Why Won’t You Just Die Already?

Two samurai stand ready for their duel on a long, dusty road. In a flash, they unsheathe their swords and rush to meet their destiny. The sharp staccato of steel on steel fills the air as their blades meet. When one misses a step, the other moves in with a life-ending thrust. But wait, what’s this? The stricken samurai raises his weapon and strikes back, scoring a deadly gash of his own. The opponents match each other blow for blow, swinging until their limbs are heavy and tired, until they are covered in blood. Finally, one nicks the other on the pinky, causing him to clutch his chest and fall to the ground. Now he is truly dead.

The remaining samurai stands and shifts his weary gaze to the horizon, waiting for his body to mend so that he can continue his journey. When did killing become such a boorish affair?

Let’s talk about lightsabers. The reason they’re so awesome is that they cut through anything with no resistance -- especially living things. When video games are offered this weapon of unlimited possibilities we end up with semi-transparent glow sticks that tickle the intestines rather than separate the torso from the legs. The Force Unleashed and the upcoming Old Republic MMORPG are just two of the most recent in a long line of limp wrested attempts to give us something that looks cool but doesn’t perform to its lofty potential.

We’re left beating our enemies with swords that behave more like clubs because the thrill of making the perfect strike doesn’t outweigh the difficulty of implementing the game systems to support it. Demon’s Souls (the recent PS3 action RPG that everyone should buy) comes awful close to conveying the true deadliness of a weapon. There are still health bars to contend with, but a good many of the regular enemies will go down in one or two well-timed hits if you’ve got the right equipment. This may sound boring if you’d rather press a combination of buttons for a minute or two before dispatching a foe, but the immediacy of balancing risk and reward with each split decision does more to get the blood flowing than a perfectly executed ten button combo breaker ever could.

The difficulty lies in potentially frustrating the player with a thousand ways to die instantly and sacrificing the flow of combat in favor of a more halting, tentative approach to each battle. Modern games are often designed to maximize reward while minimizing risk, giving us plenty of reason to barrel into every room, sure the developer won’t put us in a tight spot we can’t handle. A big part of this attitude dictates how long fights last and how many ways players get to recover from slip-ups.

RPGs work a bit differently. In Dragon Age it’s not uncommon for two warriors to beat on an undead creature whose limbs are held together by the thinnest of sinew a dozen times before it finally falls to ground, limbs sadly still intact. But a good RPG is as much about positioning and maximizing stats and equipment as it is about watching the decisions you make unfold on the screen. We won’t be seeing enemies and allies dropping in one or two seconds every fight because that just wouldn’t be much fun. When your character is at the mercy of dice rolls and stats, it’s best to let the math do its thing.

This isn’t really about making every game treat its weapons realistically no matter what. Both styles have their place, but we’re finally seeing technology that has the potential to provide 1:1 feedback on where a weapon hits the body and how it would affect movement and momentum. Just look at UFC 2009 if you want to see some polygons rubbing together with next to no clipping. Very cool. Now just imagine these kind of advances turned to finally bringing us the lightsaber combat we really want. That samurai wouldn’t stand a chance.

Comments

The Jedi Knight 2 lightsaber cheat was really the best way to play the game. It made the lightsaber brutally effective and allowed you to sever limbs at the polygon level. You could easily detach hands, heads, feet, legs or torso with a single stroke.

It also made the lightsaber duels much more interesting. You could rapidly kill or be killed by a single lightsaber-wielding enemy.

Maybe one day technology will allow us to create a true sequel to Die By The Sword.

Bushido Blade?

I wanted to work that in there, but then I forgot. So ... Bushido Blade! An awesome PSOne title never replicated.

I've always been slightly put off by the way all media has removed the sense of threat from weapons. In games you need not be concerned that the enemy has a rocket launcher because your health will regenerate after a second behind cover. In television and film, martial arts heavy fight scenes encourage protagonists to run in the direction of people with guns, knives, etc. The net effect is to the diminish the impact and lethality of weapons as a whole.

Perhaps my favorite counter-example, which I think of as the exception that proves the rule, is Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo. In the fight scenes where large groups of bandits with swords rush at each other they do so tentatively, showing genuine concern for the danger they are putting themselves in. The effect is almost comical when compared with the devil may care attitude of other films but I think it does a great job at emphasizing the fact that swords are really, really sharp.

It's one nice thing about Left4Dead: the bulk of the enemies require only a couple of shots to go down and stay down. Compare and contrast with Far Cry 2 where you pump a couple dozen rounds from your machine gun into your foe at spitting range just to be sure he doesn't get back up.

