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The problem with binary Melee Engagement in a real-time game - it's not just about the visual feedback

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Or rather, it is about visual feedback, but it's not enough to know from that feedback that you're engaged after you've already been engaged. In my opinion, it's just as important - maybe even more important - to be clearly aware of the moment in which melee engagement occurs as it occurs, and to be able to control it and cancel it if desired.

 

The thing about being locked into melee engagement is that temporally, it's a binary action. One moment, you're not in melee engagement and free to run around, and the next moment an enemy comes juuuuuust close enough, and boom, now you're locked in place. I believe that in a game that has already taken steps towards acknowledging the necessity for less "swingy" behavior in RPG combat, this is something that is worth addressing.

 

The process of melee engagement shouldn't be a flip of a switch - it should be a visually distinct, gradual and player-controllable process, just like any other in-game action. Thus, as your character closes in on an enemy (or as enemy closes in on him), some animation should begin. This can be a change in the physical stance and/or movement speed of the character model itself, or it can be something that's reflected in the character's selection circle and/or some other symbolic user interface representation. Or both!

 

While this animated process of entering the locked melee engagement state is incomplete, the player can attempt to retreat without suffering a disengagement attack  - although he might fail, perhaps if the enemy realizes what he's doing and sticks close to him, or if he's too late to get far enough away before it completes.

 

Obviously, the system would be tuned so that trying to go around a melee character before becoming engaged would be impossible - your only way out would be to retreat backwards, 180 degrees or close to it. And even that should be a bit difficult to pull off, if your timing is imprecise or if the enemy chases you.

 

My inspiration for this system is none other than the much-criticized "Rogue shuffle" animation from Dragon Age: Origins. DA:O was very good about visualizing the transition into and out of melee. You always felt very much in control of the process, as your rogue seamlessly shifted into and out of that slower-moving, hunched, "shuffling" melee stance. It was more-or-less purely cosmetic there, but it would have been very easy to attach an actual game mechanic to it. (Who knows, maybe they even considered that at one point.)

Edited by Infinitron
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I honestly think you are onto something great here. In a game with real time combat, a phase in-phase out solution such as this could most likely work well.


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

 

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Right now you automatically enter "combat stance" when you tell any character to attack something maybe saving it for mele engagement could work but I have my doubts. And Im not sure how adding an aditional animation to it would help.

 

You could also add an animation to the circles showing a small "locked to each other" icon. This would be really useful for when your Fighter is getting swarmed by 5 spiders so you dont know how which ones would suffer a disengagement penalty whould thye leave. Actually, Im not certain at all how engagement and disengagement mechanics work when you are engaged with more enemies than your engagement threshold allows.

 

On the other hand Im worried the combat elements become too many for the the sake of "feedback" that it all becomes a mess. The combat log is now a good tool to let you see what is actually happenning and tells you of the engagements. Clarity =/= feedback and I err in favor of clarity.

Engagement character animations and sounds are clarity, more icons to clutter the combat landscape may not be.

Edited by Fiebras

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Right now you automatically enter "combat stance" when you tell any character to attack something maybe saving it for mele engagement could work but I have my doubts. And Im not sure how adding an aditional animation to it would help.

 

An animation helps because it isn't instantaneous - it takes time to play and can (should be able to) be cancelled. It gives the player both more visual feedback on what is going on and more control.

Edited by Infinitron

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You could also add an animation to the circles showing a small "locked to each other" icon. This would be really useful for when your Fighter is getting swarmed by 5 spiders so you dont know how which ones would suffer a disengagement penalty whould thye leave. Actually, Im not certain at all how engagement and disengagement mechanics work when you are engaged with more enemies than your engagement threshold allows.

Actually, after the update (v301 bb), if you hover the cursor on the circles of engaged characters, there appear arrows which show who is attacking and who is being attacked.  However, what the OP wants seems to have a window of time for the players to decide about the engagement before automatically locked into it.
 
While I don't argue against that any tactically important factor including the engagement process should be clear, I'm not sure of the possible total control over engagement such as the players being able to avoid engagement totally without any cost since it's a part of the system.  As far as I know, there are two classes which have the ability to disengage with a cost.  The one is the rogue with its Escape ability (now it's much less buggy, it gets quite practical) and the other is the wizard with its Grimoire Slam, which is yet to be implemented.  In fact, it's quite fan to let the Rogue bail out after having let him attract an enemy for the melee characters to surround it and beat it down with concentrated attacks (Somehow feels Commandos and IE game hybrid).  Alternatively, Withdraw ability from Priest and Arcane Veil of Wizard can be of help in unwanted engagement.  In any case, these abilities give nice tactical options around engagement and works pretty well in RtwP format, IMO, although I wasn't sure of their usefulness when the beta was filled with so many bugs.  There are still bugs but, again, generally speaking, things appear to be getting better (Also, waiting till the traps work fine).
 
