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2D gameplay design based on Avatar: The Last Airbender

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Firstly, I realize there's already a sucky game out there based on Avatar: The Last Airbender. I don't want to make a licensed game or even have anything related to it, I just think that something like "bending" could make for a cool gameplay mechanic. Edit for those who have not seen the show: "Bending" is the ability to move one or more elements (earth/water/air/fire in the show), typically invoked by waving your arms around like a lunatic. In a game setting, it would be the ability to exert a force on earth or water that is within a certain distance of your body, without actually touching said water or earth, e.g. pulling up the ground from under an enemy and tossing it at another enemy behind him. I was thinking about how a power similar to the earth- and water-bending in the cartoon could be managed in a video game with intuitive controls. Doing it in 3D seemed almost impossible (there just aren't enough controls in a mouse/keyboard or modern joypad to manage moving, aiming, and also bending). But in 2D, you might be able to manage it. So picture a standard 2D platformer. Along with your normal kick/punch/whatever, you also have your "bending" powers. So you're playing with an XBox 360 or PS2/3 controller, using the directional pad to move and buttons to jump, like an old SNES game. But to use your bending, you use the right analog stick. When you start moving the analog stick, you get a ghosted circle around your character showing how far your powers reach (may increase over time) and a cursor-like dot that you move onto the part of the earth/water that you want to bend. You push in the analog stick (or L1 or something), and you start bending whatever's under your cursor. Hold it down and move around the analog stick to move the water/earth around. Let go, and inertia takes over. Problem is, PC users generally don't have such gamepads. So now we have to consider how to manage the controls on a PC. We need a bunch of digital inputs (arrow keys, jump/fight/whatever buttons) and one analog input (the mouse). You have them play with the arrow keys to move, and using the mouse keys (?) to jump/fight/whatever. Then there's some button (either keyboard or mouse) that indicates you want to start bending with the mouse. Here it gets a little messy. With the gamepad, you could tell they wanted to start bending, because the analog stick moved. With the mouse, they're likely to have incidental movement frequently, so you'd have to push some key to start the whole bending process, and then have some way in addition to to the "grab and hold this piece" part of the bending. Thoughts? Ideas? [Edited by - BeanDog on March 4, 2008 6:36:17 PM]

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What if you merged "bending" and "fighting": just click an area and drag, and the game will perform the proper action depending on what you clicked.

I don't totally understand the bending concept (having never seen Avatar) but what would happen if you tried to "bend" an enemy? What if you telepathically throw them into the air by clicking and throwing with the mouse? Or would you stretch the enemy out, like in the PS2 game Stretch Panic?

However you do it, I'd suggest possibly removing kick/punch and experimenting with "bending" and "attacking" as one-and-the-same. It'll simplify your controls and likely lead to a tighter, more cohesive experience. Plus, why make the player use a short-range kick when you can let them instead do something cool by bending the elements? [grin]

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Original post by Trapper Zoid
I haven't seen Avatar: The Last Airbender. Could you briefly describe what "bending" is, and more specifically how you see it working in your game?


Sorry, my bad. "Bending" is the ability to move one or more elements (earth/water/air/fire in the show), typically invoked by waving your arms around like a lunatic. In a game setting, it would be the ability to exert a force on earth or water that is within a certain distance of your body, without actually touching said water or earth, e.g. pulling up the ground from under an enemy and tossing it at another enemy behind him. (edited OP to have this info)

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Holding right mouse button while moving the mouse is a very reasonable and normal thing to require someone to do. Would this not meet your requirements?

And I agree with your decision to make this 2D. It sounds like being 3D would overcomplicated matters while not really making it more fun.

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Original post by BeanDog
pulling up the ground from under an enemy and tossing it at another enemy behind him. (edited OP to have this info)

Well there you go, then. I can't imagine you would ever need a close-combat fighting system if you can do something that awesome, so I'd suggest making the mouse your exclusive bending-device and creating interesting combat out of the bending mechanic.

The mental picture of this game actually has me quite excited... I really want to see it in action! [grin]

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Thanks - I'm assuming bending doesn't involve the creation of elements, just their control. Also since you can't do direct copy of bending, you also can take a bit of liberty as to exactly how these powers manifest (I'd also use another term than "bending" in an actual demo [smile]).

