Domination

The concepts of Domination and Guarantees are unfortunately a little gray for some players. They exist very strongly in some video games and also in some sports, and they are very watered down in other video games and other types of sports. It tends to be more of a personal preference for a lot of people for one reason or another. I've been examining the concepts and I've formulated my own opinions on the subject, but I'd also like to explore both sides and try to see it from every point of view.

Domination is probably self explanatory for most people. But for the sake of clarity; Domination refers to the act of controlling the match in a competitive setting by using tools to shut down your opponents chances at winning. There are some players who view this as "cheap" or "unfair", and often it's because they think that if their chances at winning are shut down then that gives an unfair advantage to the person in control. However, I believe they are missing a step: the first step. The first step in dominating your opponent is to first take control of the match by force. Since your opponent is trying to win too this is not an easy task, the opponent isn't going to simply let you take control. But you must be superior to your opponent in the first place in order to gain advantage when you're both trying to take advantage. Since most matches consist of more than one round you must do this more than once, and in a tournament setting you must do this against many different people using different styles, techniques, and tactics in order to gain control. The first step is not entirely luck-based in most games, and it is not "unfair" or "uneven" in any way since during the first step both players are in a neutral/even position. Although due to the variety of characters there is certainly a possibility of an uneven first step in Fighters, due to serious disadvantage between character matches (or mis-matches if you will). Ironically, there are some people who strongly dislike mirror matches in Fighters despite mirrors avoiding a possible unfair advantage, due to character strengths and weaknesses being identical in a mirror match.

I've always wondered what makes Domination fun for some and not fun for others. Aside from the presumed "unfairness" I also believe some people also feel Domination is boring. Once a player takes control of the match it's probable that they feel it's not fun to either experience or watch a player dominating for most of the round. In my experiences Domination has always been extremely fun, both experiencing and spectating dominating and also being dominated. The reason is because as long as there is still a chance to take back control then it's interesting experiencing the struggle for power, from both the dominator's point of view and also the dominated point of view. Trying to take back power when "your chips are down", so to speak, is extremely challenging and rewarding. On the other side, trying to control something that could potentially "break free" from your control and turn the tables on you is also rather thrilling.

One of my favorite experiences with Domination was with the First Person Shooter (FPS) game Quake 1 by ID Software. A huge part of this game relied heavily on Domination when playing on particular playing fields, due to the nature of the game. Both players started with no weapons or armor and at default health value, but there were weapon/armor/health upgrades on the map. So, immediately both players vied for control of the map by grabbing what weapons and armor they could, then strategized and maneuvered around the map in order to get the first kill. You could not simply rush into your opponent and hope to win with aim alone since that would not ensure a desired result, instead you had to take advantage of the playing field which required a lot of planning, maneuvering, anticipation, and reaction as well as aiming. You had to calculate your opponents movements and counter them baiting your opponent into making a bad move or being into an unadvantageous location on the map. Once you got the first kill the opponent would be respawned in another random location with default weapons/armor/health. It was then time for the winner of the first step to take the next step which was to control the rest of the match by shutting down the opponent as much as possible by controlling the weapon/armor/health upgrades on the map. This was called "running the map" and is somewhat similar to a Fighter's "Rush Down". The idea was that if you forcibly took the weapon/armor/health that was on the map then the opponent would be at a constant disadvantage (since you had the upgrades and they did not).

Again, some players cried fowl at this while others reveled in it, both on the performing end and the receiving end. However, it would be unfair to say that the match might as well be re-started to square one immediately after the first kill because the first kill did not guarantee victory, but some players felt this way anyway. Although it is true that it did put one player at a strong disadvantage while another player was at a strong advantage but it was still not a guarantee. Especially if the player who was killed first was in reality the better player. For a player to lose control and then forcibly regain it, having to take it from the opponent, was a true testament to a player's skill in my opinion. It was fun for both players who enjoyed the concept of Domination because it was still a struggle for both players during the whole match. If a player was carelessly acting on auto-pilot and not paying attention to what the opponent was doing, then it was very possible that the dominated could take steps towards gaining a safe advantage on the map which could lead to a possible kill in the dominated's favor. The wonderful thing about Quake was that if you killed your opponent you could pick up the weapons that they were carrying, thus the dominated now becomes the dominator. When both players were equally good at both dominating and regaining control things became very interesting and intense. When I think of it, I get the picture of trying to hold down a wild beast that could potentially break free of your control and slash your throat.

Boxing also uses Domination. In boxing it is the goal of the boxer to dominate the match by controlling the ring and controlling his opponent. It is advantageous for a boxer to move into the middle of the ring and ware out his opponent by staying there, poking at his opponent and controlling the space in front of him/her. This is an advantageous technique because the player who is controlling the middle of the ring is exerting less effort and therefor can reserve stamina while tiring out his opponent. It's also advantageous to force the opponent into the corner where the opponent is at a strong disadvantage. Quite a bit like some Fighters, isn't it.

