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A Proposition for Improving Combat Interface Feedback

combat interface

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#1
Gairnulf

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I'll try to keep this as brief as possible, and if I seem to go into too much details at times, it is because I have the maybe-too-ambitious goal to help the developers not just with suggestions for a current problem, but to propose them a better general approach to a more abstract problem. Ok, with that said, my main argument is that the problems we are all having with combat right now (v333) are due not to deficiencies in the game mechanics/ruleset, but to deficiencies in the User Interface.

 

PoE is to use a "real time with pause" system for combat1. The main problem with this system is the risk to overload the player with information2, which breaks his Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action loop and prevents him from choosing the optimum set of actions for his current situation. Time pressure isn't an intended feature of the combat mechanics of the game3.

 

Currently this is exactly what happens, the player is overloaded with information when playing out battles in realtime, which practically forces him to use the Slow time feature (press the S button at any time to toggle it on/off), and to pause the game manually at regular intervals and/or to use the autopause options. The problem I see (there may be more) with this playing style being forced onto the player (because of a UI deficiency), is that while it makes combat playable, the player receives only a piecemeal experience of it, and misses out the dynamics and the emotional impact provided by the beautiful graphics and by the sound effects4.

 

I see two main changes that could be made to remedy this problem (with the piecemeal experience of combat), and they are basically pointed at preventing the information overload, thus restoring a functioning OODA loop with a humanly-feasable realtime combat speed.

 

  1. Firstly, I propose that the animation speeds are cut to about half when in combat, how much precisely is a matter of trial and error, with the resulting about x2 increase in action cooldown periods across the board, for all weapons, spells and talents5
     
  2. Second, the current halos above character heads provide a sort of a meter for the action cooldown of characters (the little horizontal lines), but I'm pretty sure these meters, although identical across characters, don't progress with the same speed for each character. This radically reduces their usability while the player is in paused mode, because he can't get an idea of how fast the lines are shortening for everyone. And if he unpauses in order to get an idea of who will be the next character to initiate action, it often may be too late for him to react. Additionally, trying to visually compare the length of lines is inconvenient, even if they were moving with the same speed.

    The solution here is simply to provide a form of unambiguous visual feedback of which will be the next character who will be able to take action. This would give us a combat system which we may call "desynchronised turn-based" :) Off the top of my head, there are three ways in which this may happen. First, make all the cooldown indicators grow shorter with the same amount per second, but increase the on-screen length of the indicators. Then getting a hint of which character's "turn" would come first would be as simple as finding out who has the shortest line. Alternatively, you can make it so that when in paused mode, the section of the cooldown indicator that will shorten will blink. Then when paused, the player will check which of the characters has all his remaining cooldown indicator blinking, and know that this is the character who will next be able to preform an action. The third approach is I think the best - simply have the game make the calculation for the player and write the order somewhere in the halo. I've provided a modified screenshot illustrating that. One problem that always exists with this solution is that if one of the AI characters, or the player suddenly decides to change the action he was about to take when his turn comes, this may require a re-calculation of the whole queue and changing the numbers accordingly, which the player still has to keep an eye out for.

 

A more radical solution to the problem would have been to provide all the information needed by the player, for any hovered character, in the center bottom of the screen instead of in a halo, doing away with the frankly redundant set of buttons there. I may make the argument for such a change in a future post6

 

Thank you and let me know what you think.

 

___________

 

1 - Personally, I would have preferred a full turn-based system, but I guess it's unrealistic to ask for such a change at this point as this would require reworking much of the combat part of the ruleset, introducing action points in some form, etc. 

2 - In Information Theory they would call this "Denial of information through oversaturation of the channel", but I won't go into that here.
3  - After all, the audience's expectations are for an IE games successor, not a Diablo clone :)

4 - In my opinion this way much of the artists' and designers' work's effect is lost, and this emotional impact is one of the main goals of a game designer - I'm oversimplifying, but you generally prefer people to associate playing your game with tense tactical combat, not with spending 90% of their time in combat in paused mode, sifting through spells and talents and squinting at the action cooldown indicators (the little horizontal lines).

- Unrelated to combat, I think the default animation for characters should be walking, not running, as in BG/IWD. Movement speed of the characters on screen should then be slightly adjusted if needed, but I think it's about right as it is. I also join in Sensuki's request that movement animations be desynchronized to prevent the party look like marching soldiers.

6 - I've worked as a QA on software with a halo-based UI though, so I may be biased here, but my impression was that a UI relying on halos has something inherently wrong and providing sufficient information without cluttering the screen is an unwinnable fight.

