Almost two Decades of Street Fighter
While you might hear me occasionally go on and on about more modern games, such as /Halo/ or /Gears of War/, the truth is there is always a part of me that will remain adamantly loyal to /Street Fighter/. And by that, I don’t mean the fighting game genre– I mean, specifically, the family of Street Fighter games.
It’s true that while growing up, I had a lot of heroes, but one of the most lasting fantasies that paralleled something about who I wanted to be or how I wanted to do it, it was all somehow related to Street Fighter. I have been playing Street Fighter games for over 15 years at this point, with most serious play happening around the year 2000 while I attended college. Although I’d been playing since SFII first came out in arcades, things mostly became serious when I got my hands on a copy of Street Fighter Zero for PC. It was with Zero that I first really started appreciating the versatility of control and just, in a sense, the psychology, spirituality and philosophy involved with playing a Street Fighter game. The lessons learned from then and on carried forward to future games, and even to life.
In an interesting way, I was able to “grow up” with the characters. Over the years, you get to know the people around you. Friends, enemies, what have you– you come to know what you like about them, what you dislike about them, and the respect you allocate regardless of like. You also get to see, throughout the ‘chronology’ of the games, how people develop their fighting techniques and styles.
The easiest way to illustrate this bildungs is through Street Fighter games’ Shotokan lineup, at the base of which is the eternal camraderie of Ryu and Ken. Depending on which title, you get derivative characters such as Sakura, Sean, Akuma (Gouki), Dan, and most recently in SFIV, Gouken.
Take real people who study the same school of martial arts. You’ll find generally that at the very basic level, they’re all similar– but as they mature as individuals, they’ll start deviating from the norm when it comes to actual combat. While it’s true that perhaps during kata/poomsae/forms things should look pretty similar if not for the timing, it’s really during combat that you’ll see just what a person has discovered works for their body type and intentions.
During Street Fighter II: World Warrior, the difference between Ken and Ryu was marginal. There was essentially no difference except for visuals– handling was pretty much the same. But if you take the Street Fighter chronology of things, that is to say, beginning with the Alpha/Zero series (SFA/Z, SFA/Z2 and SFA/Z3), moving on to SFThree (plus Second Impact and Third Strike), then to Street Fighter IV. In between, shove in the VS games, such as X-Men vs Street Fighter, Marvel Vs. Capcom (1 and 2), and Capcom vs SNK (1 and 2) and you have a pretty big lineup. Rival Schools (1, 2, and 3) games are worth mentioning as well. The old joke used to be that Capcom doesn’t know how to fucking count to 3… well, I guess now that IV is out, we can update that joke to them not being able to count to four.
Anyway, back to my point. And here it’s where those of you who don’t play Street Fighter will probably stop reading because this may be too much detail for you.
Feel the handling differences between Ryu and Ken in SFII.
Now jump ahead– try SFAlpha/Zero.
Then jump to SFAlpha 3.
There’s a huge amount of difference in the way each of those two characters handles despite that they were basically clones of eachother in the past. By Alpha 3, we notice that Ryu’s fireballs becomes more important, while his shoryuken and tasumaki start becoming more haymakerish. Ken’s shorkyken and tasumaki tend to become less decisive but more combocrazy. By the time we get to SF Third Strike, Ryu has gone the path of decisive “one hit” killing– his crazy unblockable dejiin hadouken charged super, as well as the point blank shin-shoryuken, are among some of the most difficult supers to use properly. He loses all the flashy moves, but has some real whopers like the EX-sidekick that hits so hard that it bounces you off a wall.
Ken, meanwhile, becomes more and more stylish– I would argue that Ken in SF Three has the most interesting gameplay out of any character in any SF game (and that’s even though I admit that I don’t actually like using him). Unlike Ryu, who has the standard hopping overhead (all characters in SF Three have a standard hopping overhead) and his command forward-strong two-hit overhead punch, Ken’s got a plethora of axe kicks. He’s got a forward leg axe kick, as well as a rear leg one. And both of those moves have hip transitions– Ken can, for example, fake an overhead front leg axe kick and instead throw out a knee and step-in. His rear leg axe-kick also transitions from a roundhouse on command.
