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Slippery Slope and Perpetual Comeback

If a game has slippery slope, it means that falling behind causes you to fall even further behind.

For example, imagine that every time your team scored in basketball that the opponent’s team lost a player. In that game, falling behind is doubly bad because each basket counts for score AND it makes the opposing team less able to score points of its own. The actual game of basketball does not have this screwy feature though, so real basketball does not have slippery slope. Scoring in real basketball puts you closer to winning but does not at all hamper your opponents’ ability to score.

Slippery slope is another name for positive feedback, a loop that amplifies itself as in a nuclear reaction. Because people confuse the terms positive and negative feedback so easily, I prefer the more descriptive term slippery slope.

Slippery slope is usually a bad property in a game. If a game has a powerful slippery slope effect, that means that when one player gets a small early lead, he is more likely to get an even bigger lead, which in turn makes him more likely still to get yet an even bigger lead, and so on. In a game like this, the real victor of the game is decided early on, and the rest of the game is futile to play out (or to watch).

StarCraft and Chess do have slippery slope. They manage to be good games anyway, despite this anti-climactic property. In Chess, when a player loses a piece, his ability to attack, defend, and control space on the board is slightly reduced. Sure, there are many other factors in Chess--positioning, momentum, pawn structure--that determine if a player is actually “losing,” but losing a piece does have an effect. Clearly, losing a lot of pieces, say 8, puts a player at a significant disadvantage. It’s pretty hard to make a comeback in Chess, and a game is usually “won” many, many moves before the actual checkmate move.

This is why there are a lot of forfeits in Chess. Good players don’t actually play out the pointless part of the endgame when they recognize the opponent will definitely win. Chess players would say that forfeits being a regular part of the game is fine and not awkward, but it’s a disappointing quality compared to games without slippery slope. Still, Chess is a pretty good game anyway.

This guy just lost a Chess piece.

StarCraft also has slippery slope. When you lose a unit, you are penalized doubly. First, you are closer to losing (having no units at all is so crippling as to be virtually the same as the actual loss condition of losing all your buildings). Second, you are less able to attack and defend because the unit you lost was not just part of a score, but also part of the actual gameplay of attacking and defending.

In basketball, the score is completely separate from the gameplay. Your ability to score points doesn’t depend at all on what the current score is. You could be ahead by 20 points or behind by 20 points and have the same chances of scoring more points. But in StarCraft (and Chess), the score is bound up with the gameplay. Losing units pushes you closer to loss AND makes it harder to fight back.

StarCraft has even more severe slippery slope when it comes to the game’s economy. Imagine that your opponent rushes you (sends an early attack to your base) and you fend it off. Let’s say you each lost about the same value of units in the exchange, except that you also lost one worker unit. In a different type of game, this might equate to being one “point” behind. But in StarCraft, that can be a crippling loss because gathering minerals is nearly exponential. Your opponent is ahead of you in the resource curve, increasing his earnings faster than you are. You’ve fallen down a very slippery slope here, where an early disadvantage becomes more magnified as the game goes on.

Fighting Games

Fighting games don’t usually have slippery slope. In Street Fighter, for example, your character still has all of his moves even when he’s about to lose. Getting hit puts you behind in life totals (in “score”) but doesn’t limit your gameplay options in the way that losing a piece in Chess does or losing a unit in StarCraft does. An unusual example of a fighting game that does have slippery slope is Bushido Blade. In that game, getting hit can cause you limp around or lose the use of an arm. This is extremely rare in the fighting game genre though, and for good reason.

While it might be "realistic" for a nearly dead character to limp, move slowly, and have generally less effective moves, it's not fun. (At least in Bushido Blade's case, this part of the game lasts only a couple seconds, then you lose.) Meanwhile in Street Fighter, comebacks are frequent and games are often "anybody's game" until the last moment. Street Fighter does have some very minimal slippery slope aspects (if you're very near death you have to worry about taking damage from blocked moves which aren't a threat if you have full life), but overall it's pretty "slippery slope neutral."

There is one fighting game that stands out as an exception: Marvel vs. Capcom 2. In this game, each player chooses 3 characters. At any given time, one character is active and on-screen, and the other two are off-screen, healing back some lost energy. The off-screen characters can be called in to do an assist move, then the jump off screen again. The main character can attack in parallel with the assist character, allowing for a wide variety of tricks and traps. The player can switch the active character at any time, and he loses the game when he loses all three characters. But here, slippery slope rears its bitter head. When one player is down to his last character and the other player has two or even all three of his characters, the first player is at a huge disadvantage. The first player has can no longer attack in parallel with his assists, which often means he has no hope of winning. Comebacks in MvC2 are quite rare and games often "end" before they are technically over.

Fighting games with "ring out" such as Virtua Fighter and Soul Calibur as especially devoid of slippery slope properties. In these games, a player instantly loses if his character is ever pushed out of the ring, no matter how much energy he has. Basically, no matter how far behind you are, no matter how close you are to losing, you always have a 100% damage move: ring out. Long ago, I thought this concept was "cheap" and served only to shorten games while adding little benefit, but actually the threat of ring out adds quite a bit to both these games. Since the threat of ring out is so great, another whole element of positioning is added to the game. A player must fight both to do damage to his opponent, and fight for position to avoid ring out.

Limited Slippery Slope

Fighting games do have very localized, limited kind of slippery slope that’s actually a good quality. If a game truly has no slippery slope whatsoever at any point, then it can feel like a series of disconnected decisions. It’s interesting though, if a decision you make at one point in a game echoes forward through time, and can influence later moves in the game. The problem is if this influence is allowed to snowball into a greater and greater advantage.

In limited slippery slope, there is a cap on how far you can slip and the effect is temporary. In Street Fighter, getting knocked down (hit by a sweep) does have a bit of slippery slope. You lose health (“score”) but you also have temporary limitations on what your character can do. Your character falls down, then gets up into what is usually a disadvantageous situation. The two things that are important about this are: 1) after the knockdown is over, you regain all your moves and 2) you cannot get doubly knocked down.