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Edited by Gairnulf, 01 November 2014 - 04:33 AM.

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#2
Tanred

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Excellent. 


Edited by Tanred, 01 November 2014 - 04:50 AM.


#3
Namutree

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Your premise is simply wrong. While there are major problems with user interface; they are not the primary problems of poe's combat. The lack of rounds is the primary cause of the chaotic feel of combat. Want to fix the chaos? Give us rounds. Rounds make the game nice and organized. 



#4
Gairnulf

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Your premise is simply wrong. While there are major problems with user interface; they are not the primary problems of poe's combat. The lack of rounds is the primary cause of the chaotic feel of combat. Want to fix the chaos? Give us rounds. Rounds make the game nice and organized. 

 

I was of the exact same opinion before trying out the game for a few hours and getting the impression it's still playable, albeit without BG style rounds. I would be the last to say BG's round system was bad, on the contrary, it made combat very cohesive and easy to follow. Combined with the little pendulum clock for the rounds and the combat log, it is probably the most convenient realtime/turn-based compromise I have seen.

 

However, I'm trying to put myself in the dev's shoes and imagine scrapping the current system, then introducing the BG style rounds system, in terms of hours of work lost, and new hours of work spent, because this is inevitably a factor.

 

In fact, the two things we are comparing are not that different from each other - just imagine BG with rounds that last a 10th of a second instead of lasting 6 seconds. This is what we have right now :) If you look at how talent/spell effects are wearing off, it's shown in 10th-of-a-second steps. BTW just before writing this, I encountered an effect which I'm not sure a bug or not, but got me petrified (clicked on a trapped container) with the effect duration counter going up instead of down and shown in a 0.1234s style. That's including milliseconds which IMO is insane :)

 

This kind of contradicts the previous paragraph, but I thought of it later:

The chief difference between IE games' "real time with pause" and PoE's "real time with pause" is pointed out by Sensuki here: http://forums.obsidi...n/#entry1530109 In light of this explanation, I think it's a bit misleading to call IE's system "real time with pause" in fact. I wouldn't count out the possibility that the term was used more or less as a marketing trick to attract audience which considers pure turn-based to be too dull and static. The "real-time" part of the IE games' system is contained in the automatic progression of turns and default actions being chosen by the AI if the player has not taken any action when it was one of his characters' turn, in order to keep the illusion of "real-time".

 

It's basically that in the IE games all characters' actions (player controlled and enemy) were queued one after another, and each took their "turn" in what was actually pseudo-realtime. In PoE instead of one queue for all characters, each character has his own queue of actions, independent of the others. The overall feeling of complexity comes more from this fact, than from the animations'/cooldowns' speeds as such being too high. I wish we could have a developer explain this difference better.

 

I think separate queues are more fun (personal opinion) because separate queues provide for an innumerably larger possible branches of actions that the characters can take, and directions in which the battle can go. In other (more nerdy) words, separate queues increase uncertainty in battle in a good way.

 

 

The current combat speed and the chaos it causes unless you pause very strongly reminds me of Arcanum's "real-time" system, with the exceptions that 1) you couldn't pause in Arcanum's real time combat, and 2) you could switch to "turn based" or to "fast turn based" from the options and put a stop to the insanity :) Actually once I got very fast firing weapons, I switched to real-time and abused my huge line of sight (due to my high Perception) by force-attacking enemies from afar and killing them with my fast-firing weapon before they could close in. It was kind of open to abuse that way. With Tim Cain being lead programmer on PoE I guess it's no surprise it reminds me of Arcanum :)


Edited by Gairnulf, 01 November 2014 - 06:31 AM.


#5
Rumsteak

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  1. Firstly, I propose that the animation speeds are cut to about half when in combat, how much precisely is a matter of trial and error, with the resulting about x2 increase in action cooldown periods across the board, for all weapons, spells and talents5

 

Firstly, this proposition is about changes the game mechanics of "real time" to "half real time", which makes your "problems are in the UI not in mechanics" argument wrong.

 

Secondly, I strongly disagree with this point: if we're going down the real time with pause route, then when not in pause it should be real time, not "half real time". Either you take responsibility and go full real time, or you revert to turn-based combat (which I suspect this post is actually all about), but you do not settle with a half-assed solution like this.

 

As you suggested a mechanics improvement, let me suggest possibly better mechanics improvements (these have actually been discussed over and over again in the forums): reduce walking speed or action speed, reduce speed of certain effects, making some damages less huge by tweaking their base value or tweaking damage calculation, etc.


Edited by Rumsteak, 01 November 2014 - 06:32 AM.

