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Update #44: The Rules of (Melee) Engagement

project eternity josh sawyer combat engagement

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#1
The Guildmaster

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Update by Josh Sawyer, Project Director and Lead Designer

 

 

Last week, our art director, Rob, showed you our godlike concepts and dazzled you with an in-depth technical breakdown of how we're doing animation rigging on the project. This week, we'll be talking about a different technical subject, but one that's more connected to gameplay: engagement -- specifically, melee engagement.

Melee engagement is a solution to two common problems in the Infinity Engine games: melee characters' inability to control an area and ranged characters' ability to "kite" melee characters. In the Infinity Engine games, melee characters could be quite powerful in toe-to-toe combat, but many opponents found ways to foil those characters with little difficulty. Fast characters could easily rush around a slower melee character with impunity and ranged characters could backpedal perpetually out of reach.

If you're familiar with D&D 3E/3.5/4E/Pathfinder's attack of opportunity mechanics, Project Eternity's melee engagement fills a similar role by making melee combatants "sticky". Coming near a melee combatant means being drawn into Engagement with him or her, a state that can be risky to get out of.

Here's how it works: when two opposed combatants come near each other and one of them a) has a melee weapon equipped b) is not moving and c) is not currently at his or her maximum limit of engagement targets (the standard is 1), the other character will be Engaged.

When an opponent is Engaged by an attacker, moving any significant distance away from the attacker will provoke a Disengagement Attack. A Disengagement Attack has an inherent Accuracy bonus, does significantly more damage than a standard attack, and will call a hit reaction animation while momentarily stopping the character's movement.

When it's initiated, a Disengagement Attack automatically breaks Engagement on the target, but if the target is also the attacker's current melee target, the attacker will typically be able to re-establish Engagement before the target can move farther away. In this manner, melee combatants, especially ones that have high Accuracy and damage per hit, have a solid mechanic for keeping enemies close to them -- or making the cost of escape extremely expensive.

Of course, there are other ways to end Engagement. If the attacker switches to a non-melee weapon or performs a non-melee-based action, Engagement immediately ends. If the attacker moves away from their Engagement targets, is paralyzed, knocked down, or otherwise prevented from maintaining a threat, Engagement will also immediately end. If the attacker has a limited number of Engagement targets (as most do) and switches his or her attack focus to a different character, Engagement immediately ends.

We believe that Engagement can give AI a clear "decision point" where they can evaluate the threat of their new status and choose the appropriate course of action. For player-controlled characters, it makes melee enemies more potent threats and presents players with tactical challenges to solve.

We want Engagement to be a mechanic that players and enemies can mess with using a variety of class Abilities and general Talents, so we will be experimenting with a variety of elements to that end:

  • Fighters' Defender mode allows them to engage two additional targets and increases the range at which they engage targets. This gives fighters much greater capability to control the area around them.
  • The limited-use Escape ability lets rogues break Engagement without provoking a Disengagement Attack. It is generally best used when the rogue's enemy is preoccupied with another target.
  • Barbarians can use Wild Rush to temporarily ignore the movement stop and hit reactions from Engagement and Disengagement Attacks, respectively -- though they can still suffer massive damage while powering through.
  • The wizards' Grimoire Slam allows them to attack an enemy in melee with their magically-charged grimoires, unleashing a concussive wave of energy on contact. If it hits, the attack knocks the target back, usually far enough to break Engagement in the process.

 

Additionally, creatures may have their own special abilities related to Engagement and Disengagement Attacks. We hope that the system itself is easy to understand but allows for increasingly complex tactical considerations over the course of the game.

 

pe-josh-two-weapon-fighting.jpg

 

That's all for this week! Let us know what you think of the mechanic on our forums. Your feedback, as always, is appreciated. In our next update, in addition to our usual weekly content, we'll also be continuing our thrilling coverage of Chris Avellone's playthrough of Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura.

 


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#2
Lephys

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Excellent update! I can't wait for more details on this, and what all it affects/affects it. This is heavily pertinent to the Duck and Sidestep thread I just created.

