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Endgame Strategy

November 5th, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Recently i got a chance to play Super Street Fighter 4 Arcade Edition and (randomly) Street Fighter Alpha 3 with Ed Ma. This dude got 3rd place in SF4 at Evo2k9, so it’s no surprise that he beat me up pretty bad. I think he won something like 80% of our matches.

It seemed like all of our matches were close though. I didn’t feel like i was getting nervous toward the end either. I wasn’t dropping any more combos near the end of rounds than i was at the beginning, which made the outcome even more confusing.

That got me thinking about what he has that i don’t – and i believe it’s an “endgame.”

Lately people have been talking a lot about how LeBron James is lacking Kobe Bryant’s killer instinct. What does that really mean? Does LeBron enjoy losing more than Kobe does? I don’t think that’s the case at all. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that “killer instinct” in competitive games is an attitude. Unless we’re talking about breaking the rules, i don’t see how that can translate into success when you’re comparing two world-class athletes. Nobody gets that good without motivation, dedication, and a desire to win.

So then, how is Kobe able to step up at the end of the game whereas LeBron seems to shrink down? My answer is that “killer instinct” is a mindset and a skill, not an attitude.

I think Ed Ma tries to win every mini-battle throughout the round, but he saves a little something extra for the end. If he notices a set of predictable behaviors in his opponent, he punishes enough of them to maintain the lead, but he saves one for the finish line.

Now this is a little more tricky than it sounds, mainly because everyone’s behavior changes significantly when they’re close to losing a round. Not only do you have to save a trump card for the end, but you have to choose the one most likely to translate into crunch time.

Lots of Ryu players throw out random Hurricane Kicks when anticipating a fireball early in the round, but how many continue taking that risk when the match is on the line? That’s an example of something you have to punish early, because there’s no use saving it for the end.

The funny thing is, top players themselves tend to underestimate how rare this skill truly is. They’ll criticize people for not having a clear strategy in mind, while overlooking the huge paradigm shift between standard regulation play and the intensity of the fourth quarter.

The reason Kobe always gets a quality shot (by his standards) is that he always saves one trick up his sleeve. And sometimes that trick is to reuse a setup that he’s shown before, on the basis that the opponent won’t be expecting it again – but the point is, it involves a conscious decision backed up by willful behavior analysis.

In Street Fighter, endgame strategy comes into play whenever one side gets within one practical combo of winning a round. It’s self-evident if you think about it; there’s no escaping it. The hard part is incorporating this thought process into your everyday gameplan.

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  1. November 6th, 2011 at 17:38 | #1

    For the sake of argument, how would you wipe out endgame strategy? You’d have to let the players decide when the game is over, and i suppose the winner would be declared by total damage dealt.

    In other words, endgame strategy wouldn’t exist if the match timeline was completely flat, there were no lifebars, and there was no timer. Since that’s not the case in Street Fighter, you have to learn to take advantage of it.

    Also, i miss the NBA. Worst lockout ever. This never would have happened if Michael Jordan was still alive.

  2. amro
    November 7th, 2011 at 02:31 | #2

    This is something that is often seen in large tournaments such as EVO. Established top players often come close to losing but make it to the top in the end over most newcomers, even though a lot of the matches seem pretty close. They seem to always have something for getting that crucial last hit to secure the round/match.

    That said, I don’t think endgame strategy is something that comes up in every game. If neither player is focusing on it, the last few seconds usually don’t look any different from the first few. Perhaps that’s why people rarely talk about it, it’s not something you are clearly forced to deal with.

  3. November 7th, 2011 at 10:22 | #3

    Right, you don’t see this come up in matches between intermediate players because it’s not part of their mindgame flowchart yet. Their play style does change when their lifebar turns red, or when the clock starts ticking down.

    But these changes are usually non-interactive in nature, like “need to play cautious now” or “time for a hail-mary throw” or “omg i have to land a combo timetojuuump!!” That’s because most intermediate players don’t keep track of their opponents’ habits meticulously enough to create the option of a gameplan shift or a last-second sneak attack.

    On the other hand, virtually all top players are forced to adopt this endgame concept on their way to the top. In retrospect, literally every top player i’ve ever played against does this all the time. (The only real exceptions are the “training mode junkie” subset who specialize in single-player mixups and win primarily on superior reactions or execution – basically, the LeBrons.)

  4. zero
    November 8th, 2011 at 18:11 | #4

    This time Jordan is one of the biggest obstacles to a deal that would start the season.

  5. November 12th, 2011 at 14:45 | #5

    Yeah it’s pretty lame, but that’s what i was referring to in the joke above. Anyway here’s hoping they figure something out quickly so the players can get back to playing the game. Even though it’s already guaranteed to be an “asterisk” season, i’d still like to see the playoffs.

  6. Bob Sagat
    November 15th, 2011 at 13:38 | #6

    I’m glad I checked this site again today. I always love your strategy articles.
    I’m gonna read the footsies articles again, to freshen up and prepare myself for an upcoming tournament.
    Keep ’em coming.

  7. November 15th, 2011 at 23:47 | #7

    Haha thanks, i hope you still find those old articles useful. I’ve noticed that some of the matchvid reference links are dead now, but i haven’t had time to find suitable replacements.

    In fact, the matches that inspired this article were played quite a few weeks ago. I jotted down the main notes that weekend, but couldn’t find the time to make an article out of them. It got to a point where i basically gave up on doing it, but then last Saturday opened up so i hurried up and wrote it.

  8. Bob Sagat
    November 21st, 2011 at 11:43 | #8

    Cool, thanks for writing it after all. Maybe for future articles you could request the uploader to send you a version so you can link to vids in your own youtube channel? Just so you don’t lose the references?

  9. November 21st, 2011 at 22:37 | #9

    Believe it or not, i actually have all of the footsies handbook example matchvids backed up on a DVD somewhere. But i still don’t feel comfortable uploading stuff that i had no part in making.

    Plus it takes time that i don’t have. Anyway there are only a handful of dead links. It hasn’t gotten bad enough for me to do something about it yet. For now all i can do is apologize for the inconvenience.

  10. December 9th, 2011 at 09:05 | #10

    Good article. I never thought about it that way: that higher level players generally convert close matches to wins because they have an end game strategy that isn’t really a staple of novice to intermediate level players.

    As an intermediate player, i think the biggest endgame strategy i’ve learned, is to down+back it when the match is almost over and you have the life lead, as much sense as that makes it took me a long time to put it to use.

  11. December 10th, 2011 at 23:18 | #11

    Yeah that’s usually a good idea. I wouldn’t say it’s the best idea, because there are counters to predictable defensive play as well. But it’s obviously harder to land big comeback damage on a blocking opponent than an unsafe attacking opponent. So yeah, blocking is your friend – more often than not.

  1. August 18th, 2012 at 02:35 | #1
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