Infil’s Invaluable Fighting Game Glossary and a History of Bizarre Fighting Game Terms
I don’t even have a Twitter account, so that should make it all the more impressive that this tweet from Infil found its way into my life from multiple sources. It links to his new fighting game glossary. This fantastic resource featuring Japanese translations by HiFightTH that fits right in with the esteemed company is the wide world of FGC tomes. The new glossary fits right in with such works as David Sirlin’s Playing to Win and Umehara Daigo’s The Will to Keep Winning.
I say “tomes” because fighting game terms are often arcane jargon bordering on insane babble. “Magic series” is a perfect example. There are also kara cancels, animation cancels, wavedashes, airdashes, custom combos, plinks, FADC, SGGK, SBMM, SSBM, Roman cancels, Reverse Beat, Negative Edge, dead angles, Dust loops… and the list goes on. Check out the fighting gaming glossary for most of those and many more.
I’m mostly using my platform to let you all know that this very helpful resource is now out there. But I also thought this would be a fun space to look into more bizarre terms that the FGC used through the years. And as a Smasher – sorry, /r/Kappa, but platform fighters are fighting games. I will be relying mostly on my experience there. But I’m also familiar with Guilty Gear, Melty Blood, Dragon Ball FighterZ, and Street Fighter.
Many of the most fundamental fighting game terms, such as spacing, timing, and adaptation, can be understood by almost anyone. But it’s hard to not alienate newcomers to the FGC scene with wacky terms like those above. And things only get weirder as we get more niche… like with Melee’s so-called “Koopabackdashwaveslide Hoverwalkmoonland,” which is covered in this awesome video by AsumSaus. Though nothing that niche is in the new resource that sparked this article, fighting game glossaries like Infil’s are a great step toward more inclusivity and less general confusion.
The “Sniper” and Other Move Names
Attack names are some of the basic building blocks of fighting game terminology. Some of the names we use for moves come in the move lists in pause menus. Special moves usually come pre-packaged with names that the community uses pretty much universally. There are some exceptions, of course. Ryu and Ken’s “Hadoken” and similar moves are usually called “fireballs.” That said, barring long Japanese names getting abbreviated, like Tatsumaki Senpukyaku becoming “Tatsu,” or moves without catchy names being called the way they are performed, most fighting game special moves don’t have any special terms to them. I’m sure the Melty Blood community has shortened names for some of the nonsense in that Type Lumina article previously linked.
And that points to the truth that many communities adopt different names for different moves, often going against the developer’s intended labels for them. Click this link if you’re interested in watching another AsumSaus video to learn about the origins of competitive Smash and the interesting story behind why we call one of the most iconic moves in the series “Shine” rather than its actual name, “Reflector.”
And sometimes, the terms fighting game players use for attacks fill in the gaps in the official list of move names. Not all developers bother to name every normal attack, though some do. And even then, with full lists of amazing attack names like Dr. Mario’s “Drop Kick, M.D.” and Yoshi’s “Noggin Floggin,” the community will usually refer to normal attacks by how you perform them. That’s just a more universal and easily understandable terminology, which is desperately needed in most fighting games. Some moves, however, get a name that catches on, a meme in the original sense of that word – one person says it one day, and it sticks, diffusing through the rest of the community.
Take Dhalsim’s jumping Heavy Punch, one of his most iconic moves in Street Fighter IV. Pretty much everyone familiar with the character calls this one the “Sniper,” and it’s easy to see why from the screenshot below.
Terms like fighting game attack names are interesting studies into how language evolves in certain subcultures if nothing else.
Some of the most interesting fighting game terms are those that owe their names to the people who invented or popularized them. In Smash, there’s no shortage of those. We’ll start with the “Gentleman,” a technique performed most famously and with the most oddities by Captain Falcon in Melee. In Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, every character with the option to “rapid jab” – to press A repeatedly until the character starts a barrage of light attacks – also has the option to perform a “Gentleman,” which is a sequence of (usually, three) jabs, the third being stronger than the first two.
Most characters earlier in the series could only do rapid jabs if they have more than one and press A three times. Captain Falcon in Melee, however, can perform one of the various weird methods to do only the three jabs, from hitting A, A, then A+Z to holding down on the control stick after the first jab and continuing as normal. Either way, it’s really weird, which is why the technique is most famous on Captain Falcon. And the story behind its name is just as interesting.
