Fighting Game Tutorials, Part 2

Now let’s learn what a fighting game tutorial should actually be.

First off, it’s not this:

I’ve seen some tutorial recommendations, from Skullgirls, to Guilty Gear, to even Virtua Fighter. And some of these get parts of a tutorial right, but they all falter on one big ass problem: they teach execution before mentality, and execution is FUCKING WORTHLESS without mentality.

The guy in the video above has flawless execution. You won’t see him in Top 8 at a major fighting game tournament.

How to play fighting games. Realistically, how to win fighting games.

There are two rules to winning a fighting game:

  • Hit your opponent
  • Don’t get hit

And one of the 2 (or more) people in a fight is gonna disobey that second rule. Make sure it’s not you.

Lesson 1: Your Health (will fade)

Your character has health. When they get hit, their health decreases. If it becomes 0 or less, they lose. Keep this in mind.

Lesson 2: Walking

Walking is the basic method of movement. There’s no commitment tied to walking, and walking can be canceled at any time for any reason.

For the first exercise, all you have to do to win is stand within a green column, displayed as a beam of light. This column will move side to side, shrink, and expand.

Side note: No specific characters. The character being used should either be switched out randomly, changed based on each lesson or be a generic character. If you use one character throughout a tutorial, you likely haven’t learned to play the game; you’ve learned to play ONE character. Last I checked, the game isn’t called Ryu Fighter V. There are some universal concepts shared across characters, but that’s a base level of knowledge.

This exercise will reset and continue infinitely, with the green column becoming smaller and faster moving with time. Eventually, it should become impossible to walk to stay within the area. At that point, we introduce the next portion-

Lesson 3: Dashing

Dashing is typically faster than walking, but has a commitment. After dashing, the character is stuck in an animation for a short period of time while moving. Dashes in distance and time are finite, and must be executed multiple times to execute multiple dashes.

The exercise continues, but becomes a little more complex. A flag will sometimes fall from the sky, and the green column will immediately shrink and converge on the flag until reaching it. The speed of its convergence will be beyond walking speed, and the player will be encouraged to dash to remain within the light. This exercise will continue a finite number of times.

Lesson 4: Jumping

Jumping is like dashing: set animation, but (typically) faster than walking. Jumping can also avoid some moves that dashes and walking cannot. Jumping can typically be altered with various attacks, but many attacks available to walking characters are not available to those jumping.

New exercise! Not really- it’s the same exercise, but now when a flag drops, it will throw a slow-moving shock wave out along the ground, around waist-level, or over the characters head, and the character will have to time their jumps to dodge the shockwave, or choose not to jump at all. Dashing and walking is still emphasized. This exercise will continue a finite number of times.

Lesson 5 and Test: Blocking

Just blocking in general. No high/low/mid/overhead nonsense yet! After learning the basic concept of blocking, the player now has all the tools they need for their first big exercise: Counter-zoning.

No more green light! Instead, a character from the game will be the opponent-specifically, the biggest ‘keep-away’ character-, and they’ll be throwing every kind of projectile and zoning tool that they can in a semi-random pattern (some chains of zoning tools will be done to specifically encourage different movements/blocking timing).

This will be a leaderboard challenge. The player will be tasked with approaching the opponent, and each time the opponent is reached, they will automatically teleport away to repeat the process, up to five times. The player will be timed on how quickly they can approach the opponent on the fourth and fifth times. These times will be uploaded to an online leaderboard, and provide a small in-game reward for completing the challenge, and another small reward for ranking high on the leaderboards. Rewards are currently along the line of a skin color or fancy background art.

Lesson 6: Advanced Blocking

Now that you know how to bypass some zoning, let’s look at another form of defense you must learn: Highs, Overheads, Mids, and Lows. Highs can be blocked by standing opponents, and completely miss crouching opponents. Overheads can be blocked by standing opponents, and will always hit crouching opponents. Mids can be blocked by standing and crouching opponents. Lows can be blocked by crouching opponents, and always hit standing opponents. These are the four major types of attacks- and even Highs can be considered ‘special case Mids’- and understanding which is which is which affects how you need to defend yourself.

The next exercise is simple: Another character will be the opponent, and will perform one of eight moves: two overheads, two highs, two lows, two mids. When the opponent performs the move, the player is tasked with reacting with an appropriate block. The moves will start out slowed down, and will speed up as time goes on. Furthermore, as time goes on, the opponent will chain multiple attacks into each other. This exercise will go on for a finite period of time.

