Banning Hit Box Controllers

Evo is considering new rules for which controllers are allowed in their tournaments. Their call for feedback on rules is here. Their actual rule document is here.

In my opinion, Hit Box controllers should be banned. I find discussions of this topic often muddled by bad arguments which makes it difficult to get to the substantive part. I will explain the forces at work.

The Baseline

To be clear, before saying anything at all about Hit Box controllers, I think pads and joysticks should be legal. This is hopefully obvious because these have been the standards for 20+ years. Fighting games have a long history of joysticks, the games are designed for them, tournaments were like 99% - 100% joystick users for years.

Gamepads must be allowed as well because they are the stock controllers on the consoles these games ship on. It would be too bad of a situation to tell new players that using the default controller of their console is BANNED, and no one is calling for this.

I state these things to specifically call attention that the reason these controllers should be allowed is that they are and have been the standard for decades. If actually doesn’t matter if one has some sort of advantage over the other in that we can’t feasibly ban either of these types of controllers even if we wanted to (and I don’t want to). The point being, it’s a GIVEN that we’re allowing these.

And later in this discussion, you don’t get any cleverness points for saying “but one of those two allowed types of controllers has an advantage over the other THEREFORE we should allow anything!” No. The reason these two should be allowed is that, like it or not (and I like it!), they are the 20+ year standards.

Hit Box Facts

Hit Box controllers offer a material advantage over other controller types. Part of the difficulty in discussing this is getting mired in a debate about whether this is true. It is absolutely true, and we should move on. It allows inputs faster than is humanly possible with the other controllers, like going left, then right in a single frame, or doing 360 motions so fast that you can do a standing 720 with a consistency that’s impossible otherwise. There’s a reason that players who use characters that need to do a bunch of difficult tiger knee motions (d, df, f, uf) have used Hit Boxes: because it’s just easier to do those hard (very fast) inputs consistently that way. Hit Box’s advertising emphasizes these benefits as well.

The material advantage these controllers offer should be a given. That, in itself, is not a reason to ban it without considering the full picture.

Next, the natural consequence of allowing new hardware that gives a material advantage is that competitors will eventually be forced to use it. It’s actually wrong to view it as “just a choice that 1% of players choose.” The natural consequence is that more and more competitors will have to use it until it basically obsoletes other choices. Oh you use a stick or a pad? You’re just bad, and you shouldn’t. Now you’re at a hardware disadvantage. This, in itself, also isn’t a reason to ban it. You’d have to decide if that outcome is good or bad. But it IS what will happen, so we have to acknowledge that reality.

Where to Draw the Line?

Another ridiculous argument that often comes up is the claim that there should be no line at all and Hit Boxes should be allowed because EVERYTHING should be allowed. I wish that were not a strawman, but I’ve had to answer it multiple times now. That’s a very very extreme opinion that is divorced from the reality of every other sport. There needs to be some definition of a line about what’s allowed and what’s not and the question is WHERE is the line, not if we should throw out the concept of lines.

Other sports face this same issue. I’ll give two examples.

In NASCAR racing, a driver might think “I could go faster if my car had a jet engine on it.” Yes, and if that’s allowed, then everyone must use a jet engine too. The rules people decided that that would be transformational and that it would be some other sport. They want to have a race using something more similar to the kind of cars they had before. So there are limits on what’s allowed that exclude things like jet engines.

In golf, there is the pretty close parallel of a “new, weird” kind of putter. It’s longer than usual and you can anchor it to your stomach as you use it. At first, it looked stupid but soon players realized it offered a material advantage. Anchoring the putter this way allows for more precise control than had been possible before. Is THAT the reason to ban it though? Not exactly. It could be allowed if golfers wanted that, meaning if they wanted the entire endeavor of putting to be replaced by this new, different thing. Again, don’t fall into the trap that it’s a “choice.” If golfers are ok with replacing current putting with this new thing, they could allow it.

This came to a boiling point after a streak of four out of six major winners were anchoring their putters. Tournaments decided that they didn’t want the sport to transform such that putting would be entirely shifted to this new kind of putting, so they banned it in 2016.

What to Do About Hit Boxes?

So with all that in mind, the situation is ultimately simple. The Hit Box controller does give a material advantage, and it will eclipse the other controller types if it’s allowed. If you’re ok with that happening, then you should advocate allowing them. I, personally, think it’s a terrible idea. Having to tell new players who use gamepads or the vast majority of fighting game players who use joysticks that you’re all doing it wrong sounds pretty awful. Having to tell them that you now must, for reasons of competitive advantage, switch to this—honestly pretty weird—new thing is just a very extreme thing to do. When we choose where to draw the line, I think a reasonable place is to draw it is to include the hardware that’s been standard for the last 20+ years WITHOUT obsoleting that very standard by including some new (weird) thing with a hardware advantage.

So Hit Boxes should be banned.


(Disclaimer: Hit Box controllers do NOT need to be banned when playing Fantasy Strike specifically. The game is designed with keyboard in mind, and does not feature any joystick motions like qcf or 360s, etc. Hit Boxes do not offer a material advantage in Fantasy Strike, so they are fine and welcome to use there. Allowing them really does just give one more choice, rather than cause an inevitable shift that would force everyone to use them.)

A Flood of Content

I’ve been working on things behind the scenes for quite some time, as has our team behind Fantasy Strike. Starting in October, I’ll begin showing this content to our patrons at patreon.com/sirlin. I plan to show something new about every two weeks for at least the next year. There’s that much in store. It’s really a lot of stuff and it will take a long time to roll all of it out, so come along for the ride.

Most of this content is for new tabletop games. If you’re a fan of Puzzle Strike or Yomi, I hope you’ll like these new things too. Some of it is for the video game Fantasy Strike which also has some exciting things coming. For all this stuff, it’s playable and fun already, yet it’s still far from a public release. So by joining the patreon you’ll get to see my new games (and Fantasy Strike additions) way before everyone else, and you’ll get to help shape how it develops too.

The first new thing I’ll show patrons at the start of October is something for Fantasy Strike that’s been in the works for many months by my whole team. The thing after that is a tabletop games thing that I’ve been developing for years. It takes a long time to make things, so you’ll finally get to see what’s been brewing.

