Cool Airdashes (unlike Hollow Knight’s)

You mentioned that Hollow Knight’s airdash on its own was sort of boring, just moving you in a straight line. Whats an interesting airdash?

Something with an arc of some kind, acceleration, deceleration, a hop, a glide.

In Guilty Gear, you have an airdash whose momentum carries you forward as you attack, allowing attacks to chain in ways they cannot off just a jump.

In Melty Blood and UNIEL you have an airdash that’s more like a hop forwards. Mario Odyssey’s dive could be considered an airdash too in this way, it even lifts you up slightly to let you just barely clear platforms.

The dash could start with momentum forwards that falls off as it progresses, and a resistance to gravity that also decreases as it progresses, so it travels straighter as it starts, then begins to fall like normal as it goes.

It could transition into a glide, or have glide-like physics should the player move it manually.

Ori and the Blind Forest’s bash is a really unique airdash-type move.

Morrigan’s airdash in Darkstalkers lets her tilt it up or down as she goes.

Celeste has an 8-way airdash that can transfer its momentum into the ground for a big boost, much like a wavedash, which is interesting.

There’s a lot of ways to toy with momentum and gravity. Hollow Knight’s movement options are all kind of simple and straightforward, only really becoming interesting when you have a bunch of them to combine. Hollow Knight’s double jump is out of the ordinary, being a bit like the jump of the DJC characters from Smash Bros (Yoshi, Peach, Mewtwo, Ness, etc), but this doesn’t increase its utility, it more exists to nerf its functionality versus airdashing and wall jumping, so it occupies a distinct niche relative to them (doesn’t have as fast startup, so it’s slower for climbing and moving laterally), which is fair, and helps make the sum of all of these moves more interesting to use, even if none of them are particularly interesting individually.

At least Hollow Knight doesn’t have the teleport from Axiom Verge. That teleport somehow manages to be even less interesting than HK’s airdash.

Running Away is Deep!

Can having the option of fighting an enemy or running away be a form of depth?

Yes! Absolutely!

But more appropriately, the question generally tends to be, is having the option of fighting an enemy or running past them a form of depth?

NES games are the masters of this. Especially Castlevania 3 and Contra. Enemies in old games tend to have contact damage, they hurt you if you touch them. Then they’re set up in places where they block your way. This means that to get past them, you need to brush up against them, potentially hurting yourself. Continue reading

Balancing Parries for Single Player

How are parries treated in fighting games? Specifically in comparison to single player games where once you get the timings down, it can trivialize enemies.

It depends on the fighting game, but I largely covered this in my last article on parries. Parries in fighting games can be beaten, unlike parries in single player games. In 3rd strike, you have to parry high or low, and the two zones are more separated and exclusive from one another than blocking (so moves that you normally could block crouch blocking might have different parry zones). In other games parries usually have a recovery time. In practically all fighting games, parries can be thrown.

This means parries have weaknesses, they can be mixed up, either with timing, or by choosing options that beat parry. In a single player game, this isn’t really feasible. Everything needs to be reactable in order to be fair, which means if everything is parryable, then every problem can be solved with parries. Some measures you can throw in to prevent this are having unparryable attacks, force the player to respond differently to those. You could have different parry zones too, so they need to parry differently depending on the incoming attack, but this amounts to basically just giving the player shit instead of solving the core problem, which is that parries hand players a difficult but simple solution to any problem where they are applicable. It’s not a question of, “would it be better to attack or defend now?” It’s just “If I can do it, parrying is best.” And you might have different types of parries or unparryable attacks, so players have a bit more trouble reacting, but the fundamental problem is still there in a way that it isn’t for parries in multiplayer games. Parrying isn’t the best solution to scenarios in 3rd strike all the time, since it’s not always rewarding (parry into throw) and requires commitment for the number of parries you’re gonna attempt and the followup. It is in Guilty Gear, but it also costs meter in Guilty Gear, which is a limited and precious shared resource.