That said, as far as the new Interface implementation goes, generally speaking, I think things are getting better with more intuitive feedbacks from the enemy AI pie-chart on stealth mode to the icon showing the actions of each party member.  Great job so far, the team.

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It's not really "avoiding engagement". It's giving you a window of opportunity to cancel the movement that would have engaged you in the first place.

 

It's really no different from stepping back from an enemy juuuuuust before the point where he engages you under the current system - just more forgiving.

Edited by Infinitron

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While I generally agree, I think the issue is less related to the game's being "real time," and more related to its being "rts-esque," if that makes sense.

 

To whit: AoOs were very manageable in NWN and NWN2, and could even be manipulated actively. I would say this was because you generally controlled one character from 3rd-person perspective. DA:O, being a 3rd-person game, did also benefit from this. But managing a whole party around the issue in RTwP is somewhat more obnoxious.


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@Infinitron

Yeah, that's why I put "possible" in my post since I doubted you were talking of such extreme.  I didn't know the jargon Rogue Shuffle (probably, from Ali Shuffle, which is considered as a useless but showy movement) or I am not familiar with NWN or Dragon Ages, though.  Again, I wouldn't argue against making the engagement process clear although, personally, I'd use pause or trigger the slow-mo mode when I see hostiles nearing a non-melee character.  For me, the main issue is the stubborn bug, where hostiles "teleport" while it became rarer but still exists.

 

@gkathellar

I guess it's now in relatively subjective area since, in NWN2, I used Rogue in a heavily micromanagement way even compared with PoE BB, where I need to be careful about timing about when to use each ability, switching characters as well as positioning.  PoE BB feels still quite micro-management-heavy but I think it falls in the middle-ground of tactical usage of each ability and careful positioning, which suites the format.  That said, at the end of the day, this might be related with how often we use pause/slow-mo or the party compositions (maintenance-heavy party members require more attention).  In the old days, there were even comments on the net about "IE games play themselves" but, as a player like me, who heavily use the auto-pause and manual pause, I couldn't but wonder why such players didn't take over the AI.

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Right now you automatically enter "combat stance" when you tell any character to attack something maybe saving it for mele engagement could work but I have my doubts. And Im not sure how adding an aditional animation to it would help.

 

An animation helps because it isn't instantaneous - it takes time to play and can (should be able to) be cancelled. It gives the player both more visual feedback on what is going on and more control.

 

I agree with animations being better than clutering icons. Though you will have to make the "engagement" animation diferent enough to be noticeable.

I dont think it should be cancelable unless its VERY slow. This isnt DmC, its RtwP and while that makes it much more "action-y" than Turn Based combat it shouldnt allow you to do things like that.

 

 

Actually, after the update (v301 bb), if you hover the cursor on the circles of engaged characters, there appear arrows which show who is attacking and who is being attacked.  However, what the OP wants seems to have a window of time for the players to decide about the engagement before automatically locked into it.

 

Yes I know. Im talking of a different animation. Those arrows DO show engagement but it cant get it to behave consistently. One moment my Fighter has one green engagement arrow while being surrounded by enemies that all have red engagement arrows directed at my Fighter. The arrow idea is very good but it needs a bit more polishing.

 

PS: Disengagement damage is also super strong. The AI doesnt seem to take this into consideration as they will gladly disengage the Fighter and recieve 50+ damage, killing themselves. Seems more prevalent in large mob packs and loos very exploitable.

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It's really not that actiony.

 

Imagine this: When your character is walking towards an enemy capable of engaging him and enters a certain minimum engagement radius around that enemy, some kind of "engagement bar" begins to fill up. The closer he gets, the faster the bar fills up.

 

When the bar fills up, your character becomes engaged. If you get really close to an enemy, or attack him with a melee attack, you won't be able to get away before the bar fills up. If you try to walk around him while inside the engagement radius, you won't be able to pass before the bar fills up.

 

But, if you enter the edge of the engagement radius and immediately about-face, 180 degrees, you can make it out before the bar fills up. This will make the engagement mechanic so much more clear and controllable.

 

It's all about having feedback during engagement, not just after the fact.

Edited by Infinitron

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I see what youre proposing.

 

I dont know. Im not 100% convinced. Id really need to see it in action to give you a definite "yay" or "nay" but I see it runing a high risk of being very gimicky/"game-y".

 

The stealth circles dont break "immersion" because they are a mode you willingly activate. The engagement arrows dont either because you are conciously selecting them. The character circles also dont break it because you get used to them.

