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rightjosh9

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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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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>>> "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.

 

au contraire - if you innovate, and yet they do not want it, they still will not come.

 

i've thrived for decades on uniqueness and innovation.  more of the same is only a safe bet until the users get tired of more of the same.  one can be innovative and unique and still have wide appeal. much depends on the category you compete in. unique settings and gametypes are one thing - unusual game mechanics are another - and are often a more risky innovation. 

 

in the end, the trick is a simple as 1.2.3:

1. build a better mousetrap - not yet another mousetrap - a better mousetrap than anyone else!.

2. tell the world. if you don't they'll never come.

3. stare in disbelief as the world beats a path to your door.

 

problem is, 99% of game shops never even accomplish step 1.

 

in this forum you have some of the best gamedevs in the world, and i'll bet only a couple hundred (if that) can claim to have worked on a "best in class" title in their entire lives. (IE best in class for when it was released).

 

.

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

 

 

This.  I've thought about several "cool ideas" that have come up and ultimately had to completely overhaul, if not simply discard them when I realized that I would never want to play a game like that.  Many features are really neat on paper as a designer, but end up leaching all the fun away from the player.

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I follow this. I imagine the mechanic as more of controlling the mind and intentions of the fighter than the actual fighting. I really dig the idea! I have two suggestions. First, forget about extraneous factors for now (such as how non-combatants and multi-person fighting are dealt with). They are legitimate concerns, but too far ahead to worry about now. You don't even have the "single combatant" part down yet. Second, how about a "momentum" dynamic? When I started thinking about cerebral combat, I had a flashback to the time I played Heavy Rain on ps3. The multiple-choice reactive combat style used there has been repeated with limited success-- usually something like "press O now to counter" or "mash R2 repeatedly". These attempts at reactive choices are generally very lame (and I do mean *very*), but when done well the effect is spectacular (and very cinematic in feel). You could implement a system where the combatants act according to a real-time impromptu script (as you suggest), but when the combatants' scripts conflict then reactive choices must be made (parry left? Dodge back? Parry up and counter low?). The choices available will depend on the fighter, the situation, and the script. Rather than use HP or even stamina, you could use momentum, a single bar which moves left to right for both combatants. When one fighter makes a particularly brilliant move, the momentum of the fight moves in their favor. Successive good moves (where the enemy fails to effectively counter) will continue the trend until a breaking point is reached. If the momentum of the fight swings all the way to one side then the victor has a decisive win (enemy is on ground and submissive or otherwise utterly defeated) and has the option to kill. A decisive win will only occur if the losing player--for whatever reason--decides to continue fighting after the momentum is clearly in the other fighter's favor and the best option is to end the fight by fleeing (or submitting to defeat. Or whatever conditions apply that allow the combatant to escape with his/her life). Ignoring the momentum of the fight will cost a reckless fighter his life. An intelligent fighter knows when to back away from a losing battle. Give players this option, and deaths will be rare (and always the player's fault).

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All good feedback!

 

I agree awesometoday, a 2d version might be a good way to test this, though I think maybe a top down 2d plane that accounts for movement might be where to start. 

Thanks gamer_jack_gameson for the ideas. I will just focus on the 1v1 aspect of gameplay to see how that goes, and we're definitely on the same page about giving players enough rope to either make a hasty retreat or hang themselves. I think my stamina concept is very similar to your momentum concept the way I envision it. There would be stamina and burst-energy(which replenishes when a breather can be taken, at a rate related to overall stamina), and while overall stamina can deplete for both players, when a situation is lopsided it essentially would work as that momentum slider you speak of. 

 

Anyway, I've poured a lot more hours into this thought project since my op. I've mapped out player decisions across action beats and solved for some unexpected complications, but I'm a long way to solving some of the problems. I'm currently facing the daunting task of how to abstract combat choices down to a manageable level that gives the player some creative decision-making freedom, but also allows him or her to take in and respond to information that the opponent is conveying. Weapon choices and their visual components are obviously a part of this, exertion will be another ...and right now I intend to break things down into stances, which will open up some maneuver possibilities and shut down others, hopefully with the intention of narrowing down the range of things each player needs to be able to preempt or respond to in the following beat. Anyway, that's one of the more basic early ideas. 

