Winning in video games is hard. Generally, the deeper and more complex the game, the harder it can be to achieve victory. To help ourselves, we break down options, tactics, strategies, and gambits and assign a value to them according to how well each will help us achieve victory. Whether risky, difficult, exciting, or mind numbingly tedious, we evaluate all actions according to a value scale. But how do we evaluate game actions when there are multiple goals?
2 Kings? That means there's 2 ways to win?
If this question seems simple to you, then allow me to illuminate this quandary. Let's start with a clarification on what I mean by goals, multiple goals, and value scales.
- A goal is a gamestate that players strive to achieve in order to obtain victory of a level. Though each game organizes their level structure differently, if a game can be won it must have a goal. In multiplayer matches, each round or match has a goal.
- Multiple goals is not the same as multiple options, tactics, strategies, gambits, or paths to achieve victory. Instead, a game with multiple goals (multiple ways to win) is one where the designed method for achieving each goal cannot be evaluated on the same value scale. Also, victory is achieved absolutely by achieving any one of the game goals.
- Value scales are the measure by which we evaluate every game action. Our scales can be very personal and subjective (how fun or difficult something is) or they can be quantified and universal (how many points you stand to gain or lose). In terms of game goals, the scale must have at least one quantifiable element because the game must recognize the victorious game state when it occurs.
Before explaining exactly why the valorization (assigning a value) of actions in a multi-goal game is quite unique, I wanted to go over some examples.
- Quidditch. As wiki puts it "The team who catches the Snitch wins 150 points, and only the capture of the Snitch will end the game." There's only one way end the game and the Snitch is it. Catching it gives you a whopping 150 while throwing balls through the other goals are only worth 10 points each. Since each Quidditch match and the overall season is determined by points, this game only has one real goal with points as the key value scale.
- Section 8. This game is mainly a multiplayer FPS that supports up to 32 players. This is one of the most interesting games I know to study multiplayer gameplay dynamics. Basically, there's a wide range of actions that each player can do to earn points. Everything you do from earning kills with specific weapons, to earning assist kills, to spending money on structures/vehicles, destroying enemy structures, repairing structures, healing allies, capturing bases, completing objectives, and preventing the opponents from completing objectives has an assigned point value. The team to reach 2000 points first wins. All the dynamic mission objectives, strategies, and gameplay challenges that are a part of the emergent combat are all measured on the same value scale of points. So even when there are multiple objectives occurring simultaneously, there's only one goal.
- In Super Smash Brothers Melee/Brawl or Street Fighter, common tournament rules allow players to do battle within a set period of time. If the time runs out on a fight, whoever has the most health wins. Some people embrace this rule and have developed very effective run away/defensive playstyles. For these games, even though it seems like there are two ways to win (ie. 2 goals), there's still only one. No matter which path you choose, you must have more health than your opponent in the end. Both strategies are dependent on the same value scale of damage.
- In Super Mario Brothers, getting to the end of each level is the goal. For the castle levels, Bowser is designed to be the a dangerous obstacle guarding the end. There are only two ways of overcoming Bowser: 1) Touching the axe. 2) Killing Bowser with fireballs. Because doing damage to Bowser has nothing to do with how close you are to touching the axe, these two options are on different value scales. Unfortunately, overcoming Bowser is a level challenge not the level goal. Therefore, this example doesn't qualify as a multi goal.
The reason I presented these four seemingly apt examples that upon closer evaluation don't qualify as games with multiple goals is to illustrate that games with multiple goals are a bit of a rarity. I was only able to find a few examples including Age of Empires II, Pikmin 2 battle, Dragon Quest Wars (DSi), NSMB DS 2 multiplayer, and Advance Wars.
In Advance Wars multiplayer, a match can support up to 3 goals. The most common goal involves destroying all the enemy units. Capturing the enemy HQ is also a common goal. And finally, you can set the match so that whoever captures a set number of properties first wins. Notice that each of these three goals have distinct value scales. In other words, destroying any number of enemy units doesn't necessarily get you any closer to capturing the enemy HQ. Seeking to capture the enemy HQ doesn't get you any closer to capturing enough properties. And capturing properties doesn't help you destroy enemy units.
Because achieving any one of these goals most assuredly ends the game in victory, how do we begin to compare two actions pursuing two different goals? In other words, how do we compare two unrelated or orthogonal ideas? It's the age old apples to oranges question. And the answer is quite complicated. Basically, in Advance Wars every decision either consumes resources or wastes opportunities. Also, each decision may affect the the conditions and viability of pursuing another goal. This push and pull interplay between pursuing multiple goals is as variegated, deep, and dynamic as the game at hand. So, instead of thinking linearly along a value scale, you have to think more in a flexible 3D graph.
Unless you understand and think about your moves according to how well they pursue multiple goals simultaneously, you'll probably overlook costly holes in your decisions. In the end, multiple goals can make a game deeper and much more difficult to play. Reaching one goal is hard enough. But playing with multiple goals is like playing multiple games simultaneously.