Mixups pt.1
Tuesday, December 15, 2009 at 12:59PM
Richard Terrell (KirbyKid) in Competition, Misc Design & Theory

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 have Japanese 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

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. 

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. 


Pattern/Rhythm Mixup 

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.


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.


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.


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. 

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