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Offline up2ng

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Efficiency -- Some Basic Techniques
« on: August 02, 2013, 08:50:46 PM »
I decided that the Basic Strategy section of these forums needs some love, so I wanted to try to write about something basic, yet useful, and seldom discussed.  This is what I came up with, which I feel is sort of somewhere between basic and advanced -- it's the sort of thing that players begin paying more attention to when they get to an intermediate level with the game (or at least they should be!).  Feel free to discuss.

Because of the nature of how the scoring works in Donkey Kong, including points gained between screens from the Bonus Timer, a player's scoring pace is derived from two simple sources:  The Bonus Timer, and "beating the clock" techniques, tactics and strategies.  These two concepts are somewhat complimentary -- in both cases, improving your scoring pace means playing the game with more urgency.  You are either trying to rack up points as quickly as possible by beating the clock by as much as possible, or you are trying to "conserve" as much Bonus Timer as possible while scoring the same amount of points.  There is a word that often describes the attitude of the player who pushes the envelope in these areas -- aggressive.  But, to me, there is another word that often better describes the level of execution of the player, not just in terms of tactics and strategies, but in terms of basic techniques as well . . .

-- Efficiency --

In simplistic terms, efficiency means that you are covering more ground in less time, or scoring more points with less effort (a smaller number of moves) and so on.  In a shooting game, for example, we might think in terms of hit percentages.  But, in a platformer like Donkey Kong, efficiency can be somewhat less obvious -- but make no mistake, being more efficient with your movements results in a better scoring rate, and it happens in ways that are not always clear.  These are the "hidden points" that can be more and more elusive as you try for higher and higher scores.  I'll talk about a few techniques that people should think more about when working on their games while trying to stick to the basic / intermediate levels of play.  I'm sure there are plenty of other examples which range from very basic to highly advanced, but here are a few to get the ball rolling:

Cornering

I almost never see "cornering" in DK discussed explicity.  It seems to be something that experienced players "just do" after a while without thinking about it.  What does this mean?  Just what it sounds like.  It's moving around corners within the game.  More specifically, it's moving onto and off of ladders -- the only way to make a 90 degree change in direction in the game.

As many Pac-Man players know, good cornering is essential to moving through the game efficiently -- in fact, even on levels where a ghost moves significantly faster than Pac-Man, if Pac-Man moves through a tight section of the maze and travels around a lot of corners as efficiently as possible, he can actually outrun the ghost in that section because Pac-Man is capable of moving around the corners much more efficiently than the ghosts.  Basically, several pixels along the pathway are "skipped" while moving around the corner, essentially "speeding up" the character.  Of course, in Pac-Man, moving around a corner efficiently is somewhat easy since the character moves forward on his own and the player can "lead" into the corner by changing the direction of the input way in advance so that the character will take the corner at the earliest opportunity.  We have no such luck in Donkey Kong -- and yet, there is a similar concept at play when climbing onto a ladder.

When climbing onto a ladder in Donkey Kong, we do not have to be located on the exact pixel horizontally which contains the ladder.  This is by design -- think about how frustrated a player would be if you had to turn your joystick upwards ONLY if you were standing exactly on the correct pixel!  Think about how difficult it is to unplug a rivet while reversing directions without dying.  This is what we would be going through constantly every time we wanted to climb up a ladder.  So, the programmers allowed for some leeway, a range of possible locations which would result in climbing up the ladder if the player used the upward input.

