Games Need Yomi

August 19, 2021 See All Posts

In what is difficulty, I talked about how there's three forms of difficulty:

Of these, I want to zoom in on a particular aspect of the puzzle aspect of difficulty: yomi.

Yomi is a japanese term commonly used in the fighting-game community that roughly translates to "knowing the mind of your opponent" in context. Games like rock-paper-scissors are entirely yomi. Other games, like Magic: The Gathering or poker call it bluffing, and some games call it "reading", others "mindgames", but the concept is always the same.

In order for yomi-based skill expression to actually be present, the game needs to support creating situations where knowing what your opponent will do allows you to act in response. In a darts competition or footrace, for example, knowing what your opponent is attempting (to throw darts better or run faster) does not help at all. This isn't present in all games, and certainly isn't present all the time. Take, for example, a duel between low-level warriors in world of warcraft. Does knowing that your opponent plans to do their optimal DPS rotation until one of you dies afford you any counterplay? You know that they're going to press mortal strike and whirlwind on cooldown. Is there anything you can do with that information?

World of Warcraft has yomi expression especially in fights involving casters. Any time a caster casts, they can be interrupted by an ability with a cooldown (an interrupt). They can represent that they're casting and then stop casting to bait an interrupt so that they can safely cast. If the interrupter thinks that they'll fake their cast, they can simply not use their interrupt and wait for them cancel it themselves and then try casting again. If the caster thinks that the interrupter thinks that they're faking, they can just let the cast rip.

interrupt > cast > wait > fake > interrupt

This is a wonderfully simple and programatically easy way to introduce difficulty into a game. Worse players will play further away from game-theory optimal but still be effective. They get immediate feedback that other players are beating them because they're tricking them. Better players learn to play closer to game-theory optimal, but also to adapt to noobs who choose the same options (or no options at all) with riskier, more one dimensional strategies (always throw rock against a player who always throws scissors).

More importantly, yomi is, at its core interactive. You are no longer playing against the game or trying to solve a static puzzle or following a pre-defined rotation or action priority list. Now, you're making your own dynamic decisions based on what you think your opponent will do, and they're doing the same thing. Hopefully, these decisions lead into different gamestates, different forms of difficulty, and different yomi games, and the whole thing turns into an elegant dance rather than a contest of DPS vs eHP.

Here's an example of how this could work in a tab-target friendly, latency-friendly way in a small scale. Rather than melee characters having a bunch of instant cast abilities that help them do damage in different, non-interactive ways, instead have something like the following:

Make it so that all three options have the same cast-bar name, about a ~1.0 second cast time, indistinguishable startup animations, and when one cast finishes it interacts with whatever the other player is currently casting. If both players attack each other, they clang and neither take damage. If both players crush, they both take damage. If both players parry, neither takes damage.

Boom! Now you have the foundation for a combat system that is yomi-enabled from the start.

If you want to get spicy, you can make it so that the reward payout for each of those options is different for different character types / builds, and make it so that each of those different outcomes applies different buffs/debuffs to charcter, or make it so that those buffs/debuffs enable the use of other yomi-enabled skills that have their own different payouts. The sky's the limit! Let's stop designing non-interactive tab-based combat!