Defining Hype: A Look at Evo 2014 USFIV Finals

Since Evo 2014 still lingers in the minds of fighting game fans, I want to spend some time today discussing a topic that came up this year during the top 8 for Ultra Street Fighter IV: what makes any given fighting game match “hype”? There are a couple of obvious answers to this: incredibly close matches and ridiculous comebacks and the tension that these moments create, but are these the only causes? And since these don’t happen all that often, how do we derive “hype” from a match where neither of the things are present?

First, let’s talk about the Ultra Street Fighter IV portion of Evo 2014. This year, nearly 2,000 people went to Vegas to compete in the largest fighting game tournament in the world. Once the weekend whittled those 2000 down to the best 8, we all had high expectations for what we’d see. We all had our favorite players, mine were Snake Eyez because his Zangief has some of the best footsies around, plus he’s from the States, and Sako because, well, I just really like Sako. He plays Ibuki… sometimes.

Everyone in the top 8 went on to play at near-perfect levels and the crowd met each of these perfect matches that ended in a time over–and there were plenty of them–with a golf clap, a rustling of chairs and a few stray coughs that soon faded behind the booming loudspeakers pumping the sounds of fists and fireballs into the room. The scene was tense to the point of bursting, but not because of what was going on on the screen. It had a lot more to do with what wasn’t going on: no one was making mistakes. Everyone played too well and the room of spectators knew that on some level they wanted to see Fuudo or Bonchan or whoever just do something incredibly risky and stupid and have it work because that would have been unexpected. That would have put some people on their feet.

When my buddy Menno turned to me after the first few players had been eliminated and said “there’s no hype” I had a hard time finding a way to disagree with him. For all the cerebral plays that were happening on screen, all of the small considerations behind every button press, there wasn’t a whole lot of excitement to milk out of two top players locked in eternal footsies until the clock inevitably ran out during Fei Long’s Ultra for the tenth time. I found myself not quite bored, but close enough to boredom to look at my phone and check the time way more often than I would have if the hype levels had been cranked up a notch or two.

Hype is a whiff punish that combos its way to an Ultra. Hype is an unsafe mix-up that works. Hype is an unsafe mix-up that doesn’t work. Hype is taking risks. Hype is making mistakes. Any of these things could have added a degree of excitement to what was unfolding on the screen.

Don’t get me wrong, I can watch Street Fighter all day, but I’d much rather see a player like Smug show complete disrespect for his opponent while he’s rushing that shit down than watch the meticulously-calculated fireballs of any top shoto player. And the fact that the game favors defensive play more than ever has only served to suck more hype from high-level play. So is this potential lack of hype when players play “too well” a bad thing? For people who have been following tournaments for a while, no, not at all. While we may not leap from our chairs and shout every time JWong nails someone with Rufus’ crouching fierce, we can respect the entirety of what we see happening before and after that fierce was carefully calculated.

Maybe all of this is why Marvel vs. Capcom, more often than not, ends up being the most exciting event at any given tournament. The game moves so quickly that players have to rely on instincts more than they would like, which leads to some knee-jerk reactions that allow for openings in play, which, well, you can see where this is going. If people are forced to think quicker than is reasonably possible, they’re going to make mistakes. Even looking back at older, faster versions of Street Fighter shows similar results. The same calculation goes into every choice, but everything happens at far greater speeds, which not only serves to provide increased excitement, but also allows players more room to fuck up because we’re human and humans do that.

So let’s raise a toast to people who make poor decisions. Without them, life would just be footsies.

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On the Scene! Episode 3 is Live!

IbukiRooftop

I love the new training mode fight request feature in Ultra. There’s a very good chance that all future ranked match videos will follow the format that I used today. I kept the footage all in one take, because it didn’t feel right to edit out one particularly painful match (even though its… wow. It’s brutal, y’all.) It ended up being a particularly long video–my longest, actually–but when I can bounce so rapidly from a match where I try something and screw it up to training mode where I show you what it should have looked like, that’s just… I’ve been wanting this for a long time and I didn’t even know it.

The video is a return to Ibuki. I am still in the process of adjusting my muscle memory to the new chains that I should be using to maximize damage output. I’m also still getting used to the idea that landing a Super in a match should be happening a lot more than it used to. Since a couple of her target combos end with her in the air and her opponent ready to be juggled, Capcom’s intent is apparent: stop throwing knives at them so much on the ground; save them for the air!

I’ll see you next week!

The Goofiest Weekly Vortex Ever. Seriously.

IbukinewsizeThis is the longest video that I’ve uploaded. It clocks in at just under 18 minutes and I honestly didn’t have the heart to cut any more of the footage than I did. I tried. I just couldn’t do it.

