It’s recently come to my attention that many high-caliber players, including Armada and Axe, have trouble finding a controller that does two things: shield drops when pushing the stick to the south-east or south-west notches, and consistently dashing backwards.
In this post, I will explain the dashing backwards problem to the best of my ability and go into the possible remedies.
First, you might wonder why I claim that dashing *backward* is a problem. Why should it be harder to dash backward than forward?
The reason is that forward dashes, and also dash-dance dashes, allow one frame of leniency for half inputs. This means that if you press the stick somewhat slowly, so that the game registers one frame as half forward and the one after as full forward, you’ll still start dashing by frame 2.
Backward dashes, however, work differently. If, on the first frame of pushing backward, the game registers a half press, you will get stuck in the turn animation for 5-9 frames (depending on character) before you can start your backward dash.
Pause and frame advance or slow down to compare (gfycat controls are at the bottom right).
In other words, pushing slightly too slowly will only delay your dash by 1 frame if pushing the stick in the direction your character is facing, but in the opposite direction your dash will be delayed by 4-8 frames.
This is a huge problem for serious play. Dashing backward is something you do quite often, especially in neutral and during tech-chases, so avoiding this additional delay is really important.
To find out how to ensure that, we need to know four things:
1. What inputs Melee requires to do “instant” back dashes (software level)
2. What parts of the control stick hinder getting these inputs (hardware level)
3. How to choose or modify these parts to consistently “feed” Melee the inputs it requires to do instant back dashes
4. What kind of manual thumb input to aim for.
1. Software level—tilt turns and smash turns
The core problem here is that there are two kinds of turns, which share the same 11-frame animation called Turn, so they can’t easily be told apart. I call the slower and in all ways inferior one “tilt turn”, and the better, faster one “smash turn”. These names give away the necessary inputs, which are shown in this control stick map (assumes facing right):
When you hit the smash turn area from the first frame of inputting backward, you are able to transition to backward dash on the very next frame. Thus, you only spend one single frame in the turn animation. Smash turns also turn you around completely from their first frame on, which is important for jumping and dropping from a ledge during the turn animation.
If the first frame of backward input has less offset from neutral position (below 0.8, to be precise), you do a tilt turn, during which dashing backward will only be possible a few frames later. (A list for the exact amount of frames for every character can be found here.) Additionally, jumps and falling off the ledge will return your character to his original orientation for the same 5-9 frames mentioned above, so if you try to do a JC grab behind you so that you only dash for one frame, doing a tilt turn by accident will cause you to grab in place and not even turn around.
Therefore, our goal is to move from neutral position to full backward as quickly as possible. On average¹, you need to complete this motion within half a frame or 8.33 milliseconds. That’s a really short amount of time, so we should try our best to remove all handicaps that increase the time we take for this input.
2. Hardware level—the inner workings of the control stick
When you smash your control stick from the neutral position to either left or right, these are the physical movements your stickbox is going through, sorted from innermost to outermost:
1. The disjointed zone [DZ]: this is the small area in the middle of the control stick where you can move your stick without applying force and without causing any in-game analog value change.
2. The loose zone [LZ]: within this zone, you can still move the stick around without resistance, but the in-game values will change.
3. The resistance zone [RZ]: this should cover most of your control stick input values, where pushing the stick will depress the inner spring and and cause in-game values to change.
The DZ is irrelevant here unless it becomes so large that dashing isn’t possible any longer.
While a small amount of LZ can make things like reverse specials easier, here it is completely detrimental as it can lead to entering the tilt turn zone before consciously starting the backward input.
The RZ always sits just outside of the DZ and LZ (if existent). Depending on controller stickbox type and amount of wear, it can have different borders to the other zones.
Aside from not having a too large LZ, we also want the spring resistance to be relatively small. We already need to move the control stick very quickly, high spring resistance will slow us down even more. (To back up this claim: I recorded two controllers’ stick inputs with a high-speed camera, one of them having a weak stickbox spring and one a strong one. I took 21-34 samples per controller and input method, and on average the weaker spring controller had a 38% increased chance of doing 1-frame smash turn back dashes.)
3. Assembling and modifying your stickbox
Even a low-resistance spring still has enough base length so that it doesn’t cause an increase of DZ or LZ. The two things that usually happen to heavily worn controllers—less resistance and increased DZ or LZ—are independent and simply correlate. Thus, you can exchange a fresh stickbox’s spring with a heavily worn or simply thinner one (see images below) to decrease spring resistance without increasing DZ or LZ. Additionally, it should also help to modify a high-resistance spring to have less resistance or buy a weaker one somewhere, but I don’t have any experience with that.
Note that it often makes a difference in which direction you align the two ends of the springs. By default, they are usually pointed upwards, but if you have problems after that, rotate it by 45° until back dashes in both directions work well.
4. Manual thumb inputs
Even with a perfectly aligned weaker spring, you still need to move your thumb very fast to consistently do 1-frame turn back dashes. Most of the time, you probably dash by resting your thumb on the stick and then pressing it left or right, like this:
The first purple value at the bottom of the monitor shows current control stick x value. Anything from ±0.2875 to ±0.7875 will register as tilt turn, and everything at -0.8 or less / 0.8 or higher will register as smash turn. Controller movements have a delay of about 55 milliseconds until they are shown on the screen due to the Gamecube’s processing time of about 3 frames.
However, during the acceleration period, you probably enter the tilt turn area, so the total time spent in tilt turn area before entering smash turn area will be quite high (11.5 milliseconds for my inputs). Thus, you should instead hover your thumb on the opposite direction of where you want to dash towards and then smash the stick backward with maximum speed:
This kind of input method increased my success rate by 32% (from 69% to 91%) and decreased the average amount of milliseconds spent within the tilt turn area by 54.7% (from 11.5 to 5.2 ms). Using this kind of input in a match is not always feasible, but whenever you have enough time and know in advance that you want to dash back, it should increase your rate of success drastically.
However, even if you manage to spend only two milliseconds within the tilt turn zone, on your way from neutral to the smash turn zone, there’s still a chance of the game polling for the next frame’s input just during these¹. 100% could only be reached by either moving your thumb at the speed of light or replacing the analog stick with a digital stick.
Here is an example of a very fast input that still fails due to bad luck (game polls just when I pass through the tilt turn zone):
1 frame is spent within tilt turn range (0.4875).
Update: Increasing consistency by timing the backward input at the very end of previous move lag
This is a very important aspect that I wanted to include here from the start, but in the process of writing and testing forgot about unfortunately. (Big thanks to “the_noodle” for bringing my attention to this!)
If you start holding strong backward (>=0.8) at the first frame after lag from a previous move, it doesn’t matter whether you held the stick within the tilt turn or smash turn area the frame before. This means that if you time your backward input perfectly at the end of the last action, dashing backward is just as easy as dashing forward.
The reason for this is that the game only polls for the dreaded tilt turn as soon as you are actionable. By moving through that area just before you are actionable, you ensure that when the game checks for turning, you are already at smash turn area.
Even if you input fully backward at the last frame of lag, you will still do a smash turn because dash inputs persist for two frames. Here is a comparison of what happens when you do the same input frame-perfectly vs. one frame too late:
Conclusion and personal opinion
1-frame turn backward dashes are unnecessarily hard to input in Melee; even with a “perfect” stickbox you will still need to press it with extreme speed or frame-perfect timing to be consistent with. In Project M, Magus fixed this by adding the same frame of leniency we have for forward dashes to backward dashes.
¹Depending on the time left until the next frame polls for your control stick position, you will have between 0 and 16.66 milliseconds to complete the motion. Fizzi has explained this very well with diagrams in his post on lag.