Having a stealth-like radius circle for engagement filling up every time combat starts...Im not convinced. It could be a simple circle around the characters or something less cluterry.

Id like to keep the combat as clutter-free as possible.

 

Someone should do a mockup.

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Sure, the bar is just an example. Seeing bars pop up on screen constantly and fill up during combat would definitely be a headache.

 

Doing something with the selection circle could be an interesting option. Make the engagement bar a color that fills the selection circle in a clockwise direction, or shows up alongside it (on its inner or outer rim). I think that done correctly this could be fairly unobtrusive.

 

You could also make it optional, for players who'd prefer to rely on "feel".

Edited by Infinitron

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I think there is a problem with the whole animation thing.

Because it would take time to engage multiple characters, a lot of them would be able to walk right through, and go straight for the weaker party members.

 

Even now, when it's instant you can't always engage all your enemies before they run through you, if their target isn't the fighter.

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I think there is a problem with the whole animation thing.

Because it would take time to engage multiple characters, a lot of them would be able to walk right through, and go straight for the weaker party members.

 

I assume the countdown would run simultaneously for all characters in the vicinity.

 

 

 

Even now, when it's instant you can't always engage all your enemies before they run through you, if their target isn't the fighter.

 

How many characters are you expecting to engage? For most classes it can only be one. But if we're talking about a fighter, then that's interesting, maybe there's some kind of gradual time-based mechanism already? Or maybe it's just buggy.

Edited by Infinitron

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How many characters are you expecting to engage? For most classes it can only be one. But if we're talking about a fighter, then that's interesting, maybe there's some kind of gradual time-based mechanism already? Or maybe it's just buggy.

 

Unless you take Hold the Line. That's two.


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Some issues could be solved by having pathing take engagement into account. Characters would walk at a non-engagement distance from enemies by default, only moving closer when actively told to do so or that being the only way. That could avoid the situations where a pixel is the difference between engaging and not.
 
As far as indicators go maybe they could change the selection circle instead of adding additional stuff on top of it. How about the circles losing their uniform color and start turning when engaged? (visual approximation, sort of)

Or they could do something with the clover shaped targeting circles, like having "leafs" only when engaged, and show them turned to the enemy you are engaged with.

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Personally i'd like three modes of ambulation, walking as used mainly in towns and for roleplaying purposes, admiring the view and whatnot. Running/jogging for covering distance and reaching a location with the minimum of tarry. And thirdly a guard mode, where one has ones shield readied, weapons hefted, guns crooked and grimoires erm...opened to an appropriate page. The latter would be my standard mode when exploring dangerous areas (wilderness or dungeons,) that necessitate such precautions.

 

That was one of the few things I found wrong with the Origins system you are speaking of, drawing ones weapons after seeing ones foes, unrealistic and simply unwise to wait so long when one is aware of danger all around. As a GM I would punish any party running about in dungeons, with no weapons drawn or precautions taken, as such stupidity simply calls for an ambush, a trap or a similar measures.

 

I'd also be fine if one entered the latter mode in more highly civilised areas that it is noted, like in Divinity, and perhaps the watch is even called like in the last Witcher game.


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The thing about being locked into melee engagement is that temporally, it's a binary action. One moment, you're not in melee engagement and free to run around, and the next moment an enemy comes juuuuuust close enough, and boom, now you're locked in place. I believe that in a game that has already taken steps towards acknowledging the necessity for less "swingy" behavior in RPG combat, this is something that is worth addressing.

 

The changes to the binary nature are related to combat outcomes, rather than engagement. The engagement is a similar process to selecting a response in a conversation; once you've selected it the event is triggered. I don't see a benefit to changing that.


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The thing about being locked into melee engagement is that temporally, it's a binary action. One moment, you're not in melee engagement and free to run around, and the next moment an enemy comes juuuuuust close enough, and boom, now you're locked in place. I believe that in a game that has already taken steps towards acknowledging the necessity for less "swingy" behavior in RPG combat, this is something that is worth addressing.

 

The changes to the binary nature are related to combat outcomes, rather than engagement. The engagement is a similar process to selecting a response in a conversation; once you've selected it the event is triggered. I don't see a benefit to changing that.

 

 

Selecting a response in a functionally "turn-based" conversation precisely is trivial. The same cannot be said about maneuvering near and around other characters in a chaotic real-time battlefield.

Edited by Infinitron
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How many characters are you expecting to engage? For most classes it can only be one. But if we're talking about a fighter, then that's interesting, maybe there's some kind of gradual time-based mechanism already? Or maybe it's just buggy.

 

Unless you take Hold the Line. That's two.

 

Disengagement hits occur independent of recovery times and they seem to reliably do loads of damage (or at least hit reliably).

