Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

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Frozen-bubble II

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After a recent text relating to frozen-bubble ([1]), I have spent some time actually playing the game again.

During play, a number of other observations (mostly: re-)occurred to me, many with a wider applicability, including:*

*While I give examples, understanding the examples is not necessary to understand the individual point. Note that levels mentioned are not necessarily the best illustrations, just ones found through quick checks. Moreover, note that while levels with higher numbers tend to be harder, individual levels can deviate considerably, e.g. in that level 70 is likely the hardest, while some of the 9x levels are reasonably easy.

  1. An intensive involvement with a certain activity, including computer games, can be a great source of self-knowledge, e.g. how one reacts when, what errors one tends to make, how one handles stress, … Similarly, it can be a form of training for at least some of the discovered problems. I have learned particularly much about myself from playing “Battle of Wesnoth”. This strengthens my opinion that it is important to build depth first and breadth second (cf. e.g. [2]).

    (I strongly suspect that something similar is behind some Japanese activities that straddle the border between activity and mediation.)

  2. Looking at levels, there is a difference between “average” difficulty and difficulty when having good or bad luck—something notable in many other games too. Some levels are just plain difficult, irrespective of luck (unless it is absolutely outrageous), while others are easy or difficult depending on random events. For instance, level 65 can be completed with two single shots—if the first two (randomly colored) balls in the “gun” happen to be orange. (And if the player happens to have good nerves…) On the other hand, with a more typical series of balls, it can be quite hard—and with “poor” balls it can rival level 70.

    Level 86, in contrast, is very easy on a “normal” day, with even somewhat reasonable balls, but can turn into a nightmare when no blue shot appears over a prolonged time.

    Similarly, an easier level can be less tolerant of errors than a harder level, especially in the first few shots—something that seems to correlate mostly with how low down the balls reach at the beginning of the level. (Something that might be a partial explanation for the “cursed” games from [1]: An early screw-up and a bit of poor luck leads to a first failure, I make a second attempt with a little more adrenaline, and see a repeat, etc.)

  3. The best sign of greater skill is not manifested through being able to complete a level at all, but to be able to do so with more consistency and even when playing poorly (relative a base level). Even a comparatively poor player can get by level 70 with the right mixture of luck and “being in the zone”—but the better player is much more likely to do so with few attempts.
  4. The best approach to a certain level can depend on the amount of luck. For instance, look at level 65 again: If orange balls appear fairly early, the best approach is typically to just avoid blocking the orange “line of fire”, and then to let the two orange balls kill half the field each. However, if orange balls come later, the best approach is to play the level more-or-less like any other. The problem: The set of balls to fire is (excepting the next two) not known in advance, making a perfect choice of approach impossible, which forces the player to find some compromise between using an approach suitable for more likely eventualities, hedging his bets, and risking failure when sufficiently “wrong” balls appear. (In addition to, obviously, adapting as the level develops.) In the case of a sufficiently hard level, where more than one try is usually needed anyway, it might even pay to play under the assumption of a certain set of balls, and then play the level repeatedly until this set actually does appear. (But I have no recollection of actually having done so myself.)
  5. Some of what I have learned about game play has had an accidental component, in that I have seen the fired ball do something* unexpected, which I have later been able to duplicate deliberately.

    *A trivial example is the first time I saw a ball bounce of a wall—likely on the first or second level of my very first session. A more notable is firing a ball between other balls, when there is a one ball space, but even a slight imprecision causes the ball to “stick” rather than pass through. A quite surprising one is that, on level 98, either one of the two lower “bunches” can be taken down with a single shot, even in the state at the beginning of the game (assuming that the ball to fire is white respectively blue).

  6. A shift of perspective has often led to an unexpected, temporary improvement in level of play, e.g. playing with the game at an unaccustomed screen position*. This might be a result of increased concentration and less self-confidence. I have similarly made the experience that I can (in general) work quite well when a bit tipsy, because I am more focused than normally—I know that I am not at the peak of my mental capacity and try harder to compensate. (Not to be confused with the misjudgment of ability that can also follow drink. Of course, the best approach is to be perfectly sober and focused…)

    *There is a full-screen mode, but I prefer to play with a smaller “windowed” game that covers just a quarter-or-so of the screen area.