Thank you to our current patrons, and to any new ones who join now. You really are supporting my ability to continue to make these games and the rest Sirlin Games team is also very grateful. Making games is very expensive, so if you’d like to see more of my kind of games come to be, please consider supporting so I can make more things for all of you.

 
 

Game of Thrones: What Went Wrong

SPOILERS (This post is full of lots of spoilers for Game of Thrones.)

The internet seems generally disappointed with the final season of Game of Thrones. Yeah, me too, and it’s all about the writing. I’ll get right to the point of what I think went wrong: Daenerys, the Night King, and Arya.

The short version:

1) Daenerys had an 8 year arc, a great one actually, but one misstep ruined it. It was so close to being what it needed to be.

2) The Night King. A total disaster. An 8 year arc of what was set up to be a really memorable villain, except season 8 threw away details of that setup and it turns out he’s a boring forgettable pile of garbage.

3) Arya. An 8 year arc that seems entirely designed to let her do a thing, then she did the thing, except without any of the arc mattering and anyone could have done it. Then, being uniquely suited to do some more things, she kind of forgets the powers she spent years developing and does nothing. (Possibly because she needs to be in a The Arya Adventures spinoff and they don’t want her to have magic assassin powers anymore?)

I think pretty much everything upsetting plot-wise stems from these things. Is it upsetting that Jon kills Daenerys? Is it upsetting that Bran is king? That Tyrion is his hand? These things are fine, in a vacuum of just season 8. The issue here isn’t that the final season failed to hit certain emotional beats, or failed to have exciting things happen. The problem is that in doing what it did, it seems to have forgotten a lot of the point of what happened in the previous 7 years. And that’s quite an understatement really. It just doesn’t add up.

I’ll start with what I think is by far the least serious of the problems, but still definitely worth talking about because people are really mad about it.

Daenerys

There are some who are upset the Daenerys is ultimately a villain. I disagree with that and I think it was not only the correct narrative choice, but was frankly obvious to me since season 2. The problem is not the concept of this arc, but rather the critical moment when she actually becomes the villain.

First, let’s look at her 8 year arc before zooming into any particular moment. She starts off weak and lacking in confidence. She develops confidence and grows in power over time. In season 2, we see that she has belief she’s destined for something greater, and is able to grow in power significantly. She is a force of justice too, and rights the wrongs of evil people.

It’s notable that she is ruthless and extremely violent in achieving her goals. Any particular ruthless, violent act you could justify given the circumstances though. In each case, the bad people deserved what they got and/or were going to kill her. So far, nothing I’ve said indicates she is a villain.

So let me ask you this, given all that, what makes for a satisfying story? Here’s one option: she continues on that path, and that’s pretty much that. So she gains more and more power, and fights for good, and she gets it. This is not only boring, but would feel strange and out of place in the world of Game of Thrones. Her story is ripe for a much more interesting alternative.

To explain why the alternative is interesting, there’s two concepts we should think about. First, George R. R. Martin’s views about “evil” characters, and second the concept of a story “earning” its plot twists or character twists.

Evil Characters

In an interview years ago GRRM said that while he admires Lord of the Rings, he wanted to go completely the opposite direction when it comes to portraying evil. In Lord of the Rings, evil is an abstract concept. Sauron just is evil. Why? What does it mean exactly? We’re not really supposed to think about it. He just is.

GRRM wanted evilness to be something apparent by a character’s actions. It’s not that they are intrinsically evil so we want them to die or something. He wants us to to see them behave horrifically and have us come to a deeper and truer understanding that they are evil because of these things they do. Evil isn’t just a label.

GRRM’s example was Viserys (Daenerys’s brother). He was a pretty crappy guy, and we came to understand that ourselves based on his actions, how he treated his sister, how he was generally a jerk. A much more extreme example if Joffrey. Joffrey did numerous shockingly horrible things, and we came to know his evilness in a more personal and real way than we could with Sauron in the Lord of the Rings.

I think Daenerys was the ultimate lesson in this concept. We sympathized with her and rooted for her for years to stomp out the bad people. And she was ruthless and violent about it, but we were right there with her. If she were to revel a little too much in this violence, similar actions could easily become evil. If we turn the knob of her zealous goals just slightly, they could easily become horrifically evil. For 7 years she managed to stay on the “righteous” side of things, but if she ever were to snap and use her power just barely more, this would be possibly even more haunting than Joffrey’s evilness. It’s because by following her on this path, that mostly made sense, it’s all the more chilling that “anyone” could be seduced to becoming villainous.

In summary, the most shallow type of evil is Sauron just “being evil” because. What’s better is seeing all of Joffrey’s horrific actions, so we truly know his evilness. But what’s best is if we could experience the fall from good to evil, in a real and believable way. So I think it was inevitable this would happen because it’s actually interesting and her moral compass was always on the edge of a knife anyway.

Earning Your Plot Twists

Think back to when Ned Stark dies at the end of season 1. That is really surprising and “not how it’s supposed to go" in other works of fiction—this was an incredible surprise at the time. Though Ned had all the classic tropes of a hero who has plot-armor and must prevail in the end, his shocking death told us what kind of world we’re dealing with. A world that’s often indifferent to justice, where anything can happen, anyone can die, and you can’t count on the good guys always winning.

Also, this moment in season 1 felt especially well-earned in that looking back, we feel like we should have known. The world was telling us this kind of thing happens. Littlefinger told Ned Stark exactly what he had to do and that he had the exact position and power to do it (kill Cersei and children, then become king himself), but Ned refused. Varys told him while he was in jail what he had to do, but he refused. Cersei told him too what was at stake: “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.” So looking back, it actually feels inevitable. You can’t survive in that world as a Ned Stark.

Another similar example is the Red Wedding. A shocking, horrifying event that in retrospect, seems like we should have known something awful like that would happen. Remember all those letters that Tywin was writing? Now we realize why that detail was there. Sometimes it was played for laughs to distract us, like when he made Cersei wait for him to finish writing a few lines before she could speak, but the details add up. So even though it’s not “what we want” for the Starks to be ruthlessly murdered, and it probably wasn’t what we expected, it was SATISFYING in the sense that things came together in a way that was true to the world and true to the details that had been laid out.

If Daenerys turns out to be a villain, this twist is similar to the above two examples. It’s exactly the kind of thing you should say “damn, I should have seen that coming.” Not because her motives were impure before, but rather because her methods were so, so close to villainous the whole time that the seed is planted. It’s definitely possible.

