Mulling Over Multiple Goals
Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 8:19PM
Richard Terrell (KirbyKid) in Advance Wars, Misc Design & Theory, Pikmin, Street Fighter, Super Mario Bros.

Winning in video games is hard. Generally, the deeper and more complex the game, the harder it can be to achieve victory. To help ourselves, we break down options, tactics, strategies, and gambits and assign a value to them according to how well each will help us achieve victory. Whether risky, difficult, exciting, or mind numbingly tedious, we evaluate all actions according to a value scale. But how do we evaluate game actions when there are multiple goals?


2 Kings? That means there's 2 ways to win? 

If this question seems simple to you, then allow me to illuminate this quandary. Let's start with a clarification on what I mean by goals, multiple goals, and value scales


Before explaining exactly why the valorization (assigning a value) of actions in a multi-goal game is quite unique, I wanted to go over some examples. 



The reason I presented these four seemingly apt examples that upon closer evaluation don't qualify as games with multiple goals is to illustrate that games with multiple goals are a bit of a rarity. I was only able to find a few examples including Age of Empires II, Pikmin 2 battle, Dragon Quest Wars (DSi), NSMB DS 2 multiplayer, and Advance Wars

In Advance Wars multiplayer, a match can support up to 3 goals. The most common goal involves destroying all the enemy units. Capturing the enemy HQ is also a common goal. And finally, you can set the match so that whoever captures a set number of properties first wins. Notice that each of these three goals have distinct value scales. In other words, destroying any number of enemy units doesn't necessarily get you any closer to capturing the enemy HQ. Seeking to capture the enemy HQ doesn't get you any closer to capturing enough properties. And capturing properties doesn't help you destroy enemy units. 

Because achieving any one of these goals most assuredly ends the game in victory, how do we begin to compare two actions pursuing two different goals? In other words, how do we compare two unrelated or orthogonal ideas? It's the age old apples to oranges question. And the answer is quite complicated. Basically, in Advance Wars every decision either consumes resources or wastes opportunities. Also, each decision may affect the the conditions and viability of pursuing another goal. This push and pull interplay between pursuing multiple goals is as variegated, deep, and dynamic as the game at hand. So, instead of thinking linearly along a value scale, you have to think more in a flexible 3D graph.  

Unless you understand and think about your moves according to how well they pursue multiple goals simultaneously, you'll probably overlook costly holes in your decisions. In the end, multiple goals can make a game deeper and much more difficult to play. Reaching one goal is hard enough. But playing with multiple goals is like playing multiple games simultaneously. 

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