This is part 4 of our 6 part in-depth series devoted to exploring Smash's neutral game
Part 1: Intro/Options and Positioning
Part 2: Endgame First
Part 3: Two Types of Approaches
Part 4: Relative Frame Advantage (You are here)
Part 5: Reads
Part 6: MangoPuff - Profiting from Risk
Part 4: Relative Frame Advantage
In a traditional fighting game, frame advantage normally refers to advantage or disadvantage after a hit on block. The character with frame advantage can move earlier, potentially early enough to get a guaranteed hit. While shieldstun works similarly in melee, very few moves are positive on shield and our options out of shield are much more limited. For this reason the concept of frame advantage seems less useful in Melee. However, in the following paragraphs I will expand the scope of frame advantage to neutral scenarios and discuss some of the ramifications.
Frame Advantage is useful to have memorized in a traditional fighter because the startup of moves and mobility of most characters is low enough that an unreactable skirmish cannot be avoided. But at it’s simplest, frame advantage is simply the application of the answers to the questions “Who can move first and by how much?” and “Which options does this allow?” In this way, endlag is similar to blockstun. Movement can also become frame disadvantage. Every option in the game requires a certain amount of space and a certain amount of time. Every option in the game has a time-commitment. These commitments when compared with each other result in a relative frame advantage. This concept is sometimes also referred to as Tempo.
If we whiff a move at close range we will usually come out of endlag at a relative frame disadvantage. This disadvantage may be severe enough to allow our opponent a clean whiff punish. They might also use that time to assume a better position. Whatever they choose to do, we cannot contest it until after the duration of our endlag. Our relative frame advantage temporarily but dramatically alters our range of effectiveness. This seems simple enough.
But sometimes relative frame advantage is counter-intuitive. In Melee you often end up with frame advantage after getting hit at lower %s or after a crouch cancel due to low hitstun. You can get hit while crouching and grab before the opponent can do anything at all. You can take a Falco short hop laser to the face, dash forward out of hitstun, then grab the Falco as he lands. Many characters can intentionally jump into a Falco dair at low %s and get a heavier punish than would be possible after shielding (think Peach downsmash) out of their relative frame advantage after landing.
Frame Advantage and Option Coverage
For Captain Falcon to land an approaching nair on Sheik without fear of being ftilted he needs to have a certain amount of frame advantage to be able to commit to any movement, then jumpsquat, then nair startup (minimum of 11 frames) all before the ftilt is active (in 6 frames, meaning that Falcon needs to be +6 in relative frame advantage for nair to be safe from ftilt). Naturally, if Falcon doesn’t have the relative frame advantage then committing to the nair is unreasonably unsafe given the risk reward, but if he does then his relative frame advantage has given us a reliable way to win an unfavorable option vs option fight. This is very exciting.
At this point it is important to note that while it is impossible to discern exact frame advantage in the moment, as competitive players we are extremely good at approximating it. Over the course of whatever ungodly number of times we’ve experienced a scenario our guts have learned to recognize when a shieldgrab is guaranteed or when a nair is unsafe. That being said, examining the specifics will not only help us to fine-tune our impulses but to actively look for more opportunities to use them.
There is one last observation to hit on before closing. Every movement and attack has both a time-commitment and an opportunity cost. Unnecessary movement may go unpunished, it may be totally safe, but it still costs time. It may be eating into your relative frame advantage. In the above example with Captain Falcon and Sheik, Falcon’s +6 frame advantage is relatively hard to come by. Combined with the reward for landing a nair, it’s a valuable opportunity that could change the course of the game. If the Falcon player absent-mindedly commits to a superfluous wavedash then that frame advantage is apt to disappear along with the opportunity to nair. This kind of opportunity cost exists everywhere for the vast majority of competitive players. It’s something to keep in mind as you review your own matches or those of top-players that you mean to understand better.
In the next article we will identify four principles to track decisions and make potentially devastating reads.