I had an incredible amount of fun recording these matches, and it probably has something to do with the fact that I had, just prior to playing, spent about five hours reading a book that I was just not into at all. I’m not, nor have I ever been a fan of the Romance genre, but hey, sometimes you have to read stuff that you don’t want to because it’s on the syllabus. For those curious, the book was Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie. It was well-written (as far as, like, word choice is concerned), but the pacing was just really off.  Way too slow. It could have been a short story. I also didn’t care about any of the characters involved; they were all pretty one-dimensional and served only to prop up the protagonist who I didn’t like. It felt like I was reading Bridesmaids and I’m pretty sure I fell asleep when I was watching that, so, yeah.

Anyway, this isn’t Lance’s Awesome Book Blog, so let’s get back to the video: I did live commentary this time and the hype levels got downright remarkable at a couple of points. The matches don’t really demonstrate my best performance, but man, I don’t mind that at all. It was the most fun I’ve had making a video for this site (and I’ve been making videos for close to a year now!)

So seriously, check this one out. You won’t be disappointed.

Marvel Locals Recap and More!

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The turnout on Saturday was pretty good. In total, there were five of us who played Marvel and a couple of people who were there just to hang out (my money is on converting them to players in the near future).  I’m told that there were two people who came to the previous gatherings that weren’t able to make it out this time and I know that I have at least one more friend who intends to go to the next meeting, which would bring our total up to eight. Eight people. That’s a very respectable amount of like-minded individuals who intend to throw hams with one another.

We ran two setups and people traded off spots with the odd man out at random–but fair–intervals. Obviously, once we have more people attending we’ll need to either get a third setup going or run matches in a two out of three or first to three format to keep everyone playing and involved. I think I’d prefer the option of keeping two setups and rotating people in; it will allow people to take time and watch each other play, which can be just as important as actually sitting down and unleashing a dark Wesker of your own.

Perhaps the most interesting element of the entire evening was seeing the array of different teams used and the skill range present. I was pretty securely in the middle of the pack with my Zero/Wolverine/Doom team. The people who were able to beat me, though, did so with finesse.  These near-perfect victories (as most of them were) for my opponents came in two forms: armored attacks from Hulk covered with a Haggar assist–and me, stupidly, pressing buttons–or, level four Frank West. Once those chainsaws are out, man, somebody is going to lose an arm. I lost several.

The obvious solution to dealing with the Hulk team is to just not get fooled into hitting buttons when I shouldn’t. That’s harder than it sounds, especially when I’m used to teleporting around like a crazy person with no ill effects and tossing out pizza slicers as often as my H button will allow. As for the Frank West team, well, I just need to learn to deal with his pressure without getting hit. It all comes down to a lack of being able to maintain an active defense while still putting out damage, something that I’ve always struggled with in Marvel. This is the kind of thing that can only truly be improved through play.

Playing with a variety of new people showed me that I’m basically back where I was with this team before I stopped playing several months ago, and, just like several months ago, I’ve fallen into a comfortable, predictable pattern of play. Every match would look exactly the same if my opponent did nothing. I can watch replays of myself using Zero/Wolverine/Doom and say out loud, “next, I’m going to back dash twice and fire my buster,” which, without missing a beat, unfolds on the screen. I can predict the angles of approach I’m about to use on Doom (which are always incredibly rushdown heavy, something that I naturally favor) and I can tell when I’m going to use a berserker slash with Logan. It’s just too predictable overall.

It’s a tough rut to get out of, and it’s one that I fell into with Ibuki a while back. Granted, I still have bad habits with Ibuki, but not nearly so many as I had. The way that I was best able to overcome the issues that I had with her was to spend a great deal of time with other characters. I picked up Evil Ryu and played him exclusively for a few weeks. I went back to Chun-Li and played her for a couple of weeks after that. Taking time away from Ibuki made me miss certain tools that she has that other characters don’t, specifically her command runs and her back+MP. Once I went back to Ibuki with fresh eyes, I was able to put these tools to better use.

MVC3 Storm

That means that I’m going to try messing with some different characters in Marvel. Right now I only have one requirement for the team: at least one character must be able to tri-jump. I’m leaning toward Storm, but I have no idea who to put with her. I’ve seen some team compositions that use Strider, Dante, Wesker, Akuma, all sorts of characters to take advantage of what Storm brings to a team, but I have no idea how to play any of them. This will undoubtedly be an adventure. If I had to pick three characters that I have no idea how to play, it’d probably be Dante/Storm/Strider, but that’s a lot to learn from a few very high-execution characters. I’ve got a month to pick up some new stuff, though, so we’ll have to see how it goes.

