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Wednesday
Nov122008

Street Fighter HD Remix: Honda

E.Honda was one of the most controversial characters during development. In Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo (ST), he has some really bad matches and is considered maybe the 9th or 10th best character in the game. Certainly not dominating, so he needs some boosts.

Fat Man Needs Help Against Fireballs

I considered my first pass on him to be pretty uncontroversial. He has a huge disadvantage against fireball characters, so I gave him some extra tools to deal with that, but nothing super strong. First, his jumping short can now hit sweeps. In more recent Street Fighter games, if you jump in and land on a sweep, you can still block it. That feature is called “trip guard” and it doesn’t appear in ST or HD Remix. If you jump in, the opponent can make you land on a sweep in the SF2 series. This is especially bad for Honda in that he gets knocked down, then pushed out by fireballs, and is then stuck in that same repeating pattern. He certainly can win, but it’s very hard. To see how hard, watch Japanese Honda champion Kusumondo attempt to get anywhere near Alex Valle's Ken at Evolution 2008.

A jumping short that hits sweeps is a way of giving trip guard to just Honda. At first this sounds powerful, but in practice it’s a little less powerful than you might think. Because of the way hitboxes are shaped on sweep attacks, they will still hit a jumping Honda if the sweep is done very far away right at the tip. So Ken and Ryu can still attempt that same old pattern, but it requires much more careful spacing on their part. Next, fireball characters can shift to other strategies to keep you out, such as relying on different anti-air attacks or jump attacks. Finally, it’s pretty important to realize that you can still keep Honda away in a similar way by just delaying your sweep and letting him land. This way, you won’t get hit by his jump short (he already landed) and you’ll force him to block a sweep, then block a fireball. This keeps Honda away, but is less damaging to him so he gets more chances to try to get in.

Next, in ST Honda has a move that people call the “floating fierce.” If you jump straight up and press fierce, you can then steer him left or right. This is helpful in avoiding fireballs. In HD Remix, the distance he moves left or right is greater, so it’s easier to avoid fireballs this way.

Then there’s the hundred hand slap, performed by mashing on punch buttons. As part of a global change to all mash moves, it’s now easier to get the Hundred Hands to come out.

And then there’s his super. It’s considered one of the very worst in the game in ST because the first hit doesn’t even knock down and there’s enough time between the first and second hit to Dragon Punch Honda out of it, even if he hits. It’s a generally sad super that has only one saving grace: it can be "stored." After doing the motion for the super (which ends with holding the joystick forward) you can keep holding it forward and then press punch whenever you want.

In HD Remix, I removed the storing property on the super, but greatly improved the super. It now knocks down on the first hit and juggles (with itself). That means if you hit with it from full screen, the first hit will knock down, the second hit will then juggle them, then they will be fully knocked down. Even though it doesn’t do much damage from that distance, it functions correctly and gives you a chance to pressure them as they get up, which is exactly what Honda wants to do. Remember that this move can destroy fireballs, too, just like it did in ST. Also, because of the new juggling property, if you hit with it at just the right range (pretty close, but not point-blank) you can get a three hit version that does about 50% damage, even as anti-air. In practice, I think it will be pretty rare to hit with it in that way because the opponent usually has to make some major mistakes to ever put himself into a situation where it could even happen. More likely, you’ll just get the 20% or so from the 2-hit version from far away.

Fat Man Still Loses to Fireballs, But Still (Too) Good Otherwise

At this point, tournament champion John Choi said that although Honda was better, he still lost those matches against fireball characters. Choi suggested making the jab version of the torpedo move destroy fireballs. I told Choi that was the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard and I moved on.

That was my complete list of changes for Honda in the first builds of the game. My goal was to give him a better chance in his bad matches, but not necessarily enough that he even had advantage in those matches, just so that he had a better chance. Some of the expert players involved in playtesting said that it made Honda way too good, but not for reasons you might think. They weren’t saying that he was too dominant against fireball characters, they were saying that all the old reasons why he won a lot of matches against non-fireball characters were still there. So, they said, he still dominates lots of characters (even their HD Remix versions) and he’s not as bad off against fireball characters either. He needs some weakness, they said.

How To Weaken?

Fair enough, but what to do? Suggestions included reducing damage on the hundred hands, reducing priority on hundred hands (that move really wrecks some characters), reducing dizzy power on the ochio throw, preventing the ochio throw from being repeated in the corner, and removing the stored property on the ochio throw. (Similar to the stored property on the super, that means he can do the motion, hold the final direction—down/back—then press punch much later to get the ochio throw to come out).

Other players scoffed at these ideas, saying that even one single nerf, much less a whole slew of them, was totally inappropriate for the 9th or 10th best character in the game. He needs whatever he can get, they said. The other players countered, saying that his middle-ranking is misleading. They pointed out that he is extremely dominant in many matches, but that he has big trouble in others. The reason for his low ranking is his problem matches, but when they aren’t so problematic anymore, he shoots up to near the top.

