The 2009 edition of the biggest annual fighting game tournament in the US is now over. Evolution featured six main fighting games this year, though I'll mostly talk about Street Fighter HD Remix, and quick notes about a couple other games at the end.
Street Fighter HD Remix Team Tournament
Let's start with the team tournament. After reading hundreds and hundreds of posts about how Fei Long is bad, written by people who don't know the first thing what they are talking about, I picked Fei Long in the team tournament. I beat entire teams by myself, back to back. I beat the main defensive Honda (Thelo) and the main offensive Honda (EA Megaman). Thelo went on to get 5th in the singles tournament and EA Megaman already got 3rd at the Devestation tournament in Arizona. I actually have dozens of casual matches recorded of my Fei Long versus both their Hondas and I'll link to them soon so you can see how to win that match. After all that, I asked them if they thought Honda even had *advantage* in that match and EA Megaman said "I don't know anymore" while Thelo just said "This match isn't supposed to be so hard, I don't get it."
Anyway, I also beat Ryan Heart of Tekken fame, Damdai's Ken, Nohoho's Blanka, and more. In fact, I would have won the entire team tournament were it not for losing to Chun Li (I think it was Chris Doyle?). I had him to a sliver of life, baited his jump correctly, then failed to execute my reversal super. I should have just gone for flame kick, but oh well, that was the difference between us winning the tournament and getting 2nd. My teammates lost to him too. Antonio (Blanka, Bluetallcans on xbla) and famous Zangief player Kuni were great, but didn't pull it off that time.
In an ironic footnote, NKI, who has loudly complained how terrible Chun Li is, lost to Chun Li in the team tournament while playing as Bison (dictator). Though I beat like a dozen people myself in that tournament, one of the only two to beat me was Chun Li. NKI went on to lose the semifianls the next day as Dictator as well. NKI Strategy: lose with Dictator while others win with Chun Li? (Sorry NKI, just teasing you, I'm kidding.) I told Caesar, Chun Li player from Southern California: "If Chun Li is the worst character in the game (she isn't, right?), then she is the most powerful worst character ever in a fighting game." Caeser laughed and said "she seems ok to me."
Main SF HD Remix Tournament
Since I beat just about everyone the day before with Fei Long, hey, why not keep going. I picked Fei Long against almost every opponent, except when I had to counter Balrog with Cammy (yeah that's not a typo) and BruceAskew, but we'll get to that.
First up I played a T.Hawk player who I barely beat. I could not even execute Rekka punches at all for some reason. After the match, I asked to test the equipment and verified that Rekka punches really weren't coming out. I don't even mean the series of 3 punches, I just mean doing one in the first place--just a qcf+p motion. I could get it maybe 20%. Something was wrong. Then I switched sticks and did the test again on the same PS3. The new stick was SweetJohnnyV's and it was also a Madcatz TE stick, which should be identical. This time I could do Rekka punches 100%, a dramatic difference. Maybe the first stick was just broken? I assumed so and forgot about that whole thing until later....
I then won more matches with Fei Long and had one match scheduled on the big screen. It was a honda player, so I planned to counterpick with Fei Long. That's right haters, I said that. Anyway, I did not end up playing that match on the big screen. I read about this in several different forum posts and their absurd rhetoric makes my cry for humanity. The correct thing to say was "we are not sure why Sirlin didn't play that one on the big screen." Instead, bad people who give our race a bad name filled in this event with manufactured "facts" and said that I "refused to play" the match for various bullshit reasons. Each and every one of you should be ashamed of yourselves. Why make statement when you don't know what you're talking about? (Par for the course in any Fei Long thread, by the way, burn.)