Oh yeah, maybe that’s the answer. Bloodborne limits parrying by tying it to bullets, but that just restricts the amount of times you can parry, bullets aren’t really used for much else of consequence. Imagine if parrying in dark souls cost you literally your entire stamina bar, requiring the bar to be full first, and you don’t get it back after a successful riposte. Hell, make stamina a bit negative even afterwards. Perhaps you could balance parrying by limiting the conditions for it, and having it cost you significantly otherwise, so you can only use it occasionally, and by sacrificing something else important.

Emo Kid Special Moves (Self Harm)

What do you think of special moves in fighting games that damage the player when they use them?

I’m not a fan of mechanics that push both players closer to losing simultaneously, negative feedback. Mechanics like this could also be called Collateral Damage or Mutually Assured Destruction. The idea is, you’re taking damage, but hopefully you deal more than you take, and even though you’re wrecking yourself, you will push the game closer to ending faster and be on top when it does end.

You can think of moves like this dealing effectively less damage, since they’re damaging you at the same time, so you’re not gaining as big a lead over your opponent by using them. So if I deal 4 points of damage to you, and 1 to myself, I only really dealt 3 points of damage to you, but moved the game 1 point closer to overall conclusion. This can tend to make games more swingy, because it functions a bit like negative feedback. It also makes characters with this trait effectively weaker than characters without it, unless their damage is compensated for the damage they deal to themselves.

In a game like Smash where the amount of damage you can take isn’t capped, and isn’t directly tied to losing, this can work out slightly better, because you can continue to use the self-destructive moves ad infinitum, just taking on additional damage, instead of outright killing yourself. I take this tactic with Snake a lot. He can pull out grenades and go suicide bomber with them, and you blow yourself up a lot, but hopefully you blow the enemy up more often. Also when coming down, you can pull out a grenade and if the opponent hits you, it will cause you to drop the grenade. If they hit the grenade too, then it will explode, damaging both of you, and overriding the knockback of their move, usually for a lower knockback, which can help you survive a lot of hits. In this way you can evade death at great personal cost, while dealing damage to the opponent as well. Since there isn’t a fixed percentage that you die at in smash, you can abuse this a fair amount, and use it to turn the tables on your opponent (though of course, you come out a lot worse in that trade than they do).

Overall though, I think adjusting payoffs in this way doesn’t contribute significantly to the depth of a game. It doesn’t strongly differentiate the game states in my opinion the same way changing the physical characteristics of moves does. I don’t think Pichu is significantly more interesting for damaging himself, I think it’s largely pointless. Even if it is a cool touch for characters like Tien in DBFZ (and it works mildly better in DBFZ, because killing a character is a much bigger benefit than just getting a health advantage, so it can be a tradeoff of orthogonal assets, rather than strictly victory points).

Open World Travel Time

How much of a problem is extended travel time in games? For example: lack of fast travel in the beginning of Dark Souls, or traveling to a location in an open world? Is it just filler?

I think this is a false premise.

Travel time can be a pain, but I think the better metric is, time spent without a challenge of some kind, or even more accurately, time spent without an interesting decision, because obviously things like configuring equipment, leveling up, and other such clerical tasks aren’t challenging, but they involve interesting decisions.

I have stated many times that I really like that there’s no fast travel at the start of dark souls. I like that you need to pathfind your way around a complex series of areas that have new connections opening up as you go, so trying to find the optimal route is an interesting decision in-of itself, and you need to do things like fight enemies on the way there which is an interesting series of decisions, and given you’re pathfinding, you end up generally going through the areas in an order you didn’t go through it the first time, so it’s slightly different each time, rather than just repeated content.

I think open world games suffer a little more in this respect because the world is not dense enough with challenges. Traveling from place to place takes a lot of time, and you don’t do much along the way, which can be boring. This is where lessons from platformers or racing games could probably factor in more.

What genre, if any, do you think benefits most from an open world?

The open world genre.

