Mailbag: Footsies, hitboxes, lever grips, skill transfer, and more

Patrick Miller
9 min readJul 17, 2023

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Every now and then I get asks from people who are lucky enough to have questions that don’t require whole-ass essays, so I save them up until I have enough to put ’em all together.

What makes people exceptional at footsies among high-level players?

Footsies is an interesting one to dissect because it does generally feel like the most ‘athletic’ of the fighting game skills and as such more prone to variation based on individual human physical abilities than anything else.

Certainly, for any given game there is a base amount of game knowledge that helps with footsies — deep knowledge of attack interactions and risk/reward does a lot to narrow the seemingly-chaotic decision space into much more easily processable chunks. The average fighting game player can level up their footsies quite effectively through diligent study and practice without having to worry about physical or cognitive limitations. Eventually, though, you’ll find that some people are just better at hitting you than others, and when you play games that focus heavily on footsies, you’ll feel that pretty hard.

In my experience, the players I’ve played against who excelled at footsies even among high-level players generally seemed to have better reaction speeds than most skilled fighting game players, and a very high capacity for sustaining intense visual focus for longer than most skilled fighting game players. They’re constantly drawing invisible lines on the screen and daring you to cross them, and once they’re confident that they’re stronger in footsies than you are, they’ll make you earn every single hit. Neutral becomes a grueling test of mental stamina and each time you break and jump and get anti-aired it’s actually a little bit of a relief because at least you don’t have to think about footsies for a second or two.

It’s hard for me to say for sure how much of footsies skill is ultimately dependent on physical limitations that human beings cannot train, but I do think it’s definitely there, and it’s a big part of why fighting games feel sport-y to me in ways I love (and why I don’t like games that rely more on reads; I’m here to go to the gym, not to gamble).

How are you mostly controlling fighting games these days? I remember seeing you use a leverless on stream before, what kind are you using?

These days I mostly play on leverless controllers. The purple one in the picture below (“Epyon”) is still my baby, but it had a few hardware issues after its creator Starsky left town for a while, so I switched over to Snackbox-sized controllers. I have a first edition Snackbox Micro, and a similarly-sized @chastetiddy Device. They’re a bit more convenient and reliable.

On the left: Starsky Customs. On the right: Zansei Rouga, by Chastetiddy.

I also do still play on stick these days to keep those skills up, since sometimes I want to play older games like ST or CvS2 on arcade cabs that don’t have USB ports. I have an older Qanba Obsidian that’s my daily driver, and a pair of PS2 HRAPs for when I want to treat myself.

I’ll also play on keyboard or pad, though I prefer to avoid pads if possible. If I have to play on them I’ll usually choose a pad with six face buttons like the Hori FC.

Obviously you can’t tell us specifics about Project L, but can you tell us anything exciting or cool about having that gig?

MarlinPie and I were playing Rev2 in this shot from a previous Project L video update.

My job is pretty great these days! Everyday I wake up and I get to play a new version of the game with a bunch of lovely folks, find some broken stuff for the designers to fix, teach a class or two, and generally offer advice and insight to those who need it. It took a lot of work to get here over the last seven years, and it’s wild to think that I will have spent my 30s working entirely on a single project.

While I am technically still a senior producer, my primary responsibility is to help people get the information they need to do their jobs well. I spend a lot of time talking to game devs who don’t know much about fighting games and fighting game players who don’t know much about game dev. Sometimes I’m teaching classes for interns and new hires, other days I get to teach classes for executives and decision-makers. Every now and then I also get tapped to help with video production or internal events. In other words, I basically get to do a lot of the stuff I do as a streamer/TO, which is rad, and far less stress than my previous work as a designer and producer were.

Overall, it has been an incredible experience to work with a team that is genuinely motivated to do great things for the fighting game community, it has been amazing to be able to help shape both the game itself and the team that makes it, and being able to spend my days learning the ins and outs of the genre that I love so much has been life-changing. I joined the team completely new to game development and eager to learn from a team of fighting game veterans. Now I get to train up a new generation of game developers to learn the craft of fighting games, so they can push the genre to new places as they learn from the decades of games that came before us. It’s exactly the kind of thing I should be doing, and it’s been a lot of fun so far.

I’m having a hard time using an arcade stick, my left hand, and I think part of the issue is that certain motions feel better with specific grips and I find myself changing in between these grips to accommodate for my deficiencies to be able to do a double QCF motion depending on which direction I’m facing. What advice do you have to help refine my technique to get a consistent grip?