Ken is at a temporary disadvantage here from being knocked down, but the disadvantage can't snowball into deeper levels of knockdown (there aren't any) and it fades with time.

Hitting the opponent with a sweep does echo forward through time, but this advantage is reset soon after and can’t snowball into “getting REALLY knocked down” because there is no such thing as degrees of knockdown. If you are already knocked down, you can't be knocked down "even more."

Another example is backing the opponent into the corner (the edge of the stage). If you do this, you have a natural advantage because the opponent has fewer movement options. But again, there’s a limit here. Once the opponent is in the corner, he can’t be “more in the corner.” There’s a limit to how disadvantaged he can get.

An even more basic example is anytime you block a move that has a fair amount of recovery. In these case, you recover from your blockstun before the opponent recovers from his move, so you have a few frames to act first. This gives you an advantage because if you both try to do a move of the same speed, yours will win (it will start first). Your good decision to block echoed forward into the future, but the effect is very fleeting. Even one second later, this advantage fades.

So fighting games are full of small, temporary slippery slope effects that actually help the game. And yet, on the macro level, they do not have the real kind of slippery slope, the permanent kind that snowballs until the game ends. Compare this to Chess where you don’t just get your captured pieces back a few turns later.

And RTS Without Slippery Slope

Here’s an idea for turning the full-on slippery slope (usually bad) into the limited kind (usually good). Both players start with the same amount of resources to buy units. When your units are destroyed, your resources are refunded. A delay in the timing of this refund combined with the build-time for making new units means that losing units really is a disadvantage, but that the disadvantage fades over time, similar in nature to getting knocked down in a fighting game. The real-time strategy game World in Conflict does exactly this, but I’ve never actually played it.

My point here isn't about whether World in Conflict is a good game, or even whether the exact refund system stated above is good. It just shows that it is possible to remove slippery slope from an RTS if you try hard enough. Someone very dedicated to that problem could probably come up with an even better way to remove it that results in a deeper game, rather than a shallower one.

Perpetual Comeback

The opposite of slippery slope, I call perpetual comeback. That’s just a more descriptive term for negative feedback. (Also, negative feedback sounds like a bad thing, but it’s usually a good quality in games, so it’s helpful to have a term that doesn’t sound negative.) A thermostat uses negative feedback to keep the temperature of a room from spiraling out of control.

Perpetual comeback, then, is a quality in which being behind actually gives you an advantage. I’d like to draw a distinction between two types of this effect, though. In one, when you are behind, a force pushes on you to help improve your position. An example of this is the Fatboy mutator in Unreal Tournament. In that first-person shooter mod, when you kill an enemy, you become fatter and easier to hit. When you die, you become skinnier and harder to hit. Multiple hits magnify the effect, so if you die over and over you get skinner and skinner. Note that even if you die a lot, you are still losing (your score is not helped), but you do have an advantage (harder to hit).

Beautiful, but dangerous.

A similar example is any version of Mario Kart. The further behind you are, the more powerful the items you get. In last place, you can get the powerful blue turtle shell which has homing powers to zero in on the first place racer. Meanwhile, the first place racer gets only weak items.

Advance Wars: Dual Strike on the Nintendo DS has a similar feature. Each side has a powerful “tag attack” that’s tied to a meter. When you get attacked, your meter fills up at twice the rate as usual, so the losing player will have faster access to this powerful attack, giving him a chance to make a comeback.

In all three of these examples, the games have a force that help out players who are behind and hinder players who are ahead. This is generally a good type of force to have, because it makes games closer, and small early mistakes are not crippling. That said, maybe the effect is too extreme in Mario Kart, or maybe it creates strange artifacts such as avoiding 1st place on purpose for most of the race. And the power of the tag attacks in Advance Wars might be too extreme, making them dominate the game. Tuning issues aside, the concept is still sound and when it’s done right, it can make matches closer and more exciting.

Perpetual Comeback Extreme

There is a different type of perpetual comeback that is far more extreme and far more rare. That’s when getting closer to losing doesn’t JUST give you helping hand, but instead actually puts you ahead. I think the best example of this strange property is Puzzle Fighter.

Puzzle Fighter is, in my opinion, the best puzzle game ever made and I felt that way long before I was lead designer of Puzzle Fighter HD Remix. The game seems standard enough--it's one of those games where each player has a basin that pieces fall into. There are four different colors of pieces, and you try to build big, single colored rectangles (power gems). You can then shatter those rectangles with special pieces called crash gems. The more you break, the more junk you drop on the opponent's side. When your side fills to the top, you lose.

Several factors come together to create perpetual comeback (the extreme version!) in Puzzle Fighter. Firstly, each "character" (there 11 to choose from, including secret characters) has a different "drop pattern." A drop pattern is the pattern of colored blocks that a character will send to his enemy when that character shatters blocks on his own side. For example, Ken's drop pattern is horizontal row of red, followed by a horizontal row of green, then yellow, then blue. Every time Ken sends 6 or fewer blocks to his opponent, he'll send a horizontal row of red. Every time Ken sends 12 blocks, he'll send a row of red, then a row of yellow. Since the enemy knows this, he can plan for it. He can build his blocks such that Ken's attack will actually help rather than hurt. There's one catch: when you send blocks to the opponent, they appear in the form of "counter gems," which can't be broken immediately by normal means, and can't be incorporated into deadly power gems. After about 5 moves, the counter gems change into regular gems.

The other very critical property is that power gems broken higher up on the screen do more much more damage (send many more counter gems) than gems broken at the bottom of the screen. So consider what attacking is actually like in this game. Attacks are really only temporarily damaging, until the counter gems turn into regular gems. At that point, the opponent will probably be able to incorporate the gems into their own plans, since the opponent knows your drop pattern. Even if the opponent isn't able to benefit from your attack in that way, he can still "dig himself out" of trouble by breaking all the stuff you sent him. By filling up his screen most of the way you've basically given him more potential ammunition to fire at you. What's more, as he is nearest to death, his attacks will be the most damaging due to the height bonus. Gems broken at the very top of the screen do significant damage.

