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DisplayLag's FourWude reveals everything you need to know about Street Fighter 5's input lag issue

Posted by John 'Velociraptor' Guerrero • May 18, 2016 at 7:51 p.m. PDT • Comments: 130

Adeel "FourWude" Soomro is one of the community's foremost experts when it comes to input lag in gaming. He's developed his own company, DisplayLag, that's devoted to educating people on the commonly overlooked intricacies of gaming latency.

Given the current predicament we find ourselves in with Street Fighter 5's eight frames of input lag, I felt we could all use some enlightening on just how severe, or not severe, of an issue this is.

Adeel has graciously taken the time to thoughtfully answer some questions, and put this whole ordeal into a clearer perspective for us.

Raptor: Can you briefly tell me what you do with DisplayLag? (Essentially tell us why you're qualified to discuss this stuff.)

Adeel: DisplayLag is a website I founded a few years ago with one sole purpose: to help educate people on input lag. Input lag is a phenomenon that was largely overlooked by most of the gaming community, as reliable testing data was hard to come across and usually buried within forums.

Being a hardcore gamer, latency really bothered me, as it affects all genres of gaming. DisplayLag is now the world's largest database for input lag data, and the awareness of input lag has risen considerably. The input lag database features over 400 displays. It's now something manufacturers take into consideration when making the latest displays.

Raptor: You're both a Street Fighter player and an expert on lag, do you personally feel SF5's 8 frames of input lag is as big of an issue as people are making it? (We aren't dealing with a ton of one-frame links like in SF4, after all.)

Adeel: Yes, I personally feel it's a big issue. Combos are actually the easiest adjustment when it comes to higher latency, as they are mostly static in their timings. With practice, it is possible to hit 1 frame links even in high latency. The problem with high latency is literally everything else. Some of these areas include: whiff punishment, movement, reactions, anti-airs, blocking and hit confirmation.

High latency prevents players from maximizing these areas in their game, which ends up drastically affecting the overall meta game. When the game is responding late to your inputs, this forces you to develop a play style that is largely dependent on making reads, or predictions about what will happen in the future.

This is the main reason that Street Fighter 5's current meta game favors an offensive, scramble-based style. When it becomes extremely difficult to whiff punish, this motivates players to constantly "check" with buttons hoping to land a hit, instead of gathering data from movement/neutral to find openings.

It's also the reason jumping is more prevalent in Street Fighter 5, as many characters rely on non-invincible anti-airs that become difficult to time correctly. It's not as simple as hitting a button when the opponent is airborne, as you need some time to confirm what type of jump they did, and what button they pressed.

Dashing benefits from this greatly too, as most dashes are under 20 frames, which is already hitting the reaction threshold even without the added latency in Street Fighter 5. For characters with projectiles, the mind game is reduced considerably due to high latency.

Assuming both players are aware of latency, the person throwing fireballs understands that the fireball is hard to react to when used properly. It also conditions the opponent to "guess" or make reads on their jumps in order to avoid the fireball, as reacting to fireball from close ranges is very difficult when the whole mind game of neutral is involved.

Lower latency would balance the risk/reward of fireball usage on both ends. Low input latency was always a staple of Street Fighter, so I'm concerned that the high latency within Street Fighter 5 will end up creating an artificial skill cap down the road.

To give an idea of what would be possible with lower latency, I have a short clip of me playing PG|FChamp shortly after the game came out. The interesting part about this clip is that I was playing on a G-SYNC monitor, which allowed Street Fighter 5's input lag to reduce significantly (approximately 3 frame reduction):

Click image for animated version

The lower latency of G-SYNC at the time allowed me to perform several things in this clip. For one, it allowed a larger window for me to walk and block incoming limbs, which would be dangerous in high latency due to the speed of the attacks. Once I closed the gap, the low latency allowed me to confirm the type of drill kick FChamp performed, as Dhalsim has multiple variations.

In high latency, I would have been forced to guess which drill kick he performed in order to react on the same frame. The low latency allowed me to appropriately respond with a late Shoryuken cancel into Critical Art after confirming the speed of the drill kick.

