What does Agency mean in a Game?

Sometimes people refer to features as affording the player agency. Agency is held up as a value intrinsic to games. Many games enshrine the concept of player choice and consequence. This value mystifies me because it doesn’t seem to map to a distinct thing in video games. Agency in the real world represents power over your circumstances, but in games, your circumstances define what power you have in the first place. When the rules are defined, all the possibilities that can ever be are defined as well, unlike the open-ended real world. Can you have agency when you’re just following rules?

In the real world, agency is your ability to affect the world. Money gives you agency by allowing you to invest, buy things for yourself, move from place to place, seek different jobs, and so on. Your health gives you agency by allowing you to move unaided, lift heavy objects, guarantee your personal security against others. Your connections allow you to call in favors, delegate tasks to others, get information you wouldn’t know yourself, get additional financial aid, conduct work remotely, or change policy for other people.

In a game, the concept doesn’t really map, because what would be described as agency is either an illusion or completely non-applicable. What agency do you have in rock paper scissors? What agency do you have in tic tac toe? Tetris? Soccer? Which game has more agency, checkers or connect 4? If we go back to the definition of agency, power to affect your circumstance, we can see you are afforded choices in how you play the game, and some games have a larger branching factor than others, such as Go (361 starting moves) versus Checkers (4 starting moves). The problem is, does it make sense to call this agency, when we could just say branching factor, or state space?

In narrative games, such as Mass Effect, you’re allowed to make choices that affect the world. You choose which characters live and die. You choose which missions to pursue. You choose the fate of the government. You save the galaxy. These actions seemingly impose agency, because in real life, if you could choose who lived or died, travel wherever you wanted, overturn the rule of government, and be responsible for the fate of the world, you’d have tremendous agency as a person. However lets imagine you had no choice but to save the galaxy. Lets say you had no choice but to kill or not kill certain characters, no choice in what happens to the government, and followed the missions in a linear order? Do you still have agency when you’re fated to do all these things?

Lets play a game. Please choose whether the following characters live or die: John Cena, Mike Tyson, Oprah Winfrey, Shigeru Miyamoto. Please choose which order you’d like to visit these places in: Mojave Desert, Shibuya, Dubai. Please choose one form of government: Democratic Republic, Communal Anarchy, Anarcho Capitalism, Fascist Dictatorship. Please choose a color: Red, Green, Blue.

Okay, across these options, there were 1152 different possible combinations of choices you could have picked (2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 6 * 4 * 3). Across 3 turns of Go, there are 46,655,640 possible combinations of choices (361 * 360 * 359). This is a bit of an apples to oranges comparison obviously, but agency is frequently used both to refer to large storyline choices (“you have the agency to affect the world around you”), as well as the styles of play afforded to the player (“You have agency in which path you’ll take through the level”), and level of nuance players are allowed to express in their actions (“This jump lets you control how high and far you go, giving you more agency over how you fly and where you land”).

I think every use of the word agency for video games is kind of nonsense. I view all choices in a game as being a branching point, whether they’re storyline choices, or where you place your piece on a board. These choices and the resulting states are a fungible currency across games, and the word “agency” doesn’t really correlate with them, or match any real world sense of the word. If I hack my Mass Effect save file before transferring the data over to Mass Effect 2, am I expressing agency over the world of the game by flipping a few bits? If you don’t have a save file, you get asked a few questions at the start of ME2 about what happened in ME1, which retroactively determines what possible ME1 events will be reflected in ME2. Is this agency?

Mass Effect 3’s Red Green Blue ending was derided for overriding player agency, funnelling a few hundred choices down into a single 3 pronged decision that ignored all of them, but are any of those choices, or even the sum total of all of them, really that deep? When you have a conversation with someone in real life, think of all the things you could possibly say to them. Think about their internal emotional state and yours and how it contextualizes everything you say. Think of how you could stutter, misspeak, say the same words with different intonation, creating a different meaning. Think of your body language, your position relative to them.

Agency is a concept that works in the real world, it’s useful for understanding how different people have power over their lives, and how to gain more power over your own life. Agency works because the power you have can be contrasted with a hypothetical lack of power, where in the world of a game, there is only what you’re given, no more, no less. Agency can be fictionalized, represented in stories by fictional characters, and the feeling of agency can be a pillar for a game’s theming, but on the level of game design, agency isn’t a real thing. There are choices, and there are states. It’s better to deal with these directly instead of appealing to a more vague concept that doesn’t really map.

Cultivating Possibility Space

If the goal of depth is to create as many states as possible, how do we arrive at a system with many possible states? When thinking about how to build depth, we need to think about the effect that every element has on every other element. We need to consider the bang for our buck. This coincidentally plays on an age-old idiom about games, “simple to learn, hard to master”. No production has unlimited funding, and arguably there’s an upper limit to the complexity humans can process in a given game. More practically, many people don’t want to play a game with a high upfront complexity.