Puzzle Fighter has the extremely unusual property that "almost losing" looks exactly like "almost winning." Let's say you break a whole slew of power gems and send a large attack at your opponent. You're screen is now almost empty. You're winning right? His screen is nearly to the top--almost full. He's losing, right? Well, he is on the verge of losing, but he has all the ammunition and he has the height bonus, whereas you have almost nothing left to defend with. In effect, your opponent is both "losing" and "winning" at the same time. Very curious, indeed!

Ken (left) was close to losing, but he got the yellow crash gem he needed just in time. Donovan (right) will lose.

It turns out the best way to play Puzzle Fighter is to very carefully never attack until you can make it count. All those little jabs you make just help the opponent in the long run. You've got to save up for a huge, 1-2 punch. You need to send a big attack that almost kills them, then immediately send another attack that finishes them off. 1, 2! The point is that Puzzle Fighter is a high energy, edge-of-your seat game. Your opponent very often has enough attack to kill you, so you have to have enough defense to stop them. Whenever the scales start to tip in your opponent's favor, they have also, weirdly, tipped in your favor as well, in some sense. A game of Puzzle Fighter is never over until the last moment. Comebacks are the name of the game, and the excitement goes to the very last second almost every time.


Slippery slope is a force that punishes players who fall behind, making them even more likely to fall further behind. Left unchecked, this makes for matches where the real victor is decided long before the game actually ends, leading to either boring endgame play, or lots of forfeits. While fighting games lack this overall slippery slope, they do have several forms of temporary, limited slippery slope that improves gameplay. This limited slippery slope probably exists in other genres as well, but could be a conscious design choice for future games. Finally, perpetual comeback, the opposite of slippery slope, is a force that helps losing players and puts the brakes on winning players, making for close matches. This property can easily go wrong if tuned improperly, but if done well, it leads to closer, more exciting matches. Puzzle Fighter takes this concept to an extreme, by making winning look almost the same as losing.

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Reader Comments (113)

DonMoody - I agree wholeheartedly with your post. The way that Sirlin portrays slippery slope as being "undesirable" IS an opinion (which he fails to state). More importantly, Street Fighter (his game of choice, obviously) contains slippery slope elements that he arbitrarily chooses to brand as "limited" slope situations rather than "slippery" slope situations - this is misleading. "Limited" slopes in SF = "slippery" slopes in StarCraft and chess because they both make it incredibly hard for the erring player to recover. This is propaganda on Sirlin's part that I think he should clear up. Plus, he fails to address the fact that there's different levels of mistakes that players can make in ANY game; mistakes of varying magnitudes have varying effects.

I also think that part of the problem here is that Sirlin lacks competitive experience with some of the games he tries to analyze (StarCraft/chess, in this case); this leads him to over-generalize these games. I'm beginnign to think that Sirlin's branding of StarCraft and chess as slippery-slope games is a reflection of poor competitive experience on his part with these games, combined with an inherent dislike for the genres in question. I guess I can understand that seeing as how his area of expertise is 2-D fighters. I can also understand if he thinks these games are "slippery slope" because he found it very difficult to actually win games against human opponents (which is, again, understandable considering his position).

I doubt that Sirlin has the authority to analyze games with which he has limited competitive experience, especially since the topic in question (slippery slope) revolves completely around the concept of competitive play at high levels. If Sirlin has not played these games at such levels, he lacks the knowledge required to discuss them. That's simple logic - no one can be expected to offer valuable insight on something that they have not delved into very deeply.

Such is the case here. Every poster on this forum that has actually had a decent amount of competitive experience with chess or StarCraft disagrees with Sirlin, and rightfully so, in my opinion - if he has no high-level competitive experience under his belt, why would he attempt explaining such matters to people who DO?

As a final note, I'd like simply to say that, so far, Sirlin has not offered an ounce of concrete evidence (examples, anyone?) that the slopes in StarCraft and Street Fighter are any different. I've already offered a few examples in previous posts showing how both games have different types of slope (i.e. neutral, slippery, and reverse) and that the slope in question depends largely on the situation. Thus no one game can be generalized to be "____" - slope...otherwise no one would bother playing them; that'd be boring.

December 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterInTheory

If I didn't give opinions on game design, then I couldn't write any articles at all about game design. It is more useful to say something, and that includes having opinions.

Personal attacks are not worth responding to. Saying that I'm not qualified to tell if Starcraft has slipperly slope unless I am one of the top Starcraft players in the world is absurd. Just look at the game. It has the very definition of slippery slope in it: falling behind hampers your ability to come back in addition to just being behind because the units you lost were also part of your attack force. This should be pretty clear to anyone without some sort of agenda.

Having more experience playing Chess or Starcraft does not transform the basic nature of the games. It does not somehow remove the slippery slope of those games. You can't honestly be arguing that they don't have the quality I'm talking about.

December 3, 2008 | Registered CommenterSirlin

DonMoody: more personal attacks, ay? It's condescending to say that I "don't understand Chess." What I'm saying is that if you had two identical games except one had forfeits and one did not, you should prefer the one without forfeits. This even more true in a game like Go where it's not clear to beginners when the game is even over, so the lame-duck portion can drag on.

Your next personal attack is about the statement that "Chess is a pretty good game anyway." I think we all know reasons why we would call Chess an excellent game, so I'll skip those. On the minus side, it's a turn-based game with complete information, therefore it's solvable. For thousands of years so far, that hasn't mattered much. It's becoming less and less feasible to make and play games of complete information though, especially since computers are becoming more powerful and more integrated into our lives. Consider a future where computers are woven into our clothes and part of our bodies. A turn-based, complete information game has major strikes against it in that future.

Furthermore, Chess emphasizes extreme memorization. I consider that a negative. I also acknowledge the many positive aspects of the game.

