Jul 2, 2011

Introduction to the Upcoming Madness

Okay, so here's the deal. This is (very) slightly reworked from a script for a video that was going to introduce the new series I'm working on. However, I quickly realised that no matter what I was going to do, that video was not going to be super-entertaining to the vast majority of you. It did, however, serve a certain purpose as a mission-statement for myself, and as extra background for anybody super-interested in the thought that was going behind the show, and who wanted a bit of an idea of what they were soon going to be in for as probably making up the bulk of my content, at least, in terms of the amount of time spent working on it. Let's Plays, LiveStreaming, and the occasional detatched commentary will continue, but that stuff is all a lot less time-intensive than what I have in mind here.

So, for those people who want a little more information on what's up and coming, take the following as something of a statement of intent describing the direction I'm trying to go in. It'll all become a lot clearer when you see the first actual episode in the next few weeks (after which, having set things up correctly, I'm hoping to be able to produce them on a weekly basis).

And I'd love to answer any questions or hear any feedback about my specific plans.

There are going to be a few main topics in this introduction;

Firstly, we're going to talk about what the series is actually going to be about, and the different kinds of content you can expect, and a little bit of the background behind the show.

Secondly, a little bit of a look at who the show is actually aimed at.

And thirdly we're going to start getting into the meat of the show by talking a little bit about what I'm thinking are going to be some core concepts or pillars that'll be coming up a lot.

So, first up, let's talk about the actual series. There are going to be a few different kind of videos, but the purpose is ever the same. The show is about being an awesome gamer.

I might not be the absolute greatest player in the world at any one game. I would never claim to be. But I still absolutely consider myself an expert in gaming. I've been playing games almost my entire life, and in a way which is very far from casual. I like to look at things analytically, games being no different, and when I play, I almost always do my best to win, even if fun is the thing that comes first. I'm often the guy who really gets all the theory, even if the practical application is a little weaker, and this is true for gaming – although I still like to think that my actual play is above average in most games.

Some say that those who can't do teach – there might be a little truth in this. I could never be a pro-gamer myself, but I do have a fair bit of insight into competitive gaming that I'd love to pour back into the gaming community in some way.

When it comes to being an awesome gamer, there's more to it than being good at games. The more you understand about gaming culture, the more you can contribute back to it. In my mind, that's a core part of what makes somebody a gamer instead of just being somebody who plays games. A solid interest in the culture behind gaming.

To the ends of sharing any and all insight I have into the world of gaming, and to the ends of fostering and contributing to this culture, there are going to be three main kinds of episodes. Firstly, there'll be gameplay analysis based episodes. These are going to be really in-depth looks at bits of gameplay, at first just my gameplay, but down the line, if I pick up a little bit of a following, I'd love to look at gameplay sent in by viewers.

I'm not looking to focus on any one game. One of the things that I've realised over the years, and especially more recently, is that all games have common threads of things that are useful. There's a certain crossover between skill in one game and skill in others, and as you get more experienced with games you become a better gamer in general, as well as gaining more proficiency in specific titles. And we're trying to foster awesome gamers, not awesome Counter-Strike players (or whatever game).

The second type of video will be gaming culture pieces. Rants about gaming in general or about recent events in the sphere. If you've read some of my text rants on the blog, you get the idea. It'll be that kind of stuff. It'll probably be a while before the first of these because I'm still not sure what exactly I'll do as a video to compliment the ranting. Possibly just talking at the camera, but I'd like to throw some other stuff in there, maybe just gameplay montages, I'm not sure.

The third type will be reviews. These won't always be on new games, either, but probably on newER games, or on games that I think aren't that well-known by today's gamer that perhaps should be for various reasons. These'll be a little bit different from the typical review that you see in that they'll be very in-depth about how the game actually plays. Yes, I'll say whether or not I think the game is good, or why, but it might be more accurate to think of these videos as in-depth examinations of a particular game than as a straight review.

So those are going to be the main types of episodes. They'll be of varying lengths – basically they'll be as long as it takes for me to say all the things I have to say. Expect anywhere from 10 minutes to over an hour. I know not many people will have the time to watch the longer videos, but I do watch stuff that long, and... basically if I think it stays interesting and entertaining for an hour, I'm not going to worry too much if the video is an hour long. My quality control is basically “Is this something that I would watch all of?” and I watch a lot of stuff.

The second thing I wanted to talk about was my target audience. Is this series going to be for you?

Essentially, this show is aimed at two kinds of people: The universally curious, and true gamers. I don't think the first category actually needs much elaboration, but I'd like to talk about what I mean by “true gamer”.

Having been playing games for as long as I have, in some ways I feel like part of a dying breed. The old, true, hard-core vanguard of gaming. There's a tendency by people with my level of experience to belittle newer gamers (in my book, a newer gamer is anyone who started with Halo or later) as console tards, or as casuals because they only play CoD. But I don't think you need the kind of experience I have to call yourself a real gamer.

