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An Examination of Skill pt.18

If you haven't picked up on it yet, part 17 and 18 of this series investigates the limits of fast paced versus slow paced games in terms of skill. I believe a common misconception is that fast paced games (like shooters, fighters, and other action games) require more skill to play especially at a highly competitive level than slower paced games. But as I've explained, the faster a game's speed the more skills diminish and the greater amount of stress is put on knowledge and a guessing (adaptation). In other words, the entire skill spectrum shrinks limiting the skills one can apply to a game to very small and extreme range.

This disproportionate decay of the skill spectrum as the game speed increases is similar to how Newtonian physics break down on a larger scale and as speeds approach the speed of light. Newtonian physics also break down on the quantum level in a very different way. With that said, let's take a look at what happens to k (the constant of agency) as t decreases approaching infinity (--> -∞).


as t --> -∞, D --> ∞

  • As the real time grows in proportion to the game time, inputting into the game system is like playing in slow motion. In this case, the speed dexterity capacity increases. All of one's dexterity skills are linked to speed and how game time relates to real time. The slower you can input into the controller while maintaining the same speed, the more time you have to make up for a lack of harmony and efficiency skills. You also have more time to rest to offset limited stamina. 

as t --> -∞, K = K or +K

  • This one is tricky in a subtle way. As the game speed slows, all of your long term knowledge is unaffected (K=K). In general, real time video games are designed to fill our awareness or short term memory capacity. So, as the game speed decreases more real time passes compared to game time. This means that at some point holding the incoming information in your mind requires using LTM (long term memory) instead of STM (short term memory). This is significant. Because the bridge between STM and LTM is illusive and hard to fully understand, we have to take into account that making this jump can be different for each person. I imagine that using more LTM than STM gives players an "out of body" type of sensation where they are "taken out of the game." So, depending on one's knowledge skills, simply taking in input and processing the information may raise or lower one's knowledge skill agency (K = + K).

as t --> -∞, AK --> ∞ - ∑T

  • Chances are we've all experienced bullet time or slow down in at least one game. When the game moves slower in these moments, players have more time to think and use that extra knowledge to adapt. The slower the game moves the greater one's ability to see and adapt becomes. However, in many games, player mechanics have animations/moves that limit player control until the animation/move ends. During these animations, even if you can see a threat coming, you can't make any adjustments until the animation is over. This is why I expressed that knowledge based adaptation increases to infinity while being offset by the game's timing elements. (AK --> ∞ - ∑T).

as t --> -∞, R --> ∞

  • As the game speed decreases players have more real time to react to everything. This effect is very similar to what happens to knowledge adaptation. For reflexive interactions, the range of application shifts away from guessing. For example, in a game with a "normal" speed it's possible to have some situations where both characters have to make a decision simultaneously thus participating in a double blind encounter. The wake up game in Street Fighter 4 is filled with doubled blind mixups. If we take this example and slow down the game speed significantly, it becomes possible to see certain choices coming with enough time to react and counter them. At slower speeds, new tells and strategies become viable while other become obsolete. 

as t --> -∞, T --> (t1/t2)T

  • This expression helps explain the phenomenon of why it doesn't necessarily feel slower to play a game when the game speed drops. Not only are one's internal mental processes outside of the game system unaffected, which helps create a sense of consistency as a game's speed changes, but according to this expression the timing challenge merely shifts as the game speed drops (the shift = t1/t2). In other words, if it takes one second to execute a particular attack, at half the game speed it would take 2 seconds. At a third of the game speed it would take 3 seconds. The difference between a 1, 2, or 3 second challenge may seem significant, but they all stress the same sense of static internal/external timing. In other words, it takes about the same skill to time 3 regular beats as it does 4, 5, 6 etc. Furthermore, while counting 3, 4, 5 etc beats, the engagement level of the player remains fairly constant. Such is the nature of patterns, timing, and rhythm


Play it here. 

Some examples of games that are designed around normal and slow game speeds are...

  • Any game with bullet time including the game Bullet Time (see video above).
  • Wii Sports Boxing special dodge. If you move your head quickly enough and your opponent punches into that space, the game temporarily drops in speed allowing you (the dodger) to reflexively see the situation and capitalize. 
  • Bangai-O Spirits and The genius of slowdown.
  • Perfect Dark combat boosts and smart slow-mo. PD is my favorite first person shooter. The combat boost slow down the game for everyone giving all players an equal skill boost. However, the computer AI performs in slow-mo exactly the same as they do in normal time. This definitely gives humans a leg up in the battle versus computer enemies. Furthermore, there's a special option called "smart slow motion" that only slows down the game when two players are near each other. Contextual game speed is a rare design feature. 
  • DK Jungle Beat (see video). Successful dodges and punches trigger a game speed drop that helps communicate the current game state to the player. Without the drop in speed, it would be much harder to see the action and adjust tot eh changing camera angles. 
  • Many old school video games.


So what can we say about fast paced action games versus slower more moderately paced action games? If I had more data, more time, and some graphs, I could show exactly how quickly skills degrade on a continuous scale. I could pinpoint where I think several games fall in terms of their game speed and how it affects their skill spectrum to show that there isn't one formula or rule of thumb to hitting the sweet spot. In fact, there's a large window of game speeds that work well for any given genre. And unless you're interested in truly comparing the skill of one game versus another, calculating the differences due to slight changes in game speed isn't necessary.
Besides, most gamers really don't understand game design on a deep level. Furthermore, they don't understand the intricacies of player skill. I've been working on reaching this point since I came up with the basic ideas back in 2007. Most gamers don't necessarily pick the games they love based on skill or depth. Figuring out how people form their opinions is more complicated than what I've discussed here. However, we can look at what game design features make a game more likely to support high level competitive play. In part 19, we're looking at how players take games to the next level. 
« An Examination of Skill pt.19 | Main | An Examination of Skill pt.17 »

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