And none of that has anything to do with the article at all. It's merely your attempt at a personal attack to cloud the issue. Chess clearly and obviously has slippery slope. Or to take a step back even further, the concept of slippery slope exists. It is a term that describes an idea. That idea is useful to know about in the realm of game design. It's helpful to give some concrete examples of this idea and two obvious ones that everyone will be able to understand are Chess and StarCraft. The only people it's not obvious to, apparently, are Chess and Starcraft players who feel threatened. Why is this? I don't know, because when you add up all the positives and negatives in both those games, you come out with a pretty big positive result, so I don't see what the problem is.

December 3, 2008 | Registered CommenterSirlin

Sirlin - please don't be so sensitive. I am not launching "personal attacks" against you. I am arguing as intelligently as I can. You're starting to limit my options pretty badly though (almost like we're playing a 2D fighter, eh?) because you have dodged almost every (if not every) counter-point I've brought to your argument. Anyone with an ounce of competitive mentality can do what you're doing - just repeat themselves over and over without providing concrete evidence/examples to respond to opponents. Please don't put yourself on a pedestal and assume that everyone will worship your words, and then get upset when people actually argue against you with real evidence. I invite you to logically discuss the issue with me. I dislike it when people fend off opposing arguments by accusing opponents of "attacking" them. If you really do support freedom of speech, then you shouldn't be having this problem anyway. Forgive me if I'm getting a little impatient - you haven't effectively responded to ONE of these posts yet.

So let's make it simpler. See if you can respond to these for me:

1. Are you saying that the slope in StarCraft/chess is ALWAYS "slippery slope"; i.e., every mistake you make will make it exponentially harder for you to come back? That no "neutral" or "reverse" slop exists in StarCraft/chess?

2. Are you saying that the slope in SF is ALWAYS "non-slippery"; i.e. every mistake you make can be easily recovered from?

3. Are you saying that you can accurately anazlye high-level competitive games without actually experiencing high-level competitive play with each of the games in question?

Please respond to these without feeling excessively "attacked" because, I assure you, I'm not trying to attack you. I'm actually curious to see what you can come up with that you haven't already repeated (and generalized) in your article previously. Please use examples. Thanks.

December 4, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterInTheory

InTheory, you continue with personal attacks while claiming that you aren't. "Putting myself on a pedestal"? That's a personal attack from you, not anything to do with the concept in the article. The reason I haven't responded to your arguments is that they are so obviously empty that it seemed like a waste of time.

Now you present three straw-man cases. Is it possible to construct some loss of a unit in Starcraft such that you don't even get behind? Yes. You might gain a positional advantage even though you a battle resulted with you having fewer units. Such cases exist and you know that.

Next in Street Fighter, are all mistakes "easily recovered from?" No, and that is not what slippery slope means. An example mistake in Street Fighter is missing a torpodo with Honda, then getting hit back by a combo that leaves you with only 20% health. Is it "easy to come back?" No it's not because you have 20% health and he has 100% health. But you are able to do the same moves still as before. It's not like you lost your bishops or hydralisks or any of that. You're just as able to attack and defend as you were before.

And then there's this talk of how expert or not expert I am at Starcraft. I'm being totally honest here when I say I don't understand what you're talking about. Why is that relevant? This article is not about how to win a Starcraft tournament. It's about the most basic features of the game that anyone who has played it for 5 minutes can understand. Why would it be necessary to prove any kind of playskills at all to make claims about the basic nature of the game? This is a completely new one in the field of game design if you think only touranment pros can make any claims whatsoever about a game. Remember, we're not talking about high level play, or strategy at all. We're just talking about the concept that when you lose a unit, that unit can no longer attack. That is self-evident.

You're offering the worst kind of discourse, by the way. Endless flamey arguing with either willful misunderstanding of the original point, or some kind of agenda to cause trouble. My original point is very simple and there's really no reason for you to be upset over it.

December 4, 2008 | Registered CommenterSirlin

That thread can say it a lot better than anything I can come-up with if you want to argue about slippery slope.

December 4, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAlhazard

I have a question intheory, if i play you at starcraft and beat you, and since i think starcraft have slippery slope, does it mean that i prove the game have slippery slope? if that's so, we can arrange to play over GGclient, just mail me at*** and we can arrange a game, and if i win you will accept the game have slippery slope? (because i think it has , so if i beat you it means i play better than you, and since i play better my word counts for more right?) of course we can play best of 3 or something like that.

December 4, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterWaterd

Sirlin: Alright, so we have different ideas of personal attacks. I believe in being honest, and I'm telling you honestly what I think you're doing. I guess you have just as much right to tell me that it's an "attack" as I have to "attack" you. Okay. I accept that. I guess if I use your criteria than you've just attacked me:

"The reason I haven't responded to your arguments is that they are so obviously empty that it seemed like a waste of time."

(A bit of writing advice, since you're interested in writing well - never use "obviously"; nothing should be obvious to your reader. Always explain yourself.)

So, you admit that not every loss in StarCraft creates "slippery slope." Well, that's a start. From your description in your article above, you say "When you lose a unit, you are penalized doubly." Now you say that that's not always the case. Good - I agree with you here. There are many levels of mistakes in StarCraft (just like in SF) that create different types of slopes. As you said in your response, sometimes you receive a "positional advantage even though you a battle resulted with you having fewer units." Why didn't you mention this in your article above? Why do you refuse to talk about aspects of StarCraft that can actually act as perpetual comeback (i.e. mistakes that can "help" you)? You say first that "you are penalized doubly" for mistakes; now you admit that there are mistakes that can actually help you. You've said more here about StarCraft than you said in your entire original article.

