What makes good combat?

Combat in a video game is good when you have a variety of options (discrete verbs that have unique animations, state, or use of unique entities) or sub-options (things like position, timing, rotation etc that modify the function of a verb) which have varied outcomes, and determining which option/suboption to use for a more/less optimal outcome in a given situation is unclear, but can be logically deduced.

If elements of your combat system are random (have output randomness, as opposed to input randomness), such as randomizing which attack you’ll perform when you press a button, then the best option for a scenario cannot be logically deduced. The same is true if the way that attacks function is unclear or inconsistent (like funky hitboxes producing drastically different outcomes with similar inputs, or the visuals not clearly communicating how the move works). Ideally the player should be able to visualize in their mind the outcome of different inputs, working it out like a math problem (“oh, I could have done that instead”). This makes a game fair and understandable.
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What should be in a review?

Include a basic summary of what the game is about and how it’s played.

Contextualize how you played it, so people can get an idea of your process and extrapolate how that may have shaped your review. (in playing BOTW, I made it clear that I aimed to play the game a certain way)

Make clear observations that attempt to explain how things work in a nuts-and-bolts way (pointing out velocity, acceleration, state, etc), instead of unclear descriptive words (smooth, slippery, tight, etc). Build up to a conclusion, don’t start with one and forget to justify it.

Never mark a game down for being hard. You’re allowed to say it’s too hard for you, or one part is too hard relative to others, but difficulty isn’t inherently bad. Difficulty affects depth, which is more important. Does the way the difficulty was implemented create more or less depth? (more by encouraging you to try different things instead of stick to one thing, or less by requiring a specific solution) Remember, there is no such thing as artificial difficulty, it’s hard or it isn’t. Continue reading

Why FEAR 1 Is The Most Important Hitscan Shooter – ft. Durandal

This is another guest post by Durandal. If you’d like to submit a guest post, contact me on discord.

In the 00’s, developers forgot how to make singleplayer shooters with deep combat anymore. For the sake of realism most weapons were made hitscan to resemble how guns work IRL. Enemy variety suffered, since hitscan tracers don’t have as many mutable properties as projectiles do. Weapon variety suffered, since identical enemies don’t warrant a varied weapon arsenal as much. Finally level design suffered, because there isn’t a whole lot you can do with identical weapons and enemies.

So what do you do if the core gameplay lacks variety? The common approach taken by most developers was switching to another style of gameplay to avoid wearing out the core shooting. Instead of running, you’re now driving a tank. Instead of gunning, you’re now forced to be stealthy. Instead of depth, you’re shooting for breadth. Shooters became theme park rides where every half hour they introduced a new mechanic or mode of gameplay and then threw it away for good. Remember all the vehicle sections? The turret sections? The sniper sections, forced stealth sections and escort missions? They weren’t mechanically deep, but they were at least something different.

Soldier of Fortune, No One Lives Forever, the Medal of Honor games, the Call of Duty games, TimeSplitters, Black, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, XIII, the new Wolfenstein games, the Gears of War games, the Killzone games, the Resistance games, even exceptions with standout combat like the Halo games and Vanquish all fell prey to this need to completely change the mode of gameplay for the sake of variety. That’s what happens when you don’t believe your core gameplay can carry the game — when you don’t know how to iterate on hitscan combat.

Stealthily sniping spotlights on a slowly moving monorail really plays to the strengths of Vanquish’ rocket-boosting combat

And then there’s FEAR. On the surface it’s identical to other shooters at the time, save for a slo-mo power and a three-weapon limit instead of the usual two. Here you’ll be fighting the same grunts over and over using a shotgun and some assault rifle variant. Yet despite this generic premise, FEAR managed to stand out in an oversaturated market. Not because of gimmicks or unique mechanics, but somehow good hitscan combat and “good” AI. So what did FEAR do right?

First, FEAR’s combat arenas are circular — meaning each path you can take is surrounded by one or two covered flanking routes. These allow you to circle around the main path and get the drop on enemies, which beats taking guaranteed hitscan damage in a direct firefight. Without these you’re left with a hallway (similar to the left layout in the above diagram) that only allows you to move back and forth, where all you can do is sit in place and play peekaboo; only moving up when most of the enemies are dead. Circular map design (like the right layout in the above diagram) then discourages simple and repetitive strategies like these by giving you the opportunity to move around enemies.

Second, the Replica AI can also make use of these flanking routes. Since no position is safe, both you and the Replicas are always trying to outmaneuver each other for a better angle. This new dynamic gives level designers more options to play around with: arena layout, height variation, player/enemy points of entry, cover density, and other opportunities for creating varied encounters can be used without resorting to gimmicks. More importantly, the levels provide the AI with options too. Without them the Replicas would be stuck playing peekaboo, just like you. “Good” AI is pointless if it has no meaningful options to use.

Third, FEAR grants you the initiative. Before the fight begins, the Replicas will spread out across the arena, unaware of you. This allows you to scan the arena layout, set up traps, and choose how to start the fight. This not only gives you more engagement options, but gives you more courage to start in the middle of the action.

