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Sunday
Oct102010

Advantage Time in Fighting Games

When I see new players try a 3D fighting game such as Soul Calibur or Virtua Fighter, they often have trouble understanding advantage time. The concept matters in 2d fighting games like Street Fighter and Guilty Gear as well, but because 2d games tend to have so much emphasis on zoning and controlling space, advantage time is more of a concept for intermediates or experts, rather than a thing beginners get crushed by. (They are too busy getting crushed by fireball traps or rushdown!)

What is Advantage Time?

In a fighting game, advantage time is the length of time (usually measured in 1/60ths of a second, called frames) that you recover from your attack *before* the opponent recovers from blocking (or getting hit by) your attack. If you do a kick, then the opponent blocks it, you have to recover from your kick (that takes some time) and your opponent gets briefly locked into "blockstun" (a state where they are stuck blocking) and that takes time for them to recover from, too. If you recover 3 frames sooner than the opponent in this situation, we say that you have 3 frames of advantage time. If instead the opponent recovers 3 frames first, most charts of frame data will call that "-3 advantage time" though in spoken English you could just say the opponent has 3 frames of advantage time.

Why does this matter so much?

If after a blocked attack, you recover a few frames before the opponent, that means if you both immediately do a move, yours will probably win. Your move will come out sooner and get to the active/hitting part before his, if the moves were the same speed.

In 3D fighting games, beginners can get totally destroyed by advantage time tricks without even knowing what's going on. The opponent does some moves, then it seems like it's the beginner's "turn" to do something, but whatever he does gets beat out. He's probably attacking in a situation where he has frame disadvantage, but he doesn't even know it. 

Nitaku / Forced Choice / 2-Choice Situations

In 3D fighting games, there's a term called 2-choice (or "nitaku") situation which means you put the opponent in a bad situation where he must choose between 2 things, and the deck is stacked against him, so to speak. If he's attacking from big frame disadvantage (your last attack recovered way sooner than his blockstun or hitstun recovered) then he has to worry about you possibly thowing him if he just stands there, or getting hit by a mid attack if he crouches to avoid the throw. If he guesses wrong, he's going to take damage.

What if he guesses right though? If he guesses right by blocking high or low correctly, notice that he did no actual damage to you. Here, his correct guesses dealt no damage while your correct guesses do deal damage. He could also guess correctly by attacking and hitting your throw attempt. That's great and all, but attacking from frame disadvantage is a dangerous choice on his part. It will come out ok for him if you happen to try to throw (his attack will win), but if you attack also, it's going to be pretty bad for him. First, your attack will almost certainly win because yours will start sooner (that's what frame advantage means). Second, you will interrupt his attack--not just hit him while he's standing there. When you interrupt an opponent's attack in a 3D fighting game (or some 2d fighting games), that's called a Major Counter and depending on the game, comes with juicy bonuses against the victim. It means a bigger combo or more damaging hit. So attacking from frame disadvantage can end up being more painful than just standing there and getting hit.

Frame Advantage in 2D Games

As I said before, frame advantage in 2D games is less important than in 3D because 2D games often have ranged battles where one character is struggling to get close in the first place. Advantage time doesn't matter much in those situations, it's more about zoning / spacing. Even though it matters less than in 3D figthing games, it still matters though. There are still plenty of tricks and uses of advantage time and it's still very important to know at the intermediate level and above.

Regarding advantage time, one big difference between 2D and 3D fighting games is the existence of nearly instant attacks like dragon pucnhes. My discussion of 2-choice situations above (in 3D fighting games) assumed that neither player has access to a dragon punch attack--they are uncommon in 3D fighting games. By "dragon punch attack," I mean an attack that is invulnerable at the start and hits almost right away. If you had such a move, you could use it even if you are attacking from frame disadvantage and you'd still hit the opponent's move. 

This leads to a common trick among expert 2D fighting game players: giving up advantage time ON PURPOSE. By doing a move that (on block) leaves you at frame disadvantage, it baits the opponent to attack you. Players who are at least at the intermediate skill level will probably not be able to stop themselves from attacking, because it feels like a natural time. That's when you can do your dragon punch or super move as a surprise. One way to use this trick is to get right up next to the opponent, do a normal move (often a stand fierce or strong or something in Street Fighter), let it recover, then dragon punch or super. Notice that if you did a move that left you with advantage time, then you immediately dragon punched, your move might come out before the opponent even had a chance to do anything. So the trick here is to give up advantage time to trick the opponent into committing, then doing a dragon punch or super.

That's a nice trick, but what you really want is a more stable strategy, rather than a gimmick. The more stable strategy is to get frame advantage as often as you can (which means knowing which moves give it) and to attack in that situation often. Not attack EVERY time, because you'd be opening yourself up to dragon punches, but still to attack often.

