Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Got Your Nose

Deception can take on many forms. However, for us nerds in competition it serves a very important purpose. This is because when we play competitive games, our opponent must not know our intentions. If we disguise our intentions, it makes it much more difficult for them to read us. If the opponent can't read us, they have to guess to counter us.

As I mentioned in my previous articles, the first step is to know what your intentions are. You must be aware of each choice in a decision point. If you're at tempo advantage for instance, your natural answer is to keep attacking, and so your opponent will want to stop you from attacking. They might block, or they might do some counter move, or try to parry, or some other attack. You could guess what they're going to do. You could also condition them so they want to do one thing instead of another.

In a situation at tempo advantage, the best way of deception is to condition them not to do something when you are at advantage. A good example might be to do the fastest possible actions at tempo advantage, which discourages them from attacking. Then instead of attacking quickly, do a slower, unblockable move or a move that hits in a difficult way (such as a low attack or overhead).

As mentioned before, conditioning is a good way to persuade the opponent into doing something. But we're talking about deception here. In poker, deception is very powerful. If you can fool people into thinking you are strong when you are not, you will win many many games of poker.

Once upon a time, I was playing Capcom vs. SNK 2 with a friend of mine. It was a very tense moment and I was winning, up about 75% of my Sagat's life against his Zangief, who was almost dead at about 20%. He had a full super meter though and I told him that if he wanted to win, he would have to land final atomic buster, Zangief's throw super. Throughout the match, I reinforced this idea, that he would have to FAB me in order to win. Zangief also has another super though. It's an air grab super that jumps up and grabs people in the air and does a lot of damage, although not as much as FAB. I whiffed a crouching fierce in front of Zangief and he rolled at me. He rolled through my fierce punch, and I saw the super flash. In this situation, it would be better for me to jump, to avoid the FAB since if you jump you will avoid the grab.

But in this situation I stood still because I knew he would not do the FAB since I had been commenting on it for a good 45+ seconds. He did the airgrab predictably, I hit him out of the air and went on to win the match.

In Magic, the same can be said for cards in your hand. If you are a green player, you might pretend that you have some powerful instant casting card (such as Giant Growth) that makes one of your creature cards more powerful. If you have this buff in your hand, you might be able to use it to wipe out one of their creatures, putting you at a strong board advantage. If they think you have this card, they'll be more likely to make safer moves, which can benefit you.

So in the situation that you have the card, your 'tells' will be based around what you want them to do. If you want them to lose resources to you, you'll want to put up the air that you don't have the card. You might lie to them and say you don't have any in your deck, or just act like you don't have many tricks or are drawing bad cards. Then when they make the "smart" attacking play, you can block and pump up with giant growth, making your creature defeat theirs.

If you want them to play passively so your deck has time to build up, you'll want to suggest that you have a G-growth in your hand so that they don't attack for fear of losing card advantage, and don't block for fear of losing card advantage. In this way, you can build up your defenses safely and they won't want to attack. In some cases the fake won't stop them, but you can reinforce it quickly with a real threat - all it takes is for them to lose a strong creature to a weak blocker that gets buffed by an instant spell to make the threat very real. After that, all you have to do is suggest that you might have a G-growth in your hand. Better yet, suggest that you don't. Reverse psychology works really well.

What about... StarCraft? I haven't mentioned that game in a while.

Zerg are -really- good at deception. I'm a protoss player, but I love zerg. Zerg can spawn from any hatchery, and you can morph them into any type of unit you want with only one building needed, unlike terrans or protoss. Protoss need templar archives, gateways, robotics facilities, and so on. Zerg just need hatcheries and the appropriate tech building. So it is not uncommon to see someone switch from a heavy muta air build into a hydra/lurker ground build, to an ultra/defiler ground build as the situation demands. If you're playing versus terran, they have different counters for zerg. They need goliath/valkyrie to counter mutas, or tons of medics and marines. They need tanks to counter lurkers. By switching tech on your opponent, you screw with their counters. If you know a terran player's tendencies, you can run mutas to get them to build turrets and make lots of medic/marine, then switch to hydra/lurker and really screw their day. Now they've got to build tanks and sci vessels, except that takes a ton of effort and resources. If you're good with lurkers, you can just walk them right up to the enemy base unless they counter.

Yeah, I don't play zerg because they take too much micro, but man, they rock.

One thing I liked doing in first person shooter games with large maps is act as a spotter without actually engaging. I'd watch many enemies move in and I'd call them as they come in, but I wouldn't engage myself. After the enemy attack had moved in, I'd attack the back end and kill guys from behind. By hiding my presence I could get a couple kills and make things way easier on the defending guys. In general, this meant we could defend with way fewer people and could devote much of our force to offense.

Another thing I liked to do in Halo is mask attacks on the enemy base in order to steal their vehicles. With a large attacking force, a group of us would attack the enemy in our vehicles. Other people would sneak in and steal the enemy vehicles and drive them to hiding places and park them, so that the enemy would not have any respawning vehicles at their base until they came to our hiding spots on foot and got them back. In the meantime, our attacking force was attacking the objective, but really they were just stalling for time so that the defenders would not stop people from stealing their vehicles (Actually, the attackers didn't know what was going on, but we did, so basically they died so we could steal vehicles. Oh well, we won anyway~)

Tricking people into doing something is sweetness. A good idea is to position yourself such that there is one very obvious thing you want to do. Then... do it! If your opponent is very good, he will probably think you are tricking him into defending against the obvious thing, then he will try to do what beats the counter move instead.

If your opponent is knocked down, you might rush at him and huddle very close as though you are going to throw him. This seems like an obvious bait for a dragon punch. Your opponent would never fall for that, so instead he will try to take the advantage, except you actually do the throw, and he gets thrown. Very tricky!

So what about real life? It is pretty nerdy to take a skill like this and apply it only in competition, right?

The answer is that you should generally not try to decieve people in real life situations. It is okay to be tricky in competition, because in the end you still show respect for the person, and in its own way, tricking and decieving them shows respect for them - it says, "you are a good enough player that I'm forced to hide my intentions when I'm playing against you."

Lying and hiding the truth in real life though are not respectful things. There is no competition or prize to be won by being dishonest.