As strong players, we can take advantage of this by consistantly turning up a ladder slightly before actually arriving at the ladder.  This can save us several frames EVERY time we successfully perform this technique.  It doesn't seem like much, but it DOES add up over time -- it adds up to saved Bonus Time on some screen types, and just generally more efficient play on other screen types.  For example, on a barrel screen, we might turn up a ladder efficiently and just barely make it to the top in time to jump over an oncoming barrel -- otherwise we would have waited and the delay would cause us to miss the barrel completely for a loss in points.  Or, we might corner our way DOWN a ladder JUST as a barrel is moving over the edge of our girder -- efficient cornering means that the barrel stays on the structure and we can rejump it for extra points, if we are a bit late with our cornering the barrel rolls off the structure and is lost.  On a Pie Factory, good cornering might enable us to finish the screen with 6800 Bonus whereas it's much more common to finish with 6700.  Really good cornering on the final turn up onto the adjustable ladder enables us to worry MUCH less about getting hit in the foot by a pie entering the screen a short distance away.  On the elevator screens, this becomes absolutely essential in getting a "good jump" up Pauline's ladder, enabling us to outrun a much wider range of trailing springs than we otherwise would if we are turning this corner poorly.

Beware, however, that although the programmers clearly allowed for some flexibility when climbing onto a ladder, they failed quite miserably in doing the same when exiting a ladder -- especially at the top of a ladder.  Many players who are used to other platformer games and begin to play Donkey Kong will lose lots and lots of lives due to "getting stuck on the ladder".  This is due to a player's natural tendency to try to corner this turn efficiently and the game simply does not allow it.  You need to be completely off of a ladder before trying to run along the next platform.  Learning to do this consistantly with the best possible efficiency is just as important as good cornering -- every time you get stuck and then have to make the extra inputs required to "get unstuck" before moving on, you are costing yourself frames, and ultimately points.

Pay closer attention when turning corners and watch your scores rise.


. . . . .

This post is already getting much longer than I thought it would so I'll have to break this topic into multiple posts.  More basic techniques to discuss include:

early jumping
hammer grabbing
claiming points
jump steering
starting up a ladder


Stay tuned.
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Offline hchien

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Re: Efficiency -- Some Basic Techniques
« Reply #1 on: August 03, 2013, 07:44:07 AM »
This is a great and very overlooked topic.  I find that my pace often improves without me changing anything in my game.  I also attribute it to "efficiency" although I honestly have not put in as much thought to exactly how I'm being more efficient as you have. 

When I first started grabbing the bottom hammer (no grouping), my pace was around 980-990K.  After a few months, it was 1.02-1.03M and now it's about 1.05-1.06M.  Most of that was just by being efficient.

Anyhow another topic to consider is:

jump NO steer

Sometimes what you don't steer is just as important as what you do steer. 
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corey.chambers

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Re: Efficiency -- Some Basic Techniques
« Reply #2 on: August 03, 2013, 09:19:28 AM »
Wow! Very nice Hank. I am around 995K with my pace. Just have to unlock this efficiency stuff and I won't have to worry about falling short ever again. :)

Offline stella_blue

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Re: Efficiency -- Some Basic Techniques
« Reply #3 on: August 03, 2013, 02:50:40 PM »

The only situation I can think of where efficient cornering can backfire is the collection of prizes on the rivet board.  There have been many occasions where, if my execution is too "tight", I miss the umbrella and/or hat completely, and have to go back for them.

I'm interested to learn what "claiming points" is all about.

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Offline VON

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Re: Efficiency -- Some Basic Techniques
« Reply #4 on: August 03, 2013, 03:08:06 PM »
"Claiming points" refers to pressing left or right midair to ensure you are awarded the proper points for jumping over or near objects.  It may seem like an elementary concept, but the truth is, it's not good to just hit directional inputs all willy-nilly and sometimes it's better to perform a "clean jump" than having to "claim" and inadvertently steer barrels.

Offline stella_blue

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Re: Efficiency -- Some Basic Techniques
« Reply #5 on: August 03, 2013, 03:47:05 PM »
"Claiming points" refers to pressing left or right midair to ensure you are awarded the proper points for jumping over or near objects.

Oh, I see.  It's another example of being familiar with an element of gameplay, but oblivious to the generally accepted phrase that describes it (much like "Matrix Smash" a while back).  I suspect I'll encounter a few more down the road.