Thus there are different ways to build a game that are more efficient than others. There are certain ways to configure rules that will result in more states for less effort. Depth is a criteria that is agnostic to the means by which it is achieved, so we could manually build a large amount of diverse content and carefully balance it all to be relevant and that would be fine, but practically we need to pick our battles and be strategic with how much we invest into development. Additionally, if we attempt to imbue our designs with traits that result in larger state spaces every step of the way, then if we have the budget to make a lot of content we’ll end up with more depth in the end than if we didn’t.

To this end, I have what I call the 4 criteria for depth, though realistically they’re more like rules of thumb from a designer’s perspective.

  1. Give everything a niche, don’t let stuff completely invalidate each other (make your elements differentiated)
  2. Allow everything to have multiple functions (don’t build stuff to do just one thing, let it do a bunch of different stuff)
  3. Let the way players input modulate the output of the move (like mario holding jump to go higher/lower, and controlling your speed as you move in the air. Add nuance to a single mechanic)
  4. Create ways for elements to affect one another, producing combination effects.

The first two aren’t directly related to state space, the second especially is more about design elegance than necessarily anything practical. The first helps make sure your elements are differentiated and you’re not adding additional content just to have the appearance of a lot of content. The second plays off of the 3rd and 4th criteria, giving you a more tangible way to judge your success. The third and fourth criteria by contrast, are purely interested in cultivating raw possibility space.

The third criteria is about the nuance of a single element. A game that exemplifies this is Getting Over It: With Bennett Foddy; a game about a man in a pot who holds a hammer that you can control with the mouse. It only has one mechanic, moving your hammer. It does not have any enemies, or level design gimmicks. It just has the physics of your own character, and some diverse levels, and it manages to do a massive amount with these two things. The range of motion and propulsion possible just by moving your hammer is tremendous. The game is responsive to the full range of motion across which you move your hammer, the speed at which you move it, the direction you move it, the angular momentum of the hammer and the character, the friction of the hammer and character’s contact on surfaces, the weight of the character and hammer. Across all of these factors, the number of ways you can approach any given obstacle in the entire game is so vast that you are guaranteed to never approach anything the same way twice. This single mechanic is everything a mechanic should be, and possibly the most deep single mechanic I have ever encountered in a game.

The depth of this mechanic is in no small part due to the amount of information delivered through the mouse. The mouse delivers a series of [x,y] coordinates over time. From this there are many emergent properties, such as location, speed, angle, curve of motion, and gesture. Buttons by contrast are just an on/off switch, but even from those there are many emergent properties that can be gleaned, tap versus press versus hold duration, mash speed, rhythm, press and release timing. Mario’s jump is based on how long you hold the button down. Nero’s Red Queen in DMC4 revving is based on pressing and holding the rev button in a rhythm. Many fighting game characters have different moves for pressing (attack), holding (charged attack), and releasing (puppet character attack) buttons. Multiple button and stick inputs can be combined together to create even more dynamic results. Buttons can act as modifiers for other buttons. Tilts and smashes in Smash Bros are based on the synchronicity of your button press with the stick input, and how far the stick is tilted over what time interval. Gestural inputs of multiple directions in sequence are the basis of fighting game moves.

Tying inputs to outputs that are modulated over a range is especially effective for creating depth. Again, Mario’s variable height jump is a classic example of this. The analog range of time that you hold the button down is converted into the analog range of jump height. In many games, the range of speed you mash buttons at is converted into a range of possible output, such as speed escaping from stun, or maximizing a bonus. In Tony Hawk, you balance yourself by attempting to keep the reticule in the center of the line as it veers from right to left. Matching analog input to analog output is a powerful strategy for creating state space. Matching discretely differentiated inputs to discretely differentiated outputs is similarly effective.

The fourth criteria is about allowing elements to interact in order to create combined states they wouldn’t create alone. The designers of Breath of the Wild referred to their style of design for the game as “multiplicative”. This is a good term for it. Supposing that every element can uniquely interact with every other element, for every element you add to a game the total number of interactions grows. This can look a lot like a Punnett Square, mapping all the possible combinations. With 2 elements, there’s 4 resulting interactions. With 3 elements, you get 9, and so on.


However you might notice that this includes elements interacting with themselves where element 1 crosses on the punnett square with element 1, element 2 with element 2, and so on. Another thing you might notice is that this is assuming that element 2 interacting with element 3 is different from element 3 interacting with element 2. In most games, this isn’t true, there isn’t a directionality to influence from one element onto another, and elements tend not to interact with themselves. When you take these rules into account, then the Punnett Square is reduced to only one half, and none of the diagonal row where elements cross over themselves. So a square with 2 elements only has 1 interaction, not 4. A square with 3 elements has 3 interactions, not 9. It’s about the number of combinations, ignoring permutations.


