Poor Ken Masters. As a character, his capabilities are fairly standard issue. However, the sight of Ken is enough to induce a groan from even the most casual Street Fighter fans. It has nothing to do with the character himself, but rather the player using him. There’s a good reason why the term “Flowchart Ken” exists.
What is a flowchart?
In the most literal sense, a flowchart is defined as a means of designing and documenting a process. In my line of work, I create a number of flowcharts to document how a website is going to work. There are tons of practical applications for flowcharts, and fighting games is one of them.
What is a Flowchart Ken?
A Flowchart Ken is mainly used as a derogatory term in the fighting game community to describe a Ken player whose strategy can be defined within a very simple flowchart. In particular, all paths of a Flowchart Ken’s flowchart end with a Shoryuken. If you play any Street Fighter, I’m sure you’ve seen this phenomenon first-hand, where your opponent will try and uppercut you at all costs, no matter how bad of a decision it might be. It’s almost comical to watch a flowchart Ken in action, as they keep doing the same uppercut repeatedly in hopes that this one tactic will win them the match. Despite the fact that this tactic fails most of the time, there are still thousands of Ken players still doing this in arcades and online every day.
The concept of Flowchart Ken isn’t just a phenomenon relating to Ken or uppercut-like moves. Players whose entire strategy can be broken down into a simple flowchart with one or two end points can be found across every fighting game imaginable. Have you ever fought a Ryu player who just jumped backwards and threw fireballs all day? Have you played the new Mortal Kombat online and noticed how everyone seems to use their teleport attacks every chance they get? You can pull up dozens of examples like this across every fighting game in existence.
What’s the problem with Flowchart Ken?
Let’s take the flowchart idea and simplify it even further. Imagine you’re playing Rock Paper Scissors. If you were playing Rock Paper Scissors against a Flowchart Ken, he would choose rock every single time. Eventually, you would clue into this, and you would choose paper to win. Instead of adjusting, a Flowchart Ken would simply stick to the rock strategy, because they truly believe it’s the best way to go. The problem isn’t the flowchart itself. It’s the player whose strategy is so simplistic and rigid, that it’s easy to figure out and extremely difficult for the ‘flowchart-er’ to adjust. It usually doesn’t take much to ‘solve’ a flowchart player, which usually leads to an easy win for you.
How can I use flowcharts for good?
The term ‘flowchart’ in itself isn’t a bad term. It’s mostly used within a negative context, but thinking through your fighting game strategy and tactics within the context of a flowchart can be a very healthy thing. For me, it helped me get a better overall understanding of the mental aspects of a fighting game. For instance, let’s break down this one particular scenario pictured below.
(NOTE: Yes, I know the screenshot is broken and is sort of needed for the remainder of this piece. I’ll replace it as soon as I find a screen showing the same scenario)
In the screenshot, Ken is blocking Ryu’s Hurricane Kick. After the Hurricane Kick is completed, there is a opportunity for both characters to react. Let’s look at a number of different things Ken can do in this situation.
– Shoryuken, of course
– Block high to stop an overhead attack or a Shoryuken from Ryu
– Block low to stop an incoming low attack
– Attack with an overhead maneuver
– Attack low with a sweep or fast poke
– Throw a Hadoken
– Throw Ryu
– Jump straight up in the air to make Ryu whiff his next attack
– Jump backwards to make space
If you were to put this into a flowchart, blocking the Hurricane Kick would be one point, but it would branch out 9 different ways to each option I listed above. That isn’t even close to covering all of the options Ken has available to him in that situation. While Ryu may have had an easy time to decide what to do before because he knew Ken would do an uppercut in this situation, he will have a much harder time trying to guess which of the nine options above Ken will do instead. This is where the mental aspect of fighting games really shines.
Also in this case, a flowchart is a much more powerful way to mentally visualize your options at any given point. If you understand every scenario of a match to at least this level of detail, it will be easier for you to read your opponent while making it harder for your opponent to read you. When I started thinking about fighting games in this manner, where I looked at every scenario as a still image and thought though every option available to both characters, it really helped me become a better player because that analysis helped me make better choices more frequently.
If you want to go even deeper, you’ll want to think about all of the other factors around that particular scenario. For instance, Ken and Ryu are about even on super meter, but Ryu has notably less health. This might make Ryu more likely to use a defensive maneuver in this case. It’s also the third round, so maybe both characters will be less likely to take risks in order to win the match. It’s this level of thinking that keeps me coming back to fighting games, as it never gets told to know you’ve outsmarted your opponent.
Has this post changed the way you think about fighting games? Do you have anything to add to this? Let me know in the comments!