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Pointman Strategy

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Thanks go to Avarice for this amazing guide. The forum thread is here.

Hello again, puzzle junkies.

Audiosurf has well established itself by now as a glorious amalgamation of music and ... snowboarding, I guess. What few people realize, unfortunately, is that most every song is also a deep and engrossing puzzle-- albeit at breakneck speed every so often. It can be difficult to execute any manner of strategy or critical thinking when you have so many contingencies bombarding you at once. Without some understanding and practice, it feels like playing Tetris while cartwheeling through a mine field.

To combat the play speed and limit the mental processing, on-the-fly tactics and rulesets should be developed. Once these rulesets have been understood and conditioned, a player can focus on a given song's properties and stop having to contemplate where every single block needs to go, if it does indeed need to go somewhere. What is revealed, then, is a satisfying and cerebral experience that one would not initially associate with Audiosurf. So if we need techniques, let's get some! Bring on the fun part already. All of the following information is presented with the assumption that kEn's tutorial vid(s) have already been watched, and the concepts explained at the Puzzle Scoring page are already known. If these conditions aren't met, stop here and go fulfill them. This guide won't make any sense, and will be a thousand times harder to put into proper routine. These techniques are also most effective in (and intended for) Elite mode. Casual and Pro have a more difficult match window, and offer far less strategic potential.

Pointman: Lord of the Chain, Breaker of Mouse ButtonsEdit

Ah yes, who could forget! Pointman is usually a player's introduction to the puzzle game, and is just as quickly abandoned for Eraser. Which is good, because Pointman is arguably the hardest to learn. However, he is also the most interesting character around. The control offered by Pointman is both a potent strength and foreboding weakness. Not only do you get an array of deeply manipulative and creative options, you have to use them. With no hardwired goal like Pusher's 100% clear bonus, Pointman must craft his advantage with subtlety and foresight.

When should I be playing Pointman for the top score?Edit

While there is no defining criterium here, there are several places that Pointman shines (or fades) in relation to other characters, most predictably Pusher. The first thing to note is the presence of lapses in traffic-- If there are several points in the song that do not have any blocks to hit for more than 3 seconds, Pointman will build a small advantage at every one of them. Less obvious are songs that, while lacking complete traffic voids, have sections of the song that are very low in traffic density. Pusher really can struggle with these areas, but Pointman knows how to slow-dance. For songs that are generally constant, here is a rough list of traffic density advantage in regard to Pointman vs. Pusher.

  • 0-125 traffic - Yeah, Pointman is gonna dominate here. Gogo, as it were.
  • 126-150 traffic - While there are going to be more exceptions popping up, Pointman will almost always have a better potential in this area.
  • 151-175 traffic - Hard to say. Block placement is important on these, but overall the playing field is generally comparable, if not tending toward Pointman.
  • 176-225 traffic - Pusher is going turn the tide somewhere along these lines. It is still dependent on the song structure and over how long the traffic is averaged. Pusher has a very high skill ceiling, though, and good ones will win most of these songs.
  • 226-325 traffic - Pointman is still very fun to play in these songs. However, going for the top score against capable Pushers is like trying to win the Tour de France on a Penny-farthing. Lance Armstrong could do a lot with a Penny-Farthing, but probably not enough to win the big race.
  • 326-8347892 traffic - You're going to need a spare mouse and a heart transplant.

Again, there are exceptions all over the place. Never write off Pointman in a song without trying it for yourself. The length of the song is also relevant here. The longer a run is, the more likely that Pointman will build up some advantage.

Basics - Oh, right! I need to sort the blocks!Edit

The 'basic' stuff here is quite similar to that of Pusher. The first step in becoming a good puzzle player is to familiarize yourself with the chain bonus. Aside from some very long pauses, Pointman is capable of maintaining the bonus throughout an entire song. In fact, the loss in potential is enough at the high end to simply restart if you lose your chain. Nowadays, you can visually see whether you're still on track by checking out the expanding white bar at the bottom of the screen. Practice keeping your chain alive for a few songs. Don't worry about match size, scoring, or the notion that a chain cannot really be alive at all, just make sure to juggle the bonus for an entire song or eight.

Don't ignore the Sync bonus. 30% more points for each individual color match is nothing to sneeze at. Often it is worth more to get 3 blocks of any new color than 3 more of the old one. The actual tipping point for this is 14 blocks, but that's not a terribly relevant line to be drawing. With Pointman at least, there will usually be easy opportunities to add a second color in with big matches, without actually sacrificing any of the available main color.

Remember that your blocks have four sides to match from. Yes, that is a very obvious statement. It tends to be forgotten in the heat of the moment, especially with gravity matching. It is easy to fool yourself into thinking of matches as simple shapes like lines and boxes, when there are actually more elegant ways to manage the grid. Often it can seem that a block or two are trapped and can only be released by peeling back layers one by one. Sometimes the solution is much simpler.

Bad grid

This looks like quite the mess, but is actually a very easy lead to a big match. Having an underlying knowledge of gravity matching is a valuable tool in managing the grid.

Fixed grid! Youtube

Zipper match Youtube -- This not-so-cleverly labeled 'zipper match' is an unnatural scenario, but shows fairly well the extent that matches can be shaped. L shapes, C shapes, all manner of numbers and letters, except for perhaps the ampersand. It is important to know this, especially when you clip into blocks you don't actually want.

Intermediate Technique - The Procedural BackgroundEdit

The first hurdle to violently throw yourself upon is the holding queue. It operates such that the last block you picked up will be the first one you have to drop. This is a little counter-intuitive, and you will simply have to practice with it until you don't have to think about it anymore. Here are a few tips to use to help manage your holding queue.

