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Critical-Gaming Pikmin Course: Week 1

Today, my friend Chang and I, went to the counseling department to try to register for the first class of the much talked about StarCraft class at UC Berkeley. Unfortunately, the class population had reached its cap so we weren't allowed to enter. Chang was very upset.

You see, David Chang is a big fan of StarCraft. He has played the game since he was in 8th grade casually, but for the past 2 or 3 years he's been working his way into the competitive scene. Chang is the kind of player who mains Zerg with a bit of Protoss on the side. He told me that he loves how the Zerg can overwhelm an opponent with large numbers of different kinds of units to keep them guessing. No other RTS game does it for him like StarCraft does, and I believe that's not an uncommon sentiment among many gamers.

I remember discussing StarCraft's difficulty with him and asking for his thoughts. Chang said that he wouldn't change a thing, especially the speed of the game. As a high level Guitar Hero player, he described his speed of StarCraft play as being much milder than say "Through The Fire And Flames," but then commented on how the pros can move at speeds that would make that song look like a walk in the park.

When the counselor saw the look on our disappointed faces, she suggested an alternative class that might still be of interest to RTS fans like ourselves. After clearing up the particulars about what kind of credit the class would give and other such things that are not important for this article, we signed up for the new course.

Later that day, Chang and I made our way to classroom. But I guess I should be a little more clear here. This course that we signed up for wasn't held in a room of any kind. It was more like a grassy covered area on the side of one of our campas' central buildings. So, when I say classroom think gazebo.

The main lecturer was a strange fellow that goes by the name Professor K. (referred to as Pro.K). He was young, and he didn't look very much like a professor. He opened the class with this:

There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard.

There are not more than five primary colors, yet in combination they produce more hues than can ever been seen.

There are not more than five cardinal tastes, yet combinations of them yield more flavors than can ever be tasted.

In battle, there are not more than two methods of attack: the direct and the indirect; yet these two in combination give rise to an endless series of maneuvers. --Sun Tzu

That's when someone sitting across the room added this causing Chang to nod his head in agreement:

In StarCraft, there are only three races, but more gameplay remaining than can be explored.

Pro.K seemed to perk up at this addition to his lecture. While acknowledging that StarCraft did contain more gamelpay potential than can be explored, the professor felt it was necessary to add to the list of games that contain more gameplay "than can be explored" explaining that design elements like space, real time, dynamic effects, and options/modes help create emergent systems that can never be fully explored. Among the games he added were the Super Smash Brothers series, Halo 3, Perfect Dark, the Mario Kart series, Super Mario Strikers Charged, the Advance Wars series, LittleBigPlanet, and Pikmin 2.

For the next few minutes, the professor went over some administrative stuff. He explained that the class will be mostly lecture with 100% of the final grade determined by a final project requiring students to make a significant contribution to the RTS community through an original project or to write up an analysis of some part of Pikmin2's battle mode.

The professor continued with a short history lesson of Pikmin starting with the famous Mario 128 tech demo and moving on to stories of Miyamoto's hobby of gardening. There were also a few points made on the first Pikmin game (referred to as Pikmin1) and how the 30 day timer was a necessary element of tension that was missing from Pikmin2. The professor quickly moved away from this point and brought the topic at hand to Pikmin2; more specifically to its battle mode.

Throughout the lecture Pro.K never used any slides, charts, or anything of the sort. After all, our classroom was practically outside, which made the use of a computer, screens, or a projector of any kind more difficult. To help with these summaries, I'll try to scan in my doodles and diagrams or otherwise find some good pictures to help communicate what was discussed in class.

The professor then began explaining how he wished he could lecture about the different high level/professional/competitive players of Pikmin2, but sadly there weren't any. He then admitted that he wasn't even aware of any communities large or small of people who play Pikmin2 competitively. In fact, he went as far as admitting that he wasn't sure if Pikmin2 is a good competitive game at all. And that, as he explained, is the purpose of the course: to...

