RNG, or random number generation, has been a part of video gaming software since the very start. The idea, for those unaware, is that this is used any time a degree of randomness is thought to be preferable or useful for the game to calculate the probability of an outcome. When we roll a die, we randomly end up with one of six numbers. When we do this with software, the end result can be much different and applied in many different ways, but the core idea remains the same. Roll to generate a random outcome, use that outcome to determine the spread of a shotgun blast, the damage of a gunshot, the number of points a character will gain while leveling up, the shuffling of a deck, the simulated landing of a die, or anything in which complete predictability is unwanted.
Randomness is an inherent part of gaming. It inserts an element which tests our ability to adapt, to think on the fly and deal with the unforeseen. Video game and eSport professionals and enthusiasts understand this, and in doing so prepare themselves for that which might otherwise be considered unpreparable. In many ways, you can’t avoid this, so it is best to embrace it and, as the pros show, take it into account to better your chances of success.
“RNG” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Robert Scarth
Fighting a Randomized Enemy
However, just because something is unpredictable doesn’t mean there’s no way to prepare for it in some way, shape or form. If you already know the possible range of results which might be generated by an RNG then you can narrow down your course of action, putting yourself in a position to capitalize when the RNG results come up in your favor and protect yourself when they do not. You should also remember the RNG tends to be less generous in single-player games, especially in slightly older games like those in the Call of Duty series.
While there is no single solution to facing the element of randomness in a game, by understanding the game itself and the context of the RNG you can come up with a plan for each individual game which works for you. Let’s take Hearthstone as our first example. This game involves RNG in both the shuffling of the decks and the outcome of some of the card combinations. A player might rely heavily on a certain card combo, but the chances of drawing that combo could be rare. Because of this, they might stack their deck with other cards which allow them to draw the cards relevant to their combo. This way, even if they don’t succeed at first, they take into account the RNG to better their chances with each successive turn and adjustment to their card deck.
In games with RPG mechanics, we often see the concept of critical hits. While these do massive damage, they also rely on a lucky RNG roll in order to generate what the game considers a win. These are games where system components such as these are expected, and as such many developers insert gear or abilities which can increase your likelihood of landing critical hits, thereby skewing the RNG in your favor. In a game like Diablo III, critical hits are incredibly powerful, so you will often see characters geared around both increasing their critical hit chance, and critical hit damage, effectively bridging two components of RNG to a great benefit.
Games don’t have to be only of these genres in order to utilize these systems either, as we can see with examples from puzzle games, racing games, procedurally generated games and more. In racing games, the attitude of the opponent racers, while still dictated by AI, usually includes an element of RNG in order to simulate the randomness and unpredictability of a real player. Again, these potential behaviors can be taken into account, lanes can be cut off, and certain avoidance tactics can be taken. Roulette is another example of this, as the game itself is effectively an RNG machine. Even as a game built around somewhat strict and non-manipulable RNG, experienced players manage to influence the outcome for them by controlling those parts of the game they can: the betting, by adopting systems such as the Martingale. Procedurally generated games actually utilize RNG in more than the above ways. While they tend to be based on world seeds, these seeds themselves tend to be randomly generated at the start of a session. Know the seed – understand the RNG – means to know the world. Puzzle games are so obvious they don’t require much of an explanation – we’ve all lost games in Tetris waiting for the damned l block to come into rotation, and it’s the RNG that decides when it will do so.
Another thing to take into account when it comes to RNG is the fact that random can sometimes be a less than perfectly accurate description. Game RNG has to be based on some factor, whether it is real-world time, game cycles passed, character steps, or any number of other possibilities, there is a base, and this can occasionally be understood. Final Fantasy 7 uses step counts for triggers into random battles. Once speed runners figured this out they could perfectly adapt their routes, effectively shutting down what was thought to be truly random battles until the battles are preferable or necessary. It’s not easy, but the masters can make it happen.
Knowing when a game is being random and when bad luck means bad luck and not lack of skill is not a simple task. RNG and skill are so heavily tied together in games that the two are often inseparable parts of a whole. While perfect prediction is rarely possible, mitigation usually is. We’ve all cursed our bad luck in games before, but remember that this luck can be swung our way. Look at how the pros do it, look for modifiers and mitigators to swing the tides in your favor. RNG is often dismissed as impossible, frustrating and pointless, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be beaten. Persevere, plan, and be attentive.