During Final Round 17, an interesting and complicated issue was brought to people’s attention concerning the player “Full Schedule” and his custom arcade stick. His stick has the usual joystick and 8 buttons, but also includes two additional buttons positioned above where you’d normally place Medium Punch and Hard Punch. These buttons trigger an Up+Left and Up+Right input, respectively.
Before going any further, it is important to understand the difference between a “Button Bind” and a “Macro”. Let’s define both:
A “Button Bind” is the act of assigning any one actuator/switch/button to any one or more simultaneous inputs. For instance, setting your LT button to perform Light + Medium + Heavy all at once is a Button Bind. This is usually done on the software level in a game’s button configuration menu, but some players may on occasion physically bind certain actuators/switches/buttons to one or more inputs. A common Button Bind for Street Fighter 4 players is to bind the Back or Select button to a button closer to the rest of the usual action buttons to perform B-Linking techniques.
A “Macro” is the act of assigning any one actuator/switch/button to a command that then expands into a series of pre-programmed inputs. Pressing one button that triggers Down, and then Down+Forward, and then Forward, and then Heavy Punch (i.e., a series of instructions) is a “Macro”. I don’t think anyone would argue that using a hardware Macro is fair for tournament play, so lets examine this Button Bind issue a little more closely and assume Macros are not allowed in tournament play.
I believe that a line should be drawn somewhere, but I also believe that we have to choose where to draw that line very carefully in order to avoid hurting people who use existing and currently accepted input methods. For the purposes of this discussion, we must assume that the currently accepted input methods include Gamepads, Arcade/Fight Sticks, and Keyboards/Hitbox style devices.
So, what is the issue? What is the actual problem people are having with Full Schedule‘s device? Let’s discuss each possibility.
Possible Complaint #1: “Button Binding should only be allowed if it is one input only, unless it is allowed in the game’s controller config menu.”
The person making this complaint seems to have a good point until you realize that pressing the diagonal portion of your D-Pad, or nudging your Analog Stick or Joystick, already gives you two inputs (up and left) for one press and are thus allowed in game normally. How could we possibly justify a stick or pad which accomplishes this same thing, but condemn using a push-button for this? If we use this complaint as a basis for our decision, we are almost forced to ban everything except Keyboard/Hitbox style devices, because each of the other options can get Up+Direction in one input.
Possible Complaint #2: “Having two separate options for the input is not fair.”
This is the next most logical complaint after #1, but it seems to only apply to directional input for most of the people issuing it. It would be fine if a player had two different buttons that both performed Light Punch, but having two different inputs that both give me Up+Left is, for some reason, not okay. If we make a decision based on this complaint, we are forced to ban the default Xbox 360 and PS3 gamepads, because these have both Analog Sticks and D-Pads on the same device, easily allowing the player two separate Up+Left inputs. On top of that, Pads with two direction input devices on them allow players to press opposite directions at the same time. Keyboard/Hitbox devices allow the same thing. In rare cases, some games are not prepared to handle this and “impossible behavior” occurs (such as being able to block both left and right at the same time). We should obviously never allow any device that allows impossible behavior to be exploited in-game.
Possible Complaint #3: “Binding two inputs to one press makes things easier.”
This is a tricky complaint, because some things are already proven easier on various devices. It is much easier to piano buttons on an Arcade Stick or Keyboard/Hitbox. We’ve even seen some incredible Gamepad tech from players doing standing 720s that seem much more difficult on a joystick. Whether they realize it or not, the person making this complaint actually wants everyone to play on one standard device, just like in the old arcade days. As a result, solving the issue this way would alienate a massive number of players or potential players and should absolutely be avoided. We are a community, after all, and we want to welcome every player we can.
Possible Complaint #4: “Binding two inputs to one button may allow impossible actions.”
This complaint has total validity, and we touched on this briefly in possible complaint #2. As we discussed, allowing normally impossible actions to occur in game as a result of hardware modification is not desired by anyone. However, using this complaint in the case of Full Schedule binding Up+Forward to an additional button doesn’t at all qualify. Yes, it makes certain tasks easier, such as “tiger knee” motions and up+forward into quick quarter-circle inputs (particularly a quarter circle back into a quick up+forward). But, as we discussed, banning a device because it makes something easier is a very slippery slope that could cause a lot of problems and arguments within the community.
The dreaded “In Conclusion” section:
As you can see, I feel the only responsible way to make a ruling here is to draw the line on Button Binds that allow impossible actions to occur. Hardware Macros have always been and will continue to be banned from tournament play, but as far as I’m concerned, Button Binding is totally acceptable so long as it doesn’t produce impossible behavior. If you want to play with buttons bound to two non-opposing directions, go for it. [Amendment: We won't, however, allow you to bind a button that hits both a direction and an action button.] It might make certain things easier for a player, but it isn’t a substitute for practice, knowledge, and skill. You aren’t going to lose to another player because they use a Button Bind you don’t use without getting outplayed first.
Hardware Button Binds, so long as they trigger all of their inputs on the same frame, will be allowed at UFGT10 and any of my future events. These Button Binds must be either directions only, or action buttons only. We will not allow Button Binds that combine directions and action buttons. Hardware Macros, which press a series of inputs on separate frames, will never be allowed. If you have a device that has any hardware modifications, no matter what they are, you must present it to the tournament staff for approval before playing your first tournament match in each individual game you enter. We will make sure you are not using any Macros, your Button Binds are legal, and that your device cannot trigger normally impossible behavior in game.
[Additional clarity thanks to PhreakMods: Official Hitbox devices and controllers that handle SOCD (Simultaneous Operation of Cardinal Direction) properly are not considered to cause impossible behavior, and are thus being allowed. Controllers that handle this operation and do NOT allow opposing directions to be input on the same frame include Godlike Controls Cthulu+, PhreakMods Cerberus, and Akishop Customs PS360+. Official Hitbox devices use either the Cthulu+ or PS360+.]
I realize that other Tournament Directors may disagree with my ruling, but that’s the beauty of the FGC. Our events each have different personality and can go different ways on these kinds of things.
Full Schedule asked permission from certain tournament officials ahead of time and had two extremely obvious extra buttons on his stick. This was a stand up move. He could have just as easily wired Up+Left and Up+Back to two of the stick’s existing buttons and never told a soul about it, and no one would have been the wiser.
When talking about the Button Bind and Macro issue, keep in mind that one reason we didn’t ban Capcom vs SNK 2 Roll Canceling is because it would have been impossible to detect and enforce consistently. The same applies here. You knew that Full Schedule had Up+Left and Up+Right buttons because he wanted you to know. He is almost certainly a good guy.
Not everyone who wants to use a hardware mod will be so up-front. Even if you are a hardware expert and think you can detect these things, modders can create very discreet boards that can be disabled and re-enabled to avoid detection, and hidden very well with the rest of the hardware.
Please read Phreakmod’s write up about B-Linking and the circuit he created and tested.
Thank you for all of the discussion that lead to this decision, and thank you for reading.