The problem, you are now saying, is that it was not believable that she’d suddenly undergo this change. Yes, right. For this to all work, we have to actually understand what makes her go from “on the edge of a knife” to straying the wrong way. Hearing the bells of your enemies surrender is not a reason any of us understand for her to have made this huge change. I think it was entirely possible for her to cross over into darkness here, somehow, some way. They writers could have written a scene or two that made this believable and make sense, but instead, it makes no sense and everyone is confused and upset. It’s so close.

The Night King

Now we move on to a much bigger disaster. Unlike Daenerys’s issue, we didn’t need an extra scene to fix it. We needed the whole final season to be built around this character making sense.

The Night King is the biggest threat in the entire world for 8 years of this show. He is The Big Bad. He appears in episode 1, season 1 (yes, really). Btw, I thought it was an important detail that the very beginning of the whole series starts by showing us that the undead threat actually is real. That creates dramatic irony in that many characters do not realize the threat is real, but we do, so we’re all the more worried for them.

After seven seasons, I thought the Night King was going to be one of the most memorable and surprising villains ever. It turns out he’s just a forgettable nothing. If we ignore season 8 for a moment, why is he an interesting villain?

The Night King is always at arm’s length to us. We struggle to know what he’s really doing and why. There seems to be something big missing here, on purpose. He’s the greatest, most powerful threat in the world, and for 7 years, I found it really conspicuous that we never learn anything about his motivation. I mean yeah we know why he was created (as a weapon the Children of the Forest created to kill the First Men), but that’s different from what his motivation is currently. Is it to kill everyone basically? Why exactly?

It’s a mystery. In such a complex story with a web of character motivations, to have the ultimate big villain completely hide his motivation is actually really interesting. The reason to do that is if the motivation has enormous story significance that you’re trying to save for a big reveal of some sort. All we get are little clues. Why does the Night King keep making spiral patterns? Why does he have such a particular interest in the Three-Eyed Raven? Why did he stare directly at Jon Snow for a really long time at the end of the Hardholme episode? That was a weird stare, and so conspicuous that it seemed like a clue. Also, the Night King has been at this for 10,000 years, so what’s his plan this time that is different than it ever was?

You see, something’s going on there. That it’s so difficult to piece together makes it even more exciting, but it seems like it has to be something huge. There’s a fan theory I’ve written about before that says the big reveal would be that the Night King is actually Bran, or that Bran’s consciousness is somehow trapped in the Night King. Before we get deep into that, I want to remind you about the dragon chains.

The Night King’s march towards the wall is critically important here. It gave the final, definitive clue that something really is up and that the whole Bran theory was likely correct. Or even if not correct, the clue still proves that something in the Night King’s head has been withheld from us so far.

The Dragon Chains

The Night King marched toward the wall, and let me give you two options about what his plan really is here. One option is that there’s no secret at all. His plan was to march toward the wall, a thing he has spent 10,000 years failing to breach, and that he had no particular reason to think he would be successful. Furthermore, in a stroke of incredible luck that he had no idea about, he encountered a dragon. Not only did he not know there would be a dragon, but he didn’t know there even were dragons anymore. Anyway, through amazing luck he encountered this dragon, killed it, turned it undead, and used to breach the wall.

But that’s not all! He just happened to bring dragon-sized shackles and chains with him. Why? No reason. He just had his army drag the chains for hundreds of miles for no reason at all, with no expectation of facing a dragon. Even if he DID face a dragon, why would he need chains to use on it? Specifically because if the dragon dies by falling in a lake, then he needs to use the chains to pull it out. So now there’s multiple levels of idiotic nonsense to this plan: 1) had no reason to think he could breach the wall in the first place, 2) he had no idea about a dragon, 3) he had no idea ahead of time about a dragon specifically dying by falling into a lake, 4) he brought dragon chains just in case of this astronomically unlikely even that he had no idea about.

This is beyond ridiculous. And that is why I said it was proof that it’s the core of the mystery. This all actually makes sense if Bran’s consciousness is inside the Night King, or the Night King is Bran, because then Bran’s power explains the whole thing. It means he really would have known about the dragon, the lake, and the need to bring the chains. Exciting!

Season 8 went another way. It just forgot about all that and now, in retrospect, we’re supposed to believe the Night King never had any coherent plan to breach the wall, that he had no idea about the dragon or the lake or the chains and that it’s all just the worst writing in the world. Instead of the long stare at the end of the Hardholme episode with Jon Snow making sense, because it’s really Bran looking at his brother, it’s yet another pointless detail about this cardboard cutout of a villain that is evil because he’s evil. The most pathetic, shallow, throw-away villain. That’s what they went with.

In case you’re confused about the whole “Bran is the Night King” thing, I summarized that in this post. The short version is that the entire story of Hodor seems to explain the rules for Bran’s power (that he can try to change the past by saying a phrase to someone, but it makes them go insane). And the only other character in the story who also went insane and also said a phrase over and over forever was the Mad King, who said “burn them all.” So surely Bran tried to tell that king to burn all the undead coming for us, but it drove him insane and the message was misinterpreted to “burn them all.” Then Bran must have tried to go back further in time where he probably caused the wall to be built in the first place (it was created by “Bran the Builder”) but that ultimately failed too. So he probably then went back to the source, the moment the Night King was created by the Children of the Forest, and he got accidentally trapped inside the Night King during that ceremony.

That theory, crazy as it is, adds up. And it’s exciting. And explains a whole lot. It explains why the Night King went to kill the previous Three-Eyed Raven (because doing that let Bran become the Three-Eyed Raven and ultimately lead to the Night King having this mega power of ultimate knowledge). It explains the whole dragon chains thing and it makes the Night King extra terrifying: not only is he mega powerful, but he knows all. There’s really nothing that could ever beat him, unless maybe if Bran himself (our Bran, in the present) lended a hand to someone so powerful that they wield the power of gods. Or in other words, it would make the Night King so powerful that we might need Bran to sacrifice “himself” by giving Arya one of the only weapons that can kill the Night King/Bran, while knowing (through his vision-power) that Arya has access to the power of gods.

OR, you know, maybe the Night King is just a pile of garbage that we can forget about because he never made any sense or had any plan. Thanks season 8. For fuck’s sake.