However the number of combinations still grows at a compounding rate as you introduce more elements. With 4 elements, you have 6 combinations. 5 makes 10, 8 makes 28, 10 makes 43, 20 makes 189. Of course, you don’t have to limit yourself to this. If you can build ways for elements to affect each other directionally, where it’s different based on which one affects which, you’re creating a larger state space. If you allow multiple instances of the same element to interact with itself, then increase the range even more. And then on top of that, if you build every element with respect to the third criteria, AND have the particular modulation of each element reflected when those elements interact with other elements, then you have an explosion in state-space.





These dynamics can also be represented with a node-graph. Elements (nodes) that can interact with each other are connected by edges, with the directionality of the edge indicating which one has an effect on which, bidirectional indicating they can affect each other. This creates a clear goal, create elements that have as many connections as possible. Every cell on the Punnett Square starts out null, and is activated when there is an edge connecting it in the node-graph. If it’s a one-way interaction or a symmetrical interaction (like mario collecting a powerup), only the cell on one side gets activated. If it’s a bi-directional interaction (like mario either stomping an enemy, or getting hit by an enemy), then the cells on both sides get activated.


This can help make tangible exactly how much possibility space there is in a game, in a way that’s not too complicated to implement. There are more complex types of interaction, such as chains of objects having effects on each other (like Mario hitting a block, bouncing something on top of the block), but that’s a bit harder to represent in this format.


This also makes clear why it can be dangerous to segregate a game into different modes of gameplay, like with minigames. By doing this, it creates localized ghettos of elements that have connections with each other, but not any elements outside that particular mode. Reusing elements between different modes alleviates this problem.


Another shortcoming of this model is fairly representing things like loadouts. In the abstract unabridged graph, there may be many possible interactions, but loadouts require to to slim those down to only a few interactions, but when a loadout is selected, the graph gets a lot smaller. This does not mean loadouts are inherently bad, because there’s other considerations like balance and differentiation that are also important to depth, where this article is focusing purely on state-space. If everyone has access to everything at all times, then much of that might be redundant, or irrelevant to play, resulting in a samey game experience where only a few options are chosen, so only a few interactions are shown off, even if vastly more are possible overall. Card games have to contend with this type of problem and do their best to encourage variety when players can assemble a deck with practically any card available, but imagine how much worse it would be if you didn’t have to assemble a deck, and could simply play any card you wanted at any time. For that matter, imagine how impossible a game like that would be for a human to play.

Additionally, not everything neatly fits this model. Some games don’t have discrete elements that interact, and have a lot of ways the same element can interact with itself such as in Go or Reversi.


Here’s a graph of the super effective interactions in Pokemon. I’m not graphing out everything, because I’m not insane.

How to Appreciate Modern Art

I don’t like modern art. Most people don’t like modern art. Modern art seems banal and stupid to most people, frequently myself included. Modern art includes “blank” white canvases, urinals in the middle of galleries, literal trash, abstract patterns, scribbling with crayons like a child, and so on. Modern art contains a lot of stuff that is simple, which does not take skill with a brush to craft. A frequent criticism of modern art is, “My kid could do that!” The common response is, “But did they?” or “Well you didn’t think of it first,” which is unsatisfying and vague enough to obscure the deeper point. A lot of modern art is about testing the boundaries of what’s considered art, which leads many people to throw their hands up and go, “Well I guess everything’s art! Put it in a gallery, and it’s art.” Or claim it’s an empty label with no real meaning that could include anything (it doesn’t, not everything is art). To some extent, it’s even considered a ploy by rich people to hide money in assets, and drive up the value of those assets in order to increase their overall wealth (which to some extent it is) and it’s also considered a scam by artists to rip off rich people by making them think they’re buying something with a value that the common man can’t see.

So first up, what’s art? I believe art is an expression of creativity intended to appeal to a human aesthetic sense for a non-practical purpose. Is a shovel art? No, it’s a practical device. Can a shovel be designed in an artistic way? Yes, the design of a shovel, car, or other consumer product can be art, if it’s trying to appeal to our aesthetic sense in a way that’s not simply practical. So practicality and art can overlap, but to be art, it needs to be doing something without a practical purpose. It also needs to come from another human, and be received by a human (even if the human is the one who made it), so parts of the natural world may be beautiful, but they can’t be art. A human can select parts of the natural world however, and their selection may be art. Things don’t aspire to be art, they’re flatly in the category or out of it. Some liminal expressions of creativity to rouse the aesthetic sense (acting sexy for your lover) might be considered artistic, but I don’t think they qualify unless you film it or record it in some way, though I admit this is an edge case and there is impermanent performance art that I think qualifies.

This contrasts with a historical definition of art. Art imitated nature. Art was realistic. Art was detailed and took an intense crafting skill to produce. Art appeared to have a progression from simple cave paintings, to beautiful murals like the Sistine Chapel. Then the followup is Modern Art, which seemed to be a regression back into simplicity, then nonsense. The definition of art seemed to change, now instead of making things that were beautiful, art could be anything. Suddenly we had all this ugly art or seemingly non-art that “challenged the idea of what art could be” (correct) in a way similar to putting a bicycle in a car lot, stating it “challenged what a car could be” (incorrect).