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This sounds awesome!

Many studios are experimenting with cinematic experiences, to mixed reactions, but I like the trend. Heavy rain is a great example of this trend (also note that many people REALLY didn't like that game). Journey is another great example of a game not strictly dealing with mechanics.

It seems counter-intuitive, but trading a measure of player control for cinematic effect can actually increase player immersion, even though you are taking away some of the player's control. There is a balance somewhere.

on that note, how are you dealing with the graphical issues? a rogue-like can get away with bare skin and bones, but it sounds like you will at least need some decent animations. You didn't say anything about your budget but I presume you are not dropping half a bil on this...

I hope to hear more about this project! And please, call me Jack.

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Dark Souls 1, 2, and 3 are almost exactly what you described.

 

The combat is very much like you described, and although HP is a thing, it doesn't have the disconnected, number-grindy feel of an MMO. Imagine Skyrim-meets-LoZ with the combat diversity of Street Fighter. The differences:

 

Multiplayer: You didn't mention this specifically for your idea, I don't think, but this game is not an MMO... not quite. The way multi-player works is this:

 

This game is built as if it were a single-player game, and the focus is on PvE... very challenging PvE. The game is run on your system, not a server. You are, however, connected to a server that exists to establish P2P connections between certain players. If two players are in the same physical area of the game, and are within a certain range of character progression, they can be connected to one another at random. (The server rotates your connections with other eligible players very frequently, almost every 30 seconds or so.) Being connected to another player does not mean that you are both in the same instance of the area; your instances are separate. However, there are items that you can use to enter someone else's instance of the game.

 

1.) Place a "summon sign" on the ground via a re-usable soapstone. Players that you are connected to can see the sign in their world, and can choose to summon you by activating the sign. A white soapstone allows you to be summoned for co-op, and a red one allow you to be summoned for combat against the "host" that summoned you to their instance.

 

2.) Use a Red Eye Orb to force yourself into the world of a random player (called "invading"), with the supposed goal of killing the "host" to collect their "embers" (explained below) and some quantity of souls. You can, of course, choose simply to dick around and never attack the host.

 

3.) Join a particular covenant (imagine a hard-coded "guild" that functions as a match-making/lore mechanic rather than a tool for socialization or trading) that allows members to protect other hosts. If a host in another specific covenant is invaded, you automatically "counter-invade" to protect the host.

 

Perma-Death: There is no "perma-death" in Dark Souls, but every time you die, there is a consequence.

 

When you die, you respawn at a "bonfire," functionally a check-point and a hub for inventory management. Every enemy respawns as well, except for bosses.

 

The unspent souls (more below) you carry on your person are always at risk. If you die, you will drop your souls at the location of death. If you can get to them without dying again, those dropped souls are back in your possession. If you die before picking them up, they are gone.

 

Death also causes you to lose some amount of maximum HP. This maximum HP can be restored by consuming an item, called an Ember (in DS3). The restoration lasts until you die again. However, being "embered" will make you vulnerable to invasions from other players seeking to take the ember for themselves. Simultaneously, you cannot utilize a summon sign to summon help if you are not embered.

 

Character Progression: The progression has verticality to it, but you don't have to worry much about leveling up. You will only ever connect to people that are [X] levels away from you, and surviving any fight boils down to dodging, parrying, or blocking, but mostly dodging.

 

As you kill things, you collect their souls. You can use souls at a central location in the game to increase various attributes, such as Strength, Dexterity, Vigor, Faith, Intelligence, Attunement, and so on. It does not take long to hit the point of highly diminishing returns in a given attribute, so you don't need to invest a shit-load of time into a character to make them PvP-viable. If two people with roughly equal skill were to face eachother, one with a well-focused character at level 120, and the other with a maxed-out character at level 838, the fight would be on surprisingly equal footing. When match-making is restricted to others within a much smaller range of levels, no-one remains under-leveled for long.

 

tl;dr: Check out Dark Soul's game design.

Edited by Balisan

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