games can be the most enjoyable games to play because the challenge
comes from human intelligence as opposed to the often-predictable AI
present in competitive single player games. It's this element that
keep some of the best video games alive well after their technological
novelty has worn off.
article discusses how to design a game such that immediate conflicts
are richer, more fulfilling, and encourage experimentation and
learning. This article is highly theoretical, and will present ideas
"in a vacuum". Some sections include the phrase "Where we end up.”
These sections discuss the strategy realized by players who spend a
considerable amount of time playing a game which has implemented ideas
presented in this article. There are a few games which may come close
to what I describe, but none are perfect implementations.
goal is not to claim that certain games are bad, nor that this article
outlines the only way to make a good game. Rather, this is a theory
which tends to apply to most competitive multiplayer games and can help
guide you as a game designer when creating your own competitive
I begin discussing theory, I'd like to point that these ideas do not
apply to all games. Here are some elements which must be present when
applying the ideas I discuss below:
the games must be competitive multiplayer. For team-based games, each
team must have at least one human-controlled player because artificial
intelligence is not able to play the game to the depth indicated in
To reach the full
depth of game play, an player must be able to predict opponent
behavior, develop behavioral patterns, dynamically recognize behavioral
patterns, intentionally trick, and make mistakes. This kind of behavior
is very difficult to develop with an AI opponent.
Fast Paced Play
game must have fast paced play. Turn-based play will eliminate some of
the depth of play when implementing these ideas. Interestingly enough,
many real time strategy (RTS) games attempt to implement this method.
Due to the popularity of these games, and the widespread implementation
of the soon-to-be-described method, I will also discuss why this method
fails for RTS's.
Variety of Attacks
is usually not an issue, as most games implement a variety of attacks
simply to keep the game interesting. That is, multiplayer competitive
games in which the player can only attack one way are very rare.
in mind that a variety of attacks doesn't necessarily refer only to a
variety of weapons, but it can also refer to positioning, rate of
attacks, and recovery.
Rock Paper Scissors - The Origin
The basis behind this method is the simple Rock Paper Scissors (RPS) game. If you are not familiar with the game, check this article.
The core idea behind the game is that no one strategy can win every
time. Regardless of which "attack" you pick, you can either win or lose
(or tie in the case of both players picking the same attack). Many game
designs follow this pattern. This keeps players from finding one
specific strategy which will win every time. It encourages players to
RPS will be used as an analogy for game play; however, my discussion
will not be limited to the simple implementation of RPS game play. I
will also consider how this can be modified to allow for more
interesting play, and even how RPS is at the core of almost all games
we play including sports like soccer, basketball, and American football.
Unmodified Rock Paper Scissors - What It Gives Us
Without any modifications, RPS already provides some interesting game play and can actually result in player strategies.
an RPS system, a player must vary his attacks. If the player repeatedly
picks rock as his attack, then the opponent will catch on and
continually pick paper. The attacker will either lose interest in the
game or realize that he must pick a different attack so that he doesn't
lose every round.
Blizzard Games' Starcraft
Most strategies in competitive games provide “tradeoffs to the player”. StarCraft
implemented the RPS system by giving each unit strengths and
weaknesses. Players can defend against ground units by building
defensive buildings like bunkers in the entrances to their base.
However, attackers can overcome this strategy by attacking with flying
units. Units such as Goliaths are effective against air units so they
can help strengthen a base's defenses. Relying on just one kind of
attack is not an effective strategy.
indicated previously, prediction and "reading your opponent" are
valuable strategies in RPS games. To predict, one must either be able
to recognize a pattern or have some kind of indication of what the
opponent will do.
This is the most
valuable strategy when playing some games. When playing poker with
experienced players everyone will know the rules, the value of their
hand, and probabilities of winning given a particular hand. If all
players have a "perfect understanding" of the rules and the cards are
truly random then in the long run no player has any advantage over the
other. At this point the game is not as much about making wise
decisions with your cards as it is about reading your opponents and
being able to bluff. The game becomes less about the cards and more
about the players - and being able to predict what your player has
planned will make you a better player.
A common attack in Street Fighter II
is to attack by performing a strong kick in the air followed by a sweep
(duck and strong kick). This is effective against beginners because it
requires the defender to block the first attack while standing and the
second while ducking. However, this common attack pattern is easily
recognizable and players familiar with the game quickly learn to defend