I'd heard about this problem plenty, but never experienced it up until this point. Evidently the XBox initially was made with relatively poor design, at least in terms of heat dispersal. As a result, over time it simply overheats, after which you no longer can use the thing - you just get three little red bands of light surrounding the power indicator when you turn it on, hence the affectionate title for this particular problem.
To Microsoft's credit, they did a fantastic job of owning the issue - I went to their website, indicated I had the problem, and they sent me a box, with paid postage and padding to my console into, and then I just dropped it off at Staples in town. Two weeks later, I had a new XBox arrive, and my account details had been transferred to the new serial number. Additionally, I was given a month of free XBox live gold membership (this should be expected, since they were charging me for the service even though my machine was broken). All in all, the inconvenience caused by this whole issue was minimized by Microsoft's good damage control, and I'm pretty impressed with how they handled the whole thing.
Now that I have the machine back, I've started playing Oblivion again. I bought the game when it first came out and played it on my PC, but I've been feeling the winter drag lately and wanted something to play on the console that was immersive and would go well with feeling stuck indoors when it's pouring rain outside. Oblivion is an awesome game, and more relaxing, by far, than VF5 is, so that's been occupying my time for the last two weeks. In any case, it's time to move onwards. I felt the pull of VF5 again about a week ago, popped it in the machine, and have been brushing off the rust and remembering the techniques that I've spent time working on. There's a ways to go yet, but it feels good to be back, once again. (Note, this cycle repeats itself roughly every three months or so).
Enough of that - let's get on with what I want to write about today: Flow and Chop.
Flow is something I've written about before. It's the art of putting together all of your moves in such a manner that it makes it very difficult for your opponent to break in with their own attack. Ideally you want to construct your flow in such a way that when your opponent does perceive an opportunity to break-in, it was a deception and you earn yourself a counter-hit (and can then go on to juggling and comboing them).
Many people refer to the act of "constructing flow-charts" as a good starting point for determining how you want to have your moves flow together. While I have never been able to get behind this approach personally, I can certainly understand why this would be good practice. Taking the time to understand how much time you have after each of your moves will provide you with a very solid foundation, and give you the advantage to put together flows that are very robust - that is, they are very safe and difficult for your opponents to break out.
Me, I've learned from a more organic approach, simply noting which moves appear safe and lead to good follow-ups, and going from there. I try something out, and if I find myself consistently getting punished for it, I either try to adapt and use something different, or then go to the moveslists to see what my advantage/disadvantage is looking like after this move is guarded.
One of the foundations of flow comes from pre-canned combos and moves that naturally flow into one another. Every character's move list has moves that look like:
- P - Punch
- PK - Punch, kick combo
In reality, the PK combos are typically too fast to really let you pause and consider your next move, but many other canned combos allow you to adjust the amount of time before you input the follow-up part of the combo, and this will force your opponent into a more defensive position.
Two of Brad's best attacks for delay are:
- Gazelle upper (33P,P)
- Cross upper (Ducking stance, P, P)
Your opponent is put in an awkward position. If they are playing "abare" and trying to counter-hit continually after the first hit is guarded, then just input the second P right away and get your counter-hit. If they are turtling up and guarding frequently, you can input the first command, and then throw them. If they get wise to this and start guarding the first hit, then waiting and trying to counter-punch only after a small delay, now you adapt and start delaying the second hit, taking you back to the first scenario where you are juggling them and earning combos again.
You can see that the opponent now has a number of poor choices available to them - stand and guard and risk being thrown, or attempt to counter-hit and risk being combo'd. Changing from the first punch input into a throw is a good segue into the second half of what I want to write about: Chop.
You may sometimes hear Chop referred to in this manner: "Was that lagging for you? It felt really laggy on my end". Lag sucks, and it is no doubt present in many games that you'll end up playing online. However, good chop will often feel like lag to players that are not accustomed to this technique, and is a good way to frustrate and confuse your opponents.
Chop is simply the word I use to refer to the technique of breaking out of your established flow whenever it is appropriate to do so.
The thing about flowcharts is that over time, your opponent's will get used to you using the same setups and combos. The longer that you continue to use the same set of flows, the greater the chance that your opponent will recognize the breakpoint (and there is always eventually a breakpoint) and exploit that.
