Option selects and other tactics

[2023-04-03 Mon] diatone.net

When I was in high school, me and my best friend played Street Fighter a lot. The game of choice was Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike.

The third entry in the Street Fighter series, of which this game is a variation, is set apart from other entries in the series by a parrying mechanic.

Usually if you want to avoid damage, you move away from your opponent as they attack, which instructs your character to block the attack. Blocking reduces the full force of an attack to what the fighting game community calls "chip damage", ie: a negligible amount of damage.

But to parry, you have to do the opposite, and deliberately move toward your opponent… at the exact instant you expect to be hit. If the parry lands, you're rewarded with points, but more importantly, you completely avoid chip damage. Also, you can parry mid-air; you can't block in the air. Also, parries tend to grant favourable timing and can allow you to interrupt your opponent's attack.

Here is a video that goes into more depth:

Parries are a high-risk, high-reward manoeuvre. They raise the skill ceiling of the game. Talented players who are willing to take the risk of potentially being hit can cheat death and issue devastating counterattacks.

Here is a famous example (video below). In the final round of this match, the Chun-Li player (Justin Wong) has built enough super meter to execute a super move, which will do enough damage to immediately KO the Ken (Daigo). Even if blocked, the super will probably do enough chip damage to win the match. And, the super move is a flurry of kicks in quick succession, with knockback. Hard to parry, and harder still to parry successfully and follow up with a counterattack. But watch what happens:

So why am I talking about this?

In other fighting games, a matchup between two characters tends to largely be determined by the pros and cons of each character, assuming equally skilled players. Maybe a particular matchup will be defined by how one character is particularly advantageous against another (we call this a "counter pick"). But for the most part, if one character is relatively overpowered, it's easy to bet what will happen.

Parrying is a mechanic that is character-agnostic. It means that a low-tier character, with parries, has chances to decimate higher-tier characters:

It was pretty common during our high school 4-hour slogs that my friend and I would get really good at reading each other. Like, really good. All of a sudden it didn't matter what character somebody picked; what mattered was what you expected them to do, and if it could be parried. A metagame emerged, and after years of play it wasn't uncommon for someone to resort to parries and absolutely basic moves in an attempt to frustrate and confuse the other player.

Just to rehash my earlier point: parrying is character-agnostic. You could drill yourself in 3rd Strike's training mode for hours to learn a character, and see it all fall to pieces as your opponent intercepts you with parries. Not because they know your character better than you, but because they know you.

It's a higher-level mechanic with heaps of crossover between sessions. It generalises better. As my life as gotten busier, and I've taken on more responsibilities, I've been thinking a lot about things I can do that can be leveraged in a similar way. Are there life skills with similar characteristics?

Things that need a high investment to learn, and consistent focus to be applied. But if you take as a given that it will work, you've got a universally applicable skillset that's asymmetric in its upside?

Food for thought 🤔

Also — I know this post is titled "Option selects" — I was going to write about option selects, another class of fighting game technique that has interesting game theory ideas woven through it. But I got sidetracked, a follow-up post is called for I guess.