This is part 5 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
Part 5: Reads (You are here)
Part 6: MangoPuff - Profiting From Risk (Coming Soon)
Part 5: Reads
In a fighting game every choice we make is a conscious decision or an unconscious one. Being able to understand how we make decisions will better inform how we play against the human opponent making decisions in front of us.
Tapion, a very read-dependent Falcon main of lore, gave me two tendencies to note. I have added two additional observations for a list of four rules of thumb.
1. What a player does first he will do most often.
2. If you directly punish something, they will not do it again in the next instance (if the event passes unrecognized then ignore this rule).
3. Players will use a limited number of options in any given situation, normally not exceeding three.
4. Decisions are prompted by the level of danger (that is, by position and/or relative frame advantage).
While this methodology has it’s most direct application in tech-chasing, high-level players consciously and intuitively use these guidelines to predict DI, double jumps, exit routes, etc. Let’s look at these tendencies individually:
What a player does first he will do most often.
This is pretty straightforward. With no information to go off of, decisions are normally made impulsively or for comfort. This means that our decision will be impulsive or comfortable, a good starting and returning mark. In a game as cut-throat as Melee it’s hard to justify opening with intentional risk, so it is reasonable to assume that the first is the primary mode.
If you directly punish something, they will not do it again in the next instance (if the event passes unrecognized then ignore this rule).
There’s an old anecdote in which Armada says that if he sees his opponent nod after a mistake then he knows they are going to change their decision next time. Nodding is an almost universal tell for acknowledging something. Unless a player is oblivious to interactions, they attempt to learn from their mistakes. The vast majority of the time this means making a different decision. However, if they do not recognize the decision as a choice then Rule #1 stands and the majority of the time they will continue to commit to their impulsive pattern. Humans are profoundly terrible at truly randomizing their behavior. Every decision has a source and you probably just located it.
Players will use a limited number of options in any given situation, normally not exceeding three.
From a given position your character will normally have a couple options that are clearly, mechanically better than then alternatives. These decisions are reinforced in your brain every time you make them. As it plays out over and over it becomes a habit. For example, no player uses every option from shield. A few are great. Some options, like most upBs, are just bad options. Some, while decent, have limited enough utility that they haven’t been worked into our habitual gameplan yet.
Even in the cases where we attempt to mix things up we usually only have up to 3 options that we’ve internalized as sufficiently good. This is a general trend that goes beyond out of shield options and into various positions allowing for massive adaptation by a mindful player. Obviously you can net a clean stock off of a clean read but often times knowing what an opponent won’t do is just as good.
There are only so many other options that someone can or will commit to. A player afraid to tech roll in will stay in the vicinity of tech in place/out, a much smaller range. If a Falco never shine grabs then shielding until you can visually confirm an opportunity to roll is relatively safe. If a player’s approach just got whiff punished and he is afraid to commit to another approach then you can walk forward with confidence.
Decisions are prompted by the level of danger (that is, by position and/or relative frame advantage).
This point is important to recognize. Most people make impulsive decisions based on the amount of danger they unconsciously assess. We tend to see more rash habits displayed and punished at high %s or in the corner of the stage precisely because those are the more dangerous positions. Players techroll differently depending on where they hit relative to center stage. They will react differently to you standing in front of their shield or behind it because one is more dangerous and unfamiliar than the other. They will react differently to your approach on their endlag than to an approach on an empty stand.
Generally, impulsive decisions are all directly related to the perceived threat more than the moves involved. They are more likely the more unfamiliar the scenario. Top players bring out your worst habits not with magic but with fear.
You can’t take this information and turn into Darkrain overnight.
This isn’t a bullet-list to follow, a How To Make Reads in 4 Simple Steps. Rather, these are four principles to think about and look out for in yourself and your opponent. These are not rules in the strict sense and if treated as such can and will be actively used against you by a cognizant player. Nor are they viable shortcuts to get around developing a solid gameplan.
Reading is a method to color and inform your gameplay within already established mixups as discussed in Two Types of Approaches. These are four subtexts that underlie how most of us tend to make decisions, a system fraught with nuance and exception, but a system nonetheless. Understanding the hidden logic behind a player’s decision-making, be it conscious or unconscious, and accounting for a strong player’s reaction to your understanding is the honest difference between a blind guess and a hard read.
Next time we will look at how the application of a reading methodology informs Mango’s playstyle and purports to balance his high-risk high-reward decision-making.