17 July 2009

Fire and Motion

I'm linking you to an article about productivity, which is interesting in itself. I happened to be thinking about military sim games when I started reading it though, so in my head I was thinking how the military strategy aspect applies to games and game design.

[From Joel on Software] When I was an Israeli paratrooper a general stopped by to give us a little speech about strategy. In infantry battles, he told us, there is only one strategy: Fire and Motion. You move towards the enemy while firing your weapon. The firing forces him to keep his head down so he can't fire at you. (That's what the soldiers mean when they shout "cover me." It means, "fire at our enemy so he has to duck and can't fire at me while I run across this street, here." It works.) The motion allows you to conquer territory and get closer to your enemy, where your shots are much more likely to hit their target. If you're not moving, the enemy gets to decide what happens, which is not a good thing. If you're not firing, the enemy will fire at you, pinning you down.

I remembered this for a long time. I noticed how almost every kind of military strategy, from air force dogfights to large scale naval maneuvers, is based on the idea of Fire and Motion. It took me another fifteen years to realize that the principle of Fire and Motion is how you get things done in life. You have to move forward a little bit, every day. It doesn't matter if your code is lame and buggy and nobody wants it. If you are moving forward, writing code and fixing bugs constantly, time is on your side. Watch out when your competition fires at you. Do they just want to force you to keep busy reacting to their volleys, so you can't move forward?

There are two aspects of this I found interesting, and the military strategy aspect is the obvious one. I'm not sure I have ever seen any games where this is directly modeled, though I think I have observed it indirectly. In a two player game of Battletech, one player might choose to "take cover" from the opponent by moving into a good defensive position. This might help the other player "Fire and Move", or it may not, depending on how and when the first player finally decides to attack. There is no automatic advantage just for "laying down fire" aside from the odd lucky shot.
In many-players games of Battletech, such as the storyline battles that take place at the Cons (often 8+ players per side), Move and Fire really starts to express itself. Sometimes one side takes advantage of cover, avoiding line-of-site to the other team. Any player who ventures away from cover then become the only target for the other side, and so quickly gets their Battlemech destroyed. Consequently, no player wants to be the first one to venture out from cover. There may be some brave rallying attempts, but always some players cautiously hang back, leaving their braver teammates to face a hail of concentrated fire. This is not written into the game, it's a consequence of psychology and players putting their own performance (not getting damaged) ahead of the team. Fire and Motion works for the team that is able to restrict the actions of the other; Not because it is a rule of the game, but because it takes advantage of group psychology. If the team in cover would all move out to attack as a coordinated unit they would stand a decent change of success. In a two players game each side is fully coordinated, but with many players per side coordination is a serious issue.

The other interesting aspect is that of game design, and the idea that creating something - anything - it a lot better than sitting around and just thinking about it. This is one of the main points Ian has been pushing in his class.

[Hat Tip 2 Paperpools]

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