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Magic system balance against melee combat in a SP RPG

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I am trying to design around having bars such as mana, health, stamina, what have you. In doing so I have figured out a combat system that I believe will work well. My problem now is that though I have avoided the need for health, I am having trouble balancing magic in the mix. I want to avoid causing a grind, so no reagents or potions required for spells. I also don't want to slow down the fight so no long casting timers or drawing of symbols required. So without reagent, drawing, or mana bars, how do I balance an explosive fireball or chain lightning spell against the swordplay based combat?

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It seems like some form of spell cooldown is the only obvious way to balance such a system. Maybe an alternative to strict cooldown timers is to allow casting at any time, but with spell strength increasing while the player is not casting and resetting to a low percentage each time the spell is cast.

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I'm reading up on some various spell systems right now and need to give this a lot more thought. One recent thought was that using the normal combat system energized the player, building up a spell power to use. Of course, this does create a mana bar of sorts, which I'm not keen on, but otherwise helps. It also doesn't give a solution for out of combat spells which there are many. I did originally have this idea of cool downs and casting timers where a spell might have, say, a 5 second cast time, or if you released it immediately, it had a 7.5 second cool down. It would let you charge your spell if you had the time, but you could let it go at anytime and take 1.5 times the time left as cool down instead.

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In my opinion, mana is a way to balance between low damage and high damage in simple combat systems. Since you should not be able to always pick the high damage option, mana is the limiting factor. As long as the combat is designed in such a way, you will need a limiting factor unless you bring basic all abilities to the same damage.

Instead, if you base your combat system around status effects, you open up a wide range of situational options. Rather than choosing between damage or more damage, you must choose the correct ability to use to buff or debuff according to the strengths of your enemy, which will allow you to drop the big damage attack unless your enemy counters by removing your effects. However, this cannot apply to fast paced combat because you don't have the time to properly analyze the situation. It is only valid for turn-based combat or slow real-time combat.

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Although it is originally intended to use mana and health(no stamina as it sucks)
My idea for mage combat is that of battlefield control
Rather then hurl easily dodgeable fireballs you try to control the battelfield by means of firewalls, traps, high speed low damage bullet spells, shields,teleportation, invisibility, time control etc
If he gets to you its game over
If you manage to slow or trap him in order to buy time for you to cast offensive spells you win
In your case the balance would be the time to cast as well as if your immobile or movable when you cast
So you can use fast spells to distract until you manage moderate spells to trap him and slow spells to finish him

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The way my combat works is that you have death come as a result of a final blow, before that, damage is not taken as such. There are some status effects that can cripple you in the short term or lead to a delayed death. Ex. Bleeding will either stop, or you die, either way, no health bar is tracked, its just a timer for a status effect that may end in death. You can be stunned, knocked down, trapped, etc. When you get an opening in a fight, you take your strike and defeat the opponent.

The spells I have are taken from other games basing their systems of damage, so I need to work on converting them for this sort of system. Some are easy, like teleport, shield spells, and spells that push mobs or knock them down. Hasting and slowing spells could help in allowing better analysis or in landing particular blows.

The way I imagine these timers working with a fight is if you see your foe first, you pick an appropriate spell and charge it to full, come into position and cast. You take advantage of the opening that creates to start another spell and repeat taking one of these opening for an actual strike. Of course, not every opening is best taken advantage of by a spell. Some may best be taken by a physical strike of some sort.

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Original post by Tiblanc
In my opinion, mana is a way to balance between low damage and high damage in simple combat systems. Since you should not be able to always pick the high damage option, mana is the limiting factor. As long as the combat is designed in such a way, you will need a limiting factor unless you bring basic all abilities to the same damage.

Instead, if you base your combat system around status effects, you open up a wide range of situational options. Rather than choosing between damage or more damage, you must choose the correct ability to use to buff or debuff according to the strengths of your enemy, which will allow you to drop the big damage attack unless your enemy counters by removing your effects. However, this cannot apply to fast paced combat because you don't have the time to properly analyze the situation. It is only valid for turn-based combat or slow real-time combat.
What do you consider fast-paced?

WoW's combat system is all about the status effects, and good PvP players seem able to instant counter moves which have a 0.5 second cast time (assuming there isn't a whole lot of lag). They can also occasionally counter instant abilities on a hunch in certain situations, just like fighting game players can.

