Footsies are the fundamental skills that a player uses to gain and control space. A player who does not control the space that they occupy is someone who is giving their opponent an opportunity to take control of a match. Meaning that without a solid footsie game a pressure game cannot emerge.
What is a poke? A poke is a long range, fast attack that is used to contol the space infront of a character from max distance (for example Ryu’s cMK, Guy’s sMP, or Fei Long’s cHP). Poking establishes your space in front of you and keeps your opponent from trespassing in your space looking for opportunities to either attack or throw you. Defense is then by extension more than blocking. It is also defined by space management, and by managing space you can serve to minimize risk and maximize opportunities for damage by finding optimal distances to launch an attack. This creates a problem because while you’re trying to establish your space, someone else is right in front of you doing the same thing.
This then creates a problem how do you get in if you are being kept out and keeping your opponent out?(I am discussing this from the perspective of a mirror match for now) Look at this match between Daigo and Air, two of the best Ryu players in the world (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EaWX5J_H5wA). Watch how they use pokes to define their space and hunt for knock downs to start their okizeme game (this will be discussed next week). Some might say “they’re not just poking they’re throwing fireballs!” But fireballs are just long pokes and in SF4 (because you can not parry, Just Defend, roll, or do anything else some other games use to neutralize fireball pressure) a fireball becomes a very strong poke that does chip damage(here’s another longer set to demonstrate the point. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjZIWYqznOA&feature=related). For example, Guile’s Sonic Boom is faster than many normals in the game in terms of start up and recovery and also Ryu’s fireball at certain distances is used to set up a myriad of traps. At two minutes in, notice how from about two and a half character lengths away Daigo neutral jumps and walks backward after a series of hadoukens instead of answering with his own hadouken to draw Air into a space where it would be difficult to react to an EX Hadouken (watch Air’s inputs as Daigo does the EX hadou. You see him inputting a Hadouken as Daigo’s EX Hadouken hits) to end the round. Spacing is critical in mirror matches and is in many ways what separates a player that is dominant when a match goes their way from the start and someone who can grind it out and come back from a disadvantage.
Waddling: Many times you will see players moving just outside of poke range, this is a very useful method to bait an attack and score a counterhit. It is a very simple but versatile technique that is critical to finding openings. (Watch how Kuroda uses waddling to dissect his opponents http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVIsP09vE4I&feature=related)
Spacing As It Relates to Tiers:
In every 2d fighter the ability to control space defines tiers (from Akuma in ST, to Benimaru’s stB in KoF XIII) by applying pressure to your opponent you are able to stop theirs. Watch how Fuudo’s Fei Long was able to control the ground against Poongko’s Seth during Evo 2011 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dC_X9OadYvs). Fei Long’s rekkas, are for the purposes of this discussion amazing footsie tools. From rekka distance a fei long player has to be feared, especially before he was nerfed in Arcade Edition 2012 and it was safe on block up to two hits. It is a serious point of frustration for many players especially when you cannot enter into your own optimal space because your opponent’s character controls that space better than yours.
P.S. Eventhubs has hitbox data for most of the SF4 cast. http://www.eventhubs.com/news/2010/may/19/hit-box-information-super-street-fighter-4/