The next two weeks sort of blend together, so I decided to present them in one post.
The first thing the professor covered were two different types of choices: discrete and continuous. Discrete choices are one way or the other with nothing in between. In other words, you can't have a little of both. Typically, once you make a discrete decision there's no going back. In Pikmin discrete choices are using Cherries or not. Once you activate a cherry stored in your roulette, you can't take it back. Whatever effects that Cherry has will take place and you have to deal with it. Other discrete choices include whether to kill an enemy or let it live especially considering that several enemies will recover their health if you leave them alone. Using the Ultra-bitter/spicy sprays are also discrete. You simply can't just use a drop or a squirt of the stuff. It's all or nothing. Also, commanding Pikmin to carry an object back to your base is a discrete choice. Unless you are willing to give up the minimum number of Pikmin required to carry the object, you'll only be wasting your time and resources. In other words, if you want to carry a Red Bulborb back to your base, that's at least 10 Pikmin you're giving up guaranteed.
Most of the choices in Pikmin are continuous, or choices that have much more leeway. How many Pikmin to assign to carry an object over the minimum is a continuous choice. A minimum of 1 Pikmin and a maximum of 8 Pikmin can carry a marble. So if you decided to put more than one to the task, understanding how many more and how that affects their carrying potential, speed, and the potential of your forces is key. How far do you push out from your base? When do you return to your base to pluck Pikmin? If you're in a dire situation, how many Pikmin do you Pluck before leaving your base to take care of business?
Perhaps the most prevalent continuous choice players make in Pikmin is how they will divide their army and what they'll do with the groups. With a relatively small group of 15 Pikmin, the multitude of ways to divide your groups range from fifteen groups of 1 to one group of 15. Pro.K reminded us that a single Pikmin is still very powerful weapon. With the proper aim, a single Pikmin can 1hit KO small Bulborbs/Male Sheargrubs, harass the enemy Avatar, and bowl over enemy Pikmin in addition to being able to carry a marble or Cherry. Generally, taking the time to command each of your 15 Pikmin to do a separate task (if there even are 15 different tasks they could work on) would be very ineffective considering travel time and how Pikmin become more vulnerable in smaller numbers.
Pro.K spent the rest of the class going over match videos while pointing out all the various things we had learned in class and asking us different questions. He showed us battles and scenarios where dividing one player's forces would have been the best move possible and other scenarios where the game was lost for the player who divided his/her ranks too thinly. In another game, the professor showed us that holding onto the right Cherry roulette and knowing when to activate it can be the difference between winning and losing. In yet another match, the player got a quick army and worked for most of the match in the middle of the field holding back and harassing the opponent as necessary. Only at the very end, did that player make a push into enemy territory only to steal a single yellow marble and the win from the opponent.
The videos at the end of last week's lecture went on a little long, and a few students brought this to the professor's attention. I guess they were upset that they missed the bus or were late to their next class. Pro.K only commented that they would mostly likely get their answer at the end of the lecture that day. On week 8 we covered...
VIEWS AND PERSPECTIVE
Many RTS games rely on Fog of War (FoW) to conceal the actions of each player from each other. Playing under a veil of secrecy allows players to create and spring daring strategies and maneuvers using the element of surprise. On the one hand, if everything were visible in StarCraft, players would simply be able to react and counter incoming attacks and strategies before a conflict point. On the other hand, defending against an opponent who can attack you "out of the blue" with a wide variety of different units from different directions would be too much for players to handle. Fortunately for StarCraft, knowledge is power and players have a wide variety of mechanics and maneuvers at their disposal to gain knowledge over their opponent. Such is scouting.
Seasoned StarCraft players all know what the other player starts with at the beginning of a match. Even unseasoned players know; A Nexus/Hatchery/Command Center and 4 mining units. If you think about the possible combination of buildings and units a player can gain from this paltry starting point, you'll realize that their potential only grows and grows out from the single, simple starting point. The more time passes, the more possibilities the player could be exploring. This idea is often illustrated with an upside down triangle on a 3D graph. This is the triangle/cone of uncertainly. The point of scouting is to reduce this cone as much as possible by sneaking peeks at the opponent's armies, buildings, or other activities.
