On Spacing, Neutral, and Positioning
( I talk about this stuff using this document as an outline in It is by nature conceptual/hierarchical, so you might have to read slowly and make sure that you understand every sentence before you move on to the next one.)

These are verbal ideas that have been developed/contextualized independently but with sizable help from some fgc resources and lifting vocab from other players. While I believe that it’s sound, everyone approaches learning differently. I like to theorize things in ways that others may not and that’s totally fine.

I. Melee

1. What is melee?

a) Melee is a race to deplete your opponent’s 4 stocks via forcing them off of the stage before you can lose your own. This is formative assumption number 1 and everything you do should serve this purpose.

b) Because you lose a stock via your position relative to the stage, not via damage, hits and damage are ALWAYS of secondary importance. This is EXTREMELY important to remember.

c) All options have startup/endlag and therefor take up valuable (and pre-determined) units of time to perform.

d) In this way Melee is essentially a game of rhythmic geometry. 

2. What isn’t melee? (The problem of RPS)

a) Melee is not glorified RPS. I want you to remove the idea of RPS mixups completely. (Separate the words, they’re different concepts in context.) RPS might exist in melee but assuming that it's prevalent and is an important part of the game is temporarily going to keep you from recognizing more important concepts.

b) When casuals play melee they play a horrible game that is somewhat reduced to Roll vs Smash. Is he going to roll in a second? Then I should preemptively smash. Is he going to smash now? Then I should roll.  Even if the roll vs smash illustration isn’t universal or perfect, it demonstrates a core misconception that melee is intuitively understood as a game of option vs. option. This is largely wrong and overwhelmingly unhelpful. One of the biggest problems in the air of the smash community is that many many many players simply replace “Roll” with "Wavedash" and “Smash” with "SHFFL." Someone told them that rolling and smashes are bad, that WD is a good way to move and that SHFFLs are good attacks. They haven’t furthered their understanding of the game itself at all. Their way of thinking hasn’t changed at all. All they’ve done is replace bad options with less bad options. They’re still playing a game of option vs option and haven’t addressed their fundamental errors.

c) Options are options. An option is a thing that may be chosen. Options are not truly binary. Because of the added variable of time and duration, RPS events are largely beatable with execution in addition to the presumed prediction, that is they are usually Mixups. If RPS is “a situation that requires preemptively selecting one option to beat another, predicted option” then define a Mixup as “An RPS event that you can avoid playing fairly by delaying your decision as long as possible.” Mixups are not RPS. They’re their own animal closer to a game of chicken. If you are actually waiting until the last possible frame to make what you previously assumed was an RPS decision then you’re going to find yourself winning the vast majority of them and looking like a god at this game.

d) Melee is not binary. Puff does not beat Marth. Marth does not beat Puff. Sheik doesn’t beat Falcon. Fox doesn’t beat Peach. Why the **** are you, who has no high-level experience in any of these MUs, reducing something as hugely complex as a matchup to 1 and 0? Or 70 and 30, for that matter? Do you know, or are you just perpetuating nonsense? Even if a matchup is undeniably difficult, mindlessly repeating hearsay is harmful, actively encourages Brucing, and retards access to actual, mechanical, and in all probability solvable issues.

II. Spacing (fleshed out from lucien) 

1. What is spacing?

a) Spacing is positioning your character in the exact spot that gives you exactly as much time as you need to properly react to your opponent’s options at any given point in time.

b) Hitting someone with the tip of your move is called good spacing as well but it’s not what we’re talking about now. That’s just good execution. It will inevitably help your conceptual spacing but mostly via having dependable access to your character’s full range.

2. Options take a specific amount of time and space.

a) The benchmark for reactable is 15 frames. It’s possible to react faster but everyone should be able to reliably react to anything that they’re properly prepared for within 15 frames. For example, falcon’s stomp OoS is active on frame 16 after 5 frames of jumpsquat. This means that the absolute earliest that it can hit me is on frame 21. If I’m crouching next to falcon’s shield as puff then I know that stomp out of shield is one of the only good options that he has, so I’m prepared for it and can infer that jump = stomp. I then have 21 (6 more than my benchmark minimum of 15) frames to react and shield. If he doesn’t stomp then I can simply drop shield and follow up however I like. If I continue to demonstrate that my reaction to stomp (and presumably my OoS reaction to it hitting my shield) punishes falcon’s stomp then his stomp stops being viable because of its subpar frame data and look at that we just moved forward a bit in the falcon/puff metagame.

b) In order to SHFFL nair fox needs a certain amount of space to dash, reach the apex of his jump, then descend with a nair. Even assuming that he delays pressing A in order to not hit the top of your shield (and get punished with an OoS option), you have the entire jump arc’s worth of warning as to where and when he’s going to land. Not only can you can easily react to timing of the arc of the jump, but 

you can easily react to the amount of space needed to perform an action. HOLY SHIT! 

