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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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Your idea has merit, but there are a few potential problems I can see that might be difficult to surmount.

First of all, a mouse is very two dimentional, and you are using it to discribe a weapon traveling in a very three dimentional way. You may be able to control the arc of the swing, but how deep is the slash? This could probably be overcome with some creative uses of WASD with the mouse drag option.

The second problem is one that has plagued many games using similar (but less sophisticated) methods for controlling a weapon. Dragging a mouse is not a very precise motion. Have you ever tried to draw a perfectly horisontal line in a paint program using only the mouse cursor? It is very difficult and awkward. I'm not saying your design requires such precision, but controlling exactly where your sword is going to go will still be very difficult in a heated battle, and I would think it would be easy to swing wide or create a rather jagged path for the sword to follow that the physics system would have to smooth over to make a convincing sword slash.

The third potential issue is control. Mice are difficult to "wield" effectively. The hand motions require to move a mouse in a way that would drag a sword arc accross the screen are not very natural, and would probably induce some fatigue after playing for a while. The only way I can think of to deal with this would be to require very small mouse movements for large swings (i.e. high mouse sensitivity). This would reduce the precision of the swing somewhat, but it would allow for much faster control.

Please keep in mind that I am not trying to shoot down your idea. This is meant as constructive criticism.

I think the reason that Oni's controls worked so well was that even though all the attack animations were canned, there were so many possible motions to choose from that the user still had a fine level of control over what he wanted to do. The motions ceased to be keypresses and button clicks and became extentions of the player's thoughts.

Good luck (and give Oni a try, if only for some inspiration).

[Edited by - hatch22 on March 3, 2005 11:33:49 AM]

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Original post by hatch22
Personally, my all time favorite control interface for hand-to-hand combat on a PC is the one found in Bungie's Oni.

I also enjoyed this game immensely. I whole-heartedly agree with you about the quality of the melee combat in Oni. It is part of what influenced me and got me thinking about just how fun a fast-action, melee combat game could be.
All the combat moves in Oni where what I called ‘type one’ in my earlier post. By that I mean that the punch, kick, throw and even gunfire attacks in Oni could be well-defined by a point and click control scheme. What you don’t do in Oni is actually wield a weapon that you would SWING. Swinging could be fundamentally different.
Quote:
Original post by hatch22
….a mouse is very two dimensional, and you are using it to describe a weapon traveling in a very three dimensional way.

This is exactly right. I ran into this problem almost immediately. My current solution is to have an “active target” enemy and its distance from the player character defines the depth. This also helps me with another, unrelated, challenge posed by the third-person perspective. It might not be the best answer, but it’s working for now...
Quote:
Original post by hatch22
The second problem is …. Dragging a mouse is not a very precise motion. .... controlling exactly where your sword is going to go will still be very difficult in a heated battle.

This is also true. My hope is that even if you can’t swing precisely, it will still be easy to swing in the right general direction, and the better you got at it the more likely you will be to miss the shield and hit the weak spot.
Quote:
Original post by hatch22
The hand motions required to move a mouse in a way that would drag a sword arc across the screen are not very natural, and would probably induce some fatigue after playing for a while.

You’re right about this as well, thus the mouse motion cannot be required to correspond directly to the sword arc. The click and drag motion would simply facilitate the definition of a line. When a user points and clicks, he defines a point in space. When a user clicks and drags, even a short distance, he defines a line, and that line could be used to extrapolate an arc. So the controls would be no more physically demanding then FPS or Oni, except that when you’re ready to swing you just hold down the click and move the mouse some distance to define that trajectory. Neither the length of the mouse movement nor the speed at which you make the motion would have an impact on the effectiveness of the attack. (although I guess you better not take to long drawing your line or your enemy will take you out, but this is no different than the decision you make about the amount of time you will aim before firing a gun)
Does it make sense to define the trajectory of a swing by dragging a short line with the mouse?

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The click and drag motion would simply facilitate the definition of a line. When a user points and clicks, he defines a point in space. When a user clicks and drags, even a short distance, he defines a line, and that line could be used to extrapolate an arc. So the controls would be no more physically demanding then FPS or Oni, except that when you’re ready to swing you just hold down the click and move the mouse some distance to define that trajectory. Neither the length of the mouse movement nor the speed at which you make the motion would have an impact on the effectiveness of the attack. (although I guess you better not take to long drawing your line or your enemy will take you out, but this is no different than the decision you make about the amount of time you will aim before firing a gun)
Does it make sense to define the trajectory of a swing by dragging a short line with the mouse?


