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Unpredictability and Control in Turn-Based Combat

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Unpredictability and Control in Turn-Based Combat

Editorial - posted by VentilatorOfDoom on Thu 8 November 2012, 09:09:38

Tags: Sinister Design; Telepath RPG: Servants of God

Sinister Design's Creg Stern examined the unpredictability (boo-hoo dice rolls are evil, duh!) and control in turn-based combat.
Luckily, unpredictability is not just a spark that flickers into existence for the moment between issuing a command and watching the game’s onscreen interpretation of it. Unpredictability can also exist on a much broader level. Developers can employ a combination of clever AI and tactical depth to keep turn-based combat unpredictable and wrought with tension.

Chess and Go are a fine example for us to look at. As we know, Chess and Go do not have an ounce of randomness in them. Every last move is 100% deterministic in its effects. It is never unclear what happens if your knight moves onto a pawn’s space: the knight takes the pawn. Period. End of story. Likewise, you’ll never sit there biting your nails, wondering what happens when you surround a group of enemy pieces in Go. The pieces are either taken or not taken based on a simple, unchanging rule. The results of the move are entirely predictable.

And yet, matches of Chess and Go can positively drip tension, the end results of any given match wildly uncertain. How is that possible? The answer lies not in what happens after the player selects a move, but rather in what happens beforehand. In Chess and Go, the player faces a black box full of dangerous and unpredictable moves. This is possible only because each of these games sports two characteristics: (1) a thinking opponent and (2) a large possibility space.

As you no doubt divined, the clever opponent is the primary source of unpredictability here. A clever opponent will go out of its way to seize on weaknesses in a player’s plan. The player never knows for certain which move such an opponent will opt for, and therefore has to tread carefully to avoid having her own moves exploited. In order to succeed, the player has to try to guess the opponent’s likely response to each move from among multiple viable options: in short, to outwit him. This is a huge source of unpredictability—and thus, tension.

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