Mixups can be deadly. Interesting. Engaging. Confusing. Tricky. Stupefying. Hilarious. And forehead slapping. A mixup is a general term used to describe the effort of influencing a player to make a mistake through game mechanics/player choices. Mixups are tricks, and such a term inherently deals with the vast complexity of the player. In other words, we can't simply consider how player choices affect the game after they're made. We must also factor in what the player is thinking. By looking at why players make mistakes, the root of the problem can be attributed to an individual player's learning style, play execution, and the game rules.
The following are different types of mixups. For each type I've included examples from different video games. I've also included examples from different animes. Not only do the Japanese have a refined the art of fighting, but their shows and games tend reflect this deep understanding as well. Plus, anime in particular is very explanatory. In other words, the anime examples I've included not only illustrate the specific type of mixup, but they explain how the mixups were setup in plain english.
Look-alike mixups occur when two or more attacks, moves, or game elements look identical to each other but act very differently. The pipes and bricks from Super Mario Bros. are simple examples. For the most part, these mixups are designed to influence players to overlook secrets. More ordinary pipes and bricks are put into the game than special ones so that players are more likely to overlook the secrets.
But look-alike mixups can also be very deadly. If anticipating and reacting to one possibility of a mixup puts you in danger of the other possible outcome and visa versa, you could be forced to make a guess for success. Because the video game medium communicates most of the crucial information through visuals, look-alike mixups will always be a clear and effective way to trick the player.
- The video in this article on Street Fighter shows Vega, the victorious clawed character, using the same move over and over on his opponent. Based on how the move looks, the opponent cannot tell which way he needs to block (left/right).
- El Fuerte, the small wrestler, in this SF4 video uses a look-alike move mix up repeatedly when Ryu stands up. The dash and jump of this move looks the same. However, the result is either a belly flop or a spinning neck grab. Ryu must guess which one or else he will be mixed up.
- Double bato jutsu: In this clip, Kenshin, the small red haired figure in red, puts up a stance that indicates a specific kind of attack. The opponent anticipates and reacts to this attack, however, he didn't realize the attack could be a 2 strike attack instead of a 1 strike.
Mixups With Tells
Look-alike mixups can put the player in real dire situations were only a correct guess can lead to success. But mixups don't have to be so simple. It's possible to design a mixup that can be overcome with with sharp reflexes. If you don't have sharp enough reflexes to react in time, then a correct guess is just as effective. In this way, different facets of your skill can be tested (luck vs reflex).
Likewise, a specific type of mixup that tests a player's knowledge are mixups that have secret or subtle cues that can tip the player off. Usually these cue, clues, or tells match up 100% to a specific possibility of the mixup. There's no need to build a mixup within a mixup (at this point). Once you know what to look for, you can react to the possible outcomes of a mixup far sooner and with a much greater accuracy.
Anything can be a tell. Many games have visual cues like Punch Out and the Mario & Luigi series. Some games have audio cues like Zangief's punch and kick lariat in SF4. In Zelda: A Link to the Past, players can tap walls to test for hollow spaces that can be accessed with a bomb. Hollow areas make a hollow sound. In Zelda:OOT secret areas rumble the controller when players draw near.
- In Mario Lugi 3: Bowser's Inside Story, every enemy attack can be blocked or avoided in some way. To make enemy attacks interesting and engaging, most of the enemies are designed to mixup the player. In this video, the two Magi Koopa launch their classic shapely attack onto the top screen. Each shape falls from the top screen and attacks either Mario or Luigi. The square and the triangle can be dodged easily with a well timed JUMP. However, the circle bounces over the player. If the player tries to JUMP the circle, they will collide and take damage. Learning the properties of each shape is the first step. Paying close attention to which order the shapes will fall is the final step in mastering this mixup. This is just one example of many enemy mixups in the game.
- Kakashi vs Kakuzu. In this battle Kakashi, the lightening wielding masked ninja, pierces the chest and iron defense of Kakuzu. In the world of Naruto, elemental based attacks work in an interplay loop. Because lightening beats rock, Kakashi was able to piece his opponent. The way Kakashi found out that Kakuzu's iron defense was rock based is when Kakuzu activated it. One specific hand seal revealed the elemental secret of the iron defense. In this way, the hand seal was the tell.
