Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Nothing beats Rock (aka the obligatory RPS post)

Every game design book out there seems to spend some time talking about using RPS as a foundation for conflict. And this was fascinating the first (and best) time I came across it in Game Design Theory & Architecture. But it's been an awful lot of repetition since then.

Enter some random article on Digg about strategy for RPS. These are usually full of tripe, but this one had an incredibly cool - and obvious, in retrospect - nugget:
Inexperienced (or flustered) players will often subconsciously deliver the throw that beat their last one. Therefore, if your opponent played Paper last time, they will very often play Scissors next.

"That Zergling rush kicked my ass, it's so unfair. I've got to learn how to do it!"
"Constant Hadoukens are so unfair, I've got to learn how to do them like that - I'll be unstoppable!"
"Frickin' AWP, this is why CounterStrike sucks...Guess I better learn how to snipe..."

Having this pointed out shows you the genius of the slo-mo replay they are putting into Halo 3 (according to the dev video that came out recently...) Now rooks can see exactly how they were pwned, and learn to do exactly the same thing to the next poor shmuck. You can make fun of the newbs and their need to do this sort of thing, but it's the core of learning and the only way to improve. Actually, I heard Bill Walton put it best during a basketball game the other day - he said that the 4 pillars of learning are
  1. Demonstration
  2. Imitation
  3. Correction
  4. Repetition
Since the Rook doesn't know what he doesn't know, he doesn't know a tactic until he sees it for himself (#1). Once he sees a better way of doing something, he has to try it for himself (#2). In competitve games, he'll screw up, get killed, and try again until he gets it right (#3). Having mastered the tactic - say, "Rock"- he'll repeat it (#4, aka "Nothing beats Rock") until somebody else comes along with a tactic that beats it ("Paper") or he gets bored.

Recognizing all of this is important as a designer, because a big barrier to entry in competitive games is the steep learning curve as soon as you go from solo play/training to versus/multiplayer. It can take weeks to make the jump from Half-life to Counterstrike, or from solo Gears of War to online multi...How many newbs simply give up out of frustration before they become serious, competitive players - and therefore evangelists - of your game? So it's time to think about what you can put into your game to help the newbs understand what's going on, and how they get beat.

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