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#6
Namutree

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This kind of contradicts the previous paragraph, but I thought of it later:

The chief difference between IE games' "real time with pause" and PoE's "real time with pause" is pointed out by Sensuki here: http://forums.obsidi...n/#entry1530109 In light of this explanation, I think it's a bit misleading to call IE's system "real time with pause" in fact. I wouldn't count out the possibility that the term was used more or less as a marketing trick to attract audience which considers pure turn-based to be too dull and static. The "real-time" part of the IE games' system is contained in the automatic progression of turns and default actions being chosen by the AI if the player has not taken any action when it was one of his characters' turn, in order to keep the illusion of "real-time".

 

You forget that movement was completely real time. Also no, it's not misleading to call it RtwP since things happened in real time rather than turns. Rounds are NOT turns. In turn based system each unit has it's own segment of action; while RtwP games like the IE games everyone moved/acted at the same time.


Edited by Namutree, 01 November 2014 - 06:42 AM.


#7
Gairnulf

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Firstly, this proposition is about changes the game mechanics of "real time" to "half real time", which makes your "problems are in the UI not in mechanics" argument wrong.

 

How so?

 

I consider animation speeds to be just animation speeds, unrelated to the game's rules/game mechanics. If they are scaled across the board it's not a change to the rules/game mechanics (I use those two terms interchangeably, don't know if that's correct but bear with me), but a change in the speed with which the player receives visual feedback from the screen, that's why I count it as a UI change. You are welcome to prove me wrong in my reasoning.

 

 

 

Secondly, I strongly disagree with this point: if we're going down the real time with pause route, then when not in pause it should be real time, not "half real time". Either you take responsibility and go full real time, or you revert to turn-based combat (which I suspect this post is actually all about), but you do not settle with a half-assed solution like this.

 

No need to get emotional. I'm not sure what you mean under "real-time with pause", "half-real time" and "take responsibility".

 

 

let me suggest possibly better mechanics improvements (these have actually been discussed over and over again in the forums): reduce walking speed or action speed, reduce speed of certain effects

 

I guess we understand different things under "mechanics improvements". As I've explained I consider changing animation speeds to be a UI change.

 

 

 

 

making some damages less huge by tweaking their base value or tweaking damage calculation, etc.

 

Now these changes count as rules/game mechanics changes for me. I'm sure there is what to suggest here, but I haven't enough experience with the game to propose anything conrete, as I can see you aren't doing either.


Edited by Gairnulf, 01 November 2014 - 06:54 AM.


#8
Gairnulf

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This kind of contradicts the previous paragraph, but I thought of it later:

The chief difference between IE games' "real time with pause" and PoE's "real time with pause" is pointed out by Sensuki here: http://forums.obsidi...n/#entry1530109 In light of this explanation, I think it's a bit misleading to call IE's system "real time with pause" in fact. I wouldn't count out the possibility that the term was used more or less as a marketing trick to attract audience which considers pure turn-based to be too dull and static. The "real-time" part of the IE games' system is contained in the automatic progression of turns and default actions being chosen by the AI if the player has not taken any action when it was one of his characters' turn, in order to keep the illusion of "real-time".

 

You forget that movement was completely real time. Also no, it's not misleading to call it RtwP since things happened in real time rather than turns. Rounds are NOT turns. In turn based system each unit has it's own segment of action; while RtwP games like the IE games everyone moved/acted at the same time.

 

 

I watched a short video of combat and you're right. So it's real-time within the confines of a six-second round, meaning the turns are displayed simultaneously, but you can't preform more than one action in a round unless you have more than one attack per round, and as for movement, there is a set distance you can traverse per round. I was wrong in my wording but I think there is no problem with the differentiation I'm making, right?

 

Even in the so-called real-time within a round, characters' actions are calculated in succession, determined by initiative rolls, per the AD&D rules. Otherwise, how would we resolve a conflict where two characters hit each other 'simultaneously' and one of them has to be killed, but the other one has to take damage. I think this goes back to the programmers' rule of thumb that there is no such thing as real time, ever :) It's just the processor switching between tasks very fast.


Edited by Gairnulf, 01 November 2014 - 06:57 AM.


#9
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The IE game combat was real-time, there were no turns. Character's own individual 'round timer's were asynchronous, and they would begin whenever you first issued them a command. The reason that I said that it was easier to follow is that most players issued all of their characters a command while they paused the game, and since the IE games used a 6 * (30/FPS) round timer, the need for issuing different non-movement actions would occur for characters at around about the same time.

The primary issues with Pillars of Eternity's combat ARE gameplay related, however there is very poor animation and UI feedback in many cases. One thing I find particularly unhelpful is the position and size of the combat log makes it unreadable on the fly, and the amount of stuff that is pasted to it in combat makes it pointless anyway.

