Weekly update: Combat design

When developing the combat for The Bear and the Broomstick, I started by copying other third person action-adventure games. A little Zelda, a little Witcher, and even a little Dark Souls. This was a totally functional system. It's quick, fun to play, and works exactly the way you'd expect it to. And that's kind of the problem I have with it too.

Movement is at the core of The Bear and the Broomstick. Running, jumping, flying, landing at the wrong angle and careening off an island, are all integrated with every other system in the game. So why not combat? That's not to say it has no movement at all. There's dodging/rolling of course, and you can sprint into a special attack. The problem with these moves is that they're all pre-set through animation. So every swing, every dodge kills all your momentum immediately. The result is that the game has two totally different sub-games inside of it. There's a floaty, physics-heavy movement phase and a snappy combat phase. I don't think that's sound game design.

A good friend of mine, with a much stronger grasp of design than me, came up with an elegant solution. Bring physics back! Even better, implementation is simple. There's a switch in the code that disables movement while attacking, and all I had to do is remove it. Immediately, the feeling of combat improved dramatically. Any developer reading this knows that's not the end. The first problem is that there's basically no incentive for the player to use momentum in combat. That same friend solved this too: add a boost to damage based on speed. So we take the difference between the current speed and basic walk speed, and add it to the default damage. Set the minimum bonus to zero, cap it at double damage, and boom!

The other problems are a bit more technical. If I can move and attack, my legs have to move with me. Luckily animation blending in UE4 is straightforward. I take the top half from the sword swing, the bottom half from the run-state, tweak it a bit, and blend it all together. It's just a few extra nodes in the animation blueprint. Next, many of my animations don't look right with this technique. For instance, some have a strong twist of the back that look unnatural when the legs don't move with it. That's left me with only two sword animations that still work.

Luckily, Epic is pretty great. They released all the assets (AAA quality!) from their failed MoBA named Paragon for free. Paragon was a bit like Smite  in that it was played as a third person shooter. So, all attack animations are designed to be played while moving! A lot of the heroes have melee weapons, and a few use a one handed sword.  So, over the next week, I'll be finding my best option out of the bunch and you can expect to play the new system by next week.

If you made it this far, thanks! You're a real one and I hope you stick around.

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