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Rock Paper Scissors - A Method for Competitive Game Play Design

Designer and programmer Victor Chelaru discusses how the classic schoolyard game of "Rock Paper Scissors" can be a key element in multiplayer and one-on-one game design, in this in-depth Gamasutra cover feature.

Victor Chelaru, Blogger

January 23, 2007

34 Min Read


Multiplayer games can be the most enjoyable games to play because the challenge comes from human intelligence as opposed to the often-predictable AI present in competitive single player games. It's this element that keep some of the best video games alive well after their technological novelty has worn off.

The following article discusses how to design a game such that immediate conflicts are richer, more fulfilling, and encourage experimentation and learning. This article is highly theoretical, and will present ideas "in a vacuum". Some sections include the phrase "Where we end up.” These sections discuss the strategy realized by players who spend a considerable amount of time playing a game which has implemented ideas presented in this article. There are a few games which may come close to what I describe, but none are perfect implementations.

My goal is not to claim that certain games are bad, nor that this article outlines the only way to make a good game. Rather, this is a theory which tends to apply to most competitive multiplayer games and can help guide you as a game designer when creating your own competitive multiplayer game.


Before I begin discussing theory, I'd like to point that these ideas do not apply to all games. Here are some elements which must be present when applying the ideas I discuss below:

Competitive Multiplayer

Obviously, the games must be competitive multiplayer. For team-based games, each team must have at least one human-controlled player because artificial intelligence is not able to play the game to the depth indicated in this article.

To reach the full depth of game play, an player must be able to predict opponent behavior, develop behavioral patterns, dynamically recognize behavioral patterns, intentionally trick, and make mistakes. This kind of behavior is very difficult to develop with an AI opponent.

Fast Paced Play

The game must have fast paced play. Turn-based play will eliminate some of the depth of play when implementing these ideas. Interestingly enough, many real time strategy (RTS) games attempt to implement this method. Due to the popularity of these games, and the widespread implementation of the soon-to-be-described method, I will also discuss why this method fails for RTS's.

Variety of Attacks

This is usually not an issue, as most games implement a variety of attacks simply to keep the game interesting. That is, multiplayer competitive games in which the player can only attack one way are very rare.

Keep in mind that a variety of attacks doesn't necessarily refer only to a variety of weapons, but it can also refer to positioning, rate of attacks, and recovery.

Rock Paper Scissors - The Origin

The basis behind this method is the simple Rock Paper Scissors (RPS) game. If you are not familiar with the game, check this article.

The core idea behind the game is that no one strategy can win every time. Regardless of which "attack" you pick, you can either win or lose (or tie in the case of both players picking the same attack). Many game designs follow this pattern. This keeps players from finding one specific strategy which will win every time. It encourages players to play dynamically.

RPS will be used as an analogy for game play; however, my discussion will not be limited to the simple implementation of RPS game play. I will also consider how this can be modified to allow for more interesting play, and even how RPS is at the core of almost all games we play including sports like soccer, basketball, and American football.

Unmodified Rock Paper Scissors - What It Gives Us

Without any modifications, RPS already provides some interesting game play and can actually result in player strategies.

Attack Variety

In an RPS system, a player must vary his attacks. If the player repeatedly picks rock as his attack, then the opponent will catch on and continually pick paper. The attacker will either lose interest in the game or realize that he must pick a different attack so that he doesn't lose every round.

Blizzard Games' Starcraft

Most strategies in competitive games provide “tradeoffs to the player”. StarCraft implemented the RPS system by giving each unit strengths and weaknesses. Players can defend against ground units by building defensive buildings like bunkers in the entrances to their base. However, attackers can overcome this strategy by attacking with flying units. Units such as Goliaths are effective against air units so they can help strengthen a base's defenses. Relying on just one kind of attack is not an effective strategy.


As indicated previously, prediction and "reading your opponent" are valuable strategies in RPS games. To predict, one must either be able to recognize a pattern or have some kind of indication of what the opponent will do.

This is the most valuable strategy when playing some games. When playing poker with experienced players everyone will know the rules, the value of their hand, and probabilities of winning given a particular hand. If all players have a "perfect understanding" of the rules and the cards are truly random then in the long run no player has any advantage over the other. At this point the game is not as much about making wise decisions with your cards as it is about reading your opponents and being able to bluff. The game becomes less about the cards and more about the players - and being able to predict what your player has planned will make you a better player.