Changing your grip to hit different motions is a feature of using an arcade stick, not a bug. One of the advantages of playing on stick is that you can use your fingers and wrist in different positions as needed. Instead of thinking of the stick grip as constantly holding with the fingers and moving the stick with just your wrist, think of your stick grip as loosely cradling the ball of the lever (assuming a Japanese-style balltop lever) with your fingers and using the fingers and wrist to manipulate in different positions as the situation calls for. With the double QCF input, I’ll start by using my middle and pointer fingers to push the lever down from the top of the ball, and then push to the right with my palm and the base of my fingers on 1P side, or pull with my thumb and wrist on the 2P side. Instead of worrying about a consistent grip, get more comfortable with letting go of the lever to return to neutral, and then using your hand to move the stick however you need to perform the next input instead of maintaining a permanent death grip on the stick for the entirety of a match. If you look at this handcam of Daigo, you can see how he returns to a very loose neutral grip in between inputs so it’s easier for him to move his hand to whatever position he needs to hit the next input.

Happy Daigo is the best YouTube thumbnail.

I have been trying out a lot of different fighting games, I’m not sure the official names to describe the various types, but I have noticed that some games have very explosive combo systems (Darkstalkers and Killer Instinct from the retro side being some of my favorite) and others are more restrictive (SF2). Do you have any good advice for which of the classic games to stick with to develop my skill set. I can tell that some things will not directly transfer from game to game (going from Alpha 2 to Alpha 3 the timing on the links feels different for example) but you have been doing this for a while and I wanted your perspective on the matter.

Combo length and methods vary from game to game; Darkstalkers and Killer Instinct tend to rely more on longer chain cancel combos, while most Street Fighter combos consist of timing-based links with the occasional cancel for a special move. Whether the skills transfer from one game to another depends mostly on whether both games share similar mechanics, and if you play enough fighting games, you’ll find that most games draw from a pretty small pool of basic mechanics for stuff like combos, so even if the specific timing of a link or a cancel changes from game to game, the idea remains the same and you can pick it up pretty quickly.

Since you’re pretty new in your fighting game journey, I wouldn’t worry too much about specifically developing a skillset by playing certain games because everything you play will make you learn something new that you’ll see in other fighting games later on. You’ll always have to relearn stuff like combo timing from game to game, but the more games you learn how to play, the easier it is to relearn it.

I am having an issue nailing down when a game is not for me vs just being frustrated that the game’s system is giving me trouble (tight timing and execution in classic fighting games vs the more “loose and lenient” feel of some modern games). I know you have said in videos that you were not a big fan of Third Strike, even when it is held as the G.O.A.T of fighting games by a lot of players. I have found that there are games that I love no matter the outcome (Classic MK1, MKII, Killer Instinct) but I get frustrated playing Alpha 3, and even Super Turbo at times. How were you able to identify when a game wasn’t for you vs just being frustrated by the growing pains and adjustments of learning the game and improving?

In order for me to like a fighting game, it has to have characters I think are cool, and skills that I think are cool. 3S is OK on characters, but I’m not a huge fan of parry as a mechanic because I don’t really like guessing in fighting games, and a lot of the gameplay around parries involves low-risk, high-reward guessing. I do like fireballs and Dragon Punches, and parries also really mess up that stuff. So 3s is pretty obviously not for me, though I have fun with it every now and then if I don’t try to take it too seriously. (And, to be clear, while I’m not the biggest fan of 3S, I definitely prefer it to every Street Fighter game that came afterwards.)

I think if you have games you love no matter the outcome, you could do much worse than to stick to those games, though it does sound like this is mostly an execution thing and not a game taste thing. Alpha 3 and ST generally have a higher execution barrier than MK or KI, so it’s no surprise you’re associating this frustration with the awkwardness of learning.

If I were a gambling man, I’d bet that you’re mostly playing these games against a CPU, and you’re trying to do stuff that you haven’t thoroughly practiced in training mode. You might know that a combo works, and maybe you’ve hit it once or twice, but you aren’t really thinking of any given combo or motion as something to be practiced, so you just go into a game against a CPU and when you fail to hit the combo you get frustrated. Personally, I’d recommend practicing your execution in training mode for a bit before playing against the CPU, so you can more easily study the motions in a low-stress environment and see yourself get better at executing them over time. It’s always harder to try to hit a moving opponent (CPU or human) with something you’re still practicing, but it should be less frustrating when you spend some time drilling it first.

In general, I don’t find “I can’t do the thing I want to do” as a reason to dislike a game. If I like a game, but I can’t do the thing I want to do, then that’s a reason for me to play the game more and get better, not a reason for me to not play the game. But that’s because I think that getting better at doing the things in fighting games is a core part of what makes them fun to me, and if you don’t find that fun, you might want to keep looking until you find a game that makes you want to practice playing it to get better instead of just feeling like you’re getting frustrated with the execution.

Thanks for reading!

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-patrick miller

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Patrick Miller

a little bit miyamoto musashi, a little bit yoga with adriene.