Arya

I do not think it’s a mistake story-wise for Arya to have been the one to kill the Night King. Quite the contrary. I thought this was the single most obvious thing the plot was leading to. If anything, too obvious, but I was willing to let it slide because it’s cool.

So why is it obvious this was destined to happen? We have an all-powerful villain (the Night King), who commands an endless army of soldiers who cannot die, BUT we know that if you kill him, the things he commands will also die. So in other words, there’s an enormous war so big that the fate of all life hangs in the balance, but all we need to win it is the ability to kill ONE guy.

Who is the ultimate person to kill ONE particular guy? Arya. She’s been on that path for years. She studied with the Faceless Men to become the ultimate assassin. And we even heard that the God of Many Faces will grant the power to kill anyone, EVEN A KING, if his follower pays a high enough price. I mean how much more setup to do you need? It’s practically hitting us over the head. Then it becomes a total lock when Bran (who is also the Night King???) gives her the dagger that is made of the stuff that can actually kill the Night King. It’s ridiculously handed to us on a platter here, and that’s FINE.

You know what’s not fine? That none of that mattered at all. The perfect person with the perfect skills to do the job…does the job in a boring lame way that anyone could have done. So actually it was irrelevant that she became an assassin, that the studied under the God of Many faces and has access to the exact magic needed here. It turns out any one can just stab the Night King so whatever. Do you see why the internet is mad? This is absolutely ridiculous and insulting.

There’s layers of problems here. In addition to it rendering her 8 year arc pointless by not even using the skills she spent years learning, it’s also dramatically really flat. In my earlier predictions post, I said that in episode 3 of season 8 (before I had seen it) that the Night King cannot possibly be defeated in the battle of Winterfell (the subject of that episode) because it would be too boring to have the main villain die and have half the season left. And then that’s exactly what happened. He did die then, suddenly, then we basically forgot about him and carried on with the drama ratcheted down several notches for the rest of the season.

There was a different way of handling all this that would have allowed Arya to actually use her powers, that would have been way more exciting, that would have maintained that excitement throughout the entire season, and that wouldn’t have felt sudden and rushed. A three-step build up involving deep personal drama to actually beat him. Instead, we got the opposite of all that. Stab, dead.

I explained this in my predictions post (credit to Lina Jemili for developing that theory with me). It’s too much to re-write here so just go to that post and skip down to “It’s all about the Lord of Light” and read from there. The upshot is that Arya uses her Faceless Men powers, takes part in an ancient prophecy, is forced to kill someone she truly loves in order to simultaneously fulfill the Lord of Light’s prophecy, which she probably doesn’t fully believe in, but ALSO this act fulfills the God of Many Faces’s cost, which she definitely believes in because she’s wielded his magic before. There are also exciting plot reveals by Beric and The Hound involved too.

To think that instead of all that, the Lord of Light’s prophecies, the God of Many Faces’s magic and Arya’s years of study are all just irrelevant is laughable. The irony is that the moment she stabs the Night King with the fatal blow, she hasn’t just rendered her own backstory pointless (by not even using it), but she also throws the Night King into the trash as a character. It isn’t just that the Night King died, but that moment also solidifies him as a forgettable villain with no coherent plan and shallow motivation for no good reason. Ingenious villain capable of seeing across time? OR goofy idiot who stumbled into a dragon and for terrible writing-reasons, happened to have dragon chains with him as it fell into a lake?

This is beyond frustrating. So you see what I mean that it’s not about the specific emotional beats in the last season being lacking. It’s about retroactively making the entire Night King character an idiotic joke, rather than a memorable villain with the longest con of all time. It’s about Arya training for years to do a thing, having the opportunity to use that in an incredible way that allows amazing reveals for Beric, the Hound, and the workings of two different gods, but then she just stabs him and we all forget about it and move on.

As of this writing, this petition to remake season 8 has over 1.5 million signatures. I really hope they do remake it and I hope it takes a form somewhat similar to what I’ve written about here and in my predictions post because it makes a whole lot more sense, would be really satisfying, and ties things together.

And just to really expose the quality of plot-writing here, I’ll leave you with these summary thoughts:

  • Arya, having studied with the Faceless Men to be a magical assassin, is the perfect person in the entire world to kill the Night King. She does, but that whole backstory didn’t matter at all and she didn’t use that power, or even remember that she maybe could have used it.

  • Beric, being resurrected 19 times by the Lord of Light, was the perfect person in the entire world to explain the Lord of Light’s prophecy to Arya. Instead, none of that mattered and his only point of existing in the plot was to save Arya in a hallway somewhere that anyone could have done.

  • Danaerys, having the only dragons in the world, is the person uniquely suited to fighting an army of ice-based undead. She does that, I guess, but actually none of that mattered at all.

  • Bran, having magical powers to see and slightly affect the past, is the perfect person to have caused the Mad King’s insanity, caused the wall to be built, and become one with / explain the Night King’s character and motivations. Instead, none of that matters, and though Bran becomes king of the six kingdom, he’s irrelevant to the story for the other 99% of it. Rather than being integral to the history and lore, he could basically just be deleted.

There’s way too much “actually nothing mattered” going on here.

Game of Thrones Predictions from a Game Designer

Edit: It turns out that the last four episodes disappointed pretty much everyone. My predictions below relied on the premise that good writing would basically force some events to happen, and I was thrown by a loop by the, well, not good writing. I leave this prediction post up for reference anyway

—-

I’m going to give my predictions for how Game of Thrones ends up. These predictions are a team effort from me and my girlfriend Lina Jemili trying to work through it all together after Season 8, Episode 2. As of this writing, we’re in the 8th year of Game of Thrones seasons with only 4 episodes left, and yet there are numerous major reveals still left. By looking at the show from a game design standpoint, I think we see how a lot of it has to end up.

Game of Throne is, on a casual viewing, a very complicated show. There’s a large number of characters, relationships, and locations to keep track of. I think once you have all that straight, that under the surface, there’s even more complexity and tricks that you might have no idea about.

I also think that the show is exceptionally well written. As I will try to illustrate in this post, the complexity and the quality of the writing are actually tools we can use to figure out that underlying secrets. Basically, there’s a lot of puzzle pieces and an infinite number of ways they COULD fit together, but there’s only one or two ways they fit together in dramatic and satisfying ways, so this tells us exactly how the ending must unfold.

