In this section, we’re going to dangle a little bit of advanced theory in front of you.
You may have heard about "frames" or "frame data" in fighting game discussion. It’s an advanced topic and can seem nebulous, but it’s really not that strange once you understand a few key facts.
Injustice 2, like most modern fighting games, runs at 60 frames per second. This is not just a technical detail but part of the game design. Each frame is a unit of time, one 60th of a second.
Over the years, fighting game players who already understood the basic concept of initiative (who moves first?) started to research the numbers to gain a more concrete understanding. This was precious information.
You know that a jab is fast, but how fast exactly is it? What moves will it counter? If Superman and Batman both throw a punch at the same time, who will hit first? (Batman, by two frames.)
You know that you can hit my opponent after they try that unsafe move, but how hard can you hit them? Do you need to jab them or can you use an even stronger attack?
These are the questions that frame data answers, definitively. The information is precious to high-level players, who seize on the tiniest edges.
Luckily for us, Injustice 2 comes with frame data information built into the game. All you need to do is check out the move list.
Here’s an example, in this case Black Canary’s standing light attack. When you choose a move on this list, the table to the right displays its data. The top part shows attack level, damage and block damage.
The bottom is the tricky part. Let’s take each stat one by one.
"Start-up" is how quickly the attack comes out from the instant you press the button. Jab class attacks like this one are the fastest, and this one is six frames (a 10th of a second!), about as fast as they come in this game.
For reference, Batman’s jab is seven frames, and Superman’s is nine. If Canary and Batman jab at the exact same time (an uncommon occurrence) she lands her punch one frame earlier and thus counters Bats.
"Active" is the amount of frames for which the move is in effect. When Canary jabs, her hand stays out for a moment before she pulls it back, right? The active time represents that microscopic amount of time.
On the other end, note Captain Cold’s "The Wall." This move has 37 active frames: It stays out for over half a second.
Jumping attacks have a long active time because the character "holds that pose" for much of the time they’re airborne.
Returning to the first example, here we see Canary’s jab used over and over again. It’s fast, so even when Batman blocks it and tries to counterattack, he comes up short. Of course there are plenty of ways around this, but it’s still a powerful move.
"Recover" refers to the amount of time it takes for Canary’s hand to snap back after the punch. In this case, that’s 12 frames. You don’t need to worry so much about this number as you need to worry about the next two.
Big advantage and punishing
The "Adv" numbers refer to advantage on block and advantage on hit. Positive numbers represent an advantage, and negative numbers represent a disadvantage.
Here’s a clear example of a big advantage. In this video, Batman blocks Superman’s Flying Punch, a poor choice up close because of its -19 disadvantage on block. Superman is down 19 frames (disadvantage) and Batman is up 19 frames (advantage).
So, 19 frames is enough time to hit with almost any attack, so there’s no need to jab here. Instead, Batman uses a heavy attack into a big combo.
When we talk about "safe" and "unsafe" moves, this is what we mean. Any attack with a block disadvantage greater than -6 is potentially unsafe, depending on what character your opponent is using and the range you’re standing at. In Injustice 2, every hit can lead to a combo, so you have to understand the level of risk you’re taking when you use an unsafe move.
A player at an advantage of two frames gets to move two frames sooner than the other. That is a microscopic amount of time, but it doesn’t matter. First is first. If the player at a small advantage attacks with a fast move, the player at a small disadvantage must either block or take a counter punch.
The player at advantage has a chance to force an offense, and the disadvantaged player is forced onto the defensive. Naturally, players always want to be as close to an advantage as they can be — and avoid putting themselves into disadvantaged situations unless the risk is worth taking.
The advantage on hit for this move is 10 frames, meaning Canary has a lot of time to set up her second attack. Putting aside simply continuing into a combo, what can she do with that time? For that, we go to the move list again.
Canary’s throw has a startup of exactly 10 frames. If we use it straight away after the jab, we will definitely catch a blocking opponent.
Finding safe moves and attack strings
When you start playing a character, look up and down their frame data to see what is unsafe and what is advantageous. If you find a string that leaves you on advantage on block, for example, why not use it heavily?
This is science, and it is study. By understanding the numbers for a given situation, we better understand our options and the opponent’s. By understanding our options we make smarter moves.