The Executive Barrier Extended: Peak Effort

There was an idea I left out when it came to idea of smoothing out the executive requirements of a game. I suppose that is appropriate because this is even more theoretical than my claim that the most competitive players in a real time games are ones that either enjoy execution or multiple avenues of improvement. The idea here is one that I can only intuit to possibly be true through experience, though I admit I can entirely be wrong. My idea is that of Peak Effort, the theory that, motivation being equal, effort at the highest levels of play across good and successful games is roughly equal. This probably sounds pretty crazy! We can look at Street Fighter 2 and Street Fighter 4 and see 4 has way more links and combos and difficult things to do. Even though that is true, we see much more precise spacing, and developed sequences of pressure and tricks and what have you in Street Fighter 2, all of which is executively demanding. Watch a pro Japanese Ken use an air hurricane kick to do practically anything he wants and do so CONSISTENTLY. Players do not exude effort proportional to the requirements of the game, they exude effort proportional to their desire to win.

This is another idea I refer to “Squeezing optimization out of a stone”. Games certainly do not take equal effort to initially get good at and in the beginning stages of a game, one is focusing on big, fundamental ideas. These ideas might be tough as hell to do, or easy, but regardless, they greatly increase your win percentage. Learning how to block, or learning to always build SCVs, or whatever massively increase your win rate Sometimes even double it (or more)! As one becomes a highly skilled players, the rewards for new facets of information and skill are much smaller. Still, players do not ‘burn’ excess effort due to diminishing returns, they just become content with smaller optimizations. They will find them ANYWHERE they possibly can.

Let me throw up a much hated exploit. Wave dashing in Smash Bros Melee is, outside of competitive play, universally reviled. Why? I have no idea. It’s not even that powerful of a technique, especially considering the effort. You jump and slam a diagonal direction down in the direction you wanna go and press R. The air dodge mechanic than makes you slide across the ground. It’s a less good version of Guilty Gear’s run (it’s of limited direction and is execution intensive) and a better version of Street Fighter’s dash (you can attack and defend out of it like in Guilty Gear). It’s certainly a GOOD technique, as position in games is paramount — but it’s not the majority of the reason why good players win. In fact, I think people loathe it because it’s the most apparent thing that top Melee players do. Combine that with it’s difficulty, the fact it’s kinda stupid and the fact that it’s a glitch/exploit (though apparently nintendo knew of it?), people get really pissed over it. Yet the simple technique of SHFFLing accounts for the fast majority of the reason pro players beat casuals. It’s a technique thats easy and transparent. They just do a ton of fast air to ground attacks and you die.

What wave dashing DOES is it find ways to squeeze optimization out of a rock. It is a mechanic that strong players can use to create new situations where they have an advantage. A lot of middle ground players likely actually harm their game by focusing on this technique too much. Hell, in terms of ‘squeezing optimization from a rock’, wave dashing is a huge find. As much as it offends a lot of people, look up a list of ‘advanced techniques’ for Smash. Look how minor these advantages are. People need a way to make use of all their potential effort. Say what you will about Smash (I sorta think it’s a stupid, janky game that is only playable on accident, personally), but the community has a lot of competitive motivation.

Kara throws in street fighter, or tiny map movement optimizations in fighting games are also similar. In SF4 you might be kara throwing or extending combos, and in SF2 you might be practicing safe jump timings. To be fair though, these things are not necessarily even. Smash for example is pretty stupid, because it starts out easy and then almost immediately becomes incredibly hard. SF2’s branch of games have a pretty good gradient after a moderate initial investment. SF4 has an easier initial investment, but a very large middle investment before smoothing out somewhat well.

It is clearly STILL very important to design a well designed game with a good execution curve for accessibility and encouragement. Also controlling the rewards of optimization. If intensely difficult optimizations increase a players chances to win 50% over players who don’t, the game will likely suffer for being inaccessible. If these optimizations give a 1% advantage, top players will likely get bored and switch games. If they give say, 5-10% that might feel right. I’m making up these percentages, but the idea is that you can still control the accessibility of your game while allowing the most competitive players to make use of their potential effort. If you don’t let them, they’ll probably play something else.

On a final note, remember, motivation is critical in the idea of Peak Effort. Star Craft is probably the most skill demanding game out there because of the fact it’s a paid Korean sport. If your game can’t generate interest or motivate players to be competitive (Good match making!) it doesn’t matter how well you do the rest.