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This is something I've been puzzling over while revamping NIFE's combat and working on an unrelated big complex of game engine ideas.

I got a chance to play Horizon over the weekend. Why is the combat in there so fun but not in No man's sky, despite essentially doing the same thing? Why in God's name is Minecraft's combat system fun with so few enemies and weapons? While things like Morrowind you're definitely playing for something other than the combat, despite the amount of variety.

Then moving to 2d, there's an Android game called hoplite that's amazingly fun despite having 4 enemy types and being turn-based while meanwhile there are tons of tactical type games that have way more content but just aren't fun.

What on Earth is the secret ingredient that makes a combat system fun?

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There are 11 Replies

I think our opinions change drastically over time because we realize we’re either really good at one particular game and then the next game sucks because you don’t know what the hell you’re doing.

I’ve tried several rpg games on my phone and not one stuck to me as interesting. Then, I find one that I truly love and got used to it. It also helped that I loved the Anime/Manga. But, it almost has the same elements as Naruto and Fire Emblem Heroes did.

The characters? The plot/setting? Idk. I’ve been puzzling it myself. It’s like, when I played Zelda: Breath of the Wild, I didn’t really like the whole weapon breaking concept but I thought the world was breathtaking. But, I did enjoy the exploration part and some of its puzzles.

Posted October 22nd by Castrael

Battle Royale

Posted October 22nd by S.O.H.
S.O.H.
 

PlayStation all star battle royal or you talking about battle royal maps in mario parry SOH?

Posted October 22nd by Weid man

So, with stuff like Smash Bros, a small set of controls gets you a wide range of expression, and most attacks are instantaneous. It's not a complex system, but it's a lot of simple and easy-to-understand systems layered on top of each other. Same reason people love turn based battles in Paper Mario: you can effectively plan out your attacks in advance. It's possible to do that because, no matter how crazy the battles get, it's easy to understand. You always feel like you can manage it.

There's a limit to how complicated a single task can be before your brain stops trying to think about a real solution and just wings it. Compare Paper Mario with attacks as high as 3 to any JRPG with attack power in the thousands. Which one do you just go with your gut, and which one do you feel more involved in/in control?

Posted October 22nd by mariomguy

-little to no input lag
-feels intuitive and not awkward. Everything goes where you expect it to be in regards to controls
-easy to learn the basics, and a challenge to master
-*input some addictive element like a rewards system of challenges*

Posted October 22nd by ShadowFox08

There's a limit to how complicated a single task can be before your brain stops trying to think about a real solution and just wings it. Compare Paper Mario with attacks as high as 3 to any JRPG with attack power in the thousands. Which one do you just go with your gut, and which one do you feel more involved in/in control?
a feeling of total control isn't necessarily fun

tons of people like the challenge introduced by adding more complex and variable elements that prompt you to think on your feet and adapt. People take on optional challenges like that just because they enjoy it; it's more exciting.

a battle is inherently less interesting when I can look at it from the outset and know pretty much exactly how it'll play out

it's possible to go too far with random elements, sure - like using only Metronome to battle in Pokémon (a move that randomly mimics almost any other move in the game). It can be a fun novelty, but relatively few people would want to invest in that long-term because you can be screwed over at any given time through no fault of your own. But I'd be even less interested in playing with only fixed-damage moves like Dragon Rage or Seismic Toss (zero variance, taking the same number of HP away every time they're used).

if I can count on Mario's hammer doing 3 damage every time I use it, cool. That's functional, that's predictable, it has its place. But I'm not "just winging it" the second I step things up. I can still strategize and feel "in control" based on the knowledge that Jade's Multifeet skill hits an enemy 7 times for 82-97 damage per hit (give or take any blows that miss or crit). I can't say exactly how much damage she may do on a given turn, but I can say something like "on average, her attack will kill that type of enemy when it starts at full health." Or "my priest and martial artist together can do about as much damage as my warrior, so I can split them up to kill two enemies in one turn" - it's strategy, and it works.

Edited October 23rd by Pirate_Ninja

So I guess to sum up here:

  • When there's enough strategy involved to feel like you can learn and improve, but not so much that you don't know wtf is going on.

  • Some amount of variation. You want things to be somewhat predictable but also somewhat unpredictable.

  • Posted October 23rd by Xhin
    Xhin
    Fractal icious

    as far as that aspect goes, that sounds about right to me.

    to be clear, I'm not shitting on Paper Mario's way of doing things. The inclusion of action commands and timed hits is smart because it engages the player in a somewhat different way. But imagine if all the action commands were stripped away - imo, the game would suddenly be a lot less fun to play.

    Posted October 23rd by Pirate_Ninja

    A WIDE STANCE of expression mariomguy.

    Posted October 23rd by Wide stance man

    tons of people like the challenge introduced by adding more complex and variable elements that prompt you to think on your feet and adapt.

    And Paper Mario does that, too. I bet you weren't expecting Jr. Troopa to fly and put a spike on its head, effectively nullifying all your basic attacks. The point is not to know what's up ahead, it's to be able to deal with what's in front of you and get where you want to be. A good combat system allows for that.

    I can't say exactly how much damage she may do on a given turn, but I can say something like "on average, her attack will kill that type of enemy when it starts at full health."

    And then it gets surprising, not in a good way, when it takes 3 or 4 more turns to achieve that result. Especially when attack power seems to change for no good reason. The game should communicate its mechanics to me, figuring out what's supposed to happen should not be the game.

    But imagine if all the action commands were stripped away - imo, the game would suddenly be a lot less fun to play.

    And this is perfectly viable. Undertale wouldn't be as fun if there were no bullet hell microgames in the battling. That's basically the entire point of the system.

    When there's enough strategy involved to feel like you can learn and improve, but not so much that you don't know wtf is going on.

    Yes. A lot of simple systems that are easy to understand but layered on top of each other gets you complexity: jumping and punching does mid-air moves. You can use or throw items. You can dodge or shield, some characters can deflect or counter. But making something complicated and obtuse is not fun. Or, at least, it's only fun for a niche crowd.

    Some amount of variation. You want things to be somewhat predictable but also somewhat unpredictable.

    Predictable in terms of behavior (consistency), but some unpredictability in terms of when things happen. Mario Kart got a lot better when things were not completely unpredictable. The philosophy behind Mario Kart Wii was you won't know who will win until the final lap, and that lead to tons of blue shells and bullet bills and chaotic mayhem. Mario Kart 8's philosophy was to help players get to where they deserve to be, and that lead to items making less of an impact. MK8 relies more on coins, anti-grav boosting, and a distance system to even the score. Good players can take advantage of all the above where poor players would just fall behind.

    Along with consistency and transparency is expression: being able to perform a lot of nuanced actions intuitively makes the game feel fluid and dynamic. This is where layering comes in. Every button in Smash Bros. does something different depending on the situation.

    Posted October 23rd by mariomguy
    Reply to: What makes a game combat system fun?
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