Now, as for the concept of slippery slope itself. What makes a game "slippery slope"? Would you say that a game that contains some slippery slope aspects IS, by definition, slippery slope? Probably not. Does StarCraft contain slippery slope? Certainly. But so does Street Fighter. Slippery slope means that, once a player makes a mistake, it becomes harder and harder for him to come back/recover. Are you saying that having 20% of your health left in SF isn't going to make it harder for you to come back? Of course it will - not only are your options limited more as compared to your opponent (you have to worry about chip damage more, etc.), but, for every time he hits you, you have to hit him more to win! You say this doesn't make it harder to come back? I disagree - I think that this is definite, slippery slope in SF. Especially considering the high amount of RPS "mindgames" that occur during the match, chances are that, with 20% health, you will lose because, to win, you would have to successfully predict your opponent's moves many more times than he would have to predict yours. Every time someone predicts correctly, they score a hit/combo - therefore, statistically, the odds are against you. Is it possible to come back with 20% health? Sure - I've seen YOU do it in tournament videos. That doesn't change the fact that the player with 20% health faces significant drawbacks. I'm not sure why you refuse to call this "slippery slope" - it amounts to exactly the same thing as you tried to describe for chess/StarCraft. As your health gets lower and lower, the chance that you will be able to hit your opponent enough and out-predict him enough to even the odds gets smaller. Do you still have all your moves? Sure - but certain moves are less useful or useless altogether because they're too risky or open you up to a hit that could kill you. Blocking becomes less safe since chip damage can kill you quicker, and overall your options are puny compared to your opponent's. But you claim that "You're just as able to attack and defend as you were before." You know as well as I do that when you have 20% health against someone with 80% health, you can NOT "attack and defend" as before. Not only that, but your opponent, relatively, enjoys rewards such as being able to perform higher-risk, higher-damage moves while not having to worry as much. Your disadvantage feeds his advantage. It doesn't help that oftentimes it turns into a guessing game (RPS-style) meaning that, statistically, the player with higher health stands a better chance of winning.

So both games contain slippery slope aspects. Sirlin, I respectfully ask you to prove otherwise. Prove to me that suffering a massive combo in SF doesn't make it harder for you to come back. Prove to me that getting trapped by Honda in the corner doesn't make it harder for you to come back. Prove to me that, even with low health, it's not necessarily "harder" for you to come back. If you can come up with a decent argument that demonstrates that SF has no slippery slope elements while StarCraft is dominated by them, you win the argument. However, if you continue saying that "it's obvious" that StarCraft and chess are slippery slope without any semblance of evidence, then my opinion of you will go down drastically.

I respect you for the respect you hold for games and for the time and effort you've put into analyzing them. I respect you for being willing to discuss games with people across cyberspace. However, I find it hard to respect you if you "make claims about the basic nature of the game" and leave it at that. Refusing to discuss the issue kills the point of these forums. I hope you'll settle for more than sticking to your generalizations and unsupported claims.

December 4, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterInTheory

What's the drama here? I thought this was pretty simple: Slippery slope (positive feedback) = losing makes it harder for you win, all other factors being equal. Not impossible, or even unlikely. Just harder, with all other factors being equal.

Perhaps the "all other factors being equal" part is confusing some folks? Cause there are some examples brought up here where factors are not equal, or just plain bad examples. That Honda vs. Bison trap, for example: It's not as though Bison has an easy time against other characters in the corner. Bison + Knock down in corner = death. The mere act of being knocked down in the corner is as close to a binary state for Bison as it gets = he's in it, his chance to win drops dramatically. If he's not in it, he has the chance to win. Honda is just an extreme example of a case where, once Bison is in, he has almost no chance of getting out (another, even worse example, BTW, is HF Zangief vs. HF Bison, which is 10-0 in Gief's favour because there is nothing Bison can do to win; at least ST Bison has a slight chance against ST Honda out in the open). This is also not really an example of slippery slope since, as others have noted, Bison's chance of getting out don't decrease with time: He's completely screwed whether he has 100% life or 20% life.

Here's another murky example for you: MvC2 definitely has slippery slope, where losing your teammates means you lose offensive and defensive options. This is indisputable. However, you can easily concoct situations where one character isn't at a disadvantage in reality, even if he is on paper. On average, I'd prefer my chances of victory with a lone Sentinel with 50% life over some random shit team like, say, Spider-Man/CHarlie/Hayato with full life. That's because mere unit resource isn't necessarily an indicator of victory or lack thereof - the power of the units come into play. And in my example, a half dead Sentinel is still better than Spidey/Charlie/Hayato. That's why you have to consider all other factors being equal, or else the discussion is meaningless. Pair two teams of roughly equal strength - Storm/Sentinel/Commando vs. Magneto/Storm/Psylocke for example (we'll ignore the concept of counter teams/counter characters for this) - played by two players of roughly equal ability, then whoever loses their first two characters first is probably going to lose. Not a guarantee, but the odds are not in his favour.

The same applies to Chess. Losing just any old piece doesn't necessarily mean you're going to lose, but it does mean you're a (slight) disadvantage compared to your situation before. If there is am imbalance in player skill, or an imbalance in the pieces that are on the board at the time, this loss may be meaningless in the grand scheme of things. But again, all other factors being equal, the player who loses a piece has a disadvantage compared to when he had the piece.

As for Starcraft, I don't know enough about it to comment. If victory is tied into quantity of resources, where the loss of a unit means the loss of offensive and defensive capability, then it contains slippery slope, even if the game has safeguards against it via different unit power or even if the difference is minour. If quantity of resources doesn't matter - i.e. your offensive or defensive capability isn't affected by your current number of units, then it doesn't.

December 4, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterUltma

Thanks for responding, Ultma - yours is one of the most intelligent posts I've seen yet.

The examples you gave regarding ST "traps" made me think about what slippery slope is considered in this case. You say that, even though "Bison + Knock down in corner = death", this situation does not count as slippery slope because his ability to win goes from good to bad in an instant; i.e. it doesn't take "time" for his ability to deteriorate. You're absolutely right in this regard; it takes no (or very little) time for his winning power to be crippled. However, in a sense, this IS still slippery slope; it's just a very, very fast one. One second, Bison's moving around the playfield and able to exert a fair amount of control over the match; the next second, he's stuck in the corner with a virtually guaranteed loss. I could argue that Bison just fell down that slippery slope really, really quickly - and the end result IS that it is harder for him to win; as you said, "his chance to win drops dramatically."