In Guilty Gear, one example is Chipp's close standing slash. It gives Chipp 2 frames of advantage time on block, so he can do it once, wait for it to recover (don't chain into the automatic second hit), then do the close standing slash again. Opponents are often afraid and try to do something after the first blocked hit because instinctively they are used to getting advantage time in such situations, but not on this particular move. If they try to do their own normal attack, they will get hit (Major Countered, even) and then get combo'd.

Meaty Attacks

Another way to get advantage time that comes up all the time is to do a "meaty attack." That means to stick out an attack early against an opponent who is getting up from a knockdown (or other unhittable state) such that end your attack hits, rather than the beginning. This is good because if the end of your attack hits, that means you're almost recovered already. You'll almost certainly recover from your move before the opponent exits blockstun.

If you actually hit with a meaty attack, you get so much advantage time that you can usually combo into another hit, guaranteed. At the very least, you can use almost any meaty attack (remember: hitting with the tail-end of an attack as an opponent gets up) to ensure you recover before they opponent's blockstun ends. This means the opponent is more likely to continue blocking, which means you can then sometimes attempt to throw. This is a weaker (but still good) version of the nitaku situation I discussed earlier from 3D fighting games. The opponent at frame disadvantage has a worse set of options, so he's often forced to just block while you keep up your offense. 

Meaty Attacks + Dragon Punches

Ken (from ST and HD Remix) is an interesting exmaple because of his knee bash throw. After this throw (a "hold" actually) the opponent ends up standing, not knocked down. Ken can do a variety of tricks here, including a meaty attack. Ken actually doesn't even care that much if the attack he does after the knee bash leaves him at frame advantage or disadvantage. Either way, if you attack he can dragon punch (he might wait a few frames as a bait if he left himself at frame disadvantage). Just about anything you do will get beat by his dragon punch, effectively resetting the situation so that Ken can try it again. If you don't attack, Ken can knee bash you again for good damage, and threaten to repeat the situation.

This is another example of a 2-choice situation where the outcomes are overall really good for the attacker. Notice how having a dragon punch move means that attacker has more margin of error when it comes to advantage time. If he has it, great. If he doesn't he can still dragon punch, and in this case, that results in not just damage, but also in setting up another 2-choice situation in your favor.

Hopefully this gives you some sense of what advantage time is, and why many players comb the frame data charts looking for ways to exploit it.

Reader Comments (22)

What do you do if an opponent never respects your + advantage and constantly uses an invulnerable reversal after you do a + frame move? Simply do the + frame move, then wait for them to do the reversal, then punish it? I hate doing this because it feels like I'm giving up offensive momentum for free since they might not do a reversal, but I guess that is the advantage of having a dragon punch...

October 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

"If you had such a move, you could use it even if are attacking from frame disadvantage and you'd still hit the opponent's move."

Got a bit of an error there. I think you forgot the word "you" between if and are.


Also, for anyone that reads this, Chipp's c.S starts on frame 4, so a +2 on block into a move that starts on frame 4 means you can give someone only 2 frames to act if you do it perfectly; you're going to beat almost all normals in the game, so it leaves pretty much just reversals to get out of this trap or using your faultless defense to push yourself out of his range (though now you have slightly more frame disadvantage for doing that, and you're not going to get as much tension for a second since you used it).

And then, once you've pressured them into blocking and looking for a way out since they think nothing else is working, you have traps like:

c.S > tick throw
c.S > f.S > 22P (teleport) > throw
c.S > 41236k (command throw that's technically airborne, so they can't throw your throw)
c.S > 6P > c.S > trap reset
c.S > 623S (your own reversal, to say, beat a Dead Angle if you bait it)
c.S > Burst Throw (if they're getting REALLY nervous, since c.S ends quickly enough and jump cancels)

Or you can just go for your block string to crank the guard gauge so that the next time you start trying to trap with c.S, the resulting combo can do a lot more damage.

October 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTheRealBobMan

Nice post!

This begs two questions:

1. Is Advantage Time a conscious design choice or a programmatic artifact that has become "emergent gameplay"?

2. If it just an artifact, would a fighting game be better off with zero Advantage Time?

Thanks!

October 10, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterthe Jack

Fascinating stuff, but I can't even imagine playing a game where important things happen on the scale of sixtieths of seconds. Even for the lucky few who manage to train their reflexes up that fast before the frustration of not knowing how to play and losing all the time sets in, it seems you wouldn't have any chance to even understand what you're doing.

Just not my genre, I suppose.

