Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Gaming is Too Hard, I'll Watch Instead

So a looong hiatus from writing here I have made. The reason is partly because I'm in the process of writing articles now for MMOhub.org but it's also largely due to writer's block. I was given a few ideas that I had no idea how to implement well. This idea came to me in a dream last night. Either way, the MMO Hub writing thing will hopefully be awesome. I really like their site presentation and they are pretty cool people to work with.

Today, I'll be talking about gameplay videos. BlazBlue is out (sort of) and I've been watching match videos to get a feel for the game. I don't own it yet, but I've played the arcade version a little bit. It's fun and interesting, but I can't really make a judgment on it until I've played it at the intermediate level at least.

Gameplay videos are our way of learning to play a game without actually playing it. Sometimes the videos are really useful tutorials that show us exactly what we need to do in a game. Other times, the videos are artistic exhibitions that don't really show practical things, but instead demonstrate the limits of what you can do in a game.

I won't be talking much about artistic videos, though.

When we watch videos with the intent of learning things, we need to be aware of what it is we're actually trying to pick up. Tutorial videos are pretty simple to figure out, unless they are in a language we don't know. Even then, it's pretty easy to guess what people are doing and why they are doing it. A tutorial isn't as good as someone there to explain how to do things, but really, it's the next best thing.

Match footage is going to be the real focus of this article. When we watch a competition match we aren't always sure of what we are going to learn from it. We can watch matches of particular characters or matchups, or just big videos of good players (such as tournament finals and so on). These teach us different things depending on what we are looking for.

When we go to watch matches, we generally have something we want to learn from them. If we're having trouble in a particular situation, we might watch matches to see others replicate that situation.

A good example to use might be StarCraft (surprise!) because a lot of the time, the matches have commentary and that helps us better understand what's going on and the decisions we need to make in that game. The commentary isn't always right, but it helps show us noobs (or you pros!) what is going on at least.

StarCraft matches are unique because there are only 3 races, but the map selection means that each matchup on each map must be handled in a different way. Add the commentary to the mix and we can see a lot of ways to play your particular race on any given map.

In addition to seeing strategies, you can see little nuance tricks and strategies. In fighting games, this type of learning is somewhat essential if you are not a training mode god who can figure out combos easily. Even if you are, learning combos and tricks from pros expedites your learning. Even better is that you can see what pros use that is practical, that might not be what you'd learn from a guide or FAQ.

Nuance is very important. If you see that you can do a particular trick such as instant blocking/parrying a particular attack and then get some free damage, that's valuable knowledge. If in StarCraft you see how to sneak a worker through a building or mineral patch using mining mode, that's great info that you can use in future matches.

Nitpicky details are the things we learn best from videos. We don't really learn strategies well, even with commentary. It's difficult for us to see "why are they not doing anything" even if the opponent leaves themself open just a little later, or if they don't fight back against a powerful rush and end up losing. We can't put ourself in the mind of the player and ask why, which is the important part of learning strategy.

The point I'm trying to make here is that you need to try as best you can to ask yourself why people chose to do something instead of something else. Sometime these decisions are obvious and other times they are not. The important thing is that we put our critical thinking skills to the test and learn as much as we can.

The last type of video are artsy videos. Most of these are promotional videos to hype a product, but there are also combo videos, freestyle dance videos (for DDR) and other similar videos that have nothing to do with 'real gameplay' for a game. Some of these are useful even still.

Combo videos and similar types of videos that show intricate, detailed gameplay are the best. While I include highlight reel videos in this grouping, highlights are generally not as 'artsy' as combo videos tend to be. We can learn a lot about a game's mechanics by watching people do combos, because the combo mechanics reveal a lot about what each character is capable of doing. That's pretty useful information.

Anyway, this is a whole lot nicer than reading Seth Killian's article on video watching, but I am going to make the same point that he did:

When you watch a video, think about what the person is doing, and why - and you'll get the most out of it.

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