Footsies for dummies by Belial

Belial has recently written an excellent guide on the basics of footsies. Thankfully, he informed me about his article and I have posted it on the front page for him. Please give him all the credit for sharing his information and experience.

Footsies for dummies, by @Belial


Intro
I’ve been into FGS for about 10 years and it occured to me, that I have no idea how to play footsies. It became even more apparent after my travel for MLG Raleigh (where I still placed top 8), as I wiffed a lot of stuff and felt totally helpless against certain players. I didnt gave it much thought, as the game died out shortly after, but thankfully SC have been experiencing a rebirth in Russia recently, thus, I am back on theory train.

Suddenly it all came crashing down on me, as I realized what I’ve been missing all these years. A lot of you know me, and know how I play and that might have come as a surprise to you, but dont trust your eyes. All I knew before was “How to get in”. I never tried “Stay away” or “Dont keep me out” style. I just rushed. Blocked, used my reflexes, matchup knowledge and experience to overcome unfavorable and bad situations I’ve put myself in by ignoring that fundamental aspect of every Fighting Game.

The question rises - why? How is it possible to play for such a long time and miss something that big. Well, I believe truth lie in my theory-fighter origin. As many of you know, TF get laughed at and scolded on every board from Siberia to Texas. And it has reasons. Too little practice, too many words. However, every theory-fighter is also way too focused on static situations in a game that’s fast-paced and things happen every second. “If only I mastered that punish”, “If only I knew matchup better”. I found myself struggling, heavily, against even mediocre players in matchups I didnt know. I froze in fear, not knowing what to do, how to punish, where to atack or block. My solution was - extreme hard work and matchup mastery, but still wasnt enough to fill the gap. Now, finally, I believe I have a recipe both for those experiencing same problems as myself and newer players, who are aspiring to improve their game.

What's footsies?
Footsies, zoning, spacing etc - is a complex of measures directed at controlling distance between you and your opponent. A skill to put yourself in advantegeous position over your opponent. Any battle outside of range for direct mixup (throw range, basically) is a battle of footsies.
Any of you who played a superior opponent know, that he doesnt just "punish better" or "guesses better". Usually, such an opponent seem invincible. Whole game runs under his control, he gets in whenever he wants, yet he escapes your offence flawlessly. Getting a mixup on such an opponent is a feat of luck, rather than skill. That is what mastery of footsies get you.

You can only master footsies through versus. Just like real life martial arts - knowing your distance is the key. But now matter how hard you're smacking your punching bag or how many times you've watched Fedor Emelianenko fight - understanding only comes with battle experience. This article will not make you a master. But I hope it will show you the way.

The guy didnt have any battle experience, obviously

Four Questions

Footsies are often associated with poking and for good reason. When you consider your spacing tools there are four important questions you must ask every move:

1) Is it hard to punish?
Probably, the most important of the four. The harder it is for your opponent to punish a move, the more commitment he has to make. Take a look at Street Fighter 4, where punishing barrage of pokes features just frame dashes and timings.
EWGF in Tekken is so hard to punish on wiff, that even the slightest delay will send you flying by yet another God Fist. Attempts to punish such a move drain concentration heavily, forcing opponent to duck - a serious commitment.
A commitment is basically how limited your opponent is by certain move or pattern. Take a look at Mitsurugi 4KB - opponent can step it, can backdash it or even interrupt - this move is sort of slow. Even if its blocked, 4KB can still be punished. Thus 4KB doesnt limit your opponents game in any way, it doesnt take any commitment to punish it.
On the other hand, Pyrrah's 66A is relatively fast TC horizontal mid, which, when blocked usually leaves you outside of mixup range. If you expect Pyrrha is going for 66A, you have to either backdash, or throw out moves to interrupt it (keep in mind its TC, so you cant throw out just any move). Thats quite a commitment. Pyrrha knows that you are forced to deal with 66A, thus she expects you to backdash or mash. At this point baiting and punishing your mistake becomes easy.

2) How much range it has?
When you say "footsies" you think about range. Its quite obvious the more range the better. If your opponent is Nightmare you might not even benefit from a correct read. Wiffed poke might have had just way to much range, where none of your punishers reach him. Your pokes might be better than your opponents in sheer frame data numbers, but if he has twice as much range as you - you might never get a chance to profit from it.