There are many nuances to the highest levels of Street Fighter, which benefit greatly from having low input latency. Another great example of these nuances is in the infamous Daigo vs Momochi match from Stunfest:

This match in particular told a story through patience, effective neutral, and all around solid play. Pay attention to the movement involved, particularly the baits with crouching, whiffing normals to set up fireballs and spacings.

When Daigo or Momochi established a read on each other through solid neutral, it made their offensive attempt much more interesting and calculated. This match is by far one of the most exciting matches in USF4's history, and a large reason why this level of play was possible was due to low input latency within USF4.

Raptor: There may be a misconception that SF5 is unique in having input lag, but this is something we see in most all fighters isn't it? Do you know how much input delay there was for SF4, or even SF2? Perhaps the average delay for fighting games in general?

Adeel: Input lag will always exist in modern games, that's why it's important to keep the number as low as possible. On a typical 60hz display, the lowest amount of input lag you can achieve is around 2-3 frames with V-Sync enabled. My testing includes display latency on top of game latency, as I feel that's a realistic outcome for most gamers.

Most modern competitive fighting games achieve around five frames of latency (game + display). Ultra Street Fighter 4 is around five frames, so is Guilty Gear Xrd and Killer Instinct. Mortal Kombat X, which is largely known to feel more "sluggish" than most fighting games, averages just over 6 frames.

So it's quite concerning to see Street Fighter 5 become one of the most laggy fighting games in history, especially when the franchise is known to reward high levels of neutral play and reactions due to low input latency.

Raptor: What would you say is an acceptable amount of input lag for competitive fighters?

Adeel: I'd say around 4-5 frames of input lag is ideal (game + monitor), as it is important for a player to stay synchronized with what's occurring on screen. We can't really achieve lower latency than this until fighting games start being designed with over 60 FPS in mind.

Raptor: Between input lag, monitor delay and other sources of (currently) unavoidable delays, how much lag are we normally dealing with when we play games?

Adeel: The grand majority of games (including fighting games) have variable amounts of delay, which is the main reason we can't just test one button press for input lag measurements.

Many times, there will be variances of +/- 1 frame, and this could be the result of the game engine, controller PCB, display, or other factors mixed together. As an estimate, some data points for latency could be:

Display: 1-6 frames
Game: 1-10 frames
Controller: 0-2 frames
Converter: 0-2 frames

On the lowest end of a modern 60hz display + game, we could see a total of 4 frames of input lag. The highest end of the latency could be around 20 frames, which would be considered unplayable by most standards.

Raptor: Is there a way to actually reduce this lag now that the game is out? Is this something that can be dealt with via patch, or would it take a lot more than that?

Adeel: There are a few ways to reduce the input lag considerably in the PC version of the game. One popular method is to disable V-Sync through the game's configuration files. This can cut input lag by around 3 frames, which makes a big difference.

Alternatively, at least on my Acer XB270HU, I am able to cut input lag by ~2.5 frames by simply setting the monitor to 144hz. These methods do introduce some drawbacks, such as screen tearing when V-Sync is disabled, so it's not an ideal solution. Regarding Street Fighter 5 specifically, I'm unsure on whether the latency can be patched via an update.

This is a question answered best by the development team. Ultra Street Fighter IV had a large amount of delay in its initial release as well (8 frames), which was brought down to around 5 frames via multiple patches, so I am hoping that Capcom can devise a solution, if they intend to address this issue at all.

Raptor: There's a difference between the PC and PS4 experience in terms of input delay correct? Does this mean players are essentially getting two different experiences when they jump from platform to platform?

Adeel: Yes, there is a difference. I decided to go back and redo my Street Fighter 5 input lag tests for PS4 and PC, this time with an average of 50 inputs. PC version was set to stock settings at 60hz, no modifications to V-Sync.

My new data shows approximately a 1f difference between the two versions. PS4 average latency clocked in at approximately 7.9 frames of input lag, whereas the PC version averaged out to be approximately 7.1 frames of input lag. For those serious about playing in the Capcom Pro Tour, this unfortunately requires you to stick to the PS4 version of the game to prevent timing issues and bad habits.

Be sure to check out DisplayLag on Twitter. Video source: Source: Capcom Fighters.

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