A common attack in Street Fighter II is to attack by performing a strong kick in the air followed by a sweep (duck and strong kick). This is effective against beginners because it requires the defender to block the first attack while standing and the second while ducking. However, this common attack pattern is easily recognizable and players familiar with the game quickly learn to defend against it.

Unmodified Rock Paper Scissors - Where We End Up

Following the advancement of strategy of two RPS players eventually leads us to a well-defined strategy. One player may decide to perform one attack over and over. The defender will recognize the pattern and react to it. The attacker will then realize that he must change his attacks.

The defender will realize that the attacker is no longer doing the same attack every time, and must also react by attempting to predict what the attacker will do. To avoid being predictable, the best thing that the attacker can do is to attack as randomly as possible. If the attacker is able to attack in a truly random fashion, this eliminates the defender's ability to predict and react to the attacks. This is the "dead end" of a simple RPS implementation of a game.

Since this article specifically discusses games which implement fast-paced game play, speed becomes an issue. Attacking quickly is more effective than attacking slower because it makes prediction on the defender's part even more difficult.

Therefore we have the following conclusion: The end strategy of a simple Rock Paper Scissors game is to be random and fast.

Statistically, each attack will tend to occur just as frequently as another, given that each is equally effective. However, since speed is a consideration the faster attacks are used more frequently than slower attacks.

This strategy manifests itself frequently resulting in an undesirable experience for players. Fighting games which are built with complex mechanics such as Tekken or Soul Calibur require a player to invest time to learn a character's moves. Although the most effective way to play these games in the long run is to memorize how to perform moves and when they are effective, the immediate desire to win prevents many players from becoming skilled at the game.

Instead, beginning players button mash as this seems to be more effective against other beginners. The strategy, although not formally recognized by the player, is the same - be random and fast. The result of the match generally depends on luck and the players do not have much control over what is happening. Since the players are not learning anything, they are not experimenting or seeing what the game has to offer. Generally a button mash-fest results in bored players relatively quickly, so it's pretty obvious why this is an end strategy which game designers should avoid.

Namco's Soul Calibur II

Although RTS games do not fit the criteria of being fast paced, there is an artificial reaction time imposed by the game since buildings and units take time to build. Resource scarcity further increases the amount of time required to build desired units. If a defender in an RTS does not know which kind of attack his opponent is planning his only option is to diversify his troops.

As mentioned before, units in games like StarCraft are effective against certain other units, and to defend against all possible kinds of attacks, a defender should build a variety of troops. Similarly, an attacker must consider the defense that the defender is building. Without any knowledge about a defense the attacker's best strategy is to build a variety of units as well.

The result is that both the attacker and defender will build a variety of troops. Since time is critical, they will be following the same strategy - be random (or in this case, diverse) and fast. Therefore, many RTS games are reduced to games of memorization and methodical repetition.

Keep in mind that the RPS model must be present to reach this end strategy. If all attacks are not equally effective or if there is one dominant strategy then players will exploit that and the game will not not even reach the point of being an RPS game.

In the end, the game is no longer about decision making, but rather performing a series of steps as efficiently as possible. This is another situation that a game designer should attempt to avoid, as this tends to not be as fulfilling of an experience for players as one where success is achieved through decision making and improvisation.

Signals - Overcoming RPS Shortcomings

The strategy of being random and fast is problematic because it does not create an enjoyable experience for players. RPS games become very mechanical. In fact, being random and fast is a very simple strategy to formalize and even implement in AI. Fortunately, signals are a relatively simple solution to this problem.

A signal is an action or behavior which indicates that another action or behavior is going to follow. The word "introduce" is not entirely accurate because whether there is effort on the game developer's part or not, there is almost always a signal present to indicate an action.

For example, if an attacker intends to shoot his opponent in Halo, he must face and aim at the defender. This is a signal to the defender that he will likely get shot at, although the animation for aiming is included to make the game more realistic and not necessarily to enrich game play.

In the boxing game Fight Night 3, the haymaker does not execute immediately when the player pushes the button. Instead, the boxer plays an animation before striking. The pause between the execution of the haymaker and the actual punch connecting is a signal. The defender can react to the attack if he is fast enough by dodging, blocking, or counter attacking with a faster punch.

Electronic Art's Fight Night Round 3

Signals are almost always present in one form or another. What is important is not that the signal is there but that it is obvious enough to be noticed, and that there is enough time between the signal and the attack that the defender may react.

The timing of signals is critical to the way the game is played. If the amount of time separating the signal and the attack is too long then the defender will be able to react successfully every time. If the signal is too subtle or occurs too close to the actual attack then the defender will not be given a chance to react.