Fortunately, mixups can be created by stringing together a series of moves to make and break patterns. So, instead of relying on the developers to create moves specifically for mixups, you can make your own out of a much wider set of mechanics with much more variety. In a player v player match, executing a pattern/rhythm mixup involves playing in such a way to influence your opponent to recognize and anticipate your moves. The more moves you string together successively, the more likely the opponent will pick up on the pattern. Once you know your opponent will probably try to counter your moves anticipating the pattern, you can counter their counter.
- Mixing up fast and slow fireballs in Street Fighter is a great way to punish a player for simply reacting to your rhythms. If the opponent gets used to jumping over a steady stream of fast fireballs, a slow one can become very effective.
- A fight can be thought of as a long battle of mixups. Adjusting to opponent's play styles largely involves predicting the moves that they do most often. Small changes in the final round, or final stock in Smash Brothers, can create opportunities for adaptive players. Check out an old friendly match featuring me, KirbyKid, against a friend. Notice how many times I roll, back air, and forward air in the first 3 stock. You might think that using so few moves so frequently would make me very predictable. But that's exactly what I want you to think (if you were my opponent). By making subtle adjustments to what seem like the same moves, I can play defensively when it appears that I'm playing offensively. Or visa versa. Notice how I stop rolling almost entirely on my final stock. Marth expected me to roll and gets punished for it at 4:09.
- Ichigo vs. Renji. In this battle Ichigo, the orange haired hero, thinks he has cracked the secret to his opponent's attacks. After three long range strikes, Ichigo thinks that his opponent's sword must come back together again. Unfortunately, this is exactly what Renji wants Ichigo to think. Even when Ichigo moves on an opening in his opponent's defense, he is simply too slow to make a difference.
The Learner's Mixup
Technically it's possible for a player to mix themselves up. Whether the player keys into the wrong tells or fails to understand the mechanics/rules of the game completely, if the player makes a mistake based on a false learned assumption that player will have tricked him/herself. Because there are many bits of important information in a game and many ways to mislearn and partially learn any one bit, the learner's mixup can easily be the most prevalent mixup in any gamer's experience. If you're ever found yourself saying "oops. I didn't know THAT'S how it worked. He can't do that, can he? How did that happen? I didn't see that coming," you've probably mixed yourself up.
There's no point giving video game examples for this one. Just think back through your own experiences. There's bound to be plenty of examples there. Such is the nature of learning.
- Kenshin vs Shishio. In this final battle, Shishio, the mummy looking fellow, finally confronts Kenshin, our hero in red. Shishio, though very powerful, had previously spied on Kenshin to discover his secret, ultimate attack. He learned through his spy that Kenshi's ultra fast sword attack has a tell! When Kenshin steps forward with his left foot, Shishio learned that the secret attack follows. Unfortunately for Shishio, he learned the tell but he didn't learn the full effect of Kenshi's ultimate attack. Even when dodged or blocked, the ultra speed will create a vacuum and suck the opponent in closer for a devastating second strike.
Double Blind Mixups
This mixup is like playing Rock Paper Scissors. In RPS both players throw their hands at the same time. You don't have any other choice but to throw 1 of the 3 hands. You either engage with the interplay loop, or you simply lose. When you throw, you don't know which hand the other player will pick, but you hope for the best. In general, double blind mixups are more complex than double bind encounters. Double blind encounters happen all the time in real time games and they can have a lot of leeway in timing and the variety of counters. Double blind mixups happen at the same time and generally involve a very limited amount of options.
To be clear, it's not the RPS style loop of interplay that creates double blind mixups. Rather it's this design in combination with other factors that can give one player the ability to force a choice and therefore a mistake out of the other player.
In Street Fighter, there are many moves and situations that result in both players having equal frame advantage. This means that if both players make a move, they will happen at the same exact time in true double blind fashion. A dragon punch will beat a grab. A grab will beat a block. And a block will beat a dragon punch. Though this is a big simplification, the example is clear. To win you must guess correctly against your opponent's guess. So, if you're the type of player who wants to double blind guess as little as possible in Street Fighter, then you want to avoid getting knocked down, getting hit with non crumple stun focus attacks, and getting hit with other moves that put both players at equal frame advantage. Get in any of these situations and you have to quickly make a move/guess. Guess wrong, and you'll be mixed up. See this video for examples and explanations.
- Hunter by Hunter RPS. Someone has to lose the game. In this manga (read from right to left and top to bottom) Leorio ponders what hand he should throw and what his opponent may be thinking. As you can read, it's easy to stress yourself out over thinking the situation.
Mixups are tricky business. Even these basic types can bleed into each other. Before we put the subject away, we must cover a few more related topics. Stay sharp.