The following has (I hope) MAJOR SPOILERS. Do not read past this point unless you’re ok with SPOILERS. I’m going to start with a fan theory, but the rest of my predictions are not based on fan theories I have seen or heard about. In fact, my major prediction about The Hound I was unable to find anyone else saying on Google. (Probably I am bad at Googling though, idk.)

Bran is the Night King

I’m aware this is a fan theory and I’m saying that it’s correct. There’s a lot of little hints and weak evidence that fans like to point to. You can throw all that out. The reason we know for sure that this seemingly insane claim is correct is the story of Hodor. The entire storyline of Hodor’s origin is strange and out of place, writing-wise. It’s conspicuously much effort spent on how he got his name, and worse than that, it involves a hokey time travel mechanic that seems have no place in the story. It’s really weird to throw in a time travel thing for no real reason other than to explain Hodor’s name.

A better reading of the situation is to remember that overall, the story is very well-written. The Hodor story *isn’t* out of place, it isn’t a random indulgence in time travel, and it’s not there just to tell us where his name comes from. No, it’s there to teach us the story world’s rules for a mechanic that is actually central to the main story. It’s to teach us that Bran has the power to look back in time, and then to actually communicate a message to someone in the past...but that it can only be a single phrase and that it can drive that person insane. It can ruin their mind and cause them to endlessly repeat that phrase.

This is EXACTLY what happened to the Mad King. He went insane and repeated a specific phrase that we’re conspicuously told numerous times over the years of the show: “Burn them all.” There’s no way this is just a coincidence. It’s practically game mechanics in action. Bran used the same technique on the Mad King that he used on Hodor. Why? Because he’s trying to warn the king to use fire against the incoming army of undead. But the message got garbled as his mind was broken and he ended up just trying to burn EVERYONE. Bran’s plan failed.

Bran then probably went back even further in time and caused The Wall to be built in the first place. The person history credits with this is “Bran the Builder.” I don’t know what exactly is going on there, but somehow Bran tried to save the world again, and ultimately failed again. The Wall did help, but in the end, the Night King eventually breaches it.

Bran then went back even further in time and witnessed the creation of the Night King. The lore is that Children of the Forest created the Night King in a special ceremony that we briefly got to see. They created him to be the ultimate weapon against the First Men. He really is an ultimate weapon in that he can fight forever, can’t die or tire, and he can raise the dead of the First Men as his own undead army. Anyway, when Bran witnessed this ceremony in the distant past, something must have gone wrong. His consciousness was sucked into it and he became the Night King. Or perhaps more accurately, he became trapped inside the Night King. This is terrifying for the rest of the world because it means an already terrifying killing machine now has a new power: the power to basically know anything and everything. Bran’s power.

Even if we take it as given, using game designer eyes, that Bran drove the Mad King insane, how do we know that this next leap of logic is correct though? How do we know that Bran is (or is trapped in) the Night King? The answer, again, comes down to the quality of the show’s writing.

Let’s think about the time in Season 7 when the Night King marched south toward The Wall and breached it. Let’s think about two possible versions of these events. The whole Bran / Night King thing sounds pretty crazy, so first think about if that’s not the case. This means the Night King’s plan is to march towards a wall he’s never been able to breach in like 10,000 years or something, and has no new plan to make it work. He’s just is an idiot basically, who got insanely lucky. He happened to encounter a dragon he had no idea would even be there, then turned that dragon to his side and was able to use it to destroy the wall.

But it gets much worse. THE CHAINS. The dragon happened to fall in a lake, and for some reason the Night King had his minions bring a enormous, dragon-sized chains that are perfectly suited to pull the Dragon out of the lake. So in this version of events, not only is the Night King’s plan idiotic, but the writers are also morons. It’s ridiculous for him to have happened to have exactly the right tool when he had no basis for any of this.

So which is more plausible: that this is, by a mile, the worst written thing in the entire show OR that Game of Thrones maintained its overall high quality level of writing and that the Night King brought the chains because he knew all this would happen. Because he is Bran. He knew to march toward the wall in the first place because he knew the dragon would be there, that it could be turned, and he knew that it would precisely fall into a lake.

This one is a lock. Bran is the Night King. And it also plays into the next prediction…

Arya will kill the Night King

This one is an eerily familiar situation for me. So there’s a big war going on, but from a story-design point of view, you want it to come down to individual characters so it’s more dramatic. That’s hard to do because in the scale of a war, a single person’s fighting skill doesn’t really matter that much, even if the story wants it to.

In the fiction of Fantasy Strike, the story world of the games I make, I face a similar dilemma. My solution (long ago, before I ever heard of Game of Thrones) was to make individual combat be super important in the grand scheme of things by making a villain who is able to control entire armies of undead, but you only have to take out just that ONE villain to knock out the army. Now personal combat is everything. And for the last few years, I have realized that George R.R. Martin had the same solution. Most of the war will be solved if just a SINGLE person kills a SINGLE bad guy.

Who is that person? It’s Arya. We’ve had 8 years of her character arc to do this exact thing. She has the magic powers of the Faceless Men, meaning she is the ultimate assassin, capable of killing any single being. And just in case it wasn’t obvious enough, BRAN gave her the EXACT weapon she needs to actually kill the Night King: a Valyrian steel dagger. Only Valyrian steel or dragonglass weapons can kill the undead (well, or fire).

This means Bran gave the world’s ultimate assassin the exact weapon needed to kill...himself? Yes, exactly. He did. I think the part of Bran trapped in the Night King is trying his best to make the Night King fail, too. Perhaps that is why the Night King has attacked previous three-eyed ravens: the Bran inside the Night King is trying to prevent the Night King from ever getting access to the power of all-seeing in the first place. Meanwhile the Bran from our timeline knows the must do what’s needed to stop the super villain, even it means ultimately killing his own consciousness (trapped inside the Night King).

Plus, this means in the end, Arya will have to kill her own brother. This is too perfect to be anything but the answer. Now a grand war has come down to the family conflict of sister killing brother. If anything, I’ve thought this entire plotline was TOO obvious for years. But I was willing to forgive it because it’s pretty exciting. Now, I think it’s maybe on purpose to make this obvious as a smoke screen to prevent you from thinking about even more tricks.

