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Rock Paper Scissors - A Method for Competitive Game Play Design
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Rock Paper Scissors - A Method for Competitive Game Play Design

January 23, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 5 of 5
Suggestions for Implementation

This section will present some suggestions and considerations when implementing a RPS system with signals and separation of signal and attack.

Make the RPS System Obvious

Players should quickly realize the presence of an RPS system in your game. The game doesn't have to be presented as an RPS system, but the players should be able to quickly learn the counter attack or defense for every attack. To return to the soccer example from earlier, it is instinctive that one must move with the attacker to stop the ball. Players may not make this connection as quickly in a video game. If a player does not know how to react to a particular attack he will never have the "Next time I'll try this" experience. If a player is not given a clear opportunity to learn he may settle with a button-mashing strategy. Once a player begins button mashing, he has less of a chance to learn and is more likely to become frustrated or bored.

Street Fighter II has made its RPS system obvious by including moves which have obvious results. Pressing back blocks an attack. It is clear to defenders that blocking is a good way to defend against attacks. Powerful attacks tend to have more range or priority over weaker attacks. Perhaps the most recognizable instance is the effectiveness of Ken and Ryu's dragon punch against jumping attacks.

Capcom's Street Fighter II

Given a Predictable Attacker, Counter Attacks Should be Easy to Perform

A defender with perfect knowledge of an attack should easily be able to perform the appropriate counter attack or defense. Consider an opportunity to play basketball against Michael Jordan in his prime. If he played competitively you would probably not stand much of a chance (unless of course you are a professional basketball player yourself). However, if he performed the exact same dribbling and shot pattern over and over, you would eventually learn this pattern and be able to predict it.

All that is required for an effective counter attack is to place your hand in the right position at the right time. Although this is an extremely simplified example, the point is that the actual counter attack should not be difficult to perform. The challenge should lie in reading your opponent.

Provide Multiple Signals per Attack

This is something which most games naturally include without effort from the designer. However, if this is something which is explicitly considered and implemented, then the game can become even more enjoyable.

For each attack, there should be multiple signals. The closer the signal occurs to an attack the more difficult or unlikely separation becomes. Also, a signal which is closer to an attack should be a better indication of the actual timing of the attack.

Defenders in Fight Night 3 are given numerous signals for an attack. If the attacker is not dodging, this is an indication that he can attack. The position of his gloves indicates if he is aiming high or low. Proximity also gives an indication of attacks – jabs have much shorter reach than haymakers. An attacker's previous behavior gives an indication of whether an attack will occur. If a player has opened up combos with jabs the entire fight, it is likely he will continue to do so. Finally, an attacker's animation gives an indication of the attack being performed.

Keep in mind that in each situation it becomes more difficult to separate the signal from the attack. Not dodging does not give an exact indication that an attack will occur. Aiming high or low is also not necessarily tied to attacking. Proximity is a much stronger indication of an attack. Attackers will have a difficult time breaking their patterns, so repeating certain moves is a relatively strong indication of an attack. Once an animation begins to play, this is the strongest signal.

The most talented players are able to present signals which seem to be completely tied to attacks, but are actually not. Signals which are so strongly tied to attacks but are actually separated result in spectacular fakes and are often shown on highlight reels.

Insert Adequate Time Between Signal and Attack

Signals should be timed such that reacting to signals can take a little bit of practice, but they should not happen so close to the attack that only the most experienced players have a chance of defending attacks based on signals. This is partially solved by the previous point which is to provide multiple signals. In this case, a player will always be able to make some kind of connection, and as he becomes more perceptive and skilled at the game he will be able to detect signals which are closer to the attack. Any attack - such as a fast jab - which occurs so quickly after its signal (the animation for the punch) should probably have other signals such as requiring a proximity or particular position relative to the player.

It is impossible to define guidelines for spacing signals and attacks. This is something which requires play testing and balancing.

Vary Levels of Activity

If attacks continually occur, then players will not have time to evaluate what has happened and make the connection between signals and attacks. This is especially important for players who are just learning the game; a player needs some downtime during the game to think about what just happened and try to find a solution to the attack.

The most common way is to give defenders the ability to escape their attacker. A defender can circle around or back away from his attacker in Fight Night. Levels in Smash Bros. Melee give defenders an opportunity to escape and rethink strategies. Other ways to vary the level of activity is to include breaks in game play. The play selection screen in Madden NFL gives players the opportunity to reconsider their strategy, and timeouts can be used if more time is needed.


One popular idea behind making an enjoyable game is to pack it with content. In context of this discussion, that means having a variety of attacks and defenses so that players can spend a lot of time learning the game.

While this has some truth to it, this is not a complete theory. The method presented in this article doesn't address the issue of the amount of content in a game but, rather, how to make this content more accessible to the player.

If the RPS system with signals and separation of signal and attack is implemented properly, players will have an incentive to try different attacks and defenses. Furthermore, they will have an opportunity and incentive to learn, keeping the game enjoyable for a longer amount of time and allowing experienced players to continue to develop their skills. Beginners will be encouraged by the ability to quickly learn and veterans will appreciate the depth of game play. Overall, your game will be played for a longer time making you a more successful game designer.

Article Start Previous Page 5 of 5

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