How getting blown up in Battleship helped me find the balance between using heart and mind in fighting games

Frame data vs. instincts, which is more important?

Posted by John 'Velociraptor' Guerrero • September 6, 2019 at 7:31 p.m. PDT

For a long while I've categorized fighting game players into two general camps: poets and scientists. The poets are those that play with the chaos of feeling or gut, while the scientists use the strict mathematical order of things like frame data to approach the battle.

I've always naturally been more of a poet, often unable to tell others exactly how positive or negative the moves I use are, and sometimes unable to fully articulate why I made certain decisions beyond a sheepish "It just felt like the right thing to do there." With as important as frame data has proven to be in Street Fighter 5, I've made an effort to bolster my scientist side, but found a very real pothole going too far with this approach while playing a different game altogether: Battleship.

My girlfriend and I enjoy spending an evening every week or two at a local bar playing good old fashioned Battleship against one another. When we started it had been a while since I played, and the ever-present competitive side of me decided to do a bit of research so as to buttress my chances of winning.

I looked up basic Battleship strategy and essentially reaffirmed what I already figured: it's disadvantageous to have any of your ships "kissing" or to occupy any of the 38 spaces along the border of the playfield. In terms of offense, you can eliminate spots on the board without ever guessing them directly simply by knowing which of your opponent's ships remain and how large they are. All about the numbers.

This is because Battleship technically starts with random shots in the dark, but when an opponent finds one of your ships they'll still need to figure out which direction it runs and you want as many opportunities as possible for your foe to miss.

I think the reason I was naturally inclined to approach Battleship this way is because of the presentation as its 10x10 grid format is naturally very mathematical. Also, when playing fighting games, I tend to err on the side of playing by feel and have been called out for doing so on multiple occasions by friends and training partners.

I've been trying to get away from that, and I figured being a full-on scientist would be good practice and net some easy wins. I was extremely wrong. Over probably five or six total outings thus far, my girlfriend and I have an ongoing record of 17-3 in her favor.

I figured after a few losses that I was just unlucky, but there's not much you can say against that kind of consistency. Even when I sniffed out some technically bad placements by my opponent, it wasn't enough to get the upper hand.

Though it killed me inside, I would eventually start to place one or two ships along the outer perimeter, (I still refuse to ever have them kiss) and I did wind up with those three wins. I quickly learned that those scientist players that have been giving me a hard time throughout my fighting game career weren't 100% right. In fact, I think they might be a little less than 50% right.

My takeaway here is that the "rules" of fighting games are very much guidelines. It's statistically not in your favor to wake up DP, but never doing so can quickly give your foe an express lane passage to victory since they know they won't have to worry about it.

Order, in this case, will lose to chaos if it becomes too rigid. The answer here is a balance, though at this point in time I'd go as far as to say it's probably more beneficial to have a stronger emphasis on instinctual over statistical play.

It's your job to be as intimately familiar as possible with the math so that you can be as efficient as possible with your gut. Let the grounded numbers guide your actions, but don't ever feel like you absolutely must live by them.

This commentary is focused specifically on fighting games as there are competitions (such as Tic-tac-toe) that can be boiled down to obvious and strict paths to victory. Even then, the possibility of human error grants a little leeway.

While better understanding this has helped my Battleship game a bit, it has given me a sense of confidence that I've not had in a long time when it comes to fighting games. For me, the pendulum started too far in one direction, made an over-correcting swing in the other, and has (hopefully) now landed in the right spot.

I figure if this is something I'm going through then it's probably something at least a few others can appreciate as well. I'd love to hear any similar realizations as well as any stories that led to them, so feel free to share in the comments below.

Image source: Pixabay

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