Quick Dev Diary: Combos

I realized I never talked about the combo system, so I’ll do that real quick. This system adds some simple strategy (and IMO some much-needed fun) to unarmed combat. (And eventually it’ll work for sword combat also, but with different flavor.)

The thing about combos in most games is that they’re static. You learn the one optimal combo and then it just becomes “1,2,3” over and over. Well, in an MMO, players end up pressing 1,2,3 anyway, making their own combos based on skill rotation times. If an MMO has a special Combo system, it needs to be dynamic somehow.

So my first thought was to make the combos reactive to what the monster does: “he used his rage attack, start the Rage Reaction Combo now!” But that made the combos feel too specialized. I want you to use lots of combos — several each fight. Otherwise unarmed combat is too boring.

So to get some variation in, what I’ve got now is “daily combos”. Each day, you have three different combo patterns available to you (such as Punch+Punch+Kick, or Barrage+Punch+Punch+Cobra Strike). One of these three is randomly chosen each day. You get to pick the other two.

Now you could just pick your two favorite combos every day, but combos work best if you chain them into each other. If one combo is Punch+Punch+Barrage, and another is Barrage+Punch+Kick, that’s good: you only need to do one Barrage to finish the first combo and start the second. So if you want to min-max unarmed combat, you’ll need to choose optimal combos each day to synergize with the randomly-chosen one.

I think that’s fun, as far as it goes. It will need a bit more complexity down the road, so I’m going to add some special abilities to liven it up. The Jab ability is like Punch, except it doesn’t cancel a combo if the next step isn’t Punch. That way you can Jab repeatedly without breaking your combo — very handy if you need to fill a few seconds while the next ability’s timer isn’t up yet. And Knee Kick can advance a combo for either Kick or Cobra Strike, so it’s a wild-card, making it easier to fit into combos.

One part I’m still a little up in the air about is how you “pick” your two combos. Right now, you pick one of them from a list,  and the other one is based on where you meditate. There are Meditation Pillars throughout the world, and each one has a specific combo attached to it. So in order to get the perfect combo for the day, you may need to run somewhere to meditate at a distant pillar.

I kind of like that — assuming it’s not too painful to travel, and assuming there are lots of “not quite perfect” combo choices you can make instead. Yeah, if you really care, you can travel all the way to a distant mountain to meditate and get the perfect combo, or you can go down the road and get a pretty good one.

But I’ll see how it goes when there’s more content. It’s hard to tell right now if it’ll hold up this way.

Right now the combo GUI floats right in the middle of the screen. Probably too distracting there, but easy to read! The grayed-out icons are the combo steps I haven't done yet.

In the above screenshot, you can see I’ve got Punchmaster (Punch+Punch+Punch) and Stripdown (Barrage+Punch+Hip Throw+Punch) combos underway. But the next step of each combo is different, so no matter which I execute, the other combo will be “broken” and fade away.

I’ll probably execute Hip Throw next, then Punch, which will complete Stripdown and start Punchmaster up again, chaining the combos together. (I think this is a lot more intuitive while you’re playing, so if this is gibberish, don’t worry about it!)

One little tweak I made during playtesting is that not all the steps have to be done to the same enemy. If you have a Punch+Punch+Punch combo, you can punch one guy twice and then switch targets and punch another guy to finish the combo. This is very useful for some crowd control combos (such as Kick+Kick+Kick, since kick knocks the opponent away from you — that’d be tedious to do to one opponent). It’s also nice for when an enemy dies in the middle of a combo, so you don’t waste the effort.

Sword Combos will use the same basic system, but you’ll get your combos a different way. More on that later!

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12 Responses to Quick Dev Diary: Combos

  1. mavis says:

    I like the sound of these – and the random combo is good – perhaps two random combo’s would be better – so your allways trying to slot that third in around them…..

    One immediate thought is about the danger over overlapping combo’s. For example Kick Punch Punch and Punch Punch Kick and Kick Kick Kick would allow three combo’s every 5 attacks.

    Your also going to have to build the majority of these around very quick recharge attacks (or the multible fill attacks – but that could make it possible to fire off a combo in no time) – simply because otherwise your going to spend a lot of either losing the combo or doing nothing…..

    Why am I telling you this – a phrase involving grandma and eggs come’s to mind. :-)

  2. I like the system, but I’m wondering how players are to justify the limitations that define the rules of the system (daily cycles, random combos), … being that things are at an early stage, I’m guessing how the system is justified could change or be added, but what worries me is the combo system potentially feeling like an abstracted mini game rather than a part of an engrossing world.

    Is having feasible (within the limits of the world) justifications for how systems work important?