The soccer game Super Mario Strikers used signals to give the defender a chance to react to the “Super Strike” move. The captain of each team can perform a powerful shot at the goal which cannot be stopped if performed correctly. To perform the shot the attacker must press the B button at the right times as indicated by a green and yellow ticker. During this time, the defender can react to the signal by tackling or using an item on the attacker. The length of the signal is short enough to make this an effective attack, but long enough to give an attentive defender the chance to stop the attack.

Signals introduce a level of skill to the game that is not present in simple RPS games. Now rather than guessing or acting randomly, the defender has the opportunity to successfully react to attacks. Taking this one step further, signals allows a defender to recognize patterns. Skilled Fight Night 3 players are able to identify punches by their animations and react accordingly with blocks, parrys, or dodges. In general, if a defender knows a good defense or counter attack then he will be able to defend against attacks by learning their signal/attack relationship.

This learning is especially valuable because it gives the player a sense of accomplishment and control. Rather than relying on luck he can now be attentive to what is happening and through his own effort become more successful at the game. This built-in reward system is very important in keeping players interested in a game, which is obviously desirable as a game designer.

The presence of obvious, well-timed signals can greatly enrich the play experience. Keep in mind that for a signal to be effective in enriching the play experience, the player must be aware of the RPS relationship between the attacks. There are three criteria which must be present at this point:

  1. Each attack must have a known and effective defense or counter attack.

  2. Each attack must present a signal that is detectable.

  3. Each attack must occur after the signal at a time interval which allows the defender to react.

If these three are true, then given a certain number of repetitions, the defender should have a realization. He may think, "Oh, now I see! Whenever his character does this action, it means he is going to attack like this. Next time, I should try this counter attack."

As mentioned before, this realization will keep players playing the game. The player is now thinking about "next time" rather than about quitting because he doesn't stand a chance. Again, the focus is not on the presence of the signal, but rather that the signal is obvious enough to be noticed by the player and timed such that a defender can react to it.

RPS and Signals - Where We End Up

At this point we have the ingredients for an interesting game. Depending on how well we implement the three criteria outlined in the previous section, we may have a very enjoyable game with a good amount of depth in the competitive game play. However, as players become extremely skilled at a game there is a definite optimum strategy.

First, let's review aspects of the game:

  • Each attack has a known and effective defense or counter attack.

  • Each attack presents a signal that is detectable.

  • Each attack occurs after the signal at a time interval which allows the defender to react.

And let's consider qualities of a skilled player:

  • He is able to identify an attack by its signal.

  • He is able to react in time to a signal with an effective defense or counter attack.

In this situation, if two skilled players are fighting, the defender is at a clear advantage. This is problematic because there is no incentive to initiate an attack - doing so puts the attacker at a disadvantage as he "opens himself up" for a counter attack.

The fighting game Killer Instinct presented such a situation. A defender could defend against an attack simply by pushing the back direction to block. Most attacks gave some form of signal to the defender by hesitating or displaying an animation as the attacker prepared. Therefore, the defender could simply block and counter attack. The end result is called "turtling", or simply waiting for the opponent to attack. Therefore, The end strategy of a Rock Paper Scissors game with detectable signals which can be reacted to is to not initiate attacks.

Is Turtling So Bad?

At first thought it may seem like designing a game with the end strategy of turtling is undesirable; that is, designing a game in which players are encouraged to attack rapidly and randomly may seem like a better idea than designing a game where players are encouraged to not attack at all. However, consider when the strategy of each game is realized.

A simple RPS presents a system which has a very obvious strategy. Attacking randomly and quickly is very natural. Young children often fight by punching and kicking wildly rather than thoughtfully analyzing their opponent. For a player to reach the end strategy of turtling, he must become very skilled at the game. He must know the counter attack for every attack, be able to associate the signal to every attack, and be able to recognize the signal and recall the counter attack before the actual attack occurs.

Although Killer Instinct is notorious for encouraging turtling, it presented enough variety to keep players interested for many hours before realizing this strategy. If the amount of time that players spend playing a game is an indication of the game's quality, then the end strategy of turtling is more desirable than random, fast attacks from a designer's point of view.

Separation of Signal and Attack

A simple RPS game results in a strategy which is adopted without much learning and which is ultimately boring. A RPS game with signals also results in a boring end strategy, but this end strategy is only realized after a considerable amount of play time and learning.