What actually happened is this, and it's pretty boring and non-drama. Daigo complained that the big screen setup had lag. Daigo had lost a match there earlier, by the way, for some reason picking Guile twice against some Vega. Anyway, Kuni *emphatically* complained his match had lag also. He asked me to get the staff to stop running matches and test it, so we did. I pressed fierce about 3 times with Fei Long and it clearly had lag. Kuni laughed, asking that is all the test I need? I said "you saw me play against those Honda's right? I have done about 5,000 stand fierces in the last two days, I know what they are supposed to look like." To be safe, I did more tests for a couple minutes. It had lag. Kuni agreed. I heard that others who tested it agreed too. I heard exactly zero people who tested it and said it's ok. Maybe someone did say that, but I wasn't aware of anyone saying that, only the overwhelming evidence that it was laggy. Tournament director Tom Cannon asked if I wanted to play on that setup or on one of the TVs used in the pools. He said he didn't care, they just need to know and they'd try to address the problem later. Kuni shook his head at me as if to say I would be insane to play on that TV, given there are like 20 known lagless setups just a few feet away. I said I'd play in the pools. I defeated Mike Lai's honda there, and the judge for that pool recorded it on his shaky cam. Maybe you'll see it on youtube soon.
The Evolution staff later replaced the TV used for the big screen matches and several of us tested it, including me, Choi, and NKI. We all thought the new setup did not have lag, so I'm glad this problem was addressed.
Anyway, I'm guessing most of you who watched the web stream only saw two of my matches, and they were unfortunately not very representative. The first was against BruceAskew, who plays DeeJay. Bruce is a top player on XboxLive and incredibly strong at DeeJay. He is the real deal. Even after all my wins with Fei Long over the last two days, I just didn't think it was a good idea versus his DeeJay. I have experience against Afrolegend's DeeJay in ST tournaments when I played as Vega, so I thought that was the best choice here. In HD Remix, DeeJay only improved (slightly) while Vega only got worse (slightly), but still the match is similar. The problem with that match is that it requires incredibly precise timing on Vega's part to hit DeeJay's moves. If you just stumble into it, DeeJay will win. So every damn poke of every round, I have to fully concentrate to do it exactly perfectly timed. I won, and afterwards just lied down on the floor, kind of shaking. That took way more out of me than any other match of the entire tournament.
I qualified for top 8 in winners at this point. The other 3 winners-side qualifiers were John Choi, Afrolegends, and Thelo. Note that Thelo is a sirlin.net regular, so actually 50% of the winner's side of the top 8 was sirlin.net players. The next day, I was to play Choi while Thelo was to play afrolegends.
In previous years, I thought I was really hurt by having to play "cold" in the finals. As a player, I much prefer to play final 8 right after semifinals. As a spectator and tournament organizer, of course I understand and want the finals on a separate day. Anyway, this time I played a couple hours of warmup games in a hotel room using EA Megaman's stick. You'll see why I mention this in a minute.
On stage, I faced Choi. Of course he would play Ryu, and I had a lot of characters I might reasonably pick against him. For example, Vega is the "safe" choice because I have played him in that match a lot in tournaments before, and it's hardly different in HD Remix than in ST. We both know the match and we both know what the other player will do. But I thought it was just smarter to pick some match where something was different that Choi might not be experienced against. Choi is better than me so playing it straight is probably not my best bet. The better player should play it safe and the weaker player should try to make an educated gamble.
So I tried Fei Long. I have beat numerous Ryus, but of course John Choi's is on another level entirely. I won one game, but lost the set 2-1. Now, let me clearly state that Choi is a champion, Choi is a better player than me, Choi deserves his place (he went on to get 2nd). But, I don't feel that match was representative. I actually think some sort of ps3 bug was going on that hurt me pretty badly. I started most rounds with fierce rekka punch, except it came out 0 times. Every single attempt came out as low fierce. During that match, many rekka punches (even rekka x 1, I mean) did not come out and I just got fierce. But *sometimes* it did come out. Rekka x 3 seemed almost impossible. It felt just like that very first match against that T.Hawk player where I thought the stick was broken. But this time, I know there was no problem with the stick. I just played with it for hours right before the finals (though it was on a different ps3...).
Now, I have bad execution, I know that. It's not like "I missed a combo therefore some equipment has failed." Not at all. But I don't even mean combos here, I just mean a basic ability to do moves at all. I've started hundreds of matches with a Rekka punch, and I don't recall ever missing it once. It's just a fireball motion. I wasn't nervous, I wasn't thrown off by ps3 speeds being different (they are, it seems, though with 2 days of practice on ps3, I never had this problem at all except here and in that t.hawk match, first round.) If this problem is real, and I don't know if it is, it's pretty insidious. Checking buttons by doing normal moves worked fine in both cases and moving my character worked fine. It's only special moves that didn't.