    This overlaps with e.g. a text on how easy tasks can be harder than hard tasks.

  7. In at least one case, which shot is hard and which easy has changed places: In my early days, I had great problems with shooting a ball through a one-ball gap—normally, it just got stuck in the gap. Today, I have great problems making it stick—it often goes through even when I want it to stick. (Note that getting through is what I want to do in the clear majority of cases, which makes this the more accustomed shot and might also cause an unconscious thought of a sticky shot being poor.)

    A similar effect is present on the entire level 39: With some experience and skill, I could easily shot off the most of the elongated bunch with my first shot by bouncing a ball on the wall and into the right “slot”, and be done in a very short time. With much more experience and skill, I find myself constantly missing the easy-on-paper shots involved, making it take longer than in the past. (But I cannot recall the last time I actually failed on this level.)

    (Through an unrelated effect, I am less likely to get through level 70 today, despite being a better player: with less experience, I usually played it again and again until I got through; today, I rarely bother to give it more than a single try.)

  8. While playing faster is usually good, and being able to play faster with quality is a sign of greater proficiency, play can easily become too fast: Choosing a better shot and reducing the risk of failure just a little can have a major impact on results, especially because (a) the effects can accumulate, (b) there is often a great difference in value between a great choice and a merely good one. If an increase in speed leads to worse play, this can often overcome the gain through having more shots per time frame.
  9. When playing for a longer time, especially on easier levels, I occasionally zoom out mentally, and have my thoughts wondering while playing. To some degree, this is a problem, because my play suffers; to some degree, it can be a very nice, relaxing, meditative state.

    On rare occasions, I can even lose the focus of my eyes on the game—and continue to play with no obvious problem. (Possibly, because movements are detected more by the “fuzzy” parts of human vision.)

  10. Especially when playing fast, decisions are not necessarily made based on the playing field as it is but as it will be in a few shots time. This is mostly good, because it allows faster decisions; but can lead to complications like a missed shot causing one or two other poor shots, e.g. because they aim at a target that is not reachable. It can also lead to gross errors like shooting the one ball where the next should have gone, because the brain “jumps the gun”.
  11. Deficits in one area can be partially made up by another, e.g. in that (for frozen-bubble) a beginning player can compensate a lack of precision shooting with a better strategy. This can even promote a better understanding of a level, and I do in part find myself having a lesser understanding of how some levels work now than I did at earlier times–despite having played them more often.
  12. Skipping lower levels because they are too little of a challenge can backfire by removing a great training opportunity. With the greater security margins, a player can try out a lot of hard shots with little pressure, and will not have to improvise them for the first time when there is pressure. In some ways, lower levels can be seen as training sharp-shooting while higher levels train speed-shooting.

    To boot, the lower tempo and lesser stress can be a very pleasant change.

  13. General ideas for good tactics apply differently to different levels. For instance, many levels benefit from “going deep”, trying to hit ball clusters far away from the player (e.g. level 70 or, when having early orange balls, level 65), while others benefit more from trying to hit balls close to the player and to work oneself upwards (including level 65 without orange balls).

    (Not to be confused with those levels, where going deep simply is not possible or only possible after having already made considerable progress.)

The above does not include observations on good approaches to the game it self, e.g. the benefit of having a free center of the field, or things that the game makers could have done better, e.g. by not having that annoying, unskippable animation after a loss—for the simple reason that this is not a text about frozen-bubble, just on experiences and thoughts caused by playing frozen-bubble.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 29, 2019 at 10:03 pm


with one comment

Looking at my backlog, I find a few thoughts on “frozen-bubble”*, that I originally thought too short and uninteresting to publish. However, they do in part give a different perspective on things that I have written about tennis** (notably item 2 of [1] vs. item 2 below), so what the hell:

*An arcade-style game that I have played reasonably often over the years, especially since it comes for free with Debian. The exact details of the game are not that interesting for this text, but involve firing balls of varying colors onto other balls of the same color to eliminate them from the playing field, before they reach the ground.

