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Sketchy idea for a new rpg(mmo) combat mechanic

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I have an mmorpg, (or just rpg) concept that is steering me towards designing(well, imagining) a unique combat system, more out of necessity than out of trying to reinvent the wheel, and I was wondering if there was anything out there that was similar to what I’m about to propose, because I’d love to see it in action. If not, well here’s my proposal, and the reasons I’m proposing such a system. I’m not really sure it can be done, or that anybody would enjoy it, but here goes.   

 

First, here are the issues I’m trying to solve for.

 

1.     I like the idea of player-skill reliant combat. I’m not averse to twitch combat, assuming it feels deep, and a couple decades ago I used to fantasize about an mmorpg fighter game mashup. It sounds like this has kind of been done now with games like Blade and Soul, but for reasons listed below, it wouldn’t be a good fit for what I need.  

2.     What I don’t like about some fight games and all mmo combat is the way players wail on each other with swords and bludgeons, over and over for hit-point damage. This doesn’t offer the cinematic or epic novel quality that I want when trying to immerse myself into a fictional world. It’s just too arcade for my tastes. This is a problem with twitch-based and tab target combat alike.

 

3.     I definitely dislike combat that relies too heavily on character level over player skill. I prefer a more horizontal leveling or skill building system that doesn’t split people based upon the hours they put in grinding.  

 

But….

 

4.     I am also envisioning my game as a permadeath experience. There are reasons for this I won’t go into, and whether or not this is a good idea is for another post. Suffice to say though, dying immediately upon entering combat, voluntarily or otherwise, isn’t going to endear even hardcore pvpers to the model, and such a system would be absolutely alienating to casual players. Of course, lag is another issue that is habitually cited when it comes to permadeath concepts, and for good reason.

 

So here is my  proposal, and I haven’t been able to find something quite like this in the wild(possibly because it’s a bad idea).

 

1.     Combat would play out fast and furious in real time, with blocks, parries, dodges, rolls, contacts, etc.

But….

2.     Combat wouldn’t be twitch based, nor precisely, timer based. It would use an action-beat model where intentions are queued up, but are interruptible for certain reactive “oh shit” or exploitation abilities. That doesn’t mean that players plan their every strike, block and parry, nor do they even directly move their characters while in combat.  Instead they plan their overall aggressiveness and brazenness with an array of heavily conditional attack and defend models, all while everything continues to play out in real time(the action doesn’t pause for turns). They attempt to maneuver their characters into better fighting positions, or better escape routes, either cautiously, obliquely, or with total abandon.   They make choices like, whether or not to allow certain types of attacks against them to land(say if they are wearing plate armor) for the sake of gaining or pressing an advantage.  They also make decisions about how much energy to exert in a particular beat, and hopefully make many more decisions.  Think of the player’s role as the proactive, conscious cerebral cortex, giving overall orders to the rest of the brain and body, and think of the game engine as performing all of the lower instinctive activity of the character’s training and lower brain functions, i.e. muscle memory and split second combat tasks.

 

3.     Closing in on victory isn’t a matter of hacking away at hitpoints, but hacking away at stamina. Poorly executed or well defended attacks take their toll and so too do desperate dodges, all of which fatigue a combatant, limiting his or her abilities.

 

4.     Fast Killing blows are possible, but only under the right circumstances, such as when the loser has forgone caution for a big payoff and been handily thwarted. In the same way, superficial, mortal and maiming injuries can also be accrued.

 

5.     Stamina, position, distance, terrain and momentum will open up or close different combat and retreat options.
 

That’s the lightly sketched gist of it anyway. There are almost certainly problems with it I haven’t even thought of, but these are the issues it solves for me, at least in theory:

 

1.     Combat, while not realistic(if you blinked you’d miss the real stuff) would be cinematic. Essentially the engine would orchestrate a dance between fighting characters based on choices made, and it should feel frenetic and intense, making the concurrent choices high stakes and intense, but not manic.

2.     Combat would still be “more” realistic, because people wouldn’t take maces to the head, hacks from claymores or fireballs to the face over and over before dying. 

3.     Eyes would be on the combat, not on an action bar, because the visual assessment of the character’s disposition would be paramount to making good decisions. (yeah, I’d have to figure out how to integrate a good way for people to queue up choices without drawing them away from the action on the screen).

4.     Characters wouldn’t immediately croak unless they tried hard to do so. Full defense, even for level-one characters will buy them a lot of time to make decisions, hopefully decisions that get them the hell out of dodge. (I’m not certain yet how all of this would go down or how guaranteed I want escape to be—maybe this is dependent upon how much stamina has been exerted thus far. It may also depend on what terrain a character can take advantage of, like a deep dive off the hoover dam to “safety.” At any rate, nobody should take a step outside of town and instantly lose his head.)

5.     Players should have a lot of choices when it comes to combat, making fighting a deeply tactical game, while not slowing down the visual pace and intensity of it.

6.     Lag should be a far less instrumental roadblock when it comes to making permadeath palatable, partly due to action-beats(similarish to timers) but also because retreat attempts could be the default character action on condition of disconnect.(this shouldn’t be a guarantee or it will be intentionally exploited, but it should at least provide some added protection).

 

 

Two glaring problems that I see so far:

 

1.     the engine would need to orchestrate increasingly complicated dances, depending on the # of player and npc participants. This might be too much to choreograph dynamically, especially given that I’m suggesting a non-abstracted look to the combat. (on the bright side, animations are more likely to make sense when player movement is no longer directly controlled  …so no long wind-ups just to impact on the cracked earth in front of you while your target tickles you from behind).