Compare this to entering a new room only to find several Replicas inside already firing at you. Here your only options are to rush in for a better position, or retreat behind the doorway and take potshots. The former will kill you; the latter is boring, because it leaves you with no other viable movement options. There the Replicas can only flush you out with grenades, or waltz into your choke point one-by-one. Even if the room ahead is a well-designed circular arena, it’s wasted if you’re already pushed out of it when the fight begins.

But there’s another aspect to FEAR that sets it apart, and that’s information warfare. Here you have to deal with a fog of war. Enemies are spread out in such a way where you can’t see them all at once, and you’re rarely given a full overview of an arena. So without perfect information, you have to improvise through prediction and info gathering.

One such layer of information is sound, like how the sound of footsteps can give one’s position away. The Replicas are very vocal not just to appear smart, but also to give you more information. This way you can hear what their status is, or what they’re about to do next. Other sources of information may include lighting. Shadows reveal enemies around corners, and Replicas get alerted to your flashlight. And by knowing that Replicas prefer to flank, you can predict the path they’re more likely to take.

Compared to shooters with a similar focus on positioning like Quake 3 or Rainbow Six: Siege, FEAR’s info warfare is very basic. The former pit do pit you against actual human opponents, after all. But FEAR proves there’s untapped potential for singleplayer hitscan shooters where the AI can outmaneuver you. FEAR only doesn’t take the idea that far. To that end, there could be secondary objectives. Vying for resources or having to capture/defend a target would expand the mindgames; force both parties to consider more than killing each other. Diverse enemy behaviours (sneaky, distant, aggressive) could expand what you can predict/exploit. More movement options (destructible surfaces, teleporting, grappling hooks) could expand how you approach each other. Tools such as radars and drones could expand how to gather information. Both parties could spread misinformation using holograms, cloaking devices, traps, and smoke grenades. Most of the Siege operators would make for interesting enemy types, actually.

The flanking game is what makes FEAR great, but the slo-mo power and being able to carry up to 10 instant-heal medkits conflicts with that. Both allow you to tank damage that would have killed you otherwise. And because slo-mo energy refills fast and medkits are handed out like candy, you have a lot of resources to tank through enemy fire; playing down the flanking game in favor of a shallower yet more effective playstyle.

Mechanics that mitigate damage (regenerating health/shields, portable medkits, slo-mo) do allow more aggressive playstyles in the face of hitscan. But these tend to have the opposite effect of encouraging thoughtless brute-force playstyles. Why think about movement if I can tank most damage anyways? To compensate, games could offer you tools to gain the positional advantage. In Crysis and Vanquish you can spend your energy for a positional advantage (Maximum Cloak/Speed, knee thrusters) or an offensive advantage (Maximum Power/Armor, slo-mo). So could FEAR’s slo-mo energy also be used for a speed boost.

FEAR managed to remain engaging despite its limited enemy/weapon variety and it being all hitscan by adopting a new design paradigm. One where positioning and constant movement are emphasized rather than tanking damage or trench warfare, proving that interesting combat can be had with only hitscan. Sadly, no singleplayer game tried to follow in FEAR’s footsteps since, despite the massive unexplored potential of this new paradigm that Rainbow Six: Siege also hints at.

SFV Proposed fixes

SFV’s final version is approaching, and I realized that I hadn’t published this, so I might as well get it out.

SFV is kind of a mess, kind of controversial. I’ve done my fair share of defending it in the early days, but I eventually quit the game because I wasn’t really happy with it or the direction it was going in. I’d say that the core issue with the game is forced commitment. People had a lot of issues with SFIV being non-committal, things like invincible backdashes, crouch tech, safe sweeps, uppercut FADC, too many features like this tend to make the game about forcing the opponent to endure your shit and hoping they eventually mess up. On the other hand, having high commitment to everything makes the game more like rock paper scissors, as things more cleanly win or lose versus one another, and you don’t have ways to hedge your bets to get a draw.

I admit I’m not an expert player, and since I quit a while back, I don’t really know what’s up with the current round of patches or more character specific issues. If I were to do a balance patch, I’d exclusively buff lower tier characters. I don’t think the top tier have any degenerate tactics that need nerfing, they’re good all-around and don’t violate the spirit of the game, and it’s been this way for the majority of the game’s life. I’d probably revert each character to the point they were at their best, or slightly below that point if their best was truly broken (Mika, Abigail), but largely buff lower tier characters.

