T.Hawk was one of the hardest characters to balance due to his all-or-nothing gameplay in Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo (ST). He usually loses really badly because he just can’t get in. If he does get in--and if you have amazing execution skills--then he can abuse a virtually guaranteed throw loop to win. My overall goals here were to make it easier to get in, but not a guaranteed win if you do. And of course, to make his gameplay accessible to everyone, not just to the two famous Japanese T.Hawk players got 3rd in a major tournament.
Greatest Hits: Normal Moves
Most T.hawk players (if they even exist) play Old T.Hawk in ST. He’s the version that can’t soften throws and doesn’t have a super, but his normal moves are better. The HD Remixed version is kind of a “greatest hits” of T.Hawk’s moves, so he gets to keep his super and his ability to soften throws, and he also gets the better normal attacks from Old T.Hawk. That means his standing roundhouse and standing strong have better hitboxes and are good for poking, and his low roundhouse is faster than ST’s New T.Hawk. He can also cross-up with his jumping splash (down + fierce in the air) and his jumping medium kick.
The Street Fighter trivia experts out there know that T.Hawk’s low strong had a stray vulnerable box that allowed him to get hit from really far away during that move’s recovery. Yes, I fixed that, too. ;)
Greatest Hits: Dragon Punch, Now Knocks Down Properly
His dragon punch priority is also the (better) Old T.Hawk version, and the timing is more lenient (as it is for all dragon punches in the game). T.Hawk’s fierce dragon punch often did not knock down before as part of a game-wide problem where 2-hit moves are tagged to only knock down on the second hit. I fixed this by making both hits knock down and the first hit juggles into the second.
360 Command Throw
More exciting than these normal moves and dragon punches, the 360 command has changed. You can still do the old 360 command if you like, but the special throw will also come out with the new motion that doesn’t require holding up on the joystick/d-pad. The motion is half circle back, then forward + punch or half circle forward, then back + punch. It’s even more lenient in that you can start from defensive or offensive crouch if you like, instead of straight left or right. And finally, you can even replace the final left or right input with any of the three up inputs if you really want. If all that sounds complicated, just remember this: half circle back, then forward + punch is the main way to do it and doesn’t make you accidentally jump.
This change alone breathes new life into T.Hawk. His 360 was incredibly hard to do in ST because T.Hawk, unlike Zangief, jumps in only 3 frames. That means that when you’re doing a 360 motion in ST, as soon as you reach up/back, you have only 3 more 60ths of a second before T.Hawk will jump, and you have to complete the command throw before then. The new command eliminates that problem entirely. The emphasis is much more on should you do the throw, rather than can you do it.
The 720 motion is also much easier. It’s either half circle back x 2, then forward + punch, or half circle forward x 2, then back + punch. Yes, that means you can walk up and do a super throw without jumping. This is potentially devastating, but remember that if the opponent has less than one third of his health, you could beat him anyway with the non-super throw. For the super to really matter, you have to have full super meter and the opponent has to have more than 1/3rd of his life, and you have to get into a situation where you can do a command throw, have time to do it, and you have to successfully pull off the super.
And the biggest change: T.Hawk’s aerial dive is now SAFE on block. Incidentally, it can also be done with jab + short or strong + forward or fierce + roundhouse, in addition to the original command of jab+strong+fierce. The new command is for gamepad players, but the SAFE ON BLOCK property is a huge balance change that will strike terror into all our hearts for years to come.
After the hawk dive, T.Hawk falls mostly straight down rather than bouncing back. This is a great tool for getting in. The bounce still puts him too far away to get a command throw, so you’re not literally “in” yet, you’re just “almost in.” You end up at a distance where you’re close enough to dragon punch if the opponent sticks something out, but he could block and punish you if he guesses that. You could also walk up and try for a command throw, but you’re really too far to just walk up, so the opponent can counter that with sweeps pretty easily.