The truth is, art is a really REALLY weird category. What we’ve done over time is come to understand the category better, showed what else belongs in it. We’ve moved from understanding that art is a few things that we make that happen to be really beautiful because nature is beautiful, to understanding other types of beauty. Art now illustrates the beauty of raw composition, colors, shapes, patterns, subject matter, behavior, ideas. If a human created it and it’s beautiful for the sake of being beautiful in some way, it’s art.

There’s a big genre of modern art called Conceptual Art, not to be confused with Concept Art. Conceptual Art is essentially the art of Concepts, not things, not depictions, just ideas. Rather than making beautiful objects or depictions of objects, concept art is basically a weird and entertaining idea, “What if we put shit in a can and called it artist’s shit?” The actual can and the actual shit aren’t the art, the idea of them is.

Bits of conceptual art seep into a lot of other modern art. Much of Picasso’s distorted faces are based on the idea of trying to depict all the surfaces of an object simultaneously on the canvas. “Blank” “white” canvases are frequently trying to explore the differences between different shades of “white”, and how they’re slightly blue, or orange, or so on. I saw one which had been painted over with 600 layers of white, the idea being that somehow it could capture the light as it entered the room through this steady process. Many of these canvasses have a unique texture depending on the paints and how it was painted over. Abstract art attempts to find patterns and colors that are visually pleasing, even if they’re non-representational.

The deeper point layered in, “Well you didn’t think of it first” is that the objects used to facilitate the art aren’t the art itself, the idea of it is. Sure, anyone could pick up a urinal, write their name on it, and put it in an art gallery, but it took several thousand years for someone to have the idea of actually doing that. The urinal itself isn’t the art, the idea is. If you did it now that it’s been done, you’re not being creative, you’re copying someone else. On another level, you’d arguably just be creating another installation of that artist’s idea, his art, since the physical thing isn’t the art at all, just a representation of it.

While I’m at it, dadaism is an artistic movement originally intended to mock modern art that eventually just became a part of modern art, because in mocking modern art, it was ironically doing the same exact thing modern art was, creating new valid art.

To better explain Beauty and the Aesthetic Sense before I wrap this up: beauty in the generic artistic sense does not necessarily mean things that are attractive either. A pure expression of ugliness, like a lovingly rendered painting of an ugly face, or a dung pile, can be beautiful in their own way, through the skill and intentionality of the painter. Something can be ugly, but in a beautiful way, like appreciating a gnarled oak tree or a hideous monster.

So not everything is art, but anything can be used in art, anything can be used to express a beautiful idea. That said, I still don’t really like conceptual art or most modern art. I think a lot of the ideas expressed are rather banal, but I begrudgingly accept that they made a point which was important to make, to help illustrate the borders of the Art category, much like musicians making new types of music, such as Jazz, Rock, and Metal, which were initially derided as just being noise, but now we’ve learned to appreciate that style and they’re commonly accepted as music. In a similar way, it’s helpful to understand how someone can appreciate modern art, even if it isn’t your thing personally, because it can give you a deeper understanding of art in general, without the prescriptivist standards enforced by the art styles you prefer.

Don’t Diss a Genre You Don’t/Refuse to Understand

I said I wouldn’t review any more videos of other critics, but I couldn’t stand to watch this one and say nothing. I’m reposting here, mostly because I think it goes a ways to explain the differences between traditional fighters and smash. If you’re a smash player, please play other fighting games too. Please stop sticking to one insular franchise.

Continue reading

Riddles, Puzzles, and Games

Something I’ve mentioned but not really explored is that I think puzzles aren’t actually games. I’m fine with the moniker, “Puzzle Game” as a misnomer referring to a collection of puzzles and I think “Action Puzzle” games like Tetris aren’t actually puzzles (except in B-mode)

Riddles puzzles games.png

Basically, there’s a spectrum of Riddles, Puzzles and Games, which each play on a similar root desire of, “Try to make the thing happen,” but with different emphasis. Puzzles and Riddles are subject to the spoiler effect. Once you know the solution, it’s not a question of whether you can beat it or not, you can always just produce the solution, unless you forget it. This also means that someone can tell you the answer and there’s no challenge anymore. Continue reading

How to Make the Best Worst Action Game Ever

Making a good action game involves doing things like creating a variety of moves that each have a specific niche that they’re good at, but which other moves compete for their place, so choosing the right move for a situation is an interesting choice. Good action games have you use skill to perform moves by either remembering combo strings or finding ways to link different moves together with juggles or cancels.

Good action games have moves with different ranges, speeds, and areas of effect.

Good action games usually have at least 2 different defensive options with tradeoffs that make them easier or harder based on circumstance, and require some type of situational awareness, as well as different payoffs for success that themselves are situational.

In good action games, multiple enemy types are mixed and matched, so their overlapping attack patterns prevent you from just countering any individual enemy and locking them down.

