Critical-Gaming Pikmin Course: Week 6
Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 10:19PM
Richard Terrell (KirbyKid) in Genre, Pikmin, RTS

Last week we mainly talked about macromanagement of larger numbers of Pikmin from a game winning, goal oriented perspective. This week we delved deeper into macro specifically how to procure Pikmin and use them efficiently. In other words, we looked at how to start a match of Pikmin.

 

OPENING MACRO = PIKMIN ORDER

The professor reminded us again that the only good Pikmin is a working Pikmin. If Pikmin are not carrying an object, traveling with the Avatar, or waiting around to intercept a target then those Pikmin are a waste. He encouraged us to see for ourselves how Pikmin will sit down and laze about on the job when unattended. Pro.K also stressed that Pikmin planted around your Onion at your base are just potential ready to be deracinated (I couldn't help but use that word. It's just so perfect). So here's a step by step process for getting Pikmin to work for you.

  1. Find a seedable resource(s)
  2. Command Pikmin to deliver resource(s) to Onion/base
  3. Return to base
  4. Pluck planted Pikmin
  5. Take Pikmin out of base
  6. Use Pikmin in the field. 

The professor explained that the six-step process for getting usable units in a game like StarCraft is very different than in Pikmin. In StarCraft, the process can be thought of as an assembly line where each action affects the actions of the later steps in the process. Like an efficient machine, maintaining all of the elements (probes, buildings, units) can be done almost at once because players have learned the timing of each step and can shuffle back and forth rapidly as needed to ensure that all steps are executed efficiently.

Getting and using Pikmin is more complicated because of folded level design and the localized actions centered around the Avatar units. At the beginning of a match, a few Pellet Posies are provided near each player's base, but these plants aren't nearly enough to sustain continual growth of Pikmin. To get more Pikmin (the key resource) players have to venture out from their base. The farther out from the base you travel, the farther your Pikmin have to travel back with any objects you find. Even when they return the object back to the Onion and seeds pop out, at some point, the player must return with the Avatar unit and pluck each Pikmin from the ground. It's just not possible to set a rally point and have new Pikmin leap out of the ground and come running into battle somewhere out in the field. To make Pikmin useful, you have to pluck them, escort them out of the base, and command them to do some task. In this way, you have to do every step in the process manually.

When you think about the six-step process in Pikmin, how different amounts of seeds can be produced from harvesting different objects (from 1 - 12 seeds), and how battling more and bigger enemies can be quite dangerous not to mention micro intensive, you can start to see how the six steps in Pikmin have a large degree of flexibility. For the sake of simplification, consider that our only goal is to get more Pikmin. Let's say 50. There are several ways to get to that goal. You can...

So, gaining Pikmin follows a general, flexible Pikmin Order that players can play around with. Understanding that Pikmin are the most important resource not only because of their ability to attack and carry objects (which is the most reliable way to win the game), but without enough Pikmin to defend yourself, you can be severely crippled by an active opponent despite the Pikmin refund design.

At this point in the lecture, Pro.K pulled out a kart complete with a TV, a Gamecube, a few wavebird controllers, and a long extension cord. After booting everything up, everyone in the class got a chance to try and produce as many Pikmin as they could in just a few minutes starting with only 5 Pikmin. In some of the games, Pro.K played, but for most of them he simply watched. At the end each attempt, the professor asked the class specific questions about the state of the match:

The exercise was perfect for showing us first hand how varied one's Pimin Order can be. To sum up, a few students went after the Pellet Posies first knocking them down using very general C-stick commands and then moved on to the enemies right outside of their base. The professor commented that each Pellet only yields 1 Pikmin seed when the color doesn't match the Onion's color. He explained that the smallest, most harmless enemy in the game can be carried by 1 Pikmin and yields 2 seeds. So, if you're going to use your time to gather flower pellets, you need to time it so that pellets of like color drop. Using the throw to hit the head of the flower is the simplest way to do so.

Chang did better than most with his Order. He threw 1 Pikmin to the Pellet Posies and left it to knock down the flowers on its own. Then he moved on and used his other 4 Pikmin to quickly take out the Female Sheargrubs (the harmless ones) and carry all 4 back to base.  After harvesting the grubs, Chang quickly gathered up all the Pellets from the flowers. Some where of like color, some weren't. By the time he Plucked the last Pikmin seeds from the grubs, the seeds from the pellets were ready to be plucked. Now Chang had around 17 Pikmin. With his remaining time, he moved out into the field and started killing Dwarf Red Bulborbs. The professor commented that Chang did a good job recognizing that he could do more not worrying about the pellet color and possibly yielding 2 Pikmin per pellet, and focus more on multitasking against the Sheargubs to guarantee 2 Pikmin per carcass. Pikmin Orders are all about what can be done in a small amount of time. This is when the professor reiterated that without some kind of time pressure, RTS games don't have enough tension to make them interesting. This is why the professor likes the design of Pikmin1's single player over Pikmin2's.