3) How fast it is?
An obvious question. Even if you and your opponent mash at the same time - fastest poke wins. Imagine a poke thats fast and hard to punish on wiff. To counter that you'd have to "time" your punishment instead of reacting to wiffed move. Such a poke can help you out in nearly any situaion - block, hit, wiff. Fast attacks ask for respect. Should your opponent drop his concentration by even a bit and he has to start over. When he has to expect more than one such a move, only option available to him is to "guess", and thats exactly what we're aiming for - force a guess, provoke either passive reaction, then we can close in and mix up, or an agressive reaction, which can be baited and punished
(well, or you can close in and mixup too
)

4) Does it lead to damage or mixup on hit/counterhit?
Fast, ranged pokes, that are hard to punish are awesome, but if it deals 10 dmg, while through heavily commiting your opponent punishes such a poke for 100+ dmg it might just negate all efforts you've made. Matchup like SF's Dhalsim-Zangief are a good example. Damage is not main, but still important factor. Damaging pokes are important if only to teach your opponent some respect.
If you dont have any damaging pokes ones that leave you in a good frame advantage also work, beggars cant be choosers...

Lets break down some of SCV moves using what we've just learned.

Pyrrha's BB, for example that gets spammed way more often than other characters BB's. Why is that? Isnt BB sort of easy to punish? Normally yes, but Pyrrha is a different story. Her BB 2nd atack has a great horizontal hitbox, which will track any atack made during it, thus you will need to either interrupt between hits (which is quite the feat) or keep on walking until 2nd part of BB ends. Thats commitment. Even if you backdash, the range on 2nd B is impressive and you might be left just out of the range for punishment. Even if you have the range - recovery if also good on this move, you might not just be precise enough.
Range and speed for Pyrrha's BB go without question, however it lacks serious damage on hit, nor does it have good mixup opportunity, but wouldnt it be OP then? In the end, Pyrrha excels in defence and even blocked, BB leave her in an excellent position.

Omega Pyrrhas DNS B is another example of great poke.
This move is a pain to step, has crazy reach, some TC frames, ridiculous damage and all at a speed of i15. Only a chosen few get to punish that on block and even among them it is a matter of range at which they blocked it. Even worse, usually you punish that for slightly more than 15 dmg. Sum it up and you get one of the most ridiculous pokes SCV has ever seen, making your opponent base his entire game around it.

Do not forget, that footsie is not "that particular poke" it is a set of pokes and or moves. Pyrrha 66A might be extremely good on hit, but BB is better on block and has more range. If your opponent love to backdash or forward dash, maybe its just the time for BB spam. You will need to learn to mix your pokes up, depending on the matchup, range and frame advantage. Remember, even the best move can be punished, if expected. Your pokes must not fall to monotonous defence. Even if you have 10 amazing, great pokes they will lose their beauty significantly if all of them are high-atacks. For example Mitsurugi has 6A, 22K, 6B9, b6 and 4A - all really good for their own means. But if your opponent has some good TC-moves you will need to throw in some mid-hitters, before you can go nuts with those babies. b6 might be great on CH but isnt 6B9 way better on block and hit? 6A might look fairly weak damage-wise, but it puts you at +8 on hit (pro tip : BB cant be stepped here) and unlike 6B9 is horizontal, while having alsmost no recovery on wiff. Consider your choice carefully.

Choosing your range
It may seem like a really difficult question, but I belive I have a rather simple solution. Take your longest reaching poke. Substract range of backdash from it. Here it is - your perfect distance. At this range anything your opponent does can be countered somehow. (For 2D-fighters, I believe, the answer would be "The range at which I can punish fireball somehow"). At this distance your opponent will have to commit. Thus, mindgames begin. Footsies begin. It is exactly why its ineffective to spam your longest move at its longest range, which newbies love to. Such a spam is easily defeated by backstep. Your opponent doesnt have to guess. He will know you throw out stuff at max range or rush in blindly, when spam doesnt work. And they have way too much time to see you're coming. But should you advance to the range, where moving back is no longer an escape from jail card and he will have to take a risk. "Will he atack or will he move back? Maybe he thinks I will atack and is getting ready to punish, if so, I can get in. Or maybe I'd rather try to bait him?". The choice of your pokes will determine if he succeds or not.