It's more about having a certain kind of attitude. An attitude where games are a little bit more than something you do casually. That doesn't mean spending every hour of every day gaming like I used to. But it means that when you play games, you're really engaging with them instead of taking them in passively. You're thinking of new strategies, you're watching the upcoming releases with baited breath, and you're always trying to improve the level of your play. And I'm sure lots of people who only really play Call of Duty meet this criteria, have this attitude.

I also think it's important, as I mentioned earlier, that you're interested in engaging with gaming culture in some way. Maybe you like watching YouTube commentaries, or StarCraft 2 tournaments. Maybe you go the expos, or contribute to gaming forums. This isn't really essential, it's more of an indicator. If you're interested in engaging in gaming culture instead of sitting outside it, you're probably a true gamer, as I would describe it.

Of course, people who this doesn't apply to may still be interested in the series, and more power to them, but I think it'll be the people who are really interested in gaming culture and in getting the most out of their games that will also get the most out of the show. You're obviously not going to stand to gain much from heavy gameplay analysis if you aren't looking at things a little more closely than a completely passive or casual eye.

So the last thing I wanted to talk about was... I mentioned earlier that I've found that there are a lot of similarities between different games, and that there are certain things that when you start to learn them, consciously or not, make you a better gamer in a general sense. Part of the series is about discovering these things and training them. But I have some ideas of what some of these universal gaming-concepts might be, and before we get into the first analysis video with the next episode, I'd like to talk a bit about the ideas I already have related to these fundamentals.

Generally, these kinds of things won't be directly discussed. But I'm curious about the threads tying games of all sorts together, so I want to talk about them a little here, at least.

I'm going to mention first the one that people get hung up on most often. And that's mechanical skill. Generally speaking this manifests as playing quickly and accurately. Hand speed and hand-eye co-ordination. This is how accurate you are in shooters and your APM in a game like StarCraft. Closely linked here is the brain-hand co-ordination, although this is less talked about. The delay between deciding what you need to do next and your hands starting to carry it out. And closely linked to THAT is how quickly you can take in information, analyse it, and decide what to do next. Vastly more important than your ability to point & click quickly and accurately, and much more applicable to real-life. I think gaming actually trains this very well.

Anyway, yes, if you're a terrible shot, or your hands just aren't fast enough, it's going to hold you back. And if you're fast enough and accurate enough you can use that as a crutch if you're making poor decisions. How important this is is also somewhat dependant on the game, but I want to be clear that this is the thing I think you should be looking at last if you want to think about improving your gameplay. It's something that gradually improves the more you play games, and is hard to specifically train. But you CAN train consciously in other areas much more easily.

It all comes down to decision making. Games, as I've mentioned, require you to quickly analyse a lot of information and then choose a course of action. How successful you are is going to be largely contingent on whether these choices are good or bad, and most games have some kind of feedback system that measures whether our decisions were good or not – I.e, if they were good enough, you win, otherwise, you lose. Sometimes you draw. And sometimes it's not exactly a case of “winning” or “losing” but whether or not you achieve a personal goal or objective you were working towards

I'm going to be breaking down the decisions you make in video games into two categories called “Strategic decisions” and “Tactical decisions”.

Strategic decisions are general choices about the way you're going to play the game. These are decisions that can essentially be made in a vacuum. You need the context of the game, but not of any specific set of gameplay circumstances. These are choices like, in a shooter, “what weapon will I use?” or in a strategy game “what units and structures will I build, and when?” or even more specific things such as “If I am in an Item Hold stage in APB, I will attempt to capture the item and bring it to a defensible location, and then hold off enemy attacks.” Generally, the more you play a game, the more you can hone in on a strong overarching strategy that describes how you're going to play the game. These strategies can be executed well, or executed poorly. Essentially, this are big-picture choices.

Tactical decisions are partly based on making the correct decisions to successfully execute your strategy, and are partly spur-of-the-moment choices. These are decisions made in the heat of battle, and are small-scale decision making. This is where the rapid assessment of information comes into play. Do I throw a grenade here? Is now a good time to reload? Can I flank them now, or should I stick with a frontal assault? In a strategy game, this is often unit micromanagement in combat.

There's a certain overlap. Your strategic choices are on of the factors informing your tactical decisions, and if a certain tactic proves to be continuously effective, you may make it a part of your strategy. It can often be hard to distinguish from simply watching gameplay, but it's an important distinction to make, because when you're looking back at gameplay, and at ways to improve, you need to be asking yourself; “Was this a one-off decision I made based on the specific circumstances, or should I be altering what I'm doing on a broader scale?”

This is all very vague. Very high-level. I want to hone in on more specific concepts that will be universal across games over time. So far I've thought of a couple, and I'm going to talk about those and show how they can be applied to all different kinds of games.

The first thing I want to talk about is resource management.

In any game, you're going to have certain resources available to you, and success is going to be highly contingent on how you use these resources. A resource can be a whole lot of different things in different games, but generally I would define it as “a tool or material within the game that can be used to give an advantage.” There are lots of different kinds of resources – some are renewable, some are one use only, some can be used infinitely. A player who makes the most effective and efficient use of their resources possible is playing strongly. A player who does not make use of all the resources available to them, or who wastes resources which are limited in some way is not playing as strongly.

