Home Editorial Random Ultra Combos: Is rage justified?

If there’s one thing gamers of middling skill hate, it’s button mashers. We all know a button masher: a sibling, a child, a significant other, or even a mildly disabled cousin. He/she has a basic understanding of how a given game works, but when the shit hits the fan, strategy and planning give way to wildly spamming as many commands as possible with no discernable logic. Lucky for us pro, top tier gamers, these mashers rarely win.


Let’s skip back a bit, to a dark moment in your personal past. Last Thursday you were curled up over your arcade stick, pulling off 1-frame links (yes, even on Xbox Live) and basically destroying some scrub name Dark… Side something… something.

You hear me pressing buttons! I can't do ANYTHING!

At the precipice of victory, you go for a chip win, laughing endlessly as the loser jus-wait what? WHAT? What the fuck? That is imPOSSIBLE that is TOTAL bullshit!!! Did you see this scrub?!? What kind of lame ass random bullshit Ultra is that?

Yes, this was your exact inner monologue last Thursday. Don’t ask me how I know;
the truth would ruin your naive, mortal worldview.

Omniscient spy networks aside, we’ve all experienced the rage-inducing Random Ultra. Your opponent, entranced by the pulsing, brightly-colored flames in the corner of his screen, decided it was time to watch a cut scene and hoped against all logic that the attack would somehow hit you. And it did.

But this isn’t a debate on how much you suck (It’s pretty obvious that the answer is “a lot”). The real question is: what constitutes a random Ultra anyway? And why does it cause so much controller-throwing, shirt-demolishing, pants-stretching anger? If only there were a way to put it into words.

Apparently (thanks for the tips, readers!), there are web sites that can tell you what any given word means. Here’s what one of them has to say on the matter:

/rændəm/ [ran-duhm]

1. proceeding, made, or occurring without definite aim, reason, or pattern: the random selection of numbers.

–from Dictionary.com

Without definite aim, reason, or pattern… it becomes immediately clear that part of what is so infuriating about being hit with one of these maneuvers is that, in contrast to our own well-trained methods, we perceive our opponent has beaten us without any skill whatsoever. He used his Ultra combo just because he had it. He spammed an extra grenade at the corner for the obtuse purpose of: Why not just blow more shit up? He attacked with SCVs despite all common reason that would indicate such an assault would be suicidal.

And yet it wasn’t.

In the post-EVO 2006 world of “hit-confirmed combos” and “tried-and-true” build orders, many players equate skill with certainty. The player who knows the most wins, and therefore the player who acts with complete certainty should (at least in theory) be the victor.  That’s what keeps button mashers from winning (letting your spouse win so you don’t sleep on the couch doesn’t count).

When an opponent performs an unsafe and far-from-guaranteed suicidal maneuver, our instinct is to feel that it was random. Without logic or pattern. Good players ensure their tactics are guaranteed to land before committing to them.

But, as some astute commentators on GameFAQs pointed out, such a simple paradigm would classify all grapple special moves as “random.” As there is no way to combo into them (aside from focus attack crumples), they are usually relegated to frame traps and mixups. In other words, they are calculated risks.

Honey, I've got a hunch. I'm betting the kids on this one.

I can guarantee that for each complaint about a “random” Ultra in Super Street Fighter 4, there are at least 1,000 game-winning all-in poker hands played somewhere in the world.

By all standards, Texas Hold’em Poker is a game with no focus crumples, no frame traps, and certainly no hit-confirm combos. Even in the best case scenario, you can only be certain that your hand will tie with your opponent’s. The entire game is calculated risk. And, by that token, the “random” Ultra is akin to going all-in.

Of course, no World Series of Poker professional would advise you to go all-in on every hand. Such a maneuver is incredibly unsafe, and will be easily punished by your opponents (though tea-bagging is considered BM in WSOP play). But, with some basic knowledge of winning hand ratios and a good feel for your opponent, it’s advisable to push your luck when the cards seem to be in your favor.

Likewise, if your opponent is chipping you with meaty specials every time he scores a knockdown, wouldn’t it seem a prudent risk to use a wakeup Ultra? If you’ve noticed your opponent always blocks after a certain string, then sweeps… why not go for the throw? It may seem scrubby, but if you’re right most of the time, who cares?

After all, when Daigo successfully predicts his opponent’s pokes, it’s considered psychic. Nobody really remembers his whiffed shoryukens and mistimed throws because he simply guesses right 95% of the time.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to speak to the Nevada judiciary about regaining legal custody of my children.

4 replies to this post
  1. Very well written and funny. I for one am on the boat that random is random, even if it was a calculated risk it is still guess work but I completely understand where the “OMG GUISE BUT I FIGURE OUT HIS PATTERN!” crew comes from, what makes me want to kill them is that they won’t admit it’s just that, a guess. An educated guess is still a guess.

    • I don’t think “a hypothesis that might be wrong” is a good definition of “guess”. It may be a fuzzy boundry between educated guess and knowledge, but they are not synonymous.

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