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» Psychological Warfare: A Primer

Written by Shinano formerly of CNCUniverse.Com, now closed. Thanks to the staff of CNCUniverse.Com for allowing us to host this, the staff of CNCSeries.Com are only responsible for addition and full credit goes to CNCUniverse.Com. (In other words: cheers Steve & Mark.)

Disclaimer: I do not claim to be the end all and be all strategist, especially not with psychological warfare. This guide is focused towards beginners who want to give themselves an edge on their attackers. I try not to focus too much on particular unit strategies, as there are already a wealth of guides available on those subjects.

I know many of you have you own unique tips and tricks, as you should. Feel free to constructively comment on this article. I look forward to hearing some tips on this subject from other gamers.

PS I don't give away ALL my secrets. There's many more for you to discover, have fun!

An important addition to any warrior's arsenal is the ability to unbalance his opponent. Especially in the gaming world, the armchair general's army doesn't have any unique advantages over his opponents, unless the game has been poorly balanced. Thus, the sole deciding factor in the game is how well you can out-think and out-react your opponent. This is where psychological warfare comes into play. If properly used, you can magnify your opponent's weaknesses to a surprisingly large extent.

The best part is that psychological warfare is actually fairly easy, even the most novice player can institute some basic strategies that will tip the scale of balance in their favor. As an example, The former lead designer of Tiberian Sun, Erik Yeo, said that if he wanted to make a player feel uneasy, he would have them start off in the lower right section of the map. The players were so used to starting off in the top left, that they would actually be more cautious and more nervous than if they had been placed there. Clearly then, one of the most basic tenets of psychological warfare is to put a person outside their usual comfort zone. This can be accomplished by making them feel either uncomfortable, or too comfortable. I'm getting ahead of myself however, first things first.

Step One: Sizing up the Mark
A good soldier always knows his opponent. Does he have a fondness for turtling? Does he like to take risks? What's his skill level? All these are important pieces of information. However, many times much of this is not available. If (s)he just happens to join your game, you're a little hard pressed to know their gaming history. However, rank is easily available if you're playing a ladder game. Check them out. Do they play often? What's their w/l record? A history of poor sportsmanship? All these can be found out within a few seconds.

Also before you begin, chat him or her up a little. Ask where they're from, how old they are, male or female, how they're doing today, whatever. Believe it or not, a lot of this information may come in handy later. Depending on your gameplan (see below), you may wish to appear belligerent, friendly, or disinterested.

If it's a clan game, ask to watch one of their matches beforehand. You'll more than likely notice minute flaws in their strategy that might not occur to you when you're under duress (ie in a match against them). Take notes on their playing styles, who seems to be the leader if it's more than a 1 on 1 game, who seems to be an easy target. Information gathering is the key to this step, write it all down if you don't have the memory for it. You'll thank yourself later.

Step Two: Gameplan
Depending on the situation and game, you might have weeks to decide this with a bunch of buddies, or you could be deciding it as you stare at the loading screen. Every successful gamer has a plan. Your movements should all be goal oriented. This sounds like some sort of buzzword bingo, but I assure you it's not. If you jump from idea to idea, choosing one type of gun or producing one sort of unit just because you feel like it, you're doomed. Well, duh, you say, my goal is to win. No, your goal is how you're going to win. Whether it be tank rush, sniping, what have you, you need to commit yourself to this type of plan, and then make it happen. This is not to say that you shouldn't be flexible. Becoming too set in your ways is equally as deadly. If you notice your opponent's base is a tank graveyard, perhaps you'd better consider planes or naval vessels instead. Be flexible when you need to, not when you feel like it.

This helps set up your frame of mind. Psychological warfare is all about who is more in control of their mind. You must be of a clear mind, no distractions like girlfriends, food, hunger, TV, etc. Be in a comfortable spot, but not too comfortable. Myself, I play in my favorite chair, I've got a mousepad and computer setup that I adore. I play in my room with no distractions. I'm used to every sound outside. You should try to be the same. One other thing, get used to talking while playing the game. Whether via Roger Wilco, or just typing, you should become completely comfortable banging out a few sentences while waiting for your war factory to build, or waiting for a mark to come into your sniper scope.