The game of scouting in StarCraft and Advance Wars (when played under Fog of War) is very intricate. Players often dance around with the vision, attack, and the movement ranges of their units to play effectively. But, there are drawbacks to FoW. As cool as concealment and surprise attacks are, not being able to see everything that's going on is like being partially blind. To make a rough analogy, StarCraft is to Poker as Pikmin is to Chess/Checkers. A large part of Poker is working with what you know and narrowing down the possible cards your opponent(s) can have. In Chess/Checkers, everything is out in the open. Yet, despite being able to see everything as moves are made turn by turn, there are still opportunities for surprising "discovered attacks" and other bold/shocking plays. The interesting part about being surprised when playing these board games is the feeling that the "trick" was pulled right in front of your eyes and you didn't see it coming.
The open hands/all cards on the table approach of Pikmin's design gives each player a lot of information to keep themselves well informed. Displayed at all times is the HUD (heads up display) that presents the following information.
- How many Pikmin are in your party.
- How many Pikmin you have in the field total (includes planted).
- How much health your Avatar unit has left.
- How many Ultra-bitter/spicy sprays you have left.
- What level of Pikmin you have queued up.
- How many yellow marbles you've collected.
- How many Cherries you have stored up.
- And which roulette option will be your next option when activated.
Other than the HUD information, you can easily see what the other player is doing at any time via the split screen display. If they're coming to your base with a huge force, you can see it coming. If the other player is carrying away your red/blue marble out of your base, you can immediately switch gears and intercept. Because the perspective is locked to the Avatar unit and both players share the same split screen, anything you see the opponent can see as well. The professor told us that we can use this to our advantage, but that would be a topic for another week. For now, we were to understand that the display and even the sound is shared by both players making any movement/audio cue a potential "heads up."
The only reason to scout or explore in Pikmin is to figure out the current state of the battle field. At the start of the game, this can be very important because each map in Pikmin is randomly arranged. From the general physical layout to the enemies/Cherries/marble placement there are a number of different things that can be mixed up from one match to the next. With the lack of a mini map and more capable pathfinding Pikmin AI (they can only follow an Avatar unit, or make it back to their base) players have to keep track of all the changing conditions in the field mentally. With so many elements that can change away from the Avatar units and thus the perspective of either screen, there's still plenty to scout out.
The professor stressed that exploring/scouting in Pikmin is the most effective when the knowledge that you gain will change a decision you were going to make. Knowing to pluck a few more Pimin here or move deeper into enemy territory is good, but figuring out when to make a discrete choice is key because with such choices there's no turning back. Executing a well timed Cherry enemy or using a Ultra-bitter/spicy spray at the right moment can easily be the move that determines victory.
Pro.K then asked the class if Pikmin would be a better game if we fashioned a device made of some separators and mirrors that could isolate each player's view from the other player. Some students thought it would make the game harder because surprise attacks would be easier and more effective. Others thought it would make the game more clumsy as players would have to move their Avatar unit around more to see what's going on. They figured, without alerts like "your buildings/forces are under attack" and something indicating where the attack is happening, how would one know where to look?
The professor seemed to agree with these points, but he was still unsatisfied. I answered that the core dynamics of Pikmin's multiplayer mode aren't about what number and combination of units I'm attacking with and how you will counter them with your combination of units. I explained that Pikmin is all about folded space and coexisting in a sort of unpredictable counterpoint ecosystem. Because you're only using Pikmin, there's no reason to conceal this fact from the other player. The actions of the player are severely limited compared to a game like StarCraft because of the localized commands of the Avatar Unit. So, even if you see me in your base by looking at my half of the screen, what are you going to do about it? You can't simply make a few clicks and take care of the situation. You can decide to run back (which takes time) or you can meet me somewhere in the middle of the field. Like we've learned in class already, multitasking allows you to do more but defend much less. You can only be in one place at one time. When it comes down to it, you have to make a choice.
And with that, the professor smiled and dismissed the class without a word... a bit late.