Critical-Gaming Pikmin Course: Week 2
Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 11:12PM
Richard Terrell (KirbyKid) in Genre, Pikmin, RTS

The second lecture was more focused than the first because the professor didn't have to spend time going over the struture of the course.

Professor K opened up with a clarification. He explained that in Pikmin2's battle mode (simply referred to as Pikmin), the small plant creatures known as Pikmin are not the only units in the game. Apparently there are 3 types of units: Pikmin, Avatar, and Enemy units.




Pro.K asked the class what are some basic functions for units in StarCraft. My friend Chang answered that the units in StarCraft can be thought of as extensions of the players hands, eyes, and even ears. The professor agreed and explained that things are a little different in Pikmin. While the Pikmin are analogous to the player's virtual hands, the Avatar unit (Olimar/Louie) is analogous to the player's eyes and ears. Instead of the 3rd person, top down, omniscient view of the game world in strategy games like StarCraft and Advance Wars, you're locked to seeing and hearing what's just around your Avatar character like in a Nintendo game like Mario or Zelda. Instead of being alerted via sound cues and other visuals when events are triggered off screen, in Pikmin players are comparatively blind and deaf. Pro.K described this design feature as one that localizes all of the player's commands/actions. Pro.K told us that this design difference between a more traditional RTS like StarCraft and Pikmin is a significant one that the class will revisit several times throughout the course.

The Avatar unit can move around, use sprays, shake off attacking Pikmin, punch enemies/objects, sleep, throw Pikmin, and command Pikmin (using the C-stick). The Avatar unit is the primary control system in the game and it is one that is locked to the game perspective. The Avatar unit also has a fixed amount of health that can't be regenerated. If a player loses all of their Avatar's health, it's game over.



After covering the Avatar Unit, Pro.K explained to us how versatile the Pikmin units is. Each Pikmin can be used to attack (Enemy/Pikmin/Avatar units), dig up objects, carry objects, disable structures, and chase down the opponent's Avatar unit. Because of these features, it's easy to think of Pikmin as the main and only unit in the game. After all, without using Pikmin, it would be nearly impossible to win a match. Sure Olimar can throw a punch or two, but that's not enough.

Like upgrades in StarCraft, Pikmin can be upgraded from a leaf, bud, to a flower stage. With each upgrade, their running speed increases. Also, Pikmin can be temporarily boosted (like using Stim Packs on Marines) by using a Ultra-spicy spray powerup. In this hyper state, the Pikmin's speed and attack power increase significantly. At this point in the lecture, the professor pointed out that like the Stasis Field ability from Arbiters, opposing Pikmin and Enemy units can also be temporarily buried/frozen in place when an Avatar unit uses a Ultra-bitter Spray (purple gel).

The professor explained that because Pikmin isn't a war strategy game, the combat/interplay between units isn't the main draw of the core gameplay. This means that the game doesn't need a wide variety of units, attack moves, attack types, upgrades, and counters to be interesting even on a competitive level. Instead of creating dynamic gameplay by designing 3 races and lots of complexities between unit types, sizes, attacks, cost, and special abilities, Pikmin uses a more efficient design (less complexities, more interplay/dynamics). By using neutral (non combat) game goals, battles in Pikmin can be fought and games can be won directly (player force v. player force) or indirectly (collecting marbles/controlling the field). And by putting neutral enemies into the map that can be attacked by and attack either player, every game is essentially a 3 player free-for-all battle, which is more dynamic than a 2 player battle.



The final type of unit in Pikmin are the enemy units. From the colorful bomb dropping Careening Dirigibug, to large Pikmin gobbling Red Bulbords, to giant bosses like Raging Long Legs players can encounter a wide variety of Enemy units on the battle field. Each stage has a specific set of enemies that populate the battle field. Also, by collecting cherries players can gain the ability to summon enemies inside of their opponent's base to wreck havock. Like the single player game, each enemy has unique offensive and defensive abilities requiring specific strategies to take them down most effectively.

