Sunday, April 12, 2009

Timing and Singing the Blues

Back from Sakura-con, I'm ready to write some more. I still don't have net at my house, though, so I am stealing my parents' internet.

I actually don't really have something I want to talk about right now, but interestingly enough I have a continuation of a topic about competition I'd like to revisit.

Before, we talked about space control. Controlling space is sort of the basics of any game and without threatening the enemy, we can't win the game. But tempo is almost as important, because controlling time keeps our enemy from fighting back, and knowing the times when he can counter and when he can not.

Some games are more about time than others. StarCraft is sort of limited in tempo because a player can do many many things simultaneously. There is still the issue of controlling the flow of the match, but it is usually through resource control or space control, which are still very cool things. Chess is a game largely about space control too, but tempo can be very important since sometimes you are threatened so much that you can't really attack without hurting yourself, and that lets your opponent attack more.

The games that are most about tempo are games where making one action precludes you from doing another, and actions take varying lengths of time. Even more about tempo is games with knockdowns or other ways to put your opponent at lots of time disadvantage. And lastly, mobility hurts tempo somewhat - the more a game allows you to escape and reset a situation, the worse controlling time is.

Remember when I talked about doing nothing? That is a lot of the basis of tempo. As soon as you make a choice to do something, you put yourself at some form of time disadvantage. If you attack, you must wait for that attack to end before you can defend yourself. If you choose to move around with some kind of dash or jump, you are committed to doing that jump or dash until it ends. Not all games have that kind of movement, but most have the concept of "I attack, then you can punish me for attacking."

If you attack, then you have to get something for it, or you must lose nothing or very little. I think I talked about that in my nothing article. However, I'm specifically referring to making a real attack, and not a 'nothing' attack that isn't really meant to attack. When you go to attack, you have to put your opponent in danger. If you hit the enemy, then they lose health or some other resource. But the other thing they often lose is time, too!

When you get hit by an attack, you can't do anything for a while. If the enemy's attack ends before your hit stun ends, they can use that time to attack again. If you attack, they will probably beat your attack, unless your attack is invulnerable. In many cases you'll just want to defend in order to wait until they leave themselves open...

If your attack hits or gets blocked, there may be another situation though. If the opponent recovers from getting hit or blocking before you do, they can attack and you are now in the dangerous spot!

In a first-person shooter or similar game, losing a team member is often a form of tempo loss (in CS or other elimination games it's a resource loss, but in respawn games it's time). While that person is waiting to respawn and get into position, your team is weaker until that person can reassert their threat on the battlefield. In games like Gears of War, having a team member who is hurt and needs to be revived is a tempo loss too. If the enemy kills him, he becomes a permanent resource loss. However, in some cases it may be even worse to lose more tempo by reviving your friend who is bleeding out, instead of completing an objective.

I spent a lot of time defining tempo (and time advantage, same thing), but how do we use it?

If we are at time disadvantage, we must know this. If our opponent knows we are at time advantage it is better for him to play safely/defensively (do nothing?!) until they regain the tempo. It might also mean that they do riskier things, like do dragon punches or super moves that are invincible (or parries, etc.)

This means that we have a good idea of what they might do. If we think they will do a dragon punch or other invincible move, we should do nothing and punish them for it. If we think they will do nothing, we should attack and press the advantage in whatever way we can, perhaps by throwing, or by taking objectives that they can't defend with fewer people.

This is of course another reason why you should have as much knowlege about your game as you can, so that you know when you are at advantage.

Protip: if a grenade is at your feet and you have to jump away, you're probably at time disadvantage

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