Saturday, December 12, 2015

Ambiguous Revelation: The Dangers of Uncertain Exposure

It's been a while since I've worked on any Audley Enough stuff. But today, while reading a Reddit post distressing over the lack of power supports have in League of Legends these days due to repeated nerfs to vision control over the last few seasons... I thought it was about time I talked about a subject that's been weighing on me for a few weeks now.

That subject is what I'm labeling Ambiguous Revelation...and it's a very bad thing to have in competitive games centered around imperfect information.

When I say Ambiguous Revelation, I specifically mean, “When you give away information to the enemy, but cannot be sure if you've given away that information.”

Because imperfect information games are focused on reacting to what information you have and attempting to control what information you give away to your opponent, it's imperative to be able to determine what that information is.

Since League of Legends is the game that triggered this blog for me, I'll start with talking about its Sight Wards. And it's not the first time I've referred to invisible wards as bad game design. Hell, Ghostcrawler himself has mentioned he thinks LoL's current state of vision control is the opposite of fun (which, while I agree, I feel his approach to changing that is heavy-handed and ignores the fact that some players actually enjoy playing intelligently rather than playing to win via execution.)

Stealthed Sight Wards have a few problems:
  • They have very little interactivity on their own, and are a great example of power without gameplay. Riot hate auras in League of Legends because it's hard to see how much power you're giving with them. Vision is similar.
  • They have very poor Counterplay. While generally, you can sweep them or kill them with pinks if you know where they are...champions without an AA reset cannot kill them on their own upon them being placed, nor can you kill them if you don't already know where they are.
  • They are not good for Clarity. Riot have alleviated this slightly with how trinket wards work in this season with the “ward debris” system for showing where wards WERE placed, but while a ward is stealthed and doing its job, there's almost no way to tell if you have been revealed.

Of course, the last point isn't true around lanes at the highest level of play – you can observe the opponent in that lane for behavioral changes to gauge where a ward was or wasn't placed. It leads to a level of Yomi layering where the player may feign ignorance and buy time for his teammates to make a counterplay.

But when you do not already have vision of nearby players, then you cannot be sure whether or not you are giving information to the enemy team...and in this case, the best option is to err on the side of caution and assume you WOULD be giving away information, thus electing not to go there.

Ambiguous Revelation hits an extreme in high level games of Halo, when the Motion Tracker is enabled. The Motion Tracker is similar to a radar in that it reveals nearby players, but it only does so if they are moving full speed or shooting.

If you are standing still or crouching, you do not show up on the Motion Tracker, and this is an enormous problem for competitive play. If you approach a high traffic area at full speed, and an enemy is hiding around the corner, they know you are coming, but you have no idea that they are there, nor that they know you are coming. It's a Revelation to the opponent that is unclear to you. Because of this, the “correct” play when ever approaching trafficked areas alone is to instead play it extremely slowly and crouch with your best CQB option ready. If they aren't there, you've wasted time and bored yourself with crouching. If they are there, you've got your spray and pray ready for combat.

It leads to really slow, dull gameplay.

While MLG had control of Halo, they left the Motion Tracker disabled to avoid this issue of Ambiguous Revelatiton in lieu of preventing the sharing of free information at all, leaving it up to the players at the highest level to figure out the information on their own through awareness and communication.

Let's say hypothetically 343 insist we need to keep some form of radar, for the sake of casual audience. There are a few approaches they could take to erase Ambiguous Revelation while keeping the flow of information in similar circumstances.

  1. Make the Motion Tracker flash/change colors when you have been revealed on another player's Motion Tracker. Do NOT reveal the location of the player who detected you.
    1. This change alerts you that you have been detected, removing the Ambiguity of the Revelation, but still puts the advantage in the hands of the opponent, as they know your exact location, while you only know that you are in range of the person.
  2. Convert the Motion Tracker to a full-blown Radar, revealing all players as long as they are in range of you.
    1. This change puts the advantage in the hands of the aggressor, giving them free information just for moving around the map. A player constantly moving can spot immobile enemies, even without actually getting them in their sights.
  3. Convert the Motion Tracker into a “spotter” system – If a player is shooting, they show up. They don't need to know whether or not they are near an enemy player, because by shooting they are giving up SOUND that fills the entire map, ensuring they know enemies know their location. If a player is BEING SHOT (in the cross-hairs of an enemy AND taking damage), they show up. Again, they know their location is compromised. Moving or making local sounds (thrust, sprint) would not reveal you, as these sounds are too close range to be certain you are revealed. With this system, the range could be greatly increased without much effect on gameplay (and it actually reduces the advantage players with better sound equipment have over their broke peers).

