Responding to a question regarding projectile attacks, Daigo speaks on his theories about the Hadouken—when to throw them, with what timing, and their overall role in fighting games.
Players tend to learn how to differentiate between “safe fireballs” that leave enough time to anti-air if your opponent jumps in and “unsafe fireballs” that leave you open to taking damage and carry an inherent risk. Takayuki mentions that Daigo is often associated with his immaculate use of projectile attacks, and how he almost never seems to get jumped in on despite using them in unsafe situations.
Takayuki studied videos of Daigo’s play after taking up Ryu in Street Fighter Alpha 3, and made the following analysis of his play:
Takayuki: “…I would spend an incredible amount of time watching videos of your play and think ‘How does this guy get away with throwing so many risky fireballs?’ I figured that before I chalked it up to just being a result of your experience and ability to read your opponent, it might be worth figuring out whether or not there’s some specific technique behind it. What jumped out at me first was that you were ‘confirming’ your shots. For example, the decision of whether to throw a Hadouken at the beginning of a round or not, after throwing one Hadouken whether to throw another or not, or thinking about whether your opponent will choose to jump or block… these are all split-second situations where people often focus too much on their options and hesitate, but it has always seemed to me like you take a moment–just one moment–to confirm that your opponent is not jumping and then immediately throw your next fireball. Or even just confirming that your opponent is doing something like walking forward, in situations where you’re both playing the neutral game. If your opponent starts walking forwards it’s likely he intends to engage you on the ground, after all. The speed at which you’re able to confirm those situations is exceptionally fast, so it may sometimes look like all you’re doing is throwing out fireballs at fast as you can. Once I realized this, I actually started to get jumped in on a lot less.”
Daigo tells Takayuki that’s just one piece of the puzzle, and encourages him to consider what role it is that projectiles fulfill in fighting games. They introduce the element of long-range combat, which does not exist in 3D fighting games or in the Street Fighter III series because of parrying. The importance of close-range combat also changes greatly as a result. When neither character can use projectiles it can be confusing as to who’s supposed to be on the offensive, but in situations where only one character can fight at a distance, the one that needs to get in close to do damage is forced to play aggressively. Daigo claims this is a vital part of what makes matches interesting, as the most enjoyable thing about fighting games is the different in position—or “spacing”—between players. He says projectiles are one of the most easily understood parts of what separates characters apart from one another, and explains that mirror matches (a “mirror match” refers to both players selecting the same character) are boring because that difference does not exist. He explains their importance as follows:
Daigo: Street Fighter II was the basically the starting point for fighting games, but I think it would have been pretty boring if it didn’t have projectiles, and it probably wouldn’t have been the huge hit that it was. Look at it this way: if there were no projectiles, offense as a whole would suffer because you wouldn’t have to worry about losing health as long as you never do anything. I’ve heard of people deciding the winner of matches in tournaments by rock-paper-scissors before, because in match-ups where whoever attacks first loses people would just do nothing all round and end up getting draw games by time out.”
Daigo goes on to explain that projectiles are essential to making 2D fighting games interesting—but that it doesn’t necessarily need to be projectiles, as long as something exists that serves a similar purpose. The Darkstalkers series has powerful overhead attacks (attacks that must be blocked in a standing, as opposed to a crouching, position), in addition to a guard crush mechanic (should your character block too many attacks, you will be left vulnerable momentarily). The most important thing is providing players with a reason to play proactively, which he says is not unique to fighting games. Many players may dislike it when projectiles are powerful because they feel it limits their freedom of movement, but Daigo insists that the fun begins when a character that excels at long-range fights a character that excels up close. Players being able to limit their opponents’ options allows for a higher level of play to be reached, separating strong players from weaker ones.
Takayuki points out that projectiles are a tool that forces your opponent to act, and that coercion is the real fun to be found in fighting games. Daigo agrees, and laments the recent trend of making projectiles in 2D fighters weaker. Despite projectiles in recent games being relatively simple to avoid or counterattack on reaction, tactics employed at close and mid-range do not seem to be advancing, either. Projectile characters should not be made more powerful at no cost, though; strengthening a character’s long-range game should result in other aspects being made weaker in order to compensate. “It’s all about maintaining a healthy variety,” Daigo says.