This brings us to the question of whether it is possible to make a game which both encourages players to play and learn the game while resulting in an enjoyable end strategy. Of course, the answer is yes.

The biggest problem with a simple RPS game is that it doesn't involve any learning or skill. Players attack randomly and quickly. Of course, there is some skill in performing tasks quickly, but the best competitive activities offer more to the participants. The reason for adding in signals is to allow players to learn and utilize skill. While solving one problem by encouraging players to learn, signals introduce another problem of reducing the effectiveness of attacking - eventually to a point where initiating an attack should not be done.

Therefore, the next "addition" is one which will empower the attacker and restore balance to the game. This addition is the separation of the signal from the attack. A common term for this is "faking". The separation of the signal from the attack allows the attacker to give the defender the indication that a particular attack is to follow without being forced to follow through with the attack.

Any actual attack should still require a signal; that is, signals without attacks should be possible, but attacks without signals should not, otherwise the end strategy would be to randomly display one signal while performing a different attack. If the signal is completely separate from the attack, then the signal is no longer a signal.

Also, separating signal from attack should require some skill. Specifically, there are two considerations which should determine an attacker's skill at separating the signal from the attack:

  • A more experienced player should be able to separate the signal from the attack more effectively than a player who is not as experienced.

  • A player who is under less pressure when performing his attack should be able to more effectively separate the signal from the attack.

NBA Jam implemented separation of signal and attack by allowing players to initiate a shot but interrupt the shot by passing while in the air. The player cannot shoot the ball without jumping in the air, so attacks without signals are not possible. Passing while in air is not something which is commonly performed by beginners. This requires dexterity and some understanding of the game's mechanics. Therefore, beginners generally associate the signal of jumping with the attack of shooting. More advanced players are able to fake defenders by passing while in the air. However, when under pressure, it can be more difficult for an attacker to perform a fake shot, especially if his teammate is on the ground from a foul.

NBA Jam by Midway

The following is a likely "skill path" of two players who are learning an RPS game with signals and separation of signal and attack:

  • The players experiment with the game. They learn how to attack each other.

  • The players realize that each attack has a counter attack or defense.

  • One player may find one attack which is effective against his opponent.

  • After numerous attacks, the defender will recognize a signal for the attack.

  • By recognizing the signal and knowing the counter attack or defense, the defending player is able to react to the attack and stop the attacker.

  • The attacker realizes that the defender has detected a pattern, so he performs a different attack.

  • The defender learns the signals for other attacks and is able to effectively counter them. At this point, without separation of signal and attack, the players would reach the end strategy of turtling.

  • The attacker realizes that the defender is reacting to his signals, and with the knowledge that signals can be separated from attacks, he attempts to "fake" his opponent.

  • Initially, if the defender is conditioned to react to the signal, the fake will be successful, and the attacker will be able to take advantage of his opponent's conditioning.

  • The defender realizes that the attacker can separate his signal from his attack, and cannot rely purely on reaction to defend against attacks.

RPS, Signals, and Separation of Signal and Attack - Where We End Up

Now there is no longer an exact end strategy, but rather a more abstract strategy. The following are a few strategies which can develop (keep in mind these are only a few of the many that can develop at this skill level):

  • The defender cannot rely on initial signals to counter the attack. He must hesitate and attempt to predict or detect when the attacker will commit to an actual attack.

  • The attacker realizes that the defender tends to hesitate so he strikes preemptively (without faking) destroying the defender's ability to rely on hesitation.

  • The defender cannot rely on signals so he attacks while the attacker is "faking".

  • The defender realizes that the attacker's ability to separate signal from attack is reduced when the attacker is placed under stress. Therefore, he can also create signals which may cause the attacker to evaluate whether the signal will actually be followed by an attack. This will reduce the effectiveness of the attacker in separating signal from attack.

The Nintendo game Super Smash Bros. Melee is a great example of an RPS system with signals and separation of signal and attack. The RPS system is present in the the strengths and weaknesses of attacks. Shields block most attacks and give the opportunity for counter attack. Throws can penetrate shields but require the attacker to stand close to the defender (at least for most characters). The proximity requirement (and the speed for some characters) of throws give the defender the opportunity to preemptively attack with faster attacks.

Nintendo's Super Smash Bros. Melee

Signals are present mainly by positioning. All attacks have a defined area of effect relative to the attacker. Some attacks can only connect directly above or below the character, while some in front or behind.