October 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMark

Anonymous: you would have to punish the reversal however it's punishable. Usually block and hit it back. Or in some cases, do your own reversal slightly after theirs so their invulnerability ends first. Against Balrog in ST and HD Remix, I usually block in this situation, then fail to hit him back, then lose.

the Jack: advantage time is just a consequence of the system. Attacks have recovery and attacks give blockstun, so advantage time exists. No it would not be a better game to take it out. The current way fighting games handle blockstun is good, in that it's usually standardized. In Street Fighter, fierces pretty much all put you in X blockstun. Medium punches pretty much always put you in Y blockstun. The advantage time stuff comes from the exact recovery of your particular move and whether you did your move "early" as meaty or not. Anyway, to remove all concept of advantage time would be difficult, convoluted, and would end with more homogeneous gameplay.

Mark: it's not quite as hard as your making it out to be. You can just "tell" when a move lets the other guy recover first, from playing a while. I had a good enough sense of that without ever know any frame data for like 10 years. Well, that's in Street Fighter where, like I said in my post, the importance is lower than in 3D games. In Virtua Fighter, I knew the frame stats almost from day 1 because it's really important to know in that game. I could write a whole other post on exactly why it's so important in that game, heh.

October 10, 2010 | Registered CommenterSirlin

"c.S > 623S (your own reversal, to say, beat a Dead Angle if you bait it)"

Now that I think about it, you wouldn't beat a Dead Angle this way, so that's a bad example (you could try to beat out other high priority moves or clash with another reversal though). For a dead angle, since you recover fast enough, you'd probably just punish on reaction.

October 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTheRealBobMan

I've never been a fan of "hidden" mechanics like this. When it comes to competitive games, I think developers need to be completely transparent about any mechanics that would effect player choice. Either by having good in-game cues or an official guide built into the game.

It would be nice if the player community didn't have to reverse engineer games before they could begin to formulate strategies for them!

October 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHuxley

@Mark: Fighting games work because reaction times don't vary *that* much between humans. Depending on how many different events a player is preparing to react to at any given point, the previous quarter-to-half-second is just hidden information.

October 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterXom

addendum - see this post for details:
> http://forums.sirlin.net/showthread.php?t=2403

October 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterXom

I don't understand your comment Huxley. Advantage time is a natural consequence of the system, and as I said in a previous post, removing it would be difficult, convoluted, and have worse gameplay anyway. It's not like it was something that developers "put it." Also, as I said in a previous comment, I played Street Fighter for like 10 years without knowing any frame stats at all and did fine. So this would go against your claim that the player community has to reverse engineer a game before they can begin to formulate strategies. You're just being grandiose and exaggerating.

October 11, 2010 | Registered CommenterSirlin

Huxley: The mechanic isn't as hidden as you make out... as Sirlin mentioned above, after a short amount of gameplay experience, players usually get a feel for what moves give frame advantage without ever looking up the data necessarily. It's not that difficult.

For most fighting games nowadays frame data is made public on release regardless, so it's not an issue. Even then, you don't need to memorise that stuff. It usually comes down to this... In situation x, the best options are a, b, or c. I've never needed to brute force memorise a raft of frame data, just know what the best options are in a given situation. Of course, those 'best options' are usually informed by frame data, but often just as confirmation... not as a pre-requisite.

October 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterColdsnap

You don't need to know about frame advantage to feel its impact. Over the course of even an hour's playtime, eventually your strategies will change based on what you feel in game. As an example, you block a move, then try to attack back and get stuffed. Much as a child (eventually) stops putting his hand on a hot stove, you know now that the rules are different once you block said move. That's frame advantage, and without it, fighting games would lose so much of the strategic value that makes them so much fun at high levels.

October 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFrank The Tank

I don't think that 'advantage time' is really any less important in 2D fighting games than it is in 3D fighters. In practical terms, time advantage is really what makes knockdowns so potent, and, for that matter, a key component of how Ryu's classic fireball uppercut trap works. It's not that difficult to come up with a litany of examples where time advantage is a key element in SF2.

Frame advantage in SF2 tends to be a bit less subtle than in 3D games like Tekken. I suspect that in part, that's because the number of options available to a player in Tekken is typically much larger than ones in SF2, and in part because 3D modeled games tend to be slower than 3D ones.

Time advantage, is, of course a concept that is more fundamental than video games. In chess, for example, time is measured in tempos or half-moves, and racing is an entire field of sports basically dedicated to just that.

October 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRufus

Wow, great post. I love the insight design article into fighting games. Very nice - the game goes by so quickly I usually don't have time to think about the delays and such going on. Thought provoking.

It'd be great if you could go to my game design sight and give me any feedback. It is http://www.dtwgames.com.

You are not working on designing a fighting game, are you?

