Two Types of Approaches
In the following article I will discuss how human reaction time can be accounted for in terms of spacing and approaching to create a dynamic system of offensive option coverage. I will be pulling examples from Mango's tournament matches to best illustrate how a good approach game is much more intricate than "always doing nutty options in your face."
Before we can talk about designing effective approaches we have to discuss the ramifications of human reaction time. Humans have a natural lag in their response time caused by the mechanics of the brain sorting information. Because visual information is somewhat complex and the electrical signals go through several steps before they are comprehensible, an average response to visual stimuli is about .25-.3 seconds (15-20f). Because it requires less processing, your response to audible stimuli is faster, averaging at about .17 seconds (10f). Additionally, reactions are additive. If there is visual and auditory information your reaction speed should increase slightly, even more so with regular and focused practice. However, it should be noted that these estimates are for simple reactions in which there is only one possible trigger and response. Complex reactions in which there are multiple possible triggers and responses are significantly slower, although your exact reaction time will vary considerably depending on a) the complexity of the situation and b) how practiced your response is. It is possible with dedicated practice to reduce your reaction in replicable scenarios such as in punish game to under 18f, allowing for something like consistent reaction techchases with Sheik or Falcon.
I suggest checking your personal levels at
http://cognitivefun.net/test/16 (simple audio)
http://cognitivefun.net/test/1 (simple visual)
http://cognitivefun.net/ (tests tab for more complex scenarios)
Applying this temporal limitation to the neutral game, we run into an interesting spatial problem. In every matchup, there is an invisible range that, once passed, prevents you from being able to cover options on reaction. Some players refer to this as an “attack bubble” or “range of effectiveness” or something similar but to preserve a clear distinction between the full spatial range of a nair and the range at which you can no longer react to and shield/CC a nair, I’ll call the latter the unreactable range. Using an estimate of 20f (this number can and should be individualized for personal levels) for a reaction, the outer limit of the unreactable range is located at exactly where a given character can have an active hitbox after 20f plus the startup time of whatever your reaction is. Keep in mind too that this range can change with relative frame advantage. If a character is experiencing 15f of endlag then they obviously can’t begin to move for 15f, reducing the unreactable range. If you are in lag then that range may effectively increase. When making decisions from within the unreactable range, you accept that you cannot account for all options on reaction and are in essence making a guess. When making decisions from outside of that range, you accept that with good execution you can react to anything that happens.
Understanding and recognition of the unreactable range allows for a very useful model for approaching in two variations.
Type 1: Incremental Approach
In this approach, you aggressively move forward to the very edge of the unreactable range, then you stop.
Because for the entire length of this approach you maintain your capacity to react to any counter-measures by the opponent, it is completely safe. But because you are rapidly closing space, this movement is still hyper-aggressive and frequently prompts some kind of response by your opponent. By your design their impulsive response is reactable and can net you a large punish on top of the ample stage control.
The incremental approach is most difficult when your opponent decides to run at you at the same time. When this happens the space between the characters closes extremely quickly and it is more difficult, though still possible, to stop/shield/DD at the correct spot.
Mango(Falco) vs Mew2King(Marth)
Mango(Puff) vs Scar(Falcon) note the very precise and consistent location where mango shields/starts his jump. Mango will often flash shield to stop in place when an incremental approach is his intention.
Mango(Fox) vs Hungrybox(Puff) at 0:40, 1:18, 3:10, 3:41, 7:48, etc
Type 2: Running Mixup
In this approach, you aggressively move forward into the unreactable range and initiate a mixup. An approaching mixup should be specifically designed to cover options. For example, a Fox can mix up between running shine (beats shield and in place options), deep nair (beats a WD/dash away/jump) and a WD back (beats an attack). A fox that actively chooses between those three approaching options can beat most of his opponent’s options. He can alter this set of mixups as the MU or the player demands, but this is the rough design. It is as close as melee gets to rock paper scissors, and a player that frequently initiates mixups is either a) confident that he can consistently out-guess his opponent in an unreactable situation based on past interactions and outpunish off of trades or b) stupid.
Mango(Fox) vs Taj(Marth)
Mango(Fox) vs Hungrybox(Puff) at 1:14, 1:32, 1:40, 2:21, 2:35, 2:52, etc
Just as Type 2 requires the Fox player to actively mix up his approaches to avoid being predictable, so too does approaching as a concept require a player to actively mix up between types 1 and 2. A player that never enters the unreactable range never actually presents a real threat when he moves forward and can be advanced on and poked without any fear, defeating the purpose of incremental approaches. A player that never stops short of the unreactable range is not making good use of his stage control and and can be easily beaten by a strong defensive game with good risk reward from the corner. In order for either type to maintain effectiveness and good risk reward for the attacker, the threat of the other must be present and respected.
In this way, the concept of approaching once again reiterates the importance of strong footsies.