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Controlling hand-to-hand combat: feedback appreciated

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Hand-to-hand combat is a fundamental concept in many games. But games rarely give direct control of hand-to-hand combat to the player. I’m interested in your feedback focused on a control scheme for controlling hand-to-hand combat using a keyboard and mouse. Start by considering hand-to-hand combat control in the context of FPS’s. The FPS control scheme is great because it easy to simulate the physics and control of a gun completely and accurately enough to make the player feel like he is actually controlling a gun.  This is possible because all the important things you can do with a gun can be directly controlled by the mouse and keyboard. Controlling a sword, though, is very different.  The physics and control of a melee weapon is much more complex.  In order to simulate the physics and control of a melee weapon completely and accurately enough to make the player feel like he’s actually controlling a weapon, the physics and control need to be more complex as well. How can we make a mouse and keyboard directly control all the important things you can do with sword? Here is a categorization of some control schemes that attempted to address this question in the past: 1.) The melee weapon is nothing more than an extremely short-range shotgun.  A common attempt at simulating control over a melee weapon is to use basically the same control scheme as the FPS.  The sword is ‘aimed’ and ‘fired’ the same way and a canned, pre-made animation plays to show you swinging, and if anything is in front of you and close enough it takes damage. Games like Rune, Morrowind and many others have used this approach successfully.  Skill in this style is often all about sprinting and jumping around enough to be hard to hit yet still be able to attack if you get close. (not much like reality) 2.) Mouse movements directly control the sword arm. To my knowledge “Die by the Sword” is the only game that does this. (Does anyone know of other games like this? “Blade of Darkness?”) This style is… interesting, but very hard to control.  Skill in this style often amounts to just being able to keep yourself facing the enemy and keeping the sword out in front of you. (more like reality, but most people didn’t enjoy it) 3.) Melee combat is completely abstracted. This is where I would lump all the rest. Most RPG and RTS games just allow you to choose a target and game does the rest.  Skill in this style is more cerebral and not “fast twitch.” I wonder if a new approach to simulating the physics and control of hand-to-hand/melee combat could be developed and open up the possibility for a whole new genre of melee combat games. I’ve created a demo game in .Net that makes an attempt at a new control scheme.  It has a third-person perspective and controls like that of a FPS. The avatar is the tiny.x animation with the lower body as an animation (so the walking looks real) but the upper body is controlled by a physics simulation (using the ODE engine).  To control the swinging of the sword, the user clicks and drags a line with the mouse to draw the path through witch he wants to swing the sword. Physical motors in the arm cause it to swing through the path specified by the line drawn.  The weapon physically swings, colliding with objects, walls or even other players like a real weapon would. A second, “secondary fire” could be created that would have the arm stab directly toward where you aim with the mouse. A third, modifier key could be bound such that when it’s held down the mouse takes direct control of the arm to position it for parry/blocking. This control scheme shows promise so far in my little demo. What principles would be important in your mind to make a control scheme like this work well?  For example… Third-Person.  I’m convinced you need to be able to see yourself, because you are unable to feel your arms like you can in a real fight.  You need to be able to SEE your arms in order to know if you’ll block an attack, or even to realize they’ve been severed off. Reticule.  The reticule wasn’t necessary for games like Rune, because precise aiming is not needed.  In this scheme you would defiantly need a reticule. Complex Physics.  To control a gun, you need to accurately simulate the physics of a gun.  However the physics of a gun can be accurately substituted by simple logic. The physics of wielding a weapon is much more complex, so to control a sword you need to accurately simulate the complex physics of a sword. More?  What else needs to be considered to make a hand-to-hand/melee combat control scheme like this work well? What other games out there would you suggest learn from to better understand what has been tried and what works and doesn’t work? (like Rune, Die by the Sword, Blade of Darkness…) Thanks for your time

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How about when you hold down, lets say the "A" button(attack), the mouse doesn't control where you look but it controls your sword. So swinging the mouse from left to right would make the sword do that... Holding "B"(block) would put your sword in to a defencive blocking
mode to parry others attacks. that would also make the mouse control the sword. And mabye holding
"L" would put your sword in to a lunge position, so when you move your mouse up and down you
lunge the sword and draw it back...