Specifically, Guile can block the dive, then low forward kick. If T.Hawk decides to walk up, he will always get hit by low forward. If T.Hawk decides to dragon punch when he lands, it will whiff vs the low forward (because of angles of the hitboxes) and Guile can punish him afterwards. If T.Hawk jumps in after the dive or jumps and dives again, Guile has time to retract his low forward and flash kick on reaction. Guile has plenty of answers here.
I first thought Dhalsim would have no chance against this amazing dive, because he always relied on hitting it back with standing roundhouse. I soon realized Dhalsim can jump back, then drill the dive. He can standing jab to hit the dive cleanly every time. He can medium slide under the dive to make it miss then hit back with far standing strong. That’s three answers right there, it’s just that he no longer has the universal answer of always block, then stand roundhouse.
Blanka is also able to beat this dive without too much trouble. His jumping straight up roundhouse has a good angle to either hit the dive, or even come down and do a combo if the spacing is right. He can use electricity (which is easier to do now) to hit the dive cleanly, too. Bison can use similar techniques with jump straight up roundhouse or jump towards strong punch. T.Hawk still hangs in the air just a bit before diving, and it’s often just the right height for Bison to do his juggling jump strongs.
More Hawk Dive
Early on in development, the hawk dive knocked down, just like it did in ST. This was one of the very few times during all of playtesting when someone really scared me enough with a move that it actually made me change it. This time, it was Campbell “Buktooth” Tran. His strategy was to mostly dive because it’s safe on block, and if he ever happened to hit, the knockdown let him go for cross-up splash, jabs or shorts, then 360 command throw. ST T.Hawk didn’t land close enough to get the cross-up splash, even though his dive knocked down.
Buktooth was able to do well against me with this strategy while he was on the phone, arranging travel logistics with his friends for later that night. This showed that the risk/rewards were so skewed here that the game barely required his attention. I made the dive not knock down.
Here’s a summary of the changes that followed:
- Hawk Dive no longer knocks down. The reward for hitting was simply too great for the low risk.
- Hawk Dive now falls slower after hit/block so that on block, T.Hawk does not recover before the opponent anymore.
- Hawk Dive now falls even slower after hit/block to prevent Hawk Dive -> low short or forward combo that was possible at a very certain height/distance. Difficult to perform, but too powerful.
- After command throw and super, T.Hawk now bounces farther away, and falls slower during the bounce. This prevents safe jump jab in the corner after a command throw, but still barely allows walk up low jab after a command throw (remember, the victim can hit your low jab with a reversal, but not the safe jump jab).
- Hawk Dive damage reduced.
- Hawk Dive startup time increased 4 frames.
- Alternate Hawk Dive added. New dive has incredibly fast startup, knocks down on hit, but is unsafe on block against many characters. Purpose is to allow T.Hawk to deal block damage to defensive characters such as Guile and also to give him back his knockdown dive if he’s willing to do the unsafe version.
- Both hits of low roundhouse given the ability to deal block damage (mostly to help vs. Honda).
- Change reverted: block damage removed on low roundhouse.
- Change reverted: Alternate Hawk Dive removed, the ultra fast startup wasn’t quite game-breaking in tests, but I can imagine it would be once released into the wild.
- Change reverted: Hawk Dive’s startup time reduced 4 frames, now matching original game.
- Change reverted: Hawk Dive’s damage set back to original game’s, entirely because block damage turns out to be linked to hit damage. Reducing the damage in an earlier change had the unintended effect of reducing the block damage also, so change reverted because he needs a way to deal some blocked damage.
- Throw whiff added when T.Hawk attempts the command throw, but fails to connect. Acts similarly to Zangief’s whiff throw.
- Change reverted: T.Hawk no longer bounces farther away after his 360 command throw, now that he has a throw whiff to weaken the safe-jump trap.
The Inescapable Throw Loop From ST
I’ll explain what was going on with the changes in that list for T.Hawk’s 360 command throw. In, ST, he could do this devastating sequence:
Safe jump jab -> low jab -> button-up command throw -> repeat.