Side note: avoidance. Many attacks can be completely avoided by being out of range or being in the air. Dashing and jumping are equally effective defensive techniques in many situations. If a group of moves seems too quick to properly defend against, try avoiding them altogether.

Lesson 7: Attacking

We’re finally there! Mostly. This section will be emphasizing a few things. Mostly concepts like recovery, startup, and active frames.

As a quick experiment, the player will be asked to select a character, and experiment with each of their attack buttons, as well as play around with any special moves that they may have. This is more of an Input Trial section. This can also be used to introduce the player to any game-specific mechanics.

Lesson 8: Attacking via zoning

Zoning is essentially performing actions in a way that limits your opponent’s options. This will deal with two forms of zoning: projectiles and footsies.

The first exercise will be understanding how to create projectiles, and how different projectiles can interact with each other to create a mixup game around jumping and dashing at specific ranges. The range at which projectiles can be punished will also be covered.

The second exercise will deal with some up-close zoning. Use of specific moves to properly distance opponents and deter against specific actions.

The exercise will be as thus: an opponent will try to approach from the maximum distance. The player will be tasked with using projectiles to stop the opponent’s advance, who will be using a randomized mixture of walking, blocking, and jumping to approach. Once within a range where projectiles are unsafe to throw, the player will be tasked with using throws, pokes, and anti-airs to prevent the opponent from hitting the player character. Once the player character is hit, they fly to other other end of the arena, and the exercise restarts a finite number of times.

Lesson 9: Mixup Attacking I: Lows and overheads

Now that the opponent is nearby- and not super retarded- they’re not just gonna get hit by a flood of mids and highs. They’re gonna block high AND low.

For the exercise, the player will control a character who has both overhead and low attacks. After a quick introduction to a few of these tools, the opponent will proceed to block standing and crouching in a random pattern. Players will be tasked with picking an attack that exploits their blocking position. This continues a finite number of times.

This exercise may warrant a leaderboard as well, to see how quickly a player can select the correct attack ten times or so. Analyzing the opponent is an important part of fighting games, and this is an excellent example of the concept.

Lesson 10: Mixup Attacking II: Cross-ups

To cross-up is to perform a move where the attack will occur on the opposite side of where the move originated. Typically used to describe jumping attacks that land on the other side, this term can also include teleports or move that go through an opponent.

This exercise is simple. The player will be tasked with performing a jump-in attack that may/may not be a cross-up. The opponent will defend. Then, the opponent will attempt to perform a cross-up, with the player defending. The score is tallied similar to a soccer shootout. After amassing a specific gap, the exercise completes.

Side note: mixup addition. This exercise can be altered by having a second portion where properly landed cross-ups should be followed up with a few few hits, and blocked cross-ups should be followed with further ground mixups.

Lesson 11: Mixup Attacking III: Throws and Unblockables

Throws and unblockables are simply moves that cannot be blocked. Most times, they must either be avoided, or countered by striking the opponent before their unblockable move can occur.

This exercise is pretty close to Lesson 9’s, but the opponent will randomly block both high and lows, and will need to be thrown or hit with an unblockable attack  from time to time. There’s not much to say here, this is just to emphasize that third option against particularly defensive opponents.

Lesson 12: Safe, Unsafe, and Punishing

Safe moves are those in which a character can execute, and return to a neutral stance in time to defend against their opponent’s offensive retaliation. Unsafe moves are the opposite. Attacking an opponent while they’re returning to a neutral stance is known as punishing.

Side note: doing some research. If the game features frame data, this can be an excellent exercise for players: Have them look up a move with a startup time smaller than the opponent’s frame disadvantage after specific moves. This can help ready them for actually doing some research on their own instead of listening to a tutorial verbatim. Remember that everything has an exception, and no tutorial can ever be a guide to 100% mastery. Personal research WILL be required to progress at some point.

Lesson 13: Meter and Meter Generation

Most fighting games have meter, which builds up under specific conditions, and can be used to execute unique moves. This mechanic makes the values of specific actions vary with meter, and adds a new dynamic to a fight.

This exercise will mostly be playing around. The player should be introduced to the methods that build meter, and any mechanics that use meter. This can also be used as a learning tool for players to check out a character’s move list.

Side note: the benefit of storing meter. In some cases, the threat of a character using a meter-unique move is enough to prevent an opponent from performing specific actions, and in that case, limiting the opponent can be more valuable than spending the meter to gain a different advantage. This is always something to keep in mind.