I mean, open world is kind of its own genre at this point, right? Among the big entrants we have RPGs, like Skyrim and the Witcher 3, “Stealth” like Asscreed and MGSV, and a ton of 3rd person shooters, like Just Cause, Watchdogs, GTA, Far Cry, MGSV, Red Dead Redemption, plus a lot of others, and we have sandbox games like Minecraft and No Man’s Sky.

I don’t think any genre benefits particularly more than any other genre from being combined with open world. It’s just a content presentation style really. Probably games that are more sandboxy like minecraft or breath of the wild benefit a bit more, but I mean, being sandboxy comes with being an open world game to a degree.

Bullet Bloom: An FPS Tragedy

What do you think of the “bloom” mechanic in FPS games?

I dislike randomized bullet spray in general, so naturally I don’t like Bloom either.

For those not aware, Bloom is when a gun’s bullet spread area increases over time as it’s fired, resetting when you stop firing. It’s supposed to encourage burst shots as opposed to spray fire. I don’t understand the intention of doing this, except maybe some sense of realism. It seems like whatever it accomplishes could be accomplished a different way than this.

In regards to “bloom” in FPS or randomized bullet spread, what would be your alternative? I assumed it was for skill purposes. My assumption was that instead of your gun being a laser beam, you now have to control the recoil in order to win the gun fight.

Bloom is not Recoil. It’s about the cone of fire expanding over time, not the cursor moving upwards over time.

Bloom does add a skill element, burst firing the weapon instead of holding the trigger down, but it’s questionable if adding a skill element like that is the actual intent of bloom, because that’s a pretty lame and linear skill element to add, requiring people to tap the button instead of hold it down.

My alternative would honestly be just having the gun be a laser beam, with a fall-off in damage over a range, so that you can’t use an assault rifle as a sniper weapon. Barring that (if you REALLY wanted it to look like a gun and have the bullets spray everywhere so it looks somewhat realistic), deterministic bullet spread, similar to Counter Strike, so that skilled players could functionally have the gun work like a laser beam anyway. Star Citizen is doing a neat thing with recoil based on procedural animations, but I don’t really expect that to be much different functionally than random recoil or spread.

If you wanted the minor skill element of pacing your shots, you could have damage decrease as you fire longer. There’s always a deterministic way to recreate these behaviors without introducing randomness, but for some reason I always get ridiculous amounts of pushback on removing this type of randomness. We happened to make these effects in mimicking real life weaponry, and post-hoc we’re defending the benefits of designing weapons this way. We could achieve these same benefits without invoking the random number generator, but people complain that it’s unrealistic, that players won’t like that type of behavior, that it won’t actually accomplish the same purpose, etc.

I don’t see the point in having some of your shots randomly miss, and therefore your DPS randomly being higher or lower sometimes. I don’t see the point in being able to compensate for this by pacing your clicks.

Honestly, I’d like to be able to just point the gun at people and hold down the trigger while keeping the reticule on the target. I don’t get why we need all these other things getting in the way of that. I don’t get why we need to randomly vary how much damage you do. I get that bullet spread makes shots less accurate over a distance, so you do less DPS the further they are, but you could do that just be reducing damage based on distance. It’s a very indirect method of accomplishing the objective.

Having randomized bullet spray, or bloom, or iron sights, or some such just means that you need to do some extra little thing to maximize your DPS, like burst fire depending on range, raise your sights, and it doesn’t add any significant extra layer of decision-making to the game, it just means that you need to do a slightly more complex motion to optimize your DPS, and RNG will come down and screw you over in varying amounts.

Is there a name for ‘reverse Bloom’? Weapons that gain accuracy from sustained fire? Can’t recall ever seeing it in a game.

I can’t think of any games that do that either, but it sounds like it could be cool, reward people for commitment. I still hate anything with randomized bullet spread though. Honestly, just increase the damage of the weapon over time. Don’t bother with bullet spread. There’s literally no good reason to add bullet spread to a game. There is no gameplay benefit achieved with bullet spread that cannot be achieved by deterministic means.

