RNG, How it Can Hurt, How it Can Help

The mighty random number god is the almighty entity that damns, that saves. In games there have always been the use of random numbers. Even since the days of the egyptians, people rolled blocks to generate random numbers. People have flipped coins, and more recently grabbed numbers off the system clock and a dozen other places and mixed that into something with no predictable pattern.

The first question we’ve gotta ask is, “why?” Why do people use random elements in the first place? I believe this reason is unpredictability. If things are certain, then why bother testing them? People enjoy uncertainty. If you played monopoly or candyland and just picked numbers to move, it would be dull. If you just said put the coin down on the table and said heads, it would be dull. Rock paper scissors and derivative games are interesting because both players are not aware of what the other player has chosen. What makes games interesting is on a fundamental level, uncertainty.

I hate RNGs. My reason for this is that RNGs remove control from a player on the most fundamental level that it is possible to remove control. I believe that games should be fair. Fair means to me that the player is given means to control their situation equally to every other player. There may be systems that act outside the player, but those can be learned and taken advantage of, but an RNG is something that throws that to the wind. Random or pseudorandom numbers by definition cannot be taken advantage of. They are unlearnable, prognostication is not a skill that a player can be expected to develop (and if it was, then it kind of indicates that the number wasn’t random in the first place). The general idea here is, you cannot get better at predicting random numbers.

People can be rock paper scissors champions, but you can never become a coin toss champion. Predicting what people will do is a skill that can absolutely be developed. People aren’t random, but people are complex and constantly evolving. People can be predicted, but people are uncertain. You can never be totally sure what the other person is going to do. They always ostensibly have the option of choosing something different. This is what keeps competition interesting. Competition is in part how well you can perform and how well you can read minds. RNG kills this. The only thing you can do to control the RNG is attempting to cut it out.

In the original counter strike, the bullet spray patterns were static, meaning they moved the same way each time. What this meant was that someone could memorize the pattern and move their gun to counteract the wide and shaky spray pattern. This is what counter strike players actually did. Then counter strike source came along and implemented tighter but randomized spray patterns. This, along with complaints over the physics are the reason counter strike source is disdained by the CS community. The RNG stole their control.

In a way, what we need is both predictability, and uncertainty. We need to know deterministically what the outcome of both player’s actions are, but we can’t know for certain what will be decided. We must be given means to evaluate future outcomes, but not know them for certain. RNG prevents evaluation. You cannot evaluate, cannot guess at the random. You can only do things and pray they work.

A friend of mine coined a term, “intelligent uncertainty”, and I think it entirely accurately describes the phenomena. We are uncertain of what will happen until it does, but we can learn to predict it better and better.

RNG can sometimes play nicely with other components, but only when it’s carefully regulated. Poker for example takes a lot of the luck out of the draw and places it back into player’s hands. It does this by making the game a lot more about bluffs and betting strategies than just winning hands.

Project M had a great fix for Luigi’s misfire which used to activate randomly. Now it can be stored and released when you need it, but you have to keep using Luigi Missile to get it. It will show up randomly within every six times the move is used, and when it does, it becomes optional whether to use it then or store it for a use later. Using it of course means you have to retry 1-6 times to get it back again.

Items have been an issue of contention in smash bros ever since they were introduced, but frankly, I think the easy fix for them is just to make them spawn in regular places at regular times and announce what item it will be before it spawns, like having a ghost item appear there before it can be picked up and used. With regulation, items could go from breaking games to just being another element players use. Items like the quad damage, haste, regeneration, flight, invisibility, battle suit, personal teleporter, medkit, and mega health are perfectly acceptable in Quake 3, and items could have a place in Smash with more regulation.

Randomness is way more acceptable with peach and game and watch. Peach’s turnips have a random chance of producing stitch-face, a really powerful turnip. Game and Watch’s hammer has a random chance of a number of different effects occurring. The big deal here is peach can only pull a bunch of similar objects with similar functions from the ground, and to do so, she needs to use a highly telegraphed and interruptable move. Game and watch’s attack generally doesn’t matter if he doesn’t hit his opponent. He still needs to play well to hit which was the point in the first place. It’s not an advantage or disadvantage being given out at random here, they’re both functions of the character. They are decisions the players actively undertake, knowing what their chances are.

Another example is the 50% miss chance against units on higher terrain in Starcraft, though I am not fond of this particular example (editor’s note: fuck this example, halve the fucking damage, or deterministically make every other shot miss please). What it can create is a gamble where one can pass units through certain locations at a high risk.

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