Animations of weapon attacks are quite short, in the style of the Infinity Engine games. That was a choice they made which they could have abandoned in favor of giving different weapons different animation lengths (such as longer ones for heavier weapons) and I think that would have been a cool feature.

Personally I think if units had a recovery time animation, recovery bars wouldn't even be necessary. They weren't necessary in the IE games. Obsidian made this mistake themselves by copying the Icewind Dale games rather than the Baldur's Gate's. I think that was a bit of an oversight.

Edited by Sensuki, 01 November 2014 - 07:52 AM.

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#10
Rumsteak

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Gairnulf, we may indeed have different definitions of UI. By UI I mean HUD, rendered graphics and mouse/keyboard interaction (everything else being game mechanics).

 

Maybe I understood something wrong, so can you elaborate more or give examples of what you mean by animation speed? Because at the moment I assume that it means that you basically want some sort of "slow time" mode constantly enabled in combat. If this is correct, then by "half real-time" I meant slow time and by "take responsibility" I meant that devs should not make concessions with a slow time constantly-enabled feature.

 

Reducing walking speed and/or action speed means you get hit less soon and/or less often, so for me this is a game mechanics proposition (not a UI one) because it has an impact on combat.


Edited by Rumsteak, 01 November 2014 - 07:42 AM.


#11
archangel979

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What we need for PoE is something like this. I know IE UI purists like Sensuki are going to object heavily but this game has best RTwP UI and options I have seen ever. Also the game is slower and it makes the whole gameplay more fun: 

 

http://www.youtube.c...ukqYYMyCqU#t=25

 

Don't judge this as a Jagged Alliance game, I am only trying to show off UI and their Plan and Go system which was brilliant and best part of the game. 

And that you could synchronize all your team actions (or pick for each action if it will be before another character's action, at same time or after) was brilliant and is needed for a game with no global timer or rounds system.


Edited by archangel979, 01 November 2014 - 01:26 PM.

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#12
Namutree

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What we need for PoE is something like this. I know IE UI purists like Sensuki are going to object heavily but this game has best RTwP UI and options I have seen ever. Also the game is slower and it makes the whole gameplay more fun: 

 

http://www.youtube.c...ukqYYMyCqU#t=25

 

Don't judge this as a Jagged Alliance game, I am only trying to show off UI and their Plan and Go system which was brilliant and best part of the game. 

And that you could synchronize all your team actions (or pick for each action if it will be before another character's action, at same time or after) was brilliant and is needed for a game with no global timer or rounds system.

That UI is... Pretty good actually. I would prefer Sensuki's suggestion, but this wasn't bad at all. Also, JA looks pretty darn cool.



#13
Gairnulf

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The IE game combat was real-time, there were no turns. Character's own individual 'round timer's were asynchronous, and they would begin whenever you first issued them a command. The reason that I said that it was easier to follow is that most players issued all of their characters a command while they paused the game, and since the IE games used a 6 * (30/FPS) round timer, the need for issuing different non-movement actions would occur for characters at around about the same time.

The primary issues with Pillars of Eternity's combat ARE gameplay related, however there is very poor animation and UI feedback in many cases. One thing I find particularly unhelpful is the position and size of the combat log makes it unreadable on the fly, and the amount of stuff that is pasted to it in combat makes it pointless anyway.

Animations of weapon attacks are quite short, in the style of the Infinity Engine games. That was a choice they made which they could have abandoned in favor of giving different weapons different animation lengths (such as longer ones for heavier weapons) and I think that would have been a cool feature.

Personally I think if units had a recovery time animation, recovery bars wouldn't even be necessary. They weren't necessary in the IE games. Obsidian made this mistake themselves by copying the Icewind Dale games rather than the Baldur's Gate's. I think that was a bit of an oversight.

 

I've been replaying BGTutu through the past month but had dropped it until today. I checked how the combat works now, interesting how I've played this since 2000 (I started from BG2) and haven't paid attention to this specific thing. From what I observed, sometimes two of my characters swing simultaneously, other times it's like they wait for each other, but I guess the latter is an illusion. However I don't think I saw my characters swing simultaneously with an enemy.

 

Actually what you mention about recovery time is another major difference between PoE and BG - in BG there is no recovery time, is there?

 

Also, agreed on the combat log not being very conveniently positioned - there was a reason BG's combat log was in the center - the player's sight is mostly in the center of the screen because that's where his characters usually are during combat, and having the combat to the right of the action doesn't make as much sense as having it directly under where the action takes place.

