Mailbag: Mental stack management, getting into Gear, learning stick, and working in game production

Patrick Miller
8 min readOct 9, 2023
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Hi Pat! Do you have any tips or resources on how to better juggle the mental stack? I play Strive and fighting against my friend’s Chipp, I get overwhelmed by the sheer speed very quickly, especially in pressure with his huge variety of mixups. Thanks!!

There are two answers here.

The first is: just ‘keep playing and it gets better’. There isn’t really a single sentence you can read that will immediately make your mental stack management better; the whole point of these games is that you’re learning how to quickly recognize situations, make decisions, execute them, and change all that when the situation changes. The faculties you’re exercising in order to do this stuff quickly rely on both your brain and your body, and improvement here looks more like the incremental gains you make through regular strength training than it does like, cramming the night before a test.

The second answer is ‘learn how to play Chipp’ or whatever character you’re struggling with. If you do not have first-hand experience doing the stuff you’re losing to, then you’re not really going to understand how a character flows from move to move, or what they want in each situation, or which tools are reactable or fuzzy blockable or whatever. The easiest way to learn all that is just to learn the character yourself, set the situations up in training mode, and practice dealing with them individually.

Once you’ve learned to do that stuff yourself, you’ll have an easier time recognizing your friend’s particular patterns. Maybe they always do leaf grab after a specific knockdown because it’s easier than running up and timing a regular throw, or they go for the wall uncling mixup in the corner after this specific knockdown, or whatever. Instead of treating each knockdown as a unique and special situation where literally anything could happen, you’ll begin to see a rhyme and reason to them that will make the situations less scary.

You’ll also learn to see that there are dramatic differences in the payoff for each situation. Chipp’s Strive mix in particular has a pretty lousy risk:reward on most of his tricky shit (alpha blade crossups, rekkas, leaf grab, etc.) so if your opponent is rotating options decently just block the big payoff stuff (usually the left/right jS/jH mix) and don’t worry too much about anything else until they’ve demonstrated that they’re willing to throw you 6 times in a row or something.

Most people don’t like hearing that second answer because they just want to spend their fighting game time playing as the character they like playing as, but if you’re going to spend enough time playing a fighting game to care about getting better at it, it’s worth your time to learn how to play every character to a good enough level that you can set up their mixups in training mode and practice dealing with them. Otherwise you’re just making your own life harder.

Hope this helps! For more on this kind of stuff, check out “I’m not fast enough to play fighting games” and “Using OODA loops to talk through playing fighting games”

Hey Pat,

With the launch of Street Fighter 6 I decided to pick it up because the world tour mode sounded like fun but now I find myself deep in the fighting game rabbit hole for the first time at 27 years old. After your recent appearance on The Insert Credit Show I read a bunch of your Medium articles and watched some REV2SDAY coverage. In the spirit of your “TL;DR: Play Guilty Gear” article, what would you say is the best way for someone who was introduced to the genre through Street Fighter 6 to check out Guilty Gear? Should they play Strive and then dip into Xrd if they decide they want a deeper, more difficult but ultimately more rewarding game or should they just skip Strive and go straight into Xrd?

Thank you!

P.S. In case any of this is relevant: I started with modern controls but switched to classic as I found the motion inputs really satisfying to do on keyboard and found labbing combos really enjoyable. I also started with Manon because her animations were cool but I didn’t really vibe with the grappler game plan so I’ve been playing Chun-Li and having a great time.

You should just grab all of them and play whichever one you feel like on any given day. If Xrd is the one you want to play most, get that one first. If you can’t afford to buy them all just play a bunch of different shit on Fightcade until they go on sale.

Also, read these two essays — “How do I find a fighting game I want to stick to?” and “Is it bad for a beginner to play multiple fighting games?”. Go play everything for an hour or two and then ask yourself what you liked the most.

Hey Pat, long time listener, first time writer. I just started getting into my local FGC scene, and am feeling really behind the curve by being a primarily controller player being “forced” to play on an arcade stick. The arcade I go to has physical cabinets for locals, it rules, but no option for any other control scheme. But I want to show up, get better, and eventually not go 0–2 in bracket.