2.     I’m uncertain of the line of demarcation between walking around next to somebody and engaging with them in combat. Other combat systems don’t have this concern since movement is the same inside and outside of combat. When is combat officially declared? How far away are both actors? What happens if somebody who hasn’t declared just bops around through the exchange? Should players have to make a choice either to enter a combat radius(and play by the rules of the combat even if just passing through) or avoid it? That might not be too unreasonable given that people are swinging weapons in the vicinity. Still, I’m not quite sure of the details of a transition back and forth between gameplay modes.

 

So, bad idea?

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So, bad idea?

 

that's a matter of opinion.

 


Combat, while not realistic(if you blinked you’d miss the real stuff) would be cinematic

 

i'll take realism over graphics any day.

 


Combat would still be “more” realistic, because people wouldn’t take maces to the head, hacks from claymores or fireballs to the face over and over before dying. 

 

saying it would be more realistic than the rather unrealistic examples you give isn't really saying much at all.

 

such a system could hold appeal for those looking for something other than hard-core realism or arcade silliness in mmo combat.

 

there are a few challenges to overcome, most of which you seem to have identified.   things like: under what conditions does it switch to combat mode, having to select "moves" while combat is playing out, dealing with nearby non-combatants in the area, conveying target condition without a health bar, etc .

 

dealing with non-combatants is the hard one.  graphics and animations can be used to convey target condition, but its a LOT more work than a health bar.

 

having to select moves during combat will require balancing to keep the pace tense without becoming frustratingly frenetic.

 

but first, i'd determine what the overall marketability of the system would be. IE just how many folks are looking for an mmo with that type of combat system. i know i'm not.

 

such systems crop up from time to time in most types of games. The tabletop wargame Squad Leader by Avalon Hill comes to mind. there they replaced combat odds, combat tables and dice rolls with cards with 4 possible "moves" or "stances" for the combat. the attacker's and defender's choice of stance combined with odds determined results, with no die rolls or randomness whatsoever.

 

but typically, such systems - while considered novel - seldom become popular.

 

"if you build it, they will come." is NOT true.

 

"if you build it, they will not come, unless you build what they want." IS true.

 

make sure there's a market before you waste your life building this thing - unless its just for fun or learning.

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Helpful points, thanks! I definitely run the risk of overvaluing my unique tastes. As to implementation of such a system, great feedback on the difficulties involved, especially as a project with untested appeal. 

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1.     the engine would need to orchestrate increasingly complicated dances, depending on the # of player and npc participants. This might be too much to choreograph dynamically, especially given that I’m suggesting a non-abstracted look to the combat. (on the bright side, animations are more likely to make sense when player movement is no longer directly controlled  …so no long wind-ups just to impact on the cracked earth in front of you while your target tickles you from behind).

No, it's easy because the animations etc are clientside. The server simply predicts what the outcome of each action is, not the actual animations.

 


2.     I’m uncertain of the line of demarcation between walking around next to somebody and engaging with them in combat. Other combat systems don’t have this concern since movement is the same inside and outside of combat. When is combat officially declared? How far away are both actors? What happens if somebody who hasn’t declared just bops around through the exchange? Should players have to make a choice either to enter a combat radius(and play by the rules of the combat even if just passing through) or avoid it? That might not be too unreasonable given that people are swinging weapons in the vicinity. Still, I’m not quite sure of the details of a transition back and forth between gameplay modes.

 

Depends on what feels right, I think. That's something that gets tweaked way later than the planning phase.

 


So, bad idea?

 

That's subjective, but let's say you have a character you've played 200 hours on. You get in a fight with someone, and lose/permadie despite you having no direct control of the character. 

 

Are you designing mechanics that are fun for the player, or fun for the designer?

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I'm not sure if "mmo" and "permadeath" are going to go well together in a combat-oriented game.  The whole point of an MMO is you build up your character over time.

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Sounds like a swordplay equivalent of Day Z.

A few things to take into consideration:

1. Asshats who like murdering everyone. (obviously)

2. Asshats who create bots to auto-murder. (because asshat)

3. Any permadeath game had better be certain that the combat comes across as fair. It's a lot easier to tell when a server has lagged when it's combat with swords and you can see the weapon contact as well as lead up animations etc.

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I don't know what games you'd be using as a reference or inspiration but I highly recommend a combat system that is not "lock-on reliant".
In other words, in order to perform special, signature moves, you are required to lock-on to an enemy first.

I have played a variety of hack and slash game over the years and the ones that aren't lock-on dependent are the best.

When mapping the controls, do your best to assign the most common moves to have its own button.

I find games that requires me to tap one button to dodge are more fluid than games that forces me to press two buttons simultaneously, double-tap or something awkward like needing to lock-on to an enemy first and you can only dodge in specific directions.

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If this is a probe of interest then I say it sounds great and similar to my imagination of ideal system for MMORPG.

 

And yes, I something more than just think such a game system is do-able ie.- integration of RPG numbers and behaviors with player inputs.

If designed smart it can mitigate permadeath quite natural way.

Edited by Osidlus

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On a personal note, this idea is very intriguing. I think prototyping a simplified version of just this combat system in 2D would be lots of fun. Like giving mortal kombat depth and a sort of investment as opposed to one-off shots. It would probably also partly verify the validity of how players would actually experience such a system while also limiting the original investment. 

 

 

 

 

 

"if you build it, they will not come, unless you build what they want." IS true.

 

 

Respectfully, I do not believe that applies to innovation. It works when looking back, but future gamers didn't know they wanted to play pong before it was invented. In other words, they won't know if they want it, unless someone builds it first. Conversely, you could argue that they knew they wanted to play a 'fun new innovative game' - who's to say this system won't provide that (if properly executed:D).

 

So either way, like every new thing, it's a risk. It's probably not really new either, but then again we could find examples of old things being reinvented and blowing up because of other conditions.

 

TL;DR

I like the combat idea! :)

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