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Simple Line Up And Attack Battle Systems

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I don't have a lot of experience playing JRPGs but I was thinking of some very simple battle mechanics early ones have been noted for using. In case you haven't seen them in action, basically your party and your opponents line up on opposite sides of the screen and, one by one, make attacks or deploy defenses. As far as I can tell there's no real attempt at representing tactical, line of site style combat as you might find in a game where characters have freedom of movement. Much of the complexity comes (I *think*) from the interlocking effects of attacks and counter attacks, which basically obviates the need for terrain, maneuver and cover. If I've got any of this right I'd like to know which ones you think are best and why you think they work well (or maybe clarifications?). I've been thinking of doing something similar and basing it on a triangle of attacks with resource costs, status effects and really abstract trade-offs in terms of attack effectiveness, accuracy and defense. Some characteristics I'd like to add:
  • Combat would be stat and state heavy (e.g., characters have morale, but you can cause panic or suppression, which lowers accuracy or rate of fire)
  • Initiative would control when characters act
  • Attacks would cost action points, which would either be turned based or time delayed
  • Character abilities and stats would be based on status effects and combat would be biased toward mastering the ability to create effects in opponents (e.g., blunt weapon does a bit of HP but a headshot steals action points; or a flechette gun is useless against combat armor unless you aim at the seams, in which case it causes bleeding and steady HP loss)
  • Low level combat would be joined with higher level strategy where you fight for sites on a map (e.g., section to section on a starship 'blueprint,' neighborhood to neighborhood in a city)
I'm uncertain whether I can (or even should) try to add more tactical complexity, such as mock terrain cover. If you're in a forest, for example, you might get 50% cover by default, which affects accuracy. Since you can't see the actual tree or bush you're covered behind, however, I was thinking of abstracting it by allowing you to sacrifice attack points for cover, or even giving an option to spend points "finding cover" which might either randomize cover or base it on some RPG skill. I also want to destroy environments and create a risk in where you fight. Rooms are basically nodes with equipment and overall health. So fighting in a computer room or medical bay might damage the overall structure or destroy the equipment within (which probably wouldn't have HP). I'm hoping this along with the cover system would create more nuance-- you might take an area (a city reactor or starship bridge) with "soft" EMP weapons, for instance, to minimize damage; or you might be "smoked out" of a level that you've holed up in because the enemy uses an attack like fire or nanotech to destroy it and everything in it. Not very well formed at the moment, but I'd appreciate any improvements or fixes you can think of.

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You seem to have the foundation of the system laid out pretty well. Most of my experience with this type of battle system is with the Final Fantasy games. 1-3 have a pure turn-based system IIRC, where the player had to enter a command for every character before each round. Beginning with 4, the series turned to an "Active Time Battle" format where turn length differed for each character in the battle, based on stats, abilities used, status effects, and/or other factors. I believe there was an auto-pause option in most of those later games that allowed the player to enter a new command at his leisure when it was the turn of one of his characters.

Some of the FF games have implemented a "front line"/"back line" system (represented by moving back line characters back relative to the front) . Characters in the front line were attacked by the AI at a higher rate than the characters in the back. This is sort of a loose application of a cover system that could definitely be developed more fully if desired. I believe that the games generally restricted back line characters to spells and ranged weapons. Laying prone and firing a gun could certainly be made into an option for example.

IIRC some classes in a couple of the games had "Defend" or "Cover" actions, giving up their attack to increase their defense, or to take damage aimed at another party member (usually the animation would show the character moving in front of the character he/she was defending).

I personally have not seen an aiming system used in any game that uses exactly this battle system, but I don't see why one couldn't be implemented with a reasonably intuitive interface. Fundamentally it's a turn-based system, like the original Fallouts, which had aiming.

The trick really IMO, is to create something that requires the application of a tactical system on the players' part. If negative status effects are a major part of your system, will you have items that the player can use during a turn (giving up his attack) to remove them? Or do you want the player to have a medic-type character devoted to removing them (in which case you will need to have abilities/spells that can remove the status effects)? Perhaps you want the player to have to decide whether they want to trade the cost of Status-removal items for another attacker or defender. These decisions come down to what you want to implement and how you decide to balance those features.

I would be mindful of not making the system overburdened by action menus and options, but there is certainly room for more complexity than what has generally been offered in the "line battle" style of games I'm familiar with.

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Thanks Crowseye. I knew denigrating Final Fantasy would come back to haunt me some day. :P

I'm partial to the front line / back line system. Going prone or kneeling is a good way to mimic this, though I'm going to try and not be too literal. Maybe this could be expanded to multiple lines with the controlling mechanic being that the front most ranks take the most damage while dealing the most damage.