I see what you're getting at here. This strategy would allow the player to define the motion but not directly control the motion (i.e. the mouse does not directly control the motion of the sword, but only difines the direction in which the sword will move. The only problem I see with this is speed which you alluded to. Not only do you have to take very little time to drag your mouse, if you want to do any kind of quick slashing you are going to have to press, drag, and release the mouse several times in quick succession, changing direction each time. This would be tricky because you run the risk of having motions that were intended as clicks being interpreted as click-drags. Often when we click the mouse, it moves slightly. If you have some kind of very small distance threshold causing any mouse movements while clicking to be interpreted as just clicks when under the threshold and as click-drags over the threshold, then you could avoid accidental moves, but if your threshold is too high, then performing a click-drag would take to long, making swordplay sluggish. There may be some threshold value that works well, but it still seems to me that such a system requires a fairly high degree of control over the mouse. Granted, such control is definitely achievable (just look at the mouse-wielding skills of many die-hard FPS players), but recognize that such a system may up the learning curve and frustrate less experienced players.

Even with a threshold, speed may still be an issue. A click-and-drag, no matter how small, is never going to be as fast as a click. The near-instantaneous response from button/key pressing is very helpful when fighting is fast and furious. Perhaps this is not an issue for the kinds of game you want to use this system with, but if it were an action game like Oni, any latency between the input and my characters response would frustrate me if I was under attack by several enemies who were about to clobber me and I had only a split second to cut a wide arc in front of me and interrupt three at once. If I get hammered and then beaten to a pulp because my drag caused a tiny delay I wouldn't be to happy. Thinking about it some more, this might be fixable by starting the sword moving as soon as the mouse button was pressed and setting the movement direction as soon as the mouse was moved, or performing a stab if the button is released instead.

If the mouse movement is so integral to control, how easy will it be to rapidly face a new enemy after just knocking down another one and then perform a slash? For example, in Oni, Konoko can knock down a Tanker with a triple haymaker, spin around and throw the other Tanker that was about to hit her from behind and toss the new enemy on top of the one she just knocked down, doing furthur damage. She can also change direction in the middle of some move combos. Although this is not always implemented in the most realistic way possible, it is still essential to the gameplay because it is possible to attack so many different oppenents so quickly. This is the advantage of keeping mouse motion separate from attack moves, and is an issue you will have to address if you want the blinding speed of martial arts. When you're out-numbered and surrounded, increadible speed is much more important then great strength or high damage weapons.

Reading back over my comments, I get the feeling I'm being harsh. I really am curous to see if your system could be implemented well, I just like for good ideas to be well thought out. Being an engineer, I tend to look for potential problems everywhere to nip them in the bud. Sorry if this seems a bit discouraging. To answer your question, yes, I think it makes sense to define a swing with a line drawn by a mouse, but I think a good implementation will be very tricky and may not work as well as a large selection of pre-done moves (ala traditional arcade fighting game series like Street Fighter, Tekken, or Soul Calibur).

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For a good example of simple rock-paper-scissors combat with good use of range and pre-emption, take a look at Dragonball Z: Budokai 3. You can go a long time in that game without landing a blow, or you can decimate (or be decimated by) your opponent in short order, depending on the compatibility of your tactics. It reminds me of nothing so much as a game of StarCraft. If I go for the early rush, and he escapes it, then he's got more ki power and can hit me back with much greater force, but if I "turtle up" and wait for a juice-up, he might be able to pre-empt me and take the advantage. Against an equal, it's a blast, but if you're fighting someone better than you, you quickly feel like a witness at your own execution.

So perhaps if you let the actual maneuvers be scripted actions--thus preserving the intuitive methods of a highly trained fighter--and have the player enter in at a level one step higher--that of tactics and maneuvering--you could preserve the control and the depth of combat in your game. Something like Star Ocean might be another good example of a way to do it, although it's a little more basic than what you seem to be after.

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Guest Anonymous Poster
Check _Sid Meier's Pirates!_ for 4th kind of sword combat -- essentially, you have 3 keys for high, mid and low attack and 3 keys for matching high, mid and low parry. During the duel you need to keep close eye on the movement of your opponent, as each type of attack has different animation. With enough practice you can see 'in advance' if the enemy is about to slash high, low or at your mid-section, and either parry that move (which leaves enemy exposed for a moment to your follow-up attack) or in some cases just outright attack -- if the enemy is attacking high, slashing low yourself causes your charater to bend low enough to be missed and score the hit, e.g. Add to it different swords having different stats -- one sword is perfect for quick attacks but requires you to parry at very exact moments if you don't want to be hit, while another makes slow, easily spotted attacks but alows you to easily parry most hits aimed at you... and the game becomes surprisingly tactical.

