Universal Fighting Game Guide: How to Improve Your Execution

When it comes to fighting games, your ability to input the right buttons at the right time is critical to success. If you’re an amateur fighting another amateur, the person who can more consistently pull off their special moves is going to have the edge. As you get better, the importance of execution continues to be a factor, as your opponent’s ability to hit you with a big combo in a crucial situation (or any situation for that matter) could put you in a really bad spot.

With that said, I think that execution is generally considered the most boring and tedious aspect of your skill-set to practice and improve upon. Because of how monotonous it may seem, it’s easy to just stick with what you’ve got and never make an honest effort to improve your execution. In this post, we talk about what execution is, different types of execution ‘concepts’ and a few different ways to approach improving your execution without boring yourself to tears.

What is execution?

In the world of fighting games, the term ‘execution’ is used to describe one’s ability to correctly input their desired moves. Someone with good execution will have the ability to do their desired special moves and combos with little error. While some people will consider one’s ability to hit large and difficult combos as a measure of execution, I think that particular measure of execution isn’t as important as being able to do what it is you have in your head every time.

Why is execution important?

Execution is the physical translation of your fighting game thought process. Anyone can be a strategic or tactical genius with the wildest combos imaginable thought up in their head, but none of that thinking matters if you can’t make it happen on-screen. The better you are at translating those thoughts into physical actions, the better off you will be when you fight, because you’ll have the ability to make things happen. Also, by having your execution developed to a point where you don’t have to consciously think about whether you’ll be able to press your buttons properly, you can focus that brainpower on being a smarter player.

Why does your execution suck?

There’s always room for improvement when it comes to execution. However, I feel that most players fail to maximize their ability to execute, especially beginner to intermediate players. Why does this happen?

1) You settled

Fighting games are some of the hardest video games to learn. They require very quick thought and precision button-pressing. Because of this, I find that most people (myself included) will find a place where they think they’re good enough and stop trying to improve. In Street Fighter IV, I stayed at the same execution plateau for years and played the game for hundreds of hours at the same execution level until I finally committed to getting better. If you’re happy with whatever plateau you’ve reached, that’s cool, but stopping at that plateau is probably the primary reason why your execution is where it is.

2) You don’t like to practice your execution

Practicing your execution is one of the most boring parts of learning a fighting game. This usually entails spending hours in training mode, repeating the same moves and combos repeatedly until they become second nature. While there are other things you can do to make this process more interesting, but it’s ultimately going to come down to you practicing those motions over and over. If you simply got bored and stopped, I don’t blame you.

3) You don’t understand how to input certain special moves or combos

This is usually the primary cause for #1 and #2. You will probably encounter this scenario in a trial mode or when you try to emulate a particular move or combo that you’ve seen someone else do. Even if you have the inputs written out for you, odds are you’ll run into a sequence that you just can’t pull off and you don’t understand why.

How do you improve your execution?

Whatever the barrier may be, you can overcome it. Here are a few pro-tips that you can use to help you improve your execution.

1) Learn the underlying mechanics of the game

Of all of the different things you can do to improve your execution, this is most likely the one thing you can do that will improve your execution the fastest. Why? Let me use a writing analogy. Let’s look at the sentence below.

At this point, writing “The cat sat on the mat” requires little to no thought process, at least to those of us who understand English. However, if you dig into the mechanics of that sentence, there’s a lot going on. There are a number of rules and structure that define how that sentence works and what that sentence means. For someone who doesn’t know fluent English, those underlying rules are critical to the creation of a sentence.

When it comes to your execution, inputting a series of buttons is also driven by a governing set of rules and structure. In the video above, the following notation was used to communicate what the player did to make that combo happen:

First combo (corner): cr.L-M-H,f.H + P1, attack+S, DP.L xx DP.L, qcf.M xx qcf.M, qcb.H+M, qcf.M xx qcf.M, j.S, d/f.H xx f.H, attack+S, j.S, 2x(DP.M xx DP.M), qcf.H+M

Instead of the words, you have button presses. A layer deeper than that, you have factors such as links, cancels, chains and other mechanics that connect moves together. If you want to go even deeper than that, you can factor in elements such as hit stun, damage scaling and frame data in order to ‘write’ your ‘sentence’ of inputs.

When you learn how the underlying mechanics of how a fighting game works, you will have a much better understanding of what you need to press and how you need to press them in order to get the desired result. I can vouch for this as a means of learning, as this is what ultimately elevated me to the next level in Street Fighter IV. Once I understood the ‘sentence structure’ of that game, everything came together in a way that made actually executing those moves and combos a lot easier.

2) Break down the move/combo into smaller chunks

If you’re having trouble stringing together a long combo or a difficult special move, it’s a lot easier to wrap your head around what it is you need to do if you break it down to smaller chunks. Take the time to learn the components of the sequence, then bring it all together. I find that learning a long sequence in smaller chunks first makes it easier for your brain and your muscles to get a feel for the entire string.

3) Learn the input “tricks”

In the world of Street Fighter IV and Street Fighter X Tekken, priority linking (better known as ‘plinking’) is an input technique that makes some of the hardest link combos easier to do. It took me a really long time to figure out how to ‘plink’, but when I did, my ability to string together large combos improved dramatically.

All fighting games have a number of different input techniques that can simplify entering in specific commands, such as plinking, piano rolls, joystick shortcuts and negative edge, just to name a few. You may want to investigate what input shortcuts are available to you in the game you’re playing.

4) Practice

As I stated before, ultimately, your physical execution is going to come down to muscle memory in the end. Hit the lab and practice those moves and combos till you have them cold! Once you’ve gotten that far, try your best to pull them off in a match. It can be daunting at first to pull in a sequence you’ve mastered in training mode into the real thing, but you’ll never fully master it until you can consistently do it in a match. In order to that, practice is your best friend.

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5 thoughts on “Universal Fighting Game Guide: How to Improve Your Execution

  1. WkD7 February 27, 2013 / 2:42 PM

    this is a very very very detailed guide. nice job bruh!

    • Jett February 27, 2013 / 2:48 PM

      Thanks for the comment! Hope this article helped!

  2. tactfulgamer April 21, 2013 / 2:06 AM

    Beautiful! Just beautiful! Please keep writing

  3. Derek August 22, 2013 / 2:43 AM

    I have trouble with doing special moves, I hit the sequence of buttons and maybe 10 to 50% of the time it goes off, I can’t find any place online to help this is why I gave up on fighting games a long time ago, this article didn’t help. Sorry.

    • Jett August 22, 2013 / 8:01 AM

      Sorry to hear that. If I may ask, I have a few questions for you in hopes of helping out.

      1. Are you using a controller or fightstick?
      2. What games are you playing?
      3. What specific special moves do you have issues with?

      The act of inputting special moves is something that many players take for granted once they learn them. However, everyone has issues inputting special moves at first until they learn the nuances of inputting them. If you can answer those three questions, I maybe able to better explain how to do them.

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