“How to Approach a New Fighter,” or “An Evening With Aquaman”

Aquaman Whale

Carefully lift the plastic-wrapped corners by sneaking a thumbnail beneath their neatly-pressed creases, gently curl the newly torn transparent shield around the outer neon green coffer, pierce the sealing sticker and click open the case, loosing a wealth of mephitic vapor and revealing the glorious contents residing therein: a new fighting game! Oh, to the true fighting fan, the initial insertion of a new disc into the Xbox tray presents us with a blank page–a clean slate. All of our victories, all of our losses, every habit good or bad that we’ve accumulated over years of fighting within various other media wash away as a new title screen flashes across our televisions.

Though to passersby, every fighting game appears pretty similar: brightly-clad lads and lasses tossing flashes of light at one another in front of… is that a giant fetus?

why yes, yes it is

why yes, yes it is

Once you’ve played one at a moderate to high level, though, you begin to feel the minute differences between titles that casual brawlers may not notice. Things like jump and dash recovery frames, throw ranges, throw tech timings and wakeup attack windows to name a few. All of these things, while fairly minor alone, combine to allow each fighting game to exist as its own unique entity.

I enjoy spending my first evening with a new fighter picking every member of the cast and using them to beat up, or be beaten up  in a local beer-infused showdown. This allows me not only to get a feel for how every character moves and the kind of ranges their buttons cover, but it also allows me to acclimate to the game’s engine without worrying about high-level play concepts, or even landing combos.

After I’ve gotten a very general feel for the characters, I head to the training room with any of them that felt particularly interesting or suitable to my play style. Injustice offers a host of appealing characters, but the ones who posess the tools which I most enjoy–high speed, mix up potential and okizeme setups–are The Joker, Raven and Killer Frost. Those tools, though, often come at the price of low damage output, mediocre pokes and other subpar abilities to compensate for their superior mobility. Characters like this often prove frustrating to learn early on in a game’s life, before an appropriate level of understanding of the game’s engine is reached due to their innate, complex nature.

It's simple: we master the oki setups

It’s simple: we master the oki setups

To avoid frustration, especially in a game engine that feels foreign, much can be said about first learning a basic character. Basic characters have a little bit of everything. Certainly, these characters have just as much potential as any other character in their chosen title, but they also have a very broad tool set that caters to easing new players into their game. If given a stat spread in D&D, they’d be that Fighter with a 13 in everything.  And every series has a few of them: Street Fighter has Ryu and Ken; Blazblue has Ragna and Jin; Tekken has the Mishima boys; Persona 4 Arena has Chie and Yu; Injustice has Batman, Superman and Aquaman.

To get started down the road to ultimate understanding of any new title, choose a character through any method which you see fit. Everyone has their own method and I have just shared mine, but if you just like how Harley looks, go for it.  Next, hit up Event Hubs, Shoryuken and YouTube for combo videos and tutorials on how that character works.  Watch match footage.  Watch live tournaments.  Take notes.  Then, go to training mode and try to apply the basics of what you’ve seen.  Don’t worry about being fancy, that comes later.

One of the most basic and most important things in any fighting game is the ability to confirm into a simple combo. This cannot be stressed enough. When I say confirm, I mean the ability to get into and finish an entire combo from any successful hit. Any. Successful. Hit. But before worrying too much about landing a combo, let’s look deeper into the combo system of Injustice and how to construct a simple combo within such a system.

From what I can tell so far, the Injustice combo system completely lacks links of any form outside of strings or specials connected after a juggle has been performed. In a system like this, crafting combos is fairly simple. Do a string, end it with a special, if the opponent becomes airborne, do another string and another special, repeat as long as able without the opponent hitting the ground or being knocked too far away, then end with another string or special.