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just a small note, have you considered how the length of the swing will be controlled. For example, if when you click and drag this mearly identifies a line in space which the swing will follow, where will this swing stop. If each swing is a set length then the character is going to look very uncontrolled as he advances with the sword swinging fully from side to side unless contact is made. Also this will lead to a level of clumsyness about the control system if the player wants to make a quick block and the sword moves to make a full swing.

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Something has been overlooked: speed

As I see it, this system would work, but only for games where the combat isn't furiously fast. Medieval Europe swordfights weren't really fast, since the whole armor and swords were really heavy, they were more tactic (and not all about keeping the sword in front, thats too simple). Your opponent blocks, you open him up and take a swing. If instead of blocking he dodges, you cannot take a swing because that opens you up, etc etc. Speed and momentum are the name of the game.

So, for oriental-style fast and light swordplay, i'd ditch the line method. But for medieval fights, you gotta lower the pace of the fight and let it be a little more cerebral. Allow control of strength/speed as well as direction.

for the line, you could take the initial click point and sample at regular time intervals inside, including the last click. After that ditch points that are too close (not including start/end points) to end with a smooth curve.

about controlling speed/momentum... the jury is still out. But keep in mind this system will not be for a fast fight, but for a much more technical one. Easy opponents would be poor blockers, and would be unable to string movements together, making it easy to combo them. On the other hand, tough opponents would chain everything together, by picking the right direction, moment and strength to swing. Localised damage and proper animation would make this very interesting.

The trespasser fiasco was because there was no abstraction in the hands. In Half Life 2 you can grab something and have scenery block it as you move around, and it falls just like in Trespasser. But unlike it, you don't have to tilt your hands manually.

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As I see it, this system would work, but only for games where the combat isn't furiously fast.


This is what I tried to explain in more detail in my last post (and perhaps I didn't do a good job of making it clear).

So basically, if you can address the speed issue somehow, or if combat doesn't have to be fast, you have a workable system.

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Quote:
Original post by Madster
...this system would work, but only for games where the combat isn't furiously fast.
Original post by hatch22
...if combat doesn't have to be fast, you have a workable system.

I strongly agree with both of you on this point. The pacing and speed of the action is an important consideration with any control scheme, but with what’s being discussed here it is particularly important that the pace of the action allows the controls to work. I especially connect to what Madster says about the scheme working best for medieval fights, where the pace is slow and methodical enough to allow user enough time control of the details of the swing.
Consider the pace of the game Rune. I dislike how the characters in Rune are always sprinting around at 100 miles an hour and jumping 3 feet in the air without effort. I’ve never been in a swordfight, but I’m guessing if I were I wouldn’t do much sprinting or jumping. The actual attacks in Rune also happen much faster than they should IMO.

Let’s expound upon the control scheme discussed above to include elements for controlling speed. When the user clicks and holds the attack button to begin drawing the line, the character would immediately begin cocking back its arm in preparation for the swing. The longer you hold the attack button longer your character’s arm has to complete its backward motion, and when the user lets up on the button, the forward part of the swing immediately begins. Both the preparation for the swing and the swing itself are the result of forces in the physics simulation, so if you hold the button long enough, the result will be a slow, powerful attack. (Slow as in slow to execute, the weapon will be moving fast) Conversely, if you just click and let up real fast, the arm will have no time to cock back, and the result will be a quick, weak attack. Pushing attack or block mid-swing could interrupt the swing, causing the joints to do their best to counter the momentum and move toward the position of the chosen action. So the speed of the actions in the game are essentially upper-bound by the strength of the joints in the physics simulation, (which could get stronger as your character progresses) but the timing and momentum is controlled by the user.
Does this timing control concept make sense? Does it begin to accomplish some of the points made by doorstop, Madster and hatch22 above?
Quote:
Original post by Madster
about controlling speed/momentum...

I’m intrigued by the points you make in this paragraph. Could you elaborate on, what would it mean to “string movements together” and “combo them [opponents].” Could the controls I outlined above accomplish that to some degree by the user choosing a second swing that begins close to the place were the first swing concluded? Is there more to this that can’t be accomplished by the control scheme I describe?

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