The Future of Video Game AI

Do you think that AI in competitive vidya will ever get better at simulating playing against a human opponent? Is that even something that should be strived for? I’ve been getting into fighting games and am really realizing how entirely different it is playing against the CPU and other players.

That’s tough. I think it depends on the game. For fighting games, I think it’s hard to say if it will ever reach that point.

Sethbling did an interesting proof of concept here with neural networks being trained to copy his style of play, with the fitness criteria being how closely it matched the actions he’d take in a given scenario, so you end up with an AI that plays very similarly to a human player.

Of course this is a lot easier because Mario Kart is what I call an “Efficiency Race”. It’s a game about efficiency, more than a game about Rock Paper Scissors. There’s a tiny bit of RPS in the use of items and passing opponents, but not much.

I doubt the ability of AI to play like a human in that they can really play RPS in a complex game with multiple RPS loops and we the same way a human would. Or to be able to learn and adapt to a player over the course of a few games. I feel more like it would just have an expert policy and do the best thing each time, rather than play with the mentality of a human player. Also it’s hard to say if AI trained on imitating human behavior would really be capable of being “read” the same way as a human.

It would probably work pretty okay for FPS games, racing games, maybe RTS?

It’s hard to really say how this stuff will turn out, whether AI will develop patterns that can be read, and attempt to read your patterns in turn, or whether it could be programmed to play with a personality, like intentionally repeating the same move that the opponent loses to a lot.

Then again, there was Killer Instinct, which gave this a real shot with its Shadow AI System, which I haven’t personally tried, despite owning the game, but apparently it worked really well.

This isn’t a pure machine learning solution, a lot of the structure of the AI, and the tweaking of various variables was done by hand (essentially, the structure the AI learns by was designed by people who knew what it should look like), but still, it’s really impressive the types of results they got. It took very observant players to know all the tendencies they should copy for this. If we got this in more games, if these replaced the standard fighting game AI, then I think fighting games would be a lot better for it. I don’t know how hard that is, but this sounds from the talk like it was thrown into KI unceremoniously, as a cheap side-mode instead of a major developmental focus.

AI like this could theoretically be deployed to train new players. Imagine training an AI to do nothing but move forward and sweep at different ranges to teach players to punish on block? Or only throw fireballs and anti-air to teach them to beat that? Or only jump in to teach them to anti-air?

There’s a big potential here, but it’s hard to say if we’ll ever see a feature like this ever again.

Kingdom Hearts 2 Revenge Value

What do you think about the Revenge Value System on KH2?

Kay, so, Revenge Value is super simple. It’s a system that exists to prevent infinite combos, by allowing enemies to break your combos after being hit a certain number of times.

So how many times do they need to be hit to trigger this combo-breaker attack? It varies based on what you hit them with. Each type of attack has a hardcoded number that adds up when you attack the enemy, documented here:
And each boss has a hardcoded value that determines how much revenge damage is required to trigger their combo breaker attack.

So basically, you’re allowed to stunlock the boss for a set period of time more or less, and once that’s up, they get to attack you. Thereby you can’t just stunlock the boss forever and actually have to deal with threats every so often.

There’s actually a lot of systems similar to this in various games. The most obvious is Poise from Dark Souls, where bosses need to take a certain amount of poise damage. Or Yokai Ki in Nioh, where, once expended, you can stunlock the enemy, but it has a Ki Regenerating combo breaker attack that triggers after a bit, which has super armor.In fighting games, they just build the combo system so combos naturally end eventually. Skullgirls actually has a similar system to Kingdom Hearts, called Drama. Drama is built up every time a move hits in a combos, dealing more drama based on whether the attack is light, medium, heavy, or special.

By having values tied to attack type in this way, it means that combos in skullgirls and kingdom hearts can be optimized by trying to hit with moves based on their damage relative to combo breaker buildup. Each attack can be evaluated for efficiency by calculating damage/revenge value, then it’s a matter of building a combo that hits as many of the highest efficiency attacks as possible, and in Kingdom Hearts’ case, having a followup to hit the boss when revenge is triggered.