Mabye changing the buttons so they are close to one another(w,e,r?) would make it feel like the
person was in compleate control of the sword(for me anyway..) and you could get really good at it...

It would be interesting fighting someone online like that...

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melee combat is not particularly suited to keyboard/mouse interface. If you look at the fighting game genre, it is rarely implemented on PC, almost exclusively residing in the console market.

Of course, the console fighting game is significantly different from what you have described. You aren't simulating the movement of the arms, instead you are selecting predefined sequences of movements. However, I can think of one game that broke this mold, Ape Escape had a fighting mini-game in which the user controlled the boxer's arms using the two analog control sticks. Pushing forward on the stick threw a punch forward, and the user would alternate pushing sticks to fight their opponent.

The Tekken series has a significantly different control scheme from most fighting games. There are essentially four buttons, one for each limb. Different strikes are determined by the combination of the directional pad with the striking buttons. This contrasts greatly with the Street Fighter series, utilizing six buttons for strong, medium, and light punches and kicks.

A third control scheme, one that I think is somewhat closer to your desired result, comes from the original Bushido Blade game. The user controlled the level of their stance and the level of their strikes, between values of high, middle, and low, with the directional pad allowing for modifiers. I found this control scheme to be incredibly intuitive, the game just seemed to "flow" and the combinations made sense.

I think you are making a fundamental mistake in WHAT you are trying to simulate. You are essentially attempting to simulate an action that takes no concious thought, the act of extending a limb. With aiming a gun, it takes concious effort to level the sites on target, as well as pulling the trigger. However, it does not take concious effort to contract your finger in the pulling of the trigger. For a fighter, punches and kicks come naturally, it is the sequence of those punches and kicks that takes concious effort.

I speak a lot about open-handed fighting, but this also applies to weapon-based battle, as the weapon is merely an extension of the hands. I have often trained martial artists to envision themselves merely executing a punch when utilizing a bo-staff in order to execute the proper striking form. The weapon is attached to your hands, so where your hands move, the weapon follows. This could be another aspect of your simulation: giving the user the ability to define how they move their hands, similar to a traditional fighting game, but with the weapon as a modifier and extension of those strikes, with simulated physics.

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For 2) you might want to check out "Trespasser" for the PC. It´s a bit dated, but had a control system that was as innovative as it was atrocious to play. You controlled the protagonists arms via mouse, with made every interaction with the game world feel like you were a toddler. That, and the fact that you could actually knock your arm around by running into things made actually shooting the dinos a very frustrating experience.

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Quote:
Original post by warhammerdude20
...the mouse ... controls your sword.


Have you played Die by the Sword? (I’m not finding many people that have) The gameplay you describe is much like the VSIM control style from that game. In practice taking direct control of a physically simulated object with the mouse produces some gameplay/control challenges and in that case resulted in many players being turned off by just how difficult it was to do even the simplest maneuver with the sword. (It was all I could do just to keep the sword in front of me and swing back and forth hoping something would walk into it.) I’m not sure, however, if it was just a prohibitively steep learning curve or if the concept itself was actually flawed.

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A simplified sword system would involve the sword being swung forward each time you press the attack button. The depth is found because you would be able to use the mouse to influence in what way the attack is (overhead, side high, side low, etc.) by what direction the gesture the mouse has made. This would be wonderful for people that don't care about in-depth systems because they can play the game properly and be ignorant of the feature. The power gamers can also be happy because they've got an advantage that is gained through practice and skill.

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Look around for a flash game called "Ronin: Spirit of the Sword". It has some adult content (which can be turned off, and adds nothing to the game, really), but the gome itself has a fairly neat combat system which might give you a few good ideas for your game. It uses a first-person view, but since your facing and position are fixed during combat, it isn't a problem. Check it out.