Pro.K explained that because Pikmin isn't a war game and the main win conditions (obtain 4 yellow marbles or the opponent's colored marble) don't involve destroying/killing things, the function of the multiplayer battle is focused on exploration and maneuvering through a hazardous but ultimately neutral game world. With more than 6 times the neutral Enemy units than Avatar and Pikmin unit types combined, the intricacies of combat and traversal are composed of a struggle between both players and the neutral enemies. Though Pro.K didn't use these exact terms in class, this kind of design can be described as 3 layers of contrary motion/counterpoint or 3 points in an interplay triangle. In other words, with just a little ingenuity your worst enemies can becomes your best allies.



At this point in the lecture, the professor showed us some video examples off of his laptop. We all had to crowd around the screen to get a clear view, but this wasn't too big of a problem. There weren't too many of us in the class. I'll do my best trying to describe what was shown.

In one video, the red player left 3 Pikmin just outside of the opponents base. Of the 3, there was one leaf, one bud, and one flower Pikmin. Because they were tucked away against the side wall, it was hard for the opponent to see the trap. When the opponent's Avatar unit (Louie) exited moments later, the 3 Pikmin trap was activated and they began chasing Louie down. Because of their upgrade differences (leaf/bud/flower) they chased after Louie at different speeds. The small force of about 15 Pikmin that Louie had with him were constantly being attacked from behind, which forced Louie into a situation where he could either defend the chasers thus loosing time and Pikmin in the process or run from them leaving some of his forces behind to deal with the problem.

In other video, the red players base was swarmed by blue's army, and in the ensuing battle, blue began carrying away the red marble in a move that's equivalent to a check in Chess. To respond, red gathered up his forces and followed after the stolen marble. To counter red's rescue attempt, blue used an Ultra-bitter Spray to plant all of red's nearby Pikmin in the ground. Red did the same to blue's forces in an obvious counter move. It seemed that the encounter reached a temporarily stalemate. This is when red did something really clever. Instead of fighting things out near his base, red ran out of his way to find a Red Bulborb (the big ones) and punched it a few times so that it would chase after him. By the time all the Pikmin popped back out of the ground, the Red player managed to reposition the enemy Bulborb so that it would gobble up any Pikmin walking slowly past it. So, though the red player didn't have as many Pikmin to fight with, he was able to block the path buying him enough time to return to his base and pluck the Pikmin that were lost in battle.

In yet another video, the blue player ran around an enemy strewn battle field in such a way that a nearby Armored Cannon Beetle Larva tried to attack the Avatar Unit with a rolling rock attack. Because Pikmin is so dynamic, the rocks have the potential to hurt any Avatar, Pikmin, and Enemy units that get it its way. With a bit of fancy footwork, the player was able to get one enemy to kill all the nearby samller enemies without using a single Pikmin! After the smaller enemies were killed, the player used a few of his Pikmin to rearrange the dead enemy carcases to create shields against future rock attacks from the Armored Cannon Beetle Larva. In this way, the player create a safe channel for slower moving Pikmin.

After the last video example, one of the students was clearly upset. He asked the professor how the encounters in Pikmin could ever compare to the encounters of StarCraft given how fewer elements and complexities there are to the units in Pikmin. Pro.K explained that many of the basic maneuvers and strategies in high level competitive StarCraft usually involve a few units that are carefully controlled. It's easy to see how the same types of situations can exits in Pikmin. Though there are much fewer units at the players command, the different scenarios created by the many different functions each Pikmin can do helps make up for the lack of unit variety. I could tell it was hard for that student to grasp what the professor was saying. The professor said not to worry about it for now, and that it was only week 2 of the course. He seemed confident that everything was going to click in that student's head eventually.

The professor closed the class by explaining that even though there aren't a lot of units in Pikmin, the battles are quite dynamic and intricate. But the battles are only a small part of the grand design of the battle mode (as odd as that sounds). There's more to the level design and the nature of each stage than most would expect in a typical RTS. And that will be the lecture topic for next time.

And that concluded this weeks lecture.

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