Good Game episode 3 part 2
Saturday, July 31, 2010 at 1:03PM
Richard Terrell (KirbyKid) in Announcements, Super Smash Brothers

“hidden depth”

*use the cooking kirby to say NO*
*show footage from Melee/Brawl*
I agree with Kirby. The idea of a game having “hidden depth” is mostly subjective. Easter eggs like Samus’ extending grapple beam in Melee or her command transformation into Zamus in Brawl are probably best classified as secrets,meaning hidden moves. But everything else that makes Smash deep is just plain old emergence. *Show smash instruction book(s)* Just because it’s not in the instruction book doesn’t mean a technique or a strategy is “hidden.”

*show Melee Marth trick technique*

Because Smash is so dynamic and diverse we can’t even come close to processing all of its complexities. So by focusing on a few moves or techniques at a time, we essentially push part of the game away from our attention. Furthermore, we make a lot of assumptions as we teach ourselves how the game works, which in turn sets us up for being surprised by some “hidden” emergent occurance later.

By approaching any gaming discussion with a thorough understanding of game design and a clear language, a game’s depth and emergent potential becomes more obvious. Brawl’s metagame is growing fast mainly due to the large established Smash community and Internet resources like youtube and ustream. *Show youtube smash results picture* *Show ustream UTDzac touranment channel* We’ve already reach a level where “new” and “surprising” strategies are executed in tournaments. If you’re still doubtful of Brawl’s “hidden depth”  just give it a bit more time and you’ll see how much smarter players will become as they squeeze more nuance and counters out of our growing LTM. This myth is busted.

*Show Richard*
You might be asking yourself, but what about viable options and mindgames? Where would a discussion on fighting game complexity and depth be without addressing these topics? Alright, here we go.

Am I wrong, or did competitive video gamer embrace the term “viable options” after Sirlin coined it? Regardless, Sirlin presents a clear definition we can look at.

*show definition on a card*
Viable Options: Lots of meaningful choices presented to the player. For depth’s sake, they are presented within a context that allows the player to use strategy to make those choices.

Well, everything underlined in Sirlin’s definition makes it troublesome. I wonder how many options is “lots.” I assume “meaningful” means to gain an advantage or help the player reach a game goal. And strategies can be built around very risky options as well. They just won’t succeed as often. Still, this definition gets us most of the way there.

*Show melee/brawl FD*
The concept of viable options is a muddled one. Some people generally think of a viable option as attacks you can execute safely from a neutral position, ie. both players standing on a flat plane facing each other. The problem is there are very few, if any, 100% safe attacks you can do in either game. Think about it, even when projectiles can be fired from a distance, there’s always the possibility that the opponent will shoot a projectile as well or reflect yours. And at close range there’s always the possibility the opponent will time a counter attack that’s faster, has more priority, or simply plays into the core fighting game interplay loop (attack,grab,shield). So maybe, viable options means mostly safe, or rather options that give you a low chance of being countered.

*Show a different stage like battle field from Brawl. Use fixed camera and have to character battle all around the place*
The problem is, Smash has so many different common positions that we can’t just think in terms of approaching on a flat plane. Fighting with the opponent above or below a platform, both fighting on a platform, one player in the air, both players in the air, one player recovering, both players recovering, one player on the edge with the other is trying to recover, one player on the edge with the other on the stage. Considering all these various positions, evaluating whether a move is viable or not becomes a lot more complicated. And this isn’t even considering all the matchup combinations or team battles.

*Show pit map*
So to be very clear, however you think of viable options, you must agree that they are a subset of a character’s total moveset or move complexity. This makes sense. If you start with 10 moves and because of a match up, your skills, and your opponent's skills, you can only use 5 to compete, then it’s obvious you’re using 5 of 10 options.

*Show Fox flow chart or some other character*

We know that because viable options are a small group within a character’s move set complexity, there’s no way for viable options to make a character more complex. But do more viable options make the actual battle more complex? I say no. Think about it this way, even if 5 of 10 moves are viable, you still have the freedom to use a specialist playstyle and only play with 1 or 2 of your most viable moves. Let’s say you know these 2 moves so well, you can make them highly versatile. In this case, your battles might feature with more nuance and variation (complexity) than a lesser player might feature using the 5 viable moves. In the end, the complexity of a battle may be capped by viable options, but its determined by player choices.

