Long post incoming. Grab a snack and read all of it, please.
I’m going to explain the facts of counter breaking, including how it is and isn’t different from older seasons. Use this to get better, understand the limitations of the system, and why counter breaking isn’t actually broken (but is different).
First of all, what has changed about counter breaking from S1 or S2?
A) The lockout X takes time to animate, which means the attempt to break happened 8 frames before the X first shows up (EDIT - Now fixed! The lockout timer is fully visible the very first frame, click this link for video proof)
Is this new?: Kinda. This is new when they introduced the new lockout X that changes color based on strength or timing lockouts, in the Shago patch in December 2015. This was not the case in S1 or 90% of S2. For proof, watch this gif. I slightly pause the gif on the frame the lockout occurs, but you can see the diamond slowly forming in the back, indicating that a lockout is coming, even though your character tried to counter break slightly after.
What should the devs do?: They should remove these extra 8 frames of animation. There are other threads about this (example, here), so they know about it. Keits said they would investigate a fix when they had some time, so hopefully it gets fixed. (EDIT - It’s fixed!)
What can I do?: You can understand that even if they make this change, nothing about the timing of counter breaks will be different. This is a psychological thing, where the lockout X shows up later than it should, but it is NOT a mechanical thing that will impact which counter breakers will work and which won’t work. Better feedback is very important, and you will most definitely feel better about most missed counter breakers when this change is in the game, but it does not impact the actual timing of the mechanic. So for now, don’t let the psychological affect of the X showing up late affect you.
B) You are now allowed to combo break during hitstop
Is this new?: Yes. In S2, if you tried to combo break during hitstop, they queued the action up and played it the first frame after hitstup ended. If you counter broke, the same thing happened. Then, both actions resolved on the first frame after hitstop, and the counter break wins.
For most manuals, the hitstop is minimal and you shouldn’t really notice much of a difference (if you THINK you are, it’s probably the lockout X being late that is tricking you). This does not apply to autodoubles and linkers, because you can counter break anywhere during those. But you WILL notice this on manuals with large amounts of hitstop, like TJ’s powerline or Thunder’s stomp after DP.
In S1 and most of S2, you could sort of do the move and then break “kinda sorta near the end of the hit” and you’d be totally fine. In S3 this does not work; you must break BEFORE the hit. There are buffers in place so that, if the opponent was able to input a CORRECT breaker (more on this below), you will always be able to counter break before him. If your opponent locks out via strength, you just messed up, end of story.
What should the devs do? Nothing to be done here. You might disagree that you need to counter break first, and think maybe there should be a little buffer in there AFTER your opponent inputs breaker, but… it’s pretty easy to see the devs side of it too. If you are 1 frame late on a reversal, you get punched in the face. There is no grace period for being late on anything else in any game. Counter breakers are a parry attempt, so you have to be early.
What should I do? You should counter break before the hit you are expecting the opponent to break. I see this all the time (and I do it myself); we expect someone to break the 2nd hit of a shadow, so we wait until the 2nd hit arrives before we break. This is not how it works. Do not wait until the hit happens and then try, because your opponent could squeeze in a break before you, lock out, and then it’s too late. Break in anticipation, not after the fact.
I want to stress that, for 99% of cases, this change does not make a difference. In S1 and S2, you had to break in anticipation as well, you were just saved on some hits with particularly long hitstop. Most of the time, hitstop is short and gets out of the way quickly, so this phenomenon of slightly late breaks still happened and looked very similar. We’ve all seen it. The lockout X showed up immediately so maybe you weren’t as frustrated, but the system really hasn’t changed all that much here. Counter break early.
C) You can now be timing locked out on juggles
Is this new? Yes. In S1 you couldn’t combo break if the offensive player was in the air. In S2 you could, but you could never timing lock out (only strength lock out). In essence, you could mash breaker and as long as there was no breakable window, nothing bad would happen to you. In S3, you can timing lock out while you are in the air.
Check out this video where Cinder does nothing on the way down and his opponent can still manage to lock himself out. This isn’t on the startup or recovery of any move, it’s just the opponent free-falling while being juggled. The second part of the clip shows Cinder adding a tricky delay to one of his juggle normals. The opponent, who thought the normal was coming earlier, locks out on timing. Not only does he have to guess the right strength, now he also has to guess the right timing, making juggles harder to break.