Fox’s shffl arc is a set amount of distance. It is effectively identical every time he does it. This means that if fox is running at you and he reaches that unit of distance from you, you don’t have to react to the nair, you don’t have to react to the arc, you just have to react to “Did he jump at that specific spot? Yes or no?” If yes then you do your anti-nair option. If no then you no longer have to react to a shffl nair because he no longer has the space needed to complete it, at which point his only viable options are running shine, grab, or maybe upsmash, (generally speaking and depending on the MU).

c) Because fox’s SHFFL nair is his longest-reaching attack if you are positioned just outside of that range (or positioned where you can move outside of that range by the time that it completes) then you are just as safe as if you were a full stage away. You have absolutely no reason to shield. You have no reason to think about anything but punishing the landing lag if it happens. Being able to quickly arrive at this just beyond max-range distance is actual function of dash dancing.

d) assuming the above and considering again that your goal is to systematically force your opponent off stage (not to deal damage) your goal in any given situation is to create the opportunity (which is almost synonymous with RANGE) for a good punish. As fox you don’t want to nair peach. Nair does a relatively small amount of damage and is often CC dsmashable anyway. The nair is not a meaningful victory in itself because it has very very little to do with ending her stock. You want to force her off the stage. You do this by arriving at an edgeguard situaiton. You can arrive at an edgeguard situation by waveshining her. You can situationally waveshine her by enabling it with drill/nair. You can situationally drill/nair her by setting up the correct range at the exact time that she’s mechanically prevented from reacting correctly because she’s in endlag (i.e. you did the drill with tempo) etc. None of those moves are goals. They are all the means by which you arrive at better and better positions. 

Moves are the punctuation at the end of positional sentences.

III. Neutral

1. What is Neutral?

a) Neutral is, strictly speaking, a position where neither player has a meaningful positional advantage over the other. Because this should be relatively rare and is very easily done away with it’s not very productive to talk about it most of the time.

2. What isn’t Neutral?

a) Neutral is not some amorphous space where you run back and forth and eventually choose option A, hoping that they choose option B.

3. Neutral is situationally useful but has limited application:

a) It’s useful when you’re saying something like “don’t nair as marth in neutral,” which is just another way to say “marth’s nair is pretty freakin unsafe if you don’t have some situational condition that tells you otherwise.”

b) “Playing the Neutral Game” really means “Awareness and proper positional reaction to the opponent’s potential options with a mind for reducing them.” It’s what you should be doing all the time anyway but because it’s difficult to properly flowchart from a neutral position then it makes more sense to more people in this instance. People use the word Positioning for this in other phases of play but it’s essentially the same thing.

c) In this way “Neutral” colloquially describes an inherently limited application of the more broadly applicable “Positioning.”

4. What are some of the many many good methods to “win neutral?”

a) Dash Dancing is the closest thing that Melee has to approximate FGC footsies. By DDing you maintain many of your mobility options while making potentially significant or fine positional alterations. It’s very easy to misinterpret a DD and make an unsafe approach.* It is equally easy to misinterpret a DD and lose control of the stage and access to the full lateral extent of your own DD, thereby losing neutral. By making smart and timely advances (it doesn’t matter if they’re longer dashes, SHFFLs, etc) you can take center stage etc. Work out specifics for yourself.

b) Seize tempo. Tempo is a concept describing the rhythmic state of the characters. Any given action has a duration. You want to be moving in such a way that when you arrive at your positional opportunity you also have the tempo necessary to safely commit to your intended punish. If Jigglypuff is bairing to a rhythm (they tend to do that) you can align your dash forwards in DD to correspond with her pulling her leg back, giving yourself more time/space to work with. In a less obvious example, if marth dashes back at the same time that fox dashes forward to nair range then marth doesn’t have enough time to turn around and make fox’s nair unsafe. Because fox took positional advantage as well as tempo marth has to either accept the hit or continue running and lose stage.

c) ACTUAL FOOTSIES, BITCH. I’ll talk more about that later.

d) depending on your character/the MU you might be able to avoid the sort of weird stalemate commonly identified as Neutral and take a situationally superior position that’s not intuitive for the rest of the cast. For example, Falco simply has to move to a position where he can safely SH in order to actively take tempo advantage via lasers. Fox may have to just SH laser off to the side and force the opponent to come to him. Peach may just have to protect her turnip pull. Some characters are good enough at turtling or projectile camping that abandoning stage control for a side platform leads to just as sizable situational advantages (i.e. m2k at the ledge, Armada’s YL vs HBox, DK threatening with a shielddrop bair, etc.)

