The Fight Club - Combat in Hero-U
Down to the Wire
It's our final day on this Hero-U Kickstarter campaign - 30 hours to go as I write this. The funding campaign ends Monday night (midnight PDT).
We reached our $100,000 stretch goal on Saturday thanks to over 1600 dedicated backers. We’ve also passed the first two stretch goals - the Tower Garden and Improved Animation - and hope to reach several more in the final hours of the campaign.
Share the campaign with your friends so we can make Hero-U the best game possible. Every stretch goal dollar will be a big help in making Hero-U better.
We Don't Talk About The Fight Club
Combat in adventure games is controversial, just as is serious story in an RPG. We think they fit together if done right - Think about the book (or film) The Three Musketeers without combat. It wouldn’t work.
We’ve put a lot of thought into RPG/Adventure combat over the years. Each game we tweak it a little more trying to get closer to the perfect combat system. Hero-U will be our best effort so far.
Tabletop Combat - Too Slow
“I swing my sword.” “Roll your attack.” “13. Let’s see, my THAC0 is 16, so I hit it it’s armor class 3 or worse.” “Roll damage.” “4 + 3, that’s 7 points.” “Good, you hit the monster and do some damage. It doesn’t look seriously hurt yet.”
That’s a typical combat action in old-style D&D, back when better armor had lower numbers. A single combat encounter often took an hour of people rolling dice, using special abilities, looking up rules, and so on. It was fun, but really cut into the role-playing time for the game. We’ve played games that were nothing but one long, dull fight. It often feels as though you get 3 seconds to roll the dice and say “I missed” while everyone else is spending 5 or 10 minutes on their turns.
Action Game Combat - Too Fast
Computers are great at the dice-rolling and rules memorization parts, but we also expect much more of them. Combat has to feel involving and take a reasonable amount of time; animation and special effects need to show what’s going on. No more spending 10 minutes on one round of the fight. Taken to extremes, combat becomes purely arcade - mash the buttons faster to do more damage. A one second cooldown or 300 millisecond latency can feel like an eternity in an MMO game.
Even our Quest for Glory games used real-time combat. We tried to make it interesting and have a good reason to parry and dodge, but most players just kept hitting the Attack button. We constantly tweaked with the combat rules and ended up with a different combat system in each game. We were trying to find the Holy Grail of combat that was fun, fair, fast, and rewarded players more for gaining character skill than for having twitchy trigger fingers.
Balancing a real-time game is really (pun intended) hard. Some of those games that seemed pretty fun at the time are now completely unplayable on faster computers - the enemies react too quickly. We want to make games that will be just as fun in 20 years as they are now.
Hero-U Combat - Just Right
Hero-U strives to deliver the good parts of tabletop and computer role-playing games when it comes to combat. Your character has stats which they improve over the course of the game, and it’s important that they matter. Combat should be fast and exciting, but you should have time to think about your tactics. And it should look and sound good.
We decided early on that Hero-U combat would be turn-based. It’s artificial, but it gives players the chance to think about tactics. Has the monster telegraphed a big attack? Better parry or dodge. Do you need a healing potion? Is this a good time to use a trap? Should you throw something, or just run away? Or should I just sneak around the monster altogether?
This approach is why we think of Hero-U combat as “problem based”. Players solve the puzzles of how to defeat or avoid each monster, and the overall puzzle of how to maximize success in the dungeons while conserving potions and other expendable items.
Getting Into Combat
You enter the Hero-U “combat mode” by clicking on an enemy, clicking the Combat icon, or when an enemy spots you and becomes hostile. The enemy click is subtly different from other game actions - if you click on a desk, Shawn walks over to it, then you get a menu of options. That would not be a very good idea when clicking on a nasty, smelly monster with big sharp teeth and claws.
Combat Mode means you get a special action bar and can no longer interact with other objects in the scene. If you voluntarily entered combat, you can click the button to exit combat mode as long as you haven’t attacked and nothing has attacked you.
The first button in the combat bar is “Attack”. Currently Shawn has only one attack action, so click (or press the “1” key) to attack. If we add more actions later, a pop-up will let you choose.
The second button (“2” key) is for defense. Shawn will duck or dodge the monster’s next attack, then make a counterattack. Counterattacks are not as powerful as standard attacks. Defense is especially important if the monster is about to make a strong attack, but can be used anytime it’s more important to conserve health than to defeat the monster quickly.
The third button (“3” key) is for ranged attacks such as throwing a knife or a flaming missile. This can be a good way to lure a monster away from its friends or into a trap. Depending on the monster’s speed, Shawn might be able to make one or two ranged attacks before entering close combat.