The easiest way to think about combos when attempting to learn them, or even create them, is to break them into small bits. Each bit can then be committed to memory as a separate entity, thus allowing you to follow a sort of mental flowchart when any move connects, ideally letting you to follow the path from that hit through the combo’s midsection and onward to an end that yields the most favorable results.

even as a young man, Ken Masters loved a good flowchart

even as a young man, Ken Masters loved a good flowchart

Combos have three basic pieces:

Opener: The opener often consists of an couple of attacks that are safe, easy to connect, work well within the chosen character’s effective range, or a combination of these three qualities. The opener should be performed as a means of cracking the opponent’s defenses and can come from any of the game’s avaiable angles of attack. The more openers available to a specific combo string, the more practical applications the combo posesses.

Middle: The middle part of the combo contains the bulk of the combo’s damage and often involves flashes of plasma or other pyrotechnics. The middle represents the combo’s heart and often remains unchanged, while the combo’s opener and finisher alter depending on the situation at hand.

Finisher: The finisher, like the opener, should be varied depending on exactly what the combo aims to do to the opponent. Damage, sure, but finishers also decide where the damaged opponent falls after the combo completes and can be used to corner the opponent or to set up okizeme.

As an example of an effective way to break down combos, I will use a very simple Aquaman bnb that I shamelessly stole from Arturo Sanchez’ brief Aquaman tutorial. The combo has several potential openers and finisher that I’ve worked out in practice, but the most practical version of the complete combo looks like this in text form:

Opener: b.1, 2
Middle: qcb 1, s.2, s.2 xx qcb 2 (meterburn)
Finisher: f.2, 1+3

I claim b.1, 2 as the most practical opener for this combo because it allows for a near-midscreen, fast, low hit confirmation. Since Aquaman greatly enjoys spending his time dancing around a couple of character lengths from his opponent, he should spend a great deal of time within this opener’s effective range. That said, practical combo openers, such as this one, often scale damage down, but one must consider that reliably landing a moderately damaging combo multiple times in a match holds far more value than landing a high-damage jump-in combo once every few matches.

Lets Go!

Openers:

low: b.1, 2

  • hits low from a decent range

mid: s.2, s.2

  • hits from close range, but with notably less damage scaling than the low opener

mid: d.1, d.1 (ad nauseam)

  • pushes the opponent back if blocked
  • can be used to move opponent into tip range of low and overhead openers
  • can cancel directly into Trident Scoop to lead into the rest of the combo on a hit

overhead: b.2

  • hits overhead and ground bounces the opponent
  • threatens from a slightly longer range than the low opener, allowing for a fairly long-ranged mix up game

anti-air: d.2

  • stuffs nearly any jump-in attack and allows for full combo follow up
  • big damage
  • incredibly easy to hit with, probably needs a hitbox nerf

air-to-air: j.2, land, d.2

  • covers an insane amount of aerial space safely

jump-in: j.1, land, s.2, s.2

  • risky, as jump-ins tend to be
  • can easily cross-up at the correct range

Middle:
qcb 1, s.2, s.2 xx qcb 2 (meter burn)

  • for this mini-tutorial, this section will contain only one possible series of inputs

Finishers:

f.2, 1+3

  • moves the opponent back to the side on which they stood at the combo’s initiation
  • gives aquaman room to breathe
  • a forward dash immediately after recovery will place Aquaman just inside throw range on his opponent’s wakeup
  • places Aquaman in tip-range for his overhead, which leads right back into the combo

From The Deep (qcb 2)

  • places the opponent in perfect range for an ambiguous cross-up setup with j.1; no movement after From the Deep results in a cross-up, while a slight step back yields a front hit

Trident Scoop (qcb 1)

  • sends the opponent flying accross the screen
  • great for cornering opponents
  • consider using this when Aquaman stands near an interactive object, then use said object once the opponent has been tossed

Other specials can be used as finishers, but they do not, so far as I can see, offer the damage or setup potential presented by these three options.