Now that you've got your game plan, decide how you want to appear to the other player. You could be friendly, or you could be a total prick. You can feign being a total newbie, or a seasoned veteran. Reckless, or too careful. All these will affect how he plays against you. Now that you're at the pinnacle of your readiness, let's work on making your opponent a debilitated shell of his former self.

Step Three: Modes of Play
You're all set, in the zone, feeling your chi, as it were. Now if you're lucky, your opponent is not. But we can't depend on luck. You've already sized up your mark, and you know how you want to appear to them. So start talking to them right away. As soon as you have downtime where you're not actively clicking away or anything, strike up a conversation. As noted above, you should be very comfortable doing this, and it should be a routine for you. More than likely, your opponent will not be. Either used to playing against the computer or those who don't talk but play, just your messages in his ears or on his screen will throw him off just a bit. Now we diverge to two paths, either you're nice to him/her, or you're not.

What are the advantages to being nice? Well for starters, if you feign being both nice and a newbie, your opponent will probably give you a little leeway, unless he's a total prick. He might also be a little lax about base defenses and the like. Use this tactic for opponents that are softies, and it's always a good card to play. Watch out for the complete pricks though. You can also feign being a veteran and nice, however this will not gain you any sort of tactical advantage. Your opponent will be extra sharp, though he may not be as aggressive. Still, don't expect him to let his guard down.

Now that you've decided you want to be that sweet and sugary newbie, make sure you appear to be one. Make sure not to swear. Be polite. Perhaps charge some tanks with some humvees or something similarly foolish. Just make sure your opponent doesn't get a good chance to peer into your base. Either that or make sure he isn't exploring the whole map. Amass your forces in a location that he cannot see, all the while appearing to blunder around. Make sure you keep him amused/pitying you enough to make sure he doesn't get tired of it and just wipe you out. When it comes down to it, your strike had better at least cripple him, as he will not be amused that you've led him along. This means a single weighted blow, aka heavy armour. No surgical strikes here, unless they can cripple a large detachment of his forces. Don't build any superweapons unless you're sure they'll go unnoticed (and in RA2, they won't go unnoticed). One final thought on being nice, make sure they're buying it, and don't be afraid to switch to being a total pain in the ass. This can be a very useful tactic to enrage an opponent. Be very nice and calm, and suddenly start a shouting match over some petty thing. This is a pretty good way to piss someone off, as long as it's not a one way argument (ie don't just start shouting, start off calmly arguing, and work your way up). Being mean can be a very useful thing too. Here though, you have many shades of meanness, and you can choose between being a veteran or a newbie.

If you want to be a newbie and a prick, it's probably going to make him feel like sweeping you off the map right away. If you go this way, make sure your base is a virtual tar pit for enemy units. Offense isn't as effective as defense here. Thing is, make sure he doesn't scout too much of your base ahead of time. Confirm your “stupidity” by building useless things in his field of view. Make sure your production is equal to his as well. Once he attacks and his force is utterly swamped, he'll probably be at a sever disadvantage units wise. If it's a small map, feel free to counter attack on his base. If it's a large map, perhaps have a strike force nearby that can wait until his force has left to attack your base (as the aggressor, he will more than likely have a weaker base defense, relying more on units for protection). Surgical strikes are a very good strategy once your hand has been tipped. Taking out key buildings, or repeatedly taking out the same one (radar for instance), will bother him further, and that will in turn, affect his focus.

If you want to be a mean veteran, then you'll have to do almost exactly the opposite in terms of early going. Focus your attention on appearing very proficient and surgical. Again, as with all strategies, keep your base or major unit rallying point under shroud. However, you should park almost all your vehicles outside the shroud in a big mass, the end portion (though it doesn't look like the end) being under the shroud. This makes it appear as if you have many more units than you actually do. There are other force adjusting techniques I will discuss later. The problem with this strategy is that it's too easy to make your opponent ready. What you must do is make him nervous instead. This will make him try to cover all possible attacks, which is of course, cannot be done. Build a naval yard if you are soviet, then build one or two subs, and he'll go crazy on the anti sub and naval aspect. Same with any stealth unit, build one or two, and get him to think you're producing an army. Make him watch your base instead of his own, and then slip in a surgical strike force. Making him think your forces are composed of one type of unit, while in reality they are almost all another type, is a key to success here.

