Sunday, March 27, 2011

Awareness: Seeing the Big Picture

You know those pictures that, after you stare at it a long time, you're supposed to see a different image?

Well, I'd like to subvert that sentence and say "It has nothing to do with Halo." But if you really like to overthink things, like I do, then Audley Enough you could make the argument that it does.

Today's topic is Awareness. On the base level, Awareness is being able to see what's around you. But if you really look at awareness on a bigger scale, you start to see it differently as well.

If I were to generalize Awareness into separate categories, I would divide them into three: Spatial, Peripheral, and Situational.

Spatial Awareness is an obvious one. It's what you see. In gaming, Spatial Awareness will usually be reflected by a player's reflexes and how fast they respond to visual stimuli.

In Halo, the most basic form of spatial awareness is seeing your enemies. The better your spatial awareness is in that regard, the sooner you'll acknowledge and react to enemies as they come into your field of vision. While gaming reflexes aren't ENTIRELY tied into spatial awareness, better awareness will improve your reflexes. On the flip side, better reflexes won't necessarily improve your spatial awareness.

Additionally, knowledge of data presented on your HUD (such as your radar, ammo counter, or any other data presented in any other game) are related to spatial awareness. Being able to be aware of your radar as well as your gun's aiming reticule is a very basic skill that can make a large difference in a player's gameplay.

Spatial awareness can also improve your mobility around a map. Players with keen vision are more quick to notice the different ways they can get from Point A to Point B when first playing a map.

Spatial awareness is the difference between barely being able to make a jump, and having the ledge only meet your ankles, leaving you to fall to oblivion.

Since spatial awareness is almost entirely taken at face-value (there aren't many nuances to it. You either have it, or you don't) I won't linger too much on the subject, apart from one aside: how to improve your spatial awareness.

Most often, when I see VoD of players reacting very slowly to enemies appearing on screen, I have but one recommendation for them. Go play a Rhythm game. DDR, Guitar Hero, Rock Band, FFR, BeatMania. Any game of this type is excellent for improving your spatial awareness. You have split seconds to react to colored stimuli scrolling up your screen to a certain point. Even if you have generally slow reaction time, you'll find that with practice, you eventually become able to react more quickly to the notes you have to hit. Once you've improved at that, you'll also notice you begin reacting more quickly to that enemy that ran across the top left of your screen.

You can call me crazy for a recommendation like that, but I've always found an improvement in my reflexes when I play a few rounds of Flash Flash Revolution before a scrim in Halo.

If you're finding you have trouble moving around maps due to difficulty making jumps, the only way to improve is to spend time practicing those specific jumps until you can make them running backwards with your eyes closed and controlling your joysticks with your teeth. Knowing the nooks and crannies of a map comes from experience.

Now, on to type 2: Peripheral awareness.

How do you react to enemies beyond your visual periphery? Well, that would be peripheral awareness.

In gaming, most peripheral awareness is auditory in nature. And among the triggers that can clue you in toward objects outside your vision, there are generally two main sources.

In-Game Sound and Communication. In-Game Sound is another pretty skin-deep facet of awareness. You either hear what's going on or you don't. If you don't, you either need better speakers or better ears. (I use an Astro A40 headset. So if I fail to hear a sound in-game, it's lack of ears. If you're on the market for a headset for gaming, and have money to spend, I highly recommend Astro's products. Be sure to get the MixAmp. )

Now, since I've already talked a TON about Communication in my inaugural Audley Enough, hopefully everyone reading here already has top-notch communication! But...what about RESPONDING to communication?

When your entire team is talking, sometimes it's hard to pick out the call-out you need to respond to. Sometimes it's hard to hear an important call-out over one that doesn't pertain to you. If your team's Sniper is screaming out a one shot guy he failed to pick up the headshot on, and the teammate next to you is calmly asking you to back down and stay alive while he finishes the opponent you're fighting, chances are your ears will focus on the Sniper screaming, and you'll keep fighting only to die or trade a 1 for 1.

Being able to train your ears to hear what you need to hear (and even more, to hear EVERYTHING and respond to which one you needed to hear) is a very important skill when playing with highly communicative teams. While sometimes people need to learn to be more quiet in their calling out (so as not to yell over quieter teammates), it's still necessary to be able to sort layered calls out in an instant and react accordingly.

If three people are talking at the same time, there are a few possibilities for how you will react, or even what you will get out of the communication. A very weak peripherally aware player will fail to obtain any information, and tell everyone to stop talking at the same time. Other weak PA players will hear all three, but their minds will combine them all into one garbled message. "No, I'm sorry, I don't know about the elephant that trampled the New York Giants' win streak." Nor do you know about peripheral awareness!

As peripheral awareness in that instance improves, the sentences get heard individually, with the person speaking them separated. At the apex of awareness, the player whose call-out is most relevant to you personally is the one whose gets focused on in your mind.

The best way I can recommend to improve your ability to pick out the important call-out when several are being made is to, in less important gaming times, have some form of loud background noise also layered in with your sounds. Music or talk radio is usually a good choice (especially for players with headsets, when the music can be sent through the same headset as your in-game sound). As you grow more accustomed to hearing call-outs over music or unrelated talking, you'll be better at hearing important call-outs when you're in a more serious game, with the extraneous sound stripped.

As you become more peripherally aware, you'll know more and more often where your enemies and teammates are, even if you don't see them yourself. Once you're aware of where your enemies are, and where your teammates are, then it's time for awareness category #3, the big one: Situational Awareness.

Now, I talked about a large important chunk of situational awareness last week, when I discussed positioning. You'll always want to position in ways yadda yadda yadda goreaditifyoudidn'talready.

Situational awareness is knowing what to do and when to do it. Not just knowing what kind of situation you're in, but how to move into a better one.