In the event that your opponent blocks any of the openers listed above, cancel into Trident Rush (qcf 1).  This move deals a lot of chip damage and moves the opponent toward the corner quite a bit, not quite so good as a combo, but much better than nothing.  If meter burn is used, these effects are amplified quite a bit.

Here is the part where I should include a video detailing the information that I’ve just put forth in an easier-to-digest form.  I, sadly, do not have a means to capture video aside from holding my phone in front of my TV like some sort of living room tourist.  If you would like to see a low-quality video of the information presented in this post, let me know in the comments section and I’ll make the shoddiest little video that you ever did see.

Also, if you would like to see a similar text-based tutorial (and potentially a shitty video) detailing mix up or combo options for a  character, let me know who in the comments!

Hope Rides Alone

Ten years ago this Saturday, The Protomen emerged from Murfreesboro, TN with a message: a message of hope; a message of freedom; a message to never give up the fight. On that day they began spreading the story of Dr. Thomas Light, esteemed man of science, locked away by his once-friend, Albert Wily. Light, a glistening ray of hope amid the broken world built by Wily’s crazed robot army, sought to fight back from his confinement. 20 floors above the busy streets of a city that seemed lost he worked endless nights in secret to build Proto Man–a perfect fighting machine. A machine that Light claimed as his own son. Light sent that son into battle against Wily; against hatred, against oppression, to save a world that would not fight to save itself. And Proto Man lost.

Broken, Light returned to his tower, to his science, to pass his time and mourn for a son lost. When Light grew weary of shedding tears for the lost, he built a new son–a son whose shining metal frame knew not battle. This second son was not designed to fight for freedom, but he grew to crave it. The electric current of Justice fueled him, and against Light’s wishes, he too took to the streets to finish the fight that his brother began all those years ago.

If you are reading this; If you are ready, willing and prepared to fight; If you are within a two-state blast radius of the Mercy Lounge, heed the call of The Protomen and ready your ears for a midi-infused rock opera the likes of which you have never heard before. Join The Protomen this Saturday, April 27th as they light up the night!

As The Dust Settles

The Goddamn Batman

This evening marked the end of Civil War V, the first major tournament to feature the newly-released Injustice: Gods Among Us. Not even one week old, Injustice drew quite the crowd and managed to pull a hefty number of viewers from the tournament’s primary stream, and with good reason. Big name players from every corner of the arcade emerged to attempt to stomp out the MK gurus of EMP.

AGE|NYChrisG made the most impressive showing, but has still likely not had the chance to dedicate the lab time to yet another game. Placing third overall in the Injustice tournament–and winning the Injustice exhibition tournament–ChrisG went on to take first place in AE and Marvel, second in King of Fighters and fourth in Skullgirls. Absolutely ridiculous. With such an impressive ability to swap between games and play most of the cast while doing so, to expect anything less than domination from him in this game’s future would be doing him a great injustice… *cough*

Batman Slapping Robin

…anyway, the Grand Finals for Injustice proved quite grand indeed. A showdown between EMP|REO and EMP|Tom Brady offered insight into just how deep and matchup-heavy this game aspires to be. The Aquaman vs. Batman matchup presents a great case for character trait mastery, as the two nearly cancel each other out, creating a war of attrition. Batman, able to use his bats to hit-confirm from full screen must attempt to catch Aquaman off guard without a full trait of his own, or such confirms can be quickly shrugged off.  The two finalists showcased the importance of space control in the title as Tom Brady played a rather defensive game, using Aquaman’s reach to create openings.  REO, in response, employed guerrilla tactics, only pressing into Aquaman’s reach when able to toss a bat in first, then quickly retreating to a safe distance if no confirm could be made. Sadly, the two used a surprisingly low number of interactable objects, but this can be attributed to the inability to account for every possibility presented in every stage within the first week of the game’s life.  A focus on combos and setups allowed them to make it as far as they did, even without slamming missiles into one another.  In the end, EMP|REO came out on top in both Injustice and MK9.