A good action game has commitment, so when you perform an action, you are usually stuck performing that action when it is unsuccessful, so you can potentially take damage. When you are allowed to cancel your commitment or hedge your bets, it is usually costly, or forces you into a different type of commitment instead.

So how do you make a bad action game? Easy, just make everything uniformly functional and only aesthetically different, and give different moves clearly defined purposes that no other move can perform, like a specific key to a specific lock. This way every move is only good for 1 thing and it’s completely clear what that move is good for, and no other move will do.

Instead of making it so you perform different strings or combos through experimentation or skill, make it automatic. Instead of varying the properties of moves, make it so you play a paired animation with enemies and select the appropriate animation so your attacks always connect and always have the optimal followup. Randomly vary the combo followups so they look cool, but because it’s a paired animation, don’t have different properties in any real sense of the word.

Instead of having a few defensive options with varying rewards and situationality, add 1 defensive option that can beat anything regardless of circumstance and always leaves you in a good situation.

Instead of mixing multiple enemies that compliment each other with overlapping attack patterns, mix enemies that have functionally the same attacks, and limit them so only 1 enemy can attack at a time. Allow individual enemies to be locked down easily if there is no one else around to interrupt your attacks, and don’t let them interrupt if you’re in the middle of a paired animation.

Instead of restricting your ability to cancel moves or creating commitment to bad decisions, a bad action game lets you cancel offense into defense or more offense at any time, so choosing between different types of commitment is never necessary. To go further, allow the defensive options to cancel into themselves, or just give you a block against all damage with no associated cost that can cancel anything.

Basically, if you want to make a bad action game instead of a good one, make Batman Arkham Whatever.

Notice that doing this removes all interesting choices from the game and makes it resemble an easy version of DDR more and more as you continue to strip out everything fun. You’ll also end up with a game that is really easy to understand, and frees you up to make any type of cool looking thing you want happen without most of the technical hurdles usually associated with making that work in gameplay, like good collision detection.

So now your character could do absolutely anything as a paired animation with an enemy, and you don’t need to worry about positioning hitboxes and hurtboxes, coding complex state changes on hit, block, or dodge, or coming up with ways that different moves can have tradeoffs with one another while accomplishing similar purposes. Just animate really cool shit happening constantly, and you can have players mashing the button for it all the time.

Doesn’t that sound enjoyable?

How to Actually Change Someone’s Mind

Have you ever gotten in an argument before? A case where you had all the facts on your side and your opponent was clearly wrong and ignorant, yet they just wouldn’t give up, they only dug their heels in harder? Have you ever had that happen, and it turns out that you’re the one who is actually wrong all along? Can you bring yourself to admit you were wrong? Can you do it when the other person was mocking you? Lying to you? Do you feel like admitting fault would be like admitting weakness, like losing the argument? If you withdraw completely to avoid further mockery, do you think that’s cowardly, that you should let your points stand rather than be dishonored?

The finding from psychological research is, if someone has a strong belief about something, then being presented with real evidence their belief is incorrect they will not change their mind, rather their belief will grow stronger. When confronted on a belief, one tends to seek out reasons for believing what they do, and the belief grows stronger rather than weaker. We all individually think we’re rational, but we all make the same mistakes, even when we’re aware of those mistakes.
This is why debates on the internet tend to be acknowledged as going nowhere. The purpose of debate and argument is ostensibly to change the other person’s mind, but as one debates more and more, they find that no one is changing their mind. Since they aren’t changing their mind, why should you argue? Many people rationalize this as attempting to convince the bystanders, or that the other person will turn it over in their head and eventually change their mind, or do it for the purpose of refining their own ideas, or simply making the truth known and if the other person weren’t so thickheaded, they’d know good enough to change their mind, and if they aren’t, then they don’t deserve fair treatment anyway.

At this point the fault has become embedded in the system, and people have found reasons to argue, despite it being completely ineffective at the original purpose. Instead of trying to find means that are effective, they’ve come up with excuses for why being ineffective is okay by moving the goalposts. They’re tacitly admitting that changing people’s minds is impossible, so the only option is to polarize undecided people to your side or theirs and hope you win by majority consensus. Being locked in a bitter cycle of disagreement is fine because next time you’ll get to disagree even more strongly than ever before.

So what’s the solution? Don’t make it an argument. If you argue, if you frame each other as adversaries, you’re already in the trap. This is counterintuitive. The simplest thing to do when seeing incorrect information is simply to offer a correction, but if the other person has a strong belief, they will correct your correction, and instead of reaching the truth, you both end up correcting corrections ad infinitum. People think they are being convincing because they have so much evidence, and they can explain it so clearly, and they’re being scrubs.
A scrub is someone who has the goal of winning but doesn’t play to win. They have an idealized version of how the game should be played, and rather than taking the path to success, they doggedly stick to their guns on their ideal way to play, even though it rarely, if ever, works. They undermine themselves and deprive themselves of the skills they need to win on purpose, then rationalize it with concepts like Honor. If you try to prove someone wrong, you’re a scrub. You are directly preventing yourself from doing the thing you want to do. You’re trying to take a shortcut to belief change, and you end up further from the destination than if you had never tried at all, while making yourself and the other person angry and bitter in the process.

