I really don’t have a strong idea on what to do for combat in my game, or even if it will figure prominently.
I expect it will, and if I do go forward with it I don’t want to do a half-assed job. But I need to develop something constrained enough such that play-balancing or play-testing doesn’t become a never-ending chore.
Turn-based or real-time?
My strong inclination is to go with turn-based combat. This is mainly because I prefer well-thought out tactical combat to arcade style combat. I have not found a combat system that I really like, so if anyone has any suggestions on games to play that show off a fun combat system, let me know.
One strong dislike I have with most turn-based combat is that it is slow. And often it is gratuitously slow, with repetitive long animations. I tend to avoid those games, but one game I played recently that was terrible for this was Lost Odyssey. The combat was brutally boring (that goes for much of the game really – it was mostly watching bad cutscenes and reading endless prose).
Another set of games I played in the past few years with turn-based combat was the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness episodes from the Penny Arcade guys. The speed here was a lot more tolerable, but the combat wasn’t especially tactical or interesting.
So, if I can pull it off, I would like to have fast turn-based combat.
I am also not a fan of turn-based combat that doesn’t take position into account. Having the player and his teammates in a line on one side of the screen and the enemies in a line on the other side of the screen is ridiculous. A character runs up to the other side, tries to strike a blow and then runs back. Simply ridiculous. RSPoD did this, but that game was humorous so it wasn’t too bad. Again, Lost Odyssey was terrible for this.
And so, I would like participants in the combat to be able to take positions behind objects, or spend “movement points” getting close to their enemies to engage in melee combat.
So basically I want fast turn-based combat where at each turn you can move, attack, use an item, cast a spell, etc. I’m not sure how this can work out.
I also want combat to be affected by the environment. Rain could weaken or strengthen certain creatures. You can set things on fire (even the old Ultima series let you do this). Or pull up land to block attacks.
Visual or aural stealth is also something I’d like to explore, at least when determining if a creature sees and engages in battle with you.
With regards to magic, I have had several ideas that I want to explore. One particularly compelling idea is that magic is a long-lost or untrusted art. The book Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is the inspiration for this. Basically, no one does magic anymore, and most people don’t even believe in it. Magic could be something that is kept rather secret, and requires some exploration and talking to mysterious secretive NPCs to learn.
I think this is an interesting idea, but it presents several problems.
First, magic is an exciting part of combat and allows for lots more variety than standard weapons (although you could argue that a varied set of physical combat “skills” could easily take the tactical place of magic). Starting the game without it could mean less interesting combat for the first part.
Second, due to my limited resources, the game can only be so long. If much of that time is spent “discovering” magic, that means I will spend a lot of time developing a gameplay mechanic that is only used later in the game.
Third, if monsters use magic (and they probably should), then why is it so secretive an mysterious?
I do have a plot point that, if I go ahead with it, could explain away some of the above problems, and provide magic with a scientific basis. But I can’t say more than that right now.
Most RPGs have a standard set of fantasy monsters associated with them. I don’t want to fall in the pit of “being like everyone else”, but at the same time I want to be able to draw from a pre-existing Tolkienesque lore in order to reduce the burden of developing my world.
I also need to think about the resources I have to develop and animate characters models. Basically I will likely need to rely on pre-made models and animations that I can purchase for cheap.
One alternative to that is to develop more unconventional mathematical monsters. Again, we have the theme of “art from math”. A green slime that oozes along the floor is much easier to create with fancy shader and math than it is to model and animate a mammalian beast. At least for me. I can recognize when something looks good, but I don’t have the skills or time for physical artwork, and I may not have the financial resources to find or solicit what I need. A smoke monster (yes, from Lost) is a pretty artitisically cheap thing to make with a particle system (have a look here for a beautiful realistically-lit smoke particle system implemented in the Unity engine).
Why do monsters inhabit everywhere outside the towns, and why do they infest dungeons? These are good questions to ask and concepts to challenge, but perhaps the answer is just that we expect them to, and that they provide a good gameplay challenge. I’m not sure if I’ll “go with the flow” here or try to do something different.
Combat play-testing is something I’ll need to do fairly early on, to see if I can accomplish what I want and still have a fun system, or whether I’ll have to scale back my ambitions.