable that even I don't know what they're going to do when I input a command. I've seen Teddie vs. Teddie matches in Persona 4 Arena where both Teddies hang back and throw items out until they get something they like and move in. It's fascinating to watch, but a little frustrating to watch as well, and probably frustrating to play as well. And playing too long with "random" moves could get you killed if the random move you get doesn't do anything in the time it takes for that rushdown character to move in and literally punch you out of space and time.

And so it goes.

I'm sure there are other character types that I didn't even catch, but I think I covered all of the ones that are worth talking about.

Join me next time when I finally learn how to count to three. Don't laugh, Valve Corporation can't count that high.

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