If what you say is true, Ultma, then I'm not sure what Sirlin's concern is with the slope in StarCraft and chess. He doesn't like that mistakes in these games have the potential to put the erring player behind, but you just described something akin to that in SF! The situation where Bison is "completely screwed whether he has 100% life or 20% life" is much worse than slippery slope; it's instant death with no chance of comeback, according to you. At first I thought that trapping Bison would qualify for slippery slope because it would limit his options relative to the opponent and make it much harder for him to come back; apparently, though, he can't come back at all! Talk about least with slippery slope situations, you have a CHANCE of coming back in the game by playing exceptionally well and outsmarting your opponent at just the right moment(s). If Sirlin has a problem with the slope in chess and StarCraft, then he should have just as much of a problem (if not more) with the slope in SF.

If I've understood your post correctly, Ultma, then you've just said that the slope in SF is much harsher because it can remove a player's ability to win/recover much quicker than can StarCraft or chess.

And Sirlin, I really wish you would talk about situations like these (traps, etc.) more often because they're clearly a part of the picture that you've ignored in your treatment of fighting game slope. Again, if what Ultma said is true, then the slope in SF is actually more undesirable than the slope in StarCraft/chess because it strips the losing player of his ability to win very quickly and makes it even harder, if not impossible, for that player to come back. The slope in StarCraft and chess does not "instantly" rob players of their ability to win like this - instead, it leaves them the chance to make an intense comeback, even though it may be harder for them to do so. But then again, better harder than impossible.

December 5, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterInTheory

You still don't get it after all this time. The scorekeeping mechanism in Street Fighter is health. When you are behind in health, you do NOT have fewer options except for block damage at the end of the round. That's a very small part of the match though so in general, losing health does not limit your ability to attack or defend in the same way losing Chess pieces or Starcraft units does.

Is it possible to get into a bad situation, like the Bison one and almost certainly lose? Yes it is. That is neither here nor there. Such edge cases do exist, but the entire (very simple) point of this article is about the general case whether "getting hit" (in SF, in SC, in Chess) hampers your ability to come back, all other things being equal.

The average move in Street Fighter just does damage and does not have any real concept of slippy slope. Some moves knock down and so they are dealing damage and giving a temporary state of disadvantage that cannot snowball into "deeper and deeper knockdowns" (there's no such things). Then there's really extreme cases like Bison vs Honda in the corner. So what is the general character of the game? The answer is mostly that first kind of hit with some of the second kind and hardly any of the third. Things like Bison knocked down in the corner vs Honda is like 1% of the game at most. It's a piece of fun trivia, it's not what this idea is all about.

Really, you're just arguing because you want to argue. That much is very clear. I think I can demonstrate that with this example. Imagine that in a new fighting game, when you get hit, you lose your ability to do a certain punch. When you get hit again, you lose the ability to do a second move, and so on. Obviously (yes, it's obvious), you are suffering from slippery slope here. You're not just suffering a temporary disadvantage like getting knocked down (that will go away...that can't compound itself). Instead, you're snowballing, losing more and more moves and your ability to come back is getting harder and harder, not just because of your life total, but because your ability to attack and defend is decreased.

A condescending internet troll could certainly come along and say that the game I just described didn't have slippery slope. He could willfully misunderstand the whole concept and say that there are all these other factors and that sometimes getting hit actually isn't so bad if it gave you super meter or something, or that even if you're behind you could still win. But at the end of the day, it's very clear the game I described has slippery slope, directly from the very definition. And losing moves from getting hit is exactly what happens in Chess and Starcraft.

Maybe if helps you understand, ignore any kind of value judgment completely. Pretend that slippery slope is the greatest feature a game could have and only the best games have it. Now that you're pretending that, does the theoretical fighting game have this property above? Yes. Do Chess and Starcraft? Yes. The basic property that getting hit puts you behind doubly in a way that compounds, snowballs, and isn't limited (you can slip all the way to a loss without the effect going away) shows that it has slippery slope. It's just a descriptive term and these games I'm mentioning are very, very good examples of that descriptive term. Figure it out.

December 5, 2008 | Registered CommenterSirlin

You keep using that word "comeback". I do not think it means what you think it means.

Accepting a disadvantage someplace in order to secure an advantage elsewhere is called "strategy" -- and depending on the nature of the trade, a "gambit". Unless you made a really dumb trade, you are not behind when you do this. If you win, it is not a comeback; you simply made a successful strategic decision.

A comeback occurs when you do have not traded a disadvantage for an advantage -- it happens when you are disadvantaged all around, but still manage to win. (Or, occasionally, you might have an advantage, but it is objectively outweighed by your disadvantages)

December 5, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterHurkyl

InTheory, you are confusing a neutral disadvantage with a slippery slope disadvantage.

In football, if one team outscores the other team 49-0 in the first half, all the other team has to do is play EXACTLY as well in the second half (outscore the first team 49-0) to tie. This is a neutral slope. Of course the losing team goes into the second half at a disadvantage, but they are not punished doubly for their poor first half play). This is a zero on the slippery slope scale.

In Street Fighter, Player 1 can do a combo that does 80% damage, but all Player 2 has to do is do an 80% damage combo to be back on even ground. There is a little bit of slippery slope in this case because of things like chip damage and positioning, so it's maybe a 2 on the slippery slope scale.

In chess, if you lose a piece you not only lose the some ability to attack the enemy king (the win condition), but you lose the ability to defend your own king, to attack/defend other pieces, and to control space on the board. This would be analogous to losing your Fierce Punch in Street Fighter when you got hit by a super move. Of course, it is possible to make comebacks in chess (to a certain point... it is impossible to win in a King vs. Rook-King situation for example) so it's around maybe a 7 on the slippery slope scale.

If you want to nitpick then yeah, SF has aspects of slippery slope just like SC. It, however, foolish to claim that the level of slippery slope is even comparable between the two. I have never seen someone forfeit a Street Fighter match while pretty much every Starcraft match ends in a "gg" far before the last building is destroyed.