The idea of overall tactical states might work well with this system, too. Being ambushed, for instance, might grant the winner a round of free attacks without reply. I'm really loathe to give up things like facing direction for each unit, but tactical states could compensate because you could have situations like "enemy has the high ground so they get X bonus."

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I personally have not seen an aiming system used in any game that uses exactly this battle system, but I don't see why one couldn't be implemented with a reasonably intuitive interface. Fundamentally it's a turn-based system, like the original Fallouts, which had aiming.


Yes, I've seen melee units jump in and out of combat but haven't seen stuff like ranged weapons. I was thinking of maybe doing an overlay pop up screen for groups of attacker and defender which could capture this in animations of muzzle flashes, near misses and deaths (sort of like a side scroller or graphic novel in two windows).

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The trick really IMO, is to create something that requires the application of a tactical system on the players' part. If negative status effects are a major part of your system, will you have items that the player can use during a turn (giving up his attack) to remove them? Or do you want the player to have a medic-type character devoted to removing them (in which case you will need to have abilities/spells that can remove the status effects)? Perhaps you want the player to have to decide whether they want to trade the cost of Status-removal items for another attacker or defender. These decisions come down to what you want to implement and how you decide to balance those features.


Thank you, good questions. I like the idea of trading off the ability to act for removing a status effect but I also like specific, critical character types. If a unit is shot, for instance, maybe she applies some "nanobots" or "plastiflesh." But if she's panicked or suppressed, I want a dynamic involving leadership where one character has to spend time rallying another.

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I would be mindful of not making the system overburdened by action menus and options, but there is certainly room for more complexity than what has generally been offered in the "line battle" style of games I'm familiar with.


Have you ever seen this concept mixed with a more strategic level of play? I'm wondering if this will work with multiple parties. For instance, I've been thinking of how pirates could hijack a starship room by room, getting down to the level of whether or not the room calls for area of effect weapons or even if certain units (like walking mechs) could fit into the room. This would make controlling space at the strategic level vital.

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Hmmm... Not JRPGs, but the first thing I thought of reading this was some of the Magic: The Gathering based PC games.

Thinking it through, Ive realised that MTG is actually very close to a JRPG type setup in terms of buffs and debuffs and attacks, just taken to an extreme simplification - essentially removing action points and initiative: Units get a single action point to attack or defend with, and initiative is just "players take turns".

The main difference seem to be that units can explicitly choose to defend against an attack, rather than just buffing an ally or debuffing the enemy, which IMO gives the combat a more dynamic feeling as units can react directly instead of feeling "walled off".

I feel like theres probably a good middle-ground between this and JRPGs, giving units action points so that they can block / attack / use abilities multiple times per round and/or have the consequences of actions last more than a turn, and break up the initiative so that units can act at different times instead of all together (and making an interesting choice between going first or deliberately deferring to wait for a chance to defend)

I guess in practice this would essentially be a JRPG combat with some sort of "interrupts"...

Er... [/stream of consciousness mode]

Im having trouble expressing my likes and dislikes and why without running off down a sidetrack of what game I might like to make so Ill leave it there, but I just thought it was an interesting connection between two different styles that I hadnt thought of before...

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Original post by Wavinator
If I've got any of this right I'd like to know which ones you think are best and why you think they work well (or maybe clarifications?).


It depends on what you're trying to do. There are incompatible combat design choices which plagued more than a JRPG. For example, status effects when combats are over in 2 turns. It's useless to poison an enemy for 1/8 their hp per turn if they die in 2 hits anyway. You could add all sorts of fun features, but if combats are over quickly, they become useless. On the other hand, if you want combat to be simple and predictable, having drawn out battles would become a chore. You need to see how the battles fit in the overall game flow before adding complexity. You may not even need it(other than to add a bullet on the back of the box).

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Original post by caffiene
The main difference seem to be that units can explicitly choose to defend against an attack, rather than just buffing an ally or debuffing the enemy, which IMO gives the combat a more dynamic feeling as units can react directly instead of feeling "walled off".


Haven't played MtG but this seems to imply that combat's not resolved until both parties choose their action. If so, that's an interesting variation over "A attacks, resolve damage / effect, B responds...".

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I feel like theres probably a good middle-ground between this and JRPGs, giving units action points so that they can block / attack / use abilities multiple times per round and/or have the consequences of actions last more than a turn, and break up the initiative so that units can act at different times instead of all together (and making an interesting choice between going first or deliberately deferring to wait for a chance to defend)


I'm thinking one good approach might be to limit the action points but really diversify the abilities so that combat rounds go by faster and there's that perfect agony of trying to figure out which attack / defense is best. I've been thinking of borrowing things like attack interrupts or action inspired free moves (D&D "attacks of opportunity", for instance) from other systems, as well.