They Walk Among Us

snoogans

Monday night, as the second hands slipped across the midnight marker on East Coast clocks, America felt the first embrace of the Gods. In waves, their power sped swiftly west, each new hour famed DC heroes danced new battles across living room flat screens, lagless monitors and vintage wood grain CRTs.

yo, is that teak?

yo, is that teak?

As an East Coast native, I was among the first to wrap my calloused fingers around a non-leaked copy of Injustice and have since found it to be absolutely oozing potential.

NetherRealms, in an effort to ensure that their newest title flies from shelves faster than a speeding Superman reference, put a great deal of time into targeted advertising.

the entire internet is a target, right?

the entire internet is a target, right?

Their pre-release ad campaign included the standard banner ads on every website the internet has to offer, a 5 minute TV spot in the middle of prime time Adult Swim and a commercial starring the comic world’s true dynamic duo, Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith. Combining huge DC names with this kind of marketing, NetherRealms’ promises a huge release.

In addition to awesome marketing, Injustice features every mode one could expect in a modern fighting game: battles (arcade), training and netplay–ahem–and in a very Mortal Kombat 9 style, it also features S.T.A.R. Labs (Challenge Tower) and a full story mode involving every playable character. The addition of the last two modes doesn’t necessarily appeal to all fighting fans, but they do appeal to those who have more casual gaming tendencies. Mortal Kombat 9 won fighting game of the year for a reason, after all: broad crowd appeal.  Injustice spares nothing when working toward a similar goal.

The inclusion of several minor tweaks, the likes of which never before seen, in the options menu allow for a more personalized input experience than ever. I have never been a fan of Mortal Kombat special move inputs. I much prefer a quarter circle to down, forward and a half circle back to forward, back, and, as such, I often botch inputs in the MK series. Luckily, in an effort to please those of us without much Kombat experience, the “Alternate Control” option can be enabled to transform those pesky MK inputs into something more palatable for my palms.  Even more obscure, Ed Boon has felt it right to include the option to choose whether negative edge works on your controller or not.  As an ex-Arakune player,  this option appeals to me, though not entirely required since Street Fighter 4 already has built-in negative edge recognition that I never use.

After about thirty matches of online play, I can safely say that in addition to everything else that it offers, Injustice boasts some of the best week one netcode that I have encountered. I don’t recall even a single stutter of lag or the loss of any inputs. The game honestly felt just as good online as it does locally, even on my corn husk DSL. While local play provides a more visceral, true-to-arcade experience, every modern title comes equipped with online capabilities now; while we can smugly sit back and claim that anything other than local matches chances missed inputs, frame loss and the like, we eventually must shed this fear of the interference of technology and take our battle online.  And battle we shall.  For justice!

And Now For Something Completely Different!

Super Adventure Box Load Screen

I booted up Guild Wars 2 a couple of nights ago and decided to collect my daily laurels. Per usual, I logged in as my Thief, Renai, and proceeded to death blossom my way through the snow-clad canyons and foothills of the Shiverpeaks.  Countless creatures felt the bite of my blade and I soon found myself standing amid a circle of fresh corpses, each one bled dry.  A quick spam of the ‘F’ key filled my bags with the typical rusted metal scraps and stained linens, a weapon or two, and as expected, no rares. I continued to carve a bloody swathe through the snow until I ran across a treasure chest, the design of which I’d not seen anywhere else in Tyria.

Complete with Chun-Li buns!

Complete with Chun-Li buns!

Curious and oozing avarice, I popped open the lid and revealed its terrible treasure: snakes in silly hats.

Bison hat?

Bison hats?

The snakes, whose forms looked strangely reminescent of a finely-tuned 8-bit sprite, began spitting large, pixelated green blobs and running amok. They spat their blocky venom without care, so I cut them down, pocketed the ‘baubles’ that they held and got out of there. I soon noticed an unread message in my mailbox, which I found unusual, as I am quite diligent about keeping those messages clear. I assumed the worst: gold spammers. The mail, though, held an interesting message from a fellow named Moto. He spoke of escaped sprites like those that I had just slain and a machine in Rata Sum that could send me to their realm. Without hesitation, I warped to Rata Sum and hopped directly into the tiny portal around which several others had gathered, assuming that the sprite realm must surely reside therein.

