Street Fighter 5's new input latency reduction could be a huge game changer; let's take a look at how the issue has affected the title to this point

A lot of importance placed on two frames

Posted by Dakota 'DarkHorse' Hills • October 9, 2018 at 8:10 p.m. PDT | Comments: 54

Street Fighter 5's third year on the market added a ton of new features and options to the game with the introduction of the Arcade Edition overhaul, but its biggest change to many has just been announced and has nothing to do with characters, game modes, costumes or Fight Money.

Capcom announced earlier today that Street Fighter 5 will be receiving a new update on October 23rd which should further reduce input latency in the game and already has many players excited at the prospects of a more responsive Street Fighter.

One of the game's biggest detractors for its hardcore fanbase has been the higher than normal input delay — and more recently discovered inconsistent delay — that may now be getting fixed hopefully bringing it in line with other major titles including past Street Fighter games.

If this update gives players what they're hoping for in a two frame-ish reduction in input delay, this moment could prove to be a turning point for Street Fighter 5 going forward and even bring back old players who had abandoned the game for this and related issues / bring in new players looking to try out the hypothetically improved game.

We won't know how things are going to ultimately shake out with the update, as Capcom themselves were fairly vague about what is changing meaning we should still take their statement with a grain of salt until we can try it for ourselves.

The issue of input delay has been following the game for almost three years now, so let's look back over the history of Capcom's handling of the situation, how the game has evolved because of it and where it might go if this all turns out well.

Input lag tweet from Street Fighter Twitter account image #1
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The dawn of a new era (of lag)

This tale of love and lag began shortly after Street Fighter 5's already rocky launch in 2016 where it was discovered that the title featured around eight frames of input delay from when you'd press a button or motion on the controller and when the game would register it. This was around double the amount of input delay that was in the Xbox version of Street Fighter 4.

Street Fighter 5 and nearly every fighting game out there runs standard at 60 frames per second which means that eight frames of input lag equals about 130 milliseconds of a delay. This may sound like an insignificant amount of time to many, but led to a change in play style for the series.

Instead of being able to rely on reactions and whiff punishing, Street Fighter 5 generally rewards predictive and aggressive behavior in a title with moves coming out as quickly as three frames.

"High latency prevents players from maximizing these [whiff punishment, movement, reactions, anti-airs, blocking and hit confirmation] areas in their game which ends up drastically affecting the overall meta game," said Adeel "FourWude" Soomro of DisplayLag in 2016 on Street Fighter 5's eight frames of lag. "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."

"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"

These statements made just three months into Street Fighter 5's life illustrate how the game's meta has evolved over the past two-and-a-half years with its offensive focus and 'just do it' attacks like EX-Chariot Tackle that are impossible to react to causing a rift in the player base and became the forefront of issues in the competitive scene.

Capcom's inevitable response

With 'eight frames' persisting on everyone's lips and Twitter feeds — and even showing up in places like the Excellent Adventures of Gootecks and Mike Ross, Capcom was seeing a buildup of bad press and word of mouth with their launch of their newest flagship fighting title.

The game's lack of Arcade Mode, the delay of the cinematic story and the lack of single-player content hurt the more casual audience that Capcom was trying to capture with SF5 while the input lag and shifting gameplay styles became a lightning rod for their tournament players and online warriors. It seemed inevitable that Capcom would need to respond to the state of Street Fighter 5, and they finally talked about the latency — though in contradictory ways.

In June 2016, Street Fighter 5's producer, Koichi Sugiyama, spoke about the latency on a stream where he reportedly stated that it was an intentional design choice for the development team — possibly to help with the game's online buffer.

Sp00ky Tweets image #1 Sp00ky Tweets image #2
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Just a few days later, however, Peter "Combofiend" Rosas clarified that the previous statement was incorrect, and the lag was not intentionally put into the game by developers. He also stated that the team was looking into the issue.

"At this point in time we're aware of the [input delay], and we are looking into it," said Rosas. "It's not a cased closed scenario. We'll keep you updated on any further developments."

The initial fix

Capcom introduced their first attempt at alleviating some of SF5's input lag in September of 2016 where tests showed the PlayStation 4 version of the game had been lowered to an average of 6.5 frames of latency.

This change quelled some voices, but the title was still performing around around two frames slower than Ultra Street Fighter 4 which many fans would not let go of over two years later. Capcom would also essentially go quiet on the issue until today.

Unreal steps in

Street Fighter 5 and most other major fighting games this generation run on Unreal Engine 4 which was apparently at the root of some of the input lag experienced in those titles. An update was released for the engine in the later portion of 2017 that could reduce the inherent input lag for games.

An estimation on the improvements that could be made to titles like SF5 and Tekken 7 pointed to a possible latency reduction of around two frames which could put highly improve both games' situations. Capcom and Bandai Namco would need to step in and update their game engines themselves though for any change to occur, however.

Tekken's producer, Katushiro Harada, came out in November of 2017 stating that his team had reduced Tekken 7's also notorious 7.7 frames of lag and were working to reduce it further on the Unreal Engine side with the help of Epic.

Capcom didn't really have much to say on the subject at the time, but many players were still holding out hope that Street Fighter 5's Arcade Edition update would bring with it those engine improvements along with the bevvy of other content added to the game nine months ago.

It wasn't, and many questioned if Capcom had any intention of lowering the input lag with the game being over two years old now. There was some news to come out about SF5's latency though it wasn't good news.

Not even consistently laggy

Loïc "WydD" Petit discovered earlier this Summer that Street Fighter 5's input lag isn't even a consistent amount of latency, as the game actually fluctuates on the PS4 during matches between four and seven frames of delay.

The game's frame stability / consistency was also revealed to be essentially the lowest among its contemporaries making a poor situation even worse. Titles like Tekken 7, Dragon Ball FighterZ and Guilty Gear Xrd all scored above 90 percent for frame stability while Street Fighter 5 only scored a 43 percent.

This discovery seemed to spark the latency discussion anew for those who had once appeared to move on from the subject possibly appearing worse than it had previously because the game couldn't even be reportedly consistent with its input delay. These drops and spikes in lag could also negatively impact players' execution, as a shifting latency could outpace the game's built in buffer and make players miss combos or attacks they would have otherwise hit.

Again, Capcom was silent on the discovery.

A new hope

Street Fighter 5's Arcade Edition update and all of its subsequent patches and new additions show that Capcom has not given up on the game after two and a half years. They seem to even be listening to their fans a bit more about what content they'd like to see added or what changes they want.

Arcade Edition added in one of the most robust Arcade Modes in Street Fighter's history, more costumes and other goodies could be earned with Fight Money — though Capcom may have cut ways to earn the currency, SF5 is finally receiving an arcade version next year and players can even now customize their own stage and make clans with Dojo Mode.

Capcom appears to still see potential in Street Fighter 5 going forward beyond 2018, and making the game more responsive could certainly be a shot in the arm of the game's community to become even more enthusiastic about the title hopefully moving beyond most of the negative publicity that has followed SF5 its entire life.

If we ending up receiving the full benefits of the Unreal Engine 4 update, Street Fighter 5: Arcade Edition could be as responsive as Street Fighter 4's best home console versions which should quell most players' issues with the game as it has evolved.

We could see a more reactionary based Street Fighter 5 going forward which should lessen the effects of 'Yolo' moves and styles that have become so dominant and bring it closer to what many consider "true Street Fighter."

We'll just need to wait two more weeks to find out.

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