Another tenet of appearing to be a veteran is to inflict punishment when you say you will. Don't make any claims you can't back up. If you see he's sent a scout party, punish it with severe prejudice. Punish all incursions into your territory with a massive display of force, even if it means leaving your base slightly vulnerable. After you've annihilated a scout party of harriers for example, point out what flaws there are with the strategy, but make sure you know what you're talking about. With all the mean strategies, make sure that your opponent can be enticed. If he' as solid as a brick, perhaps being neutral would be better. Don't pick fights if he can't be enticed, you're just wasting your breath and playing time. Don't try to switch to nice from mean unless you want him to think that you're buttering him up. Switching from nice to neutral can be done though. This will accomplish about the same as being nice from the start.

Step Four: General Strategies and Tips
Obviously, the above does not apply to all situations, and there is much more to psychological warfare. I will not attempt to make a complete guide, instead I'll show you some strategies that you can find ways to implement to your advantage. I believe that every gamer has the ability to be able to discern his opponents mood through dialogue, and that. It's up to you to decide which strategies will best take advantage of that mood. Looking pathetic. It's not something that will help your pride, but it is definitely a major tactic to be used. Looking pathetic often inspires your opponent to overconfidence. Depending on whether you've been nice or not, he might be aggressive, or instead decide to pity you and let you have a little breathing room. He will usually be lackadaisical with base defense either way, and not pour effort into being efficient in regards to production. This can allow surgical strikes in his base, or allow you to win in a direct force to force conflict. With surgical strikes comes a problem, however. Once you do one, it throws away your cover. Don't bother doing it on an unimportant building. Wait for the opening on a major target like a construction yard or command center. Depending on whether you've been arguing with him or not, this might cause him to fling his army at you, which you should prepare a tidy little trap for.

Being a royal pain in the ass is also a very effective tactic. Again, this will tend to make your opponent aggressive if done properly. Usually not done if you're being nice, there are a variety of ways to accomplish this. Heckling is a good way to start off. Make sure not to start in too early or it will just bounce off them. Personal attacks often don't work very well unless your opponent is already pissed. Instead, point out a deficiency in his base. Make sure you don't point out your only opening, but giving him a tip shows your utter lack of regard for his ability. If you do this several times, he will become nervous, and he will be out of his comfort zone, which is right where you want him. He will then have a tendency to turtle, which you can counter by cutting off his supply lines. Then let him die a slow death in a war of attrition. It's good to sound rather neutral and professional, rather than get personal, for this type of conflict.

If you want to get down and dirty, start getting personal after you've gotten him pissed. “How is it that I'm not surprised you decided to do something so utterly stupid?” Rather than turtle, this will probably make him fling poorly planned armies at you. Maintain your personal cool, and always analyze what your best response is, this is better for large maps. Make sure you don't show that you're cool though, use explicatives (swear words), pretend to be pissed yourself. The key to winning here is just build up your forces, position them in hiding within range of his base, wait for one of his poorly planned attacks against your base, and then strike his vulnerable base.

Another tenet of appearing to be a veteran is to inflict punishment when you say you will. Don't make any claims you can't back up. If you see he's sent a scout party, punish it with severe prejudice. Punish all incursions into your territory with a massive display of force, even if it means leaving your base slightly vulnerable. After you've annihilated a scout party of harriers for example, point out what flaws there are with the strategy, but make sure you know what you're talking about.

With all the mean strategies, make sure that your opponent can be enticed. If he' as solid as a brick, perhaps being neutral would be better. Don't pick fights if he can't be enticed, you're just wasting your breath and playing time. Don't try to switch to nice from mean unless you want him to think that you're buttering him up. Switching from nice to neutral can be done though. This will accomplish about the same as being nice from the start.

Another way to get someone a little pissed is to do something repetitively. You don't always have to accomplish it the same way each time, just make sure it's done. An example would be to take out an opponent's radar tower continuously. It could be through a variety of methods. One time, a commando of some sort. Another time, an air strike. The possibilities are limitless. This will make him focus so hard on defending that one area of his base that other openings are created.