  3. Aes says:

    The proposed system creates many problems that I consider deal breakers in a class.

    The number of people that will be able to play this class properly is really low.

    Most people I know that play fighting games only learn 2-3 combos and just hammer them away. Your system requires of the players to learn a large number of combos that most of them simply can’t memorize. You can’t expect from players to follow the ui’s visual queues for the combos and pay attention to the environment and keep a proper dps cycle that is way too much multitasking.

    Most people don’t have affinity with math to intuitively decide what is the proper dps cycle in an environment that will change each day. Making a guide to help them with the random choice of combos is probably non feasible with the amount of combos you propose. What will probably happen is a min maxer will make a spreadsheet find what appears to be the best choice combo and then post it on the forum and people will feel obliged to go to the meditation points a b c to get the ultimate combo. Or the difference between combo effects will not be significant thus invalidating the system.

    The proposed system requires way too many keybinds for the main dps cycle. You have 7 keys (punch, jab, kick, knee kick, hip throw, cobra strike, barrage) that need to be spammable (without counting secondary skills that need to be easily accessible like an interrupt) and that is beyond most people’s piano playing ability.

    The balance problems that will be created, with such a large difference between a good and a mediocre player, will be a constant headache in the long run and will only cause bad publicity for you.

    On a different note knockback effects on your main dps cycle (kick) is pita for group play. Melee players will run around like headless chickens chasing the boss-elite mob as it is kicked around.

    Apologies for the wall of text.

  4. kalamona says:

    “On a different note knockback effects on your main dps cycle (kick) is pita for group play. Melee players will run around like headless chickens chasing the boss-elite mob as it is kicked around. ”

    In Warhammer knocking around players was really fun. But that was a pvp game. I think most mobs were immune to knockbacks (they were knockdowned – stunned instead).

    About the combo system, it is similar to a concept of “Legaia 2”, a ps2 game. It was probably present elsewhere, but chaining combos into each other was definitely there. Variances like “jab” and “knee kick” sound fun. Yes, it separates good people from mediocre ones, but it is not neccessarily a bad thing.

  5. Sungazer says:

    @Aes: “memorizing” the combos isn’t an issue if the combos are visible on the screen like hes planning on doing.

    The system sounds pretty fun to me. My two concerns with it are: traveling to meditation pillars and knock back.

    Travel times to the meditation pillars could be a pain in the butt unless the travel time was say 2 minutes tops. Making the meditation pillars something like a tourist spot a short run from a town/portal drop/fast travel drop… whatever the system happens to end up being.

    And knock back, which there are two forms of in my mind. It could be stunning type, puts them on their butt taking time to get up (2+ sec), or a simple one requiring distance recovery (1/2 – 1 sec). I could see the second type being optimal for this type of fast paced combat.

  6. Yvon says:

    I can see this working if you use a console controller or if you are able to macro a set of keys.
    I tend to agree with Aes that many players that play using the keyboard and mouse only and rarely use hotkeys will struggle.

    But with that said it all does seem intriguing to me and i am looking forward to trying it.

  7. Aes says:

    @ Sungazer, I understood that there are going to be visual queues in the ui (the screenshot and caption was a slight hint :) ) but in my personal experience I cant have fun with a game until I am comfortable with the controls. That doesn’t happen until I develop muscle memory where I don’t have to think when I want to do a combo just press 1,2,3,2,1.
    A similar combo system was in Age of Conan and to be honest I didn’t particularly liked it. The reason I was opposed to the random system was my personal experience with that game. It had the following system, every few levels you got a new rank of the combo which increased its potency and slightly altered it. That meant that every few levels you had to relearn the combos. I never felt comfortable with the system until I maxed out the ranks of each combo and settled into a routine.

    Another problem the current design creates is you need a 10-20 min (to choose combos-meditation points, travel time+meditation x3, possible return journey time) which means you have to log in earlier than the rest of your group in order to be on time. I can’t count how many times we needed 1 more guildie to do a dungeon and at that moment someone magically logged in. With the proposed system the party would have to wait an additional 10-20 mins.

    Also when I say problems I don’t mean the game will be destroyed by cyber warfare-comet- Mayan calendar end of the world. I mean problems as in not fun since one core principle of the design is fun.

    Sorry for the wall of text again.

    PS: note to self, must remove the talent : your wall of text always crits applying the confusion debuff for 5 mins.

  8. Jason says:

    I tend to agree that lots of combos, each with their own effects, would tend to be frustrating. However, lots of combos where some have the same effect, but different appearance, would be a lot of fun. Would create more variety among players. Maybe Player A prefers to do lots of kicks instead of punches, while Player B prefers a combo that consists of spinning moves instead of kicks. But perhaps the damage is the same for either method.

