Understanding Frame Animation


[11] Champion
I know there's a few things on reading frames, but a lot of players are still having issues understanding it or why a character has advantage. This will be an in-depth look at what is actually occurring. This is intended for ALL fighting games, but keep in mind there might be slight difference due to programming.

What is a Frame
A frame is a single instance of animation. Most games run at either 30 or 60 Frames per Second or FPS. Soul Calibur runs at 60fps. Older games tend to run at 30fps

The Different Stages of an Animation


(These frames are not accurate to SF3, they are for example only. This is intended for a 30fps game)

Every move has 4 key steps applied to the character doing the move:
  • Start Up/Impact - The number of frames it takes from the moment of input of the move to the earliest moment it can connect to an opponent.
  • Active - The number of frames where the move's is a threat (or producing some various effect)
  • Recovery - The end of an animation AFTER the your character has stopped the moves event and is returning to neutral
  • Neutral - When the character is not locked in ANY animation.
The opponent gets locked into 3 kinds of stun on impact of the move:
  • Block Stun - Your opponent is stuck in a blocking animation from blocking
  • Hit Stun - Your opponent is stuck in a reeling back animation from being hit
  • Counter Hit Stun - Your opponent is stuck in a reeling back animation from being interrupted (often giving more frames or a new hit stun animation)
(There can be other situational types through varies games and some omit counter hit)

In the above animation you see Ryu start his punch for 2 frames, this is the start up. At frame 2 there is a hit box produced and lasts until frame 3, this is the active frames. You then start to recover for 2 frames and can't do any other animations until frame 6. But the opponent is still stuck in a hit stun animation for 4 frames after you finished recovering. This means you can hit them with any attack that has a start up of 4 or less and they can't stop it. If you were to whiff this move, the opponent has the entire duration of the attack to punish, assuming they don't run into the hitbox during the active frames.

  • Punishing - Attacking an opponent when they are stuck in animation frames or using a scenario specific counter such as using an attack that is invincible to the projectile that was just thrown out or a counter attack that absorbs their hit and retaliates. Unless they can cancel the recovery somehow, your attack will be guaranteed.
Playing with Active Frames
During this period the opponent can collide with the hit box during any of those frames. The stun will happen on the NEXT frame of the collision and will ignore the hit box, meaning if you hit them at the frame 2, they will start the stun on frame 3 even if the hit box on frame 3 is still hitting them (so it wont restart the stun and have it occur at frame 4). This allows you to control when the stun starts with some tricks. If you hit them at the earliest active frame you will achieve the stated advantage, but if you find a way to hit with the later active frame first (frame 3 in this case) you can gain 1 more frame of advantage because the stun wont start till frame 4! You can do this with a meaty hit, tip range, early attack, or some other exploits.

  • Meaty Hit - Timing an attack when the opponent is invincible, during wake up or some other event in some games, so that they become available for being hit at the later frames of the active frames.
  • Tip Range - Some attacks have a moving hit box, such as a lunging attack, so the attack can be started early and wont connect until you've moved into the opponent, allowing active frames to pass.
  • Early Attack - If the opponent is moving toward you, you can throw out the attack early and they will run into the hit box later into it's animation.
Projectile and Misc Frame Data
Often projectiles and similar effects aren't given displayed active frames, just Start Up, Recovery and Advantage. This is because a projectile acts independently and can collide in many ways and in some cases hit far after the animation has finished. Data always applies to the very earliest that projectile can hit and doesn't display the advantage if you had completed the recovery before it hit. So to find the advantage of a projectile we would do this formula:

Example Move:
Start Up = 5
Recovery = 15
Advantage = -1

Stun (?) = Advantage (-1) + Recovery (15)
? = -1 + 15
? = 14
Stun = 14 frames!

So some very basic math there. With this we now know that the projectile does 14 frames of stun to an opponent, giving plenty of time to combo IF the projectile strikes after we finished recovering. But if we hit them point blank, it will hit them while we're still recovering and we'll be at disadvantage on hit!

Do not confuse this with beam-type projectiles. Beams often hold you in an animation the entire duration of the projectile on screen. You have to think of them like a full screen punch because your character is acting in unison with it on screen. If you get hit producing a beam, it stops, but in most cases being hit with a projectile on screen doesn't stop it from staying on screen.

Canceling Frames
In many games there are ways to cancel moves into new animations. Cancelling allows you to stop a move earlier than it's full animation. With this you can often bypass frames and begin a new attack with a much larger frame advantage than what's posted. This can be done in what is called strings, magic series, and jump/unjump.