Which brings me to this obvious one:

In Season 8, Episode 3, the people in the crypt will be attacked and probably die

I mean, come on.

I think you’re actually supposed to realize that hiding from an undead super villain who can raise the dead in a place full of dead is probably a bad idea. You might have to fight Zombie Ned or other Stark family relatives from the grave. And you’ll feel pretty smart about noticing this so that will distract you from not noticing two other huge secrets. I’ll cover the crazier one second, but first…

It’s all about the Lord of Light

So hey, guess what, it’s all about a thing that was given almost no prominence in the last couple episodes. But using game-designer eyes, we can see it definitely must be this. Why? Because of Beric Dondarrion. He’s the guy who has been resurrected 19 times. A priest of the Lord of Light did that for him, but the priest is dead, so this is Beric’s last life.

Beric is now at Winterfell. But why exactly? I don’t mean why in the story world, but why did the writers bother to include him? He’s conspicuous. We don’t know him that well, we aren’t that invested in him, and we don’t understand what the point of his character existing ever was. But HE is here? And he’s on his last life? It sounds pretty important, even though it’s not talked about.

Remember, we know that the Lord of Light’s magic is real. The Lord of Light murdered Renly through a shadow monster birthed by Melisandre (The Red Woman). The Lord of Light also allowed Melisandre to resurrect Jon Snow, and allowed the priest to resurrect Beric 19 times.

So what’s the point of this? The Lord of Light’s prophecy involves the “Prince that was promised.” The Red Woman thought this was Stannis. My interpretation is that her connection with the Lord of Light isn’t solid enough to have a real, clear conversation so she made mistakes while trying to serve the god. She wrongly believed Stannis was the prince that was promised, and in killing Renly, she was trying to facilitate the prophecy. Then, she later believed Jon Snow was the prince that was promised, and then she actually resurrected him. This is a trick, and we are meant to believe this proves that Jon Snow really is the prince that was promised. This is false though. As you’ll see shortly, that’s not why it worked there. But we’ll come back to that.

What about Beric? Why do we need him in this plot? Well, the Lord of Light went to a lot of trouble get Beric here, so it has to be incredibly important. My first thought was that Beric sacrifices himself to save the actual prince that was promised. After thinking more, I think that would be somewhat weak writing. Yeah it works, but really anyone out of a thousand people could have saved whoever it was. It’s not satisfying. For Beric to do some important thing after dying 19 times, it’s a better story if the thing he does is more, well, Beric-based. More about who he actually is, not just where he happened to be standing when a sword is swung or something.

Beric is a true believer in the Lord of Light. There is no one more qualified to be a true believer than him, because he lived through all those resurrections. He knows the lore, he can tell us about it, and he can really SELL it as true. He knows THE PROPHECY. This is what it’s actually all about.

The Lord of Light’s prophecy is about the prince that was promised. It says that he was born in salt and smoke and appeared under a red comet. I think in the books, the Wood Witch also says that this prophesied person is a Targaryen, which I think has greatly confused the entire internet. I’m not aware of this being part of the requirements in the show, and even if it was, I think it’s some kind of trick or the Witch is wrong, or talking about something else. Anyway, the main thing about the prince is that he will wield Lightbringer to kill some super enemy monster.

I’m not sure if this is in the show or not, but the books give the detail that the first prince that was promised worked 50 days to forge Lightbringer, then tried to temper the sword in water, but it broke. Then he worked 100 days and tried to temper it in the heart of a lion, but that didn’t work either. Then on the third try, he tempered it by plunging it into his lover’s heart, and that gave it the magic power it needed to slay the monster.

This is what Beric’s function in the story is. Beric needs to tell us, and the prince that is promised, what the prophecy is, because it’s going to repeat itself in the ending of our current story.

Arya is the prince that was promised

Yes, really. But what about being born in salt and smoke? First off, this is completely the wrong question. That is a ridiculous and vague statement that you can make true about anyone you want. Someone was born on the ocean, or they cried, or salt was in some food, etc, etc. That’s no way to sort this out. Use game designer’s eyes. This all must come together in a very particular way to work at all. So who is going to wield Lightbringer?

It would be ridiculous for Daenerys to wield a sword and kill the Night King with it (there’s no basis for her having any personal combat skills). You could say the prophecy is just a metaphor, and her dragons can breathe fire, and that’s close enough to “Lightbringer,” but that is incredibly lame. Remember, the rest of the show is well-written, so is the ultimate conclusion going to be that stupid? I don’t think so. For this reason alone, no matter what the lore might hint at, it’s not Dany.

Could Jon Snow wield Lightbringer? Yeah maybe. It’s feasible, and the puzzle pieces could fit that way...but it wouldn’t be the most exciting and dramatic story, so we know it’s wrong too.

We already know the answer: Arya must kill the Night King, therefore we actually already know she must be the prince that is promised. You might say “but she’s a girl.” Yes, but in Season 7, Episode 2, I think it was, the Red Woman tells us that we don’t have gendered pronouns right in High Valyrian and that it can refer to a boy or a girl. Salt and smoke? Anyone can be “born” in that if you look hard enough. Red comet? I don’t know, same thing. Has to be a Targaryen? I’m stumped on that one, yeah, but I think it was a fake requirement anyway.

Back to the drama. To fit this prophecy, Arya will have to kill someone she loves with her sword so it can be powered up to kill the big bad guy. Think about that for a moment. That’s a lot of emotional weight to put on her. If someone says you need to kill your loved one to save the world, you don’t just do it. You need to know it’s really true, you need to think about it, you need to time to come to terms with it so it can feel real. So here’s what’s going to happen first.

Beric will tell Arya about the prophecy

Both Arya and the audience will initially reject it as probably wrong or fake, or something we can ignore. The seed is planted.

Arya will fight the Night King at Winterfell and attempt to kill him

Arya will try, but she will fail. I think we know this because the final confrontation cannot possibly be at Winterfell, because that would leave a boring bunch of story left about if Cersei kills this or that person who is left over. But the Night King can’t really win at Winterfell either. We have more story left. The way out of this is that Arya “kills” him, but he reforms and shows he cannot truly be killed by Valyrian steel after all, only his lowly minions can. This gives all the characters time to retreat for King’s Landing, probably.

