What Does Tool-Assisted Mean?
Every time i release a new video, a few people ask the same question. I suppose the first article i wrote defending the concept was too abstract for its own good. It’s worth another try.
I’ve been using the PS3 version of Street Fighter IV throughout the SF4 Biweekly TACV series, so i’ve had to utilize two ASCII PAD V Pro programmable controllers to simultaneously control both characters. Obtaining a good (Japanese) program pad has become nearly impossible, since we’re talking about out-of-production PSX controllers. ASCII and Hori both stopped manufacturing them once the PS2 came out, probably because analog controls would’ve been too difficult to simulate.
Personally i prefer program pads to sticks simply because pads are more convenient, even though my execution is better on a stick. Both work fine, so get ahold of whichever one you can find – or better yet, learn to use macro software if your computer is powerful enough to run the PC version of whatever game you want to play.
What you can do with a programmable controller:
– save time by consistently executing prohibitively
difficult input sequences
– precision mashing
– establish and reproduce accurate spacing
– test every possible permutation of a given
experimental sequence to prove with a high
degree of certainty that it doesn’t work
– pick 3P/3K colors in CvS2
What programmable controllers can’t do:
– cut down combo video production time, since you’ll
have to compensate by making your combos harder
– random mashing
– work with games/consoles that require analog sticks
– eliminate all randomness, since multiple factors affect
Magnetic Tempest patterns, CvS2 superfreeze, etc.
– bypass charge time, chain lockout, or any other
hard-coded execution barrier
– alter or modify the game engine in any way
– come up with ideas
Essentially the way they work is you assign a step-by-step input sequence to one button, then the controller plays back that entire sequence when you press that button. You choose which combination of inputs you’d like it to mimic, then set the precise number of frames each input should be held. The pad has a built-in LCD screen to help you create and edit scripts, so you don’t have to memorize whole sequences. However, you still have to write down every promising configuration before changing it because there’s no undo function.
It’s important to understand that the pad doesn’t tell you anything about the game. If you want to figure out the frame-by-frame command sequence to execute j.HP, c.MK xx fireball, you’ll have to test it through trial and error.
Can you tell me how many frames Ryu should wait between jumping and pressing HP to get the deepest possible jumping fierce? Or what’s the earliest Ryu can hit j.HP and still land in time to combo c.MK? That frame data simply doesn’t exist anywhere. In fact, you’d be surprised how much information is absent from published frame data.
Many people seem to think that programmable controllers produce perfect results every single time. In practice, that’s simply not true. There’s an extremely long list of obstacles which get in the way of that ideal. Turbo speeds absolutely wreak havoc on precision combos. Every game has random factors which make life “interesting.” Converter issues add a whole new layer of problems, because we’re still talking about PS1 controllers here. In fact, the PS3 converters i’m using even dim the LCD screens to the point where it’s impossible to differentiate between 0’s and 1’s, or 3’s and 4’s, or 5’s and 6’s, or 8’s and 9’s.
It takes a lot of time to get anything done. Remember, we’re not talking about basic combos here. Program pads can reproduce practical combos with 100% accuracy because there’s so much leniency involved in those. When you add multiple one-frame links and pixel-perfect juggle spacing, things get delicate. The Akuma setup in my SF4 Rose TACV took two days to iron out and then it took 30 tries just to record it. And it doesn’t even feel close to optimized.
For better or worse, everyone’s expectations of me have gotten so high that i don’t have the luxury of making okay combos anymore. You know, it’s either great or it’s terrible. So anything you see in my videos has to be inventive or difficult, or preferably both. To those of you who aren’t sure whether you’re comfortable with watching tool-assisted videos: you never have to worry about me “swiping” a ton of views by making easy combos, because i always find a way to make them complicated – or i scrap them and restart from scratch.
Finally, emulators are the next logical step in tool-assistance because the ability to start macros from a fixed save state helps stabilize the majority of random factors. Of course a number of games such as SF4, CvS2, and MvC2 aren’t emulated yet, so this won’t apply to them for a long time. If you have a choice, it’s almost always better to go with emulators. Explaining the advantages of emulator tools over programmable controllers would take too long, but trust me when i say that it’s a significant difference.