Wednesday, March 25, 2009

"Halo doesn't have hitboxes!"

The title of this post comes from a RL acquaintance of mine that pretty much had no clue about high level gameplay at all. He was probably better at aiming than me, though.

My goal is to eventually get to talk about 'higher' gameplay concepts. But somewhere before that I have to talk about mid-level gameplay concepts. This article is about space control. Space control is universally present throughout any and all competitive games and a lot of single player type games too. It's present in D&D, even.

The basic idea of space control is to deny the opponent the ability to move somewhere without you hurting him or at least threatening to hurt him. The distinction here is that you actually want to discourage the opponent from moving there, so you (or your team) can do other things elsewhere. A good example is in *gasp* StarCraft where a player can contain the enemy and keep the enemy from leaving their base. If it is sufficiently hard enough for the opponent to escape, they might not even try, and then the person doing the containing can expand or tech or mass forces more safely, without fear of losing control of the map. By using good scouts, a contain can also let a player know when the opponent tries to sneak units out with dropships.

This basic principle is, again, everywhere. In first-person shooters, a sniper controls a narrow but long cooridor of space. Although a sniper can often get a vantage point where a lot of places can be seen, a sniper is generally only good at locking down the area roughly within his scope at any one time. Superhuman aiming skills let him do more than that, but it is fairly uncommon for a sniper to actively search for opponents within his entire field of view. Often when you see a sniper turn randomly in a match video to snipe someone, it is probably because the sniper was given some form of information that the person was going to be there ahead of time. Either way though, the sniper controls space. Other team members who are not snipers can also control space, although they tend to control wider, but smaller areas of the map. Often your team will position people at certain landmarks or near them because those places are important and need to be locked down. The Engineer in TF2 really exploits this concept, because his sentry gun can control a wide area of space until it is destroyed.

In games that are not perfect information, you can present space control in several ways. One aspect of space control is to hide the fact that you are actively defending an area. If the opponent doesn't know you are defending somewhere, they will likely stumble into your defenses and probably give up points or lose time and effort in an attack. Oftentimes you want to present your threats of space control, though. If you establish a credible threat such as a sniper or a wall of units, the opponent will probably try to find a way around, or try to find a way to beat your space control without putting themselves in danger. This may mean that you can reinforce your defenses elsewhere, or attack them in their blind spots in turn. You may also, as mentioned before, use this to gain control of the map and resources, such as pickups or whatever. This may also make the opponent waste resources, such as indirect firing units, grenades, rockets, whatever, in order to try and break your stranglehold on him. If you're aware of what might happen in this scenario, you can be prepared and beat them if they try to break out.

However, there is also games of perfect information such as chess, or Street Fighter. In these games it is likely that your opponent knows what threats you have. If he does not, you will likely hit him many times over and over until he knows what threats you do have (or in chess, he will probably ask you what pieces can do what). If your opponent knows where you can threaten him, he will probably try to avoid that space as much as possible. For instance, Zangief can threaten with his spinning piledriver from just outside the range of his sweep. His spinning piledriver is very fast and does lots and lots of damage, so the most important thing to do against Zangief is to stay out of the range of his spinning piledriver. If Zangief knows this he can try to make you make mistakes, or he can create 'mixup' situations where you must guess which way he is going to attack, so then he can avoid your counter or knock you down, and hit you with a spinning piledriver.

The positioning and thought process is very similar to avoiding a rook or queen in chess. If you don't want to give away free pieces, you need to know where all the pieces on the map can move. If you can do this, then your opponent will have to try and strike at you and force unfavorable trades with you. It is a little different than creating a 'mixup' per se, because time is not as much of a factor in chess. But it requires you to think a number of moves ahead and predict how your opponent might react - if you think you might be able to move pieces in a way to keep the opponent from countering until it is too late, then you might very well be able to avoid his rook or bishop or queen or perhaps even force a capture on them.

This concept is sort of basic but very important. You have to have some expanded game knowledge, especially in the complete information games. If you know how to use Lurkers in SC to contain a player, and know the counters, then you will know when and how to contain and how and when to withdraw your contain. If you know the exact reach of spinning piledriver, you will be able to grab someone if they get even a pixel too close! And hopefully intricate midgame positioning in chess should be self explanatory. If it is not, let me assure you that it takes study and a fair bit of practice to master. For the games of more hidden information, such as shooters, nuance is still very important, such as the effective ranges of your weapon and the layout of the map you are playing on. If you know the playfield very well, you can guess where the opponent might be trying to lock you down from, and use the advantages of stealth to attack him from behind, before he knows you aren't coming through his controlled area.

Once you are aware of the nuances of space control, you can use it for silly things like knowing exactly how far certain ships in EVE Online can shoot. If you memorize these things, then you can tell if someone has increased range modules by when they engage you. You can also use the opponent's speed and such to determine how effective 'zoning them out' is.

In World of Warcraft, space control is mainly useful in the realms of knowing caster and bow ranges, and also simple things like people defending a particular point on the map. The same tends to be true for other MMORPGs too. When ranges are too 'easy' though, things get less interesting, so WoW in particular is not as complex of a game in the world of space control.

In 3rd person action games, you control space by generally have a longer reaching weapon that can interrupt foes trying to attack you. God of War is a pretty good example of this. If you learn the distances and angles in which the Blades of Chaos protect you in that game, you can take on many enemies at once and never take damage (and if you memorize which ones have projectiles, you can space the rest of your foes out, and dodge the foes with projectiles too!)

In general a good idea to get the feel of space control is to play 3rd person action games, and get used to hitting people at the edge of your melee weapon to keep them away from you. Chess is also a good concrete example, although if you're training for fighting game style space control, it's better to visualize the pixels you see onscreen and be able to judge how close to the opponent your pixels have to be to damage them.

If you can master space control, you'll have a new, brick wall tactic you can bring up in order to keep opponents at bay, and make them have to fight on your terms.

And this post had nothing to do with fireballs!

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