  • Increase pushback on sweeps (making sweeps unsafe was a good move from SFIV, but making them unsafe when spaced is too far)
  • Increase pushback and decrease startup/recovery of fireballs to be closer to SFIV standards (fireballs being unsafe on block as well as being very high commit is a large part of why they’re bad)
  • Revert command grab recoveries to before season 2.5 (having them vulnerable to neutral jump is reasonable, having them vulnerable to many jump back punishes is crazy)
  • Increase distance moved backwards on air reset, to prevent jab anti-air from air resetting
  • Make all reversal uppercut moves invincible without spending meter, or at least invincible up to the first active frame.
  • Remove counterhit property from backdash, make it airborne from frame 1 (lets you use backdash to evade throws and minimize melee damage without avoiding it completely, giving you another wakeup option vs throws without letting you ignore meaty pressure like invincible backdashes) Alternatively, just remove the counterhit property, but make it throw invincible at the start for like 6 frames, so you can get a combo, but not like a crush combo.
  • Increase the number of normals with enough frame advantage to link into other normals (linking routes on most characters are rather boring due to this). Avoid doing this for light attacks, unless they cannot be self-chained or linked into from other light attacks.
  • Decrease the hurtbox size under jumping attacks so they’re closer in dimensions to the hitbox size (weakens anti-air jabs significantly, makes AA in general slightly less guaranteed)
  • Increase the duration that hurtboxes stay out after a move whiffs, animate to generally match the limb as it retracts, rather than jerkily appearing/disappearing (make whiff punishing more viable)
  • Increase the range of the hitbox on poking moves, in particular crouching medium kicks, so that they feel less stubby.
  • Allow any special that is forward jump only to be performed on neutral and back jumps, except divekicks, where only EX versions can be performed on back jumps.
  • Allow chip kills with EX moves (a decent compromise from only supers chip killing and allowing any special to chip kill)
  • Bump up character walk speeds slightly, like 6-10%.
  • Make overheads safer on block, or only punishable with light attacks (decent risk, low reward instead of  moderately high risk, low reward).
  • Make it so crush counter moves are never plus on block, and so poking ones are not plus on normal hit.
  • Add charge partitioning??? (this one is kind of off the wall, and I don’t really know how it would affect the game)
  • Make limb hurtboxes slimmer, so limbs that visually appear to go over/under each other do so with more reliability.
  • Reduce min heights on air specials.
  • change all hits of all attacks to be JP6 at minimum, make all EX attacks JP∞. (More Juggle Potential would open up the combo system a lot without much more effort, dunno if this would fuck anything up, but whatever, I’m not here to do a careful study)
  • change V-reversal to be more similar to GG’s dead angle attacks, rather than GG’s bursts. So 10-13 frames rather than 17-18 frames, early frames are completely invincible, later frames vulnerable to attacks.
  • Bring back advantage on throw, increase throw invincibility on wakeup to 4-5f, so you need to scare the person knocked down into throwing, like in every other game.

I don’t really have a solid solution for “robbery V-triggers”, V-triggers that can result in extremely high damage combos for late-game comebacks. Nerfing them is the obvious solution, but that would seriously reduce the number of skillful combos in the game and change the feel of many characters. I think a more healthy move for the game would probably be to integrate a lot of the alternate V-Trigger movesets as basic moves, and removing V-trigger entirely, or toning it down significantly, but there’s no clear solution.

Similarly, I don’t have a solid solution for the way that nearly all combos are too easy. I think average combo length is good currently, and making average combos harder would require either reducing hitstop (like 3rd strike), or reducing the buffer (which honestly wouldn’t be a horrible idea, a 1f buffer instead of 2f. The smallest link window being 2f wouldn’t be terrible). However I feel like these changes would also hurt the accessibility of the game. Over time Capcom has implemented V-Triggers that allow for harder combos, thanks to negative edge, quick stance cancels, quirky button combinations or the like, but working more skillful combos into the game without also increasing combo length and the difficulty of basic combos is an extremely tricky problem. Having more meaty-only combos, or combos based on delays or moving hitboxes could increase combo difficulty and situationality.

It’s relatively easy to mod SFV, if someone wants to make a mod with all these changes, that would be pretty cool.

Objectivity vs Subjectivity

Okay, so a topic that has been kicked around a lot over the past decade (and generally forever) is the concept of objectivity in reviews or critiques of works of media. There seem to be two sides, the side that wants all critique of media to be objective, based on verifiable facts about the work of media (which you might typify as MauLer), and the side that wants to use media as a lens for interpretation of ideas, and doesn’t care so much about the contents of the work so much as what it represents (which you might typify as modern art critics).

Of course not everyone is so far to one side or the other, there’s a lot of people in the middle, a more common position from the subjective people is, “this review is my opinion, therefore it’s subjective. Anyone else’s review is their opinion, and therefore subjective.” and a more mediated position from the objective people would be, “I think based on evidence of the work that the work is this way, and we agree that these criteria in a work are generally good, and thereby we can agree this work meets or does not meet those criteria if my assessment is correct.”

To make things simple, I’m going to call our sides objectivists and subjectivists. Please don’t mistake objectivists for Ayn Rand Objectivism, which is not objective at all and is generally kind of a joke. Continue reading

What’s the point of combos in fighting games?

Many beginners get into fighting games and see these COMBOS and feel like, “bullshit, it’s not fair that they can deal a billion damage. I hit them twice as much and they win off one hit.” While that can be frustrating, combos add a lot to the game that you can’t get any other way.

The deal with combos is they make certain hits under certain circumstances more damaging than just any random hit. Games with longer combos allow players to find different combo routes that lead to different types of advantages, like more damage, better screen positioning, knockdown, meter gain, easier confirms, and safety on block. Continue reading

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.

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