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Shadowrun Returns brings back one of our most original & cherished game settings as a 2D turn-based RPG for tablets & PC.
Shadowrun Returns brings back one of our most original & cherished game settings as a 2D turn-based RPG for tablets & PC.
36,276 backers pledged $1,836,447 to help bring this project to life.

Shadowrun: Dragonfall - Director’s Cut // Dev Diary #3: Combat Mechanics

Posted by Harebrained Schemes LLC (Creator)

This is the third of four Dev Diaries in which we discuss the new additions and improvements in Shadowrun: Dragonfall - Director's Cut, a standalone release of our critically-acclaimed Dragonfall campaign which first premiered as a major expansion for Shadowrun Returns. (Note: Backers and existing Dragonfall owners will receive the Director’s Cut for free!) Stay tuned each Thursday for another Dev Diary, leading up to the game's release on September 18, 2014.

Trailer // FAQ // Dev Diary #1: New Missions & Content // Dev Diary #2: New Music


Hey there, I’m Trevor King-Yost, Design Lead on Shadowrun: Dragonfall - Director’s Cut. I first worked with Harebrained Schemes back on Crimson: Steam Pirates, with Mitch and Jordan on fleshing out the Steampunk setting’s peril and plunder by designing and scripting the levels. When they launched the Kickstarter for Shadowrun Returns, I jumped back on board to lend my skills at creating RPGs. It feels like just yesterday, but here we are two full campaigns later! It’s been a lot of fun working with everyone on the team to make Dead Man’s Switch and Dragonfall into a reality, and we couldn't have done it without the backers.

Today I’m going to talk about the changes we’ve made to combat in the Director’s Cut. 

Cover, Critical Hits

During development of the original Dragonfall expansion, we focused most of our time on the new campaign's story, missions and gameplay (though we did manage to squeeze in some time for new weapons and combat tweaks). This overall focus on content and story paid off, and the feedback we've received about Dragonfall’s narrative has been really great to hear.

But coming off of Dragonfall’s release, we knew we wanted to update the engine’s combat to try to address the things that started to bother us during development, and to respond to feedback we got from fans. So, the first thing we took a look at was the way that Cover behaved in the game, and the way that Critical Hits occurred.

If you’ve played Returns or Dragonfall before, you know it’s a bit of a “black box” when it comes to dealing damage. Your “specialization” skill (e.g. Pistols, Rifles) will increase your chance to do a critical hit (greater than 1.0x damage) and decrease your chance to get a “weak” hit, (0.5x damage). At the same time, the enemy’s Body and Armor would increase the likelihood of taking 0.5x damage, and decrease the chance for you to do a critical hit. Cover was also a factor in this black-box equation. Overall, it could just feel random when an enemy jumps out and hits you for double damage even though you’re behind solid cover.

So we decided to break this system down into something with more cause and effect. In the Director’s Cut, shooting through medium and heavy cover now reduce your critical hit % to 0 - you’ll always either do 1.0x damage or 0.5x damage. Shooting through Light Cover, you’ll always do 1.0x damage, no more or less. This goes for the enemy’s attacks as well of course, so using cover will become much more important for all involved. If you’re caught out in the open, or you are flanked, the chance to take critical damage is going to increase drastically - you’ll always take 1.0x or greater damage. If you want to dispatch enemies quickly - and safely - you’ll want to flank them, and attack them from behind cover.

An example of a flanking attack on an enemy in cover. Also note the addition of white armor pips above each character's health bar.
An example of a flanking attack on an enemy in cover. Also note the addition of white armor pips above each character's health bar.

Due to this change, melee combat has more risk & reward than before. You’ll do critical damage much more often, since enemies are never in-cover from melee attacks, but you will want to be careful to not end your turn exposed to your foes. Of course, there are magical ways to add cover to an area, or protect yourself. In our internal testing we’ve found these changes to make the combat more tactical, fun, and dynamic. We’re looking forward to seeing what kind of combinations the community comes up with, too.


When we designed the combat system for Shadowrun Returns way back in 2012, we tried to convert the damage system from the Pen & Paper into a form that would work in the game. As I alluded to before, Armor along with Body would increase the likelihood of taking 0.5x damage, which we called “light” damage, where 1.0x damage was akin to “medium”, 1.5x “serious”, and 2.0x “deadly”. It was a tenuous connection, but we thought it worked well to keep the spirit of the tabletop, even though we moved to a numerical HP system instead of the 10 boxes of the Pen & Paper combat.

So what we have done with Armor, is again create a much more “cause and effect” based behavior. 1 point of Armor will reduce any incoming damage by 1. Stacking more and more armor on will protect you more and more from damage - that’s it.

Of course, now you’ll have to deal with the enemy’s armor, which before was an invisible stat behind the scenes. You’d probably notice during gameplay of the original Returns or Dragonfall that your Crit % would be lower on some enemies, higher on others. This was due to their body & Armor. Now, you’ll see exactly how much Armor an enemy has, so you can react to your opposition more tactically. If you come up against an enemy with 8 Armor, and your firearm only puts out 10 damage, you’re going to be plinking away at their HP for a long time unless you have a backup plan.

