Thoughts on Evo 2013, counter-pokes, parries and SF4

Evolution, the largest fighting game tournament in the world, has concluded. Being an old man, none of my favorite games were featured as part of the official tournament, because they’re all well over a decade old, but I was more entertained by the final 8 of the Super SF4 (AE 2012) tournament than I had expected to be. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it in person this year, but I watched it online, along with tens of thousands of others across the world- which, while still wildly inferior, was still pretty great. Click here to watch archived video footage, SF4 starting at (10:35:30).

In particular, I took note of Haitani’s Makoto, and the reads he was making on his opponents there and earlier in the tournament, and the way he was both poking and counterpoking. The latter in particular struck me as being very interesting, because while it’s uncommon in SF4, there were a couple of players in the top 8 doing it- Sakonoko’s Ibuki, PR Balrog’s Balrog, Infiltration’s Hakan (in a particularly exciting set of matches, starting at 12:01:30 in the link above), etc. It made me wish there were more of that aspect to the game, other than jumping attacks vs anti-air.

It’s less common in the SF4 games for a couple reasons- the least of which, oddly enough, is the Focus Attack. They don’t change that aspect nearly as much as the parry did in the SF3 games, because there is a risk in using it, even though it can be cancelled out of and used as a feint. With the parry, things were fairly straightforward- it’s less important to know what-beats-what, because parry beats essentially all non-throw attacks. There are still attacks used as pokes, but the reasons are based less on priority, but either risk vs reward (Chun poke to super for huge damage), or difficulty to parry (speed, danger of cancel after parry, etc).

In short, the context is different- it’s no longer attack vs attack, it’s attack vs throw, or attack vs movement. Focus attacks in the SF4 games have a greater risk of the attacker canceling into another move, and extra damage is temporarily taken if hit after performing one, etc.

The simpler reason why there’s less counterpoking in SF4 is less present as a feature of the game is because the focus of the game is on mixup options, because it can be much easier to get close to someone, and into throw range. Throw range then leads to throws and throw mixups, which can lead to crossups etc. And because throws are stronger in the SF4 games than some others, attacks no longer beat throws the way they used to, either because they have faster startup (compared to Alpha 3, CvS2, SF3:3S, etc), have better range, or both.

Some characters still rely on pokes, but this is mostly do to a change of risk/reward in their favor; if shotos can poke with c.MK into fireball, they can cancel it into a dash if it connects and do big damage and stun. It becomes like challenging SF3:3S Chun-Li’s c.MK if she has super meter. Additionally, some SF4 characters like Sakura when they are in attack range are also in throw range and also in frame trap range (something like a counter-poke, but based on punshing option select throw escapes), and also have the option of doing a random EX attack which is safe if blocked, but will blow through any defensive pokes during their pressure.

Barring any changes to the newly-announced Ultra SF4, this is simply a matter of the game engine. Objectively, I don’t find the system of the SF4s to be any dumber than most of my favorite games, though I will say I would probably play the game a little more often if things were weighted a little differently. SFxTekken has a similar characteristic of pokes leading to big (or at least important) damage, but after watching a lot of high-level tournament play of the game, I’m heartened to see pokes and counterpokes being used (ie. the usually unsafe tag attack as a counterpoke), and people challenging each other air-to-air.

(Keep in mind that this entire blog post has a deep Alpha 3 bias.)

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