Later, I realized something else. I heard this second-hand, but from two different people so I'll assume I'm reporting it correctly. Apparently Watson and Choi did some test of Ryu vs. Ryu. Ryu1 knocks down Ryu2. Ryu1 then does meaty fierce as Ryu2 gets up. Ryu2 attempts to reversal dp. Apparently Choi claimed (and I heard this second-hand, so sorry if I'm getting this wrong) that he could not reversal dp in that situation at all. Literally zero times out of many, many tries. I initially wrote this off as ridiculous because of course you can reversal that, I have done it plenty of times myself...on Xbox360. But it sounds suspiciously like the "specials moves don't come out sometimes" problem. Perhpas some sticks with some PS3s have this problem? Perhaps there is some randomness and it's hard to tell when it will occur? Perhaps it's not real at all? I don't know, but I don't trust PS3 anymore in this game. We already know the confirmed button config problem on PS3 (slowed the HD Remix team tournament by hours probably). And PS3 online play is worse, so it's bad to practice on during the year. Also the speed seems different. So Evolution should really, really switch to Xbox 360 next year for HD Remix, MvC2, and basically everything it can.
Back to Sirlin vs. Choi. Not much to say here, really. I did my best. I had a lot of trouble even doing special moves at all. I barely got the mixup going like once, and barely won a game. Choi won the set.
My next match was against Graham Wolfe. He played Balrog and I countered with Cammy. She's pretty good at rushing down, so it's not too hard to stick to Balrog and keep the pressure up. I think my controls actually were working properly this time (I think??), but I was so paranoid about them not working that I think I let it get to me a little. Before we started, I requested to try something, and I did rekka punch x 3, twice in a row so it did appear to be working fine. Anyway, when I beat Graham the first game, I saw by his expression that he probably thought, "Cute trick, let's see that again." He stuck to Balrog and won. I switched to Bison. I'm pretty confident in that match, but I played kind of terribly and got hit by his low roundhouse for no good reason a few times. Graham won and I got 5th.
Thelo, newschool Honda player, also got 5th. He defeated Jason Cole along the way (wow), and on finals day had his first match against Afrolegends. I told Thelo there is no secret here. Afrolegends knows both Balrog and DeeJay versus Honda like the back of his hand. He is world-class. The only thing you can do is stick to fundamentals and hope he makes a mistake. Thelo nodded, saying that in this game, a mistake can easily lead to a round loss. I think he understood the right attitude to have when you are at disadvantage: just play anyway and don't give up.
There were rounds where I thought "from this point on in the round, Thelo's honda will not deal any more damage because he's kept out." But somehow, he would manage to get into a position to do hundred hands (blocked), then threaten with buttslam and still be in the match. It was close round after close round, but Afrolegends did win.
This was Afrolegend's year, by the way. For like 6 months now, I haven been saying that he would win (and Choi would likely get 2nd), and it did happen. Afrolegends is not as old school as some of us, but he is a new champion and clearly a class act. I've actually never been beat so badly in casual play by anyone ever before him, so that was my first clue. He did not lose one single game the entire tournament until the Grand Finals, where I think Choi won 2 games, but Afrolegends still won the tournament. Wow. He used Balrog the whole time (I think?) except against thelo's Honda, where he used DeeJay. I know we consider Balrog top, but his DeeJay is as good or better than his Balrog, if you ask me, so maybe we'll see him win next year's Evolution with DeeJay.
In this year's top 8, a Fei Long won a game and a Cammy won a game (both me). Neither has ever happened before in top 8, to my knowledge. Honda made it. We also saw a Zangief (Damdai's counter to Balrog). Of the 16 characters, we actually saw 10 in the final 8. The only 6 that didn't appear were Guile, Blanka, Chun Li, Sagat, Vega, T.hawk. They just need the right players and they could have been in there just as easily. (Can I win with Vega next year or do I have to keep proving that those other characters are good too?)
Congratulations to Afrolegends, Choi, and Damdai for 1st, 2nd, 3rd. I have my third 5th place in a row this years, so I guess I'm collecting them.
And now for some boring stuff about Guilty Gear and BlazBlue, followed by exciting stuff about Soul Calibur.
