Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Smash Workout

Warning: long post ahead.  It's also rambly.  Beware of "magical philosophizing."

So one of my recent hobbies--being pretty isolated in Texas, with me, Darkrain and DoH all being on completely different work schedules--is working out.  Mostly I do a lot of bodyweight stuff, working my way towards one-armed pullups and pushups, hanging V-raises, one-legged squats, stuff like that.  And, massive nerd that I am, I've thought about it and want to see what I can apply to Smash.

My most recent tournament, TO6, was pretty depressing for me for a couple reasons.  One, I'd just taken 5th at APEX and had 3 1st place finishes in tournaments before that, all of them with pretty stiff competition.  I had high expectations for myself, I took 4 days off work to go, and I wasn't playing as well as I liked.  That and having the entire crowd against me put me in a bad mood.  I lost to Raku, a Sheik player--who was surprisingly good, truthfully, he deserved his win 100%--and thanks to my high expectations that put me in an even worse mood.  I went to loser's and started off by getting stomped by RockCrock, and ended up quitting.  You can call it a rage-quit I guess, but it was a quit meant to pre-empt rage.  I promised myself awhile ago that if I started getting too frustrated during matches I would just forfeit before reaching a point of no-return on my anger.

So after a lot of thought I decided that my main weakness is--and has always been--my technical skill.  I don't make perfect guesses and decisions 100% of the time, but often I still screw up when I do, which is a big part of why I rely on simple chaingrabs and such; I'm incredibly inconsistent across the board, and the grab-game is the easiest for me to execute, so naturally I gravitate to it.  But I've been using it as a crutch for far too long, and I decided that if technical inconsistency is my biggest weakness, I will just have to train my ass off to turn it into my biggest strength.  If I can couple that with my generally smart play, then I'll be a much stronger player as a result.

But how to train?  How can one develop technical skill?  What is it?

For starters, I think technical skill--the kind that really matters--boils down to consistency.  It's not the ability to sprint, but to run a marathon.  To keep a consistent pace the entire match long so that even if you can't take advantage of every tiny opening with blinding flashy speed, you can give nothing away through mistakes.  And, once you can run the marathon, to improve your time.  Or, if we're going to compare it to a weight workout, we're looking at low weight with high reps first.  Master the basics, ingrain them utterly, and then slowly scale up.

When I first started playing competitively, I practiced a lot with Fox and he became my tournament main.  I learned how to do most of his stuff via something I call the "high-score" method, which is pretty simple.  Pick a technique, be it short hopping, wavedashing, whatever, and do it over and over and over again.  Keep track of how many times you can do it in a row before you make a mistake.  That's your high score.

Now, try to beat your high-score.  Keep going, keep beating your high-score.  Get to a really high number, because remember, you're going to be doing these things a LOT in any match.  Can you short hop 100 times in a row with Fox?  You'd better be able to if you're a serious Fox main, because you will be doing THOUSANDS of them in one day at a given tournament, and you can't afford to have an 80% success rate.

High-score method is how I managed to actually learn my tech skill originally, and I improved at it pretty rapidly.  Why did I stop?  Beats me.  But I'm starting again.  But what do you practice?

Here's another thing for weightlifters to consider when they work out: compound lifts versus isolation.  A compound lift is any lift that targets numerous muscle groups and forces them to coordinate to complete the lift.  A squat, for instance, doesn't only use your thighs and glutes, but you have to use your shins and calves to balance, as well as flex your back to lower yourself, then stand.  A squat works a lot of muscles.  In general, compound lifts are more effective for training your coordination, for giving balance in your muscular development, and even for saving you time in your workout.  Unless you're a bodybuilder specifically focusing on sculpting a single muscle group, it's almost always more beneficial to use compound lifts.

But what's interesting is that a "compound exercise" might not be the best idea for Smash practice.  It trains multiple skills at once, but sometimes it can give you the wrong kind of muscle memory.  This is because tech skill in Smash is also very heavily mental!

What do I mean?  Let's talk about inhibition reflexes.  (told you this is long and rambly)

Normal reflexes kick in when, let's say, your computer says "click when the screen turns green" and then hey, it turns green, so you click.  Inhibition reflexes involve making judgments and sometimes NOT taking certain actions.  If your computer says "hit enter when a letter appears, but DON'T hit anything if it's an X," then that tests your inhibition reflexes.  You have to check for a value, then decide on a response, sometimes inhibiting your decision to press Enter.

Smash matches do not follow a script.  The longer and more involved a technique is, the less likely it will be strictly applicable to every scenario.  Practicing short-hop turn-shine waveland fast-fall off the platform into b-air is fun and flashy, but sometimes you don't want to do that.  The more you practice it though, the more ingrained that entire action becomes.  The more of a habit it is to do that, the more you will have to actively prevent yourself from taking that action during a match.

But what if doing that is a great idea?  What if you know you can bait them into jumping out of their shield and you'll clip them with a b-air while they DI badly?  You want to be able to perform the maneuver.  So maybe you can just practice turn shines in one instance (that's kind of isolated), then practice waveland b-air in another (also pretty isolated), and every now and then put them together to make sure you can do it.