My usual standard of proof is if people can beat me at the game. I said I would play any character in the game versus someone’s Honda, and invited people to make me afraid of Honda. Tournament player James Chen chose Cammy for me, versus his Honda. I said that with all of Cammy’s upgrades, I’d be fine. I have a pretty good record in these types of challenges, maybe only 5 times out of dozens did someone make their case. Chen definitely made his case. Even the improved Cammy with her safe cannon drills and easy hooligan throw had a monsterously difficult time against Honda. His hundred hands are practically impossible to hit, deal lots of blocked damage and tons of damage on hit. When cannon drills and hundred hands start flying, Honda easily gets ahead in damage, then just sits there and does nothing. He can of course do nothing from the start of the match too, and make up for blocking many cannon drills with just one well-placed hundred hand slap. And you can forget trying to hooligan throw if he’s on his toes. To top it all off, at close range Honda has the deadly ochio throw which he can even threaten to repeat in the corner.

I was willing to admit the problem was real. And yet, it felt very wrong to give any of these nerfs. Even if they are justified against Cammy, they certainly aren’t against Guile because that match is so difficult for Honda. When the players were discussing ochio throw nerfs, I once blurted out that Honda deserved to do 100% damage with that move if it hit Guile. (If you don’t believe that, try playing against John Choi’s Guile. Or Kurahashi’s or Muteki’s if you’re in Japan.)

So we have this problem where it’s still very hard to get in on some characters and when you do, you deserve huge damage and the unfairly good properties of the ochio throw. But you don’t really deserve those against characters who are trying to get in on you, like Cammy or Fei Long. What to do? I explained the problem to tournament player Julien Beasley and he gave a very unexpected answer. He said he thought Choi was right all along: make the jab torpedo destroy fireballs.

Jab Torpedo Destroys Fireballs??

Beasley said it solved the whole puzzle. If you make getting in on Guile a little less impossible, then you don’t need to deal 100% damage when you do. This was the same principle that was at work with rebalancing T.Hawk, by the way. T.Hawk’s new dive lets him get in more easily, so that’s why it’s ok to remove his 100% throw trap by giving him a throw whiff. For Honda, giving yet another option versus fireball characters makes those other nerfs ok. Beasley even asked me if, as a player, I would take a fireball-destroying jab torpedo in exchange for the whole list of nerfs other players proposed. I said probably yes. I said this left only one problem: the idea is stupid and makes no sense. But then we figured that some graphical effect on the move would explain it at least as well as why Zangief’s green hand destroys fireballs, so why not try it.

Here’s the actual list of changes in version 2 of Honda:

  • Jab torpedo destroys fireballs and has subtle graphic effect
  • Ochio throw does same dizzy as any throw, rather than double the dizzy
  • Ochio throw bounces backwards afterwards, rather than forwards, to prevent the loop in the corner
  • Hundred Hands deal less damage and have worse priority
  • First hit of super travels slightly slower, but second hit travels faster

That new ochio bounce means that regardless of whether the opponent is midscreen or cornered, the ochio throw leads to a guessing game with nothing guaranteed. Afterwards Honda can do a torpedo, a flying butt, the hundred hands, a sweep, or wait a bit to bait a move, then one of those options. There is no guaranteed follow-up or real trap though.

Everyone seemed satisfied with this new direction in playtesting. The players found so many ways to beat the jab torpedo, that they weren’t worried about it being overpowering. (Though I'm still a bit worried...) Basically, you can bait it, then punish the recovery. Ken sweep it. Ryu can sweep it or red fireball it. Guile can backhand it. Sagat can juggle with 3-hits of tiger knees. The move is very powerful when it’s done from a distance close enough where it will destroy a fireball and hit the recovery of the fireball thrower, but it must be done a bit early to make that work. The startup cannot destroy fireballs, so you have to already be flying through the air or you’ll just get hit by the fireball.

Yomi Layer 3

From far way, it’s also all about predicting. If you are far, see the opponent’s fireball, then jab torpedo on reaction, the opponent can usually recover fast enough to hit you somehow. But if you guess and do your torpedo a bit early, you’ll be safe and you will have advanced, which is really good for you. Of course, your opponent could counter that by not throwing the fireball then walking toward you and sweeping you (the jab torpedo doesn’t go that far, remember). But then you can somewhat counter that by doing the fierce torpedo and make him walk right into it! But then, he could counter that by doing a fireball in the first place because the fierce torpedo doesn’t destroy fireballs. The point is that there’s a lot of gameplay going on here and people really liked it.

More testing did lead to some tweaks though. I had to keep reducing the damage and priority on the hundred hands quite a bit to get them bad enough where opponents could actually hit the move. I also had to make the jab torpedo travel a shorter distance just because of the match against Sagat (Sagat’s arms stick out pretty far and the torpedo was too good against him.)

Conclusion

The end result of all these changes is that there’s a lot more thinking going on in Honda matches. When he’s trying to get in, the old, fairly mindless patterns of keeping him out don’t work as well anymore. Instead, you each have several options that you need to consider. But once Honda gets in, his old, fairly mindless pattern of repeated ochio ohrows no longer works, so you both need to be on your toes there too. Honda’s less dominant in his good matches and less dominated in his bad ones, and more thoughtful all around.

--Sirlin