October 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDylan

"What do you do if an opponent never respects your + advantage and constantly uses an invulnerable reversal after you do a + frame move? Simply do the + frame move, then wait for them to do the reversal, then punish it? I hate doing this because it feels like I'm giving up offensive momentum for free since they might not do a reversal, but I guess that is the advantage of having a dragon punch..."

You can go for a crossup. Let's say May lands her 5H which is +5 on block, and then goes for a jumping j.2D > your opponent can go for the reversal, but if you're on the wrong side, the input gets flubbed. It doesn't guarantee anything, and if you're obviously too much to one side they can still get you on reaction, but if your opponent sees it as 50/50 to reversal out, he/she might keep blocking rather than risk it, and now you have more pressure going.

Also, there are some situations in Guilty Gear where there's so much frame advantage that you can practically guarantee a followup blockstring (hopefully getting a mixup or crossup in there to break the guard). Going with May again, you can end a block string with her FBSHD for +13 frame advantage (it costs 25% meter to do this, but it'll put you back in their face besides giving you some frame advantage).
Or you can just play Eddie and have little Eddie pressure them while you dash back in to pressure some more.

The point of both of those examples is that sometimes there's so much frame advantage that you can get back in to pressure some more before there's even an opening to reversal out.

Except that in Guilty Gear, they can dead angle out for 50% or burst out - so bait and punish it. : )

October 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTheRealBobMan

Dylan: Well I certainly have the design for a fighting game in mind, and I was working on one, but I think the volunteer programmers have faded away. I'm ready to work on it when more volunteers show up.

October 12, 2010 | Registered CommenterSirlin

This is kind of out of the sphere, but I really appreciate your tactical breakdowns. Knowing such attention to detail can be applied to almost any game, I'm curious if you're at all aware of Brazilian Jui Jitsu. They call it the game of human chess. (And indeed, chessmasters and programmers are into it.)

I'm curious about your take, and wonder if you might be interested in researching and exploring it's tactical space. If you like streetfighter how would you feel about something like this? There's also of course the larger technical breakdown of MMA, but there's a certain tractable appeal to BJJ strat because the technique is so pivotal.

October 14, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteralleycatsphinx

"I could write a whole other post on exactly why [frame data] so important in [Virtua Fighter], heh."

Being a VF4 player stuck at 6th Dan, I'd love to read that post.

October 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterArchon

great article, much appreciated,

i do have a question about the part about Ken's knee throw and dragon punch:

if it turns out that doing a knee throw followed by a dragon punch is almost always faster than an opponents move, is this not going to be a very dominant tactic, maybe even being overpowered?

as the opponent cannot really react, except from maybe stepping back and reengaging.
as throws or meaty attacks won't work, and even their dragon punch is outmatched.

ps
i have not gone very deep into fighting games yet, so there might be some errors in my logic.
but your articles are greatly appreciated!

October 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFreaq

Freaq: it is a good option, if the opponent blocks the dragon punch, then the pressure is mostly over. Ken is pushed back, he isn't going to walk up throw after THAT probably, so Ken would normally do this when he thinks the opponent will try to counter-throw or poke.

Archon: I'll try to do a quick summary. In Street Fighter, if the opponent does an unsafe move and you block it, you just hit them back with whatever. A super, a dragon punch, or whatever your normal combo is. There isn't really anything to know, you just hit them back.

In Virtua Fighter, there is A LOT to know about that situation. These numbers might be off and they change in various versions, but this should give you the gist. If the opponent gives you 8 frames of advantage time, you can throw them. 10 frames, you can punch them. 12, you can elbow them. 14, you can knee (launcher) into a combo.

The point there is that the more advantage time you have, the heaver, more damaging hit you can do. So you have to know what is even guaranteed to hit back with. The exception is throws though. Throws are by design the fastest option, faster than even a weak punch. The catch is that all those non-throw things I listed are guaranteed to do damage while a throw is only guaranteed to START, but it can be escaped for zero damage. So your fastest response also carries risk.

If the opponent gives you enough advantage time to hit them with a punch (weak) guaranteed, and you choose to hit back with a knee (higher damage but slower) it means one of two things. One possibility is you don't understand how much advantage time you got and you chose too slow of a response and that you're a bad player. Another possibility is that you understood that your only "guaranteed" options were punch or throw (which can be escaped) and you guessed that the opponent would expect a throw, enter a throw escape, and thus become vulnerable to your knee. In this case, you are an advanced player!

Anyway, you have to know what is guaranteed and what isn't at each level of advantage time to know what guessing game is even going on. Also note that Virtua Fighter has a lot more moves that are unsafe on block than Street Fighter (so that this type of guessing game comes up a lot).

October 22, 2010 | Registered CommenterSirlin
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