Now this is not quite fighting game speed, but I would not call it slow either.

JasRonq: what is the intended pace of the combat (say, relative to fighting games and relative to WoW dueling)? What input method are you going with? Free movement? Dodging?

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Original post by Stroppy Katamari
What do you consider fast-paced?

WoW's combat system is all about the status effects, and good PvP players seem able to instant counter moves which have a 0.5 second cast time (assuming there isn't a whole lot of lag). They can also occasionally counter instant abilities on a hunch in certain situations, just like fighting game players can.

Now this is not quite fighting game speed, but I would not call it slow either.


WoW I would consider fast paced. They can counter like that because they know everything there is to know about the enemy. There is also a lot of research done on forums to find counter to popular builds and strategies. You can't do that for a single player game because you will have too many enemy types to study to know the counters. That would lead to a game that punishes you for any mistake until you learn the pattern or a game that is too easy because you can get by with minimal knowledge.

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Original post by JasRonq
I am trying to design around having bars such as mana, health, stamina, what have you.

Quote:
Original post by JasRonq
Of course, this does create a mana bar of sorts, which I'm not keen on, but otherwise helps.

My question is... why? Why are you trying to design around having bars? The answer, I'm assuming, is that you're "not keen" on them. But why aren't you keen on them? What did bars ever do to you? Be sure you're not just restricting yourself from well-known systems merely to restrict yourself. There's no real reason to have a sort of pretentious viewing of a design element that is widely used and proven to be effective.

If having bars means that it makes your life simpler and players can better play your game, then add the bars.

Anyway, now that I've said that... As far as balancing magic vs melee combat...

The very essence of "balance" when it comes to game elements is to make sure that both sides have strengths and weaknesses. I know you want to avoid slowing down the combat, but magic use is most commonly seen as the slower form of combat. You can basically break any attack down into the rule of 3.

Power, Consumption, Speed

The rule is that you can only have two of these three things. You can have a powerful attack with great speed, but it needs to consume a lot of something. (stamina/energy/etc) You can have a powerful magic attack that doesn't require much magic consumption, but then it needs to be a slow attack. (longer cooldowns/long cast times)

You can't have fast magic that also has little consumption rate and also be powerful. If you want to get more creative with this, you can let players decide just what should be sacrificed in any given situation. This can open up more room for strategy in combat.

For example, in the game I'm developing, players can cast magic or use melee attacks and the action is also rather fast-paced. Magic casting basically works by letting the player either tap the key for that spell, or hold down the key to build up the power of that spell and then release.

A quick tap will result in a weaker spell with a higher energy/magic consumption, while holding down for several seconds and releasing will result in a stronger spell with a lower energy/magic consumption. Essentially by focusing their magic, they are making it more efficient. But by focusing, they require more time to do this. There is the trade-off.

This allows for magic users to quickly cast spells, though they will be rather weak, and also lets them cast powerful spells when they have the time to pull it off.

As for ridding your game of needing a magic bar or potions or anything like that, well this system could work based on just consumption of time.

When you look at it like this, magic casting is no different than swinging a sword. You can have normal tapping of a key that results in weak attacks, or you can hold back and build up power to release a stronger attack.

If you have a powerful magic spell such as being able to heal, then this spell should take a while to build up in order to really heal a significant amount of health. This would be fair enough since being able to instant cast a huge heal doesn't really seem balanced when the melee guy won't be able to do that mid-fight.

I'm not sure if this entirely solves your problem, but I hope it helps you somewhat... or at least gives you some ideas. :)

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Well then, for some background on the combat system and why it has no bars:
I wanted to avoid the situation of enemies taking no ill effect from attacks until the final hit point was lost.
I wanted to avoid the situation of armour reducing damage even though you are slashing with a sword. Armour either blocks a hit or it doesn't.
Overall combat just didn't seem to work the way it really should.
If I made attacks always blocked by armour then it makes combat a bit odd without other changes, and having HP loss reduce effectiveness leads to the death spiral.

Evidently I had to change the whole system to allow these changes to work.

