Hate Speech: In Praise of Cheapness

I wrote a little while ago about some big-picture stuff regarding throws, and the responses to that column got me thinking about some of the other things that really piss people off, like ring outs, time outs, backdashing, turtling, spamming the same moves over and over, and so on.

As I thought about these things, I got all tingly inside. Human misery is such sweet, sweet nectar, after all. Of course, you don’t need to be a soulless minion of evil to appreciate the finer points of playing dirty. In fact, it’s something to which we should all aspire.

Cheap. Dirty. Filthy. Grimy. We’ve all heard these words, we’ve all been accused of it, and we’ve all spewed that crap at least a time or two when we’ve been on the receiving end of an amazingly brutal ass-kicking. If the chorus of public opinion is to be believed, cheap tactics are low art. They reduce an otherwise vibrant and freewheeling game experience to one of brutal, minor absolutes, and they undermine both the better angels of our nature and the purity of our tactics. These unfair strategies should be avoided at all costs, it would seem. Indulge me for a moment, though, and let me ask you this: What if I told you that cheap is a positive descriptor?

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What if I told you I used to be Cowboy Curtis?

Players, particularly those newer to the competitive scene, need to wrap their heads around this idea. While it may come as no surprise to many, I’ve personally seen enough salt lately from both old and new faces that it’s worth the reminder.

Whose Rules Are We Playing By, Anyway?

We’ll get into some of the obvious benefits of cheapness later, but for now I’d like to clarify the term by advancing a theory of why we find certain things cheap. Cheap doesn’t mean broken or invincible (see: degenerate strategies), but rather something that’s often very powerful or at least difficult to deal with, and almost always frustrating as a result. Often enough, this frustration comes down to how we interpret rules*.

*Before going on, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention that David Sirlin has previously addressed this, at least in passing, in Playing to Win. It’s highly generalized, and therefore quite applicable to a number of games. I recommend everyone who’s interested check it out here. Of course, if you think I get long-winded about things, be warned . . .

We all approach games with certain implicit assumptions about the way they ought to work: Move X should beat move Y because it looks fast, throws should be escapable with one input because that’s how they function in some other games, we should try to use as many different moves as possible because so many moves exist, one ill-timed duck shouldn’t cost me a round or match just because my back was to an edge, and so on. Unfortunately, words like “ought” and “should” are incredibly dangerous when applied in this manner because they often cause our expectations to shatter against the brute realities of a game’s actual rules, by which I mean the mechanics of what’s hard-coded as allowable within the game’s engine.

The latter, you see, is what matters. We want to play at a high level, and we want to win. The best way to improve our chances is adhere ruthlessly to the notion that all’s fair. It’s all about looking at all the options before you, discarding that which is unnecessary, and keeping what’s useful.

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Sound familiar?

Leaning hard on the same dirty tricks time and again isn’t necessarily brainless, nor is it a sign of disrespect toward one’s opponent. Instead, it can serve as a powerful, nuanced strategic baseline in a game like SCV.

Great Moments in SOULCALIBUR Cheapness

In addition to particular moves and strings which are infuriatingly difficult to handle, the very system of SOULCALIBUR V is a veritable minefield of stuff that will get people downright heated. In addition to guess-escape throws, which I’ve already handled, we’re left to contend with things like ring outs, guard breaks, bizarrely tracking verticals, round timers, and the like. While none of these are exclusive to our game, this is certainly a lot to process all at once, and any individual bit of it can contribute to a loss that somehow feels less than deserved.

Picture this:

It’s a crucial fifth round of a third game, and your tournament life is on the line. The winner of this round takes the set and advances, while the loser gets an unceremonious trip home. You’re no stranger to this sort of pressure, though, so you begin picking apart your opponent with calm and precision. You aren’t working on a perfect or anything, but the BB you ate early on and the chip you took from breaking a predictable throw hardly compare to the other guy’s predicament—he’s one wrong guess away from death. Smelling proverbial blood in the water (and the nerd glory which will surely accompany your victory), you press the attack. You swing wildly, but not without purpose; he defends well, all things considered, but he’s on his heels and your flurry of offense allows no opportunity for reprisal. His gauge is blinking, his health is low, and you launch into a crushing overhead smash which, hit or block, will spell his doom . . . and in that split second your opponent drifts to the side, gives you the gentlest of nudges, and sends you flying off of the ring edge and into oblivion.

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Somehow searching for "ring out" produced all sorts of anime weirdness. What the hell, Internet? What the hell?

Well, that sucked, didn’t it? You know you should have won the match, by all rights. You made excellent choices throughout the round, and it’s acutely galling to have all of that erased by one momentary lapse on your part. Ring-outs are so cheap! Consider the larger issue, however. As the round unfolded and both you and your opponent came closer and closer to the ring edge, your relative danger increased exponentially. If your opponent was aware of this fact, all of a sudden those brilliant reads and that suffocating offense of yours look a little less overwhelming and a little more like you were getting suckered, which was probably the case*.

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*Deception is immensely important in SOULCALIBUR—learn it.

Just as importantly, learn to watch out for that sort of tactic (or anything which might set off your cheapness alarm, for that matter), and make a real effort to inoculate yourself against it. However tempting it may be to get angry at the game for allowing something or another player who abuses it, that anger doesn’t help you improve on its own, and it can often become an obstacle to getting better if left unchecked.

Stop Worrying and Love the Dirt

Ultimately, it’s incumbent upon everyone to embrace the hell out of dirty play. However strong or unfair something seems, however much rage it might inspire, it’s beatable (in a good game, at least). Returning to our earlier example, what if you had realized that your opponent was baiting you into playing with fire near the ring edge? How could you have used that information to undermine him? At the most basic level, all you really needed to do was back off. Your life lead was significant, so eventually the inexorable march of the round timer would have forced your opponent to abandon the edge and fight you at a ring-location of your choosing.