Then there's my Fallout tabletop game I'm running. Last night in the very first round of combat they killed 6 of the 7 security bots waiting on the other side of a door. I definitely misjudged the characters' firepower.

Quintin_Stone wrote:

Then there's my Fallout tabletop game I'm running. Last night in the very first round of combat they killed 6 of the 7 security bots waiting on the other side of a door. I definitely misjudged the characters' firepower.

You bring up an interesting point of view. When you're on the other side, it's difficult to balance the level of threat with the level of fun. In the BattleTech campaign I'm running I have to try to create situations the feel legitimately threatening but are still winnable without killing off my players and making it so they don't want to keep playing.

Seconding Bushido Blade ftw. It's still in my closet.

Hooray for battles in bamboo forests where you can also slice down the bamboo. Now where's my high-res sequel.

EDIT: And choosing weapons that have an impact on how you'll have to fight as well as stances that ACTUALLY matter. At the time, it didn't feel like it was ahead of its time. Apparently, it was.

Seems like it should be possible to model the inside of a person/monster within the external skin. I started thinking about this a few months back when I was into The Hunter. In that game, they had the CNS, lungs, heart and abdominal viscera modeled inside the animals. The internal organs you hit, and how hard you hit them determined how long it took for the animal to drop. If you disregarded the protective property of the skeleton, I would imagine that it would not be too hard to model the main pipes of the circulatory system and the individual abdominal organs. A shot through the intestines may not stop the fight, but if that shot nicks the inferior Vena Cava, you would be face down in less than 10 seconds. I guess this is a long, rambling way of saying that making game entities respond realistically to damage would be dependent on the level of detail you were willing to put into the anatomical model. It would be interesting to see how a detailed model would feel in action. Would people appreciate being able to aim for the femoral artery? Sounds like you would get the biggest pay-off in a stealth/assassin game (which is probably why it felt so right in The Hunter.) At the very least...it would make a nice bullet point on the back of the game box.

Has there ever been a game with sword/lightsaber-type weapons that took inspiration from fencing? One of the things that makes those types of fights great (in movies, e.g. the fight at the end of Kill Bill Vol 1) isn't the kill, but all the work that leads up to the kill. Perhaps this is asking even more (fast-moving swords hitting each other and looking like they should look) than even Certis wants, but just having weapons do the damage they should isn't enough for me. I want the fast-paced thrill of a FPS, but with all the body movement, counters and excitement of two real people fighting with dangerous weapons.

Assassin's Creed actually did a pretty good job with this as I recall. When they didn't parry, enemies went down fast, and there was a really nice, crunchy feeling to the sword hits. A little too much dependence on canned counter-attack animations, though. And they obviously didn't apply the same system to when the player gets hit (and used the wacky sci-fi thing to justify it).

I recall being the subject of derision when I said, "I love games with tons of guys who go down real easy." Much better said, Certis.

Didn't Daikatana use a "deadlier" system like this?

+1 vote for a realism mode in future lightsabre-inclusive games. It would actually make the whole foresight/reaction-time thing that jedis (especially when fighting each other) really important and cool. Plus it'd stop all those stupid "normals" from holding you back.

Personally i'd love to see what i think of as a proper Jedi game: i.e. Space noir. Lots of roleplaying/solving situations and finding clues and a little but intense fighting/action.

Games where skill, working together, or even thinking differently can all bring about that magical win condition - and it feels so much better than watching random number generators spar, or pouring firepower onto it until it is vapour. Well, mostly.

I'm hoping Assassin's Creed 2 or the fourth title in the Thief series will feature this more...thoughtful combat.

Mmm Bushido Blade. Another favorite that I have kept on my shelves all these years.

I've always been fond of hit locations and more realistic combat in table top RPGs - I find that it even lends to crafting a more interesting story when players have to deal with real injury and not just a pile of hit points. Trying to save a comrade who just took an arrow to the throat has always been more interesting to me than tossing someone a potion to restore 1D8 hit points because they look a little tired.

As for Dragon Age - I love the special killing blow animations but I wish in some way they were a bit more varied and frequent when I am fighting basic thugs/critters. Give me a sense that my 3 feet of sharp, flaming steel is actually doing something other than making them so tired or cross with me that they eventually fall over from boredom.

Reaper81 wrote:

The Jedi Knight 2 lightsaber cheat was really the best way to play the game. It made the lightsaber brutally effective and allowed you to sever limbs at the polygon level. You could easily detach hands, heads, feet, legs or torso with a single stroke.

It also made the lightsaber duels much more interesting. You could rapidly kill or be killed by a single lightsaber-wielding enemy.