In other news, I recently had the pleasure of playing several matches of AE with my overseas friend from the blogosphere, o0 InFraRED 0o. I was surprised by how good our connection was. Sure, we had red bars, but there were maybe two incidents where the game actually stuttered noticeably. It was, overall, just a touch sluggish, but I’m so accustomed to online play in that game that I can adapt fairly quickly to that sort of thing. I’ve got a mean under water Ibuki and I always pack my snorkel.

Be sure to check back Friday for a video. It could be pretty much anything at this point.

The Results Are in! Also, There’s a Video!

IbukinewsizeThe poll closed a week ago today, and the answers were basically what I expected to see. All but a couple of stragglers said that they want to see more AE matches with Ibuki. The first-to-five idea was pretty popular (37.5%), as was the regular ranked match option (25%). In keeping with the votes, I’m going to see if I can get some people to agree to do some sets with me. It’ll be a good break from the online warrior style.

There’s something about being able to fight the same person several times in a row that changes the game. It helps to build a set of skills that apply directly to tournament play: learning to read how an opponent plays and being okay with losing a couple of matches to learn how to deal with what they’re doing. Ranked matches are the opposite. You get, at best, one round to figure out how the opponent plans to abuse your character. If you fail to figure it out in time, better be ready to, ahem, Hold that L.

Today’s video is just a standard ranked match lineup with some live commentary. I’ve been spending a great deal of time exploring Ibuki’s anti-air options and it’s starting to show up in my play. At least once in this video, I manage to follow an agemen with something damaging! The damage increase is substantial. It’s no SRK into ultra, but it’s certainly a start.

Ibuki anti-airs have fascinated me since around the time SFXT released. I was struggling with the necessary execution for her combos off of agemen in AE at the time, so the system in SFxT was a welcome change–it didn’t require a command dash cancel to do a follow-up. When I realized that, I made my first video. For the sake of nostalgia, here it is:

Life before my Elgato was difficult. I had to stack a pile of about 20 text books on top of my nightstand and park it in front of my TV to be able to record this footage. I seriously taped (yes, taped. scotch taped) my camera to the top book of the pile to guarantee a steady shot and hit record. The editing was a nightmare… and the screen is crooked.

More Ibuki vs. Bison and a Couple of Shotos in the Mix in Today’s Weekly Vortex

IbukinewsizeWhen I sat down for my recording session earlier this week, I ended up fighting the same Bison player several times. I had enough footage of Bison matches to make an entire Bison video. I almost did it, too. Then I realized that I still have obvious shortcomings in the match-up, so I decided to take a couple of the best matches and throw some shotos into the mix.

By now, I have an incredible amount of experience as Ibuki against Bison, the problem that I currently run into online is figuring out what type of Bison I’m fighting while also trying not to lose the first round by doing so. Some Bisons like buttons a lot more than others and will walk you to the corner with their s.MK; some Bisons seem only to throw specials and the occasional sweep and spend a great deal of the match turtling and punishing mistakes that you make; then there are the ones somewhere in between. It usually takes a round for me to figure out which style the Bison employs (and I probably don’t win that match) and then I’ve got an uphill battle on my hands.

All that said, I’m getting a lot better at punishing his bad decisions. I still really need to work on punishing EX psycho crusher with Ultra 2, but that comes with experience.

Back to the Basics: More Ibuki Ranked Matches in Street Fighter!

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Today’s video is a return to Street Fighter. I have LOCAL SCENE!!!! (woo!) Marvel matches coming up for the first time in a couple of weeks, but before I have a chance to get to those, I have an appointment to face off in Street Fighter against a very special guest! The exact details will remain on the down-low until the footage is actually captured, so as not to get any hopes up, but I am very excited about what the next couple of weeks have in store for KunaiVortex.com! The video is set to be a first to three (or five, we haven’t decided for sure yet) and I should be recording this week at some point when our schedules sync up.

As this week has proven particularly busy already–incredibly long space opera (Leviathan Wakes) to read for class on top of the regular load, as well as a second interview for what could be a decent enough job, I’m going to be keeping the videos rather simple. I won’t be doing live or post-recording commentary, but the videos will still be uploaded and will contain the standard 3-6 matches, depending on how long each takes.

I’ve recently come under the impression that the perfect length for my video uploads is between the nine and twelve minute mark; they don’t take too long to upload at that length and, I hope, no one has time to get bored in that period.

Today is the last official day in the poll for future videos, so get those votes in! Polling will end at midnight EST!