The fourth button (“4” key) is for using items including traps and potions. Subtle between-combats tip: If Shawn is badly hurt, click on a monster to bring up the Combat Bar, click Use to drink a healing potion, then leave combat mode.
Using items is the most important way to use tactics in combat. Place a trap or several traps, buff Shawn’s dagger, throw blinding or itching powder at the enemy, and so on.
Now Comes the Dice-Rolling Part
While you’re figuring out what Shawn will do, the game determines monster tactics. Once you decide on a combat action, we coordinate the monster’s intentions with Shawn’s and do a bunch of calculations. We take into account all of Shawn’s stats and skills, his equipment, “buffs”, magical spells, and so on. Ditto for the monster.
Then we display the result with graphics, sound effects, and text. Shawn’s or the monster’s health may decrease when they get hurt. If the monster is badly hurt, it might try to run away. If Shawn is badly hurt, he might tell the player “Forget this!” and beat his own hasty retreat.
If Shawn outlasts the monsters, he can search for treasure or even collect “body parts” to trade to the ever-hungry Rattie storekeeper. Just don’t ask what they put in tomorrow’s meal - “Yum, tastes like chicken!”
Why Does Shawn Fight?
As a Rogue, Shawn is usually more interested in staying out of danger than entering combat. But there are several reasons he might get into fights. One, of course, is that it’s fun - Even in a turn-based system, a close battle can get your heart racing.
Occasionally there is no choice - Shawn wasn’t quite stealthy enough or took too long picking a lock, and the monsters crept up behind him. Possible danger in Hero-U means that players have to pay attention at all times (thankfully in a turn-based way should you wander off for a cup of tea while playing) and adds challenge and excitement to the game.
Then there’s the treasure (also known as “phat lootz” in MMO’s). Shawn starts out the game with nearly empty pockets, and school books and rogue tools are not cheap. By taking the risk of entering the dungeons and fighting monsters, Shawn can turn a tidy profit. Of course, he’ll want to spend some of that profit on tools to improve his combat ability, but he’ll usually come out ahead and with better stats.
Besides, if Shawn doesn’t thin down the monster population, who will do it? Those monsters are a public nuisance. Hero-U is a school for heroes, and nothing says “hero” quite so well as slaying dragons and rescuing maidens (or imperiled gentlemen). There aren’t too many dragons beneath Hero-U, but there are plenty of other monsters. And occasionally someone needs rescuing. Let’s just hope it isn’t Shawn.
The Combat Experience
We’ve designed Hero-U combat to be a fun and exciting experience that doesn’t require player dexterity. It’s also a valuable experience for Shawn, as he explores the underground, learns more about the castle’s history, and improves his skills through combat.
We want combat to be a natural part of playing Hero-U, no different from studying Rogue skills or searching a desk… except that the desk rarely fights back. Most combats are avoidable, but participating them adds to the game and makes sense to the story. Great danger can lead to great rewards.
Here’s an interesting story gamebook project, “The Frankenstein Wars” - https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/cubusgames/the-frankenstein-wars. It looks like a fun, atmospheric, and lavishly illustrated paper gaming experience.
And some shout-outs for Hero-U:
Blue Milk special gave us a nice writeup at http://www.bluemilkspecial.com/?p=10569.
Tarot Visions interviewed us at http://tarotvisions.podbean.com/e/tarot-visions-reading-for-heroes/?token=bc5a5c2b6b00ae5672176df4140007ce.
We did a live radio interviewed turned podcast at http://shaneplays.com/podcast-episode-2-the-rogue-is-u/. Our part begins at about 23:30.
Jack Allin at AdventureGamers interviewed Corey about Hero-U finances at http://www.adventuregamers.com/articles/view/28768 - "all the tough questions".
IndieGames covered us at http://indiegames.com/2015/06/final_push_for_hero_u.html
Tobiah Marks interviewed us at http://www.tobiahmarks.com/2015/05/interview-with-corey-cole-from-hero-u-rogue-to-redemption/
Richard Cobbett of Rock Paper Shotgun talked with us at http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2015/05/18/hero-u-interview
TechRaptor interviewed us at http://techraptor.net/content/indie-interview-corey-lori-cole-hero-u With video: https://youtu.be/6Ti5xzNnD2o
Cliquist covered the Hero-U supplementary funding campaign at http://cliqist.com/2015/05/13/class-back-session-hero-u-returns-kickstarter/and KickStartAdventure mentioned us at http://www.kickstartadventure.com/home/currently-kickstarting-hero-u-rogue-to-redemption/