    I actually liked Age of Conan’s method, having to pay attention to the defenses of your opponent and choose which attacks accordingly really helped create more strategy in battles. For the record, I don’t do PvP so I can’t speak about how that was in AoC.

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  10. Geoff Hollis says:

    Conceptually cool idea, but I think there are a couple minor issues that will
    create long-term major problems. First, people (specifically, the demographic
    I think you will attract with this game) tend to be averse to 1) being forced
    out of the routine they develop (though they would be happy to change of their
    own “apparent” volition) and 2) being required to do things for arbitrary
    reasons. These are two situations the system you propose sets up. Finally, being
    forced to find combo matches to perform effectively is mentally taxing, and not
    in the “hey, I am engaged! I am having fun!” sort of way — more in the “I hate
    having to do this to get to the fun part” sort of way.

    The obvious solution is to give people full control over all the combos they
    are using on a day-to-day basis — let them choose how to fight. Yes, it may
    occur that people will stumble upon optimal combos and never experiment once
    those are discovered. I would argue this is only an issue with poor game design.
    I don’t know about you, but when I play “customizable” games, I spend the
    majority of my time pouring over all of the possible combos and synergies and
    trying them out. This soaks up a huuuuge amount of time and gives an immense
    amount of pleasure (for the right person, which also happens to be the type of
    person your game seems directed towards). When I was into CCGs and D&D,
    I spent copious amounts of hours brewing decks and characters and testing them
    out in simulated games/fights — I probably spent more time doing this than
    actually sitting down and playing “for real”.

    Of course, this sort of behavior only really occurs when you have a rich set of
    interactions with no obvious “best” solution. That requires some good design
    (that perhaps maybe even Magic and D&D have failed at, IMO) but that doesn’t
    mean it is impossible in theory.

    You made a post that riled me a couple weeks ago — this is also a semi-response
    to that post. You interpreted Gabe’s comment on Tera as implying “[interesting]
    combat makes a great game, but it does not, on its own, make a world where
    people will happily live for 1000+ hours of their lives.” I think you are right
    based on the computer games we’ve seen over the past couple decades, but I think
    your comment falls apart when you look at games that take combat/conflict
    seriously rather than put it on the periphery. Good examples are Magic and
    CivIV. Games like this with “mulitple, customizable paths to victory” can engage
    people for thousands of hours, and in a fundamentally different way than most
    MMOs do — they engage people based on intrinsic motivations rather than
    external rewards which, conveniently, is also a better solution to long-term
    satisfaction for users.

    I would highly suggest playing two MUDs: ConQUEST and GodWars II. Both provide
    tangible demonstrations of how 1) combo-based combat can be done while still
    encouraging people to constantly try new fighting styles, 2) combo-based
    combat is dynamic (moreso in ConQUEST than GodWars II IMO), and 3) combat can be
    the central game element where people “will happily play for 1000+ hours” simply
    because of the combat system (and its supporting systems like competition
    ladders, crafting, etc). It also sounds like distilling out some key ideas from
    4x games and CCGs would prove useful when thinking about your combat system.

    To give a counter-point to your Gabe/Penny Arcade comment, I am very much
    enthused about Project Gorgon and have been following it since you first
    announced it (even more enthused about it than Diablo III!). However, it is
    very unlikely I will stick around for more than a week if your combat system
    fails to display rich complex interplay between pieces like you are striving
    towards with the rest of the MMO. An “above average” combat system will not
    suffice. A rich/complex combat system is a neccessity for me to want to spend
    1000+ hours logged onto Project Gorgon.

  11. waac says:

    Serious AC1 player. love this idea, want to play, just wondering. If windows 8 is not a blundering failure, will it be compatible?

  12. Eric says:

    Great comments here! I haven’t replied for several reasons … one is that I’d rather hear what you have to say without my defending the design more than I already have. But I do think it’s not nearly as horrific as some comments make it out to be — it’s all in the content, really. It can be really simple or really complex based on how many combo patterns there are and how many effects the combos can have.

    The other comment worth making, I think, is that I’ve apparently misrepresented the importance of chaining combos. I think a player will be able to pick their two favorite combos every day and chain them together, completely ignoring the third random combo, and will be down by, say, 5% overall power versus someone who perfectly synchronized their combos. On some days, more and some less — depending on how potent that day’s combo is. It’s something I want to be there for the people who like min-maxing, but I’m not balancing content around the idea that every unarmed fighter min-maxes their combos effectively. (I still have to figure out how important combos are overall… right now they’re VERY potent, but I suspect I’m going to need to tone them down somehow.)