Reaction Speeds in Gaming

The topic of reaction speeds comes up a lot in my pet-genre of fighting games, especially when talking about casual players. Commonly they will exclaim “I just don’t have the reaction speed to play these games!” which I think is a fundamental misunderstanding of how one’s reactions work. There is a biological component to reaction speed that is hard or perhaps, impossible to improve, but that is not what most people lack. This is much like the concept of APM in RTSs. People commonly exclaim they don’t have the finger speed to play despite easily being able to type over 100 characters a minute. The bottleneck is rarely biological. The bottleneck is in your head.

The mental component, unlike the biological aspects of your reactions and reflexes, is readily and almost easily improvable. It represents the ‘skill’ component of reactions. The biological component of your reaction speed might represent your upper limit (which, by the way, is not perfectly represented by online reaction checkers), the vast majority of your sluggish reaction times in activities come from complex mental processes.

What I’m about to say isn’t strict science, but more so, a personal theory, coming from years of both gaming and watching other people improve at games. It might not perfectly represent the actual mental/physical model of what’s going on, but I think it’s a useful tool for understanding it in a way that will help you improve.

The Stack

The stack is the mental “post processing” that occurs once stimulus is received. Just like the post processing on many televisions, actions taking in one’s mental stack delay the time it takes to respond to something you see on screen. In the above (and silly) example, the new player is spending so much time trying to parse what’s going on, what he can do and how he’s supposed to do the thing that he wants to do that he not only fails to respond to the stimulus (a fireball), his thought process is totally out of sync with what’s going on in the game. He is getting hit and thrown before he totally can remember where the kick button is. This might sound ridiculous, but for anyone who can remember what it was like even as an experienced player to switch from Pad to Stick, the amount of extra processing that goes on in your head to remember what button you’re supposed to hit is ridiculous and frustrating.

A player in sensory overload can commonly think their reflexes and reaction speed are terrible simply due to the fact that they are not experienced enough to know what’s going on. Or how can they be expected to make a good decision after being knocked down when not only can they not parse the seemingly infinite pool of possible actions and responses, but is probably too mentally backlogged to be able to generate a meaningful decision until after the knockdown situation has passed? The problem seems overwhelming, but all the player has to do is clean up their “Stack”.

Cleaning Up Your Stack

The first part of improving is realizing you WILL get better if you try. Especially your reflexes. Games always seem to get slower as you learn them. You can help speed up the process though by really thinking about what you’re doing. My advice to all new players is to, as soon as possible, have a plan. A bad plan can be changed, modified and adjusted. Making such adjustments without a plan is often messy and unreliable. One of my favorite bits of advice is telling people to use less buttons when they play. This isn’t always applicable, but is especially relevant to Street Fighter. Lets take Ryu…

Medium Kick (all versions)
cr.LK (close up poke)
Cr.HP (easy anti air)
Hadoken (range attack)
Shoryuken (anti air)

We’re cutting a move set of 30+ moves down to 6. More so, you can have a gameplan with only like 3 of these moves. The player can use MK for basically anything. It’s a good jump in, cr.MK is Ryu’s best poke and standing MK is okay. All the player needs then is a Hadoken and some Anti Air. This GREATLY reduces the stack. When standing in front of an opponent, one doesn’t have to think about all of Ryu’s moves — if they’re somewhat close, cr.MK. If they’re far, Hadoken. Lets represent these stack processes…

One important thing to remember: Problem solving can ALWAYS be eliminated. Problem solving in match generally means you’re losing. That’s stuff that you’ll be doing outside the match. You might also experiment in a match to figure out something against a more experienced opponent. Regardless, you want to avoid it when possible. You’ll also probably never get good enough that you’ve eliminated all problem solving from your stack, but in theory you could (thus becoming the best player ever). As you learn and become familiar with situations, these should naturally vanish, even if that situation is “doing a move”. Eventually there is no overhead for inputting a move. Your muscle memory will have that covered for you. Eventually you won’t have to run all the calculations on which move to anti air someone with, you’ll just skip to the important part — getting him out of the air.

“But wait!” you exclaim! Eliminating DECISIONS? By what sorcery do you just ANTI AIR automatically? In fact, anti airing every time someone is in the air seems like it’d be kinda dumb and would fail all the time! You only want to AA someone when the AA attempt will succeed and with that, aren’t there tons of other observations that weren’t included? Wouldn’t they read like…

“The opponent jumped.” “Is he going to be able to reach me?” “Is he attacking?” “Have I noticed in time to do a Shoryuken?” “Normal?” “Do I just block?”

