From Unintuitive to Eureka pt.3
Monday, December 6, 2010 at 10:09PM
Richard Terrell (KirbyKid) in Bomberman, DigiDrive, Halo, Learning, Motivation, & The Mind, Mario Kart, Mega Man, Planet Puzzle League, Super Monkey Ball, Super Smash Brothers

Here are examples of strategies I developed or encountered that leaped across intuition gaps.

 And Mario's World will never be the same.

World 1-2 & other Super Mario Secrets. Perhaps the most famous video game secret of all time, on the second level of SMB it's possible to break through the bricks at the top of the screen and practically skip the level entirely (see image above). I didn't discover this one on my own because when I was a kid, games were played in groups. But imagine how many self developed assumptions this secret defies for the unknowing player. The player might start by assuming the bricks at the top can't be destroyed because that's the boundary of the level. Then the player might find out he/she can break these bricks (perhaps to find a hidden 1up) but certainly that's the extend of the design. Surely this player's mind would open when he/she first finds out that he/she can not only JUMP up there, but the game doesn't freeze or glitch out when you do. The player might think this trick is a glitch. After all, Mario runs around where the score is. Then when the player makes it to the end of the level and he/she sees the green exit pipe, he/she might assume that the trick is over. This is why hiding the warp pipe room behind a secret like this is nothing short of genius. Fortunately, as far as secret design goes, the more you assume the greater the intuition gap and the greater the surprise if/when you discover the trick. For a comprehensive examination of the secret design of 2D Mario Platformers, see this article. 

 

"Kill 'em with a Kill move!" The Super Smash Brothers series (each word links to a different Smash related article series) is unique from other fighting games in that players must "ring out" opponents to win. The more damage you take, the easier you can be knocked around. Because there's a balance between the pros and cons of each move and moves can weaken with repeated use, the tactic "kill 'em with a kill move" just clicked. It's better to save your strongest moves that will ring out the opponent until it can actually do the job. This idea seems like a no brainer for smashers now, but years into Melee's metagame competitive tournament players were still spamming their kill moves with limited success.

I think this intuition gap has two sources. 1) Though many of us smashers had little to no experience with other fighters on a high/competitive level, our general fighting sense was still greatly influence by games like Street Fighter. In such fighters, players didn't have to worry as much about where and how they knocked the opponent around. Knockback is much more limited, and players fight to a KO in a closed ring. 

2) We initially taught ourselves how to smash by intuitively borrowing skills and tactics from NES/SNES era platformers/action games. In such games, spamming your best move (like Mario's fireball) is a dominant strategy. It took the Melee community years to overcome these intuition gaps. The more complex the game, the more work it takes to correct ingrained methodologies.

 

Topple Your King. In Super Monkey Ball 2's party game Monkey Fight, up to 4 players maneuver their punching-bag-mounted monkey balls around to knock each other out of the ring. The goal is to try and get as many points as possible by knocking out opponents before time runs out (each KO = +10). If you run out of the ring on your own, you lose points (-10). Naturally, everyone who plays tries to stay alive as long as possible especially when they have the point lead. There's a twist. If you ring out the king (point leader, see green player in image above) you get a point bonus (+20). One day, I made the intuitive leap of getting the lead into the last 30 seconds of the match, and then opt to run off the stage for -10 rather than give my opponent +20. This way, I lose less points (relatively), drain time off the clock, and I get some temporary invincibility when I spawn back in. Killing yourself intentionally seems like losing on purpose until you consider the strategic advantages.

Furthermore, in a 3-4 player game, intentionally letting a player with the least amount of points kill you rather than 2nd place can allow you to hold onto your lead even better. Once you embrace the value scale of points rather than "staying alive," such strategies become intuitive. I use similar strategies in Zelda: Spirit Tracks multiplayer battle mode. More on that game in a future post.

Oddball Off the Stage. In Halo 3 Oddball matches, sometimes it's advantageous to suicide to drop the skull/ball drop off the map. This can buy your team time to regroup before the ball is spawned back into the map. Again, intentionally jumping off the map is something good players want to avoid. But for the player who understand all the push-pull variables of the match type, preventing the opponents from earning points can be as intuitive as earning points. Check out a video of this strategy here. 

Raptoring. Mario Kart series. Depending on the game and the course, the raptoring tactic varies in effectiveness. In some cases, it's better to race in such a way to score an item box in 2nd place so that your chance of getting a powerful item (like a red shell) greatly increases. Sometimes executing this strategy is as easy as taking a wide turn or avoiding a short cut. But, in close races on some courses against certain opponents, two raptoring players can clash in a bitter standstill for 2nd place right next to a line of item boxes. Whoever moves first, loses first. To those who don't understand or embrace the rules of Mario Kart, racing for 2nd place can be very unintuitive.  

The Shady Shadow. Bomberman (DSi). At the start of a classic game of Bomberman, players blow their way out of their starting positions block by block. Most have ingrained the strategy of slowly working their way out of their starting position while grabbing as many powerups as possible. Somewhere in phase 2 of the battle, players typically try to eliminate their opponent(s). Being a shady shadow can very a very unintuitive way to pressure an opponent in the beginning of a battle (phase 1). Instead of gathering powerups around your starting position, you must move to where you opponent is as soon as possible. Some stages allow you to do this better than others. Once you meet your opponent, you follow them around, standing right on their position like a shadow. If they duck into a dead end cove, you have to be ready to set a bomb right away to trap them. Until they make such a move, you simply follow them around. Whenever they blow up a block revealing a powerup you must do one of three things: 1) Be ready to trap them if the powerup is in a dead end cove. 2) Be ready to grab the powerup first. 3) Be ready to set a bomb so that you force yourself and your opponent away from that area and simultaneously burning the powerup. The idea is to keep your opponent as weak as possible while using your patience to wear down their minds. It's highly effective and unintuitive if you think lots of bombs and powerups is the only way to win. 

Pause. Plenty of games including Mega Man 9/10, Planet Puzzle League, Aquia (DSi), DigiDrive (DSi). That's right. You read correctly. The feature that's been in almost every game since the NES and Mario is actually a high level technique (works best in single players games). Whenever you need to take a moment to gather your thoughts, hit the pause button and take all the time you need. Also, use this technique to increase your reflexes. Video example here. PAUSE is a mechanic that players can use to control a game just like Mario's JUMP. It may seem odd to use it to increase your reflexes, but sometimes you have to take every advantage. 

 

Making unintuitive leaps is all relative to one's own knowledge. The examples above are great if you have experience with the games, but probably fall short if you don't. Perhaps a live example would best illustrate my learning process and intuition gaps. The plan: take a free indie puzzle game and document my process as I progress. This way you can play the game for yourself and compare (no excuses).

This article series was originally supposed to be one small post. Will part 4 be the end? Find out next time.

Article originally appeared on Critical-Gaming Network (http://critical-gaming.com/).
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