According to commentator/content creator Toph, a Japanese Smasher named Gentleman (at the time) originated the name by placing a bet of sorts with Isai, a famous old-school American beast at both
Smash 64 and Melee. This now-ancient Smashboards post recounts the full story of how the “Mach Punch Cancel,” its Japanese name, became the Gentleman to the rest of us. Isai and Gentleman performed the technique as many times as they could, and Isai was the first player to mess up and get rapid jabs. So, “It’s the Gentleman!”
There are plenty of other examples in Melee of this. For one, the “Tipman Spike” is a Ganondorf-exclusive technique, which sends opponents at a nasty downward angle, obviously named for Tipman himself.
Wobbling is another example. Wobbles did not invent the Ice Climbers’ infinite. Still, he did popularize it and used it to its fullest extent at Evo 2013, which I’ve discussed before in the context of Nintendo being ridiculous to the people who play their games competitively. Wobbling is now mostly banned, but that’s a discussion for my blog. Either way, the infamous infinite joins the ranks of Smash terms named for certain players.
Finally, there’s the “Ken Combo,” named for old “King of Smash” and Survivor contestant, “SephirothKen” Hoang. This combo is usually regarded as Marth doing forward air to down air, a setup and spike. Ken’s implementation of this combo gave his punish game a huge edge in the earlier days of Melee. And it’s lived on since then, credited to his name.
Ah, and there I go, saying things like “punish game,” referring loosely to his combos and other offensive tools. Some of the terms we use in our favorite fighting games are so baked into our minds that we don’t even notice when we’re saying something not everyone will understand.
Anyone who’s watched Melee G0AT Mang0’s stream has probably heard him say, “That’s the Mang0!” after doing… something. He’s said a few things are the one true Mang0, but I think the real Mang0 is calling things “The Mang0,” not just fighting game terms.
I’m paraphrasing an old YouTube video here, one I’m not going to bother combing through his channel for. Still, in the Norwalk neighborhood Mang0 and his training partners – Lucky, S2J, and Alex19 – are from, naming things after yourself or others is very common. It’s a way of stamping one’s identity on certain actions.
And Mang0 doesn’t call everything the Mang0 either. No, he’s the only player I’ve ever watched who can channel several different playstyles in the same combo, enthusiastically saying the name of the person inspiring him. “Leffen!” he’ll yell, hitting two wavedash uptilts in a row. Then he’ll do some crazy forward air combo and quip, “Moky!” Then he’ll go for an offstage shine with a smile and say, “Mang0!”
He’s so well-known for naming things this way that a whole tournament was called The Mango in 2018.
The Cloud Named Randall
Many terms in Smash and traditional fighting games are named not for those who named them but because they’re descriptive. A “shield-grab” is just that: you press A while shielding, and the character grabs. Sometimes, though, it gets a little wonky. A “jump-canceled grab,” for example, doesn’t cancel the grab but rather the jump. Still, people usually get the point.
However, there are some terms in fighting games that are so wacky that nothing can rationally explain them. The little cloud platform that floats around the Yoshi’s Story stage has one such name. Follow this link and find the funniest reason for calling something anything I can think of in any video game. Just a dude going, “I do decree that from now on, this cloud must be called Randall.” And the best part is, it worked. A few people still call him “Nimbus” or just “the cloud.” But, come on, look at him. He’s just so Randall the Cloud, to the core.
Terms from the Traditional FGC
And that just about wraps up our Smash segment. Thanks for tuning in, and special thanks to Infil for including Smash in his great fighting game glossary. And now we return to your regularly scheduled programming, with some echoing examples of terms from traditional fighting games.
Perhaps the two most famous player-named techniques in fighting games are the Ume Shoryu and the Valle Custom combos. I think that the Ume Shoryu is probably the more infamous of the two since it applies to more games. Umehara Daigo is widely known for his near-psychic uses of “Dragon Punch” uppercuts. These moves are the prototypical risky reversal, often invincible frames on startup and highly punishable if whiffed or blocked. But with reads which are good enough, Daigo has pulled off rounds like this (and I hope you see this volume warning before clicking that link) enough times for such raw Shoryukens to get named after him.
And, as for Alex Valle, he discovered and popularized a meta-defining glitch in Street Fighter Alpha 2. According to Infil’s fresh new fighting game glossary, “If you activated your custom combo (CC) mode and noticed your opponent was not crouch blocking during the screen freeze, you could immediately attack them low, and they could not block, which could lead to huge damage with your custom combo.”
The name of the Valle CC has lived on in infamy, a continuing staple of a relatively “dead” game’s metagame. Valle has become a staple of the American Street Fighter community, as a beast in many different titles and tournament organizers.