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Offline up2ng

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Re: Efficiency -- Some Basic Techniques
« Reply #6 on: August 19, 2013, 02:31:12 PM »
Early Jumping

Somewhere along the way I made a conscious decision to execute all of my jumps earlier.  Now it has become second nature for me, but there was a time while I was improving my game that I decided to try making this small, often overlooked adjustment and it has made a huge difference.  When I watch other people play these days, this is a pretty big factor for me in subjectively determining how good of a player someone is at this game.  It's one of those things you can see by watching that you can't quite put your finger on even though it's apparent that "there's a difference between people".

There are quite a few places in the game where jumping early becomes useful and/or important.  Many of those are on barrel screens, but it comes up in other places as well.  For example, on elevator screens, understanding how to jump earlier onto and off of the elevators will improve efficiency in completing the screen and will help you avoid errors that can lead to death which can be easily avoided through crisper technique.  On the up elevator, there is no need to wait until the elevator is level with the umbrella platform before jumping out to get this prize -- and if you are efficient enough you can go get the prize and then continue across the top on the very next elevator, but if you miss that one and have to wait for the next one, the fireball might come into play and cause further delays.  These add up to lost points due to nothing but a lack of efficiency and technique.  When jumping across the top, you should be jumping ONTO the up elevator early as well (which requires additional consideration of horizontal positioning so you don't hit your head on the elevator above you).  If you are too late getting onto the elevator, you run the risk of hitting your head on the ceiling or dying from too long of a fall on the decent.  At the bottom left corner, if you abort going for the middle prize, early jumping will make it MUCH easier for you to circle around to the bottom and back onto the elevator with maximum efficiency.  Jumping too late onto the down elevator can lead to a long fall death or it can make the resulting shortcut jump much more difficult and awkward.  Early jumping onto this elevator makes the top shelf jump possible.

When it comes to the barrel screen, early jumping over barrels can range from mildly useful to absolutely critical.  It's also almost always more efficient AND safer.  All barrels roll at the same, consistent rate.  There is a relatively wide range of possibilities for being able to safely clear a single barrel, from right next to it where you barely make it over upon takeoff to quite a good distance away from it where you barely clear it before landing. Remember, in DK, once Jumpman executes a broad jump, you no longer have any control over the character until he lands (unlike the same character's skills in the NES game Super Mario Bros. in which you can swerve his trajectory while he is in the air).  For most players, this is the main cause of death -- something unexpected happens in front of you and you try desperately to turn and retreat the other way ... but your character is already in the air and careening headlong right into the hazard. 

You can often tell a beginning player by the fact that he will often execute broad jumps late -- from right next to the barrel and landing with miles of room to spare on the other side of it.  This is a natural tendency -- the immediate obstacle is the oncoming barrel and the player wants to REALLY make sure that he is able to clear it so he performs the jump late.  Also, when you watch Jumpman's trajectory, it looks like he doesn't cover much distance in the air so it seems like you need to be near a barrel before jumping -- but that player is not taking into account that the barrel is also moving towards Jumpman (at an even faster rate), making the "effective distance" for clearance of a barrel nearly 250% longer than the distance that Jumpman can jump.

Even many intermediate and advanced players will have as their default a jumping technique over a single barrel where the barrel is rolling exactly underneath Jumpman when he reaches the apex of his jump -- meaning, the distance from the barrel upon takeoff is approximately equal to the distance from the barrel upon landing.  THIS IS STILL POOR TECHNIQUE!  It would seem logical that the "safest" way to jump over a single barrel is to maximize the amount of clearance both in front and behind, thereby giving yourself the most "room for error".  This is a fallacy.  For all but the complete novice players, the main danger posed by a single barrel is NOT the barrel itself -- it's the fact that you commit yourself to being in the air when OTHER, often unexpected dangers behind that barrel quickly present themselves while you are getting yourself further and further out of position to be able to deal with them.  So, it turns out that the SAFEST way to jump over a single barrel is to maximize the distance TO the barrel while in the air and to MINIMIZE the distance BEHIND the barrel before landing.  This gives you to most time and space to prepare yourself for the NEXT obstacle.