Do you have any advice for learning a new control scheme? Obviously practice is the best medicine, but it’s hard to just sit down and get reps in when there’s only so many machines and so many players working through them that I’d feel bad for monopolizing a cab to do training mode all afternoon.

Good question!

If you want to get better on arcade stick, the best way to do it is to just buy or borrow one and practice at home. You don’t need to break the bank on it, though. Qanba, Mayflash, and 8Bitdo all make sticks at fairly reasonable prices if you want to buy new, but the odds are highly likely that there are people in your local scene who might have sticks they’re not using and would be willing to sell them to you at a discount.

Once you’ve got a stick to practice on, I recommend learning a new character in the game you’re playing (or even learning a new game) so you can get used to a new input device without constantly comparing yourself to how you would be playing on a pad. When I picked up playing on hitbox, I did it right when +R got rollback, and it was a great way to learn a ‘new’ game from the ground up. Eventually you’ll be comfortable enough that you can just play whatever you want on stick, but giving yourself a little bit of separation from how you normally play fighting games helps get through the frustrating parts of learning a new input device.

As far as actually operating the stick goes, everyone does it differently, but this is how I’d suggest doing it.

Try to keep a loose grip on the stick itself; my advice would be that you don’t want to clutch the ball (or bat) in your palm and move the lever with your wrist.

Instead, I would recommend letting the ball rest between the inside of your thumb and the inside of your pointer and middle finger, and using the inside of the fingers, around the second knuckle, to nudge the lever to hit the appropriate directional switches.

Idle grip — no pressure or tension in the fingers.

So, for example, if I’m hitting the IAD input on P1 side (956), I’m pushing the stick to 9 with both my thumb and the inside pointer/middle finger, then releasing to neutral, then using the inside of my pointer/middle finger to nudge the stick sideways to 6.

Using my thumb and pointer finger to push up and to the right for the 9 input. To do a 956, I’ll release the 9, let the stick return to neutral, and press right with the inside of my pointer finger.

On the P2 side (754), my thumb pulls inward and upward to push the stick to 7, releases to neutral, and then my thumb pulls inward again to nudge the stick to 4.

For the 2P IAD input, I just use my thumb.

Of course, you could do all this by holding onto the ball and moving it with your wrist and shoulder, but you’re far more likely in my experience to misjudge the actuation pressure required to hit the switches you want, and you’ll end up accidentally hitting directions you don’t want on your way. The ideal technique is one that lets you hit just the directions you intend to hit as quickly as possible (which is why hitboxes are so good).

Also: IMO sticks have the biggest disparity between 1P and 2P-side inputs, so drilling your stuff on both sides is an absolute necessity.

Hope this helps!

Hi there Pat, I’m a big fan of your work with Xrd and your blog posts! I wanted to ask you about how you got into working on Project L as a Senior Producer. I just finished my BS in Arts and Games: Playable Media at UC: Santa Cruz and have been trying to find a break into the games industry and just can not find any job listings for low-experience producers and am, honestly, a bit nervous to apply for anything above that because I don’t know the kind of experience the industry is looking for. Totally understand if you dont wanna talk, I know you are super busy, but I just wanted to hear about the steps you took to make yourself more hireable. If you do get back to me, thank you so much!

My job history will probably not help you; I was the editor of Game Developer Magazine, then the editor of League of Legends, then community manager for Rising Thunder, a game designer for four years on Project L after that, and then a producer for the last 3, though I’m not really doing much actual software production these days and am more of a teacher.

I didn’t go to school for any of those things, and I mostly got those jobs by using each one to grow different skills and subject matter expertise to help me hop from role to role, so I don’t really know what it’s like to try to start a career in video games from scratch these days.

You’re gonna need to get experience somehow, and most places don’t really want to train up a baby producer from scratch if they can help it, so you either find a path into games that you can find entry-level work for (QA, marketing, whatever) and eventually pivot into production, or you see if there’s another industry that is hiring for associate-level roles that is close enough to game production that your experience will be relevant enough to switch over to games later.

Thanks for reading!

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Patrick Miller

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