Im wondering how viable it would be to make your frontliners focus on grabing as much enemies in engagement (thanks to Hold the Line and Fighter modals) and then forcing them to disengage from your frontliners somehow.

 

The disengagement mechanics arent 100% clear to me though, in regards to how they behave when theres loads of enemies engaged with one dude. Does the dude get 10 instant recovery-free disengagement hits when 10 spiders are focusing on him and suddenly disengage, or does he only get 1 (or 2 with Hold the line, more with Fighter modal)?

Conversely, do 10 spiders each get a free disengagement hit should the fighter run for dear life? Cause if the answer is yes, being engaged by several enemies suddenly becomes a DPS race or "kill NOW or be killed" situation were your only option is to kill the murder-horde as fast as possible before it overwhelms your characters one by one. I find this interesting and somewhat fun if true, others might not.

 

I do love murder-hordes though.

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Engagement does seem like one of the weakest things in the intuitiveness of combat. It's tricky, though... *ponders*

 

I'm wondering if the easiest thing might be to somehow focus on the characters/creatures who are linked via engagement. A mouse-over resulting in some form of highlighting (or otherwise intuitive marking) of all parties currently engaging the moused-over target would work well, while pausing. But, it wouldn't be very useful when you weren't mousing over everyone.

 

That, and... by the nature of engagement (radius based), it would seem like there should be a way to issue move commands to characters for the purposes of moving them around the target without breaking the engagement radius. Or, rather, that's something that is going neglected if you just have to manually keep them inside a circle that you can't see.

 

Another thing, on that note: I don't recall if it currently does or not, but IF anything grants a size adjustment to engagement circles (I know at one time, something was supposed to affect the Fighter's engagement radius, to give a bonus), that's kind of a double-edged sword. Sure, you can lock that guy into engagement 15 feet out, instead of 5 feet out. However, that target can now run up to 15 feet away from you without provoking a potentially devastating attack of opportunity, while anyone with a smaller circle would've stricken that target the second he stepped back a foot. *shrug*

 

There's room for improvements to this mechanic, but I couldn't say exactly what should be done, off the top of my head. It definitely could benefit from being more intuitive (knowing when you will/won't engage a foe, and when you've entered/broken engagement, etc.).


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I think there is a problem with the whole animation thing.

Because it would take time to engage multiple characters, a lot of them would be able to walk right through, and go straight for the weaker party members.

I assume the countdown would run simultaneously for all characters in the vicinity.

 

 

Even now, when it's instant you can't always engage all your enemies before they run through you, if their target isn't the fighter.

How many characters are you expecting to engage? For most classes it can only be one. But if we're talking about a fighter, then that's interesting, maybe there's some kind of gradual time-based mechanism already? Or maybe it's just buggy.

I'm really pressed for time atm, so i'll get back to you on that, when i have more time to test it. And yes i meant the BB fighter, with the modal ability ON. I don't know if he has the hold the line talent as well though.

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Ok i've tried som testing and i have no idea what's going on anymore.

Here's what i did:

A fighter with Defender mode should be able to engage 3 enemies.

So i put my wizard at the front of the group and have him cast a fireball at the group of enemies. This will make them immedietly target the wizard (as he is the closest one to to the enemy) and run after him.

Now i try to get my fighter to intercept all the enemies he can.

What happens is, nearly all of them run past him wihout getting a disengagement hit.

The only one that sometimes get's stopped is the one i force my fighter to attack directly with the mousen, as he runs past.

I put it in slow motion, and i can see the engagement arrows connect with my fighter to nearly all of the enemeis that pass him, however none of them get hit by a disengagement attack. (i checked the combat log)

 

The weirdest thing is that my fighter is taking hits as they run past him.

My fighter is getting hit by all the disengagement attacks, even though i tried multiple times and made sure that my fighter was standing perfectly still, while they run past him.

 

I was using the BB fighter companion for the test.

Can anyone replicate this?

Edited by Cubiq
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Hmm... sounds like an unintended bug.

 

Now that I think of it, though... how does the game determine who's disengaging and who gets a free attack? I mean, if two people with the exact same engagement radius (dunno if that's even variable anymore) were fighting, and one of them ran away from the other one, wouldn't they both technically breach each other's engagement radii at the exact same time? How does the game know who's "breaking" and who's just standing there but happens to now be crossing the other's circle?

 

Is engagement one-way? Can Fighter Steve have engaged an Orc, while a Goblin has engaged Fighter Steve? So if he moves too far, the Goblin gets to hit him, but if the Goblin runs away, he suffers no extra attack because Steve's engaged with the Orc?

 

I'm sure that's all been explained already, but, I can't recall hearing an explanation of how that actually works.


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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