Let's go back to the two moves I mentioned of Brad's previously, and use them as an example. Again, those moves are:
- Gazelle upper (33P,P)
- Cross upper (Ducking stance, P, P)
How can you counteract your opponent reaching the conclusion that these are their two options? With chop! Let's assume that we've been playing for a while now, and our opponent has reached the point where they are blocking the first hit of the gazelle upper, and then has gotten sharp enough that they can successfully guard or hit you out of your throw attempt. One scenario you may want to try is to chagne from either of those previous two options, and now start using 6P after the first hit of the cross-upper. Your new flow will look like:
- Ducking stance, P, G, 6P
6P Brad's fastest mid, and opens up the door to the canned K follow-up, or three of Brad's stances. You have now reset your flow and can proceed with a new flowchart.
What if you wanted to playing even choppier? Then you could do the following:
- Ducking stance, P, G, 6P, G, 6P, G, 6P, K
Why then is this a rational approach? The reason is because after each elbow, you have the option of following up with the K (which will cancel the elbow's frame disadvantage), or entering into a stance and punishing with Brad's SR/SL P options (which lead to big combo damage). Many players will find this confounding. "How is it that he is able to hit me with three elbows in a row? It must be the lag". The lag is a reasonable assumption to make, but it's incorrect. The real reason is that they are used to thinking that they need to blow the follow-up from Brad's elbow. They don't realize that the 6 frames of disadvantage is their opportunity to counter-attack, and by the time they do realize this (usually around the third elbow they've guarded) and act on it to counter-attack, you've taken the proactive measure of using the canned kick followup and counterhit them.
The real key to playing this way is that you need to exercise effective yomi and train your opponent that the majority of the time, they are going to eat your 6P follow-up. If you always use chop in your game, you will provide too many breakpoints for your opponents, and never be able to establish the kind of expectation and rhythm that is required for good offense.
On the whole, I would say that succesfully fighting with a good balance of chop is the next level of skill beyond decent flow-charts. The other interesting thing about using techniques like this is that it often looks very similar to lower-level players that have not yet been able to establish decent flow-charts. Poor players won't have advanced to the point that they realize they can follow-up 6P with a K, so they'll just 6P all day long. Seeing themselves get defeated repeatedly by a player that appears to be scrubby is another reason many players will quickly fall to the assumption that "Bah, it was too laggy".
Against lower-level players, using chop is a waste of your time. Poor players will almost always try and counter-hit whenever possible. Against these players, you can simply rely on Brad's 6P follow-ups time and again to earn you big combos. Remember, if they don't adapt to this technique, then you shouldn't adapt either. Above all, you should always use what works until it stops working. It requires more mental energy to adapt your playing style than it does to continue doing what is working, and you should be playing such that you minimize the amount of mental energy you are expending.
As we move up in skill, intermediate players will typically learn that they can't get away with always recklessly attacking after they've guarded a move, and definitely not after having been hit with one. These players are candidates for you to break out of your flow and throw them, and if and when they adapt to that, to start introducing delay in your attacks.
At the top of the chain, you can mix it up further and start introducing the notion of chop into your game as well. This is necessary at this point, because good players are familiar with many of the common attack patterns that are used for each character. By breaking these patterns up and doing things like 6P repeatedly, you force them to adapt on the fly and come up with new ways to deal with your offense.
Above all, strive to avoid being predictable. However, keep in mind that it does not matter if you are being predictable to yourself. You need to put yourself in your opponent's mind and determine if they are finding you predictable. This is why you will find yourself playing differently based on the skill-level of your opponent - lower-level players lack the depth of understanding to see even the most basis flowcharts as predictable.
I'll just finish off on an interesting note, and that is something that naturally flows out of what I've talked about: the fact that poor players will often get "lucky wins" against much better players. These types of wins are caused because the better player is giving their opponent more credit than they deserve, by using more advanced flows and chops. As a result, the better player will eat a lot of counterhits because the better player is attempting to play intelligently and use delays and chop in their game, and the poor player is simply defeating this by recklessly throwing out punches whenever they can. Not only that, but lower-level play can have an element of randomness inherent to it that is difficult for a good player to handle if they are used to playing someone better.
Here's the final point: This is not an excuse for you to use as a crutch when you lose and think to yourself "Ah, I lost because I'm better and I'm trying to do fancy stuff. No need to think about that one". If you are playing someone lower, you need to train yourself to drop your level of play down to the basics. Punish with 6P,K. Punish with 33P,P without using delays. Find out what works, and use it.
Goddamn I missed playing VF5.