designing physical conflict between player(s) and/or NPCs

What is combat design?

Combat design is about making game systems for physical conflict between player(s) and enemy NPCs.
For better or worse, many video games wake up and choose violence. Combat is one of the most common and best-explored domains in game design. Some studios even employ dedicated combat designers or encounter designers, specializing in tuning combat systems and building battles. This is a somewhat recent industry practice, and only started happening in the 2010s with the rise of military shooters / cover shooters / Dark Souls.
It's hard to make combat levels without having some combat design already in-place. This is why we suggest modding: that way, you can reuse a game's already-proven core combat systems without having to build your own.
If in fact, you do not choose violence, then skip ahead to learning about Layout.

Combat concepts

When designing combat systems, consider these aspects:
  • Enemy design is about defining different hostile NPC types.
    • Ideally, each type has distinct behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses.
    • Without a roster of varied enemies, fights will feel repetitive.
  • Encounters are structured battles against NPCs.
    • Open-ended combat puzzles; player must improvise a solution
    • Implementing encounters in-game usually involves some scripting.
  • Balance is the real + perceived fairness of the player's options, usually in PvP.
    • Where can the player go, what territory can they control?
    • A balanced level helps players trust the layout and invest in the outcome.
  • Arena design is about building spaces specifically for combat.
    • Design possible footholds, chokepoints, cover patterns, etc.
    • This aspect comes later. You won't know what the arena needs until you understand the enemy roster and plan an encounter.

Combat mechanics

Combat mechanics are the player's repeated actions / skills / weapons used to fight enemies. Some common combat mechanics:
  • Gather info about layout and enemies
  • Positioning yourself away from dangers, control territory
  • Aiming at specific enemy types / weak points
  • Timing an attack when you see a tell / telegraph (signaling an opportunity)
  • Chaining attacks into combos, combine actions or weapons
  • Blocking an enemy attack; parrying / countering / evading at the right time
  • Taking cover where the enemy can't hit you or see you
  • Managing resources, scavenging for pickups (health, ammo, etc)
  • Using traps in the environment (explosive barrels, water, lava, cliffs, etc)
animated GIF of early test map + combat prototype from 2014 for God of War (2018) by Sony Santa Monica

Weapon design

Many games provide the player with multiple weapons to use. Weapon design is about conceptualizing, implementing, and balancing this arsenal. Some aspects to consider:
  • Weapon feel and fantasy (e.g. big slow gun vs. sneaky knife vs. loud chainsaw)
  • Stats like varied damage, range, rate of fire, ammo supply
    • For guns: varied spread, recoil, sights, penetration, magazine size, reload speed
  • Situational awareness to pick the most appropriate / effective weapon
  • Managing an ammo economy, not wasting resources
  • Upgrading a weapon, crafting upgrades, blah blah blah

TODO: Combat examples

TODO: Combat workflow

  • prototyping a test combat level
  • how to know when combat is "good enough"?
Last modified 2mo ago