  • Strings - These are pre-assigned combo sequences. In Soul Calibur a simple BB is a string. When you hit the second B, you interrupt the first B during it's recovery frames and start a new move. Because you are canceling the frames so early you are given a lot more frames to work with while your enemy is in a stun and the second part of the BB has ample time to finish it's start up.
  • Magic Series - A magic series is often a games rules of what hierarchy of cancels can take place. In Street Fighter, you can do any normal attack, cancel after it hits with a command attack, then a special, then a super. You can not go the other way. Every game has a different rule set, such as MvC3 that allows you to cancel normals from weakest to strongest, then commands, then specials, then hyper, then delayed hypers. There can also be other methods such as Focus Attacks in Street Fighter 4 that allow you to cancel many grounded moves into a Focus attack. Sometimes the cancels can be done before the Start Up even finishes, allowing for shenanigans, and other times there may be a lock on when you can cancel. Soul Calibur does not use a Magic Series.
  • Jump/Unjump - Often games have some move's that are can be cancelled early by jumping. But, a more universal concept is doing a jumping attack and then landing. In a lot of games and circumstances when landing from a jumping attack, it cancels the attack immediately. This gives a LOT of room to play with frames and is often why combos sometimes require you hit very low to the ground in order to connect the next attack on the ground.
Forming Strategies with Frame Data
So this can all be a lot to take in but you don't need to memorize everything in order to play high level, but you need to understand why things happen. When you understand what's occurring you can begin to form flow charts and counters to specific scenarios.

Generally you want to begin giving every move a purpose. It's crucial to know what your fastest attack is, what your fastest Bread and Butter starter is, what moves are too unsafe to be thrown about randomly, and moves that gain advantage. I can look at a move in the Soul Calibur Wiki that has a Start Up of 14, and a Block Disadvantage of -10 and a move that is Start Up 15 and a Block Disadvantage of -2. While I generally want faster moves, we may want to use the i15 instead because it has better frames on block, only in cases where I specifically need 14 frames that I may go with that first move instead. Determine if the move is intended to fish for damage, MUST hit to be viable, or is meant to be blocked (such as moves that give you advantage on block).

  • Frame Traps - Are a follow up attack after an opponent blocks where it opens a window for the opponent to return to NEUTRAL and ATTACK, but not enough frames for their quickest attack's active frames to come out before your follow up move can. An example would be if your character quickest move is i12 and there's is i10. You then attack with a move that is +1 on block. After block you both try to respond with your quickest attack and your active frames start 1 frame earlier, counter hitting the opponent. Frames traps can be beaten sometimes by unique properties such as invincibility or evasion that start up sooner than the active frames. In some cases frame traps can be created even at disadvantage so long as you have a much quicker attack that can't be beat out before it's active frames on follow up.
  • Block Strings - A block string is different in the sense your opponent does not have enough time to do anything to prevent the following series of attacks after block and must wait it out. There's many uses for this depending on the game. For some games you may be dealing chip damage, meter gain, guard crushing, etc... In other instances where there's not a direct gain it can be used to maintain control and give you room to mix things up such as dropping a known block string early and baiting an attack or tick throw or etc...
  • Jailing - Jailing is form of block string with one key aspect, the opponent, once blocking, cannot leave block until the series of attacks ends. In other words even if you let go of block you would be stuck in that block animation until you recovered from the animation back to neutral. Jailing also means the opponent can't switch from a crouching block to a standing block, meaning an unsafe series where the 2nd hit is duckable can be validated by the 1st hit being blocked standing so they can't escape blocking the high
With understanding this you can begin to test in battle and learn if you haven't memorized the opponents frames (very likely!). In Soul Calibur 90% of the time moves pass advantage to the opponent blocking so it's instinct to begin attacking next. If you are getting interrupted you can assume you either fell for a frame trap or they made a gamble and used a quick attack to beat out a your midspeed attack. You can go back to that scenario and try your fastest possible attack and see if it wins. If it does keep using that to interrupt them, if it doesn't try to think of defensive ways to get around it. You may have to evade your way out of a scenario or some other tactic, attacking may not be an option till your out of the scenario.

You can also use this data to come up with ways to make unsafe attacks viable. In MvC3 Taskmaster's back+Heavy (or b.H) is very unsafe on block, but because of the game's Magic Series you can cancel this command attack into a special. So with him you can decide to cancel into his arrows, this not only makes it impossible to punish because you cancelled the recovery frames, but you've now forced them to take chip from the arrows AND gain advantage. Now to further complicate it, if your opponent expects this obvious flow charted strategy you can exploit their hesitance for the arrows and mix it up with his attack Sword Master that acts as an unblockable string after they block the strike. So for anyone thinking frame data made the game pure flow charts, no, it actually opens up opportunities by being unpredictable in predictable scenarios with advanced players, thus is Yomi!

I'll add more later. PLEASE correct me if any of this is even slightly incorrect.


[11] Champion
Good job on the explanation IFB. The visual aid was well done and I hope people better understand what "frames" mean from here on.


[12] Conqueror
This is actually an amazing reference to show people. Explaining frame advantage even to people who are willing to listen is incredibly difficult. I'm not even sure how to explain it without using examples. I think I can usually get people to understand if I take them to burger king with Cass, but it's hard to tell when they keep getting hit by it.


[11] Champion
Yeah it took me quite awhile to come up with this, any suggestions on areas you may feel need more clearing up or in need of more visuals please tell me. I'm really dedicated to educating newer players on advanced concepts while giving them a reasonable learning curve.


[10] Knight
Maybe put in a short description about "jailing" and the how guarding/GI work within the frame data context? It's not necessary, but it's related enough that you could talk about it if you wanted to.


