Sunday, April 20, 2008

Killing Spree!

In the previous lecture, the topic of challenges and intrinsic skill was brought up concerning gaming. This type of skill is based on the player's own individual prowess involved during the stress and pressures of a gaming environment. Finer details of gaming were also discussed, describing in more detail, aspects of games that are either understood or become instinctive after gameplay becomes second nature. Some of these will be discussed in this entry.

Understanding the physics of a game is a simple example of something that, while not enitrely necessary towards achieving success, can skew the odds in ones favour. Game physics are used in many popular titles including racing, sports and FPS games, all having variations of a real life physics model (though some lean towards a more arcade style). Knowing when to brake and how heavy your car 'feels' on a certain track is often the key to winning in various street racing games, especially where a drifting style of control is preferred over a grip. Ridge Racer IV, probably the most stressful arcade racing game I have ever played on the original Playstation, severely punished the player for making mistakes. It was therefore necessary to maintain total control of the vehicle throughout all stages of a race if you wanted to even have a remote chance of winning. I can also honestly say that understanding the physics of a FPS game is probably the greatest factor contributing to success as everything, from ground friction, ballistics, weapon accuracy and jumping distance can all be instinctively learnt and benefited from. Hitting people mid air with a rocket in Quake is not dissimilar to reflex sniping with a handgun in Counter-Strike.

Below: Quake 3 - Intercept course in progress

Spatial awareness is also important. If you have ever played a new FPS title or witnessed someone else new or veteran-ish to them start playing, you will notice an uncanny knack for them to aim close to the ground. Even if you advise them to look up (to see incoming enemy fire) they will eventually place the crosshair on some form of horizon or on some ground based level to better get their bearings. This is not really their fault, and is quite understandable. Unfamiliarity with environments and/or levels generally result in confusion and helplessness if pushed too quickly. By effectively 'grounding' themselves in an area, a player can slowly explore their surroundings from all angles and understand the intricacies of it. The result of this can be seen on the opposite side of the spectrum, where hardcore FPS fans are completely aware of their surroundings and move their senses to other forms of identification. Having witnessed and been part of many online 1v1s in UT, you can begin to feel where the enemy is, rather than actually seeing them. Simply registering what you can and cannot see via line of sight, you can make a rough pinpoint to where an enemy is located in the level, especially if you can get to another place quickly and make further assessment. In my opinion it is this sort of hunter/prey instinct that makes 1v1 dueling in FPS games possibly the best example of competitive based gaming, as all the cards concerning player skill (both physical and mental) are put down on the table.

Below: UT99 - Stalemates usually occur when both people are equally skilled ... or equally foolish.

Youtube version:

But not all skillful gaming is the result of adaptation, accuracy or mental agility. Puzzle solving ability is an excellent example where imagination becomes more of the success factor than anything else. Having witnessed three people, including myself, get through Valve's recent game Portal, I was quite surprised at some of the methods people employed to progress further in the game. Certain places where I was lost were quickly overcome by my housemates, and areas where they had no idea what to do were rather frustrating to watch as they did completely the wrong thing. Having played various puzzle adventure games before, such as the Soul Reaver series (which added 2 dimensions of existence to the mix) I found I was better attuned to solving environmental problems such as getting a box from one point to another without being shot to pieces. Navigation was strangely an issue for me as several times I had no idea where I should be going, which is unusual as the game is rather linear. It is an interesting area to explore as it demonstrates both the strong and weaker aspects of people's play styles.

Below: Portal - "There's a hole in the sky through which things can fly..."

Own ideas? Well for our game there is not so much intrinsic skill as there is the chance of tactful play. While there is control over where and how you counter opponents moves, it is really based down to the roll of the dice when it comes to it. This is not a bad thing, as unpredictability is often an aspect of games that invites re-playability. Having little need for spatial awareness, and no need at all for a physics engine (lol), the skill factor of our game is really down to how well people work with each other and how well they manage their offensive/defensive resources in combating and/or becoming the king of the hill.

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