The blocker gets punched in the face enough to realize that the best defense is a good offense. Fighting games seem so active; it's hard to realize that sometimes the best thing to do is nothing. Previous stages of development would try to "attack faster" rather than "block and respond." This quote from one member of the group sums it up nicely. "If I were in a real fight, I wouldn't back off when I was attacked. Being unable to attack back when I'm getting hit makes no sense to me." However, once the blocker does realize how important blocking is to any fighting game, she simply takes less damage and thus survives longer than previous levels of development.
At this level of development, the gamer understands the basic systems of the game, and now it is time to refine them. The graduate spends most of his time using training mode to get his main combos and strategies down to the point where he rarely sees an execution error. Though his combos aren't complex, they deal a decent amount of damage, and while he can't string together one frame links, he does understand that Shoryukens, for example, have invincibility frames at the start. A graduate constantly fights against the instinctive urge to mash because he understands that repeatedly pressing a button doesn't actually make an attack more likely to come out. In fact he realize that in many circumstances, mashing on a button might prevent the move from coming out at the right time. In fact, that's the one thing that the graduate is studying the most: timing. Whether it's the timing of button presses in a combo or the timing of a response to an opponent's attack, graduates are getting the rhythm of the game down.
To a graduate, the most important thing to understand is the game. To a post-graduate, the most important thing to understand is the meta-game. Post-graduates spend lots of time reading strategy on forums, watching replays of tournaments, and analyzing matchups and statistics. Data about the game starts to become as exciting as the actual game itself. Post-graduates may find they have less people to play with because they have gotten "good" at the game, and as such they seek to find enjoyment in the very study of the game itself. Post-graduates learn specific matchup strategies, counter-picks, character specific combos, and much more. Eventually, they are going on about the awesome game Justin Wong had on Wednesday Night Fights, while everyone else around them goes "Zuuuh?"
The reliable is the closest thing you have to a tournament-worthy fighting gamer. He is so-named because he has explored every facet of the game to a finite extent and as a result has figured out a reliable strategy that works against most people, and I do mean most people. This is the guy who is "good" in any random group of friends, the guy most people get too frustrated to continue playing against. He knows good ways to respond to opponents' attacks, is pretty decent at blocking high/low mixup, and in the end actually does understand the game. The only problem is that he is predictable. He knows a strategy that wins, but sometimes a counter strategy comes along and he doesn't know what to do about it. This is why even some of the best fighting gamers out there still complain about projectile spam. The reliable knows how to play, and play well, but he doesn't know how to adapt.
There is a huge hump to get over before a gamer hits stage one, and I mean huge. She can be the king of online play. She can be ranked 1,000 out of 500,000. She can be the best out of anyone in her entire extended group of friends, and in the end, the hump leading to pro status will destroy her. Pros have to think on a whole other level. "Good" fighting gamers can get away with throwing out a sloppy move or two, even if the rest of their game is solid. Pros on the other hand? They punish these one or two sloppy moves so hard they can cost her a game. Pros have to be thinking about each and every move they make, and one tiny slip up, one missed input, could end the game right there. It's unlike anything any other stage of development has encountered, and it's discouraging! It's like she put so much effort into learning the game just to realize she is still a scrub in the eyes of the entire tournament community!
Just reaching this level is a triumph in and of itself. Every previous level of development was missing a key skill needed to play the game. Whether it was something simple like blocking or something complex like meta-game knowledge, she just wasn't playing to the best of her ability. Now, at this stage of development, she is, and the only thing left to do is get better. She needs to know her characters, know her strategies, know her opponents, and fight as hard as she can. She made it to the big leagues, now she's got to show them what she's got!
Granted, not everyone learns fighting games in the same way, and people who were familiar with fighters in the past probably skipped a few of these stages, but I find that most people, at some point in their life, go through these stages of development, and many never even get to the end. With the simple knowledge of these stages, however, new fighting gamers may be able to learn the craft just a little bit faster by trying to recognize what they have to learn next, and that knowledge is a useful tool.
By Angelo M. D'Argenio
CCC Freelance Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*