Things like the Fighter's Defender modal ability actually engaging multiple targets in melee combat are right up the alley of what I was hoping for in terms of tactical, positional control. 8D


I wonder... will there be ways of moving the engagement, as a whole? What I mean is, can a Fighter actually draw his three (maximum of three, with the two additional?) targets over to a canyon mouth chokepoint (so as to cut off incoming reinforcements from that direction), or rotate the engagement (so as to grant other party members line-of-sight on his targets?)

Or, is it simply going to be "Well, here's where we're engaged, so here's where we're standing and which direction we're facing until one of us either dies or breaks engagement..."?

Juuuust curious. 8P


Also, apparently Josh has unlimited Targets of Engagement, as he is engaging THE ENTIRE FORUM! Nobody sign off, or we'll suffer devastating hits from both that sword AND that mace! O_O

Edited by Lephys, 26 February 2013 - 06:28 PM.


#3
Zed

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So Avellone's Arcanum playthroughs are gonna take tuesday slots from game updates? :(

I thought that was just a fun bonus thing.



#4
The Guildmaster

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So Avellone's Arcanum playthroughs are gonna take tuesday slots from game updates? :(

I thought that was just a fun bonus thing.

 

Oh sorry, it's a bonus to the update - it's not just the update! I edited that to clear that up. :)



#5
Jaesun

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This is excellent. So this is basically adding "attacks of opportunity" to the combat (which the IE games never had).

 

I like this.



#6
Lephys

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This is excellent. So this is basically adding "attacks of opportunity" to the combat (which the IE games never had).

 

... AND a bag o' chips. 8)

 

The flaw with Attacks of Opportunity is that they covered WAY too many opportunities. Sniffle a bit? AOO! Glance to the left because you heard a noise? AOO! Take a step wrong? AOO!

 

Okay, they weren't THAT bad. But, still. I like that this defines an actual state of engagement or non-engagement, distance/actions and all.
 

Still wondering how much positional manipulation is allowed within an engagement. Intentional repositioning (on either party's part), I should say.


Edited by Lephys, 26 February 2013 - 06:54 PM.


#7
Tigranes

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Like the concept, specifics pending. It's a sensible mechanic, it's intuitive to players whilst playing, it inherently transforms combat mechanics, and can be manipulated by advanced players for tactical complexity. This will need to be met by good, solid movement controls & characters that don't 'glide', though using IE-style 2D/3D already makes that easier. Imagine having this mechanic in Aurora Engine variants, it would be a nightmare. I imagine Engagement will be clearly marked with an icon in the player portrait and/or simple graphics on the sprites, reducing accidental move-aways.

If they implement Engagement range for longer-range weapons and give polearms some ability to 'rope in' nearby opponents into engagement that would also be a good RTwP way of simulating what Age of Decadence does in this regard (where, as it's turn-based, walking to tiles adjacent to a melee character risks getting hit and pushed back for your trouble).


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#8
Greensleeve

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Very good to see. Pretty cool mechanic, and I like what the Defender modal ability seems to be doing.

 

My crackdown type of fighter might actually be viable, which would make me happy. Get the enemy close, keep them close, then punish them massively for staying close. 



#9
Jhonrock

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WOW!!! I loved the concept of this engagement system. It adds a good amount of tactics to the gameplay. I think it can make the battles more exciting too.
 
Man, i really liked the idea and i'm very excited to see it in action.


#10
Tamerlane

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Opportunity attacks are Good Things, and the fact that they can sort of "tie up" an opponent as opposed to just doing a bit of damage as they run by your fighter is particularly nice.

 


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#11
Tychoxi

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I wasn't convinced at first (seemed to be overpowering melee chars)... but the awesome set up sold me right on the spot.

 



#12
JFSOCC

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This is my favourite update so far.
I was wondering, will this system of melee engagement work with a zone of control? More damage done to unengaged characters within that range, or is it strictly impairment of mobility?

The wizards' Grimoire Slam allows them to attack an enemy in melee with their magically-charged grimoires, unleashing a concussive wave of energy on contact. If it hits, the attack knocks the target back, usually far enough to break Engagement in the process.

"Rookie, throw the book at him" *puts on glasses*
http://instantyeah.org/

Edited by JFSOCC, 26 February 2013 - 07:36 PM.

