Fighter’s Corner – Vega/Claw and the Meta-Game

Every other Saturday (and maybe not every one…), Zach describe, in lurid detail, his quest to become better at fighting games. Meet Fighter’s Corner: The Quest to Become a World Warrior.

I will admit this much: I am very, very bad at fighting games. I certainly developed the necessary reflexes for playing such games, yet I find myself being consistently horrible at the whole process of playing them.

Partly, this comes from their unique nature in the sea of generic mechanics. Fighting games do not reward the player for merely learning all of their complicated and diverse functions. In a traditional game, mastering all of your abilities would bring victory and a sense of satisfaction. When engaged in a battle between yourself and the tightly scripted AI of the game, you’ll inevitably win, given enough time and effort to the task.

Not so with the fighting game. By its nature you must fight another person to get the real “experience” of the competitive spirit. An AI cannot replicate what a real human person brings to a match. We call it the “meta-game” – the game of strategy taking place above the mastery of mechanics. What is my opponent’s game plan? Will he play character X like everyone else, or does he tend to surprise his foes with completely unorthodox technique? Can I react and understand those tactics fast enough to win? That’s the essential test of your fighting skills. Fortitude, execution, and thought under pressure do not come naturally! I find myself exemplary in the training room, but horrible in a real match.

Therein lies the difference between a 2D and a 3D fighter: the execution requirement for the latter means the cost of failure always comes much higher. In Soul Calibur, which I’ve played incessantly for the past fourteen years, punishes and devastating attacks come naturally, simply because the execution requires pressing a button and a direction at the right time. It’s simple and makes the game accessible to most people (well, excepting wave-dashing and other such crazy execution-based nonsense, but it is limited to certain characters only).

In Street Fighter, however, victory does not just come with timing but speedy and accurate execution of complex joystick motions. These are not things I’ve trained myself to do. Furthemore, I found many techniques simply impossible without a real arcade joystick; hence, my learning how to use them for the past 3-4 years. To develop an entirely new set of muscle memories does not arrive without constant use and hard work. Even now, I’m good but not proficient at Street Fighter, although my Soul Calibur game went up a bunch – who knew?

That’s what you need to win: dedication and a spirit willing to persevere through thick and thin. Do you desire victory or not?

Mastering your movesets and abilities under pressure and the stress of the primarily mental meta-game becomes key. To take a particular example: I play Vega/Claw in Street Fighter IV. The majority of Vega’s strengths come from his ability to “poke” an opponent – literally, using moves with great range to interrupt an opponent’s attacks or stop him/her in their tracks. Players who haven’t seen Claw in action usually do not know what to do, especially one who does not throw out unsafe attacks. His flips and aerial attacks, while very cool-looking, require adept timing and prediction to use effectively. Or, in the case of your opponent, them not predicting that you’d throw out something so insanely risky. Hence the meta-game: train your opponent to act a certain way (safe attacks), and he may not see the freight-train coming in time (crazy aerial assault).

They call him "Claw" because Japanese players call him "Vega". Really confusing, I know.

They call him “Claw” because Japanese players call him “Vega”. Really confusing, I know.

Training your opponent’s thought does not come naturally; you need to know how that training will leads you to further damage opportunities. The fighting game community, or FGC, uses the term “footsies” to describe the constant push/pull of a match when in a neutral situation – that is where the training begins. No person has an advantage at the beginning of a match; thus, you’re looking for your foe to whiff an attack, or throw something out. Positioning on the battlefield determines your options and constrains your opponent’s options. Do this well and you can continue to twist the screw a little tighter until they submit to your superior tactics.

This “footsie” game for position works perfectly to Vega’s advantage for a few reasons. Vega punishes mistakes by connecting his pokes into links and combos. The range of his claw makes this an easy task, as Vega’s hitbox (the area wherein Vega can be hit when using an attack) is not on the claw. One mistake leads to a combo taking out a fourth of your life – not insubstantial in a game where the damage tends to be low already. You’re establishing a precedent to your opponent’s mind that, yes, you will counter with real, threatening damage. Don’t tell me you do not look at the life meter or the time; these add the pressure onto someone already losing. Vega players need to learn a variety of one-frame links in order to capitalize on the short windows of opportunity – hence, learning a variety of combos to take advantage of every stray hit. Knocking down an opponent at the end of a combo aids you even further by giving you a positional advantage of your choice.

However, Vega’s range in his ground game comes at the price of his aerial offense. Vega needs to anticipate air attacks or die a sudden death from the rest of the cast. Whereas a Shoto player (Ken, Ryu, Akuma, etc.) uses the Shoryuken to escape pressure situations like this, Vega’s anti-air options come from quick decisions and anticipation. Most of them (air throw and HK at least) do not work without some degree of good reaction or anticipation, let along knowing whether an opponent just used a special move (which will beat out both). Nearly every character in the cast knows this and can abuse Vega’s mid-range offense through jumps, projectiles, and invincible reversals. It’s not a pretty picture.

Yet, the meta-game shows us that no obstacle remains insurmountable. Vega wins even without these advantages through patient play, adaptation, and working around an opponent’s tools and Vega’s own shortcomings. Even if I do not play the easiest character in the game to grasp, I do like the style and the challenges that come with it. Whatever you sow, you also reap; that’s my challenge when I play fighting games. I hope to reap some greater reward out of this, both by reporting my experience AND getting better at the games. So here we go! Off to play some Vega games and be defeated horribly and utterly!

The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches himDo not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. 10 So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.

Galatians 6

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.