* Please stop using the word “approach” as a concept. It’s not. How do I approach as ___ character? … What is the problem that you’re actually describing? Do you know? Approaches are consequences enabled by positioning and confirmation. There isn’t a single character that wins by mindlessly flinging themselves at the opponent, hopefully shutting down all defensive options. Thinking this way tells me that you’re still under the impression that melee is about moves instead of shapes.

IV. Positioning

1. Wow, it seems like positioning is important, maybe even the name of the game. Yes. Yes it is.

2. This has been somewhat implicit but now that we have foundational knowledge of how ranges = moves let’s make it explicit. Generally speaking, every hit in Melee is either a Whiff Punish or an Aggressive Poke. (concept lifted from FGC via @Juicebox_FGC).

a) A Whiff Punish is an action designed to punish the endlag of a whiffed attack. You stand outside of range, they hit the air in front of your face, then you get the max punish allowed by the duration of their endlag.

b) An Aggressive Poke is an action designed to punish an unsafe position taken (or remained in) by the opponent, i.e. they moved too close/let you get too close and you smacked them for it.

c) ACTUAL FOOTSIES BITCH. Whiff Punishes are more or less better than Aggressive Pokes as your Plan A in Melee because of the sheer number of evasive movement options in the game. However, depending on the ranges available, it is totally possible for you to steal large amounts of the stage from someone that is tunnel-visioning on a specific whiff punish by simply moving forward and not hitting them, which is in turn punished by an Aggressive Poke, which is in turn punished by a Whiff Punish, etc. Oh wow, this is complex and interesting, isn’t it? YES! WELCOME TO HOW MIND-BENDINGLY COOL FIGHTING GAMES ARE! Picture sheik walking toward you. Is she going to stop? Should you poke her? Does she know? Is she going to WD back? Should you wait it out? Is she going to keep going and tilt you? Should you whiff punish it? Is she going to keep going and grab? Should you move forward and poke? Is she going to SH in place and needle? Fair? OMG so many layers!

3. To reiterate, every option requires a certain amount of time and space. There are only so many options (that we know about) that are viable in high-level play and there are even less that you can expect to be presented with in a given set. In order to play Melee at a high level you are expected to know these options, react to their range and finally confirm their startup. You should aspire to never have to react to the startup raw.

a) Because you know the range that enables a given move you can actively deny the move by denying the range.

b) Because you know the range that enables a given move you can actively bait the move with the intention to whiff punish by flirting with that range.

c) Because you know the range that enables a given move you can actively confirm an aggressive poke for yourself by confirming the range.

d) Because you know the range that enables a given move you can use tempo to make an aggressive poke safe via their character’s state.

4. Stage position is hugely important!

a) By gaining significant positional advantage relative to the stage you are actively reducing the number of ranges (AKA access to moves/movement) available to the opponent.

b) In addition, stage control makes it easier to set up edgeguard situations (i.e. the means to a stock, which remember is always your most important goal) via proximity.

c) Naturally, having stage control makes it harder to be edgeguarded yourself by increasing the distance that you need to be sent.

5. Melee is fundamentally collaborative.

a) Every interaction in Melee is geometrically arrived at by two players’ positioning. Not even combos are exempt from this (via DI). Every position, every hit, every stock loss is a collaboration. One of you wasn’t so willing, but you were both intimately involved in the process*. That idea is exceedingly beautiful, no?

* This means that while it isn’t particularly necessary to see very good results, there is ample opportunity to indulge in the PvP aspects of the game at high levels and orchestrate some really sick stuff.


  1. Thank you for this, this is very enlightening

  2. Great essay, thanks for your work. Section IV on positions is so refreshing to read. In the past I was often baffled watching Hbox defeat "faster" opponents. Now Im rewatching those matches with fresh eyes. Very exciting!