Guilty Gear: Accent Core
In the last 9 months, I think I only played this game once, so I was sorely out of practice. I got a few wins in the pools, but lost to Aba, which was kind of heartbreaking considering my main local competition plays Aba. Against Aba, you must safely attack and patiently block and one mistake leads to taking huge damage. It's a bit hard to avoid making one mistake when you haven't played the game for so long.
BlazBlue: Throws Are Bad
The makers of Guilty Gear just released a new game called BlazBlue. Evolution did feature a BlazBlue side tournament, with the top 2 players playing on stage on finals day. I mention this game because I wonder if it will replace Guilty Gear in next year's Evolution lineup. I will now tell you why this game is kind of a disaster, in my opinion. At least it's *easily* corrected, but I wonder if the developers will be willing to do it. The problem: throws are terrible.
Street Fighter 4 throws have 3 frames of startup (way too long compared to the 0 frame startup of SF2 and Guilty Gear). Also, you can tech (throw escape) and take zero damage, and you have plenty of time to tech. Compare this to SF2 where you can only reduce the throw damage by about 50%, or all Guilty Gears before Accent Core where you can't reduce throw damage at all. If you thought SF4 throws were ineffective though, you haven't seen anything yet!
How about 7 frames of startup on throws! Also, you have 13 frames to tech for zero damage. Also, if you enter the command to tech, even if you weren't thrown yet, you become unthrowable for the next 11 frames. Now, it's also true that once those 11 frames are over, there's another window (not sure how long, some say 12 frames, some say 24, I don't know) where you cannot tech throws at all. This is to prevent you from mashing throw tech. Solution: don't mash throw tech, just easily tech throws in the 13 frame window + 11 more frames of leeway. Better yet, easily jab throws out of their absurdly long startup time. Or jump, because pre-jump frames (the time it takes you to leave the ground after you hold up) are 3 or 4 frames, depending on character. So if you repeatedly jump, air attack, jump, air attack, etc, you actually can't be thrown because you're never in a throwable state long enough for these slooooow throws to work. On and by the way, teching a throw pushes you almost full screen away from the opponent for some reason.
It gets worse. Maybe you want to play the throw guy, Tager, to get some decent throws. Tough luck, because his throw startup on his two normal throws are 6 and 7 frames, too. He also has two special throws. The high damage one is 8 frame startup (even longer!) and the low damage, but long range one is 11 frames! It's true that frames 3-11 of that are invulnerable, but you can't use the throw as a reversal (Potemkin in ggxx can, Zangief in SF2 can) and the opponent can easily jump out because 11 frames is a long damn time.
Just for completeness, there's also a new system where you can throw the opponent out of hitstun or blockstun. This is kind of a non-feature because the opponent has 27 frames (not a typo) to tech out of that. It's possible to make a sandwich or pitch a tent, then tech the throw in that case. Why are these developers so afraid of anyone throwing each other? I've played jaby, jab games before (CvS2) and I've played games where throws are good (SF2 and GGXX) and throws being good is just better all around. More offense, more mixups that matter, more strategy. Dear Arcsys: please implement 0 frame startup throws and damage scaling to reduce post-throw combos if necessary. Thanks. I'd hate to have to play this no-throw game as it is at Evolution 2010.
Soul Calibur 4
The top 8 finals for Soul Calibur were really exiting, as I knew they would be, but not for the greatest reason. It was all about Hilde's bullshit ring out combos. My friend Cedric made top 8 (winner's side!) using Hilde and I thought he'd win the whole tournament. Another Hilde made top 8 with the same tactics. We saw several matches with Hilde where she won all six rounds with ring out, ha. When this happened, half the crowd was laughing at the ridiculousness of this obviously unfair combo. The other half was booing and yelling out curses at Hilde. Everyone was excited and yelling.
Hilde seems to cause a great divide in the Soul Calibur 4 scene. Should she banned? Is she already "soft banned"? (Apparently not!) Will she be fixed? (She already was in the PSP version, apparently.) The people sitting near me during the finals joked that apparently the Hilde bullshit is fair after all, considering both Hilde's lost. The Ivy player, who I hear usually does all sorts of interesting things, played with a super boring turtle style and was able to beat Hilde. No problem then, right? Ha.
That's all I saw that was interesting this year! Thanks to Evolution staff for running such a great event this year.