Mitigating Armor

Along with this new Armor behavior, we’ve added ways for you, and the enemies, to counteract its effects. Certain weapons, spells, and abilities will have an Armor Piercing value which bypasses an amount of armor. There are also spells and abilities which can strip Armor from the target entirely. Whether you want to carry high-explosive grenades, or you want to sling spells that remove tougher enemies’ protection from them is up to you.

AI Improvements

With these changes to the overall nature of combat, we knew we also needed to update the AI to better react to changing situations and put more pressure on the player. One of our programmers, Sheridan, devised a new scripting system that lets the AI make more intelligent decisions based on a logic tree. He started from scratch and tried to mimic the same actions as the original AI. Over to Sheridan.

Sheridan jumping in here, hello! Instead of using a rigid logic tree built into the game code, I created a plain text script named gumboscript. The script takes basic verb commands, and adjective modifiers to make a flow using plain english. The script looks similar to the sentence, “If an enemy shoots me from a flanked position, use a medkit, look at my enemy and perform an area of effect attack or run and hide.” Because scripts are easier to read and write, we had fast iteration and surfaced the different decisions and actions that give the AI some intelligence. When an AI makes an unexpected decision or can’t complete an action, the specific line in script is shown to the designer so they can decide what to change. Different combatants can also have different scripts. A mage will evaluate buffs and debuffs whereas a soldier will think about melee or charging in to get a flanked shotgun blast. We want users to create some challenging enemies for their campaigns so anyone can design AI scripts for use in their own UGC. You can even create an AI vs AI competition match and see which AI comes out on top! The wiki is updated right here:

It will be great to see what the community does with the new tools. And now, back to Trevor.

Once this AI system was created, Sheridan and our other Designer Kevin created behaviors to flank, react to being flanked, and use the right weapons at the right time. You’ll see enemies more intelligently using cover, grenades, and spells to hopefully keep you on your toes.

Crew Equipment

We received a lot of feedback that players wanted to customize their team even more, such as buy them new weapons or spells. In the Director’s Cut, you can now loan your teammates gear at the start of a run, if you’d like to override their normal loadouts. Any loaned items will be returned to you at the end of the mission. So if you’d like to give Glory a Shotgun, or Dietrich the “Blur” spell, you can! Of course, anything you’d like to dole out will need to be purchased with your own nuyen, so choose wisely. Your teammates “stock” gear will still upgrade as you go through the game, so this is entirely optional.

Thanks for reading! Next week, there’ll be dev diary by our Game Director, Mike McCain, talking about the new UI and visual updates we've given the Director’s Cut.


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    1. drow on

      it all worked out great in the end... all the best alpha cyber i could get, two assault rifles (its faster to swap than to reload, you know), and over 17,000 nuyen not spent on a lot of useless mercs. and a new VP office at telestrian.

      still not sure why all the bugs seemed hellbent on murdering the shaman i hired, though. i guess they really don't like dwarves.

    2. drow on

      hey shannon... i know that 4000 nuyen you gave me was supposed to be for hiring some other badass dudes for our run on the warehouse, but i kind of blew most of it on cyber for myself instead, and the rest on novacoke or something. no worries though, i've heard of other guys doing this run, and between my rifle skill and your haste conjuration we'll be good. it'd be totally cool though if you'd summon something from nature to be a bullet sponge.

    3. drow on

      and finished DF with my troll samurai/shotty. equally brutal, 421 kills. best yet.

    4. Alan De Smet on

      Why the decision to create a new scripting language over extending an existing embeddable one?

    5. Missing avatar

      Emeraude on

      Seemingly small-ish changes with huge potential gameplay consequences.

      Going to love play that if anything.

      The script example has me all interested.

    6. Sérgio Schüler on

      Good idea with the cover modifier thing. It was so annoying to deal 0.5x damage when you were using a shotgun point-blank.

    7. Missing avatar

      Marsell on

      One thing I never liked about cover is it wasn't clear to me just how wide a direction I was covered from. A very narrow arc? Very wide? The icon told me there was cover, but didn't tell me how wide the arc was. Often it was just a guess whether I was under cover compared to a given enemy.

      I really hope you guys have done something about that. If the game would visualise the area you're covered from, that'd be incredibly helpful.

    8. drow on

      just finished running DMS again, this time with a troll samurai/shotty. damn, that's a brutal mix.

    9. drow on

      massively looking forward to this. splattercat, you're going to have to do another LP

    10. RC on

      Hoi Trevor & Sheridan!

      Thanks for the update, Chummers! Looking forward to tackling the new missions with these more challenging combat modifications! Can't wait! ^_^

    11. Ian Chamberlin on

      At first I was like 'why make this a standalone title?' but now it's starting to make sense. I look forward to it.

    12. Missing avatar

      fluxcore on

      Sound like good changes, however it feels like a sniper character that sits back taking potshots is quite mitigated in anything other than open areas (where they can sensibly flank at a distance) - which don't make up a great deal of the game. I suppose this could be intended and desired, of course. But it was nice using Eiger and getting nice crits while the rest of the crew were repositioning.

      Also the biggest 'logical disconnect' I found in the original games were when you successfully sneak up on the enemy and gain no advantage from it. I never really felt like I 'got the drop' on the enemy, despite several occasions where I had them totally unaware.

    13. J.R. Riedel on

      Sounds like some quality changes. I look forward to putting them to use.