There are other situations where the next obstacle is KNOWN, and NOT unexpected where early jumping becomes necessary.  Suppose you have a single oncoming barrel followed by a small gap followed by a spaced pair of barrels which will require a broad jump.  Now suppose that if you perform a back jump over the lead barrel you might be crossing over a ladder with traffic over your head that might come down the ladder and kill you.  Instead, perform an early jump over the lead barrel to shorten the distance lost behind it, giving yourself enough room to execute a quick broad jump over the next obstacle.

It's important to understand that early jumping applies not just to broad jumping, but standing jumping as well, as the above example illustrates.  It's critically important to learn and practice how much spacing is necessary to clear a barrel BOTH when broad jumping AND when performing a standing jump.  In addition (and somewhat related), it's important to really understand the maximum width spacing of multiple barrels that you can clear with a broad jump AND with a standing jump.  When in tight situations, look for opportunities to perform standing jumps over multiple barrels as this will naturally minimize the distance BEHIND the jumped objects, usually giving yourself better position and spacing to tackle the NEXT obstacle. 

In addition to safety concerns, there are also many efficiency advantages to routinely early jumping barrels.  For example, an early broad jump of a barrel might land you right at the bottom of a ladder that you can quickly corner and climb just before the next oncoming barrel approaches.  If you had performed a late broad jump, you would have landed beyond the ladder, requiring you to backtrack slightly and by that time the opportunity to climb up that ladder has closed, causing a delay (and costing you points).  Even if the "position" were adjusted by pausing and then late jumping just to the bottom of the ladder, there is just enough lost TIME where ALL objects on the screen have continued moving where you might STILL lose the opportunity to climb that ladder in that situation.  This is just one simple example.  There are MANY MANY ways that early jumping on barrel screens increases efficiency which leads directly or indirectly to gaining more points on that screen.  Just a small amount of points here and there on each screen can add up to quite a lot of points by the end of the game.

Start paying attention to WHEN, WHERE, and HOW you are performing your jumps and watch your scores increase.
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Offline mikegmi2

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Re: Efficiency -- Some Basic Techniques
« Reply #7 on: August 20, 2013, 04:45:11 AM »
The first time I instinctively backjumped 3 tightly spaced barrels in a row was when I realized how important 'early jumping' was.  The closer you can land behind a barrel after jumping it, the better = more time = more real estate to work with on upcomming obstacles.  Great write up Dean.
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Offline LMDAVE

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Re: Efficiency -- Some Basic Techniques
« Reply #8 on: August 20, 2013, 06:08:40 AM »
Good topic. Efficiency is a big part of my game. Keep moving forward. More running jumps. less standing jumps.
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Offline marinomitch13

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Re: Efficiency -- Some Basic Techniques
« Reply #9 on: August 20, 2013, 11:25:26 PM »
Good topic. Efficiency is a big part of my game. Keep moving forward. More running jumps. less standing jumps.

More running jumps is not necessarily the most efficient in terms of pressing for more points. Obviously, there are places in which each type of jump would be more efficient, but, in general, running jumps are actually more risky, and (assuming you don't constantly execute running jumps while either 1) not steering, or 2) steering often in the opposite direct of your jump) will cause inefficient steering of barrels. At the very least, in general, running jumps complexify many situations where standing/back jumps would be more preferable or simpler.

Context will ultimately be key. Since pressing boards efficiently is not always correlated with scaling the board quickly, and since running jumps are actually not always the best way to even scale boards quickly, it does not follow that more running jumps entails more efficiency with respect to pressing.
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Offline stella_blue

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Re: Efficiency -- Some Basic Techniques
« Reply #10 on: August 21, 2013, 06:49:43 AM »
Obviously, there are places in which each type of jump would be more efficient, but, in general, running jumps are actually more risky ...