Going right along with this sort of tactic is the fun task of annoying the enemy's harvesters. Even though they are the vital lifeline back to his base, they are often not at all protected. Spare five seconds of your time and send some stealth or fast units to go harass the harvesters. You'll annoy your opponent and buy yourself some time to gain an advantage. If possible, kill the harvesters, but any time his income is disrupted, chalk it up as a win. Looking like a veteran is not easy, but if you're in a position of weakness, it can give the other player pause, and allow you to buy some time to catch up with him. Along with the tactics I mentioned above, there are some other general guidelines. Appear confident, without being arrogant. Feign an aura of this being routine and that you are slightly disinterested. Never appear ruffled, and be more neutral than nice or a pain. Correct some of his mistakes constructively without reproaching him. This will buy you enough time to level the playing field, provided he doesn't have a clear view of your base. Make him multitask. People only have so much attention they can give at any one time. Make it so that multiple strikes happen at the same time. This will divide his attention, and at least one of your teams should have victory. This, of course, means that you have to be able to multitask yourself, and it is a skill that will definitely serve you well in your games, with results that you can definitely see. Making an opponent multitask in ways he's not used to will make him extremely disoriented and uncomfortable, and it's one of the most effective tactics out there. Denying radar coverage. Information is key to psychological warfare. Without the reassuring radar minimap, many players are lost. Destroying this structure through any means is a good tactic, not only does it allow you to sneak your units around where they could normally not go, but it makes your opponent uncomfortable. With GPS, you get the added bonus that the shroud recovers almost everything, which will REALLY annoy your opponent, so make that near the top of your ‘to destroy' list.

Stealth, the force multiplier. I have already covered this, but it bears repeating. Stealth units are worth their weight in gold. When your opponent sees that you have a few, he will immediately thing that there are more on the way, and he must counter these by adjusting his plan accordingly. Don't bother building an army of stealth units, just make your opponent think you have them, and he'll go mad trying to keep track of them. Have your units do some hit and runs on weak targets to get him worried.

There's more to stealth than stealth units though. The shroud is always your friend. A GPS system is your worst nightmare, so make sure they can't build one. So are spy planes, if they're available. However, all is not lost with the spy plane. Your opponent cannot search out all the areas of the map without a lot of time wasted that could be spent on building projects. Find a nice out of the way spot to amass your true forces, make sure you can haul back to your base if you have to, though.

With GPS, the situation is toughest. You'll have to rely on making him do things against his better judgement, like sending counterattacks across a large map. Your best hope is destroying it before he gets too much use out of it.

Final Thoughts/Special Notes
Special situations. Always be ready to modify your tactics for special situations, like three way games. In these games, its never advisable to start being a prick, as both of the other players will immediately go against you, even if you're only being a prick to one. Try to play both ends against the middle. Point out to one guy that the other guy did something cheap to him, and you've got yourself the makings of a two on one. If you can't do that, cripple the strong one, kill on the weak one, then come back to finish the strong one off. Many other tactics exist for this mode of play, and it would require another guide just to write about them! There's a myriad of other situations that you will not be able to foresee, and once you realize this, you'll see that psychological warfare is all about being able to put yourself in the shoes of the other player and find out how to push him out of his comfort zone. It's not about specific methods, the ones I've listed here are good, but you must learn when to use them judiciously, and when to come up with inventive schemes of your own.

Keep your cool. Throughout this whole guide, you must remember never to actually get pissed, or feel compassion for the other player. Only appear so, if you wish. This is a little easier with typing, but voice chat can be convincing if done right. Remember, it's only a game.

Don't let your guard down. Ever. Ever, ever. I don't care how much of a novice the other player appears to be, play at your maximum potential at all times. You don't know, they could have read this guide as well. Have fun. Remember, games are all about satisfaction. This guide may seem a little… sadistic towards the other player at times, but keep in mind, it really is just all in good fun. Once the game's over, congratulate him on a game well played, whether you win or lose. Be a true prick all the time, and you'll start getting a reputation for it. That's about all there is to it. Master these basic principles, learn to never be unduly unnerved by anything your opponent may do, and some of these tactics will start to come naturally. In your travels, you'll undoubtedly run into other students of this art. That's where the real fun begins. As always, play for fun, play to win!


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