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Hello, I'd like to talk a bit about the flow of combat or more specifically combat speed. I believe this is intricately tied to the mechanics, so it's probably better discussed now than later.

 

I think that extremes are unfeasible:

  • If combat is too fast, I foresee two outcomes. Either it will become very twitchy (fast reactions and command giving; think competitive strategies) or it will require pausing the game very often. While this is basically the essence of real-time with pause I believe it can detract from game play as well as aesthetics if it's TOO often. As a practical example of a game in which combat was not cohesive with the rest of gameplay (perhaps due to my expectations) I would give DA2 in which I often got that "adrenaline-y" feeling while killing stuff, then just running forward to the next encounter, like I was doing in Torchlight. Or if you want to try and recreate the "too much pausing" feeling, play an IE game at higher FPS (AI updates/s).

  • On the other hand if it's too slow, combat can seem stretched and frustrating (unintentionally so). I don't really have any game with this at the top of my head, but let's say IWD2 at the lower levels. You know, when you have little to no special attacks/spells and just have to whack some orcs over the head (or rather whack the air around them) for what seems to be an eternity. I personally didn't find it too engaging to just set it on attack and wait until something dies...

What are the tools to balance this?

  • The first would be time units. In IE games we have so-called personal rounds, which are to my understanding closed time intervals in which the character can act between movements. These define the maximum possible actions of a character over a certain period of time. Time is neatly stored in small packets, the length of which can then be manipulated to achieve the desired effect. There were conflicts when the rules would require more than physically possible to show, but I think with a new ruleset that can be avoided.

  • Something more specific would be attack rolls (rules?). 10 attacks per round with a 5% chance to connect with each would be just annoying to me. Conversely making every attack connect is much simpler, but may have other drawbacks (lessened "realism", the loss of a layer of gameplay,...)
    Hand in hand with this I would put damage done and enemy HP. Perhaps it's a matter of personal taste, but it throws off my suspension of disbelief, when the PC is a high dmg/low hp thing and the enemies low dmg/high hp punching bags. I believe the same rules should apply to everything within a world, not have them separate for the player. However, yes, it's pretty obvious that these can be easily manipulated for different combat speeds.

  • Not so direct - combat actions available to the player. There is probably no one on this board that would say that too many options is a bad thing (me included). Yet I also believe this is a non-trivial question. The more optimal players will use everything at their disposal. The more direct players will not. This can prove to be a divide in player experiences (resulting in complaining and "you're not playing it right" retorts) and while I don't think that the game has to be "accessible" (as it is often presented), I believe it should offer some uniformity (at least in the broad sense).
     
    Now games have always had a few ways of handling this, the foremost being (companion) AI. Besides difficulty, AI can also influence the flow of combat for the player, how often pausing is needed and how often some repetitive orders need to be issued. I consider AI to be a cover for the people that want to be less involved, or just be there to lessen the load of the more involved ones, providing a closer experience. Even better programmable AI - I thoroughly enjoyed the "Tactics" in the DA line. However there is in my opinion a big issue with companions doing stuff automatically in a game such as PE (or IE engine) and that is the usage of finite resources (assuming you can't rest every 10 feet). In these games the player cannot just look at each encounter individually, but must take in consideration a whole series of them and perhaps even have some extra resources "just in case". This simply cannot be done effectively artificially.
     
    I believe the number of classes we have can be exploited to some extent here, transferring some micromanagement around or at least limiting it. Some classes can be perhaps intentionally more involved for advanced players, however I suspect that wouldn't be met with much enthusiasm (dividing players).

  • Action duration. A balanced and diverse approach would work well here I guess, with some things taking longer than others to accomplish. I can't really say what would be ideal as this would require specific times and information. I see this as a big and important part though, affecting a lot of strategic aspects. The only thing I would add is that I would like to see consistency throughout the adventure - not 5 times faster swinging at high levels.

That's about it from me, post your thoughts :).

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Good points, :thumbsup:.

 

Combat is comprised of so many factors, it's a very difficult thing to balance perfectly. You get a little math wrong and everyone's picking one class over all the others (just have a caster and you win!), or people are neglecting entire sets of abilities (like trap-usage in certain games). But, aside from the math balancing (damage, durations, etc.), one very important aspect is the level of control presented to the player. The intuitiveness of the gameplay controls should be well in-line with the complexity of the gameplay.

 

Trap-usage actually brings up a very good example of precedent in a lot of RPGs. You tend to have the option of using various traps (maybe even crafting/customizing them) that, in theory, will help you dispatch or at least potently affect several enemies. However, there's often absolutely no thought put into any controls for manipulating the enemies into your traps. You end up taking an unnecessarily long time setting up the rest of your party so they won't be in the way or get injured while you jiggle your bait character around at some enemies in the hopes of attracting ONLY the ones you wish to, then attempt to cause them to path into your trap with very plain movement controls whilst avoiding your own trap, THEN making sure your party doesn't just stand around for 10 seconds after the trap goes off in the event that it doesn't outright eliminate your foes.

 

If you allow for controls that are pertinent to trap-using as well, such as some kind of party ambush stance (which isn't necessarily absent from all previous RPGs) and some kind of luring ability or control mechanic for your Stealthy McStealtherton, you end up with a useful mechanic that isn't overshadowed by the greater ease and equal usefulness of all other combat choices.

 

You could even incorporate something like trap-usage into the regular flow of combat, rather than limiting it to the stealth system and combat initiation. Say one of your hearty melee characters can be put in a sort of "hold off" behavior, set to engage his target while focusing on minimizing damage to himself at the cost of aggression and, essentially, damage output. Perhaps this is some menacing troll or something that would take quite an effort to go head-to-head with no matter how you do it. So your hearty melee person is making sure the troll doesn't run amok, smashing your less armored folk into columns and floors and such, while making sure he doesn't become ensmushed, as efficiently as possible, basically to buy your trap-layer (not even necessarily a stealthy character, in this situation) to set up some kind of elaborate trap. Then, once it's ready, you have your holder-offer deliver some kind of leg blow or stunning/crippling attack just to by himself a few seconds to get his butt out of there, and your whole party runs off past the trap while your trap-layer stands at the ready. When the troll steps onto the trap, the trap-layer springs the trap, holding the troll in place for much longer than any of your combat skills could have, perhaps, while others unload arrows into it and/or hack away at it. Maybe even now your Rogue easily gets behind it for some backstab action.

 

This is difficult to do real-time with when you're trying to control each member of the party to make sure they're there to support the main holder-offer character, but also making sure, manually, that they don't attack enough to make themselves too much of a threat for the troll not to charge them instead, while also making sure the person trying to hold the troll's attention is minimizing his damage at the same time.

 

Sometimes there are behaviors in place beyond the "passive, defensive, aggressive" "stances," but they need to have a lot of care put into them to work well and to provide some sort of actual utility besides simply changing numbers like damage output and damage mitigation. This sort of touches on AI, I suppose, but specifically for friendlies rather than enemies.

 

Your party shouldn't be a burden to control, but you should still get to decide how they go about combat. This drastically adds to the combat flow.


Should we not start with some Ipelagos, or at least some Greater Ipelagos, before tackling a named Arch Ipelago? 6_u

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