Sirlin isn't talking about strategic sacrifices. He is not an an idiot and definitely understands the concept. What he is talking about is when you make a mistake and gain an overall disadvantage. Sacrificing your C-pawn in chess in the Queen's Gambit opening is a strategic move to gain position and tempo. Losing your queen because you missed a knight fork is just a mistake, and that's the kind of disadvantage Sirlin is talking about.

December 5, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterxAS

xAS: Yes, that's exactly the point I was making. (My reply was aimed at InTheory)

December 5, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterHurkyl

Sorry, I see that now. My mistake!

December 5, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterxAS

Starcraft/any other RTS is exponential. I have 100 unit A left, you have 90. Unit A kills itself in 10 seconds.

This table is expected quantity of units left each second, and then difference.
100 90 10
91 80 11
83 70.9 12.1
75.91 62.6 13.31
69.65 55.009 14.641
64.1491 48.044 16.1051
59.3447 41.62909 17.71561
55.181791 35.69462 19.487171
51.612329 30.1764409 21.4358881
48.59468491 25.015208 23.57947691
46.09316411 20.15573951 25.9374246
44.07759016 15.5464231 28.53116706
42.52294785 11.13866408 31.38428377
41.40908144 6.886369297 34.52271214
40.72044451 2.745461153 37.97498336
40.4458984 0 40.4458984
The number of units you need to netgain/kill through superior tactics is 10 * 1.1 ^T. That's an exponential function.

December 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterWill

A slightly different way of stating the above poster's point: imagine you have 60% health as Ryu, facing an equally skilled Ryu at 100% health. What would you estimate to be your chances of winning? Now, imagine that you have 3 probes and 3 zealots, facing an equally skilled opponent with 5 probes and 5 zealots. What would you estimate to be your chances of winning?

December 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commentericewolf34

InTheory, I will be blunt, you are so incredibly wrong that I don't believe the English language has words to properly describe how wrong you are. You may as well be pointing at a cow screaming "This is not at cow."

December 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterWarskull

Levering your advantage != Slippery slope.

December 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLucothefish

It is true that each game has multiple slippery slopes. But, each game has a primary mechanic for tracking game state.

In Street Fighter that's damage, which has no slope.
In Starcraft that's units, which has exponential slope.

They both have secondary mechanics. I would argue most position things, such as:
Position in RTSes
Position in chess
are linear slope, but they are all secondary mechanics.

Sirlin is concerned with the primary mechanic.

December 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterWill

Typically, you want your games to end, not "effectively end" and lead to lame-duck situations. When you die against a boss in a single player game, do you want to watch an unskippable ten minute cutscene of you being disemboweled? There's nothing you can do, but you're forced to play it out. Forfeits somewhat eliminate lame-duck situations (or at least let you "skip" them), so they're okay in that regard. They even tend to take place after climactic moments, so they're not always bad.

But they ARE a good indicator of slippery slope. If you forfeit long before the victory screen flashes because the situation is hopeless, the game probably has slippery slope. For instance.: you lose an expansion, you lose the ability to produce more resources, which means you can't produce as many troops. Meanwhile, your opponent's expansion is still intact, and he's gaining more resources and he hasn't lost as many units. So his ability to produce troops is greater, his NUMBER of troops is greater, and his ability to produce resources is greater. The existence of the advantage means he can make his advantage bigger. That is slippery slope.

Let's go simple and neutral. I have three dollars, you have one dollar. For one dollar, I can buy a machine that earns two dollars an hour; I buy three of them. Within one hour, I have six dollars.

You buy a machine as well. Within one hour, you have two dollars. Current tally: 6-2, me. Difference of four dollars, up from two.

I buy six machines and in another hour I have twelve dollars from the new machines, with six more from the original three. You buy two machines with your two dollars, so at the end of the hour you have six. Four dollars from your new machines, plus two from the old one.

New tally: 16-6, still my advantage, a difference of 10. I buy 16 machines, get 32 dollars, plus 12, plus 6; 50 bucks. You buy six machines, you get 12 dollars plus 4 plus 2. Eighteen dollars. New tally: 50-18. A difference of THIRTY-TWO.

Do you see where this is headed? When an advantage's existence perpetuates itself and also makes it grow larger, that is slippery slope. Starcraft undeniably has that. Is Starcraft a bad game? You could ask the countless spectators and the people who love it years and years after its release, and I'm sure the answer would be "no." It's a great game with balance and strategy and depth and yes, slippery slope. Not every mistake leads to that slippery slope (and even with a minor advantage, the opponent can lose the lead with a mistake of his own), but the slope is still a dominant factor of the game play. Players forfeit before the game is over because slippery slope can lead to lame-duck; that is, an advantage makes itself so large that it can't be overcome. A Starcraft finals match has players forfeiting; the last match of a Chess series has players forfeiting. Why? Because they end up in situations that are, assuming an opponent of modest competence, unwinnable. You aren't fighting to your last breath because you breathed it long before the game was over.

The SF example you give is real, but not fully slippery slope. It's simply a massive neutral slope advantage. The advantageous position perpetuates itself because it exists. It doesn't make itself grow larger. The trap does not grow more numerically effective over time. It does not become harder for Bison to get out as the trap goes on, and if he does get out, he doesn't lose ability to attack or do damage. If it was inescapable then it would qualify as lame-duck; if it isn't, it's a large but neutral disadvantage. In fighters slippery slope usually exists in the form of chip damage, but that happens at the very end and even THEN a player won't forfeit just because he has 2% and the opponent has 100%. Even at that absurd disadvantage, there is still victory potential. Don't tell me that having two percent of the opponent's force and resources in Starcraft is winnable; it's not winnable at two, at ten, at twenty, or even fifty.

