Combat and Why You Should Fear it

Hey everyone, It’s time for a little musing on my part.

Right now we’re dealing with enemy AI, and combat. As it stands, there are two weapons in the game: The axe, which serves to stun the enemies temporarily, and the gun which will kill them in a number of shots. All enemies can be killed, but with only the gun.

We’ve been discussing this for a while, and after going over some facets of what makes a game scary, we’re considering changing what we have in place. I’ve come to the conclusion that if we keep the current system, the following will happen throughout the game:

-The player will use up all his/her ammo on enemies and kill as many as possible

-The player will scavenge for ammo

-The player will use all that ammo on enemies and kill as many as possible

-Rinse, repeat

As you can see, this isn’t exactly a great gameplay element, especially in a game where you’re supposed to fear combat. Right now, the players aren’t scared of combat. This is partly because there is no real punishment for death at the moment, indeed, you can’t even die in the current version of the game. While that will change, my question is this: Is it enough?

I read an article today over on (plug plug plug) in which the developers of Amnesia: The Dark Descent stated that if the player is given a weapon, no matter how useless, he or she will instinctively try to fight enemies. If the player is NOT given a weapon, he or she will be instinctively afraid of enemies. We have already decided that our game will feature combat, and changing that now is out of the question. What we need to figure out now is, what can we do to make the players not want to attack the enemies, despite the fact that they have the means to do so?

Death is an obvious one. If the player dies, he/she has to restart from the last checkpoint. The loss of gameplay progress is a good incentive to avoid death. However, avoiding death is one thing. Avoiding combat itself is an entirely different beast. We need to make players wary of the enemies and do as much as they can to avoid interaction with them. Making the enemies hard to kill is a good start, but with enough experience any player will eventually master combat. Adding tiered enemies is another good idea, because that keeps the enemies fresh and different. Even if you master fighting one type of enemy, another type is right around the corner and ready to take advantage of you. Still, this leaves some room for the player to become capable at combat and no longer fear fighting.

We could penalize the player for interacting with enemies, but that can be frustrating, especially when said interaction is an accident. The Panic system is a good way to prevent players from fighting, but I think we may need to change it: Currently, your panic rises whenever you near an enemy, regardless of the circumstances. You could be fighting it or sneaking past it; your panic will still increase. What if we only made your panic increase while fighting? That would be a good incentive for players to avoid combat, especially if increased panic makes it more difficult to fight OTHER enemies. Fighting one enemy could create a chain reaction that ultimately leads to your death. No one wants that, so the player might be hesitant to fight.

Another, completely different option available to us is to give the axe killing capabilities. If both weapons can kill, you will always be able to fight, regardless of your ammo. This is a much more upfront tactic, and in it we are basically forcing the player to fight. However, because the axe will be much more difficult to use (and will take more hits to kill enemies), players will be pushed to preserve their ammo. The gun will become the fallback weapon, not the primary weapon. It’s a risky route to take, though, because if players become too used to combat the game is no longer scary.

Finally, we have the option to prevent players from killing enemies altogether. In this case, the gun would stun enemies much faster, but it would never kill them. This gameplay direction would leave the players desiring to avoid combat, because they know they can’t win. They are, ultimately, powerless against their foes. However, this could easily become frustrating and boring to the players, who have two weapons at their disposal, both of which are completely useless in their own separate ways. Is this the best route? It’s hard to tell.

If you’re reading this and you have a suggestion or comment for us, feel free to let us know in the comments section (or by email). This is something that we’d love to hear other opinions on, as it will eventually end up being the most important element in our game (other than story, but that’s not exactly gameplay).


2 thoughts on “Combat and Why You Should Fear it

  1. It all sounds fantastic and I’ll play the gameplay with whatever you choose.
    I don’t have anything to suggest (mainly because my suggestions are usually stupid), but maybe I’ll find something in the future.

    Good luck and I can’t wait to see the rest. 🙂

    • There is no such thing as a stupid suggestion; regardless of the validity of the suggestion itself, they always serve to inspire conversation (our dev process is 40% stupid suggestions and 50% bickering. The other 10% is actual work).
      Also, Good to see you back man, I haven’t seen you in ages. I was beginning to think that our biggest fan had deserted us D:

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