Even if you had no intention of parking yourself mid-ring and waiting, however, you probably still had options which would have forced your opponent to amend his plans. Experimentation and smart practice, as always, are the real keys. Tactics and counter-tactics like that directly contribute to the complexity of the game environment. Learn to be cheap and learn how to counter cheapness, and notice the myriad ways in which you’re forced to improve as a player while the overall game experience gets richer for it.

Homework:
1. Make it a point to check yourself the next time something in the game sets off your seething gamer-rage. Shut down your frustration response, hit the lab, and see what you can come up with.

2. While you’re in the lab, find at least one exquisitely dirty move/mixup/tactic with your favorite character, then come tell us about it.

3. Hop online and, just for fun, find a room that explicitly bans stuff like throws/ring outs/certain characters in its title. Join the room and use the banned stuff until they kick you. Spread hate!
 

Comments

I replaced 'cheap' for 'dirty' in my own vocabulary a while ago. Its nice because it allows me to upgrade it to 'filthy' when I'm feeling particularly impressed with how enraging a tactic is.
 
I whole heartedly agree with Homework #3. I can sleep good at night knowing I Space Jammed someone in a "No Throwing/Ring Out" room.

But yes, cheapness in a solid game such as this shouldn't be thrown around so frustratingly.

Finally, Laurence Fishburne as Furious from Boyz n the Hood vs. Laurence Fishburne as Cowboy Curtis.
 
1. Make it a point to check yourself the next time something in the game sets off your seething gamer-rage. Shut down your frustration response, hit the lab, and see what you can come up with.
There is absolutely no answer to Ω being a stupid dumb whore. None whatsoever.

2. While you’re in the lab, find at least one exquisitely dirty move/mixup/tactic with your favorite character, then come tell us about it.
I did this, this, and this recently, and I plan to continue until the entire movelist is done, and then do it for Raphael, too. If you think 195 damage combos that incorporate Siegfried 2KKKKK aren't dirty, then I don't know what is anymore.

3. Hop online and, just for fun, find a room that explicitly bans stuff like throws/ring outs/certain characters in its title. Join the room and use the banned stuff until they kick you. Spread hate!
I can usually break at least ten rules at once by picking Siegfried and spamming 3(B) ~ SCH B.
 
Mitsu 1B 11BA mixup is really underappreciated I feel considering how much attention people pay to the other stuff - I've won entire matches with only throws, 2A, 1B, 11BA CH combos from the 2nd hit, lol.
4B? What is that? XD
 
1. When ever I do this, magically, I'm not so mad anymore. I'm actually quite happy. But then again. let's not for get the adage of "ignorance is bliss".

2. I find that many are upset by Sieg 2B+G, it must be who I'm playing because even a retarded monkey knows to B that shit. And don't get me started on how many love letters I get for 1B. Seriously. Thirdly, let's bitch about how cheap 3B is on wake up... Wait. I honestly don't think these tactics are as deliciously devious as some believe, but meh. wtf do I know?

3. I love going into these rooms. Especially when they wear mics. I've never been called the "N-word" before! I'm a G, guize!
and to clarify: I'm a "high class" AND "cheap" whore.
Basically, I'm a pro.
 
Lol Ring Out!! is a hentai game about women wrestling based around sex attacks.

Also known as Lesbian Wrestling.

You were also able to play it for free on Newgrounds for a LONG TIME, lol Newgrounds.
 
I purposely let Seigfried/Nightmare players get me to the edge and watch as the try to throw me out with A+G/B+G or Seigfrieds 1B then kill them with a CE when I get tired of watching them try.

I have received the most hate mail from these character's players calling me cheap or spamming when they are trying as hard as they can to throw me out the ring.

Like Maxi says "Good Times"
 
Dirty/Ultimate Pat mixup:
1 - use 1K (low) and 4K (mid) (both track sidestep, both are quick, both are + on hit)
2 - when the opponent is conditioned to backstep out of the mixup, 66B them (the + after a successful hit will almost guarantee a successful 66B due to the backstep nerf).
3 - watch them writhe in pain
 
Dirty/Ultimate Pat mixup:
1 - use 1K (low) and 4K (mid) (both track sidestep, both are quick, both are + on hit)
2 - when the opponent is conditioned to backstep out of the mixup, 66B them (the + after a successful hit will almost guarantee a successful 66B due to the backstep nerf).
3 - watch them writhe in pain
No "almost" about it if you buffer correctly. Bonus cheese: 66B has pseudo-tracking, especially online. You ankle kick somebody and basically put them in a mash-or-block-or-die scenario. Pat's a whore.
 
No "almost" about it if you buffer correctly. Bonus cheese: 66B has pseudo-tracking, especially online. You ankle kick somebody and basically put them in a mash-or-block-or-die scenario. Pat's a whore.
oh god that move is so obnoxious. Oh and I like how you basically described how I lost to Xeph at NCR in one of your examples. That wasn't cheap, it was just bullshit. The game switched our positions for seemingly no reason, a hard to reproduce occurrence that didn't appear to be intended.

Obviously I gotta hand it to Xeph for his excellent Pat and his ability to punish my passivity with side-throws and 66B. But that ending hurt :(
 
@Signia - ^I agree about the weird positioning and RO. That shouldn't have happened.
It must be because of the patch which made sure that 66B 66B+K always connects, so the game will do what it can (including random sliding on the ground/moving in the air during 66B+K) to make sure the combo doesn't drop.