This is most clear in strategy games. In StarCraft 2, for example. you have the obvious resources of minerals and gas, which are used to build units and structures. You also have a food count, which you need to keep high enough to sustain your army. But those aren't the only resources you have available to you. The units and structures that you build with the minerals and gas are also resources that you need to manage, that can be wasted or used effectively.

What about shooters? Well, you normally have one or more main weapons available to you. You also tend to have limited ammo that you don't want to waste, but also don't want to be too stingy with – sometimes it's worth it to fire off a few extra rounds. Often times you have grenades. Your avatar's health and armour are also resources that you need to manage – you may be able to be more aggressive if these counts are high, but benefit more from a defensive playstyle if they are low.

That's pretty straightforward, but this can be applied to other genres pretty easily, too.

In a racing game, I'd say that your primary resource is your current speed of travel. Keeping it high at all time is going to work to your advantage, however, you also have to control it and make sure it isn't so high you can't corner effectively when needed. Some racing games also have nitrous oxide that you can use for a burst of speed.

In a sports game, your chief resource is probably the players on your team. You can position them, switch between controlling them directly, or lose them to fouls or injuries. You might also consider possession of the ball to be a resource.

What I'm getting at is that this concept can be quite abstract at times, but I think you'll find that it's pretty close to universal. I'm sure you can see how this can be applied to RPGs without me spelling it out, for example.

Another one of these ideas that I've identified is positioning. In almost all kinds of games, your position relative to the environment or to other players is going to be a big deal.

Again, in a strategy game, well-positioned units are going to be more effective than ones that are positioned badly.

In a shooter, if you have cover and the enemy does not, you are at an obvious advantage.

In a racing game, you're driving a shorter line if you position your car on the inside of the track.

In an RPG, you probably want to be far away from the enemy if you're a mage or an archer, and up close and personal if you're a big tough fighter.

In a sports game, you want to position your players to block the opponents, and so that you can easily keep possession when on the offensive.

These are much shorter examples, but again, I think it's pretty clear that this idea of positioning is somehow fundamental to most games. You can even extend both of these concepts to board games and classic games like chess.

I have some other ideas of things that might recur, but I don't want to spend more time on it than is necessary. I think you get the idea – that there are universal concepts that you can see across many games that, if properly understood, will make you a more awesome gamer across a wide spectrum of games. Although you need to learn each individual game in order to play it well, a strong understanding of fundamentals should allow somebody to pick up new games more quickly and to play them better in the long run. These are things that gamers learn subconsciously all the time. I want to drag them into the spotlight.

So that's about it. Just a few more notes before I sign off.

I'm not currently committing to a schedule. I have a lot going on with LiveStreaming and YouTube and maybe more text content coming up, and I'll have more going on when my university break is over, but I'd love to make this a weekly thing if possible. I'd love to do it live every week at a scheduled time, if possible, down the line, as well. But I don't know how things'll pan out, so I'm not promising anything.

But expect this to be taking off very soon. Although I want to do in-depth analysis, I'm hoping to work a little comedy into the series too – after all, I'm doing this for fun right now. I know this has been a little dry, but I'm really looking to have a good time with this gameplay analysis thing, and with the reviews and culture pieces, and I hope you folks'll have a good time watching it.

This probably all sounds a little over-complicated, and you might be having a hard time visualising quite what to expect. I just ask that you bear with me, because I think when the first real episode – the next episode – is ready, all will become clear.

Until then, Troubletcat out.


  1. Firstly, loving it. And, personally, I don't find this stuff at all dry, though I'm probably one of few, I'd guess - this is the sort of stuff I love to read through/hear.
    Secondly, I think it'd be great to see the actual video of this. Personally - though I like reading too - I find it a lot more interesting having a person talk about something rather than reading it myself.

  2. As much as I can see the appeal of listening to things rather than reading them at times - one of the reasons I'll be transferring at least some of my gaming culture rants to videos - this particular video was proving to be a nightmare to shoot and edit for a variety of completely bizarre reasons (mostly me failing). At a certain point I just decided I'd rather start working on the first actual episode rather than spending any more time trying to outline the series, especially when, as I've said, I think it should really speak for itself.

    Thanks for the feedback though. I'm glad to hear you're interested in this kind of stuff. I kept realising when working on the ill-fated video that never materialised, that I find this fascinating, and that that probably means I'm fascinated by really boring stuff.

    Glad I'm not the only one!

    ...Not that I think the series will be boring. Wouldn't bother if I didn't think I could eke some sheer entertainment joy out of it. But certainly looking for a nice balance between entertaining and informative.

  3. I'd really like something like this kind of show, but as Brendan said, seeing the first video would help all of us establish an opinion about this. Also though I'm relatively new to ZA, I'd like to tell you to keep in mind your other aspects of ths site such as reviews, rants, vlogs, etc.

  4. Glad to see you made it over from the LiveStream, morph!

    I don't think I'll be discontinuing any of the other things - although the text reviews and rants aren't all that common anymore.

    But I do like doing the various things I already do, as it were.