Learning the speed and area of effect for attacks is the first step in recognizing signals. The second is to learn the most common uses of each attack. For example, jumping in the air and pressing down and A with Link causes him to perform a lethal downward thrust with his sword. This attack is one of Link's most powerful. If an attacker playing as Link is in the air above a defender, it is likely he will attack with the downward thrust. This is a signal which can be reacted to with a shield, roll, dodge, or upward attack.

Of course, these signals are not completely tied to attacks. Players are free to fall downward as Link without performing the downward thrust. Instead an attacker can fake his opponent by performing a second air jump or air dodge. If the defender reacts to the signal by attacking with an upward attack, the attacker's fake is successful and he can take advantage of the opening the fake has created.

It is difficult for a player to keep track of all signals and behavior patterns of his opponent, especially when he is attempting to attack, throw false signals, and take advantage of openings. To be effective, the player must develop patterns. This is a natural technique for managing complex tasks, and without patterns players would be overwhelmed with decisions.

However, any pattern can be detected by the opponent and reacted to. Therefore, the challenge for players is to reduce their predictability by quickly establishing patterns which are effective, but changing the patterns as soon as the opponent has identified them. Although rather abstract we can reach the following conclusion: The end strategy of a Rock Paper Scissors game with detectable signals which can separated from the attack is to be adaptive and to recognize opponents' patterns quickly.

Let's Get Practical

As an example, consider the sport of soccer. This sport follows the design patterns described above.

The players experiment with the game. They learn how to attack each other.

To begin, imagine a young child just learning how to play soccer. At this point, he is experimenting with the game and learning the attacks. Of course, in soccer, players rarely attack each other directly. I use the word "attack" more loosely to mean an offensive maneuver. This could mean dribbling the ball, passing, or shooting at the goal.

The players realize that each attack has a counter attack or defense.

The realization that each attack has an effective counter attack or defense is rather evident, and children learn this quickly. If an attacker has the ball and is dribbling it toward the goal, a defense that is effective 100% of the time is to simply take the ball from the attacker. This requires the defender's feet to be in the right place at a given time. If the attacker moves the ball to the right, then the defender must react and move in the same direction to stop the ball.

One player may find one attack which is effective against his opponent.

As children learn the game, they develop attacks which they find to be most effective. This could mean always moving to the right to avoid defenders or kicking only with the left foot.

After numerous attacks, the defender will recognize a signal for the attack.

A perceptive player or coach will recognize patterns in opponents and react to them. Knowing that an attacker will always move to the right when approaching a defender results in a very successful defense.

By recognizing the signal and knowing the counter attack or defense, the defending player is able to react to the attack and stop the attacker.

Having the knowledge that your opponent will always perform a particular attack gives the defender an upper hand. With this knowledge, any attack in soccer can be stopped.

The attacker realizes that the defender has detected a pattern, so he performs a different attack.

If a particular player always performs the same move and is continually stopped, he will eventually try something new. Rather than always shooting at the goal from the same spot, a player may try passing the ball to a teammate or shooting from a different spot on the field.

Of course, soccer is generally not this controlled, but this is quite likely in a video game.

The defender learns the signals for other attacks and is able to effectively counter them.

Players eventually learn to read the body movements of other players and are able to predict where the player will move. If the player leans or turns a certain way this is a signal that he will move in a particular direction. Being able to read your opponent is critical to stopping him.

The attacker realizes that the defender is reacting to his signals, and with the knowledge that signals can be separated from attacks, he attempts to "fake" his opponent.

Attackers learn to perform fakes with their body and ball maneuvers which can trick defenders. A player may sweep his foot to the left, barely missing the ball, but tricking the defender to move that direction. He then is able to push off of that foot and move to the right with the ball, effectively avoiding the defender and continuing down the field.

If the defender is conditioned to react to the signal the fake will be successful, and the attacker will be able to take advantage of his opponent's conditioning.

Since experienced players have played soccer for a long time, they tend to make an association between particular body motions and resulting attacks. If an attacker can give the right signals to a defender he can effectively "fake" the defender.

The defender realizes that the attacker can separate his signal from his attack, and cannot rely purely on reaction to defend against attacks.

Defenders can no longer rely on initial signals as it is possible that a skilled attacker may be performing a "fake". Therefore, the defender must rethink his strategy and react dynamically to the situation rather than following a set pattern.

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.

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About the Author(s)

Victor Chelaru


Victor Chelaru is the project leader and lead developer of the FlatRedBall Game Engine (http://www.flatredball.com).

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