This sort of thing does happen in many Fighters as well. The first knockdown is taken, then from there one player will attempt to control the rest of the match by dominating the playing field and forcing the opponent into the corner while forcing mistakes, so called "rush down". And in Fighters it is also not a guaranteed victory due to the dominated still having options for regaining control. Although, naturally it's in both players best interest to out-play the other, therefor strategies are always developed for countering both control and for regaining control, as well as counter-countering and counter-counter-countering and so forth. This is what is called a "Mind Game". It is not luck based, but rather it is strategy based since both players are intentionally executing their strategy and counter strategy and counter-counter strategies.

But is it possible to avoid and still have fun?

Well, with Quake there was a time when certain pools of players began to level up very rapidly to extreme heights, and other pools of players who did not. This caused a large variety in skill levels which led to a lot of lopsided Domination. When a low-level plays against a high-level you can expect the lower level player to be completely dominated, rather than it being anywhere near a close match. This caused some players to analyze what was going on and protest the concept of Domination. However, people were enjoying the game so much and had such faith in the game, so rather than giving up they sought ways to avoid Domination. This lead to the player-made modifications (mods) called "Arena" and "Clan Arena". What Arena basically did was replay the first step over and over by resetting the game after the first kill. After the first kill both players respawned back to square one. Later this concept was refined to something called "Clan Arena" by my brother blip (AKA "Mungo", at the time) which allowed teams of players to take on one another in a repeated first-step style fashion. This modification was widely popular and eventually became so popular that the designers from ID Software created Quake 3 based on this concept (Quake 3: Arena).

So the answer would be yes. It is definitely possible to create a game that removes Domination and "levels the playing field", and still have fun with it.

Have Fighters done that?

In my opinion no, not really. Though they have certainly tried, which unfortunately lead to watering down Domination instead of either improving upon it or eliminating it. Many games have attempted to create mechanics which can help a player quickly take back control of the match and avoid being dominated, such as: invulnerable attacks, dodging, rolling, invulnerable backdashes, pushblock, guard cancel, burst (hitstun cancel), and parrying. However this only waters down Domination rather than eliminating it. Though, I have to wonder if a Fighter would be fun at all if Domination was eliminated instead of watered down. Personally, depending on the game style I think it actually could be fun.

It also makes me wonder if Quake would have been any fun if Domination was watered down instead of eliminated. I can't even imagine what the game would be like if there was a parry function put into a Quake Mod. Not just to parry projectiles though. In Fighters the parry system almost guarantees a knockdown off a melee parry, and that will flip control of the match to the successful parryer, but off a substantial amount of risk of course. In Quake that would be that a shot would instead be lethal to the shooter instead of the target based on an anticipation-based educated guess. To me that makes my skin crawl.

But why is either Full Domination or No Domination so much more appealing to me than Watered Down Domination?

To continue using the parrying system as a bit of an extreme example; I suppose I feel that you didn't really work very hard to take back control. Although there is of course some calculation and effort involved with Fighter's "anti-Domination" mechanics (including parrying), they still feel like a gimmicky wildcard that could just as easily fail if you anticipate wrong. It's not even really about strategy, reaction, maneuvers, or even aim; It was just an anticipation technique which could have just as easily failed if counter-anticipated. In my Quake example, where a parry could kill your opponent, I would feel that you did not have to rely on your skill to take back the map and you only needed to correctly anticipate the attack. From my perspective it's not much more complex than that. I also couldn't imagine what would happen to a game like Chess if parries were added, so that when every time a player took a piece both players would play a Rock-Paper-Scissors side game to determine who's piece actually got eliminated. Again I'd feel that the successful parryer did not counter-strategize but just correctly anticipated. I believe it to be a true folly to water Domination down instead of separating it into "Domination" and "No Domination" games, which I suppose would be synonymous with Quake's "Deathmatch" and "Clan Arena" respectively.

In the end I still believe it boils down to personal preference rather than logic/reasoning, or anything else. While some people will always enjoy Arena, others will always enjoy Deathmatch. Likewise, some people will always enjoy Rock-Paper-Scissors while others will enjoy Chess.

How does this relate to Monster?

Interestingly, Monster has taken the route of invulnerable backdashes which is more of a way of avoiding attacks rather than countering them. It has also given more tools for countering Domination to the Tranquility shift by giving it auto-guard attacks or invulnerable attacks. Monster also has the PointBreak system, which when utilized defensively can turn the momentum/control of a match completely around. On initial inspection you might say that it's watered Domination down, but on a closer look it appears that it actually just made it a little more complex. The point system can be used both defensively and offensively. So, when a player lands a successful combo the player gets points added to them, which means their advantage is actually increased because with a lot of points they can safely rush your opponent down and not have to worry about getting Powerbreaked. But, when a player successfully blocks then points are added, so successful blocking increases their advantage and that means they can regain control by Powerbreaking the opponent. Backdashes may also universally help to avoid meaty attacks but there are actually some interesting ways of punishing these backdashes. As it turns out, backdashing is not really a good idea to spam on wake-up, particularly in the corner. Tranquility gives players a "get out of jail free card" by giving their moves auto-guard or invulnerability, but this is balanced out by the fact that it's not as strong offensively as either Freedom or Monster shifts, with the exception of the character Maya.

