Critical-Gaming Pikmin Course: Week 9, 10, & 11
Sunday, June 14, 2009 at 10:54PM
Richard Terrell (KirbyKid) in Genre, Interplay, Pikmin, RTS

In the last three weeks of class before our final presentations, we went over a few topics. Instead of making 3 smaller posts, I decided to lump all 3 classes together.

 

WHAT TO THINK

When playing a match, you should frequently ask yourself if you can win right now. Considering this is the first step to making the right moves that will secure victory. However, because Pikmin has four different ways to win each with very different chances of success, figuring out if you can win or not can be a somewhat complicated matter. Not only do you have to consider things like your Avatar unit's position, sprays left, yellow marble count, and army count, but you have to consider these factors for your opponent as well. Counting yellow marbles is a simple way of determining how close you are from achieving victory. And if you manage to steal your opponent's colored marble, transporting that across the map is an obvious "check" situation. If the opponent doesn't have any sprays or enough of the right kinds of sprays, he/she may not have enough to counter you. Other than these 3 more obviously ways to see how close you are to winning, you're going to have to assess the field using your own judgement. Ultimately, if you see the winning path ahead of you, you need to commit to it completely and win.

If you're in a losing position (based on field position, spray count, Pikmin count, Cherry count, map control, etc) then you need to immediately begin working on a counter measure. Unlike in StarCraft, where counter measures are made possible by how the different buildings and units interact, in Pikmin developing counter measures involves fewer elements. For example, if your opponent has more Pikmin than you do and has an Ultra-spicy spray while you have no sprays, then you'll never win in a direct confrontation. If you get caught in a battle, all your Pikmin can be wiped out forcing you to return to your base to recover. While you're recovering, your chances of winning drop significantly. So, to avoid slipping down that losing path, you have to work on the counter early. If you see that you're out numbered, then you need to start multitasking to spread out your resources so that the opponent has to travel across more of the field to take out all of your Pikmin. Also, hanging around dangerous enemies is another useful and free defensive measure that can protect you in a power struggle. Depending on the factors that put you in the losing situation in the first place, you may have to turn the tables using a variety of maneuvers. Ultimately, earning more time and making the opponent spend their time doing very little are great ways to get back in the game.

If you're not able to win and you're not going to lose right now, then you should invest in field control, an attack, or your army size. Controlling the field allows you to set the pace of the match by undigging marbles, luring enemies around, collecting cherries, repositioning carcasses, multitasking, and setting up traps. All of these are good ways to tilt things in your favor. The main purpose of attacking the enemy is to take out their forces. Depending on how far away the opponent Avatar unit is their base or whether or not you were already planning on returning to yours, you can throw your opponent way off their schedule with a well planned PvP attack. Because Pikmin doesn't feature any complex population dynamics in how Pikmin battle other Pikmin, there isn't a significant difference in battle strength between 10-20, 20-30, or 40-50 Pikmin. While "strength in numbers" is the general idea, mindlessly amassing forces until the cap (50) can have some serious negative effects. This is an issue of Scale.

 

SCALE

Without the ability to organize and control Pikmin units to a high degree using hot keys, double clicks, and key strokes, controlling and using larger amounts of Pikmin becomes increasingly difficult. So, the extra time it takes to gather the resources, pluck the Pikmin, and use them is very easy to waste if you aren't skilled enough to make your 40th-50th Pikmin work for you in a significant way. The bigger the group, the harder it is to steer them around obstacles in the field. The chances that you'll have a mix of flowers, bud, and leaf Pikmin are high as well which makes them spread out even more due to their different running speeds. For these reasons, large numbers of Pikmin can lower your flux and make other maneuvers more difficult mainly due to the limitations of the Avatar's command abilities and the localized actions.

 

PENDULUM OF COUNTERS

As we've gone over in week 4, there is a loop of interplay between large groups, many groups, bitter sprays, and spicy sprays. As a match goes on and Pikmin clash, the power that each player has in their ability to counter their opponent swings back and forth. After all, sprays have limited use, so eventually you'll run out. And when Pikmin are killed in a PvP battle, players have to return to their base for their refund. In these ways, instead of the counters swinging back and forth between players because they're advancing through their tech trees due to their exponentially climbing economies, the pendulum of counters swings back and forth because of player actions and the dynamics of space.

 

APM

The beginning of this discussion covered some fundamental differences between the way the controls in a traditional PC RTS games like StarCraft are designed and the way console games are generally designed. On the PC, players use a keyboard and mouse to command their units via small, discrete actions: attack, build, move, patrol, etc. In this way, we can quantify the number of actions a player can execute by how many clicks/commands they can pull off in a given amount of time. This value is commonly referred to as one's actions per minute or APM.

But for console games that have evolved from the pioneering and sweeping success of Super Mario Brothers, games are controlled using a few buttons (compared to a keyboard) and a D-pad, analog stick, or now motion controls. Instead of using a highly accurate pointing device with a constant spatial context (mouse), players usually take direct control of an avatar character. Considering that analog control over a character is a long string of a continuous actions, thinking about how many actions a player performs in a minute of Pikmin is more difficult to consider than with StarCraft. Technically the actions per minute in Pikmin are fairly constant and much higher than in StarCraft.

With that said, the professor explained that we can organize the various tasks we can do in Pikmin into one of 3 categories.

 

The way harassment works is when one player uses their leisurely, compressible actions to delay the execution of or create more must-do, incompressible actions for the other player. In other words, you take your spare time to make the opponent's job/life more difficult. With a game like StarCraft, the idea is that even with super human like players with blazingly efficient dexterity of click control, one can only do so much. So if you take your compressible actions and make the opponent take care of a lot of incompressible tasks, you can overload even the most swift. A problem that I have with this system, as the professor helped me understand, is that fighting over clicks and overloading the opponents limited attention is and an invisible battle. In other words, you can't really see the opponent falter and lag behind on his/her click schedule. Even commentators and neutral observers can only speculate as to which moves threw off which player significantly even when they have a clear view of all sides. In this way, it is only by looking at everything that's going on can one begin to see the results of harassment.

In Pikmin, due once again to the localized actions and folded space dynamics, harassment is much more obvious and organic. Because all the commands or "clicks" come from the Avatar units, where they are on the battle field indicates their range of command. If you can force the opponent into a situation where they must retreat or even return to their base, that's a clear and organic sign that your harassment is working. For example, if you use an Ultra spicy spray to power up your forces and demolish your opponent's forces, you have forced him/her into a situation where they must (incompressible) return to their base for their Pikmin refund. While they return and are plucking, their Avatar/commanding unit is almost completely occupied. So, not only does the localized action design create a simple interplay potential when multitasking (because you can only be in one place at at time doing so much), but it clarifies APM and makes harassment visible.

 

We had covered all of these topics by week 11 (in much more detail than I cared to take notes for). Pro.K had saved a block of time at the end of our last lecture class so that we could ask him questions about our final projects. I didn't have any questions. Don't miss the exciting conclusion next time, as the course draws to a close!

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