The problem with using two analog controls in platformers is that it's somewhat of a jolt away from the regular controls. You're moving around with a control stick under one thumb and with a set of buttons under the other, then you have to mentally map a new control system when you want to bend. This jolt is okay if you were moving between two completely different game sections, like main gameplay and menus, but it'd be a bit jarring if you had to switch between them constantly in regular gameplay. It's even worse on the PC as you won't have all the control devices built into the one peripheral - I prefer to play PC platformers with a digital gamepad, second choice the keyboard; the mouse doesn't enter into my mental map of control systems.

My first thoughts on a control system would be when you enter bending mode, you control direction and force of your bending power similar to that as using a cannon in tank combat games like the Worms series. Use the standard controls to select direction and force. A downside of this is that you'll be shifting between a cartesian control system (where up moves your character up, left moves left etc.) to a more radial one (where left angles clockwise, right counter-clockwise, up is further, down is closer etc.) - which is also a bit of a jolt to the system.

Whatever you decide on, I'd prototype it with a quick 2D platformer first before going too far in depth with the rest of the game, as it's a fairly critical part of the gameplay mechanics.

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Okay, it sounds like an idea with potential. But why does it NEED regular fighting mechanics complicateing things?

Take a look at Portal on Orange Box. Its a very simple idea, exploited into a puzzle like game. Why not follow suit, exploiting the players command over the elements and thier interaction with one another?

You could easily have a game along the lines of the Odd World series, with the player haveing to use only his command of the elements to overcome obsticals to progress through the game.

Just the arrow keys and a key for each element would suffice (heck you could prolly get away with fewer). Just use the arrows to move the character over by a rock, press and hold the earth key, now the arrows keys can move the rock while the player remains still. Move the rock over a cliff and release the earth key to watch it drop on an enemy below. All sorts of interesting things could be done with this.

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how about using the mouse to control punches and kicks and using the ctrl or space key as a toggle key between "bending" and "punch/kick" modes? Example is left click to punch then hold the toggle key and left click and drag to bend some earth behind the enemy releasing the toggle key executes the punch/kick so you can "abort" bending if you need to. you can add context icons to let the player know if the bending mode is possible (ie a stone icon lights up if your cursor is in a "bendable" earth area. pressing toggle and using the mouse if no "bendable" area is available will just execute the normal punch/kick attack. The wasd keys control movement. add some mouse gesture recognition to execute some special moves or something like if you have some water on your left, you hold toggle button and drag the water icon in a clockwise manner to automatically make a water sphere shield and counter clockwise to trap an enemy in a water ball (if he is within range)

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Original post by MSW
Just the arrow keys and a key for each element would suffice

In my opinion that's still too much.

----------------

Left / Right - Move

Up (or Space) - Jump

Mouse Pointer - Point at object (possibly the mouse pointer is your "flying faerie companion" or something like that)

Left Click / Drag - "Bend" (interact with) object

-----------------

If the object you clicked on is earth, you will use the appropriate Earthbender skill. Click in the air and you'll be using an Airbender skill. Similarly with Fire, Water, Metal, etc.

So you click/drag the earth slightly to stretch it. Pull it far enough and maybe you'll break off a piece. Shake it back and forth to cause a localized earthquake.

Similarly, click Water and drag pull it into a wave. Click Air and drag to create winds, or rotate in circles to create a tornado.

And so on, and so on... a simple and intuitive control scheme with limitless potential for gameplay.

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Assuming you use the WASD controls for movement, you could use the SHIFT key to switch to 'bending' mode and then use the mouse movement + buttons to perform the moves.

The control system in Aquaria comes to mind, not sure if it would fit in this kinda game. Anyway, this could make a cool classical 4 elements game.

[Edited by - vrihai on March 5, 2008 1:30:14 AM]

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I haven't seen Avatar: The Last Airbender. Could you briefly describe what "bending" is...


To give you a better idea, see Waterbending. There are links to the other form's of bending at the bottom as well. Overall, "Bending" is more patterned after various forms of Martial Arts and their particular stances and moves.

I think if it were going to be implemented into a 2D game, it would be like the SNES version of Spawn, or Mortal Combat. Basically you'd have various "combo" moves you could perform in order to control/utilize various abilities, or to at least initiate them. So for example i could do a combo to manipulate/gather water, then do another combo to shape it into something, or change its density, etc. Sort of like a combo "tree".

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Deformable terrain comes to mind. I imagine that you might be able to pick up bits of the environment and fling them around. Maybe you could digg holes with Earthbending, or grab some fire from a torch and set some wooden structures alight.