Often, it's referred to as "decision making." But situational awareness is a little bit deeper, as it also explains why you're making the decisions you're making. If you were on Let's Make a Deal, and presented with the options of Door #1, Door #2, or Half-Opened Curtain #3, you wouldn't just pick Half-Opened Curtain #3 without being aware of the fact that there was clearly an Ogre behind it, with the demolished corpse of your long-lost brother smashed upon his club (unless you were seeking vengeance, that is).

Decision-making is usually something you can only improve retrospectively. Go back and watch your game films and look to answer a few criteria:
1) Why did I make this decision?
2) Did making this decision put me in a better position?
3) If it put me in a worse position, was the trade-off worth it? (Did you secure a power weapon? Did you improve your team's lead?)
4) Was their another way I could've achieved the same result with better consequences?

Experience is the best teacher for decision making. Analyzing your gameplay is a lot easier and saving game film to watch and analyze can take your improvement progress through the hyperbolic time chamber (That's right, I just made a Dragon Ball Z reference, readers. Deal with THAT.)

But again, decision making is just a part of situational awareness.

Even if you have excellent decision making, your situational awareness may not necessarily be as good.

I'll give a scenario to explain myself here.

Two players on Countdown are standing in cross positions at each side's third floor balcony. They each fire equal, max firing rate for the first two shots. Each lands the first shot and misses the second. Both players spam a third shot. Player one lands his shot, but player two misses.

From here, Player 2 makes the decision to back down from the fight. Because he was behind in the fight, this is a good decision (probably...we're theorizing in a vacuum here which can be impractical at times). Anyway, Player 1 knows he landed two shots, which means a grenade could finish the kill. So he throws both his grenades toward radio (Player 2's best escape path) and attempts to get the kill. Player two dodges.

Both get their shields back. Now there is one important piece of information Player 2 has that should come into play before he makes a decision on where to go from here.

If you said "that Player 1 has a better DMR, lol!" then no, shut up, you're an ass. Player 1 no longer has grenades. Either 1) Player 2 will have an advantage in the next fight. or 2) Player 1 will be moving to a place where grenades spawn. This kind of information is directly related to situational awareness.

Imagine the scene in Dirty Harry, if the guy had been a bit more situationally aware, he would've known. Clearly, Clint Eastwood's character fired six shots. (Not that it would've mattered, the guy only had one useable arm and was already on his back in front of a standing foe...but still.) Knowing how much ammo your opponent has remaining in a magazine, whether or not a weapon you're about to pick up has to be reloaded, or other subtle nuances of that type are all forms of situational awareness.

An opponent fires one rocket at you then immediately switches to a DMR and tries to clean you up. You still kill the enemy. Upon the enemy's death, a set of rockets falls to the ground. A situationally aware player will immediately be able to realize, "Those rockets have to be reloaded!" Because in almost any situation, a player would not switch off of Rockets (unless it was a long-range battle) if a second rocket was loaded and ready to be fired. So if you were no shields after the fight with the rocket guy, it would generally be a poor decision to rush to those rockets. Picking them up will lead to a reload animation and you would not be able to fight back immediately.

The final form of situational awareness is strategic awareness. Sometimes there's a "best option" a player can take to get from one position to another. This may mean a better route you can take to get to a power weapon. It may mean a better weapon you can use to counter an enemy. Sometimes, though, it's not related to the options available to you.

Situational awareness also includes being able to get into the mind of your opponents, and know what THEIR decisions will be. Knowing the potential routes an opponent can take, and being able to guess what their goal is, will allow you to be a step ahead of your opponents. Take the standard BTB opening from Standoff, for example. The majority of games on that map began with both teams trading massive amounts of grenades at each others' Warthog spawn area. Why? Because from your initial spawn, there was really only one way to go: forward. Both teams wanted the laser, located a short rush in front of the base. The grenades could disrupt the warthog and damage any enemies that went directly forward in front of the base. This grenading was a response to strategic awareness.

Sometimes, opponents may attempt to use strategic awareness against you. They may expect you to take a specific action based off what they expect to be the best action. So how do you respond to this? Intentionally take a less desirable action in order to catch the opponent off-guard. This is called Meta-Gaming. (And it's something I'm going to talk a lot more deeply about in a future Audley Enough.) But for now, we'll summarize metagaming as: when two players are equally aware of the best decision, it's often a better decision to make a worse decision. Open bracket slash confusion close bracket.

Because of its reliance on spatial and peripheral awareness, taking the steps I mentioned to improve those will have positive effects on your ability to take in the information with which you're presented in a game. However, situational awareness, like decision making, is something that must ultimately be improved through experience. The more experience you have, the more you can guess an opponent's likely responses, and the more you can pre-emptively react accordingly. The more experience you have, the more you can guess an opponent's guess of your guesses, and counteract accordingly.

If you want to improve your situational awareness, the first start is to improve your other forms of awareness. Put limitations on yourself in more relaxed games that push you to improve certain skill-sets ("Only use Hologram" for example is one limitation I like to give myself. That way I never have any guaranteed way out of a bad situation. I have to learn not to get into a bad situation, or find easier ways out.)

Well-rounded players typically have better situational awareness than specialized ones. While specialized players may have excellent decision making for their specific role they bring to a team, well-rounded players have more experience filling other roles. This unique trait gives them more first-hand knowledge of potential situations they may have gotten into in the past. Because well-rounded players have been in another players shoes and sometimes Evaded a mile, they're generally more equipped to know what can happen in a given situation.

These bits and pieces of seen, heard, and thought information all combine into one moving unit we call a game. And being able to perceive and conceive all of these potential ways a game can go, and react in a way to make the game go the way YOU want it to do, all stems from that one trait we like to call Awareness.

That's all for this week, folks.

No comments:

Post a Comment