That’s a lot of jargon, so let’s sort it out. I covered the concept of safe jumps in the advanced section of my SSF2T tutorial videos. The idea is that you jump at your knocked-down opponent as he gets up. You time your jump so that you land just a couple frames after the opponent is completely standing up. If the opponent chooses to do a reversal attack (such as Ryu’s dragon punch or Guile’s flash kick) then it actually won’t hit you. Those reversal attacks have a few frames at the beginning where you can’t hit them, but they can’t hit you either. So your jumping jab will pass through the opponent, then you’ll land (and block), then their reversal attack will start to hit—but you’ll be safe. Yes it’s hard to time this, but experts can do it.
If the opponent tries to do a reversal attack in this situation, you’ll just land, block it, and then be able to retaliate with a command throw. If the opponent decides to block, then your jab will touch him, forcing him to block. If blocks the jumping jab, he will be forced to block your subsequent ducking jab. At this point, you can perform the 360 on the joystick, then release a punch button. In Street Fighter, releasing a button (as opposed to pressing it) does count for doing a special move, but it does not cause you to do a normal move. So after the opponent blocks your low jab, if he does a move that makes him unthrowable (such as a dragon punch), then your throw will fail. In ST, T.Hawk does not have a throw whiff animation, so usually if you miss a throw, you get a normal punch instead. But if you tried to do the command throw by releasing a punch button (rather than pressing it) you don’t even get a punch if you fail to throw—you just get nothing, and you can block.
So after the opponent blocks your low jab, he will either get thrown or you will safely block his reversal attack (and then throw him anyway). At this point, you can safe jump jab to repeat the entire sequence if you are in the corner.
The bottom line is that although this loop is very difficult to execute properly, if you land it and you can execute it, you basically win. It also means there is a “perfect T.Hawk algorithm” once you get in the right situation. No real strategy is involved, it’s just a very difficult test of your ability to execute precisely. You could say that T.Hawk “needs” something this powerful, because even with it, he’s still bottom tier. But when we buff him up, it’s probably a bad idea to let him keep this. Because getting in is easier now (safe hawk dive), the reward should not be so great, and more importantly, the strategy should not be completely replaced by a dexterity test once you do get in.
Removing the Loop
My first attempt to fix this was to add bounce back after his 360 command throw, so that he could not safe jump afterwards. I could write a whole article on just that, because it was extremely difficult to make that actually work, but I eventually did. Much later, I finally got the time I needed from a programmer to implement a throw whiff for T.Hawk that operated just like Zangief’s. This means that if T.Hawk attempts the button-up method for his loop, the opponent can dragon punch him. (With the whiff, T.Hawk would safely block in this case, then throw you anyway).
For months, he had both of these penalties--more bounce back after the throw and a throw whiff when he missed. It just seemed like too much. Some players started asking why he really needed both penalties when either one prevented the inescapable loop. Eventually, I agreed and reverted the bounce back after the command throw to be the same as in ST, but kept the new whiff animation.
T.Hawk had so much trouble beating Honda and Guile I tried all sorts of things, like alternate versions of the hawk dive and block damage on his roundhouse, as you can see in the bullet point list above. I don’t think any of these things really worked out. Some had technical problems, some caused more balance problems in other areas, and some just felt strange. In the end, I reverted lots of that stuff. Instead, I just “tried harder” to win the matches against Guile and Honda and I was able to develop some techniques. These fights are hard, but I think they are winnable.
You might argue that T.Hawk is even worse now than the original game because the deadly throw loop has been removed (throw whiff means it’s escapable now). But the flipside is that T.Hawk doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing anymore. He can mostly get in with the new dive, so getting in doesn’t need to lead to instant checkmate. I do wish we had been able to give him a new way to get in (such as a much sped up version of his hopping punch special move from Street Fighter Alpha 3).
He does have trouble against defensive characters like Guile and Honda, but these matches are more winnable than before. In other matches, he’s more well-rounded. His gameplay is more “interactive” now and less based on perfectly executing a throw loop, so this makes fighting him more fun for a wider set of players, and I'm happy with that.