Of course each character has his own effective distance and the character who has more range will be trying to not let the other one into "comfort zone". This aspect of footsies, I belive, is in a way unique to Soul Calibur. Normally, the games are balanced so that each character has an advantage in his comfort zone, while in enemy comfort zone your chances to guess right might be slim, but your profits from good guess would also be high. For example NM has a good ranged advantage over Patroklos on midscreen and Pat really has to commit to punish NM, but when he does, however, the rewards are high.

Conclusion
For now, thats all I want to share. Footsies are in no way the reason to neglect punishment, frame data, atack flow, wakeups etc. Mastering your character is a key to victory. However footsies is what gets your offence started, unless you're playing against a complete newbie. And of course it will get you out of harm way too. Just think of it, characters spend maybe 10% of game time at point blank range (and its not even a good place to be for some characters) the rest 90% is all about footsies. Hopefully that'll give you some food for the brain and help you improve you're game. If not, well, another article to keep you busy for another 5 mins.
 
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Michael Stabile

Comments

I had a similar realization after EVO 2012: Most of the game is the "neutral game" or "footsies" or whatever you call it. No matter how much you optimize the "attacking-right-away-out-of-hitstun/blockstun/recovery situation," someone with a good neutral game will have a consistent advantage over someone with a worse neutral game. It took getting destroyed by SU, who has the best footsies I've ever seen, too see this.

But I'd argue that you actually can do theory-fighting and go to training to improve your footsies. What I do is trace out the exact range of each character's pokes while keeping in mind their speeds and recoveries, to try and get a three-dimensional picture of their offense: range, step coverage, and speed/total frames. In a wildly asymmetric game like soul calibur, there are holes to exploit everywhere if you just look.

Edit: Oh but the neutral game does heavily test reaction time. And that you need to practice. Because of this online play distorts the neutral game and can limit your ability to get better unless you develop amazing reaction time to compensate.
 
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Is this even possible? I've always had a pretty slow reaction time when compared to most players.
I don't know if you can actually improve your body's reaction time, but you can definitely train to respond faster to things by other means.

One way is to limit options until you only have to react to few things. If it's easier to react to things if you're looking for them, then narrowing them down will improve your reaction time.

Another way is to train yourself to look in the right places. What are you reacting to, if not a change in the image? Focusing on places where the biggest change occurs that telegraphs their choices will allow you more quickly "observe." (reaction can be broken down into observe-orient-decide-act). At the most basic level, this means looking at your opponent and being able to control your character without looking and see everything else with quick glances. More advanced would be looking at their legs to see movement or looking at empty space until something like an attack fills it. Focusing on subtleties to react earlier will definitely make you respond earlier, but it also makes you easier to bait. Choose your twitch-responses wisely.

Lastly, fast execution will improve your response time. If you move your fingers quicker, you'll do things quicker. Hitting buttons depends on the input device. Sorry pad players but if you're not playing claw, you're only hovering over one button at a time. Though stick players will do directions slightly slower. Hitbox users get the best of everything.
 
Not nitpicking at all and not even important, but EWGFs on whiff have been hugely nerfed in TTT2 :D

Thanks for the article, really awesome theory. You get to learn this by experience in most cases, but this is a really good way of translating it into words.
 
I became aware of footies at SC4, & I like SC5's QS's frames that prevents immediate 88 or 22 moves. It kinda reinforces footing in SC5, which IMO is whole art of "DANCING" in SC games, which are more about RANGE than other fighting games.

Range > Frames.

Back in SC2 days, you can tell that not even the "pro" players had that much of Range in mind.
My gained practice of footies at SC4 & SC5 are naturally applied at SC2 now, & it was the footies perspective play that has me pumped the most into playing SC2Online BUT... everyone knows how that story with SC2Online is currently going. NO ROOMS OR REMATCH, NAAMMMCOOOO!!! >_<
 
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Is this even possible? I've always had a pretty slow reaction time when compared to most players.
for me the Recording tool in practice mode is good for develop better reaction times....Simply, just record 3 moves or strings, in the 3 diferent record slots, and then set up your selected dummy to:
1st action : Replay random
2nd action : Block all...
...and just try, to react to diferent moves like fast mids/ fast lows, and try to punish with the best option you have, then when you have a real fight you will be doing the punish on reaction, just try ;)