Labbing to Learn - A Guide to Learning Advanced Techniques



Tue 30th Jan 2018 - 9:52pm

Melee is infamous for its technically demanding gameplay and the level of control of modern players has skyrocketed over the past 5 years. With these advances in technical skill, players are able to make use of options which were previously thought to be impossible to perform consistently. Having access to the more technically complicated options is almost a requirement in 2018 to compete at a national level, so how can someone improve their technical ability? This guide will introduce some fundamental practice techniques and ideas which accelerate the learning process.

You’ll be double shine grabbing in no time, Kid!

Regimented Practice

Maintaining a consistent routine is perhaps the most important part of any Smash practice. In order to perfect any technique in Melee, repeated and consistent effort is the most effective way to solidify muscle memory. No guide or tip will be able to teach someone invincible ledgedash in one day - there is no substitute for dedication! Any top player knows that 15 minutes of practice every day is much more effective for learning Melee than 3 hours at once. James 'Swedish Delight' Liu has stated that he always only practiced 5 minutes a day, but did so every day. The most important tip for becoming a more technical player is to carve out some time each day to practice, no matter how short. Be consistent and trust the process.

Creating Feedback Systems

When most players first attempt a new technique, they see what buttons need to be pressed and press them. If it didn’t work, they try again. Again and again until they do it, but what happens between the attempts? Many players have trouble learning techniques with strict timing windows because they fail to evaluate each attempt before trying again. Creating a system of feedback accelerates the learning process immensely. Instead of trying over and over again: try, evaluate, and adjust.

For example, let’s look at shine grabbing. A shine grab is performed by shining, jump canceling, and inputting a grab during the jumpsquat frames (3 frame window for Fox, and 5 for Falco).

Attempt 1:

Visually identify what actually happened and compare the result to what was intended. In this case, it can be seen that we correctly performed the shine and the jump input to cancel it. However our grab is nowhere to be seen. Where did it go? Why are we neutral airing?

The input of the grab (Z button) acts different when in the air. An airborne Z press performs an aerial attack because grabs are exclusively a grounded move. As you can see, Fox put out a Neutral Air after the shine. This tells us that our Z input was too late. In future attempts we will try and make the Z input happen more quickly after the jump cancel.  

Attempt 2:

This time around Fox simply jumps after shining. Now where did the Z input go? An important fact about shine here is that the only action which can be performed directly out of it is jumping. So if we input the grab before the jump begins, our input will simply be eaten. An important difference between Melee and other fighting games is that the technique of buffering inputs is much more limited in Melee than traditional fighters. A buffered input is when an input is made during the active frames of a previous input, and the game automatically makes the next input happen on the first possible frame after the first move ends. Melee, however, doesn’t just care that the buttons were pressed, but also when the inputs were made. So when an attempted shine grab looks like this, we know that our grab input was too early.

Continue to analyze each attempt and make adjustments based on that information until you dial in on the timing. With repeated practice, that timing will become muscle memory. Voila! You just learned a new piece of tech!

Making Objective Judgements of Performance

An often overlooked aspect of solo practice is mentality. Having a healthy mental game goes beyond sitting in the tournament seat and it is easier than one might think to build mental barriers in technique performance. When evaluating an attempt of a technique, it is imperative to remain an objective observer. If you perform an input too late, do not say to yourself “Oh look you’re late again, too slow as usual”. Instead, simply absorb the information that you were late. Rather than an insult, focus on the actual and necessary information to improve. A simple “late” will do better here.

This goes for when a technique is performed correctly, too. Whenever you successfully perform a technique, focus on how it feels rather than trying to explain what you specifically did differently than in previous attempts. Trust yourself to absorb the feeling of performing correctly, and allow the muscles and brain to learn to recognize this.

Hopefully this article gave you a different, focused perspective on solo practice. There is no end all be all to solo practice, so I encourage you to experiment and discover new methods of training. Hopefully this guide provides a foudational method of practice to help you expand your toolkit of options and open up new strategies of play. Get grinding!

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