I’m sure there are examples in Tekken of terms being named after specific players, but I’m not too familiar with Tekken. There aren’t any such names in the new fighting game glossary. The closest I’m familiar with is the “Korean Backdash,” a technique that uses a down + back input “to cancel a backdash in progress,” which effectively tricks the game into allowing players to backdash multiple times in a row, something which is normally impossible. It’s not named for a player but for a wave of Korean players who popularized the technique in Tekken Tag Tournament.
This one isn’t named for anyone or any group, but a “Happy Birthday” in a team-based fighter like Marvel vs. Capcom or Dragon Ball FighterZ refers to “the wonderful, gracious gift your opponent gives you by making a bad assist call,” according to Infil’s fighting game glossary.
When an assist is called in these games, the character hopping into the fray to perform a move before hopping out is vulnerable before they perform said move. This can lead to characters getting caught in combos like this amazing one in Skullgirls, featuring Big Band’s ability to play songs during one of his super attacks.
Oh, and if you click on the entry in the glossary for “Happy Birthday,” you can see the site’s fantastic design that displays other entries linked in the text. Click the last two words in the last sentence, “although it’s not quite as festive as saying Merry Christmas,” and you’ll see that a “Merry Christmas” is the much rarer version of the Happy Birthday, featuring an entire enemy team getting caught in the same combo. This seldom happens since calling in two assists at once is almost unheard of at a high level, but these are two awesome terms from an awesome sub-genre of fighting games.
In anime fighters, or “airdashers,” numpad notation has come to the forefront as a way of describing stick positions that correspond to actions. These aren’t exactly terms, per se, but the fighting games in question share this numpad notation, uniting players of various titles. Since joysticks have nine possible positions, the numpad on most keyboards can stand in for these nine directions, with five as the neutral position in the middle.
In Street Fighter, Ryu’s “Solar Plexus” punch is sometimes called “Forward + Heavy Punch” because that’s how you perform it. But should Ryu somehow find his way into Guilty Gear or Melty Blood, that move would be called 6 + HP, or more likely 6 + F since anime fighters usually use the alphabetical notation for their buttons from lightest to heaviest? And his Hadoken motion would be described not as a “quarter circle” from bottom to front, but rather as “236.” It’s hard to say which is better because the Street Fighter method is more descriptive from a spoken standpoint, but numpad notation is very helpful for games with a ton of directional moves. And it also allows us to type out the motions of special moves in easy ways, making it usually easier to digest online… once you get used to it, anyway.
This is one example among many FGC sub-communities creating shared language to describe their favorite games in concise and effective ways. Bravo to the anime fighter fans out there.
The Unnamed Actions
Fighting game players use these bizarre, arcane terms to describe various aspects of our games as a means of understanding the game itself. In Smash, we invented terms like “tilts” to describe those moves performed with a direction + A. As a casual, we just called those moves “Up-A” or “Side-A” or whatever… but that wouldn’t fly in a competitive context because it could mean a tilt, a Smash attack, or an aerial.
Language defines thought for many of us. To be able to use language as a descriptor of your reality is a powerful tool. In naming things is power, even if that’s just the power to smile at a goofy cloud named Randall in a video game. In terms of gameplay, having names for fighting game techniques or situations allows us to better consciously understand the games we sink so many hours into, a way of getting our minds to wrap around the myriad actions performed by our characters. But at the end of the day, there is only the game. The game itself doesn’t care if you call an action this or that or any other name, only if your hands can perform the inputs necessary for that output.
I’m reminded of Ursula K. Le Guin’s masterful and very short (less than two pages) short story, “She Unnames Them.” It can be found easily online if you’re interested. A certain woman goes around a certain Garden in this story, freeing the animals from their names. Most of the animals don’t care; their names were more for the human beings than for themselves. The domestic animals can retain their names, should they so choose. And when this woman leaves that Garden and her distant, self-absorbed husband, she thinks to herself, “I could not chatter away as I used to do, taking it all for granted. My words now must be as slow, as new, as single, as tentative as the steps I took going down the path away from the house, between the dark-branched, tall dancers motionless against the winter shining.”
I think commentators would do well to channel her energy there when they’re on stream talking about how great YRC fireball was into IAD pressure string. Newbies aren’t going to have a clue what that means. It’s a fine line to walk between using the “correct” community-accepted term and leaving fighting game newcomers clueless with our fancy, magic words. There are often ways of using slow, new, single, tentative words to describe the raw actions onscreen that everybody can understand. Hopefully, absent such carefully chosen language from our casters, Infil’s new fighting game glossary continues to expand and gets shouted out at tournaments for years to come.