The really important plot point is that Beric says something like “see, I told you that it would be like this. You tempered the sword in water (the ice of the Night King’s body), but it didn’t work. Gotta kill a loved one with it first.” She still doesn’t fully buy it, or is in denial.

Arya Kills Cersei

After the retreat to King’s Landing, it would make sense if Arya used her Faceless Men powers to assassinate Cersei, who we already know is on her list of people to kill. Cersei, being a Lannister, has a sigil of a lion. Beric will then say the prophecy is happening, and that killing a lion was the second step, but Arya still needs to kill a loved one.

Before we get to that though, a couple more things. First, there is a separate prophecy about Cersei being murdered, supposedly by a word that means “little brother”, and that it’s specifically from being choked. Maybe “little brother” means “litter sister” really, because of the High Valyrian pronouns, and that Arya is a little sister of her own separate family. Flimsy, but I don’t know. I can’t resolve the part about Cersei being strangled though. It’s possible Arya kills a different Lannister to fulfil the “lion” part, but it’s just so perfect if she kills Cersei. Why? Because of the Golden Company army.

That army is bought and paid for and does whatever Cersei says. So...Arya, wearing the dead face of Cersei and using Faceless Men magic(!), can then command that whole army. That’s really exciting.

Anyway, back to the prophecy of the prince that is promised. We need another push to make it happen, and we also need an actual loved one for Arya. Here comes the other huge secret hidden in Season 8, Episode 1 and especially 2.

The Hound is actually Jaqen H'ghar

Yes really. Why? Because it’s the only way this works, so it must be right. Jaqen H'ghar is the only character in the world who can tell us again about how the rules work for the Faceless Men magic. As he told us a long time ago, they have the power to kill ANY single individual, but the more important the victim, the higher the price. He said even a KING can be killed, but the price will be to kill a loved one / family member.

This is ridiculously perfect from a dramatic standpoint. He specifically said KING all that time ago, and now we have to kill the NIGHT KING. The Faceless God will demand killing of a loved one, and Jaqen H’ghar, unlike Beric, is going to be really convincing on this. You see, Beric needs to CONVINCE Arya that killing a loved one is the solution. But Jaqen H'ghar doesn’t have to do that exactly. He only has to REMIND her that it’s true. She lived through the trials of the Faceless God and knows full well about the power and rules. She will be horrified, but she’ll believe that that really is the Faceless God’s price.

Wait, but the HOUND is Jaqen H'ghar? Yes. Someone has to be. Don’t you think it’s extra perfect if the person who Jaqen H'ghar has disguised himself to be is sitting around talking to Beric in Season 8, Episode 2? That gives that scene a whole new meaning. They aren’t two “miserable old shits” as Arya says. Well, they are, but they are ALSO two ambassadors to gods hanging out and talking to the princess that is promised when she happens to walk by.

Furthermore, it really seemed like The Hound died a long time ago. Arya left him for dead and he had no possible way of surviving that we knew of. Explanation: he didn’t survive. That’s where Jaqen H'ghar found him (he was following Arya) and took The Hound’s face. Later, The Hound mysteriously tried to start a new life with the villain from HBO’s Deadwood. Why? Because if you’re actually Jaqen H'ghar, you can’t go around killing people indiscriminately like The Hound would. You are forbidden by your god from doing that. The perfect cover is “trying to turn over a new leaf” and be a nice pacifist guy, which is exactly what we saw The Hound do.

Anyway, The Hound is really Jaqen H'ghar and he will reveal himself and remind Arya of the Faceless Men powers and prices when we’re far along in all this and need another push.

Arya will kill Jon Snow

She has to kill a loved one to forge Lightbringer, and there’s only three real possibilities. There’s a budding romance with Gendry, and I think that it exists entirely as a distraction. It’s way, way too weak of a story to have the fate of the universe hinge on a hardly-anything, maybe-romance with Gendry. Incidentally, it’s amazing writing that now the fate of the universe now depends on something usually out of a “chick flick”: do we love each other enough???

Sansa is a candidate; Arya probably loves her and it would be dramatic to kill her. But that’s nothing compared to killing Jon Snow. Jon was way more important to her growing up. Jon is absolutely central to the story, so it’s seemingly hugely disruptive (and exciting) if he’s the victim.

And he must be. Partly because his entire character has been designed for 8 years to be a good guy. A sympathetic guy. I think it’s clever that this is easily misinterpreted as “it’s all about Jon Snow eventually getting to be in power, because he SHOULD be.” Sorry, it’s all about him being an even more tragic murder victim.

And even beyond that, remember that this is ultimately the Lord of Light’s ballgame. We know why the god resurrected Beric (to clue in the prince (Arya) on the prophecy) but what about Jon Snow? As you can see, the Red Woman was just mistaken (AGAIN) about who is the price who is promised. That’s not why Jon Snow was allowed to be resurrected. He was allowed because he has to be around for Arya to KILL. That’s the only way to truly forge Lightbringer and kill the Night King.

Arya forges Lightbringer and kills the Night King

I’ve already explained all this, but there’s an exciting nuance to it. It’s quite a gamer move in that Arya is really benefiting from “double god bonuses” here. The Faceless God and Lord of Light seem to both demand she kill a loved one. I think how this actually works is that the Faceless God is demanding the price she pays by killing Jon. And what does the Faceless God then actually DO to give her the power to kill the Night King? Poetically: nothing. It’s just that by paying his price, she ALSO unlocked the god of power of the OTHER god, The Lord of Light, to forge the magical super weapon. One tragic kill, two gods satisfied.

I’ll just remind you that sum of all this is she just had to kill her brother (Jon Snow) in order to be able to kill her other brother (Bran / Night King).

Daenerys sits on the Iron Throne

So one way or another, we beat the undead. Probably some dragon fire breath helped, and various armies of men helped. We might even have Melisandre show up with a bunch of her priests who can repeatedly resurrect our troops in a resurrect-off with the Night King(??). But the main factor is Arya killing the Night King. Now that it’s all over, Dany does what she said she’d do for many years now: take the throne. She obsessed with it, and her story is the long road of how righteousness and good intentions turn into a terrifying dictator when you turn the knob up too high.