Well yes, but we can not only explain that, but greatly simplify what and you need to observe!

Simplifying the World

One of the big pieces of speeding up your reaction time is deciding what is worth observing and looking for. If an opponent is right next to you, you do not generally need to look for them to jump (unless they’re a dirty, dirty dive kick character or have a brutal crossup). If they’re totally across the screen, putting priority on the fact they’re jumping isn’t important either. If you’re at midscreen, you generally shouldn’t be setting up your stack to respond to overheads. If you’re knocked down, you can go slowly break down what your opponents options ACTUALLY are with experience, and once the basic high/low/throw/meatie okizeme situation is internalized, you can put all your observation can be put toward tiny details to help you make the right decision. If an opponent doing something in a situation wouldn’t make any sense, or if responding to it wouldn’t give you any benefits, then there is little reason to be looking for it and by looking for less things, we can respond and act faster.

I also want to introduce the concept of Autopilot. Autopilot is the subconscious script your gameplay follows once you get good but aren’t terribly playing attention. You can learn to play the game quite competently without really “thinking”. The advantage here though isn’t that you don’t have to think — it’s that you can use your autopilot to free up mental resources to make more decisions. Combos are something that are often able to be done on autopilot after a while. The great thing there is you can use your mental energy during the combo to either plan on what you want to do after the combo, or look for things going on in the combo that might be concerning. In games like Guilty Gear, realizing that your opponent is a bit out of position in an air combo and finishing the combo differently to compensate can be a big deal. It’s also something that can only be reasonably done when the combo is running on auto pilot. If you’re looking to anti air your opponent because they seem to be in a “jumpy mood” it is super beneficial to be able to play decently while waiting for the jump. If you just stand there and wait for the jump, they will likely never jump (and might even gain an advantage). Having a functioning Autopilot allows you to decide what things you want to put your focus on. Your auto piloted actions will never be as good as they would be if they had your full attention, but by choosing where you full attention goes, you can pull off things that seem, to inexperienced players, super human.

This is also why having a plan is SUPER IMPORTANT. Even if your plan is to do cr.MKs -> Hadoken, just doing that all reflexively gives you the breathing room to think about what you’re doing in more detail. It gives you the focus necessary to decide what should be in your Stack. By managing whats in your stack and using your focus carefully, you can, with average or even bad natural reaction speed, do things that seem stupidly robo-fast.

It’s not about being about to perceive and react to everything, it’s about being able to simplify the problem and removing the clutter from your brain that slows down your actions. It’s experience that holds you back more so than your inherent abilities.

David Cage and what “Maturity” means in Games and Story Telling

It’s no secret that I hold a really dim view on David Cage. It’s also no secret that he says stupid things all the damn time. While I’d probably write my original rant about Cage differently now, I think the general idea holds true. Still, I think there is something to gain by digging into his recent comments a bit

(also, I’m not going to get into the whole role of story telling in games and whether or not it’s even a good idea and when or anything like that)

“I think we should have more courage in our industry and take more risks, because I think this is what the industry needs now. I mean, how many first person shooters can you make? How many monsters/aliens/zombies can you kill in games? There’s a moment where we need to grow up. We need to grow up.”

I had a friend once who said, as a kid, he wondered what an Adult Shop was. Being it was a Shop for Adults, he figured it would be filled with the most boring things ever. Pots, pans, socks. The whole idea of what is “Grown up” and “mature” can seem nebulous. Regardless, there is a strong difference between mature themes and mature story telling. Heavy Rain is mature in the same way Call of Duty is “Realistic”. They’re not. But they have the “Themes” that go with it. In fact, I would say that the thought processes for forming the stories for both are roughly the same. They’re both made with the same immature, “wouldn’t it be cool if…” type thinking. Gotta hit the “alcoholic” check-box, the dead kid check-box, the shower scene check-box, the sex theme check box, the “you played the killer” check box… All these check-boxes we’d say are tropes of the “mature game/movie”. Then you get the rest of the elements — basically “Saw”. It’s Saw, only Ethan is trying to save his kid’s life instead of his own. Is “Wouldn’t it be cool if you cut your own finger off” that more mature than dying in a nuclear explosion? Both games are a bunch of clip shows stitched together. Only difference is the CoD guys I imagine know that they’re making something indulgent and silly (probably too much so, which can lead to them being careless!), while David Cage thinks he’s being mature. How the hell Cage thinks he’s doing mature, progressive stuff while cribbing Saw is beyond me. That’s like, basically the opposite of mature.