**Especially because (a) I have never played tennis, (b) the two have in common that the player has to make many very fast decisions based on incomplete information and then execute those decisions with a high precision. (However, frozen-bubble is likely considerably more extreme, and likely more akin to playing at the net than at the base-line.)

  1. Situations often arise when I am under extreme pressure for some time, where even one false shot will virtually ensure a loss. When (and if…) those situations are overcome, there is a very great danger that I lose my concentration and/or become over-confident and thereby get myself into trouble again. Similarly, I have often had a feeling of “I have as good as won already”, even without preceding pressure, and then somehow ended up losing. (Vice versa, I have often had the opposite feeling and the opposite result.)

    This is possibly most interesting in light of the constant accusations on the Internet that a certain player “choked”, as e.g. with Federer in the recent Wimbledon final. Might it be that certain-looking-victories-after-a-hard-fight are not lost due to e.g. nerves—but do to loss of concentration or over-confidence in the unconscious belief that the victory is already finalized? This would be understandable in someone very used to winning, like Federer, and matches the above final very well—a long, long fight, and then two championship points that he both burned. (With the remaining items, I will leave potential applicability to tennis as an exercise for the reader.)

  2. It is often the “safety shots” that go awry. Indeed, I do not know how many times I paused, thought “I am no hurry at the moment, let’s go for safety”, and then missed a normally trivial shot—sometimes in such a manner that I soon found myself in hurry.
  3. In contrast, when playing under high stress, I can often pull off a series of shots that I would have considered near impossible as a beginner—and at a rate and with a decision time that I would have considered impossible. When having no time to think, the brain can do some really impressive things, and training certainly pays. (But do not construe this as “I am a great player”—I suspect that there are those who would still make me look like a beginner.)

    A wider lesson, well matching my observations in other areas, is that training and experience does not necessarily or solely result in the ability to reach better decisions—it is often a matter of reaching the same decision faster and with less effort.

  4. I have often found that I am a noticeably better player after a prolonged break, e.g. in that I play very intensely for two or three days, take a six month break, and then play at a higher level than before the break. (This is a fairly typical rhythm for me and frozen-bubble.) Likely, the brain has received enough stimulus to, in some sense, re-wire it self, and after the break the re-wiring remains.

    This is not to be confused with the drop of ability that can occur simply through playing for too long without interruption and how this drop disappears after a break or a good nights’ sleep.

  5. There are situations when the game seems cursed, when I suddenly put three, four, or five important shots just half-a-step off, whereby I not only miss the benefit from making the shots, but also often found that important later shots are blocked. Worse, I have sometimes gone through level after level in the first attempt—and then suddenly become stuck on one level for five to ten attempts, where I would normally go through in one attempt or, on a bad day, two or three.* This can usually be resolved through just taking a quick break, clearing my head, and re-starting—but doing that is hard. My instinctive reaction is just to try again and again, with a continual decrease in both my mood and my playing level. Often, the issue is not resolved by success in the umpteenth attempt—but by me just closing the game before I lose my temper.

    *Not to be confused with getting stuck on a hard level—if I got through level 70 in five attempts I would consider it a good day… Indeed, usually I give it one attempt, and then just skip to level 71. (With the side-effect that my mastery of level 70 likely trails that of other levels, even difficulty aside.)

  6. It is very easy to “blame the game” when things go wrong, at least in the moment. When I gain some distance, I usually see what I did wrong, which has been an important real-world lesson: Do not blame others for everything that goes wrong in a blanket manner. Instead think things through and blame them for the problems that they have actually caused. (Which is plenty enough…)

    However, in my defense, there are a few quirks that can cause a loss out of mere bad luck, notably when a needed color does not manifest for ten rounds or an “extinct” color is re-born again and again at the end of the game. (Players will understand what I mean.)

Written by michaeleriksson

July 27, 2019 at 10:53 pm