Lesson 14: Combos

Combos are chains of moves that are executed and performed in sequence. If the previous attack of a combo lands, then all other subsequent attacks of the combo will land, too. Combos are important for capitalizing on properly landing attacks against the opponent. If a player can convert every attack they land into a combo that does 200% the original attack’s damage, they only have to land half as many hits as someone who doesn’t execute combos. This means that instead of 10-15 correct guesses required to win a fight, a player can need as little as 2 or 3!

For this exercise, the player will select a character, and perform a few small combos based off of some their selected character’s most common and essential moves. Then, they’ll be tasked with executing a combo that meets specific criteria (going over a damage threshold, having a certain number of hits, or carrying the opponent beyond a specified distance)

Side note: researching combos. Depending on what’s available in the game, players should experiment based off of listed frame data, cancel properties, available meter or sometimes eyeballing it, which applies greatly to juggles- combos that strike an opponent launched off of the ground. The best combos in the game aren’t going to be known by the developer on Day 0.

Also, understand ‘best combos’ for different situations. The starting attack, available meter, and current position on the stage all affect what combos can be executed, and what the optimal combo will be.

Lesson 15: Reading a fight

Reading a fight is the concept of gauging the parameters of a fight. Who has the lead, remaining time, remaining health, each character’s capabilities, and what a character should be doing at specific times and specific situations. This one’s less objective than the others, but it’s important to harp on a few concepts:

  • If you have a large health lead, and have more zoning tools than your opponent, ZONE. They have to bypass your zoning to begin attacking you, and that’s free damage for you.
  • If you have a health lead, and the timer’s about to run out, wait it out. A win is a win is a win is a win is a win…
  • Riskier (unsafe-er) moves should not be performed (as often) if your opponent has an abundance of meter and resources. If they punish you at those times, it will hurt worse than if you were being randomly punished.
  • When you have next to no health, all moves are equally risky, and all opponent attacks are equally deadly. If a standing tickle jab and the Ultra Insta-Death Rape Beam 5000 can BOTH kill you, both are equally dangerous, and their counter(s) should be considered with equal value.

Side note: momentum. Another subjective concept, but it still holds weight: The character who last landed an attack likely has an advantage in a fight, and is more likely to continue attacking. More likely does not mean guaranteed. Learning when to block (when you’re at too large a disadvantage) and when to counter (when the holes in your opponent’s offense are exploitable) is essential. Else, you’ll be using the patented ‘Block with your face’ technique.


Side note: pressure. This is related to momentum. If an opponent is leaving no good gaps to exploit in their offense, they’re executing good pressure. Consider all options when this is happening. Do you have any movement-based escapes (jumping, dashing, teleporting)? Do you have an invincible attack? Do you have a move that could counter their next attack? Is this a really long chain that you can simply block and punish at the end? If you answered no to all of these, you might just be playing a shitty game, or Zero in UMVC3- same thing, really.

Lesson 16: Fighting

Fight, nigga. This isn’t an exercise. This is the cycle. Learn, fight, win, lose, adapt, repeat. It’s not always gonna be in that order, but they all happen. If you’ve made it this far, there’s going to be some wins in there for you.

Side note: character selection. In a perfect world, you have an even chance of winning any fight. Unfortunately, you live on Earth, and sometimes, fights are heavily altered by the character you’re using, and the modifiers available to the player. Always keep this in mind, as matchups are something that cannot be taught easily.

Lesson 17: Other concepts

With the exception of crossups and meter, every concept above is in EVERY fighting game. After these concepts are taught, specific mechanics within a game can be emphasized. Some mechanics can- and should- be taught between lessons. This is a surface-level explanation of a good tutorial. Also, some concepts can be added in, such as:

  • Tick throws
  • Frame traps
  • Whiff punishing
  • Reversals
  • Corner combos
  • Spacing
  • Throw breaking
  • Damage scaling
  • Meter economy
  • Invincible moves
  • Sabakis (situationally invicible moves)
  • Juggling
  • Links, Cancels, and the difference between them
  • Turning every fight into a learning experience
  • Not being a little BITCH online (this one’s REALLY important)

Now, I’m not the guru on fighting games- I make mistakes, and I’m sure there are some issues that I’m not properly elaborating on. If you have anything to add to what a fighting game tutorial should be, let me know in the comments.


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