I remember loving that mode, and being disappointed they didn't put it in Jedi Academy.* As I recall it got really fun when combined with a maxxed-out lightsaber throw skill; at that level you'd throw the saber at the enemy and it would take several swings at them before returning. With the realistic sabers option turned on that lead to a delightful pile of body parts.

*Jedi Outcast 2**
**Jedi Knight 3***
***Dark Forces 4

Man, I'm trying to remember a game that I played years ago that had the ability to sever you opponents limbs with a well timed and executed strike. The control scheme was atrocious and nigh unplayable (every strike was accomplished by holding down a numpad key, then clicking or hitting enter or something,) but when you actually managed to pull something off the effect was devastating. Blade of Darkness? I think that might have been it. High fantasy setting, Conan lookalike characters, orcs, skeletons. Somebody else must have played it?

From what I can tell in the update thread, the next iteration of Dwarf Fortress may take your complaint quite seriously, Certis. He's modeling wounds and body parts much more intricately this time around.

Actually, come to think of it, Dwarf Fortress already does this better than most games; paying particular attention to bleeding, head trauma, severed limbs and pain. One lucky bolt from a goblin's crossbow and your super elite dwarf's head is flying across the map.

But there's the small issue of it just being 2D icons rather than the 3D modeling you're talking about.

Rob_Anybody wrote:

Man, I'm trying to remember a game that I played years ago that had the ability to sever you opponents limbs with a well timed and executed strike. The control scheme was atrocious and nigh unplayable (every strike was accomplished by holding down a numpad key, then clicking or hitting enter or something,) but when you actually managed to pull something off the effect was devastating. Blade of Darkness? I think that might have been it. High fantasy setting, Conan lookalike characters, orcs, skeletons. Somebody else must have played it?

This made me think immediately of Time Killers. I know it's not what you're grasping for, but it instantly sprang to mind.

Rob_Anybody wrote:

Man, I'm trying to remember a game that I played years ago that had the ability to sever you opponents limbs with a well timed and executed strike. The control scheme was atrocious and nigh unplayable (every strike was accomplished by holding down a numpad key, then clicking or hitting enter or something,) but when you actually managed to pull something off the effect was devastating. Blade of Darkness? I think that might have been it. High fantasy setting, Conan lookalike characters, orcs, skeletons. Somebody else must have played it?

Sounds like Die by the Sword, which I played briefly and Switchbreak mentioned earlier in the thread.

Cool premise, at least on the back of the box. The execution was... awkward. Yes, let's go with that. Awkward.

Quintin_Stone wrote:

It's one nice thing about Left4Dead: the bulk of the enemies require only a couple of shots to go down and stay down. Compare and contrast with Far Cry 2 where you pump a couple dozen rounds from your machine gun into your foe at spitting range just to be sure he doesn't get back up.

Then there's my Fallout tabletop game I'm running. Last night in the very first round of combat they killed 6 of the 7 security bots waiting on the other side of a door. I definitely misjudged the characters' firepower.

Henry the psychotic farmer violently agrees!

Montalban wrote:

~Actually, come to think of it, Dwarf Fortress already does this better than most games; paying particular attention to bleeding, head trauma, severed limbs and pain. One lucky bolt from a goblin's crossbow and your super elite dwarf's head is flying across the map.

But there's the small issue of it just being 2D icons rather than the 3D modeling you're talking about.

I couldn't concur more. I really liked the wrestling mechanic. A experienced wrestler could gouge eyes out, disable limbs and finally strangle their opponent. It always got my imagination going - it had to with an ASCII character set. The sad thing is, as Certis describes, turning that mechanic into a first-person game without causing frustration is extremely challenging. That one lucky bolt isn't a big deal when you have a few other dwarves to get the job done. If its you that falls, be prepared for some broken controllers.

I've often thought that I would be happiest if RPG's where sword (or lightsaber) combat was the norm would implement some sort of stamina or guard meter that would lower throughout a fight, in addition to the HP meter. Then you could essentially fill in the majority of battle with good looking parry and dodge animations that wore down the stamina / guard meter (and in which the characters actually interact with each others' swords and armor, which almost never happens), and then actual contact with the blade could be seriously damaging and/or lethal, and reflected in the HP gauge.

Every video I've seen of The Old Republic where a jedi is involved just makes me laugh, because they're choosing to let everyone who wants one have a lightsaber, but they're making them not lightsabers. If I hit a guy with a lightsaber and they just go "oof", it's not a damned lightsaber.

