Anyone who has practiced a combo in Street Fighter IV and then tried it on Blanka can tell you, the character you’re hitting is very important. Very few of the combos in Maj’s incredible TACV’s work fully on more than one or two characters, beacuse each dummy has unique quirks.
In older Capcom games, a dummy’s vulnerable area consists of invisible rectangles that loosely follow the sprites displayed on the screen. Using a hitbox viewer to peek under the hood, we can see the game engine handling these combat interactions. Red boxes represent attacks and blue boxes represent vulnerable spaces.
We can see that SFA2 Zangief’s hittable boxes stay rectangular no matter what his sprite does. Even if his sprite is bending over or leaning back, it doesn’t effect the combo.
In Street Fighter 4, recovery hittable boxes are procedurally generated and closely follow the character model. Even a slight movement, like the subtle rising of Claw’s head here, can be used for a meaty setup.
Notice that Abel’s hand is outstretched for several frames before Vega headbutts him. Because every character has a different model in Street Fighter 4, it’s possible for the same combo to work differently on every member of the cast.
Please note that although recovery frames follow the model very closely, active frames and startup frames are similar to the old-style boxes.
Chun Li’s far s.HP consistently whiffs through Balrog’s crouching hitbox in SF4, despite her fist clearly touching his shoulder. In any hitbox-based fighting game, there are bound to be at least a few visually misleading interactions.
Each character also has many different reactions to being hit – based on where they are hit and the distance from the attack. Above you can see a standing Honda getting hit by Ryu’s c.MP from two different ranges. Up close, Honda gets hit in his ribs and turns to the side. From further away, Honda gets hit in his stomach and bends over.
Here you can see that Claw has different reactions to Dictator’s j.HP depending on whether he gets hit low, medium, or high. These different hit stuns can seem quite random because extremely minor changes can cause huge differences. Figuring out what kind of reaction you want and how to cause it is very important.
You might think that identifying which characters are good combo dummies is a straightforward process: just pick the tallest and fattest guys, and do all combos on Zangief and Sagat. However, even characters that are normally horrible for combos can be used in some unique meaty setups, because of their varied hit reactions.
It’s pointless to mention every character in detail – once you get a combo idea, you really need to try it on nearly every character to find the best target. It helps to know that Blanka, Dictator, Balrog and most of the women are hard to combo on the ground, and the tall muscle men are easy. However it would be remiss of me not to talk about some of the best combo dummies.
One of the first steps to designing an SFIV combo is coming up with an excuse not to do it on Seth. Seriously, this guy has everything. He’s almost as tall as Sagat, he has one of the widest hitboxes, he has some of Dhalsim’s reach tricks, he has the lowest vitality and stun in the game, and it just feels really good to hit him.
Rose has the most unique setups by far. She has a good dash and the slowest fireball in the game, allowing for the best fireball trade combos. She also has a unique far s.LK – if it trades, it still counts as a counterhit. On top of that, her crouching hitbox is almost as small as Chun Li’s.
Dhalsim doesn’t quite have the speed or reach of Seth, but he has a lot more useful angles. He also has the most useful EX fireball and ultra for trade setups.
Honda has a really small pushbox, letting you to practically stand inside him. This allows for longer link combos and registers close attacks from slightly farther away than normal, like Gouken.
THE FIST BUMP
Many characters’ hands extend past their bodies during hit stun, allowing them to be struck by standing attacks from far away. Sagat, Seth, Abel, and Chun Li all have useful hands.
THE LEAN BACK
A common reaction to being hit in the head is for the head to swing back and then return forward. This allows meaty setups by placing an attack where the head was – when the head returns, you score a delayed hit.
When a character gets hit low, they often duck down or to the side. Because the head is briefly out of the way, it can be used for meaty setups such as Chun Li’s LK Spinning Bird Kick loop.
THE WIDE CROUCHING HONDA
Crouching Honda is deceptively short and surprisingly wide. Crouching characters in general are easier to hit with low attacks from long range.
This covers the most commonly used combo dummies in Street Fighter 4. However for almost every character in the game, there exists a combo that only works on them. If you come up with an amazingly groundbreaking combo idea, don’t give up until you’ve tested it on the entire cast.