  1. Understand how flexible the RTS genre is by looking at the differences between an RTS like StarCraft and Pikmin2.
  2. Investigate and analyze the core design of Pikmin2's battle mode.
  3. Finally, to compare Pikmin2's battle mode to StarCraft by using the same guiding principles, language, and structure of the Berkeley class down to its weekly topics.


At this point in the lecture, it was clear that the professor had nearly everyone in the class telegraphing their skepticism, doubts, and disbelief that his class would be worth any merit whatsoever. Some people had stopped taking notes, and others already had their bags backed. Pro.K noticed the lack of support from the class, and he responded by saying how quick some of us were to hold StarCraft in such a high regard compared to Pikmin a game we didn't understand hardly at all. He said that making assumptions and bold statements is the easy part. But backing them up with examples and game design theory is the part that matters. Whether Pikmin is good or bad, we could all use a deeper understanding of various RTS design.

The class settled back down.


With that said, Pro.K ended the lecture by briefly talking about resources. Perhaps to clear up any possible misunderstandings, Pro.K changed Feng's term "raw" resources to virtual resources, which clearly refer to resources within a game's virtual space. StarCraft has virtual resources like minerals, gas, population limits, creep/pylon fields. Pikmin has resources like Pikmin, gels, cherries, flower pellets, enemies, eggs, and bomb rocks. Also like when playing StarCraft or any video game, all the physical resources (knowledge, APM, attention, physical endurance) and the transformational resources apply to Pikmin.

It's important with Pikmin, as with any RTS, to begin by understanding the core dynamics/interplay of the game through the management of resources. For example if you're near your Onion/base and you have 10 Pikmin in your party and another 10 planted in the ground, what do you do? Do you try and dig up a yellow marble? If so, how many Pikmin will you put to that task? Will you use some of your Pikmin to carry enemies or cherries back to the Onion? If so, how many? Depending on how many Pikmin you put to each task and how long it takes to kill the enemies or find the cherries, can you time it so that they all get back to the Onion at the same time? If so, can you beat them back to base and have all the planted Pikmin plucked so you're all ready to go? Or Do you put 5 Pikmin to work on the marble and harass the opponent so that the Pikmin that are most likely lost in the confrontation are recycled back at your base?

It's difficult to weigh any of the decisions above against each other when you don't know how to win, what you need to win, and what it takes to get what you need.  Pro.K explained that the first step to understanding Pikmin's core design is understanding Pikmin, the main and only unit of Pikmin2's battle mode.

And that was it for the first week.

« Critical-Gaming Pikmin Course: Week 2 | Main | Advance Wars: Deep Difficulty Design »

Reader Comments (6)

Wow, this is an actual class? A professor who understands critical gaming?

May 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBryan Rosander

Thank you for writing these lecture synopses and sharing them. They're a good read, have gotten me thinking, and itching to play "Pikmin 2" when it's out for the Wii in North America (I've only ever played the first, years ago, on GameCube).

July 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLucas


Thanks. It's no problem at all.

Let me know how that goes when you finally get your hands on Pikmin2.

It's difficult to weight any of the decisions above against each other when you don't know how to win, what you need to win, and what it takes to get what you need. Pro.K explained that the first step to understanding Pikmin's core design is understanding Pikmin, the main and only unit of Pikmin2's battle mode.

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterlaura

Pikmin was an awesome game on the GCN, and Pikmin 2 was even better. The 2-player battle mode was an amazing addition to the title and stretched the gameplay value through the roof. With it's release to the Wii in North America, I'm looking to play even more Battle Mode with friends.

Sure, Pikmin may not have the fanfare behind it as Star Craft does, but that doesn't take away from the fact that it's an excellent game and resonates better with gamers who otherwise might not be interested in an RTS game. I think a class that sets the two games up side-by-side sounds very interesting. Thanks for writing this so others can get the feel of what such a class might cover!

July 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMeta


True that. Well put. Glad you enjoy it.

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