Friday 25 July 2014

Goals in SSBM -- An Intro to the Player vs Player Elements of the Game (pt. 1 of 2)

Part 2 can be found here.

This article's goal is to teach you how to make better plays in SSBM by using a conversation & match analysis to illustrate a goal-based approach to strategy in SSBM. It's mostly aimed at beginners / intermediate players who have achieved a solid level of character control but still feel they're struggling with decision-making in matches. Part 1 of 2.

The story behind this article is simple enough -- I was talking to one of my friends a while ago (a Falco player from my region whose tag is, 'Frog') about improvement in SSBM. He said that he was kind of stumped about how to actually get better at the game.

Some background about the above: Frog is a very technically-sound Falco, at least as far as I can tell. He lands his shine-grabs, JC shines, sticks his l-cancels on landing, has solid movement around the stage, and overall has very good character control. Despite all these positives, though, he managed to get eliminated by a pair of Peaches at the Arcadian tournament we had in Toronto (for those who are unfamiliar with SSBM slang, an "Arcadian" is an amateurs-only tournament where the ranked players in that region are barred from entry) and finished much lower than many people expected of him (a lot of people projected him for top 3).

Since Frog is a friend of mine, I offered to talk to him about how he could improve his decision-making in matches. And eventually, over FBchat, we started talking about how to improve in SSBM. This is how our conversation went. 

Note: The conversation has been trimmed in parts and edited to flow together a bit better, but I decided to leave our typing styles alone (i.e. not fix his capitalization on FBchat) to make it easier to distinguish between who's talking.

---- Cue Conversation ----

my mental game is so weak
things happen in front of me and i just have a hard time slowing down and just trying to spot things that could help me
i think it has a lot to do with me trying to be overly technical when i actually cant execute what i want to do
its like i know i need to slow down but my hands just take over when the panic sets in and i go into frog vs lvl 4 cpu mode
almost like an autopilot, if that makes any sense

It is time you begin learning the PVP element of this game

i totally agree
i just dont even know where to start

I generally like to begin at the beginning. Let's start there.

so what exactly is the beginning xD

1) Your opponent has goals
2) You have goals

is that character dependent or player dependent O.O

It's a combination, actually. It also sometimes can be influenced by the stage.

the plot thickens o.o

But if I explained the nuances of all that, this gets very complicated. And I don't want to confuse you. So let's simplify this: Marth vs Falco.

along with peach its my worst mu

Marth's goal, offensively, is very obviously to grab you. Sound about right?

yup. cause the grab will lead into big damage. or an off stage situation.
getting grabbed is one of those panic things for me where ill start to go into auto pilot

Your issues with nerves is likely in part derived from the lack of balance in your play; you are a much stronger player on offense.

thats where im most comfortable

By not really understanding the PVP aspects of the game, it makes it difficult for you to understand situations where you're out of control. Which generally leads to poor defense and, as you so eloquently put it, "panic mode". This is likely why you find Peach hard. Because even when you have her 'under your thumb' she's got more ways to slip past the offending digit and find safety or counterattack.

deox was nairing out of a ton of things that joey didn’t. that threw me off a lot. put me into that panic mindset, i felt like i had to change everything. which kinda put me into that panic.
its like i would combo him and then all of a sudden the situation turns against me

Okay so first and foremost this game is a game about options
The way you win this game is by eliminating the opponent's options until they can't do anything except accept the bad situation & its subsequent penalty.
Perhaps the most obvious example of this is the chain grab. It's a bit of an extreme but you can see what I'm getting at: you have been grabbed, which means you have nothing you can do about the next however many throws it goes and then I can finish the combo or extend it depending on the character-match combination.
But the chain grab is the byproduct of being grabbed, meaning there was a step that occurred before chain grabbing occurred

Most fighting games can be split into 2 phases:
(1) The first hit game (or push & pull)
(2) The punishment game (combos, edgeguarding, knockdowns, etc)

Obviously it is much easier to manipulate or deny someone options during the punishment phase.
I've played you -- for the most part I assume you know how to combo and can intuitively plan around some combo escapes. So we're gonna talk about the more voluminous topic. First hits.
Remember how we began with Marth has goals?
Marth's goal is to grab Falco.
Falco's goal is generally to shine, grab, or aerial Marth.


So it's probably safe to assume that anything Falco does that helps him create opportunities for those three options while eliminating ways Marth can grab him…those are probably good plays, yes?

haha yup id say so


its actually kind of crazy
how simple you are breaking this down
not nearly as itimidating as i thought

We're starting at the basics. My goal is to teach in a manner where you actually learn things.