What I ended up with is a system where you are trying to dodge about your foe, stunning, tossing off balance, and otherwise working to create an opening. When there is an opening you strike and attempt to make a fatal blow. You have to work around armour and other factors to land your hit and when a hit lands soundly, generally that should be it.

Without having a progressive decay of health there is no bar needed. You are either dodging hits and doing well, or you are hit and something happens. I could track something happens with more bars. I could add in a blood loss bar and pain tolerance bar and a stamina bar, etc. But adding in all that would complicate the combat and distract from what should be an exciting sword fight. It would feel like an epic duel instead of the typical hack and slash crap that chips away at HP until the terrible (and boring) end.

So that's my motivation for the combat system. I want to avoid any bars or other things drawing attention from watching the opponents moves for openings and away from watching the balance of power between your avatar and the foe.

Now Konidias, what you said about your spells, you are decreasing consumption at the cost of time, but also increasing power. That seems to break your rule of 3. In any case, that is more a decision for play testing to determine how those three can be exchanged in the case of your game. I'll keep the basic idea in mind for my spells though.


About the pace of combat, I would suggest watching some anime, or a kung fu movie, or a good hand to hand action sequence in a movie for a reference of speed. That is the feeling I want a player to have. There will be haste and slow spells that allow a player to modulate the pace for themselves as well but overall, something like that. I don't play fighting games and I haven't player WoW since I had a lvl 42 Shadow priest back before any expansions came out. I am rather aware though of the limits of human attention and reaction time and am not aiming at hard core players, though this is likely to push the boundaries for most really casual players of anything but traditionally fast paced games.



About the input? well, I am aiming at the computer as the platform, with directional controls, mouse target selection and mouse button spell casting with hotkey alternatives for almost everything. There would be (I hope) only about a half dozen keys to use for dodging and other movements, attacking, and spell casting besides the spell hotkeys and 4 direction keys.

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Original post by JasRonq
Now Konidias, what you said about your spells, you are decreasing consumption at the cost of time, but also increasing power. That seems to break your rule of 3. In any case, that is more a decision for play testing to determine how those three can be exchanged in the case of your game. I'll keep the basic idea in mind for my spells though.

Not sure how this breaks the rule. If you decrease consumption and increase power, you end up with an attack that is powerful and consumes little magic/energy/stamina but it takes more time.

Power = Strong
Consumption = Efficient
Speed = Slow

So you're getting 2 good things and one bad thing. So for example, if you had:

Fireball Spell - 5 damage - 5 magic consumed - .5 second cast

and you held down the spell key to build up power for a second then you would have:

Fireball Spell - 15 damage - 2 magic consumed - 1.5 second cast

So now you're doing 3 times the damage for under half the mana cost but it takes an extra second to cast.

Anyway, back to your post... You say you wanted to avoid armor reducing damage because it either "blocks a hit or it doesn't" but that's far from the case. Sure maybe with only sword attacks, but what about harder impacts? If you get hit in the chest with a sledgehammer while wearing armor, I'm sure you're going to take damage, but not nearly as much as if you weren't wearing armor. So armor can indeed reduce damage taken. Just look at the bruises people get when they are shot while wearing a bullet proof vest. =p

For the speed of combat you're wanting to achieve, I'm really not even sure how magic could be worked into the situation. Hand to hand combat can be furiously fast, and casting magic would have to be just as fast to be of any use.

It seems to me that you're trying to place down rules and some of these rules are causing you more trouble than good. For example, your problem with armor is that you don't want armor to always block. Well that's easily solved by having armor have durability. So many powerful attacks would easily break armor and leave someone vulnerable. Consider it your "health bar".

If you're using humans in your game... well, they are squishy bags of meat. One stab from a sword and it's usually game over. There's no reason why you couldn't have a fast paced combat system where you have to beat someone until their armor gives out and then deliver 1 or 2 blows to finish them off.

This avoids the problem of having a character taking ill effects from a few initial attacks, since the armor would be taking the majority of the damage.

Having to work around the armor seems a little tedious in my opinion, but maybe I'm just not envisioning your idea very well. I'd just much rather prefer to beat someone until their armor shatters and then a few sword swings to finish the job.