Kind of the issue with Revenge Value, relative to Drama, is that it’s totally opaque. There’s no feedback telling you how much revenge value you’re dealing with each attack, or how much the boss will take before they retaliate. So it’s a matter of trial and error with each attack on each boss, then once you’ve mined all the values, it’s a matter of memorization. Drama in Skullgirls is a visible meter on the screen, and you are told the drama values of each attack outright in the tutorial.

So yeah, it’s a pretty cute system. It lets you have combos, gives you an optimization pressure, and keeps it somewhat challenging. I’d personally have designed the combo system to allow for shorter combos instead with more varied revenge attacks to make things more interesting. Probably also would have added additional constraints on what moves in combos link to make combo optimization harder, and vary combos based on their starter, so you have a more complex neutral game, but whatever. (also God Hand did it better)


Making a Fair Doppelganger Fight

What sets Devil Hand apart from the other kinds of doppelganger fights? (i.e. Dante) Or does it just show how good God Hands moveset is that it can also work for a Boss?

Well here’s the trick, God Hand doesn’t use Gene’s actual moveset on Azel or the Double God Hand Gene at the end of the arena. All of their attacks are reactable, and unlike you, they have the ability to block like common enemies, and even have a few new attacks. When you use roulette wheel moves, they’re effectively instantaneous because time slows for the cinematics. When they use it, it’s all in real-time. Continue reading

Clicker Games & The Hedonic Treadmill

What do you think of “idle” games like cookie clicker? Do they offer anything of value?

They basically play on the hedonic treadmill to foster addiction. They’re like a game you can’t ultimately lose and you can’t ultimately win. I hesitate to call them games, but I think the description is appropriate, because I think they stimulate similar centers of the brain. You have an inconsistency between consistent growth and explosive growth. They’re dangerous like gambling, and only safe in that they eventually peter out.

So basically, there’s this thing called the hedonic treadmill. We have kind of a base level of happiness and it’s high or it’s low. It largely depends on genetics, I think, to a lesser degree environmental factors and upbringing. As long as our settings remain consistent, we pretty much default back to this base level of happiness no matter how good or bad things are. Before clicker games were more basic idle games, like Progress Quest, which was basically, wait a long time and stuff grows. Candy Box then was like, “Hey, what if we made it so you could buy things that increase the rate at which stuff grows?” Then Cookie Clicker took that idea and made the entire game about it.

So just clicking the cookie is kind of boring, you can click, maybe mash pretty fast, but you’re just gonna get cookies at a consistent rate, and maybe you’ll do it long enough to get a bunch of cookies, but that’s extremely boring and eventually you leave. So then you can buy things using the cookies you’ve earned that increase how many cookies you get every click. So you buy one, and suddenly your clicks earn twice as much, and you’re back to the amount you just lost way faster than you took to get there the first time, and it’s like, “Whoa. This is cool.” Then you add auto-clickers on top of that to automatically generate revenue, but clicking the cookie itself is still the most profitable thing. The whole concept of the game is growth on top of growth. You earn money, spend it on things that improve your growth, and there’s always things over the horizon that take your growth and create an even exponentially higher amount of growth on top of that in a runaway cycle of positive feedback into more positive feedback. And this is crazy addicting because you cannot acclimate to any particular level of growth, it just keeps preempting the set-in of the hedonic treadmill again and again.

Cookie clicker isn’t a particularly fun game considered in abstract, it’s just clicking a button over and over again, you’re not really developing any skills, and you’ll have explosive growth no matter what you do practically. However it hijacks the way we process rewards so heavily that if you start playing it, it’s nearly impossible to put down, even though at the back of your mind you’re not really enjoying what you’re doing.

Of course, if you know this is the case, you can get smart and choose to break the addictive cycle. It’s hard because, “oh man, I’m earning more than before, I’m making progress, lets keep doing this,” but it’s possible.