  • Drop your last pickup immediately whenever it can be added to a growing match. This is simple but important. You always want as many slots in your queue open as possible, for various reasons. Anytime you pick up a block, dump it adjacent to a block of similar color if one is available. The only things you want to really be holding on to are whites and high value bolts.
  • Speaking of whites and high value bolts-- Avoid picking up a white/bolt with 2+ blocks in your queue. It can often take awhile to get a good opportunity to drop them, and until that point you are practically removing your control of incoming traffic. This isn't universally true, though.
  • You can simplify your required activity by simply holding down the left mouse button. You'll pick up every block you hit, and won't have to worry about left clicking at proper times. I do not use this for long periods, nor do I recommend constant use, especially in fast songs. This is because it increases the time you have to spend in a lane to process every block. It is absolutely, though, a worthy technique to learn and employ in some areas.
  • Use any period in the absence of high value blocks (green, yellow, red) to clear out your queue. Most of the time, low value blocks are simply chain filler for Pointman. They can be easily dodged in order to buy time to check out the blocks you're holding and get rid of them. Remember that dropping a block extends matches/chains, so you should be fine in that regard.

Lesson 2: Building a chain. Don't worry, you don't have to do any smelting.Edit

Much of Pointman's score capacity lies in the fact that he can produce near-constant large matches with a high chain coefficient. The limitation that not many people see at a glance is the fact that these quality matches take longer to produce. Thus, without some intentional chain building at the beginning of the song, Pointman can really lag behind as far as what the multiplier actually is.

Fortunately, this is one of the easier things to fix. When a song starts, advance the chain by making fast, single-color matches. Generally, this should last until you start seeing opportunities for big green/yellow/red matches. However, some faster songs will present such temptations right away, so you'll have to consult your Magic-8 Ball and figure out how to handle it. The benefit of advancing the chain number runs out of steam at around 8-10 links. At this point, you're probably better off with bigger matches from here out.

Rapid chain advancement Youtube -- Orange is my 'green'

Note that you may be better off manipulating your pickups to allow more matches to take place. If there's a burst of 6 purples and then a pause, fit 2 matches of 3 in rather than 1 match of 6. The increased value of every match after that will easily make up for the points you forfeit in that particular match.

Lesson 3: Traffic cars are not Pokemon. Don't catch them all.Edit

Having the ability to move blocks all over the place does not mean that you should. It's easy to fall into the trap of trying to grab as many blocks as you can, when you're actually hurting your score potential. Unfortunately, these effects are very subtle and hard to discuss without context. Where one might assume that Pointman can use less discretion in choosing which blocks to involve in matches than Pusher, he actually requires more. The reason for this stems from the 100% clear bonus that Pusher gets. Without it, low value block matches can take up too much time to justify their investment. You can stretch out a match easily, but you can't compress it. This understanding is key to some of the more advanced tactics.

The exceptions here are white blocks and powerups. Now, there are some situations that you'll be better off skipping a white. For example, if you are bleeding internally. Medical attention will probably result in higher future scoring potential than the white block at this time. Otherwise, you should be getting as many as you can, even while learning other techniques. The same goes for Lightning Bolts, especially yellow and red. You want to know how to apply them to as many situations as possible. If you manage to hold onto a red lightning bolt until a good opportunity, you can hugely boost your scores. For example, take a match of 10red/3purp, as the 15th match of a chain. The chain bonus for that is ~237%, and the sync addition of 30% makes the match worth 3.67x of its base score. So, this match is worth 13,373 points. But wait, you were carrying a red bolt from 30 seconds ago in the song, and plopped it on top at the end. A 16red/3purp match with the same bonuses is worth 27,407. Snazzy. Be careful though, not all bolts are created equal, despite what Thomas Jefferson might tell you. Don't get stuck with 1 free slot in your queue because the bolt is up front. Over time you may actually lose more points than you gain by keeping it around.

Sha-ZAM Youtube -- Here a teal (red) bolt is kept for a little while and released at a more opportune time for a 31k match. Take that, Pusher scum!

Lesson 4: Learn How to Procrastinate.Edit

Developing Pointman strategy is all about learning the match/chain timing window. You need to know exactly how long your chosen blocks can keep a chain going, so you can use that potential when you actually need to. It's harder than it sounds. Run through a few familiar songs, carefully trying to drag out every match. See if you can use 21 blocks in every match clear. Don't forget that picking one up extends the window too.

Take 21! Youtube -- Running a familiar song (to me =( ) while attempting to use 21 blocks in every match, though not that they are all necessarily matching. It's tricky, but I think I got a little better doing it even once, so it's recommended.

Note that while I feel this is an intermediate concept, the execution of something like this 21 block challenge is actually rather difficult. Remember, it's a drill, not a test. Just learn from your screwups. Tone it down to ~15 blocks if it's too frustrating at first. I'm sure you'll notice some of the queue management techniques in there too.

Advanced Strategies - There is no block.Edit

To preface, I just want to mention that these strategies are not based on some divine absolute. I don't know, for sure, if these are the best ways to tackle every song. They're just what I've managed to correlate with higher scores. Your mileage may vary.

There is a misconception about Pointman that he is all about execution; once a player is able to manipulate and extend their chain for the entire song, Pointman score potential is actualized. This is (fortunately) quite wrong. You're not done yet, bub.

For editing purposes, the other half has been placed at Pointman Strategy Part 2.

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