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Update #44: The Rules of (Melee) Engagement

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I really like this idea. As an amateur fencer and someone who has always been interested in sword fighting, this model appeals to me. It seems like a departure from that very medival plate behemoth who just takes all the punishment to this more swashbuckler like model. It makes it seem more like how melee combat ought to be, where you have to wait for an enemy to leave an opening and then capitalise on it.


My only suggestion is to include some sort of tactical movement mode, that allows you to remain in combat, while moving slowly away or towards. So if you are defending a strategic location and some rogue is trying to sneak past, you could inch your engagement zone towards him without disengaging from the other guy you're also trying to keep locked down. I want to have the opportunity to put as much thought into my manuvering as a fighter, as I might have with spell selection as a wizard.

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You seem to forget one thing: realistic or not is NOT the main aspect taken into thought here, gameplay mechanics are! Josh said it a while ago that combat design in PE strives to be fun and interesting to play, not especially realistic.

Except he also forgot this mechanic is realistic.  I can link you videos of dudes doing backflips in full plate, it is no where near as cumbersome or restricting as they see to think it is and any decent swordsman will have a host of moves they could use if you tried to simply "run past them".  Meanwhile kiting is one of the gamiest and most unrealistic tactics to ever exist.  In the real world your enemy can just not pursue you, use a shield, pull their own ranged weapon, hide behind cover, or plenty of other things.  No one is just going to stupidly follow you from just outside their attack range for eternity.  That is purely bad ai and terrible encounter design.


Also guns didn't replace swords for a very very long time.  Let's also not forget a flanking maneuver that took place on a hill in Pennsylvania that was defeated by a bayonet charge.  Melee weapons didn't become completely trivial until World War 1.

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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.


I don't think the point is making kiting invalid, it is making sure it has some tradeoffs.  Remember, in the IE games if your hasted archer isn't completely blocked off he can waltz past 10 melee attackers while flipping them individually off in the face, and be fine.  In other words, kiting was often *so good* you could succeed without actually being good at kiting.

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This sounds like a great mechanic!  It makes sense and I can see how you could develop a lot of deep tactics based off of preventing/exploiting "engagement" in combat.  As for the whole kiting thing that Khango was talking about...yeah kiting is one thing in gaming that has always bugged me precisely because the overpowered effects that are so exploitable.  Sure Mongols "kited" their enemies...from the back of a HORSE (man those guys were badasses).  Certainly it is possible, and it seems like it still will be a viable option in Project Eternity, but with this system it won't be so overwhelmingly effective.


Firearms replaced melee weapons (after hundreds of years) because it is hard to close to hand-to-hand range when you have a sucking chest wound.  Running around your enemy in a circle while shooting at him as he furiously tries to close the distance is a funny, yet completely silly thought.  The French loss at Agincourt had nothing to do with "kiting."  The terrain was really the decisive factor, that and a sky full of arrows from English longbowmen.  They had to charge down a narrow, muddy corridor (I forget how far, 300 yards or so) as the English just rained arrows down on them over and over.  The English were almost completely stationary.

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Think this is a great way to approach one of the qualitative aspects of melee combat, or at least fantasy melee combat.  I dabbled with a similarly stateful mechanic in a PNP setting, but the maintenance required at the table ended up outweighing its benefits.  After all, given {k, m} combatants partitioned into two teams and assuming engagement is directed (i.e. engagement is not necessarily mutual for any pair of combatants), there are 2*k*m individual engagement states to track.  Even though most of them would be trivially non-engaged, that is still a lot to worry about.  Perfect for a computer, however, and as long as there is clear feedback from the interface the user should have no trouble seeing when engagement is a consideration.


One could probably leverage such a system to build a lot of depth.  Some possibilities might be:

1) Special engagement zones.  Perhaps reach weapons engage at range but not right up close, while dagger wielders need to be glued to the target.  Thus, different combinations of weapons will tend toward different equilibrium in terms of effectiveness.  A character dual-wielding a one-handed spear and a dagger might have a wide range of engagement at expense of a particularly deadly point, while someone with two longswords might want to stick carefully to a moderate distance.  Depending on what the enemy is wielding this might lead to quite different considerations, and it would mean that a primary consideration for a weapon system is not just the target's armor but also the weapons they wield, which has the potential for more interesting tradeoffs.  One could tell characters to focus on maximizing damage by engaging at their optimal distance, focus on minimizing damage by attacking from where the enemy's weapons aren't so effective, or any balance in between.  This needn't be an exercise of position micromanagement, just let the computer calculate or move toward an equilibrium based on what the targets have and how they are told to attack, but give the player high-level control of what they would like optimized.  Or possibly not in the case of raging barbarians, taunted/bluffed/intimidated characters, and so on.

2) Various melee abilities when creatures are mutually engaged, which is the essence of dueling.

3) Various abilities when only one creature in a pair is considered to be engaged.  The notion of the sneak attack is often that the attacker has engaged the defender, but the defender cannot defend effectively.  Ganging up on somebody would be ideal for the rogue, but a fighter or other character that learns to engage many creatures would eventually be less easy to harass in that way.

4) Smart ways of "passing" engagement between allies, or abilities that depend on allies both engaging the same target.

5) Other notions of engagement that rely on the same basic idea.  For example, when can a rogue hide?  Coming from D&D roots, usually the answer is when no one is watching them.  That is a sense of visual engagement, which could potentially be leveraged for skills, spells, etc.