What can the devs do? Nothing, this is intended.
What can I do? Well, for starters, counter breaking juggles is going to be a little harder, because predicting when they will break is now harder (and, actually, impossible in some cases: see below). If your opponent timing locks out before you do Cinder’s recapture, and then you try to counter break Cinder’s recapture, well… he was wrong first, but then you were wrong second. The game doesn’t just ignore his first wrong breaker try like S2 did.
But that’s good for you! This change favors the offense because breaking juggles is now just straight up harder. You probably don’t have to counter break nearly as much here, but know that if you want to TRY, you will have to accept this change. If you’re a player who likes S1 manuals, you should like this change. Not only can you pick tons of different strengths in the air, but the defensive player now has to guess timing AND strength. It’s harder than it was.
Okay, got all that? Here’s a recap.
The lockout X takes 8 frames to animate (EDIT - Now they don’t! Original post in spoilers). This is frustrating, I understand, and I think it’s a large part of why you guys think the game is robbing you. But if you play your matches knowing this, you should be able to understand that when a lockout happens, it MUST have happened before you tried to break. We’ll have to live with this late feedback for a little while longer, but it does not change the mechanics of the breaker game at all. Whenever this magical fix comes, counter breakers will not magically happen more often.
You have to counter break earlier. Sometimes it’s only 2 or 3 frames earlier (because of the hitstop change), sometimes it’s quite a bit earlier. This is just a muscle memory change for you; this does not impact the counter breaker mind game at all. If your opponent was planning to break Thunder’s stomp, he was gonna break it, whether you input the counter break before the move hits or during the move. The defender cannot see this and change his plan. For people who regularly counter break “big hitting moves” like this, you will have to make this change. It’s not better or worse for the mind game, it’s just up to you to adjust.
Counter breaking juggles is harder, but so is combo breaking them.
Okay, now ready? Here’s all the stuff you THOUGHT was different, but actually isn’t.
A) Sometimes you counter break correctly, and the opponent tries to break immediately but he hits you instead (EDIT - Now fixed! All counter breakers force the opponent into a minimum of 24 frames of hit stun, so this never happens anymore)
Is this new? Nope, this was in the game since S1. It’s very, very annoying, but it is not new to S3. I made a whole thread talking about it.
Basically, when you counter break at certain parts of a move, your hit stun will “randomly” be canceled by different amounts. You can only combo break in hit stun, so if you pop out of hit stun magically, your break attempt is now some neutral action. I use the world “randomly” to mean “unpredictable”: between autos, linkers, shadows, and manuals, it’s really hard to predict what the hit stun cancelation effect will be. There seems to be no rule for it, it’s not consistent between characters, and even different hits of a linker (e.g.) will cancel the hit stun differently when you counter break. It’s not great.
See these videos where Thunder does the same combo, but uses two different shadow moves and counter breaks before the 1st hit. The hit stuns are wildly different, and trying to break only works for one of them, and not the other.
(EDIT - Now this doesn’t matter anymore! Here’s the same video of Thunder doing shadow Triplax now, the counter breaker works as expected - link here)
What should the devs do? They should fix this, probably by making sure there is a MINIMUM amount of hit stun for any counter breaker attempt, whether after a light manual or a heavy auto-double. Fortunate, the devs have said that there is a fix coming for this issue in the end of June patch. So very soon, all these issues will go away.
What should I do? Wait until the June patch. Understand that this was not an issue exclusive to Season 3, but it’s entirely possible that the new S3 characters have this effect apply to their moves more by chance.
B) You cannot counter break the startup of manuals, but your opponent can lock out
By a manual, I mean “any breakable move done from neutral”. This includes moves done in a juggle or ground bounce combo, in addition to the standard definition of using grounded normals as links in a combo.
Is this new? Absolutely not, this was always in the game. This problem is exacerbated by the lockout X delay, but it was always in the game. This makes sense, right? Manuals are supposed to be broken only on the hitstop. If you try to break early, you get a timing lockout.
However, as a byproduct of the way KI works, they have never let you counter break the startup of a manual (with the exception of shadow moves). The manual MUST make contact with your opponent before you can attempt to counter break it. But if your opponent can timing lockout first, and you can’t counter break, then…?
Yes, there are some timing lockouts that are impossible to counter break.
Read that again.