The default interaction between two skilled combatants with almost any weapon really should be "parry" or "dodge" anyhow - any fight where weapons are actually striking ends quickly. And there's no reason that can't still be exciting; personally I think it's more exciting to know that the first hit that gets through might be the last.

Clemenstation wrote:
Rob_Anybody wrote:

Man, I'm trying to remember a game that I played years ago that had the ability to sever you opponents limbs with a well timed and executed strike. The control scheme was atrocious and nigh unplayable (every strike was accomplished by holding down a numpad key, then clicking or hitting enter or something,) but when you actually managed to pull something off the effect was devastating. Blade of Darkness? I think that might have been it. High fantasy setting, Conan lookalike characters, orcs, skeletons. Somebody else must have played it?

Sounds like Die by the Sword, which I played briefly and Switchbreak mentioned earlier in the thread.

Cool premise, at least on the back of the box. The execution was... awkward. Yes, let's go with that. Awkward.

There was also a game called Blade of Darkness (Severance: Blade of Darkness to be specific) that did it, he's right about that. BoD used keyboard controls rather than the fully mouse-driven ones of DBTS, and they were marginally better but still very tricky to use. But it felt awesome when it worked.

This is something that has always bothered me about D&D in general, and I came up with a simple yet elegant solution. Picture this:

Combat begins, initiative is rolled (if necessary) and attack rolls are done. If your attack roll determines a hit, the animation would show a weapon impact against the armor. If it was a particularily brutal hit (resulting in stun, knockdown, etc) animations would be shown as necessary. Battles would continue with animations for whiffing, near misses, and hits until the "hit points" are drained. Once hit points are out, the killing blow animation will be determined by the severity of the attack roll and damage dealt, with a large variety of killing blow animations.

I always had a problem with the idea of "hit points" and would much prefer a system that replaces them with "stamina". As a character takes a heavy blow his stamina will be reduced accordingly. This also makes sense in leveling, since as you gain experience in battle you are able to fight harder and longer than a lower experience character. This would make battles much more exciting and dynamic than what we have now. Sure it would take a TON of time to get all the animations and syncronizations, but damn would that ever be worth it.

I always had a problem with the idea of "hit points" and would much prefer a system that replaces them with "stamina". As a character takes a heavy blow his stamina will be reduced accordingly. This also makes sense in leveling, since as you gain experience in battle you are able to fight harder and longer than a lower experience character. This would make battles much more exciting and dynamic than what we have now. Sure it would take a TON of time to get all the animations and syncronizations, but damn would that ever be worth it.

Reminds me of a stupid PC gaming magazine article I read way back. It was supposed to be an interview with "the Doom Guy". First question, paraphrased from rough memory:

INTERVIEWER: "Hey, Doom Guy! How ya feeling today?"
DOOM GUY: "Oh, about 88%"

Ravenlock wrote:

I've often thought that I would be happiest if RPG's where sword (or lightsaber) combat was the norm would implement some sort of stamina or guard meter that would lower throughout a fight, in addition to the HP meter. Then you could essentially fill in the majority of battle with good looking parry and dodge animations that wore down the stamina / guard meter (and in which the characters actually interact with each others' swords and armor, which almost never happens), and then actual contact with the blade could be seriously damaging and/or lethal, and reflected in the HP gauge.

Every video I've seen of The Old Republic where a jedi is involved just makes me laugh, because they're choosing to let everyone who wants one have a lightsaber, but they're making them not lightsabers. If I hit a guy with a lightsaber and they just go "oof", it's not a damned lightsaber.

The default interaction between two skilled combatants with almost any weapon really should be "parry" or "dodge" anyhow - any fight where weapons are actually striking ends quickly. And there's no reason that can't still be exciting; personally I think it's more exciting to know that the first hit that gets through might be the last.

De ja vu! I'm currently listening to you say the same things on the immortal machines podcast - but wishing you'd stop talking about mmo's. I'm one of those that said "Awesome, down with the MMO's" and then you lost me here.

Also, most enemies go down in 1 or 2 blows in Mount & Blade, and definitely 1 blow if your momentum is behind you (couched lance gets em every time!).

Every time I open the Front Page Articles section, I see this thread title and -- for a brief moment -- take it personally. Is it just me?

Quintin_Stone wrote:

Every time I open the Front Page Articles section, I see this thread title and -- for a brief moment -- take it personally. Is it just me? :D

I read it as directed at you, too.

mrtomaytohead wrote:

Also, most enemies go down in 1 or 2 blows in Mount & Blade, and definitely 1 blow if your momentum is behind you (couched lance gets em every time!).

Truth.