Immediately, I felt like an Asuran Alice waltzing through an 8-bit wonderland. Graphically, the area reminded me of a more refined, perhaps higher-budget Minecraft. Everything was blocky, yet extremely high resolution with lots of bright colors, though the color palette used obviously didn’t contain much shade variation. Even the UI was completely different, right down to an old school heart meter instead of the usual health globe.

Super Adventure Box UI

The music that happily piped from my headphones filled me with a childlike joy and immediately split my face with a goofy grin. I continued on, hopping from 8-bit cloud to glorious 8-bit cloud. I was soon greeted by a pixelated version of who I can only assume was Moto.   He requested that I cram an oversized coin into his mouth (uh, alright…) to be allowed entry to his realm, so I obliged.

Upon entry, I found myself faced with a cinematic–A campfire picnic with a pixelated princess, a dashing hero (if I do say so myself) and an abrupt end brought about by a red, demonic figure; it all seemed so familiar. When a map of the area popped up on the screen, I immediately knew why:

Super Adventure Box Map

Ghosts 'N Goblins Map

Look how delightfully similar those two maps are!  Capcom’s classic, Ghosts ‘N Goblins obviously holds a special place in the hearts of the devs over at Arena Net, but if I run into a Red Arremer, I’m never going on another boxy adventure.  That whole thing at the first body of water in Ghosts ‘N Goblins?  Yeah, I didn’t forget that.  No one forgot that.  But until then, I will hold my mighty piece of electronic tree high and cut down any monkeys who stand between me and my goal!

The Super Adventure Box will remain open for players the entire month of April and promises rewards as reminiscent of the 8-bit era as the box itself.  So brandish your pixel-sticks and save that princess! As always, Dulfy has compiled a very handy guide to the area, so make good use of it!

Injustice: Gods Among Us Demo

Image

Today, the fine folks at NetherRealm Studios released a playable demo of their upcoming title, Injustice: Gods Among Us on both Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. The demo includes three playable characters: Batman, Wonder Woman and Lex Luthor, each boasting a completely different playstyle. After dabbling with each of the three fighters, I found Batman to be the closest to what I would call my style, as his grappling hook closely mimics Scorpion’s famous Kunai (get over here!). The demo, as expected, contains only one playable stage, but it comes in a very complete form: multiple tiers, destructible terrain and interactive environmental pieces abound the streets of a very dark, very MK-inspired Gotham. I found a great deal of satisfaction heaving a busted dumpster from the sidewalk and smashing it into Lex Luthor, knocking him across the stage.

The game’s systems promise a great deal of depth, and Arturo Sanchez of Team Spooky has already put out a short tutorial video to give people an idea of what they can expect from the title:

I must say, even with all of these complex systems, I personally find the removal of the block button the most appealing. The block button prevented a lot of mixup potential in Mortal Kombat titles, as crossups weren’t an option. Now, one must block by holding back, so mixup becomes not only about high-low, but also left-right–and if the high-low game in this is anywhere near as frenetic as that of MK9, blocking will be quite challenging indeed. This feature alone is a huge stride in making Injustice something that can appeal to both the tournament-level MK crowd, as well as the tournament-level “Capcom” crowd.

This in mind, Filipino Champ, the self-proclaimed heel of the Capcom crowd, called out MK players recently, challenging them to attempt to slay the likes of himself and Justin Wong (among others) in this new fighter:

I don’t have high hopes for the MK community if top Street Fighter and Marvel players take Injustice seriously. The first major featuring this game will define hype.

Injustice: Gods Among Us releases in North America two weeks from today. Get hype!