Although block actions don't make much sense in conventional / futuristic combat I still like the idea behind them (that of "let me predict what the enemy will do"). Variable armor settings and movement stances might be possible "blocks" that could be fun to deploy.

Quote:

Er... [/stream of consciousness mode]

Im having trouble expressing my likes and dislikes and why without running off down a sidetrack of what game I might like to make so Ill leave it there, but I just thought it was an interesting connection between two different styles that I hadnt thought of before...


Appreciate the input, stream of consciousness or not!

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Original post by Tiblanc
It depends on what you're trying to do. There are incompatible combat design choices which plagued more than a JRPG.


One reason I was exploring this idea is that I thought it might scale to a variety of combat situations without causing me to commit ritual suicide over the number of damned enemies and heroes I'd have to come up with. I'd like to use it for random battles where you're controlling 1 to maybe 10 or 20 characters (say if you're wandering about a space station or city). I then thought I could use the same system in a "room by room" dungeon crawl system where you'd be trying to take over a starship or explore an alien ruin. Finally, I thought it could also apply to a large scale mass battle system where each character was a stand in for some larger force, like a squad or battalion.

Obviously it's not very feasible to try for this much variety and still go for the current trend of movie-like depiction in games. But if combat is naturally more like chess I'm looking at far fewer animations that, when married with a strategic map, MAYBE could apply to a wider context.

(My worry is that this could prove to look too stale-- but at least some JRPGs have done it so at least it's not totally unproven.)

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For example, status effects when combats are over in 2 turns. It's useless to poison an enemy for 1/8 their hp per turn if they die in 2 hits anyway. You could add all sorts of fun features, but if combats are over quickly, they become useless.


Excellent point and something I have to think about if I want to keep the different map types relevant.

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You need to see how the battles fit in the overall game flow before adding complexity. You may not even need it(other than to add a bullet on the back of the box).


Again good point. My instinct is to add complexity to make up for the lack of pizazz, but I do have to keep the overall flow in mind.

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Original post by Wavinator
Haven't played MtG but this seems to imply that combat's not resolved until both parties choose their action.


Correct.

Basically, Player1 chooses attacks, then Player2 chooses defenders. The attacks are then resolved as: An attack which has been defended hits the defender; an attack which has not been defended hits the original intended target. A defender, if it survives, then hits the attacker in return. MtG uses an "all or nothing" system where an attackers attack score either overcomes a target's defense score and kills the creature, or it fails to overcome the defense and the target is completely unharmed, which gives a big incentive to choose attackers and defenders carefully - if a powerful defender interrupts your attack, you could lose your attacker without killing anything.
Then Player2 chooses attacks, and Player1 chooses defenders, except any creatures that attacked or defended in the previous phase are rested and cant be used.


For a JRPG you could simply take the idea of interrupts and allow them to any character that still has action points, or that has an appropriate initiative score, or whatever. Applied to a modern/future style JRPG setup, Im envisaging a combat scene might play out something along the lines of:

"PlayerCharacter1 takes aim at AICharacter3"
"AICharacter2 dives on AICharacter3 and cover him with his body. AICharacter2 is resting."
"PlayerCharacter1 shoots AICharacter2 for [X] damage. PlayerCharacter1 is resting."
"AICharacter3 takes aim at PlayerCharacter1."
"PlayerCharacter2 raises a riot shield in front of Player Character1. PlayerCharacter2 is resting."

And so forth...

Or if you want to allow more actions, instead of "[X] is resting" it could be "[X] has [Y] action points remaining".

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Original post by Wavinator
One reason I was exploring this idea is that I thought it might scale to a variety of combat situations without causing me to commit ritual suicide over the number of damned enemies and heroes I'd have to come up with. I'd like to use it for random battles where you're controlling 1 to maybe 10 or 20 characters (say if you're wandering about a space station or city). I then thought I could use the same system in a "room by room" dungeon crawl system where you'd be trying to take over a starship or explore an alien ruin. Finally, I thought it could also apply to a large scale mass battle system where each character was a stand in for some larger force, like a squad or battalion.


The Last Remnant used a squad system to ease control over a large number of units. You would put a leader with 1-4 normal unit in a squad and use it as one unit. In a battle, you may have 20 units on the field, but issue orders to 3-6 squads. Instead of saying unit X use ability Y, you would select a general option like use basic attacks, use magic or heal yourselves. With some decent AI, it would be possible to scale from 1 vs 1 to 20 vs 20 and more. It's simply a matter of grouping units based on the number of units in battle and giving orders appropriate to the level of abstraction.

In a 5 vs 5, you may have unit A fire at enemy unit B, unit C setup a force field and unit D seek cover because he's wounded. In a 20 vs 20, you would tell that squad to reinforce their defensive position while taking opportunity shots, which would translate to the above actions. You could tell another squad to storm an adjacent room or fall back to a fortified room, etc.

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