To grab something and start bending, you might just click the mous on the thing you want to grab and then drag it to where you want it to be (the character could then perform appropreate hand wavy motions). As you move it around it can collide with other objects and the environemnt (producing effects). It could also cause you to loose your "grip" on the object so some skill will be needed in manoeuvreing it around.

They could then interact also with other objects. So something like a block of stone might be able to deflect projectiles, knock enemies over, or even hurt them (either because it was moving fast ot it was dropped in them). Fire could burn just by contact (but if it hits you it can also burn you - a danger that a skilled player would be able to over come).

Other Benders could attempt to take the object away from you (or you from them) and interesting bending battles could occur as you try to manoeuvre yourself and the object you are both bending towards the other.

For this to work you would ahve to give the objects some basic properties (earth/stone could have inertia so one it is moving in a direction it is harder to stop).

The character's skill in bending (rather than the player's skill) could influence how much of an object they can bend with, and for how long they can bend before they need to recharge. You might even have the objects loose parts of them selves (bits of water slash away, fire reduces in size and intensity, wind gets weaker, bits of rock fall off, etc) and the rate it does so could be dependant on a skill or stat.

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Original post by Edtharan
Deformable terrain comes to mind.


That's the idea. I'm looking around for a 2D physics engine with very stable stacking, which runs very fast with a bunch of stacked objects. Then I'd essentially take the whole part of the level that I want deformable and chop it up into jagged-edged rocks that are stacked together by default. When you bend at the ground, it would apply a force to all those rocks within a certain radius of your target, letting you pick up some ground, etc. Basically the same idea for water.

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Original post by MSW
Okay, it sounds like an idea with potential. But why does it NEED regular fighting mechanics complicating things?

Probably for close adherence to the show. Watch this (while ignoring the Linkin Park soundtrack).

In Avatar (one of my favorite animated shows in recent years - and I got Books I and II for free from someone at work; perks of working at VIACOM), bending is used to accentuate fundamental martial ability. Because the elements bent have to be gathered from the environment, fundamental martial arts proficiency is a necessity to survive in many instances. For instance, one of the core characters, Kitara, is a water bender but not a good martial artist (though acrobatic and reasonably athletic). She keeps a small pouch of water with her so she can fight anywhere, but if she doesn't have access to water then she's pretty much vulnerable. (Her brother Soka, btw, is not a bender. He just fights with his fists and his boomerang axe.)

The combination of the base martial arts with element bending in combat is visually stunning, and portrayed as an effective technique. Bending is generally used for distance attacks, close quarters power moves, and last-ditch defensive maneuvers.

The best model I can think of for integrating element bending into a martial arts game is Street Fighter, albeit employing the Capcom vs SNK 2-style controls:
  • The left analog stick moves the character, including jumps and flips.

  • The face buttons, triggers and shoulder bumpers provide core martial arts.

  • The right analog stick provides "bending arts," with different motions on the stick yielding different moves. Optionally, these can be modified by a shoulder bumper/trigger.


Quote:
Original post by BeanDog
Problem is, PC users generally don't have such gamepads.

That was really because there were too many variants to them. It's quite feasible to design your game primarily to be played with the Xbox 360 Controller for Windows, then support keyboard and mouse as secondary, lesser input options.

Personally, I don't play games with the keyboard, pretty much ever. It's part of why I've owned some 12 or more controllers (including the SideWinder Gamepad, the Gravis Gamepad Pro, the SideWinder Freestyle Pro, the SideWinder Dual Strike and the Logitech Dual Action Gamepad). Make the game you want to make, then worry about expanding your pool of potential players.

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Quote:
Original post by BeanDog
Problem is, PC users generally don't have such gamepads. So now we have to consider how to manage the controls on a PC.

Quote:
Original post by Oluseyi
Make the game you want to make, then worry about expanding your pool of potential players.


that's exactly the approach I'm taking with the game I'm developing. Personally I don't care if most PC users have gamepads; I have one, so I'm making the game that I want to play. Its fairly selfish and entirely opposite of how the industry is designing their games, but I don't care. I'm more interested in the game than I am in its commercial success or popularity.

Nonetheless the system you described seems like its actually better suited to mouse/keyboard than to gamepad; if you want to specify an object/area, a pointing device like a mouse seems more intuitive than an analog joystick

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