If you want to avoid bars, simply make the game more realistic. In real life, armor can protect you but it will eventually break. Durability of armor can be displayed simply by having your armor look more beat up and broken with the more hits it takes. Having the armor make different noise when hit, depending on the condition of the armor would be a nice audible indicator. Shiny new armor would make a nice "clang" noise when hit, while beaten up armor would make more of a "clunk", as if it's about to give way.

This could build up tension because the player would know they are about to be done for unless they make some last second desperation moves. All of this without having a single bar on the screen.

The whole "chipping away until the boring end" scenario really depends on how strong the armor is or how many hits a player can take. Armor could only take a couple of well placed hits to break it, so dodging would still be important and you wouldn't end up with two characters standing there whacking at eachother until the guy with the higher stats wins.

Your current system sounds like it makes armor pretty much indestructable.. which doesn't really work well if you ever plan to have armor with different levels of defense. Right now it seems like your armor either protects you or it doesn't.

In any regard... What you described sounds almost like a FPS but with melee instead of guns. The problem with that is your combat is going to last all of 2 seconds because one quick stab to an opening in the armor and the player is dead. (like a headshot in a FPS) Because in a FPS, you're either dodging the bullets, or you're hit and pretty much dead.

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Having to work around the armor seems a little tedious in my opinion, but maybe I'm just not envisioning your idea very well.

That seems to very much be the case.
•Armour only comes in one level of protection and either protects or it doesn't.
•Armour has restrictions on movement such that the combination of weight and restricted range of motion slows you down enough to balance against the speed of not wearing armour. Therefore, not wearing armour leaves you to dodge quickly and wearing armour allows you to absorb blows. Both are balanced.

Quote:
For example, your problem with armor is that you don't want armor to always block. Well that's easily solved by having armor have durability.

Actually, I want armour to always block, unless you have time to slip between the gaps. The more vulnerable you make the opponent the easier that is to do. If you knock him on the ground winded, sticking him under the breastplate is easy, not so easy when he is standing and moving. Armour that degrades is unrealistic, bothersome to repair, and bothersome to replace. I've yet to find a game that made me enjoy buying repair hammers to repair armour. Besides that, its ridiculous. So no degrading armour and no health bars. You block and dodge hits or you get knocked down, get knocked down and hit again and you are dead.

Quote:
If you're using humans in your game... well, they are squishy bags of meat. One stab from a sword and it's usually game over. There's no reason why you couldn't have a fast paced combat system where you have to beat someone until their armor gives out and then deliver 1 or 2 blows to finish them off.

Exactly right except that instead of shattering the armour you are knocking him down. (Doesn't it seem a little silly for armour to fall apart in the course of a single fight? Or even many? Shouldn't it be better constructed than that?)

Quote:
In any regard... What you described sounds almost like a FPS but with melee instead of guns. The problem with that is your combat is going to last all of 2 seconds because one quick stab to an opening in the armor and the player is dead.

From an iso view point, but yeah, pretty close. Thing is most modern RPGs play like FPS is you just take out the stats, its one of the failings of the genre. That's neither here nor there and I don't mind if you don't want to call it an RPG.

PS. Sledge hammers are not weapons of war and are far to slow to actually hit a person with, so while yes, you would take damage through a huge hammer, a more appropriate question would be about piercing through the armour with real medieval war hammers which more closely resembled spikes than hammer heads as they were intended to make holes in the armour. The answer to that is a fatal bleeding effect that kills the player if the wound isn't bandaged after the fight.

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About the actual magic system though. One consideration is the mode of the spell. By that I mean, the same spell effect cast as melee or as a bolt flying at a target are not of the same level of power. The utility of the spell needs to be considered in that rule of three. For instance, is the power reduction of melee range enough to lower the cast time to near zero for a fire spell? Considering that the range of weapons will matter, maybe so as hand to hand range is significantly closer than even a short sword much less longer weapons. On the other hand, a long cast time but a duration off effect could be used. I could cast a long "fire hands" spell and then have fist of flaming fury for a specific duration. I can then use it during the fight without recasting it.

Another consideration is the speed at which a bolt type spell travels. If its slower than even an arrow then it is dodge-able, especially if the target has a haste spell cast on him. That means that slowing the travel speed of a bolt can be used to lower its power such that near zero casting time could be rational with a useful power level. This then means you can blast off spells rapidly.

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