Alright so now we know our opponent's goal and we know our goals. The next step is identifying what tools Marth has for making his goal happen and what tools Falco has for making his goals happen.
So Marth has his speed on the ground with his fast rushing movements (especially his dash), he has the ability to combo off aerials into grab, and he can create a knockdown with dash attack / f-smash / counter and tech chase the grab.
He also has the range of his grab, which can often be a threat all by itself.
Does all this still make sense?

yup yup

Ok then. You're the Falco player.
Tell me what Falco has to procure a shine, grab, or aerial on his opponent.
What tools does he have to help him land those hits?

lasers for sure
stuff his movement
i really dont know other than laser tbh

Let's educate you then
Watch until 7:56 m

Note: A gif of the sequence above has been generously provided by Alexander DuPrey --

watching the game now

Now I'm not gonna lie to you; there is a lot of stuff happening in that 16 seconds. Like, a hell of a lot.
That said, you should be able to notice a few things going on.
What do you notice about how PP is moving?

i see him getting into this zone
where marth is out of range
for a fair
and he just waits to m2k
to put a move out
and then goes in with a nair
hes got marth
constrained to the right side


sorry it was a grab
not a nair
watched it again

He does both, but yeah
Mew2King is in a lot of trouble in that position
Because PP has set up a position where M2K basically cannot really effectively challenge PP for better position without making an insane read on PP's timing
This is because PP is using his lasers to discourage M2K from dashing in with grab on him, among other things.
Remember how both characters have goals?

so Peepee is denying M2K's goals by keeping him constrained with lasers and good spacing

PP is therefore controlling M2K's options.

he isnt running in there for dmg
its like he knows the dmg will just come
if he keeps this control

And he's going in with safe low aerials / dash dance grabs / empty SH feints / dash dance feints --> laser to reinforce his control over M2K's dash to keep Marth from just trying to muscle his way through with a disrespect strat. 

This is because if M2K runs in with grab at the same time PP rushes him with an aerial, then M2K is liable to take a huge Falco combo near the edge and die.

Similarly, he's policing M2K's defense because if M2K defensively grabs in anticipation of PP coming in and whiffs, then PP can attack him from a lot of the actions he's moving with and either get a huge Falco combo or even kill him outright if the percent is right (or if M2K either flubs DI or has his DI read).

And all of that also applies to yolo counter… and a whole lot of options actually.

he makes it look so easy lol, watched the rest of the game and hes just so patient

He's controlled and patient, yes. But he is putting the foe under crazy amounts of pressure still.
So what can Falco do to create his openings?
He's got a lot of tools, actually.

dash dance and laser for sure

He's got his SH and numerous forms of it -- empty SH, empty SH to WL forward/back, SH aerials, lasers, u-tilt, dash dance, etc.

so just by empty short hopping
hes threatening with an aerial
and waiting to see what m2k does?


with the wavelands, is it possible to sneak in with a grab?
waveland forward->grab?
or is that too risky?
nvm dont answer that, its like, only if he chooses to shield

Right. And I'm not sure why you'd do that over empty land (in front of their shield) --> shine --> grab

oooo i like that
so if he doesnt shield he gets shined
and if he does he gets grabbed
that whole covering options thingy

If he tries to shield grab your empty jump's landing he's liable to be shined (because empty land --> shine hits on frame 5 whereas a shield grab hits frame 7)
If he holds shield, you grab him
Waveland is primarily a way to reposition at the cost of some inaction
So let's talk about your earlier suggestion of WL forward into grab; there's an issue there.
WL puts you into a state of inaction for about 10 frames, during which time you slide directly into the opponent's range.
If Marth's goal is to grab you, why is this a bad idea?

because im helping him accomplish his goal
by just giving him the grab

You're putting yourself in front of Marth
In waveland lag, with no protection.
This might feel similar to empty landing into shine
I mean, empty jump doesn't have an aerial
But here's the difference:
Your empty jump has the threat of an aerial attached to it because you could feasibly do an aerial somewhere in your SH and then grabbing becomes bad

so as im doing my empty jump, i should just be starring at marth, and if he goes in, put out a late aerial

Not only that, but most shield grabs are done AFTER an opponent lands from an aerial and NOT before (for the reasons stated above)
Yeah that's one way to do it
You could also simply watch for whether it looks like Marth is gonna move in or not
What PP does to coax M2K away from the edge is really smart
With his sparing use of SH aerial approaches, how he moves in with grabs, his lasers into dash dance, and his empty jump in > WL back
The second M2K tries to roll to the middle, PP is all over him
Why do you think M2K rolled?

out of panic? or desperation?

That's part of it, sure. But let's look at the tactical aspect of it: goals.
Everything in relation to goals.

i see peepee dash dance, right before the grab happens
i mean roll, not grab

By being at the edge, M2K is clearly incapable of protecting himself from PPMD's control tools
PPMD is basically getting free openings and damage every second and M2K's options are being constantly shut down
It is clear M2K cannot protect himself in this position
So what is he trying to do with that roll?

get himself out of the situation where his options are shut down
and eat a punish?

I don't think M2K intended to get hit
I do think he wanted to change his position onstage though

after being stuck there for so long i can see why he wanted out

There's a lot of things going on in those 16 seconds

ive watched that clip 15 or 20 times now
catching something new everytime


  1. This style of teaching is awesome for eliminating habits and autopiloting. Really good job KK

  2. Beautiful, great stuff. It's so easy to forget these goals once you become mired in to more technical aspects of the game. Well done!

  3. Beautiful. A very zen approach to the problematic!

    However, I hope you're ready to deal with all the spam as players begin to flood your inbox with requests for help as this gains visibility. ;)

    1. I'm actually getting an influx of character requests. I was originally hoping that the audience would use this as a tool to learn how to think for themselves, but I fear using an example character with such concrete mechanics (Falco) makes for a less than ideal transfer to more movement oriented members of the roster. Perhaps I should do another one of these, except with someone more movement-centric. Like Marth, Fox, Jiggs, etc.