Complex Time Simplified pt.3
Thursday, March 17, 2011 at 10:05AM
Richard Terrell (KirbyKid) in Dynamics, Learning, Motivation, & The Mind, Skill, Super Smash Brothers
All of my examples for the remainder of this article series will be of Super Smash Brothers Brawl. 
This video goes with this article. Pause at the black title cards to read along.
Let's say you (CPU) and I (KirbyKid) are in a Brawl battle and we use smash attacks exclusively because we're noobs. I mean no disrespect. It's just an example. You walk up and smash. I will most likely shield or roll then try to smash you back. By that time my attack comes out you may have had enough time to shield or roll and the cycle repeats. Even if you use smash attacks that start up fairly quickly (let's say they hit on frame 6) this sort of turn based smash-cycle is a likely emergent behavior quirk like FPShuffling. So let's think of the time it takes you to smash and recover from the attack as a turn with the full value of 1 unit. Brawl players who think/play in turns get used to turn based combat that looks like this; 1 turn for me, 1 turn for you,  then 1, and 1, and so on.  
Tilt Attacks
Needless to say, this turn based playstyle that exclusively uses smash attacks isn't the highest level of strategy known to smash. If you're curious, I've done a lot of research in this area. It's easy to see that quicker attacks (shorter start up and recovery time) would be very useful here. Let's say that a tilt attack is a .7 units compared to a smash attack's 1. When fighting an opponent that expect a very even turn-based like battle of smash attacks, the opponent will essentially wait for a full unit/turn to pass before they act. So if I use a tilt attack instead of a smash against you, I should have .3 units extra time to do whatever I want! This extra time can be used to ROLL early and perhaps get just ahead of the beat in the smash-cycle to more easily land a smash attack! 
If you're really keying in on what's happening here, you should realize that using a tilt attack strategy to eek out .3 units of extra time only to go back into the same smash-cycle thus "ending your turn" isn't the best choice of action here. Sure I might land the smash attack, but I might not. I can get much better odds than that. Instead of smashing, if I take the extra .3 unit of time, I could use another tilt attack! If I connect against your shield with a .7 unit tilt attack at this time, I may force you opponent into a timing situation where you're .4 units slow (assuming you SMASH the next available moment).
In this scenario there are a few distinct advantages that I have.
  • 1) Because tilt attacks recover more quickly than smash attacks, I'll be less vulnerable to counter attack during the very brief moment when my character is recovering from my tilt. 
  • 2) If I throw your timing off enough, you might assume that I've found a way to steal a turn and will proceed to give me another 1 unit of time before acting again! No matter if you smash, roll, or wait I'll still have the advantage offensively and defensively.
  • 3) Tilt attacks generally do a bit less damage than smash attacks, but they also keep the opponent closer for follow up attacks. 
  • 4) Using tilts keeps your smash attacks strong so that when you do use them later, they'll be able to kill. (remember stale-move negation)
Against a player who only smashes, using tilts in this way is an interplay barrier or a hard strategic counter to their playstyle. By subdividing time into smaller unit, I can do more on my "turn," play more aggressively, and be safer. That's a win-win-win. But what happens if you start using tilts as well? I can subdivide the time unit to an even finer degree with jabs. Jab attacks are generally the fastest attacks in any fighting game. To balance these attacks jabs typically have a very short range, very low stun, do very little damage, and have very little knock back. For more on mechanics balance of Smash Bros. see here
Jab Attacks
A jab attack is like a .1-.3 unit of time (all relative to spamming smash attacks of course). So naturally if both players act at the same time the jabbing player will beat a tilting player, and a tilting player will beat a smashing player. By using a variety of attacks from different distances you have access to create very different combinations of attacking moments and recovery moments. For example, a jab-tilt-jab-smash is different from a smash-tilt-smash. 
Now we can understand how this real time to turn-based simplification works with reflex skills to create pattern based mixups and a high level technique called a frame trap. Read more about mixups here if you're unfamiliar with the term. Using a wide variety of attacks players can make and break patterns to throw off the opponent. Even putting slight delays in your actions can give you significant advantages in combat. A frame trap is when you time your actions against an opponent very precisely to bait them into reacting thus putting the opponent at a disadvantage (usually because of the start up frames from their attacks) as your follow up attacks win out. Typically the baiting gap, the opponent's action, and your action all start and finish within a few frames. 
All successful multiplayer games are designed with so that offense is more powerful, capable, or versatile than defense. At least, all the successful multiplayer games I know of. This design keeps players actively trying to create advantages instead of passively waiting for the opponent to make a move. Real-time action games are so packed with action players are constantly playing catch up with their reflex skills. With our best reflexes landing somewhere between 10-40 frames we trail the action by about half a second. Sure, we see the action happening in a smooth and continuous way. But we react very slowly. Test your reflex skills with our game REFLEX.  
To compensate we anticipate actions by visualizing the gameplay in our minds eye using our LTM. Read more about knowledge skills here. The more one knows, the less surprising the game actions are and the better one can react appropriately. So knowing that your opponent can't react in time to counter your 3 JABs (because they're so fast), you can be confident stopping the jabs early at 1 or 2 of 3 hits (leaving you briefly vulnerable) to transition into a tilt or a smash attack. In other words, you make and take extra moments of time by breaking expectations. This works as long as the transition between moves is quick. This is just one way fold in slower attacks into combat instead of simply using the fastest moves all the time. 
Knowing the opponent cannot really react to action that's quicker than half a second you can really apply lots of pressure to a shielding opponent. In Brawl, the spot dodges, rolls, and air dodges range from 25-50 frames. To convert this frame data into "turns" that like .5-1 turns!  So when you pressure the opponent enough that they use these moves, with decent reflects you should be able to see that your attack was unsuccessful and then catch the opponent out of their evasive maneuver.  


At the highest level your timing framework is constantly being adjusted. The more LTM knowledge you have of the game, the better you can understand and anticipate frame traps. Also, the better you can understand that time is relative to potential actions. When you see that every action has a startup, active, and recovery frames that can fit together in different ways like 2D puzzle pieces, you have the most detailed conception of time there is. And at this level, even small pauses or "skipping your turn" is a powerful technique. 

Whether on offense or defense you're almost constantly influencing your character in Brawl. Even in a combo you can lean one way or another with DI to throw the opponent off. If you think that players take breaks in a combo heavy games like Street Fighter 4, you should know that players are often inputting attacks that never come out to counter potential strategies. So when you see a character only blocking, the player may actually be inputting specific moves to counter the potential holes and frame traps the opponent uses. See for yourself below.

Look at the inputs of these players on the sides while they're blocking or in a combo!

Daigo really uses variation in his pattern based mixups to land 4 throws in a row! 


Brawl Examples: The part I want you to see only lasts a few seconds at the start of the position I send you to. 


It's time I ended this article series. 

Article originally appeared on Critical-Gaming Network (
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