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#13
Novanus

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Oh man, this is gonna be a tough game!  I am playing through BG1 at the moment and I would have died so many times if I couldn't kite.  :w00t:  More tactical options are good though so I welcome the change.  I hope you can balance it well so it's not overpowered for either side (AI or PC).



#14
Hormalakh

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Great update and game mechanic. Was wishing to see some updates on previous mechanics (like hit/miss and armor mechs) just to see where we stand, but that's probably a WIP still. 

 

In terms of Engagement, I'm hoping that the computer AI is smart about this and isn't open to work arounds or players being able to take advantage of the mechanic. For example, having enemies constantly switching engagement between enemies and thus limiting the usefulness of this. I can't come up with actual examples right now, but computer AI is notorious for sucking when complex mechanics are put in place. Just wanted to give a heads up on this and wondering if the devs had anything particular to say about this.

 

EDIT: Also, I'm loving the camera work and the new style of updates. Very professional and it seems like this would be a great addition for developer commentary on some DVD in the future ... ;)


Edited by Hormalakh, 26 February 2013 - 07:36 PM.


#15
Happycrow

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First post here.

 

As a typical combo-geek (martial arts/rpgs), I have advocated "engagement" for a long, long time.  Kiting is real and kiting is good, but you don't just waltz in and out of swiping range without risk of getting whacked in the face.


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#16
NerdBoner

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I like the idea behind this mechanic...just make sure it takes spellcasting and other "interuptible actions" into account so that it doesn't become an exploit. Otherwise I can easily see fighters being used as casting disruptors just by "engaging" without even having to swing their weapons.


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#17
Elerond

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I like how melee characters take more important role in combat's tactical side. It looks that especially break through enemy lines will become more interesting than what it is in IE games.

 

And engagement areas could give good way make spear, halberd or some other pole arm better choice than sword or hammer. And of course I hope that this means that I can make wizard like Gandalf who can say to demon that "You shall not pass"  :D.


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#18
Lephys

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Would the on-screen indicator for the radius of the engagement area be... the Engagement Ring? 8)


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#19
Eingradd

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I encourage the move away from the Infinity Engine's melee limitations, however, I'm curious as to how Obsidian will avoid exploitation of the AI with the engagement system. I would think if you could force an enemy to disengage a warrior (from either a ranged attack or fear spell perhaps) it would cause an (in)finite loop of engaging, forcing a disengage, and reaping the benfits of a free attack.


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#20
khango

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I'm not so thrilled about this. Kiting should be a very viable strategy. This is why the Mongols destroyed all their enemies. It's why the French lost at Agincourt. And it's why swords went out of style when guns came about. To oversimplify.

 

In IE games, I always thought that is was somewhat realistic how you had to clog or surround doors or send your attack in with specific waves in order to keep your weak-but-powerful characters from getting clobbered or targeted, and how ranged weapons were often more practical than melee.

 

It makes perfect sense that a thief with no armor to speak of can pretty much run circles around some guy with a heavy weapons and a hundred pounds of plate and baggage, especially in a wide open area, but that he loses that advantage as it becomes more enclosed. 

 

Yes, there should be an area around someone with a melee weapon that you can't speed through without risking a hit, but for the average sword you're talking maybe 6 to 10 ft. radius, and if the the person who wants to make a run of can get their opponent  to take a swing or make a parry is probably home free. Likewise, the mechanics change once you've closed inside of a weapon's effective range. This is why many sword styles teach techniques like pommeling for emergencies when you've failed to keep your measure.

 

In general, lightly armored people have a pretty good chance of not being troubled by heavily armored people if there's enough space or if they can use the speed/maneuverability advantage to keep their enemy out of proper measure. For most weapons there's a distance where the weapon becomes too awkward to use, while still being too far away to easily grapple.

 

The viable strategies for protecting your non-melee characters who aren't able to run ought to amount to blocking entrances and constraining access, or stacking up near them (body-guarding) so that anybody can't make a  melee attack on them without being stuck in clobbering range of your heavies, not leaving loads of open approaches that game mechanics prevent attackers from taking advantage of.


Edited by khango, 26 February 2013 - 08:11 PM.






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