Those are just a few alternatives off the top of my head, all of which would improve how the game plays at the competitive level versus the currently enabled Motion Tracker in Halo 5 – a full-blown radar, although noobish and “unfair” would have less negative effects on the outcome of gameplay, as players would instead be encouraged to keep moving rather than to stop and sit still, autos primed.

Because not knowing whether your opponent knows where you are or not leads to assuming they'll find out if you play as though they don't. Which leads to playing more cautiously. Which leads to immobile, stale gameplay.

Back on the subject of League of Legends, how do you reconcile this with invisible wards?

DotA2 has quite an interesting answer to that, with its inclusion of Smoke of Deceit. Smoke of Deceit stealths you and all nearby allies for a moderate duration, but attacking or moving within a specific range of enemy units will break your stealth. It's literally a tool to grant you and your team the ability not to be seen by regular wards. In many games of DotA, you will see teams purchase Smoke and make aggressive plays, knowing with absolute certainty they are undetected until they are upon their target. Because they are unambigulous unrevealed, they are able to make this play. Of course, if your game is League of Legends, there's one player on the team who EVERY GAME relies on being unrevealed as long as possible to exert the most pressure on the map...and because of that, vision needs to at least be able to detect people consistently.

Being revealed by abilities in League of Legends, whether Hawkshot, Traps, or various skillshots always give an icon of two eyes on the player, showing them they have been spotted.

One potential way to handle Warding is to drastically reduce the vision radius of wards but make them untargetable – similar to how the Scuttle Crab's shrine works. This would grant counterplay to players who have detected them, as they could move around them. In the case of Wards being placed in brush, after spotting the ward once, players could know how to avoid being spotted as they pass back by that brush a second time.

Another method would be to replace Wards with items that work similarly to Nidalee Traps...granting only an immediate burst of vision on their own, but then simply resting dormant until triggered by an enemy walking directly over them. Again, enemies can avoid the detection by simply moving away from them and taking a different route, but if they happened to trigger them, they know they have been detected and know their options for decisions based off that detection. They are not limited by anticipation of whether they have been detected, and can make smarter decisions based off confirmed information.

In both of these cases, players don't have to fear they have been detected without their knowledge, greatly increasing the amount of aggressive decision-making they are allowed to make, and increasing the interactivity of the game as well as the enjoyment aspect for spectators who don't wish to observe a golf match.

By improving the clarity of whether or not a player is detected, players have less reason to play scared or overly cautious due to inability to valuate their potential – and improves the ability for a player to valuate based off facts, rather than assumptions, and thus improves the health of the game as a whole at its top level of play.

Turning back to Halo momentarily, there are some options that could be explored WITHOUT removing the Motion Tracker in its current incarnation, by modifying one part of the Halo sandbox, its grenades. Most modern shooters include smoke grenades, flash bangs, et cetera to empower teams to push through choke points without being gunned down systematically.

Halo's Frag Grenades could be given a smoking component (Halo 2's actually had that) to enable you to get around a corner unseen (though detected), while its Plasma Grenades could act as a flash bang (they do distort vision in Halo 5), stunning players who look directly into the exploding sun. Splinter Grenades could revert to Pulse Grenades, and send out a radar pulse as they detonate, revealing players on motion tracker if they are nearby its explosion. Each of these would encourage players to grenade around corners before rushing and enable them to have counterplay for corner-crouchers...without actually requiring the removal of the casual playerbase's crutch.

That concludes my discussion about Ambiguous Revelation – I think it's a subject for much debate, but personally I feel it brings more negatives than positives when it comes to how it affects high level competitive play...and should be avoided wherever possible.

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