These kinds of techniques are possible in real life (I like to compare Ken Masters to Andy Hugg, one of my favorite kickboxers of all time) but while it’s difficult to do these things in real life, or to develop a style for them, what’s arguably as difficult is to achieve the martial arts sense to port that into a video game. While many of the SF characters are fantastic, that is to say, even their basic techniques are impossible, there is a basis, most notably with the shotokans, in real-world techniques. And it’s not just a question of modeling, animation quality, frame rates or their evolution from series to series. Especially if we look at the characters of Ken, Ryu, and Akuma, it’s about the evolution of nearly identical techniques to distinctions that make them individualistically recognizable from the head down simply by the way they move.
By the time we look at Street Fighter IV, we do see similarities in the way that they move. But there are differences that have evolved gradually from series to series and now they are obvious if we look closely.
Ryu and Ken use the old 260 sweep kicks from SFII, wheras Akuma is styled with the “hooked recovery” sweep that was introduced in SFThree.
Ryu has more two-stage punching. Ken’s variability remains with sport-karate kicks. Akuma’s techniques become more ‘oldschool’ like what you’d expect of classic Japanese Sonny Chiba movies– that is to say, open-palm, bone breaking action. Even Akum’s throw goes for the kill; unlike Ryu and Ken, who might toss or slam you, Akuma throws you right at his feet and then he slams down the chop on the back of your head, while you’re in the prone position.
You might think I’m looking far into this– but really, what do you suppose they think about at Capcom? Those who worked on Street Fighter IV are unlikely to be the same people exactly who worked on the old SFs of the 1990s… they’re probably bigger fans than I am.
And I appreciate their work.
About Mental Toughness.
Which would be one of the most important elements of my badminton and martial arts techinques for the decade to come, not to mention my professional work ethic. Mental Toughness has to do with not just keeping your cool in relation to a continuum ranging from panicked to stone cold; many people mistake mental toughness for indifference. In fact, it’s anything but indifference: it’s the ability to focus on a task at hand in spite of distractions, yet on some level to be as aware as possible of the environment exclusive of your person. This is not despite an emotional, mental and physical stresses, but above it, or beside it– because those sorts of stresses are energies that can be harnessed.
I will have my stints where I start playing realtime strategy games, RPGs (anything Square, until my betrayal at the hands of Last Remnant and Infinite Undiscovery) or Third and First-Person shooters. I may even really relate to characters in those games. But, in the end, their time will pass– yet 15 years later, I still find it infinitely relevant to my resume as a gamer that I can do quarter circles with a joystick.
An RPG, you can die and there’s nothing to it– you can feel frustration, you can feel dismay, you can feel time wasted– but, if you are physically standing next to your opponent, in an arcade, you can feel the energy coming off of the guy/gal. Sometimes, when they throw you when you grab, you want to whip out with your real elbow and smash them in the face. (Luckily, nobody does that.)
You are also acutely aware of the fact that there is usually an audience. So it’s not just that you’re squaring off with someone, but that there are people watching you do it.
Street Fighter taught me a lot about confrontation in that sense– how to be a good sport, how to be a gracious winner, and, probably more importantly, how to be a gracious loser. The thing is, you learn things from effort and from winning, but you learn the most, really, when you do your best and you still lose. That’s when you see what someone better than you is doing, and that’s how you get hints at becoming better yourself.
It was years after I started playing Street Fighter that Naruto came out, but I think that the idea of the Sharingan is a fantastic one. For those of you who don’t know, some ninjas have a hereditary ability in their eyes that allows them super visual analytical skills. They can, for example, see a complicated sequence of techniques performed just once, and then duplicate the events. The eyes necessary to do this with perfect accuracy are called Sharingan– it’s the ability of Dumbass “I’m-so-angry-because-nobody-loves-me” Sasuke, and as well as my favorite ninja, Copy-Ninja Kakashi.
In all wakes of life, the only point of Mental Toughness is to keep your mind unclouded so you can see things going on around you. In the real world, you seldom get second chances– so you need to get in the habit of paying attention to things that go on around you. Pre-emptively, it keeps you out of a lot of trouble, and in a situation, it helps you either get out of trouble or stay on top of things.