The thing to acknowledge is, everyone thinks they’re right. Everyone does what they do for reasons they think are right, and everyone has a self-serving narrative about it. Everyone also thinks they’re better than that and more rational than to be self-serving and think their beliefs are formed by evidence where other people’s are not. We collectively don’t tend to recognize that other people believe what they do for a reason, and we tend to be uninterested in that reason, instead diving headfirst into proving them wrong.

The key is to establish an atmosphere of intellectual honesty. You need to admit fault where you are at fault, and you need to be willing to change your mind in response to what the other person says, or you can’t ever hope to get the same benefit from them, even if you are legitimately completely correct and they are legitimately completely wrong. You need to de-escalate it from being an argument, and instead make it a mutual discussion and search for the truth. If both of you are working together to find out what’s right, then one of you is more likely to actually change your mind, which is what’s important.

This means abandoning the older notion of winning or losing the argument. Nobody can win an argument, because all arguments stalemate with someone eventually backing down because they’re sick of it or have something better to do. What you want is to be right. To act in accordance with the truth. To make decisions that are reflective of the nature of reality . And this is more important than winning an argument. Thus the win condition isn’t just to change the other person’s mind, it’s to have your mind changed too.

Of course, having beliefs isn’t wrong. Arguing for your beliefs isn’t wrong either, but it’s worth double checking at every stage of an argument whether you’re actually right or not, or whether there is anything you could stand to learn. If you are presented with conflicting beliefs or people attempting to prove you wrong, it’s worth trying to re-evaluate your beliefs from scratch. We have the beliefs we do because circumstance has presented us evidence that we think makes them align with truth.

And sometimes you know you’re right and the other person is wrong, and you happen to really be actually legitimately correct, however you cannot act like this is true a priori, because you’re not going to get anywhere, and because there’s no telling what crazy off-chance there is that you might be wrong. If you want the other person to change their mind, you still need to be open to what they say. This doesn’t necessarily mean you will compromise with them or change any of your beliefs at all, but you still need to follow the procedure or you won’t make any progress. If someone comes at you swinging disrespectfully with insults, mockery, and falsehoods, you need to be level-headed and patient enough to de-escalate and ask them to explain where they’re coming from. This is legitimately hard and goes against our instincts as humans, but it is the only way that actually works.

Apart from just being open to their ideas and them to yours and avoiding an adversarial frame, the key is to ask the other person questions about their beliefs and have them ask you questions about yours. Establish a Socratic Dialogue. Asking questions naturally causes you to consider alternative points of view, and helps you understand why the beliefs in the other person formed in the first place. Be legitimately inquisitive and respectful of their beliefs, however much you’re opposed to them. Remember that everyone has a reason for believing what they do that looks legitimate from their perspective and experiences. Put yourself in their shoes and imagine that all the same things happened to you, you only knew what they do, and you think in their way. Then ask yourself if you’d come to the same conclusions as them. Generally, the answer should be yes. If the answer is no, then it’s it’s probably a really weird case, or you have issues with theory of mind and you should work on that.

On the more aggressive front, when you’re relatively certain you’re in the right, you can ask them questions that cause them to realize and themselves point out the issues in their belief. Figure out through questioning what their core values are, and show them a way of looking at your side that is more compatible with their values. Get them to commit to particular stances and use their tendency to be consistent with them to . Avoid attacking them or insulting them, because you want the other person to like you, and you want them to think you’re being fair, which affects whether they’re willing to actually change their mind.

This also means purging yourself of ideas about fairness. Belief change is unfair, and your only win condition is the other person actually changing their mind (or you changing yours). Stalemates are actually losses. Hold yourself to these conditions very firmly and play to win regardless of how unfair the circumstances might seem. Resist the urge to retaliate against the slights of your opponent against you. “Well he did it first, so it’s okay if I do it,” is an excuse to undermine yourself by arguing instead of questioning. It might seem like you’re losing when you turn the other cheek to offenses, but remember your real win condition, which is to effect change in the minds of other people. In the pursuit of that, you should be willing to take any type of abuse or humiliation, because that’s damn better than digging your heels in when you’re wrong, or failing to convince someone because you can’t stay calm over petty offenses. You might have the pure-minded ideal that someone confronted with the facts should have the dignity and rationale to change their mind when shown the truth, but in the same situation, you’d be just as unlikely to change your mind as they are, so you might as well stack the cards in your favor. This is a standard you should hold yourself to, but not anyone else. Always hold yourself to higher standards of intellectual honesty than anyone else and never be unforgiving of other people for failing to meet your standards.

