The New York Times has a superb article on basketball’s “Triangle offense.” It’s interesting for its exploration of basketball strategy and personalities. What I really found gripping as a designer, though, is its discussion of how much people who understand the Triangle enjoy watching it used.
Other articles have pointed toward the idea that the way to have the most fun as a spectator of a game is to really get its inner workings. The classic example, in my mind, is an article written years ago about a Street Fighter match between Justin Wong and Umehara Daigo. Unfortunately the original seems to have been lost to time, but in brief summary, Umehara knows that Wong wants to win with chip damage. He therefore puts himself at the precise distance to get Wong to use a specific move–and then counters all the parts of that move, one after another in rapid succession, before counter-attacking for the win. As the article pointed out, without an understanding of Umehara’s strategy the match video (found in the summary above) looks like a feat of dexterity, neat but something anyone who’s spent time in practice mode could do; with the necessary understanding, it becomes a one-in-a-million combination of physical and mental achievement that marks out a true master.
Both basketball and Street Fighter are complex games whose strategy is not obvious to the casual observer. Announcers and commentators help bridge that gap, but they can only go as far as they themselves understand; the New York Times article notes that even most basketball professionals can’t explain how the Triangle works, much less pass the knowledge along. I’m left to wonder: what can we do, in-game, to help spectators see what great players know?