Takayuki mentions that match-ups where neither character has a reason to move are boring for spectators as well, and that the amount of time that gets wasted makes for an unhappy atmosphere in arcades.
The discussion takes a shift in tone when Daigo prompts Takayuki to consider what his “objective” is during matches, saying moves that carry risk are easier to do when you have a clear reason to do them. Your objective is not to win the round, but setting up the best possible scenario using the best possible moves in order to create a situation that will lead to you taking the round. Projectiles are but one such tool used to that end. Thinking about how best to use projectiles is a problem, as you focus too much on the projectile itself. It’s scary to throw out such a risky move when you don’t even know what you’re doing it for.
Takayuki interprets this as “not confusing the objective and the means,” and feels that the key to throwing fireballs more aggressively is to not let yourself get caught up in the risk and return of each individual moment, and keep in mind that there is a greater return to be had down the line. He asks Daigo to explain his stance further.
Daigo: “That would depend on the game and character, but one example I could give that applies to basically all games is ‘forcing your opponent into a corner.’ Take the Ryu vs. Guile match-up in Super Street Fighter II Turbo, for instance. Ryu has no way to deal any kind of decisive damage to Guile while at mid-screen, but you’re able to apply tremendous pressure once you get him into the corner. The strongest tool Ryu has available to him in this match-up is his sweep (crouching roundhouse kick) canceled into a Hadouken. If the sweep connects you knock him down, and if the sweep is blocked you still manage to carry him towards the corner. Guile, on the other hand, has a powerful projectile called a ‘Sonic Boom,’ which requires skillful use of Ryu’s Hadouken in order to close the space that creates. Putting it all together, the most efficient way to take the round is to force your opponent into the corner. Furthermore, the best way to get them there is to use your sweep into Hadouken, which you will only be able to do once you’ve neutralized Guile’s Sonic Boom with your Hadouken. Got it? A projectile is just something you can use in order to put yourself in an advantageous position–the act of throwing it is not your objective.”
Reflecting on how he picked up on Daigo’s technique of “confirming” his fireballs before throwing them, he says it would certainly be an effective tactic for throwing lots of fireballs, but admits he wasn’t thinking about the role that projectiles play in affecting the overall flow of the match. He asks Daigo to share any additional advice he might have.
Daigo: “Well, it’s not some kind of trick or anything, but why don’t I talk a bit about what got me so interested in projectile characters? I happened to run into a certain person back when I was really into Super Street Fighter II Turbo. At the time, he was incredibly strong and I couldn’t get a single win against him. You could say he was my master when it came to projectiles, I guess. ‘I realized it back in Hyper Fighting.’ he told me ‘This game is all about fireballs, Daigo. If you really think about it, characters can only leave the ground for a split second at a time. As long as I’m not throwing something in that split second, there’s no way I’ll lose!’ When I heard that, all that went through my mind was ‘…Oh!’ It’s a simple notion, but it really cuts to the essence of the Street Fighter II series. Being able to take something that looks complicated at first glance and simplify it in words like he could is important. Throwing projectiles takes courage. In order to continue doing that, you need to have something you believe in. In my case, my reason for continuing to throw projectiles is that I firmly believe that ‘continuing to shoot is my safest option’. Nobody else seems to think that way, however. Projectiles are kind of like a vehicle–you’re not going to stop riding them just because you’re afraid of getting into an accident, are you? But for some reason, people are scared when it’s a projectile. This is because fighting games are still young, and the idea that projectiles are safe is not yet part of the common consciousness. Not that any of this applies to recent games, anyway.”
