Rehabilitating Online Laura

(I’m writing a series of journal entries to track my progress prepping for Evo this year. Check out the previous entry here.)

In the last Road to Evo post, I described all the things that I dislike about SFV — mostly in the emphasis the game places on rewarding frame traps and knockdown mixups.

After that, I dusted off a character that I hadn’t touched since week 1 who embodied everything I dislike about SFV: Laura! I figured that since I definitely wasn’t having fun trying to play the game I wanted to play in SFV, I might as well try playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played.

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This is not good form for a rear naked choke.

Despite putting in very little time researching her setups, she’s doing much better for me in online matches, though tournament results haven’t been great so far (0–2 this week in Campbell). It’s been awhile since I’ve seen radically different results between online and offline play — probably since SF4 — and that was a good reminder about how the physical distance involved in online play changes some parts of the game more than others.

In general, any given exchange in a fighting game can be divided into Reactable and Not Reactable situations. The former tests the defending player’s ability to identify the attacker’s decision and provide the appropriate answer in time, usually along a range of responses that provide greater reward for greater work (blocking a jump-in vs. Dragon Punching it, for example); the latter tests the defending player’s ability to identify a critical decision moment (blocking a Zangief SPD) and making a guess as to what the attacker’s next choice is going to be.

As you dig deeper into fighting games, though, you find that this is less of a binary and more of a spectrum. Jump-ins are reactable, but the mental effort you put into looking for a jump-in might distract from your ability to play footsies, so maybe I don’t jump in until we’ve been playing footsies for 20–30 seconds. You think your cross-under setup is a true 50–50, until you run up against a player who blocks it on reaction every time. One of the things you learn from grinding out matches is how different players handle the situations you put them in; this is how you get better at selecting the right tool for the job.

SFV’s built-in input lag pushes a lot of stuff outside the reactability threshold — a typical cross-under setup isn’t terribly hard to block in other games, but when you have to deal with 6.5 frames of input lag, those frames come out of your reaction time budget. Online play adds more lag on top of that, and while a decent rollback netcode will make sure that the timing of your inputs is accurate to the offline version, it doesn’t give you that reaction time back. So when you look at SFV and ask yourself why it’s so much harder to play footsies, one significant contributing factor is that lots of neutral game interactions usually require you to design moves around the edge of reactability, and an extra frame here or there can push a lot of those interactions out to guessing-game-land.

So, how does this affect online Laura? Well, most of her power lies in forcing Not Reactable guessing situations, particularly around tick throw setups, and these aren’t really lag-sensitive in the same way that a good counter-poke or whiff punish are. She’s not great at footsies, so going online is a bonus for her because other characters have a harder time capitalizing on her weaknesses there, while her strengths aren’t really affected by a little lag here and there.

So if I want to level up my Laura, I’m going to have to get some more local multiplayer matches going! (And maybe study some replays or something to get some real setups.) I’ll let you know how that goes. Goal is to have a decent Laura ready for Combo Breaker at the end of the month!

patrick miller

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