This is NOT the case for all timing lockouts. You will have no trouble counter breaking any timing lockout that happens on an auto-double, linker, or shadow linker, because you are in a special combo state here (canceling moves into each other). You did NOT return to neutral and then try to counter break from a neutral pose, or from the startup of a move that the game thinks you are doing in neutral. The game has no idea whether the move will hit your opponent (unlike autos, linkers, and shadow linkers, which are technically always supposed to hit), so it doesn’t know whether it should be allowing a counter breaker attempt. It has to wait until the hit makes contact before it can make that assessment, even though your opponent is in hit stun and is able to lock out.
This point is made a bit more obvious in Season 3 because you can now timing lockout on the manuals done in a juggle. Here are some examples of some timing lockouts that cannot be counter broken. If you try, the game will use its buffer to try to apply your counter breaker to the first frame of hit stop, and you will be late.
What can the devs do? Well… one option they have is to try and program the game so that you can counter break from a neutral state. This will probably be a huge rewrite of the counter breaker code (which always assumes something about the combo state right now), and it will probably introduce a ton of safe counter breaker setups and tons of other bugs where stuff that shouldn’t be breakable at all becomes counter breakable and who knows what else. Maybe in the offseason they can look into doing some wholesale rewrite of the code, but I wouldn’t want them to try it now and mess with the game.
I want to be very clear right now; apart from the juggle case (ie, the Gargos clip above), this was always in the game. Again… the lockout X shows up on time in S1 and most of S2 so you might not have been quite as annoyed by it back then. You saw the X and thought “eh I guess I was just late or something”. Now you think “holy crap I was for sure earlier than him”, but you weren’t.
And this never applies to strength lockouts (ie, a break attempt that DID hit an active break window). If this phenomenon happens on a strength lockout, then you were just plain too late on your counter breaker. You could have counter broke him, and the game would have let you, but you messed up. Sorry.
What can I do? You can let it go. Not every system in every game is flawless, perfect, and foolproof. There will be some times when a guy was trying to get a strength lockout, but was 1 frame early and got a timing lockout instead. You counter broke correctly, but the game doesn’t let it happen. I’m sorry, that sucks, but you’ll probably still beat this guy anyway if he can’t get the timing right on obvious break points like the Gargos juggle and if he’s getting fooled by your manuals and mash breaking. Sometimes you try to do a DP and SF4 (and SF5) gives you a super instead. You have to live with this.
I also want to make a very important point here; even if they somehow changed this system and let you counter break from a neutral pose, I don’t think it would make that much of a difference. Take that Gargos example above. Let’s say you think he’s a total scrub and is going to mash early. So you counter break early, before your portal punch even hits him, but he’s still somehow 1 frame earlier than you. Your counter breaker fails! And it’s not the game’s fault at all, you just missed your parry by 1 frame. Sometimes you miss windows by 1 frame. So even if this system for neutral CBs existed, you will still probably miss windows by 1 frame here and there, and you will probably still get frustrated.
So what’s the overall takeaway from this post?
Counter breakers work just fine for 95% of cases. I didn’t even talk about autos, linkers, shadow linkers, etc (ie, most combos in this game) because it wasn’t needed… the counter breaker system during those moves hasn’t even remotely changed from S2. Outside of those, for most of the cases where counter breakers don’t work, they ALWAYS didn’t work (that is, it is not a Season 3 problem, so stop blaming Season 3).
If they fix the lockout X being late (frustrating, because it’s false feedback) AND they fix that variable hit stun problem (which they are, in the June update! yay devs!), then a LOT of these frustrations will go away. (EDIT - Both these issues are now fixed.)
The thing that has existed in the game, and will always exist in the game (probably), is that you can’t counter break the startup of manuals. In Season 3, that now extends to juggles. Sorry, that’s just the way it is. Make peace with that fact in your mind. Take a few deep breaths and understand that manuals are hard to break, so you should probably only be counter breaking manuals/juggles if your opponent has already proved he’s good enough to not get tricked by timing lockouts. If it turns out that you ARE playing a competent opponent and he gets timing locked out on a manual 1 frame before you were gonna counter break him, well… that’s tough. Sorry friend. I hope all the lights on your commute home are green for you, to make up for that unfortunate incident.
But Killer Instinct is not broken. Please stop spreading misinformation.