On my turn, I used an Ultra-Spicy spray to speed up my Order. I started by quickly killing the grubs. After plucking the new seeds, I left a few Pikmin to work on the flowers. With the remaining time on my first Ultra Spray, I focused on killing as many Snow Bulborb as I could by 1 hit KOing them with well aimed Pikmin throws. With all the bulborb dead, I sent two back carrying the carcass, and took the remaining two in my party and moved deep into the level in search of Cherries. I nabbed the first two Cherries I could find and made my way back to my Onion to take care of the flower pellets. Even though my Cherries and I didn't make it back to the base before my time was up, the professor commented on how I had a strong start because I could potentially get 20+ more Pikmin to work with, something to harass my opponent with, or a number of other useful things from the Cherries. And this was not to mentioned that I still managed to get a sizable amount of Pikmin.

The next example is definitely worth noting. At the start of the match, everyone quickly noticed that the girl who doesn't like math randomly started with 2 Red Bulborbs (the big ones) sleeping in her base. Just brushing up next to these sleeping giants can wake them up and cause all kinds of trouble. The professor seized the opportunity and the controller from the student to show everyone that even when luck doesn't seem to be on your side, that you still have options in Pikmin. First Pro.K made quick work of the flowers with well aimed Pikmin throws. Out of the 5 pellets, only one was not red (his color). With the the 9 new Pikmin plucked, Pro.K used his army of 14 strong and attacked the Bulborbs. Normally, an army this size would be far too little to take on one Bulborb let alone two. But, in a truly clever move, the professor used an Ultra-Bitter spray to freeze both at one. While froze, the professor attacked bringing both giants down to really low heath. Then he called all of his Pikmin off of the enemies and waited for them to break out of their frozen state. When the enemies broke free, he finished both off by throwing Pikmin on their backs. When asked why he waited for the enemies to break free, he explained that if he killed them while frozen, they wouldn't have left their carcasses behind. By waiting, he could take both enemies back to his base for a 24+ boost in Pikmin. By the end of time, the other student only had about 16 Pikmin while Pro.K had 33! Everyone thought Pro.K was most likely to win even at this early point.

 

STALLS AND WALLS

The last part of class was devoted to talking about stalls and walls. The professor explained that in Pikmin, because you don't build any structures, it's nearly impossible to create a wall to block out your opponent's movement. One of the best examples of a wall are against Armored Cannon Beetle Larva that try squish your Pikmin with slow moving boulders. By moving objects (carcasses/marbles) in the way of the incoming boulders, you can create a wall against its attack. All in all, most of the "walls" in Pikmin are really just stalls meant to hold off your opponent from doing something for some period of time.

In a player versus player situation (ignoring enemies for now), you can scare your opponent off with Ultra-Spicy spray powered up Pikmin (boosted Pikmin). Because boosted Pikmin are so strong, attacking them without using un-boosted Pikmin is a bad idea. If the opponent divides all of their boosted forces into smaller groups, if you don't have sprays your best chance to get around the situation is probably to wait things out. (The Ultra-Spicy Spray only lasts for 40 seconds).

Another way to create a stall, even against boosted opposing Pikmin, is to embrace counterpoint and get some enemies involved in the fight. A Red Bulborb can gobble up boosted and non boosted Pikmin alike in its huge mouth. In some situations, you can sacrifice a few of your Pikmin to take out a lot of an opopnent's Pikmin. Dancing around with a Bulborb can significantly change the dynamics of a battle encounter and force the opponent to retreat thus creating a stall.

If you can pressure or catch your opponent in their base, you can create highly effective stalls using Cherry spawned enemies. It's highly unlikely that you can win a match without going back to you base at least a few times. Because everyone must go back, there are opportunities that are rich for creating stalls. With the right kind of careflly timed enemy, you can prevent your opponent from doing certain tasks.

The professor also mentioned that with the right amount of boosted Pikmin, you can chase the opponent to their base. As they attempt to pluck Pikmin, they're interrupted by your chaser Pikmin. Even if they manage to pluck a few before getting interrupted, your boosted Pikmin will make quick work of them and continue harassing the opponent's Avatar unit. If the opponent needs to pluck Pikmin to compete, this strategy can force them to run away or pull their Pikmin much later than they want (because of the interruptions). There are two ways to hold your opponent back in the macro game: take out their Pikmin or make them wait around not doing anything. This strategy does both at once!


FINAL PROJECT

For the closing comments, the professor reminded the class that our final projects must analyze or illuminate something noteworthy about Pikmin, the RTS genre, and/or how these two can shape gamers from an angle that hasn't already been covered. He noted that even when researching a subject that hasn't been researching deeply by others like Pikmin, being thorough will still prove to be quite difficult. If we didn't want to do the project, Pro.K gave us the option of beating him in a best out of 3 Pikmin match. After witnessing his Pikmin Order, I dont' think anyone else wanted to try.

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