Also, showing someone’s nipples wasn’t “grown up” when God of War did it, and it isn’t mature now. Heavy Rain virtually contains everything you’d expect a “mature game” to do, but with no soul. A mature is “theme” isn’t worth much. There is nothing about having the main character being a guy with a dead kid whose works as an architect that makes it inherently more artistic or valuable. Is General Hospital more “Mature” than Game of Thrones?

This is how something like a Pixar movie can tell a mature, human story despite making kids movies. Or something like Dr. Strangelove (the movie that was going to end in a pie fight!) a totally ridiculously “immature” take on a really dark concept. It’s immaturity was only thematic — it did not detract from the weight of the message (and in anyways, enhanced it). Or also how a Python movie like The Life of Brian can be so funny yet have so much to say and what they say has way more “grown up” relevance than “What would you do if your kid was kidnapped by a Jigsaw style serial killer”. Theme is just a tool or a styling for what matters: Sincere, skilled story telling (something in which Heavy Rain fails at on both accounts).

You can have a games like Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls (which are probably the best themed games I can think of) which can elicit so many weird, dark emotions from the player and tackle concepts like depression, despair and obsession. Or you can just get that sense of exploration and wonder in Journey (if you’re a sissy~!). Or you can look at something like Dys4ia that tells an actual, REAL story about a REAL person and her REAL experiences through abstract metaphor. Or you got Shadow of the Colossus which arguably plays on the same thematic elements as Heavy Rain (What would you do for love?) but does it with a lot more maturity, sincerity and grace. Not that any of these games are perfect, but all of them succeed at a level far past Heavy Rain in my opinion. There are also other games I think might fit this bill too, but I haven’t played them and don’t feel comfortable listing them.

So does the industry need to grow up and take more risks? Probably, though it happens more than most people tend to believe… but David Cage isn’t leading us there — Maybe he’s closer to the front of the pack than the average video game story-teller, but for the most part, he’s as immature a story-teller as the rest of us. He only pretends to be mature, by buying pots, pans and socks at the adult store.

Webdesign Retrospective! Almost 10 Years of Kayinworks

So this would be my 5th revision so far of my personal site. I’m pretty happy with it. It’s pretty good. I’m sure I’ll get annoyed by parts of it later and by the time it’s ready to be replaced, I’ll hate it. Still it is one step in a series of site designs of… dubious qualities. Lets take a moment to look back at what once was. I always love looking back at my old work, both to cringe and to feel a sense of improvement. Each of these designs, no matter how awful they might look in retrospect, felt awesome at the time and it’s that desire to have something I’m proud of that keeps me going!

Kayinworks v4

Went Live: Sep 16, 2010
Replaced: Aug 16, 2012

Almost there! A friend described the theme as “Beautifully unpolished, like IWBTG”. I think I had the right idea, but it just simply did not come together. The pixel elements were far to big and it really crippled the design. Also, alignment issues everywhere. I was really happy with it, but it just didn’t quite mature. The Pixel fonts for titles and headers just clashed too hard. It went a little too pixely. Also in an attempt to “keep it clean” I made cut out too many features.

I think if I had a better idea how the theme would ultimately turn out, I’d have been able to get it right. I miss some elements already. I might try and inject some pixel elements into the new layout, but if I do so, I have to do it carefully to avoid repeating my previous sins.

Also: First time I bothered to not just use “system” for a pixel font.

Kayinworks v3

Went Live: Jan 30, 2009
Replaced: Sep 16, 2010

I have uncanny fondness for this design. I think it was the first thing I did that looked kinda nice. It’s of course, flawed to heck. The “Web 2.0” glass thing is played to the point of glaring fault. The header ALMOST is super cool, but the transparency stuff muddy it and the fonts for the link bar are wrong. Also big, bezely menus. If I made that work for the post boxes though, it might have sorta came together. It was fun to go crazy with all the glassy elements though. I don’t HTML and CSS support is where I wanted it to be to do what I wanted to do yet though. A better designer could have pulled it off, but back then I was having trouble just keeping elements lined up cross browsers.

Also my favorite part: The bar that says “Tiger Tiger Tiger” was random and could say tons of different things. Anyways, time to go into the reaaaaaally dark recesses of webdesign…

Kayinworks v2

Went Live: 2007(?)
Replaced: Sep 16, 2010

Basically a header on top of an iframe to a coppermine gallery (and a few other assorted pages). I think I got fed with my “complex” first website and just wanted a place to dump art. Eventually it was upgraded to have a small wiki installation as well. Very “function” over form. Also the only design I need to use to find. All that said, I remember a friend at the time saying my site was refreshingly simple and easy. I don’t remember what other sites looked like then, but I think I was trying to be modern with the really big, whited out header.