As I read Dave's post, one situation immediately came to mind:

You're on the 4th girder, running left toward the 2 ladders.  You decide to clear an oncoming, rolling barrel with a running jump.  As soon as you've committed, a wild barrel is released.  You're in the air, completely vulnerable, and no evasive maneuver is possible.  I've lost quite a few lives in that predicament, where a standing jump (or two) would have been a safer alternative.

« Last Edit: August 21, 2013, 06:52:07 AM by stella_blue »
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Offline up2ng

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Re: Efficiency -- Some Basic Techniques
« Reply #11 on: August 21, 2013, 07:46:44 AM »
You're on the 4th girder, running left toward the 2 ladders.  You decide to clear an oncoming, rolling barrel with a running jump.  As soon as you've committed, a wild barrel is released.  You're in the air, completely vulnerable, and no evasive maneuver is possible.

Unless you're watching Kong's cycle during this time and performing broad jumps here only when it's safe!  But that's definitely not a topic for the basic strategy forum . . .   ;-)
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Offline stella_blue

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Re: Efficiency -- Some Basic Techniques
« Reply #12 on: August 21, 2013, 09:02:07 AM »
Unless you're watching Kong's cycle during this time and performing broad jumps here only when it's safe!  But that's definitely not a topic for the basic strategy forum . . .   ;-)

I'm generally more aware of Kong's animation when I'm watching someone else's stream (usually yours or Dave's).  In those cases, where I'm essentially "playing the game with my eyes", my overall board vision is much better than when I'm at the controls.

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Offline mikegmi2

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Re: Efficiency -- Some Basic Techniques
« Reply #13 on: August 21, 2013, 10:14:42 AM »
You're on the 4th girder, running left toward the 2 ladders.  You decide to clear an oncoming, rolling barrel with a running jump.  As soon as you've committed, a wild barrel is released.  You're in the air, completely vulnerable, and no evasive maneuver is possible.

Unless you're watching Kong's cycle during this time and performing broad jumps here only when it's safe!  But that's definitely not a topic for the basic strategy forum . . .   ;-)

I think that scenario was the final piece to my "Donkey Kong traps that will kill you but aren't actually traps if you look ahead for them and avoid them" puzzle.
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Offline LMDAVE

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Re: Efficiency -- Some Basic Techniques
« Reply #14 on: August 21, 2013, 10:38:01 AM »
Good topic. Efficiency is a big part of my game. Keep moving forward. More running jumps. less standing jumps.

More running jumps is not necessarily the most efficient in terms of pressing for more points. Obviously, there are places in which each type of jump would be more efficient, but, in general, running jumps are actually more risky, and (assuming you don't constantly execute running jumps while either 1) not steering, or 2) steering often in the opposite direct of your jump) will cause inefficient steering of barrels. At the very least, in general, running jumps complexify many situations where standing/back jumps would be more preferable or simpler.

Context will ultimately be key. Since pressing boards efficiently is not always correlated with scaling the board quickly, and since running jumps are actually not always the best way to even scale boards quickly, it does not follow that more running jumps entails more efficiency with respect to pressing.

Well, I'm not saying every time do forward jump, but when you have the option it should always be forward running to keep moving. Unless you're in an extremely risky situation, taking risk is what gives the payout in this game. If you're going from point A to point B, if you stand jump certain barrels vs forward jump, when you get to you next destination you'll lose some unnecessary timer points. Another good example is, when you're climbing up a ladder and a barrel is approaching, most will just stand jump the barrel, and in some cases you have to, but if you do a left/right jump over it, you just added to your efficiency on the board.

True, the majority of what I speak is beneficial in speed running. But, even during normal pressing game, you can still do the same pressing while banking a few extra bonus pts.

If they actually tracked a speedrun killscreen, I'd like to go for it.
« Last Edit: August 21, 2013, 10:40:30 AM by LMDAVE »
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