Analysis: How the Hadouken Reinvented 2D Fighting

If you look at this clip, you might be tempted to say that these two are just spamming fireballs. While the nerd in me wants to argue that this is actually an intricate ballet of wit and dexterity, I think spam is a pretty good analogy. SPAM is a canned meat that fed U.S. soldiers through World War II because fresh meat was difficult and expensive to transport. It eventually became the butt of a joke in a Monty Python sketch, conveying it as an unwanted meat that was just everywhere. “Have you got anything without SPAM in it?” “Well… there’s SPAM, egg, sausage, and SPAM it’s not that much SPAM in it.” Consequently, spam became the term used to describe the mass amounts of unsolicited advertising e-mails that get sent everyday. This is, of course, super illegal thanks to the “CAN-SPAM” Act of 2003, (Yes, this is it’s actual name) and the ones who couldn’t get away with it, are spending years in prison. Spam is a good analogy for fireballs because both are unwanted and you want to send them over while getting away with it. In other words, they’re both about risk and reward, though the consequences are vastly different in each case. If you throw a fireball and your opponent jump attack reaches you before you recover, you eat a combo. If they jump at you too late, they eat your fist. This game of fireball and uppercut formed the basis of Street Fighter II and has lasted for over two and a half decades making it one of the oldest competitive gaming concepts to still be around. [Katsuhiro Harada speaking Japanese] But what’s so special about the fireball game as to survive this long and now be on television? To understand this, I think it helps to know how the fireball game is played. The two most important skills required for this are your calculations and reads. And each aspect has contributed to the genre in different ways. But before I elaborate, it’s important to know why you’re throwing in the first place. Obviously, they cause damage, but more importantly, they cause your opponent to “dance”, also known as “controlling space”. You can actually cause more damage to your opponent for trying to avoid your fireball than actually hitting them with it. When calculating if it’s wise to throw a fireball, you have factor things in like: remaining health, meter, round, time, and any other facts your brain can process in order to assess risk and reward. But one of the most important factors in this regard is spacing. Peter: Hadouken! Peter: Hadouken! Mr. Washee Washee: Pyeh! The distances are usually divided up as “fullscreen”, “Three quarters” screen, “halfscreen”, and right outside footsies range. You generally don’t want to throw fireballs within your opponent’s normal attack range because you can get stuffed and punished. Naturally, the further you are from your opponent, the more time they’ll have to react to the fireball. While fireballs thrown from fullscreen are usually 100% safe, your opponent is also safe to jump in, meaning they can close in on you for free, so not really a good idea. At three-quarters screen, you are at risk of getting hit by the tip of a jump attack, but luckily, they won’t be able to do their most damaging combo because they’ll be out of range. Fireballs thrown from halfscreen or closer is where your opponent can do some serious damage and often, you’ll see the most painful combo they have to offer. It’s also useful to consider how your fireball can change your opponent’s spacing when it hits them thanks to a phenomenom called “pushback”. If you land a halfscreen fireball, your next one will be a three quarters screen fireball and so on. Of course, jump ins aren’t the only risk to a fireball thrower. You also have to watch out for projectile invincible moves and divekicks, which all travel varying distances. This spacing game allowed 2-D fighters to have meaningful battles from a distance Seth Killian: “The idea of a fireball, uhh, in the abstract, is, is a way of expanding fighting games beyond just punching and kicking. Now, we can do combat meaningfully across the screen.” One of the biggest distinguishing characteristics of the various fighting franchises is how space is used. If you look at the Marvel vs Capcom series, more vertical space is used, Tekken is mostly fought close up, but uses the extra third-dimension, and Smash has platforms and pits allowing fighting under the stage. For 2-D fighters, the fireball was the basis of expanding the arena and consequently, the gameplay itself. Commentator: “This is 3 out of 5.” Commentator: “There’s the uppercut.” In addition to space control, the fireball game also added a clearly