Now for another fun psychological experience: attentional blink.  Attentional blink refers to when you shift focus from one piece of information to another; as you can imagine, in Smash you have to do this A LOT.  You have to mentally move to the next step in the match, and sometimes it happens at blinding speed.  Somebody jumps up above you and wavelands on a platform, then falls off with b-air and hits your shield.  It's not enough for you to think, "okay he's going to waveland and b-air me," but then you have to quickly move forward into, "now I think he'll dash-dance away then come at me with a tipped n-air."

One of the things about attentional blink is that it WILL compete with your inhibition reflex for space in your mind.  You cannot consciously process two pieces of information simultaneously.  You can shift rapidly between them, but you can't actually think about them both.  If you have to put attention on on stopping yourself from turn-shine waveland b-airing, you will find it difficult to actually make a new decision.  Because you can't come up with a good decision, you may find your hands flubbing for a response.  And even if you CAN settle on a response, your hands won't be prepared to execute it well.

How does this relate to your smash workout?  Well, here's my theory: if you want to have good tech-skill, and you also want to be able to make good decisions even under pressure, you must have strong isolated skills and quick attentional blinking speed.  You have to separate situations into the smallest pieces possible, and be skilled at executing all of them.

SO, with all that long-winded shit in mind, here's how I'm trying to "work out" with Smash.

Wavedashes:  200 in a "set."  I cannot afford to screw these up because ICs rely on them heavily every game.  I find that by around 200 in a short time, my index finger is too cramped to keep pressing the trigger, so this is where I stop.  If I mess up, I start over.

Short hops: I short hop for a lot of reasons, but it's important not to do the same thing out of your short-hop every time.  Empty short hops, dashing short-hops, dashing into a backwards short-hop, short-hopping all your aerials, short-hopping with and without fastfalls, these all come into play for mix-ups and good decision making.  I start with empty ones, shooting for fifty in a row, then I start short-hopping random aerials (with the most emphasis on my b-air and u-air, because they're the ICs most applicable aerials and the easiest to mess up).

Dash-dances: Joystick control is imperative.  It's very important that ALL players are good at keeping track of the direction they're actually pressing it, for the sake of your air-control, DI, and sweet-spotting.  I pick a spot on a given stage (like the center of the Pokeball in Pokemon Stadium) and dash-dance within that strict distance for as long as I can.  Twenty seconds of rapid dash dancing without a flub is pretty good, and I've found it's already given me much better control with my left thumb.  Can't hurt to shoot for higher though!

L-cancels: These are tricky to train because their timing changes so much depending on your given situation.  If you hit two shields, a light-shield, a taller character, if you're fastfalling out of a short hop, or fastfalling out of an aerial from a different height... these all change the timing.  This is where quick attentional blinking really makes a difference; recognizing how the timing changes, being ready to land your L-cancel based on new information and then quickly move on to the next step of the match.

Well, that's all I've got for now.  Believe it or not, there's going to be a follow up to this!

Hope you didn't think that was too weird or stupid.  Peace.


  1. post kinda makes me rethink my tech skill workouts.

    dash dance control is something i about every so often but never get down to practicing :|

  2. Hey Wobbles,

    I apoligize in advance for countering your "rambly,magical, philosophizing post with a long "rambly,magical, philosophizing" reply.

    I'm new to smash and was actually introduced to the game a few months ago by my roommate.(Really late to be just getting into melee =( ) After getting my due and proper assbeatings. I fell in love with the game and started what my roommate and I have agree to refer to as "nerding out". During this period of nerdom we both began to add more advanced moves to our gameplay. (l cancel, SHDB, SHL,wavedash, etc)

    (In more realation with your actualy post) I didn't find your post weird or stupid at all. In fact, much like you mentioned in your column I began to realize that I was practicing set combos I was seeing in your videos and was actually incapable of treating each situation differently and reacting to them appropriately.

    So, I would like to thank you for your "long,rambly,magical, philosophizing" post. Its encouraging to hear that someone who I often try to emulate also feels the need to go back to the basics of training mode and get to work. After all, the less options you limit yourself to the less predictable your gameplay will be. (Not trying to imply your gameplay is predictable, we both know your awosome sauce.)

  3. Lol, you would say "hitting two shields" before "hitting a light shield" in the L-cancel part. ;o

  4. Wenbo: yeah, basic drills never hurt.

    Victor: Somebody once accused me of "magical philosophizing" in one of my posts about attention and distraction. This is kind of treading into those vague mental territories where I might be off the mark, so it was just kind of a disclaimer q:

  5. Good read.

    I think that for a beginning player, they should start with Fox as that trains the speed of the fingers. That's where I am at now because of Brawl lol. I decided that in order to play Melee fast I would need to practice with the fastest character.

  6. I agree with this. I'm going to use the high score method to perfect my wavedashing. I was at a small tournament the other day and in the fifth game of the finals, i took an upsmash and died because i botched a simple wavedash back. Its frustrating to think i may have won the match if i hadn't messed it up.
    Anyways, thanks for posting.

  7. I think beginning players should start off as Falcon actually haha
    He's pretty fast
    And comboing Marth across FD is one of the most basic drills you can do ... assuming your character shuffles aerials anyways. You can apply that to almost any character you choose to main from there (unless you're playing like Jiggs or Peach or something)