You can't qualify siege tanks and templars here because numbers =/= "force." They are aces up your sleeve with devastating potential, so possessing them means your disadvantage may not exist at all. Lasting until that part of the game requires being even; if half of your resources are taken out you can't make the troops to defend yourself to get to those strong units, and you have a tougher time building tech to get them. Most players have forfeited by that point, haven't they? Why? Because these pros know that they can't win, long before they technically lost. That is slippery slope.

In CS having one man to five means they have the advantage for position and damage output, but you can still pull off headshots or some bullshit stealth defuse or plant. You haven't lost the ability to kill with just a few bullets, you can still spam walls and create game-winning situations. Same in SF: you have almost no health, but if you can break in, land a combo, gain a positional advantage and capitalize, you can still get that win. Can you honestly say in Starcraft that being behind by those sorts of margins, you still have the potential to win? You really, truly can't.

December 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDragonfly

Is this not slippery slope? "Trapping" Bison in the corner and getting him into a situation that's "almost impossible for him to get out of"? What about 0-to-death combos? Aren't those slippery slope? The first hit lands, and then your opponent can't do anything to prevent additional hits? Aren't combos themselves an example of slippery slope?

Im just going to respond to this little part, since it's pointless to argue about anything else when you can't figure out how the above example is NOT slippery slope. You only need to jump out of that corner, as Bison, to be fully back in the game. Any player can still win, even with only 1 pixel of health left. Just watch the famous Daigo video from Evo if you don't agree. This stupid example is not slippery slope. It's a trap. That's why it's called a trap.

December 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDJSystem

Sirlin - So you can excuse the slippery slope situations in SF by saying that they're " a very small part of the match", but you refuse to accept that there are MANY situations in StarCraft that are NOT slippery slope? How does that work? I'm also trying to figure out why you argue against the "negativity" that slippery slope forces on players when SF has situations that afford virtually NO CHANCE of comeback (as mentioned by a previous poster). Isn't this worse than the slope you always talk about in StarCraft? Do you just have an arbitrary hatred for slippery slope or something? It doesn't make sense that there's "guaranteed loss" situations that you're okay with in SF, but you're not okay with slippery slope situations in StarCraft. Whatever...I guess you're in this for the arguing too. I can understand that, though.

Plus, you generalize slippery slope way too much in StarCraft. "Losing one unit = eventual loss"? Yes - if you disregard economy, resource advantage, positioning, cover, micro/macro skills, and mindgames. I can't even begin to explain how wrong you are in this respect. I can lose my entire army to my opponent and still win the game if I block my ramp with cloaked dark templars and he has no detectors. I can lose two-thirds of my army while he only loses one-third of his, but still beat him by using psi storm from high templar effectively. Heck, I can be down in EVERYTHING (resources, units, scouting, etc.) and still win if I trick him into doing something stupid and overextending himself. My loss is anything but guaranteed in all of these situations - you just seem to think that every game of StarCraft is one big battle on an open field where the first guy to lose more soldiers is going to get run over. Play the game more and then try to argue, please.

Also keep in mind that micro is extremely important - no two battles are ever the same. My army of 12 marines against my opponent's army of 6 zealots can have 50 different outcomes, depending on who controls better. Don't even get me started on upgrades, cover from obstacles, choke points, positional advantage, high ground, etc. Again, please try to play more competitive games before you try and generalize a game of this depth to "one unit lost = loss."

Dragonfly - so you draw a distinction between SF's "massive neutral slope" and StarCraft's "slippery slope." I'm fine with that, as long as you admit that SF's slope in this case is worse because it leaves the losing player with virtually no chance of comeback (which is something that Sirlin should have a problem with considering he likes "close games"...).

And, you're horribly wrong about pros "leaving the game" before all their cards have been used up. I watch a decent amount of professional StarCraft and most of the time, pros actually stay "too long" in games (i.e. they're still in the game when their bases are being ripped up completely). The first game of the Star Invitational (on had the pro player Flash make a massive comeback against Savior; Flash had only one base left, and Savior had 3 bases and was trashing Flash's army. From all appearances you would've said Flash was going to lose - and he didn't. He kept playing hard and eventually wore down Savior and pushed him back far enough to gain a positional advantage; he then used this new advantage to rush to Savior's expansions and destroy them, bit by bit.

You, too, seem to think that StarCraft is a game where it's all about the guy who loses the first few units - it's not. As I said above to SIrlin, micro, macro, positional advantage, mindgames, and terrain play huge roles 'til the last second of every game. It's just a matter of knowing how to use all of those things.

And thanks to everyone for responding - it's good to see people thinking about this.

December 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterInTheory

DJSystem - according to previous posters, it is almost impossible for Bison to get out of Honda's corner trap; in fact, one poster mentioned that any time Bison gets knocked down in the corner he's "pretty much dead." I don't care what you call this - slippery slope, neutral slope, whatever. I just wanted to point out that this situation exhibits the same negativity that Sirlin dislikes about slippery slope in StarCraft - namely, that it makes it hard/impossible for the erring player to recover. Again, call it what you like...the idea is the same; it robs the losing player of his ability to come back. Whether it's "massive neutral slope" or "slippery slope" makes no difference.

December 10, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterInTheory

If you are playing Bison against a Honda at a high level, you should know that you must avoid getting trapped in the corner at all costs. If you were somehow maneuvered into the corner then you made a huge mistake somewhere along the line and probably deserve to lose. Again though, a loss isn't totally guaranteed. If the Honda player messes up the execution of a move at some point, the Bison player can quite possibly make a comeback. Similarly, in chess a King-Rook vs. King-Knight endgame should be a guaranteed win for the King-Rook player, but it is very possible that under time pressure, the winning player will miss a Knight fork, resulting in a draw.

As for Starcraft, you are missing Sirlin's point. Whatever real life examples you give of someone making an unlikely comeback are irrelevant since that's not what we're talking about. What we are talking about is if both players are equal except one side is down a worker (a minor unit), then that player is punished more than "one workers worth" since the economy grows exponentially. If you don't understand this by now you probably never will but you can save yourself some embarrassment by refusing to pursue the topic any further.

December 10, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterxAS

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