defined psychological game. One of the best ways to lose in a fighting game is being predictable. And it’s why Daigo tries to avoid winning the same way. Lisa: “Poor, predictable Bart.” “Always takes rock.” Bart: “Good ol’ rock. Nothing beats that.” In his book, he says: “When people mention something they consider a strength of mine, I deny it and avoid using whatever it is that they’ve pointed out.” The Hadoken is designed so that it’s practically impossible to react to with a jump-in attack. I tested this by measuring a typical situation in Street Fighter V. It takes 37 frames to jump kick somebody as Ryu and 48 frames to throw a fireball. Factor in the game’s input lag, which has now improved to 6.2 frames, and 1 more frame from your typical gaming setup, and you only have 3.8 frames, or 63 milliseconds, to react with a jump-in attack. Considering that you don’t even see the blue of the Hadoken until the 5th frame, it’s pretty much impossible. If someone regularly jumps over your fireballs and hits you before you block, it’s because you’re being too predictable, and not because your opponent has godlike reactions. So how do you make your fireballs less predictable? For starters, you can fake out your opponent. One way is to whiff a normal attack. when your opponent is looking for a fireball, a sudden change in your animation can throw them off and make them jump, or make them throw a bad fireball of their own. Commentator: “Infiltration so mobile- OHHHH! The reactions!” “That fake Sonic Boom made him throw a fireball and he was ready to punish with a Critical Art.” Faking out your opponent like this is so crucial, that games like Street Fighter Alpha 2 and HD Remix actually added separate fake fireball commands, where your character would do a quick version of the animation with nothing coming out of their hands. However, the problem in the arcade version of Alpha 2 was that you had to press the Start button to fake a fireball, which was all the way over here. This was way too obvious to your opponent that was standing right next to you, so people started to pretend to reach over for the Start button, while actually doing a real fireball using only their left hand like this: This is some serious metagame trickery, but it shows how important it is to mask your intentions. But, sometimes, even with your best efforts, your opponent might still read you like a book. This might be because you have what’s known as a “tell”. Hungrybox: “When it’s get to the top level, like, you’re noticing more of just on the game, it’s like poker.” And poker is a great analogy for the fireball game. In poker, it’s important to calculate the odds to the best of your ability, but the real fun comes in the psychological play. NeGreanu: “You know what I think he’s got?” “Aces.” Commentator 1: “That is uncanny!” Commentator 2: “HAHA!” NeGreanu: “I think he’s got TWO aces.” Commentator: “What do you do if you’re McClean?” Noticing tells, faking tells, bluffing, and exploiting human tendencies are also reasons why Street Fighter players still get excited about Hadoukens and Sonic Booms. Commentator: “Guile – Ryu is, like, the greatest matchup!” Commentator 2: “Y’know, y’know, y’know, y’know I agree, y’know.” Commentater 2: “We’ve always had this, right?” Commentator 1: “This fight, is like, “Street Fighter”.” Commentator 2: “Every game.” Commentator 1: “It’s Street Fighter!” One of the hallmark mental strategies with fireballs is to frustrate your opponent, leading them to gradually make worse and worse decisions until they die. Losing like without even getting close to your opponent is a terrible feeling and it’s why fireballs are known to be a “casual killer”. I think the combination of it’s simplistic concept and it’s ability to frustrate is the beauty of it. But, I see why people would call it “spam”. Even with all the advancements and mechanics 2-D fighters have seen in the past 23 years, the basic fireball game of Super Street Fighter II Turbo is still played at tournaments, and people are still finding new things about the game. Commentator: “What?!?” Commentator: “Wait, what?!?” Commentator 2: “Wait, did we just discover something new?” Commentator 2: “After 20 years, how we just found out a new trick?” Commentator 1: “HAHAHA!” Commentator 2: “What the heck?” Let me know in the comments what your favorite projectile characters are, or, if you hate them all. This was Gerald from Core-A Gaming, thanks for watching, and thanks to Laugh for sharing his wisdom on the subject. Subscribe for more, and check out the new store for T-shirts and other cool stuff. Seeya!

Danny Hutson

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