This myth is complicated.

*Show quotes on cards*

*Show Richard*
Remember, depth is a measure of a game’s system of counters. The more back and forth counters there are (interplay) the deeper the game. Viable options are the moves that are the most reliable to build successful strategies around. Having more viable options does not mean the resulting strategies create more opportunities for counters than what already exist. We know that just about any move in the game can be countered in some kind of situation. So relying on a few of your best moves doesn’t make the game any deeper or less deep.

*Show Chess board*
Furthermore, I’m sure we all can agree that it’s great to have many options at some points in a match, but certainly not at all times. Otherwise, combos and pressing one’s advantage wouldn’t exist. Whether through strategy, spacing, zoning, etc, we try to limit our opponent’s options as much as possible. Chess is deep because taking turns forces players to plan ahead anticipating losing control of the game every other turn. When limited in this way, it’s very effective to strategies so that one of your moves does more than one advantageous thing. This can put a lot of pressure on the opponent. Also by capturing pieces, you can severely cripple and disable your opponent’s ability to counterattack. This is what makes Chess deep. The back and forth counters with a slipperly slope or decay design that can develop checkmate scenarios. In Chess, viability of each piece depends on the arrangement of all other pieces on the board.

So, more viable options do not necessarily make a game any deeper. A game’s depth depends more on how the core design creates limitations and counters. This myth is busted.

Many use the term strategy too liberally. Strategy starts with actions or game mechanics. In the same way that the rules of a game (complexity) limit us and give us the tools to win, all strategies involve the clash of complexities. Using mechanics we create tactics, which are general plans or ideas meant to gain some kind of advantage. Move around a lot. Be aggressive. Jump around. These are tactics.

*Show the Brawl example*
But a strategy really embraces complexity and LTM knowledge skill. A strategy is a specific plan of action meant to gain an advantage. For example, stay spaced in such a way anticipating MetaKnight’s dash-short hop-neutral air so that you can jump out of shield and nair counter attack. You see how specific data is built into this strategy? MK’s speed and attacks are taken into account including his range shield stun.

*Show some match footage*
Now we can consider how having more viable options factors into one’s ability to create strategies. To be perfectly clear, the capacity for players to create strategies is virtually unbounded. Even if you only have 5 of 10 viable moves, strangely enough, this can make the “less viable” moves more viable. If your opponent expects your most viable moves, the effectiveness of your less viable moves can increase significantly. This basic concept supports the the general idea that in a fighting game all moves are viable as long as you can get them to work on your opponent. One way we make less viable moves viable is by using mindgames.

*Show juicebox from SF4*

There’s a difference between mind games and mixups. And if there isn’t, there is one now. I consider all efforts to influence the opponent to make mistakes outside of playing the game (and cheating) a mind game. This can be anything from sitting a certain way, plugging in headphones to ignore your opponent, to pantomiming attacks.

*Show Richard*

On the other hand, a mixup is when you use game mechanics to influence your opponent to make a mistake. I like this definition of mixups because looking at game actions gives us a clear distinction between a mixup versus a mindgame. Furthermore, because mixups must go through game actions they’re easier to identify when observing matches.

*Show G&w/snakE/pit GRAB release/throw mixups*
This is an interesting idea, but like viable options, mixups don’t make a game deeper. A mixup is an attempt to make the opponent mess up using game mechanics. When you use a mixup you aren’t creating new attacks with new rules or new counters. You’re merely stringing together moves that already exist and work within the fighting system.

So whether you use a pattern based mixup, a look-alike mixup, or double blind mixups, you bring a near infinite variety of application or strategy to a game. This variety isn’t directly related to the number of viable options a character/player has. Myths 3.4 and 3.5 are busted.

In episode 4 we’re covering the last major topic. Balance.
Article originally appeared on Critical-Gaming Network (
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