Friday, October 17, 2008

Relating Basketball And Final Fantasy, or Welcome To Nerd World

In Nerd World, one can easily waste months of one's life in a peculiar way; role-playing games. Sort of like solving a maze, reading a novel, and watching a movie all at once.

Say you're exploring a cave, lava rivers all over the place, looking for the @#$!%& switch to open the next cave, when the screen blanks and your party's face-to-face with some lizard-looking thing with little CGI flames coming out of its nose.

First thing you do? Get your Offensive Magic user to cast an Ice spell, because in just about every RPG ever made Fire monsters are vulnerable to Ice attacks. You might have your Archer (who's usually a woman even though women don't have the upper body strength to handle a longbow) switch to her Ice arrows before attacking, meaning your half-dead Melee character can use a healing item instead of attacking this turn.

Basically, you're exploiting a mismatch. And RPGers who don't learn to do that don't get to save the world, marry the princess, et cetera. By the same token, basketball teams who don't learn to do that don't win rings. And teams that don't look for that and plan for it don't either.

Look at the history. Dirk underperfoms in playoff series games because smart teams realize that making him underperform is a key to victory. The question isn't "why does Dirk disappear in big games," it's "where's the Plan B so we can get him back in and win anyway."

Back to Nerd World. This cave is under a volcano, which means you're probably going to see a lot of Fire monsters. Opposite magic damage (ice-fire, light-dark, etc) usually does more damage than physical attack. So let's say you set up a party of only magic users. Rip right through that silly cave, right?

Not so fast.

Let's take another look at the fight with the lizard thing. RPG enemies come in groups, so add a couple of ogre-like things. The ogre-like things have red accents on their armor to go with the volcano theme but to your horror they're not writhing in agony under the force of your best Ice magic. At the end of the first round the lizard thing is probably dead, but there's these two ogre-like things still in your way. And did I mention that magic-users are usually very weak in terms of physical defense?

Okay, so ditch the mismatch idea entirely. Sit out your mages and go with the bruisers. Then what happens is, after the ogres've been dispatched, the lizard thing nails you with a heavy-duty Fire spell that wipes out your team.

Most RPGers have a set of characters they like to use in hostile territory, based around the melee-magic-healer trinity. The trap there is making sure all your characters get enough experience to work through character-specific boss fights. RPGs practically beg you to outsmart yourself in that regard, making you throw your second-stringers into fights they can't handle to make up for hours and hours of only playing with your main guys.

After a while -- and with the help of strategy guides -- setting up a balanced party while still making sure everyone gets the experience they need becomes a habit. And heyhey! You've just completed a beginner's course on tactical thinking. Know your enemy, know their style, be flexible enough to get the most out of your team, make allowances for your weaknesses, commit to improving and upgrading, waste nothing, and never lose sight of your major goals.

Which, I think, is why the Organization had to make the trade for Jason Kidd. Physically he's hitting the end of his useful life but there's nothing wrong with his brain or his playmaking abilities. And those are what Dallas absolutely need. RPGers have the luxury of memory cards, strategy guides, a Pause button, and a game that doesn't adjust to keep beating you. Athletes don't have that. Of the active point guards, Jason Kidd's probably the best at Making The Most Of Everything (though Deron Williams might pass him this year).

And there's something else. I'll let you in on a Nerd World secret. Apart from healing magic, the most valuable spell you can have in a major fight is . . . Haste. Haste speeds up the clock for your characters. Depending on the game, it can amount to your party taking three turns to the boss monster's one. Jason Kidd is our Haste spell. Have a coach behind him that can spot and exploit mismatches -- jury's still out on that -- and . . . I think we've got a shot at it, I really do. Our seed won't be a high one -- this is the Western Conference and with the problematic exception of the Suns (Steve Nash is another Haste spell on sneakers) nobody's downgraded -- but we'll be there.

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