Mastering the Anti-Air Shoryuken
Takayuki, explaining that he becomes unable to react when people jump at him if he focuses too hard on playing a strong ground game, asks Daigo how he’s able to anti-air so consistently using the Shoryuken. Takayuki praises his ability to pay such close attention to both the ground and the air, and wonders how he does it
Daigo: “There’s a reason for that, too. (laughs) There was this guy back in the Super Street Fighter II Turbo days who was really good, you see. I wanted to see him play for myself, and the first time I did he was up against a Zangief. At the time, I had never seen anyone be able to consistently repel Zangief’s jump-ins with Shoryukens, but he was doing it 100% of the time. On the maximum speed setting of 4 stars, no less. After seeing that, I decided I would do whatever I could to get the Shoryuken out when I needed it. It was not pretty–I was eating jump-ins left and right and getting clobbered because of it, but after spending so much time focusing only on anti-airing I eventually became able to do it consistently, and before I knew it I was able to do it without even keeping my eyes on the air. Pretty sure it’s all about repetition, is all.”
Takayuki asks next how he’s always able to connect with those seemingly random Shoryukens he always does, to which Daigo jokingly responds: “It’s all talent,” before explaining that there’s actually a reason behind that, as well.
Daigo: “This is another Street Fighter II story, but an acquaintance once told me ‘There used to be this guy who was weirdly good with random Shoryukens.’ I couldn’t ever see him play because by the time I had heard about him the guy in question had already quit the game, but I wanted to learn how to do it so I had spend lots of time imagining different scenarios and trying them out. After feeling confident I had finally started to figure it out, I landed a whole bunch of them on that same acquaintance, afterwards asking ‘Is this kind of what he was like?’ It was pretty rough–I had nothing to go on but my imagination. Oh, sorry. I guess it was talent after all.”
Daigo mentions that a certain level of intuition may be required, but that anyone can figure out what to aim for provided they work at it enough. Takayuki follows up by asking if there are ever instances where it looks like he’s making incredible reads on his opponent, but is actually just doing whatever he wants. Unsure of how to respond, Daigo asks for an example.
Takayuki: “I saw you playing CAPCOM VS. SNK 2 quite some time back, but you were playing a Ken whom you, during the recovery frames after he did his forward roll cancel Nata Otoshi Geri, countered using Dictator’s slide attack. I mean, sure, you might be able to get big damage off of it, but in situations where there’s no real reason to slide because there are more simple ways to counterattack, there you are–sliding. You’re leaving yourself in a really risky spot if you mess up, too! Or more recently, I was watching a video of you giving your thoughts about matches you played in a GODS GARDEN video, and there was a scene where you just continued walking forward against an El Fuerte. You’re just doing whatever you want, aren’t you? (laughs)”
Daigo explains this as him “asserting himself,” saying that, when played at a high level, fighting games are a problem of two people wanting to get their way. If everyone wanted to win than everyone would pick the strongest characters and never look back, but the reality is quite different. The desire players have to express themselves through their characters and style is why we see differences in how people play. Countering somebody with Dictator’s slide requires exceptional reads and reactions, which is not something Daigo believes he would be capable of doing all the time, making it all the more important to do it whenever he possibly can. Making it happen on screen is the single best way to make sure your feelings get across, and to show people the real you.
Daigo, saying that this was the first time he had read this particular article in quite some time, praised himself for his incredible insight. Reading through it, he finds himself agreeing with every single thing he says. Takayuki quips that it’s nice that Daigo isn’t afraid to toot his own horn. After a member of the editing department points out how this article came out shortly before Daigo became a professional gamer, Daigo once again marvels at his own ability–to think that such valuable information came from the mouth of an amateur!
Takayuki closes the discussion by quickly summarizing the article, pointing out how they tried to focus on the key points in order to make it accessible to people who may not be as knowledgeable about fighting games. Although the topic in question came from a reader asking “teach me how to throw a better Hadouken,” the first half touched on a discussion about how fighting games are about enjoying the difference in spacing between the characters, and the second half entered into more detail, talking about how small actions can be taken in order to put yourself in an advantageous position.
[Originally published in March of 2010]