Fact of the matter is, the big thing about Street Fighter games is their birth as coin-ops. Street Fighter I is pretty obscrue nowadays, but from Street Fighter II and on, the legacy of the game rests on the wuxia tradition of the martial arts duel of badassery. It isn’t a game where your character is significantly more powerful than any of the next– you have similar basic crouching, standing and jumping attacks. Your special attacks are somewhat unique to you, but my point is that the characters are balanced such that it’s how you play your character and now what character you use that decides the outcome. A person cannot play 100 hours and collect better armor than you, get a bigger gun, or whatever. If they get something out of 100 hours that they can bring to the game, it’s skills.
Supergirl and I play ‘co-op’ Street Fighter 4 at her place, since she bought a copy in Asia to play on the PS3 at her place. We’re two completely different sorts of players when you look at the way that we move on screen, but it doesn’t change the fact that she enjoys the game a lot. Enough to shell out a hundred bucks for a tournament stick on eBay.
The difference in the ways that we play the game though reflect the importance that I attribute to this game– she, first of all, wants to unlock all the characters in the game, so usually we set the game on easy mode with only 1 round to win. I, on the other hand, like to set the game on hardest. Make no mistake– I hate losing. And I lose often, especially when playing a game that I haven’t been playing for months. But I put myself through that because, in some strange way, I respect the practice of pain. I don’t know where I heard this, but: pain is weakness leaving the body. If one wants to be formidable, one needs to put in the time and effort. One needs to earn the proficiency in their craft.
Especially while playing at the arcades, there are a number of things that can occur that teach you the virtues of simplification. What do I mean about simplification?
Well, first of all, lets start with the iconic control movement that started it all– QCF+P. That means you roll the joystick in a quarter circle from down to forward, and hit a punch button when your jotick comes to stop. It’s the classic Hadoken (fireball) motion. Sounds simple enough– but, there are a number of reasons why even that can fail you.
There’s, first of all, a broken set of controls. If your controls fail for reasons out of your control (har har har) like someone before you who was there broke something, maybe you’re not capable of doing that command anymore.
Secondly, technical difficulty. It’s simply that if you’re emotionally, mentally or physically stressed, a higher challenge technique is more likely to fail because your subconscious is likely to fail at fine motor or mental operations. What’s easier, carrying 6 glasses of wine with your two hands, or putting them on a tray? Use two hands if you must– but the less you have to micromanage, the easier it is for you to reserve brain power for the task at hand: kicking ass.
Simplification relies on a simple Murphy’s Law: that things can break down will break down. It’s not that simple systems are immune– but they are easier to understand and use intuitively. It’s the person who has a modular, elementary system of operation that he understands inside out who will be able to adapt quicker.
That means, in a game of Street Fighter, that using a character is hardly at all about learning to do all their special, super or ultra moves. Although those are essential at the higher levels, you must first learn a good set of Basics: that means, all the normal and command punches, kicks, and throws.
In real life, the same applies: don’t make your life complicated. The less complicated it is, the easier it is for you to maneuver, to function, and to recover from damage. That isn’t to say that you can’t develop some complicated, situation specific tools– but knowing your craft, that is to say, your Way, is essentially about understanding the building blocks of your life before trying to build any grand towers.
At a certain point in the proficiency of it, you just start peaking. It doesn’t mean you can’t improve. You can always improve. But it gets to a point where you can’t get past a certain point on want of technical ability alone– you will still need to find a reason, some sort of inspiration to keep going. And more likely than not, you will find that the reason you want to get better at something will become somewhat disconnected with the reason the technique exists. Sort of like with a paintbrush– sure, you want to color a canvas– but why?
What does that action make you feel? Sure, you can want to write a few paragraphs of text. But why? Sure, people take up martial arts, dance, cooking, music– but is the collection of techniques, diasporatic or local, something that evolves simply out of the necessity of technical perfection?
There comes a time when a person just knows there’s something more important that keeps them going. And that is when your craft, your life, incorporates reasons, although arbitrary, that give it the value of art.