One of the big advantages of this method is also that it usually avoids pissing other people off. Arguments make people angry, where this approach tends to have people end disagreements amicably, even if the point of contention remains by the end, because at least both of you understand where the other person is coming from, and hopefully respect why they hold that value. You can view this entire approach as a style of manipulation, because it’s more effective at changing other people’s beliefs than basically anything else, but on the other hand it also means practicing intellectual honesty, avoiding hostility, and coming to better understand the other person, which means you’ll probably make and keep more friends in the long run as well as learn more stuff and steadily increase the accuracy of your beliefs about the world. You have both the selfish and non-selfish reasons to do this, selfish because it’s the only way to actually change someone else’s mind, and the non-selfish reason of also creating a better community and getting along with other people better.

One drawback is this is time consuming. It takes a lot of time to ask questions, receive answers, and come to a better understanding of the other person. And it’s difficult in longer written formats instead of speaking to the person or text chat which is suited to both short and long messages. It’s much easier to just say why they’re wrong and move on. Unfortunately, this really is the only way I know of to actually get anything done. If it would cost too much time to change someone else’s beliefs about something, then let sleeping dogs lie until a better opportunity arises.

Another drawback is, this doesn’t work on people who are being intentionally intellectually dishonest. It doesn’t work on trolls. It doesn’t work on people who are lying and know it. My best advice for dealing with these people is either don’t, or get to what their real stance is. Remember, (almost) everyone thinks they’re doing what’s right, or at least rationalizes their actions as inconsequential, even if that’s being an asshole and lying to other people. Also don’t be quick to label people as being intentionally intellectually dishonest. That’s a dangerous tactic, because most people are honest with their intentions, even if they don’t have a strong commitment to the truth, and calling them out for something they’re not doing is an easy way to get them to dislike you and not want to listen to you.

You can occasionally get around this whole process, but only if both you and the other person have a pact with yourselves to absolutely accept the truth as truth regardless of how conflicted you are, close to total impartiality and commitment to the truth over reinforcing previously held beliefs. This is extremely rare, and even if you think the other person might be applying this level of intellectual honesty, you can never be totally sure, and it can break down if the conversation goes poorly. If you both trust each other to be truthful and impartial, and to accept the results of the debate when it is clear what the truth is, then you can get things done a lot more quickly.

Another thing is that these are all skills and procedures you can improve and follow. These aren’t things people are born with or not, though some people and personalities find it easier than others. You’re responsible for having more productive social interactions with other people, and you can get better at it if you notice what people respond to and why.

Learning a New Combo

So lately I’ve been playing Under Night In-Birth EXE: Late [st]. I decided for this game I wanted to play a more challenging character than I usually pick, and I heard Vatista was on the more challenging side, being a charge character that lets you charge in ALL FOUR DIRECTIONS and with button holds on 3 different buttons. Oh yeah, this article will include a lot of fighting game notation, so be sure to brush up: http://wiki.shoryuken.com/Notation

Vatista’s toolset is pretty standard for UNIST, she launches by sweeping with 2C, then hitting them with 5C to launch, then does an air chain into a divekick that carries her opponent down, then hits them off the ground into a finisher. The trouble is fitting her charges into the combo, especially the button charges. When Vatista holds a button for 1 second, she can release it, canceling any normal move, producing a crystal that will explode for a lot of damage when struck. So Vatista’s optimal combos involve getting a launcher, doing an air chain, then in the process of OTGing them, creating crystals and detonating them as the ender. Since the crystals require buttons to be held, you need to hold the buttons used in earlier attacks to release crystals later.

The other parts of Vatista’s moveset are a lot like Guile’s. [4]6 is a fireball, [2]8 is a flash kick. [8]2 is a divekick, which involves holding up for slightly longer than a regular jump.

This is made harder because I play on pad, so if I were to hold a button, I’d need to then fat-finger my thumb onto other buttons to press them to continue the combo. Alternatives are holding the pad with my left hand so my right hand can be turned so I use my index finger to manipulate the buttons, but that isn’t comfortable for me. Luckily, I own a Hori Fighting Commander 4. This contoller has R1 and R2 both on the face, and the shoulder. Fighting games don’t normally let you double bind buttons, but this controller gave me an exception. By binding B and C to R1 and R2, I now had them on the face and shoulder at the same time. This means I can hold a shoulder button while pressing the face buttons freely, and if I ever wanted to hold A, I can use the shoulder buttons to attack instead.

So I started the game out by learning an extremely basic combo, 2C 5C j.B j.C [8]2A 2C [2]8B. In this combo, 2C 5C launches, j.B and j.C buy time for me in the air so I can charge [8] for the divekick, which otherwise would take longer to charge than a whole jump. The divekick knocks them down, then I can OTG with 2C, and cancel that into a flashkick to end the combo.

Not so tough, I picked it up in a few training sessions, then eventually moved up to 2C 5C j.A j.B j.C land j.A j.B [8]2A 2C 2B [2]8B, which is basically the same combo, except you use the leftover hitstun from j.C to give you enough time to land and jump again to connect another j.A.