[11] Champion
By jailing do you mean lockdown pressure? I hadn't come across that terminology till recently and assumed by context it was the same. Sure I can explain it if I just know the meaning of the term specifically.


[10] Knight
Well for example some strings will allow you enough time to GI in between hits on block, or duck a high which comes later in a string, but others won't. The latter would be "jailing" at least as I've heard it used. In a 2d game it isn't uncommon for a move to be + so much on block that a quick follow-up will force you to guard also, not even allowing a DP in. It's essentially(I think) the situation where an active hitbox comes into contact with a character already in block stun.


[11] Champion
Ok that's a simple concept, never heard the term for it. I'll explain block stun further. It'll also give me a chance to explain how you can negate a large amount of stun with a new hit that produces less as the last one always takes presidence. Good suggestion


i have to disagree with your definition of frame trap. what you use as an example; amy 4b+k > 6bb is what i always thought of as simply "getting beat by a faster move".

i may be wrong here, but i always defined a frame trap as a move that leaves you at advantage, so if your opponent does the faster move which should work from neutral on block...it doesn't work because they are at -.

i'd use amy 1ka or cassy bk as examples of frame traps: moves on block that make the following move come out in less frames that it would normally.

other than that i like it.


[11] Champion
I define it as a gap of frames your opponent cannot beat you out on with any options, thus they are trapped by the frames. They are allowed to recover from stun, but have no offensive measure that can be taken with consideration to frames solely (so it ignores evasion properties such as invincibility, crouching, etc...). So the Amy scenario works in matchups where a character does not have an i11 or i12, but not in matchups where they do have an option. I'll clear that up though as it's misleading and usually is a scenario where you have advantage.

I'm taking notes and I'll do a proper rewrite later (hopefully i get internet back on at home today)


Lay still now
I think, in a nutshell, getting beat by a faster move is just another form of frame trap. Most people define frame trap as a move that leaves you at frame advantage probably because there are only handful of moves as fast as Amy's 6BB that can be thrown out as if you were at advantage.

Anything that leaves her at -1~2 on either hit or block will act as advantage against characters that don't have access to moves fast enough to interrupt 6BB.


[10] Knight
A frame trap is just when it is ambiguous how much of an advantage you actually have. For example, Cassandra's B,K in SC2 was neutral on block, but left the opponent crouching, allowing 2A to beat most WS attacks. It is just getting hit by a faster move, but it's a trap because you think you are at a greater advantage than you actually are.


[12] Conqueror
This is really good. This kind of stuff is basic knowledge for SF players (and probably other 2D games) but loads of Soul players simply don't know this stuff. Maybe this can get stickied at the top of the Strategy section?

The part about active frames is excellent, but maybe you could reword it with more basic terminology? I have a feeling the only people who'll understand your explanations of meaty and tip range etc. will be those who already knew about it.

About frame traps, again it might be good to state it more simply. E.g. In many fighting games, basic defense is about blocking a series of your opponent's attacks until you have an opening to fight back. Usually you will be able to fight back once an opponent's attack or series of quick attacks has ended (which can be explained by the concepts of frame advantage and disadvantage, as you have shown, because the recovery frames of most moves or strings will exceed the blockstun frames). A 'frame trap' is a term for a move that appears to give the opponent an opening to attack after blocking, but in fact leaves them at disadvantage because of the low recovery frames.

The examples above of frame traps at disadvantage (using fast moves like Amy 6BB) are also true, and show how the frame trap subject could be covered in some depth.

I also think you should include something about punishing. I.e. long recovery and relatively short blockstun frames. I think it's one of the most important concepts related to frame data for a player trying to enter the competitive scene. You could also explain how combos work as it's like punishing in reverse, i.e. long hitstun and relatively short receovery. With active frames / hitstun / blockstun / frametrap / punishment / combos I think that covers all the most important parts of understanding what frame data actually means.

Good work IFB, and a good follow up to your anti-Scrub guides!


[11] Champion
Will do! I'm debating doing a theory fighting series that explains key mechanics in fighters such as pokes, yomi, etc... sort of a Sirlin guide of my own take (even though I'm aware my theory fighting is better than my actual fighting >_<)


[09] Warrior
This is some good basic info that teaches people how to better understand fighting games. I think this should get stickied somewhere...starting with your sig. LoL


[11] Champion
Added a little bit more and cleared up what a frame trap is. A frame trap is only characterized by allowing the opponent to return to neutral and start a new attack, but not have the active frame kick in before yours can. So ambiguity and advantage are not needed but usually occur passively. As for jailing I put an explanation on block strings which i assume are the same thing and a more popular term.


[11] Champion
Do to the success of this I'll be awaiting SC5 and becoming more active in the community again. I intend on doing 2 tutorial article series: Scrub Tactics (witty and basics summaries) and Theory Fighter (technical like this).

Any suggestions? I feel the animation helped explain a lot so I will try to do more visual layouts. I wish I could do Flash animations as opposed to low quality gifs, but I'm not sure people would want to be redirected from the site to view it since they can't be run here.

I'll be adding a lil bit more to this later (Kara cancels, other types of active frames and effects, etc...)