We’re back again with another Mind over Meta! This week, we’ll be talking about frame data, so get your notebooks out! (Also, sorry, this one turned out a tad short -- we felt like we covered the subject well enough!)
HITTING THE BOOKS
An aspect of Smash that a lot of new players overlook is “frame data,” which is understandable considering how intimidating it can be. In fact, even if you know the frame data of different characters’ moves as a new player, it’s incredibly hard to apply this knowledge. You may not even have an idea of how long a frame is (1/60 of a second).
“Frame data” is essentially the specifics on a certain move. All attacks last a certain amount of frames, and within those frames, only a certain amount of frames have the attack’s actual hitboxes, meaning you can only get by an attack during these frames (which are known as “active frames”). The hitboxes of these moves often change at certain frames as well, such as Mario’s nair, in which it starts out strong and dissipates into smaller and weaker hitboxes during its later frames.
Where do you begin learning about frame data, then? Well, you should probably start by just finding your character’s fastest options in various situations. You don’t need to know exactly how many frames it takes for a move to come out, how long it’s active, etc… (although it is good to know that). But if you’re just starting out with frame data, exploring the speed of options is a great place to start learning, as it gives you a good idea of what your best choices are in different situations. A great resource to learn about frame data is through Smashboards, or your own research in Project M’s debug mode.
Although knowing your fastest option will help you out at the lower level of play, it’s much better to know actual frame data rather than just your fastest and slowest options. This is because the direct frame data gives you specific numbers of frames to check against other characters’ options, to see whether your move is faster, or vice versa. And the best way to learn this? Notes. There are plenty of people who can remember frame data after only seeing it once, but for the most part, you should start in bulk by writing everything down. If you use debug mode to collect the frame data yourself, you’ll probably have an easier time remembering it all, but taking data from Smashboards or some other resource is much less time consuming. Also, knowing damage, knockback, etc. is also quite helpful, but your main concern should be hitbox locations and frames.
It’s also good to find universal frame data, such as tech rolls (we wrote an article that includes a list of tech roll frame data here). Remember these numbers is helpful so that you can learn how to punish things optimally. In fact, thinking about optimal punishes and specific interactions are important places in PM where knowing frame data really comes in handy.
Now that you know the frame data, how do you use it? First off, there’s simple applications in neutral and combos. One move may be better in neutral because it stays out longer, or maybe it comes out faster than another move you were might have used instead. However, you won’t come up with this kind of knowledge mid-game, for the most part. A lot of applications from frame data come from theorycrafting, thinking about competitive play outside the game itself. This kind of meta-thinking can be really convenient, when it comes to matchups.
When you play any matchup, you’ll notice some specific situations where you may not know what to do. For example, you may have trouble DI’ing out of a combo, so maybe you’ll try to break the combo with something. If you know both characters’ fastest options in this situation, you may find a way to escape the combo by interrupting it. There are plenty of other situations where theorycrafting frame data can be helpful, like how to win a certain trade between two characters’ particular moves, or deciding what is your best follow up to landing a specific hit on certain characters. This brings me to my next point: Frame data won’t win you sets.
CAUTION AND CONCLUSION
If you don’t know how to apply frame data well, it won’t help in a match. Even if you CAN apply the frame data in some way, it will mostly only help during the types of situations I mentioned before. Even if you know how to counter every attack your opponent could do, if you don’t know how or when they’re going to act, none of your knowledge will help. It’s always worth it to know frame data; just make sure you can apply it. Learn about the game when you’re not playing, and learn about your opponent when you are playing.
Thanks for reading another Mind Over Meta! We’ll see you next week.