Then I moved up to using crystals, which meant finally using the shoulder buttons I had double bound. So the combo now looks closer to 2C 5C (delay) j.[B] j.C land j.A [8]2A 2C ]B[. This doesn’t have a real ender, but it sets up a crystal at the end. My first attempt at this, I decided to press j.B on the face, then immediately transfer my hold to the shoulder button, which worked, but eventually I realized it would be easier just to press the shoulder button directly. Another pain point was that I’d do 2C at the end, and release B, but no crystal would come out. I was releasing too quickly. I had to delay my release slightly to actually get the crystal out. That wasn’t so hard though. Easily enough, I had a crystal setup. It dealt less damage than my normal combo, but it was the first step, now I needed to learn the real combo.

2C 5C (delay) j.[B] j.C land j.A [8]2A 2[C] 2]B[ 2A 2B 5]c[
This is the combo I’m still working on. First thing to note is that I can skip the delay at the start if I’m willing to do j.A after launching (scales the combo, making it deal less damage), but that’s not really important. If I don’t delay properly, or use j.A, then the land into j.A later on won’t connect, they’ll be able to tech out after my j.C. The delay makes it so j.C happens later in the jump arc, as I’m landing. The next problem is the ender. It’s hard. So hard I decided to practice the ender by itself before integrating it into the combo. First I’d do this by holding down B for a second, then doing 2C 2]B[.

The first problem I had was doing 2A after the crystal release. I’d miss the link, then do a 2B that wouldn’t combo. Or I’d mash and get 2A 2A which wouldn’t combo. Eventually I fixed this by watching vatista’s crystal release animation for when she would retract her hand, instead of watching the opponent’s character (which I normally do during the juggle).

the next issue I had was releasing C to get the second crystal out. The second crystal needs to be released before the first one is done exploding. This means it needs to be released on the first hit of B and no later. My technique at the time for getting the C hold was pressing the C face button, then releasing the B shoulder button, then holding the C shoulder with the same finger, and then doing A and B with my thumb on the face buttons. But this technique had a problem, I was releasing C when I was transfering my hold from B to C on the shoulder buttons. So I’d do the pickup correctly from the first crystal release, and oddly find I could not release the second crystal off the first hit of 2B. I needed to wait a little, and waiting at all meant the second crystal would not be released soon enough to detonate.

Eventually I realized that I needed to continuously hold C from when it was first pressed, but this has another problem, I can’t hold down the C face button because that means I can’t press A to do the OTG. And I can’t just press the C shoulder button, because that would mean releasing B shoulder, so I couldn’t release the first crystal (I could use 2 fingers, but I don’t want to). So my solution was to hold face C a bit longer while I transferred my hold from shoulder B to shoulder C, before I needed to press 2A for the OTG. With a bit of experimentation, I found this worked and I could now do the entire ender! Now that I could do that consistently, I just had to put it together, but that’s where I ran into another problem.

I’d do the entire air chain successfully into the knockdown, then 2C and the crystal release, but couldn’t do the 2A to follow up. It wouldn’t combo! This seemed similar to my issue of timing from earlier, but that wasn’t it. I could do the link fine when practiced by itself, but I can’t do it in the middle of the combo, because I was canceling 2C into crystal release too late. Why’s that? because when I practice just the ender, 2C is my first input, and I only press it once. When I was doing it in the middle of the combo, I was mashing 2C to make sure it came out, but this meant I didn’t know when it was actually coming out, and I couldn’t cancel into crystal release at the correct timing on reaction. So I needed to reduce my mashing to one single press at the right moment in order to do the whole ender.

And that’s about where I am. I can do every part of the combo individually, and I have landed the whole thing in a match once before, but I still need to practice to actually get consistent at it. The hard part is, there’s so many little parts that make this difficult, it’s hard to keep consistent at all of them simultaneously. Also obviously playing on Pad makes this a lot harder than it normally should be, but I’m having fun with it, and nothing is impossible to pull off, even with my ridiculous limitations, which fits the bill for trying out a higher execution character. Plus Vatista is insanely fun, she’s the charge queen with a crazy amount of footsies play too.

Overall, I think there’s something really special in coming up against hurdles, experimenting to figure out the nature of the system, including the actual game, my controller of choice, and my own physical and mental processes of execution.

Reworking DMC’s Controls

I think you’ve already expressed your dislike for Chain Combos, and while I understand where you coming from, I can’t imagine a way to totally get rid of them in 3D Beat em Ups without making the controls an abomination to use

Does DMC4 count? Or is that an abomination?

I’d say God Hand is a reasonable example too, it has 1 chain on square, then command moves on X, Triangle, and down + X/Triangle/Square. Plus it has hidden contextual moves on triangle that are just direction + button, and dashing attacks. Since God Hand lets you assign any move to any button, you have a fair number of moves that you could potentially assign. A chain + 5 command moves.This obviously isn’t the most in the world, but it’s a fair number of moves with no chains required. Continue reading