Guard Cancel: Austin Howe | Maryland

Guard Cancel is an interview series profiling KOF community members and players. The goal is to get to know the people behind the tags. Guard Cancel will be published every Monday. If you’d like to be featured, email or PM me in the forum.

1. How long have you played KOF? Which KOF was your first? Which is your favorite?
I’ve been playing KoF since late 2012, and XIII is my first game. I really enjoy XIII and I think it is my favorite of the ones I have played, but this is largely a result of it being the only one that people play offline around where I am (aside from two folks who occasionally play 2002 Ultimate Match). I also enjoy watching high-level matches of 98, 2000, and XI where they can be found.

2. Why KOF over all of the other fighters?
Complicated answer. Contrary to popular opinion, I would actually call KoFXIII very beginner friendly because conceptually the game is very simple. Pretty much every character is “get up in that ass” and there are very, very minor variations on that from character to character. There are “matchups” in the sense that you have to approach grapplers, raw rushdown characters and characters with good approaches differently, but I would say that these matchup differences are much more subtle than in games such as Street Fighter IV where it can feel like the entire design ideology of the game changes depending on what characters are on screen. (C. Viper and Guile have no business being in the same fighting game.) As well, getting out of the corner is shockingly easy in KoF in general, which makes it a fair bit forgiving to newer players who lose in the neutral easily (which is not to say that they don’t get put back in the corner just as quickly)

The character balance, as a result of this, is pretty immaculate, and the tier list feels largely marginal as a result. (The top tier characters do, on average, really just do more damage easier than other characters) The mantra of players mattering a lot more than characters seems to really hold true in this game, and though certain characters go through phases of popularity (Evo 2013 was the age of Kim, Evo 2014 was the age of EX Iori) it doesn’t seem like the top competitive players are resting too much on the same characters. The combo system is a lot of fun because it involves linking specials together more than normals, and that means that characters move in a lot of different ways to do damage. Combos are a nice medium difficulty as well, making it just enough work to learn really hard combos that that still feels rewarding. Combos also reward the amount of work with massive damage, and I’ll admit I prefer games that emphasize big damage on smart conversions over games that allow players to achieve victory by a thousand papercuts (intense knockdown oki, endless corner pressure and such)

On top of that, I really like the art, which is largely unhindered by 3D objects (the 3D effects in other fighters make them difficult for me to look at, especially as a colorblind person), and wisely chooses bright colors and fairly low contrast. The game doesn’t service the art design, the art design services the game. The soundtrack is also quite good, though I usually play at fairly low volume so I can discuss matchups or I wear headphones to play music from my phone.

3. Are you a tournament player? If so, list your tournament rankings.
Due to my income I don’t make it out to tournaments much, and local tournaments for the game are extremely rare. The one time we did have a KoF tournament at the Xanadu monthly, I went 2-2 by beating two players who had been playing the game for less than a week, then losing to two players who had thoroughly wrecked my shit the night before.

4. Do you have a local scene or do you rely on online play?
I play the game every Tuesday at DJ Huoshen’s house, and there is a small crew that gathers to play the game, though we often allow our attention to be diverted by BlazBlue, and more recently, UNiEL, which I think is excellent.

5. Do you prefer pad or stick? Why is that your preference?
I play pad. I had been learning fighters on pad for a long while before I ever got a stick, and then I realized I really only wanted a stick for when I decide to play Guile in SF or CvS2. Honestly, the motions for me are much easier on stick, and this is really important when we’re talking about HD combos. Also, I find performing the subtleties of hops much easier on pad for whatever reason.

6. What advice do you have for new players?
Ask questions, and don’t be afraid to ask embarrassing ones. Learn frame data, learn hitboxes. Iori Rekka A? Yuri EX Rungrab? Kim D Air Hangetsuzan and EX Hangetsuzan? All punishable. And you can’t expect to play well without knowing how to punish certain moves that are widely abused (as well as knowing which ones to respect). Also, learn how to run grab.

Also, when playing against grapplers, do not be afraid to hop or jump on wakeup. It’s easy to get sucked into a ghetto vortex when you get scared into blocking. But if they whiff a grab, you can come down with a button and whip their sorry ass.

7. How do you choose a character and team? How do you choose the order?
For order, it’s usually just Point: Character who builds meter or is largely meter self-sufficient or characters with intense mixup games who don’t need to use meter (Benimaru, EX Iori EX Kyo), character who abuses EX moves (Kim, Chin, Yuri, Terry) and then your HD combo comeback character (Mr. Karate and Kim being prime examples, but 90% of the cast has comeback worthy damage for HD meter and 2 bars) Pretty typical stuff.

8. Which type of character do you prefer?
Characters that allow big damage conversions off of light and heavy buttons equally, and characters with effective anti-air games.

9. From a purely gameplay perspective, who is your favorite character?
Mr. Karate. Huge damage, intense close pressure game, a good medium poke in the a fireball, an immensely usable gimmick in EX fireball xx super/neomax, the most disgusting 50/50 mixup in the game (that goes into itself) and, my favorite of all, the Tokido special: You made a bad jump, I hit you with a DP really high, then link it to a super for no drive meter, eating 35%+ of your health bar. You can even do it into NeoMax if you’re feeling cheeky.

10. How often do you practice or train in KOF alone?
At least an hour a day. Usually rehearsing mixups and pressure strings, reviewing various combos, and recreating situations in matches to try and learn how best to approach situations.

11. How do you gain new techniques, strategies, setups and combos? Do you watch match videos?
I watch match videos of high level players, I usually learn combos by watching PersonaEntertainment or GuttsCL, and I learn frame data, tech and matchup stuff by asking questions and reading Dream Cancel.

12. What would you like to see in a new KOF game?
To be perfectly honest, I’ve said before I want the next KoF to simply be King of Fighters XIII: Ultimate Match. I feel largely undisturbed by the damage of HD combos, and I would like to see the system continue to be used, but it might be cool to see some players trade off drive/super cancels and HD for something akin to 98’s damage boosting use of meter, or perhaps something else entirely. Mostly, I would like them to add new characters whilst keeping true to the design philosophy that makes XIII feel so consistent. The biggest thing that needs to change is that anti-airs simply need to be stronger. DPs don’t do enough damage on their own, nor do anti-air buttons, and buttons like Benimaru jump D absolutely destroy AA buttons.

Perhaps this would be too much of an alteration of KoF’s roots, but I also think that there should be more opportunities to do combos from defensive reactions. Say for example I hit Terry’s 3C on reaction (that button needs to be at least 1 frame faster on startup btw), I think that, even without counter hit, Terry should be allowed to visually confirm the hit, link (not cancel) into crackshoot, then super. Things like that. Defensive play is simply not rewarded strongly enough in XIII and that’s really showing when, by comparison, in BB or UNiEL a character can land an anti-air, naturally react, do a combo, and be rewarded with a pressure situation.

I also want to see Terry in a bomber jacket.

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