I would say that Domination is really quite interesting in Monster.



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Competition

Hopefully this post isn't too difficult to follow for those of you who actually read this stuff. However, I will inevitably always use outside sources and analogies in order to describe what I'm talking about, which inadvertently tends to make things more difficult to follow. Alas, old habits die hard, so here goes.

The concept of domination is actually part of what makes games a lot of fun for some people, but I'll get into that in another post. Another thing that makes games fun is competition. There are moments in life that cause an adrenaline rush, sweating, breathing heavily, clinching teeth, and white knuckles, all leading up to extreme breath taking moments that leave you in awe and shock. These moments are sought after by sports players through means of competition and training. Pushing yourself to the limits and doing your best in order to out-play your opponent. Things are absolutely the most fun when competition is at it's absolute highest and two players come together with almost equal or close to equal skill levels. It may surprise some people out there that it is actually possible to get an adrenaline rush and one of those "breath taking moments" from playing a video game, but it's true. Problem is that it's difficult to find for a lot of people. Video games aren't really refined well enough to be on the same level as sports, but in recent years they are certainly coming very close.

For me, one of my greatest experiences with this was with the First Person Shooter (FPS) game Quake 1 by ID Software. I mention this because I'll be referencing it in regards to both domination and guarantees. But before I get to that, please bear with me. There was a time when I played the game very regularly with many different people all over the country who had become quite good at the game, and thus I also became quite good. The more I played people better than me, the more I "leveled up" my own skill. To me, the game was so very interesting because the results from competition in the game was not truly random, and in fact there was quite an enormous difference between player skill levels because there was so many different skill-based factors that contributed to a players ability to win. In order to beat your opponent you needed to do much much more than just aim your gun properly, you also needed to have the ability to out-strategize, anticipate, react, play defensively, play offensively, and maneuver, as well as aim. Having acquired a certain level of skill at performing all those techniques, then finding some one who was equally good as me at playing, and playing several sets always winning or losing by a very small margin was nothing short of an amazing and easily memorable experience for me.

Does this exist in Fighting games, and more to the point, in Monster?

The answer is undoubtedly yes. Although, personally it's been a rather difficult task getting there for me. But the good news is that I have had a few experiences with Fighters, and with Monster, that somewhat mirror my experiences with Quake. That isn't to say that Fighters are inferior. No, certainly not inferior at all. I'm just saying that in my own path into the world of competitive gaming, Fighters have proven more difficult for me to achieve the same level of comp as with FPS.

One of the biggest hinderance with Fighters is accessibility to top-level players on a daily basis. Having online play has always increased accessibility to many levels of skill for FPS games, since online play is rather viable for FPS and widely popular. Though with Fighters, even in recent years where online play has become more and more common with Fighters, it's still not quite the same as with an FPS game since online and offline play in Fighters is significantly different.

Another big hinderance has been variety and tools. There's a lot of variety in Fighting games with multiple games that play very differently and multiple characters that also play very differently. Not all games and not all characters are created equally in Fighters, which makes the playing field a little awkward, so to speak. Back in the day, for me there was Quake and only Quake, and in Quake there was only one character, so the playing field was even and standard, with the exception of tools.

For Fighters there's also a need for proper tools such as functional arcade cabinets and/or consoles with proper gaming controllers, and preferably nice TV's as well. But then that also occurs with FPS games as the need for high quality computers and controllers -- generally a good processor, vid card, and ram, plus a nice keyboard and mouse is required for a good FPS game experience, not to mention a fast and reliable internet connection for online gaming.

Fortunately I believe Fighters have been taking large steps in the right direction for online functionality. Particularly with Monster, in my opinion. Which is really good for opening up access to many different players with different styles and levels of skill at all hours of the day, and on a regular basis. I would probably never grow as a player in a game like Monster if it did not have online play, because in my local area the gaming pool is simply too shallow and I would be unable to play even with the local players on a regular basis (probably only on weekends or bi-weekly). But with online play I can play pretty much anyone on the East Coast almost any day of the week.

And yes, because of this I have achieved a nice comp experience in Monster. Though, the game is still relatively new and there's still a relatively small player base, so I'm not really expecting to get an ultimate experience out of it for a while longer, but at least I know we're progressing in that direction which is really quite exciting. The only thing that could really squelch progression would be a significant decrease in player base due to loss of interest. In the mean time, I'll be rooting for an increase.

PS. Throughout my competitive gaming experiences, it's also been a really sad experience for me to come in contact with people who are afraid of losing or people who strongly dislike losing, since to me losing is an indication that you have found a person able to level you up (learn from) and I personally find that very exciting.



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