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Thursday
Jan132011

Appraising the Art of Combat pt.3  

Nobody cares about the robot. Computer AI designed to play like people are usually highly lacking or overtly artificial. Computer AI doesn't get flustered. It doesn't grow with the community. It doesn't care about victory. To quote Chris Hecker, "people never get sick of people." Facebook is proof that people, society, and community are highly cherished. Likewise what we write, sculpt, film, and design (art) reflects the enigma that is us. So from now on, this article series will mainly focus on human combat; the push-pull, emergent gameplay between two or more skillful players.

I was born into a team. Being the younger brother I've always had a teammate (and a rival). Since my 3rd birthday I've teamed up to beat Mario, Mega Man, and just about every other game I've ever played. I love multiplayer, but I love team play even more. And there's a good reason why. Team play adds one more category of skill to the DKART system!  

 

"together now! ahhhhhh" 

The 6 subcategories of team skill are...

  • Game/Player Limitations: For every teammate, knowing their DKART skill levels is important. Furthermore, knowing how the game rules limits the use of an individual player's skills is also crucial. 
  • Game/Human Dynamics: Running an effective team is like building a human machine to operate the game machine. Beyond the push-pull of interplay and the dynamics of the system, human error and other real factors can cause a range of effects on teammates and team strategies. Understanding these dynamics will help when things go less than perfectly. More on human dynamics below. 
  • Giving Orders: This skill measures one's ability to effectively communicate the instructions. Everyone listens differently and responds differently under stress. Learning how to command each teammate is a skill. 
  • Taking Orders: This skill measures one's ability to listen to instructions and execute. Putting ego aside or acting blindly despite how bad the situation seem improves one's ability to follow orders. 
  • Synchronicity: This is the ability for a team to work as a unit without communicating. this subcategory includes trusting teammates, executing plans like clockwork, and being on point on time even when improvising or freestyling.   
  • Communication: This is the ability for a player to communicate relevant information (not commands) to the team in real time. The bigger the team, the harder this is. 

 

The human dynamic is a term that I used to describe specific dynamics that only come into play in multiplayer matches. In a single player game many of the gameplay elements are straight forward and consistent. A Goomba may be dangerous, but it's slow and predictable. More complex enemies can have AI that chooses from a few options randomly to mix things up. Though less predictable the relatively limited possibilities are still easy to plan around (Hammer Bros., Koopa, Lakitu). Then there's dynamic AI that looks at different conditions in the game state before making decisions. Still, we generally view human v. human matches as the highest level of competition. 

Humans with our imperfect memories, emotional decision making, and our exhaustible strength/focus are an endless source of interesting variation. The deeper (interplay) and more organic the co-op gameplay, the greater the potential for team dynamics. When teamwork is the most effective tactic/strategy in a game, then all of the quirks and inconsistencies of being human contribute to the team dynamics.

When a teammate snaps, ignores orders, and starts wrecking the opponents single handedly, how does that affect the rest of your team? If a teammate endangers the plan because their performance suddenly dropped, how will you adjust as a team? Will you need to communicate new information? Give new commands? Reconfigure your team strategy? Stress your synchronicity by improvising a solution? Watch this video for a hilarious example of teamwork gone wrong.

A team gameplay dyanmic is a system where a team player's actions have a range of influences on gameplay elements, features, or challenges as well as the team's ability to function as a unit. Naturally just about anything a teammate does in some games can have a significant positive or negative effect on the team as a whole. 

 

 

A Few Examples of Increasing Team Dynamics

At Street Fighter tournaments, players from different regions have been known to team up to participate in team/crew battles. Though there are rules that force these teams to weigh their skills and plan their order, the matches are still only 1v1. Such matches feature a very low level of co-op or team gameplay and therefore do not contain many team dynamics. The contest is essentially turn-based, though the games are played in real time. It's even possible for the first player in these crew battles to win every round so that the other teammates never play. JSMaster does a great job with his Balrog (Boxer) in this crew battle. 

Though Smash pro players play a similar version of crews (which I've commented on and redesigned here), we also play team battles as a main event. This is the real deal. Smash team battle is the only fighting game I know of that supports 2v2 with all 4 players active in the same arena. Team battles are played with team attack on. Players have to be careful to work with their teammates in real time to avoid hitting them or getting in their way. Teamwork can be absolutely devastating Smash (see video here). But depending on a teammate can create all kinds of new problems for you. If you're not careful your teammate can be used against you like a hostage (especially in Brawl). 

Increase the players, up the spatial complexity, and the stress on communication increases 10 fold. In Halo competitive multiplayer (typically 4v4), the entire battle field is constantly changing. Players are moving, hiding, shooting, and dying. Powerups and weapons are picked up. And weapons are dropped in new locations. The more information you have the smarter you can play. Because you're limited to your singular first person perspective, seeing the bigger picture is only possible via communication. Halo pros call it making callouts. This video explains it wonderfully

 

Part 4 continues with a look at free-for-all design. 

« Appraising the Art of Combat pt.4 | Main | Appraising the Art of Combat pt.2 »

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