Monday, July 13, 2009

Wind, Forest, Fire, Mountain

Swift like the wind, silent as the forest, fierce like the fire and immovable like the mountain. That's what you must be like!

Takeda Shingen said it, quoting Sun Tzu. And that's what we're gonna talk about today!

In competition there are certain ways tempo can go. I talked about it already so if you haven't read that article, that's a good place to finish. This article is more like the beginner lesson compared to that article, which is more advanced. It's a concept I've known about for ages, but at the same time never really put it into words.

The flow of time in a match can go back and forth, and typically starts pretty neutral. Some players are really good at fighting at different times. I'm really good at neutral play. Most good players are good on attack. It's pretty rare to find people who are defense experts, because it's a situation that is universally bad to be in. Being at disadvantage sucks - when most people play 'defensively' they are actually fighting in a neutral state and keeping the other player from going on offense.

Attacking is the most novice state to be in. Most people naturally attack constantly because attacking is the way to victory. It depends on the game of course, but unless you're playing a RTS the natural inclination is to attack. In an RTS, the natural inclination is to tech.

Attacking is a good place to be if you are actually on offense. If you can actually get offensive momentum, your opponent's options will be limited. It is hard to attack when your enemy has attacks in your face. All of your energy needs to be spent minimizing loss and getting out of a bad situation. As the attacker, you can dictate the pace of the match so it's important that you know some key things.

First, you have to know how to create opportunities for damage. You're fighting against someone who wants to get out of trouble so the first thing you need to know is how to bypass defense and cause some pain. Your end goal is causing damage that will hopefully lead to a win. If your opponent can defend all of your attack then you just wasted an opportunity.

Next, you need to know the gaps. No offense is foolproof. There's always a way to beat you. Make sure you know how. If your opponent has some tricky defense maneuver you need to know when they can use it - and how to beat it. That way when a gap opens up, you can punish them for trying to escape and continue your offense.

Lastly, you need to know how to milk an opportunity. If you start a fire in their base you gotta know how to keep it burning. If you get a few zerglings into their base you gotta know how to use surround to kill their workers as they flee. If you land a standing jab you gotta know how to follow up for maximum hurt.

But most important is that you have to know when to go on offense at all. And that brings us to what I do best - fight at a neutral state.

Neutral situations are tricky. There is no hard and fast rule for them because in many games they end abruptly with someone getting an advantage. Most importantly, both players have many options available to them. This is very tricky because you never know whether your opponent is going to play safely or aggressively.

A neutral state is generally characterized by neither player being in "effective" threatening range. In a FPS that might be where both teams haven't made contact yet, or aren't sure where the other team is. In a fighting game it's typically a matter of distance, where either player is just outside the range where most of their fast, hard to predict moves can hit. In RTS it's when both armies aren't engaging.

At this distance, the best option for an aggressive player is to safely test the water and try to get your opponent to make a mistake. If you can find a gap in their defense, move in and take it. However, trying to attack predictably will get you countered.

One thing that advanced players try to do is stick attacks out just outside of range. This way, if the opponent moves in just a little bit or makes an attack of their own, your attack will hit theirs. In StarCraft, this is typically the start of a "contain" offense - using threatening attacks from a strong defensible position to limit the enemy from attacking.

If the opponent is using this tactic against you, you can wait for them to stick out a slow attack before you move in. If you do this though, make sure you move in using the fastest method possible. This typically means rushing in with a dash, instant air dash, or an attack that moves you forward. If you move in too slowly (eg. jumping in or walking) the opponent will usually have a LOT of time to hit you while you close in. Even if you do this as fast as possible, you may get countered if you are too predictable. Be very careful!

A defensive player like me can also space themselves out and use hard to defeat moves at long range in order to create an unapproachable wall. This is a good strategy if used right. If you happen to put the opponent on the defense by blocking your attack or getting hit, move in and go on offense - don't throw away an advantage when your opponent is on the defensive already!

As I mentioned in The Book of Nothing not attacking at all can be very powerful at these times. Nothing is best when neither player has an advantage and not too good otherwise. If they attack at you, and you're doing nothing, you can react quickly and defeat it.

One thing I didn't mention in that article is that there are certain times when an attack is MOST likely. If your opponent is just recovering from an attack he is most likely to come back to hit you as soon as he can. If your opponent has just defended he is most likely to lash out at you. Learn to predict what your opponent will do and your battle will become incredibly easy.

On defense is troubling. When your opponent is attacking and has the advantage it is tough to find a way out.

First is to find the gaps in the offense. I mentioned this for the attacker - if you don't know how to get out, an offense can seem unbreakable. Find the gaps and learn how you can fight out.

Once you know that - it's a guessing game. Sometimes you can use a gap to counter your opponent and go on offense, which is great. Sometimes you can't and you just need to escape. Countering your opponent can give great rewards, but almost always you're at risk if you fail.

On the other hand, escaping might also be risky so don't jump the gun either way. Take an opportunity if you have it... but beware, a smart attacker might read you and try to counter. Take the next step, and expect the counter.

And the next step is to expect him not to counter - then you can just escape.

It's a mindgame!

Hopefully that helped. This took me days to write, guys. Seriously.

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