I'm not entirely sure I got the name right, but maybe someone else here has heard of it or can provide a link.

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Personally, my all time favorite control interface for hand-to-hand combat on a PC is the one found in Bungie's Oni. It is a third person action fighter/shooter and uses a keyboard and mouse interface. IMHO, the interface is superior to many console setups and the best I've ever found on a PC game:

Mouse cursor controls the direction you face and where you aim your gun, if you are using one.
WASD controls movement and attack direction.
SHIFT is crouch.
SPACE is jump.
Left Click is punch/shoot.
Right Click is kick.

From this simple setup, an amazing variety of realistic looking martial arts moves can be performed, with good collision detection while fighting (strangly, collision detection turns off when a foe is defeated, allowing them to skid through walls with the momentum of your final blow). No combo requires more than three quick button presses, and the farther you get in the game, the more moves become available to you. The combos feel natural, in that any time a combo uses the punch button, you are doing some kind of throw or attack with your hands, and any time the kick button is used, you are attacking/throwing using your legs. So for example, Punch Punch Kick is a left hook, followed by a right hook, followed by a spinning kick to the head.

Running is performed by double tapping and holding down W, which then opens up a whole new variety of moves you can do while running. Crouching has the same effect, in that while you are holding down SHIFT, you can creep about quitely and perform a large variety of low attacks. Pressing crouch and kick simultaneously has a different effect then holding down crouch and then pressing kick. The number of possible moves and throws are amazing, and Oni doesn't even take advantage of all possible combinations.

Oni often pits you against 3 to 5 enemies at once, and with this elegant control scheme, it is easy to attack enemies from any direction and defend yourself on all sides. Try out a demo or buy the game, as it is in the bargain bin now. The demo won't have all the moves available, but you should get a feel for it.

I believe Oni's basic control scheme could be easlily adapted to melee weapons, with different combo's corresponding to different types of attacks. The interface would still allow for using a mouse to control aim. Give it a try and see what you think.

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Quote:
Original post by Iron Chef Carnage
Look around for a flash game called "Ronin: Spirit of the Sword". ...might give you a few good ideas for your game.

Thanks guys, I will defiantly look into and learn from this tonight.

Quote:
Original post by capn_midnight
I think you are making a fundamental mistake in WHAT you are trying to simulate. You are essentially attempting to simulate an action that takes no conscious thought... For a fighter, punches and kicks come naturally...

You’re making a great point here. The flaw with games like Die by the Sword and Trespasser that both Hase and I struggled to put into words is that both of those games made it very challenging to do something that should come naturally. As Hase said, it made you feel like a toddler because something you usually don’t even have to think about became a difficult challenge.
I had hoped to avoid this “fundamental mistake” by not having the player directly control the sword with the mouse, but instead having the player click and drag a line that would define the swing that he wanted to perform. In this way swinging would be easy, any mindless click and drag would work. Swinging accurately would still be a challenge.
Is there more to this “fundamental mistake” that I’m missing?

To clarify, I didn’t list 1), 2) and 3) categorizations to suggest I would conform to them. Instead, they were supposed to be a reference to previous attempts at controlling melee combat.
I wonder if a forth, new approach to simulating physics and control of hand-to-hand/melee combat would open up the possibility for a whole new genre.

I also should have made a better distinction between the two types of attacks. One type of attack can be completely defined by the player with a simple point and click. A punch, kick, stab, thrust, throw projectile and even shooting a gun can all be completely described to the game by the user with nothing more than a point click. Making it any more complex than that risks falling into the “fundamental mistake” capn_midnight pointed out above.
A second type of attack, SWINGING a weapon, could be fundamentally different. A point and click doesn’t describe the action of a swinging weapon completely enough. Just aiming at the enemy and clicking does not define the trajectory of the swing as it passes through that point. I was hoping that the click and drag would add the ability to control that trajectory and facilitate the gameplay falkone describes in his post above.

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