 

 

Gairnulf, we may indeed have different definitions of UI. By UI I mean HUD, rendered graphics and mouse/keyboard interaction (everything else being game mechanics).

 

Maybe I understood something wrong, so can you elaborate more or give examples of what you mean by animation speed? Because at the moment I assume that it means that you basically want some sort of "slow time" mode constantly enabled in combat. If this is correct, then by "half real-time" I meant slow time and by "take responsibility" I meant that devs should not make concessions with a slow time constantly-enabled feature.

 

Reducing walking speed and/or action speed means you get hit less soon and/or less often, so for me this is a game mechanics proposition (not a UI one) because it has an impact on combat.

 

Ok, what I call animation speed is the amount of time it takes for a character to swing, or to fire their weapon, or to move from point A to point B.

 

My definition of user interface is pretty much the same - the instruments for inputting information into a system by its user and the instruments that display the outputs. In the context of a game like ours, I mean all that's displayed on the screen during playing and is reactive to user input. So basically we mean the same thing. The reason I count a change in character animations' speed as a change to the UI is because it doesn't affect the rules, just the speed at which the player receives output.

 

Reducing walking and action speed means that both player and AIs execute their actions slower, which gives the user enough time to understand what's happening and what's about to happen. In my view this doesn't impact combat itself, just makes it easier for the player to read what's happening in the game (hence the categorization as interface change).

 

I hope it's more clear now :)



#14
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Yeah. If it is possible to reduce animation speed in and out of combat, without having a feeling of slow-mo like in the movies (or like the PoE current slow time feature), then why not. As long as it feels natural.

 

PS: I think Obsidian should eventually drop the slow time feature when they get their combat pace right. Right now it's only used because combat is not easily playable. I don't like it, it feels like a cheap workaround.


Edited by Rumsteak, 01 November 2014 - 02:29 PM.


#15
Gairnulf

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I agree such a feature shouldn't be necessary. I was surprised when I found out about it, but it was really useful in my first couple of battles yesterday, when I was still figuring out what happens. I have almost cleared the Dyrford ruins today, almost without resorting to it.



#16
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sometimes two of my characters swing simultaneously, other times it's like they wait for each other, but I guess the latter is an illusion. However I don't think I saw my characters swing simultaneously with an enemy.


The IE games have a thing called "Speed Factor" which kind of doubles as Initiative, it adds a delay to when characters start to attack.

#17
prodigydancer

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Second, the current halos above character heads provide a sort of a meter for the action cooldown of characters (the little horizontal lines), but I'm pretty sure these meters, although identical across characters, don't progress with the same speed for each character. This radically reduces their usability while the player is in paused mode, because he can't get an idea of how fast the lines are shortening for everyone. And if he unpauses in order to get an idea of who will be the next character to initiate action, it often may be too late for him to react. Additionally, trying to visually compare the length of lines is inconvenient, even if they were moving with the same speed.

The solution here is simply to provide a form of unambiguous visual feedback of which will be the next character who will be able to take action.

I absolutely love this idea and I have a suggestion about how it could be implemented.

 

When I played WoW one of the addons I used was Cooldown Count. Essentially it's a rectangle with a set of progress bars representing cooldowns you want to monitor. As an ability cools the corresponding bar goes from full to empty and you can make them auto-sort so that the next available ability is always the topmost.

 

I think something like that would be a perfect replacement for overhead bars (which are so ugly I'm going to turn them off even if there's no replacement at all). The only difference is that instead of ability cooldowns you'll monitor characters cooldowns.


Edited by prodigydancer, 02 November 2014 - 02:25 AM.


#18
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Recovery timers and Combat HUDs should not be necessary.
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#19
prodigydancer

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Recovery timers and Combat HUDs should not be necessary.

If we can queue up abilities. Can we?



#20
Gladiuss8@gmail.com

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For me, problem with combat interface is just the tip of the iceberg. Main problems were highlighted in the forums, but THE MOST important thing here, is the AWARNESS of the existing problem. If Obsidian is not fully realizing what we are talking about here, or is taking this topic lightly, not much will be done here. 

 

What this game needs at this point, is trying many different approaches related to fluidity of combat, and implementing them on a daily basis. This needs to be done extensively inside the Obsidian, things have to be verified inside Obsidian even without backers help or opinion, simply because combat gameplay is just not up to todays standards. Sadly, looking at the progress shown in new beta builds, this is not being done. My hope would be all lost, if Obisidian didn't push the release date, but it is still very sluggish. 


Edited by Gladiuss8@gmail.com, 02 November 2014 - 02:40 AM.






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