This series was originally inspired by the Radiolab podcast on Limits, and now it's extended by a short episode called What Does Technology Want? Click the link and listen if you have the time. The most important section is from 4:16 - 10:24.
There are three ideas from this podcast short that I am compelled to bring into the discussion:
- The Slow Eureka. Certainly some "ah-ha" moments come together quickly. But most Eureka moments, though they may feel like all the pieces of the puzzle snap together quickly, are the result of a much longer process. Perhaps a better metaphor is, though the pieces can be snapped together quickly, it takes us much longer to "cut each piece out."
- Simultaneous Discovery. You're special, just like everyone else. But in this sense, because Eurekas happen so slowly after being exposed to ideas over a long period of time (ideas that many other people are likely to be exposed to as well), it's not so surprising that multiple, independent people tend to reach the same discoveries at the same time. The following concept also supports this idea...
- The Adjacent Possible or Conceptual Platforms: Quoted directly from the podcast... "At any given time both in evolution of life and in the evolution of technology, given the state of the current system there are a finite set of moves possible. You cannot invent a microwave oven in 1650. You [could] imagine one, but it is remarkably hard to imagine one (in that time)." Another way of phrasing this idea is that there are conceptual platforms that shape the way we think and consider variables for developing innovations. We can only innovate to the next step (a leap) based on the conceptual platform we're currently on. It's impossible to leap 2 steps into future innovations. It's improbable to think that far as well.
To put these three ideas together, when innovating in any field we leap slowly/gradually, we leap together, and we leap predictably. In some ways, these new concepts burst the bubble of the free wheeling, self motivated, divinely/destiny inspired inventor who creates something that no body else could have thought of that's unlike anything else before. This is not how the world of invention works because this is not how we learn. For the same reasons that we cling to trial and error and the same ways that this instinctual learning method is similar to the way bacteria evolve and genetic algorithms sort through information, we cannot escape falling into these 3 rules of Eureka.
To bring the discussion back to video games, it's now clear why I had such a hard time advancing the metagame of Pikmin or Puji (two multiplayer games without communities). It's not that pushing a game's competitive level by myself is impossible. But exploring/understanding each conceptual platform independently is a lot harder than feeding off the work of thousands of active players. Even with a game with a huge-active community like Brawl, which shares a general design that's 80+% similar to its predecessor Melee, I was limited in my ability to advance the game just like all the other Brawl players. All my years of Melee experience and knowledge of game design only helped me make/adjust to each evolutionary leap fairly quickly. Now I know it was impossible to break through years of metagame evolution by myself. Even if I developed a highly advanced technique, I wouldn't have been able to understand why it was useful or use it successfully in battle.
The truth of the 3 rules of Eureka really sunk in when I thought about this next Smash story. The details of this story are a loose, but everything is true so bear with me. As the KrazyKirbyKid, I was known for advancing Kirby's metagame as well as developing many other techniques that advanced the metagame overall. I know that I wasn't necessarily the discoverer of L-canceling air moves into air moves, triangle dodging, and other light shielding moves, but I was the pioneer of these techniques in my area (Texas). However, there is one technique that I was absolutely certain I was the originator. I called it the Marth Trick.
The Marth Trick works on many characters, but it was originally designed as a hard counter for a method of recovering that Marth players commonly used. By standing backwards on the ledge of a stage, I can angle my light shield in such a way that my character (Kirby) will tip over when Marth's rising sword makes contact. The timing works out perfectly because the slight delay Marth experiences when hitting the shield. After the contact, Kirby will tumble backwards and grab the ledge before Marth does. Then Marth falls to his doom. This is trick is not only nuanced, emergent, and hilarious, but it exemplified the kind of innovation I brought to the game.
I unveiled the technique in the MLG Houston Smash Melee tournament. Wen I used the Marth Trick my opponents couldn't even understand what was happening at first. Victory after victory, they slowly learned that the trick is a trap that they themselves were triggering. I didn't have to do much besides stand still and hold a button. Some players were so infuriated, they chose to kill themselves rather than trigger my Marth Trick trap. No one had seen anything like it at that tournament or the next major tournament. Or so I thought.
Imagine my surprise when another Smasher claimed they had not only seen it before, but another player had invented it. I found this hard to believe. But now that I think back on it, Zarelid (Trevyn) claimed that he invented the technique at about the same time as I did. Before, I thought that it was certainly possible, yet unlikely for the two of us to independently invent the same technique. But now after clarifying the 3 rules of Eureka, I think the opposite.
When I invented the Marth Trick, our collective knowledge of Melee was ripe for invention.
- Marths were better at recovering than ever (going low and using the rising attack for safety).
- We knew that players slide around after shielding attacks.
- We knew that light shielding expands the size of one's shield.
- We knew that Marth's rising recovery attack poked through the stage.
Put it all together, and the Marth Trick is born. If I could put these pieces together, then certainly someone else could too. Eureka!
In part 5, we'll solve a puzzle game together so we can observe and compare our learning processes to reveal any possible intuition gaps.