The design lasted for quite awhile, mostly out of apathy and was only replaced with a formal blogging engine because of IWBTG and the fact that people might actually start snooping around “”. Also, first appearance of the bracketed K!

Kayinworks v1

Went Live: May 9, 2003
Replaced: 2007(?)

This shit is so cash. I got an A+ on it in my college Webdesign clase (holy fuck I’m old). The back-end? That coppermine gallery and some dumb barebones PHP thingy for making news posts, which I clearly did so much. Sadly I don’t have the website I used before this, but I used to post all my art manually and write whole things for it and format it and blahblahblah so I reaaaally wanted to make the site function without me going into HTML every 10 seconds. The best part about the design? If you go bigger than 800×600 the design breaks. Also those buttons? SHIT LIGHTS UP WITH DAT JAVASCRIPT ROLLOVAH SWAG DAWG. Feel free to check it out, in its broken glory. Whatever came before this was hosted on my own computer years before and is on a hard drive that has long since failed. How tragic.

Also first occurrence of Kayinworks.

New Theme

Okay so I decided to update a bunch of stuff and change my WordPress theme. This time I’m modifying a pre-existing one which means there should be less weirdness and more functionality. That said, I only made it active now to make it easier to work on, so it’ll probably change or break randomly in the next day or so.

Anyways hope you all enjoy!

Small BE:P Update

So I’ve finally had some time to work on Brave Earth: Prologue. I haven’t touched the game since ROFLcon and basically got back to doing this earlier this week. Instead of getting right back into content, I decided to make some bigger changes first. Most of this is without any context for you guys though. I’ll be talking about stuff you haven’t been able to play with so it might be hard to say why these changes matter. Either way, you guys keep asking for updates, so have one.

The Jump

Naomi’s jump has always been contentious. I really like the jumps of the old Castlevania games, but they didn’t go over well with everyone. I wrestled with this a bit and thought about making jump control for all characters be an adjustable switch in the options like Castlevania rebirth, but instead I decided to just change the jump. Naomi now has limited air control. She can’t control the height of her jump, but she has some control over her momentum. This is also rolled together with a general speed increase. Where as Naomi previously ran at a plodding 60 pixels a second (1 pixel every ‘tick’ of game logic), she now moves a whopping -66 pixels-, due to a staggering 0.1 increase in her walking speed! That sounds silly, but it’s … 10%, which is enough to make Naomi feel a tad faster on her feet. It also increases her jump distance. Now, none of you have played the game, so there is no frame of reference here, but generally what this means is I’m moving a bit away from “Castlevania” and getting a bit more actiony. A bit more speed and air control means I can make later parts of the game harder in a way that still feels fun.

Also, Naomi is in no ways “mobile”. She cannot turn around in the air line Sinlen can. If you start with a forward jump and hold the opposite direction really fast, Naomi will just barely overcome her forward momentum by the time the jump finishes. Basically, jump distances can almost be seen like this.

Jump Forward (than hold back immediately): Jump roughly one tile forward.
Jump Forward(than release): Jump two tiles forward.
Jump Forward(and hold): Jump 3 tiles forward.

You basically are fighting momentum when you try to change your air velocity. If you wanna have some idea what the jump feels like, imagine the NES Batman jump, but only like 40 pixels high and with no startup. So anyways the hopes for these changes is that Naomi will feel more responsive to players without actually compromising the need to be careful and plan jumps while also giving me a little bit more wiggle room in terms of design space. Hopefully this will be Win Win Win.

New animations

Over time, most of Naomi’s sprites have been changed to some extent.

Here you can see her sprite I made early on, followed by the one I had through most of development so far followed by the current one, which came with these images I posted on twitter months ago. I’ve also added lots of cool secondary cape animations, such as when she’s jumping or stops walking. I also changed what happens if Naomi mashes Attack

(for the old comparison, go here)

This doesn’t increase attack speed, but it does make consecutive attacks easier and looks nicer. It does sorta remove an element of timing (though you do sorta have to time the button press to do it perfectly), but we’ll see. If it proves problematic, I can add recovery frames to make it work out a little better.

Other Stuff

I’m updating the HUD. Not a ton, like some of the mockups that some people made on Twitter — I like keeping it clean and simple, but there is some compositional errors that make it look kinda butt. I’m also messing around with the levels to tweak balance and probably am going to add a few new enemies soon. Now, you guys haven’t seen a ton of enemies, so it doesn’t matter much, but you at least have some idea what I’m working on!

Also my Music Guy, Necrophageon is about to pin down some finished tracks, which really should finish the ‘tone’ of the game.