6) A primary utility of some summoned creatures might be as a means to create engagement, rather than to simply do damage.  Since balancing summons is always difficult anyway, it might be nice if at least some were less about doing or soaking damage and more about creating opportunities for those things.

7) Elaborate traps could "engage" characters in a similar fashion, which prevents, limits, or locks-in the means the creature has for escaping the trap.  If engagement is passed around creatively the party as a whole may have to adapt their escape strategy.  (No idea whether this would actually work.)


Those are great ideas.


What I like most about the update is how this creates opportunities for the different classes to have different uses with respect to engagement. I like the idea of a rogue being useful for avoiding penalties when snucking past fighters' "rings of engagement" ;)


On the other hand, I don't think mages should have the "grimoire slam" ability from a balance point of view. Mages are meant to be shafted from being engaged (and protected from being so by other characters), not have own non-spell protections from it.

"Well, overkill is my middle name. And my last name. And all of my other names as well!"

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Created an account to comment on this. While I think you guys are moving in the right direction, I think the system you use could be a bit more powerful while also being a bit more realistic.


When two people are fighting each other, they are both attacking conservatively. Neither is going to wildly swing their weapon because they will probably get stabbed. So actual melee combat is a careful balance between offense and defense.


In a situation where one combatant is unthreatened they are able to attack much more effectively, because they do not have to worry about being counterattacked. They don't need to worry about feinting or leaving themselves open. They just swing/thrust to kill.


I would translate that same phenomenon to the game. If a combatant is not being threatened by their target, then they would get a large bonus to their attack. This means that simply trying to walk around a fighter will get you your **** slapped, since you are not threatening them.


This mechanic would also allow for things like rogue backstabs (coming out of the shadows, they are not being threatened, so they get to do a powerful attack). Or flanking attacks -  since most units could only threaten one enemy at a time, ganging up becomes very effective.


Just a thought.

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Damn, that is a great idea.

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I would like the Grimoire to at least double as a weapon so you can phonebook people for 1 damage, even if just for the comical factor.

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.

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The basic idea is good and it sounds like you are adding in some nice details to flesh it out.  I have some minor concerns though and some comments to help flesh it out more.


1) It sounds like fighters in defense mode can engage 3 guys.  That sounds like a lot.  I can see this for an experienced warrior but for a base ability it sounds like too much.  If your parrty had 3 ranged specialists than an NPC warrior could tie down all your melee guys.

2) When engaged you should still be able to move a little.  It sounds like you are planning something like this but the details weren't there.  Since movement is taking place in real time I would recommend actually making the movement rate slower until you are disengaged.  You can force the disengage at any point though to get full movement back but provoke an attack of opportunity.  You mentioned forcing an opponent to stop when engagement starts.  Maybe the slow move effect could replace that and give a similar effect?

3) Please add plenty of abilities to manipulate attackers and defenders that are engaged.  You mentioned some of these for the different classes but add more.  A more experienced warrior should be able to slowly move the opponent back and slowly circle around him for instance without provoking an attack of opportunity.  If you have a shield you can try and push them back.

4) Have the engagement radius be based on the weapon length as well as the experience of the fighter.  Small weapons could get accuracy bonuses to make up for this (easier to react to a sudden unexpected movement).

5) Not so sure about the Grimoire Slam ability.  The effect is fine but the picture that name brings to mind is a bit goofy.  Maybe just give it a different name.  From the comments above it sounds like some do like it as it is though.

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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 ... ;)


Thanks! We've been getting better at doing updates (and are able to do them more quickly) - I'll pass on your words to the update team.

Follow me on twitter - @adam_brennecke

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I really like how you've described this so far, but one thing to note is that melee enemies WERE a potent threat even without this in, say, Baldur's Gate--one of the reasons why ranged was so useful was that melee enemies like Sarevok would drop you in seconds if you let them close.  So while you're increasing melee effectiveness area, you may want to make sure you don't accidentally make them destroy an entire party with a single sneeze.


Actually, pretty much any offensive method in the IE games could be so lethal it was absurd, the real problem lay in getting your DEFENSES up against the bosses with Equally Absurd offenses so that you DIDN'T have to kite them in order to survive.  Those games were never a matter of "what tactics do I use" but rather "what particular bit of cheese do I pull out now to either WIN INSTANTLY or SOMEHOW SURVIVE THIS INSANELY STUPID FIGHT".


I'd like to see *a lot more* of these sorts of tactical options, though, like, say, mages throwing down walls that block ranged fire and make fighters go around, ranged banking shots off walls.  But remember that more options in a party based game means you need a REALLY GOOD interface that doesn't make you click through a ton of menus to Make Stuff Happen.

Edited by PsychoBlonde
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Grand Rhetorist of the Obsidian Order

If you appeal to "realism" about a video game feature, you are wrong. Go back and try again.

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Wonderful update, and so many wonderful comments and suggestions! A big hug to you all!  :)


I love the grimoire slam, it's so true to the spirit of any good adventurous RPG! :wub:


PsychoBlonde: A very important point: Just make sure that ranged attacks and spells, also sneaking and mind-dazzling cipher methods get a fair share at messing up the order of things, and then especially that engagement zone.


P.S. But Josh, what happened to the production beard? Perhaps it's time to break such traditions, anyway, huh? They are more fitting in the setting of ice hockey finals than in the sphere of game making.

*** "The words of someone who feels ever more the ent among saplings when playing CRPGs" ***


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I like it, simple, clean and effective. If you can resist the temptation to add a million clauses, additional abilities and flat counters it will be a great mechanic. The examples you gave give me hope though, sounds like they all have good counter-play built in.

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