Daenerys is deposed

I think she will only hold the throne for a few minutes, if even that long. She will give an angry, impassioned speech about how she DESERVES the throne because of her bloodline. She will ramble on about the line of succession, and make a rock-solid sounding case that she absolutely is owed this throne above anyone else.

The great irony is that this speech will mirror the one given by Ned Stark to Cersei. In that old speech, Ned had solid, correct logic that Cersei did not deserve the throne. He explained the line of succession and the rules and all that, and even had a signed document from the previous king to back him up. But Cersei laughed and ripped up the piece of paper, pointing out how pathetic it is to think a piece of paper (or a speech) would do anything. What actually does anything? Being backed by armies and use of force.

Back then Littlefinger said when one ruler tells the army to do X and another says to do Y, which thing does the army do? “Whoever pays them” he said. That’s what Ned didn’t get. And the surprise is neither does Dany.

Dany’s armies will be an “easy come, easy go” situation. Remember, she had 3 dragons and zero armies, then turned that into 3 dragons + 1 entire army, basically instantly, with the Unsullied. She also got another army basically instantly with the Dothraki. I’m not sure how exactly, but her current armies will instantly disappear. They will just leave. Maybe they see her do something they don’t like and turn on her. Maybe her dragons died in battle, too. So who is actually on her side anymore? No one.

How about Sansa? Sansa knows how to actually run a community and plan things. She was the one worried about how to feed everyone. She’s the one who has people fighting for her because they WANT to, not because they are afraid of her. She has the army of the North, and a bunch more followers too these days. Plus if she really needs it, she has the army of the Gold Company too (via Arya, maybe). That’s kind of perfect because in both cases, “they follow whoever pays them” refers to the GOLD CLOAKS and the GOLDEN COMPANY.

Anyway, Dany will suddenly realize she has the iron throne, but zero power to back it up. No one to fight for her, and no physical skill of her own. She will be somehow easily--even pathetically--dispatched.

The final image is that of Sansa on the Iron Throne.

“Valar morghulis” means “all men must die.” It’s interesting that the final conflict is entirely amongst women. The men in contention to rule all died.

Designer Notes Interview, Part 2

Almost two and a half years ago, Soren Johnson did a long, in-depth interview with me and he just released the second part of it (both parts linked below). Part 2 covers the beginnings of Fantasy Strike, Yomi strategy including what to do on the first turn, a little about Pandante’s updated version, Puzzle Strike’s emphasis on player interaction, Puzzle Strike and Codex’s solution to free-for-all games, and the toughest design problems in making Codex.

These are long and go into a lot of detail.

Designer Notes Episode 41, DAVID SIRLIN - PART 1

Designer Notes Episode 41, DAVID SIRLIN - PART 2

A Fighting Game First: Showing Frame Advantage

We just put a new feature in Fantasy Strike that’s notable because it’s never been done before. There are now visual effects on every hit that show if you recover first, or if your opponent does. The bigger the magnitude of the effects, the longer you (or your opponent) has to act before the other player.

frame_advantage_5up.jpg

The concept of who recovers first after a move hits or is blocked is called “frame advantage” in fighting games. The “frame” is the basic unit of time in fighting games, means a still frame of graphics shown every 1/60th of a second. So if you have +5 frame advantage after your move is blocked, that means you’ll be able to start your next move 5 frames (5/60ths of a second) before your opponent is able to start their next move. This is a very important concept in fighting games, but it's always been invisible…until now.

Expert fighting game players always want to know which moves are safe, meaning which moves have the attacker recovering first when the move is blocked. Fantasy Strike now shows that with the blue visual effects above.

Good players are also conscious of “frame traps.” That term means having frame advantage (blue effects in Fantasy Strike), then attacking again and interrupting your opponent’s move if they tried to do something. For example, imagine you have a move that has 10 frames of startup, and hits on the 11th frame. Suppose your opponent has a slightly faster move that has 9 frames of startup on hits on frame 10. If you both happened to do these moves at exactly the same time, the faster one (theirs) would hit and interrupt the other move (yours). You’d be sad about that. But now imagine that you did some other move that gets blocked and leaves you at +5 (you recover 5 frames sooner than they do). Immediately after that blocked move, if you do your 10-frame startup move, you’re getting a head-start of 5 frames here. Your opponent is stuck blocking for 5 frames, THEN starts their 9-frame move. They are too far behind here and now your attack will win, even though “usually” your attack is slower.

Frame advantage effects being visible all the time mean it’s more clear when frame traps are even happening. This doesn’t really take away anything because anyone who knows what they are doing already knew this. It means that beginners can play the “real game” sooner. It’s easier for them to get on the same page about what is even happening. Attacking when you are at frame disadvantage is risky, but sometimes still smart. Now it’s easier to KNOW you’re in that decision and make a conscious decision whether you want to attack then or not.

That said, this feature is not just for beginners. There’s a lot of nuance in the exact timing and spacing moves that can affect frame advantage, and experts can learn about that now. For example, Setsuki can press C then B to throw a low-to-the-ground kunai, but it could give her frame advantage or disadvantage depending on the spacing and timing. Also, she has a slide attack with a lot of active frames and it could give frame advantage or disadvantage depending on the timing and spacing. Grave’s projectile has frame disadvantage from close, and lots of frame advantage from far away. There’s a particular distance where it’s exactly +0 (both players are able to do their next move at exactly the same time). That’s something you can actually see on-screen now all the time.

I’m really excited about this feature and I find it useful from the beginner level all the way to the expert level. It was a technical challenge to correctly compute frame advantage in a lot of situations, and it was an aesthetic challenge to make the effects visible enough to see if you care about them, but not overly distracting if you don’t care. Try it out and see if it helps you understand Fantasy Strike more. It’s easier to wrap your mind around a game’s depth when you have the information you need to make gameplay-decisions.

Fantasy Strike is currently available on Steam, here.

Designer Notes Interview, Part 1

Almost two and a half years ago, Soren Johnson did a long, in-depth interview with me and he just released the first part of it. It covers most of my career, including work on Street Fighter HD Remix, Puzzle Fighter, almost Street Fighter 4, Yomi, Codex, and FantasyStrike. We talk a lot about game design too, such as the difference between a player's perspective and a designer's, as well as what "depth" does or doesn't mean. You will even learn what a "kara throw" is in fighting games, if you don't already know.

Designer Notes Episode 41, DAVID SIRLIN - PART 1