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

*Legion* wrote:
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.

I know!

grobstein wrote:

Bushido Blade?

Certis wrote:

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

Mister Magnus wrote:

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.

Kengo: Master of Bushido on PS2. Spiritual successor to Bushido Blade. Not Kengo: Legend of the Nine for the 360, though.

I sometimes feel I'm the only person in the world who liked the sword play in Oblivion, but I certainly see where melee combat has never really lived up to its name in most video games.

Ah, the Wii had so much potential, right?

Demon's Souls is mostly great with the difficulty and whoopass amounts of damage you inflict, but

1. enough with the Havok physics--dead bodies move like living clowns, and there are few things I hate more than living clowns.

and 2. putting this as a spoiler in case it is for people

Spoiler:

It's waaay to easy to kill bosses with a bow and a couple hundred arrows. I dunno, just seems like they should have balanced this somehow.

Grubber788 wrote:

I sometimes feel I'm the only person in the world who liked the sword play in Oblivion, but I certainly see where melee combat has never really lived up to its name in most video games.

Ah, the Wii had so much potential, right?

With MotionPlus out, they no longer have any excuse not to give us a proper (16+) swordfighting game.

Several people wrote:

Bushido Blade

I played it once a few years ago and, while I appreciated the concept, the game suffered from one fatal flaw - it seemed like you spent more time loading most fights than fighting them. I just didn't understand why you couldn't just reset the characters in the environment without having to reload the entire stage again.

Several people wrote:

Die by the Sword is flawed.

Yeah, DbtS had some control...quirks, but with aLOT of practice you could become quite proficient at them. Besides, its expansion gave us one of gaming's unrivaled joys (moon physics included!) - Ogre Hockey!

Slacker1913 wrote:
Grubber788 wrote:

I sometimes feel I'm the only person in the world who liked the sword play in Oblivion, but I certainly see where melee combat has never really lived up to its name in most video games.

Ah, the Wii had so much potential, right?

With MotionPlus out, they no longer have any excuse not to give us a proper (16+) swordfighting game.

...except that you get no feedback. How much worse would it be to take a proper swing at somebody but have your character stop moving partway through the strike because he hit something? I think any Wii sword-fighting game would be awful, like dangling a big ol' Cool Carrot right in front of your nose but never letting you grab it.

WipEout wrote:

Kengo: Master of Bushido on PS2. Spiritual successor to Bushido Blade. Not Kengo: Legend of the Nine for the 360, though.

Thanks for the heads up. I read a little bit about it, and while not thrilled with the description of the single player the two-player sounds like what I want. Ordered it for $1.99 on Amazon and I figure I'll try to track down a save game from somewhere.

Chumpy_McChump wrote:
Slacker1913 wrote:
Grubber788 wrote:

I sometimes feel I'm the only person in the world who liked the sword play in Oblivion, but I certainly see where melee combat has never really lived up to its name in most video games.

Ah, the Wii had so much potential, right?

With MotionPlus out, they no longer have any excuse not to give us a proper (16+) swordfighting game.

...except that you get no feedback. How much worse would it be to take a proper swing at somebody but have your character stop moving partway through the strike because he hit something? I think any Wii sword-fighting game would be awful, like dangling a big ol' Cool Carrot right in front of your nose but never letting you grab it.

That's why the Wii would be perfect for a lightsaber game - the blade has no weight, but the handle does, and it SHOULD clip through anything it touches.

HaciendaSquish wrote:
Chumpy_McChump wrote:
Slacker1913 wrote:
Grubber788 wrote:

I sometimes feel I'm the only person in the world who liked the sword play in Oblivion, but I certainly see where melee combat has never really lived up to its name in most video games.

Ah, the Wii had so much potential, right?

With MotionPlus out, they no longer have any excuse not to give us a proper (16+) swordfighting game.

...except that you get no feedback. How much worse would it be to take a proper swing at somebody but have your character stop moving partway through the strike because he hit something? I think any Wii sword-fighting game would be awful, like dangling a big ol' Cool Carrot right in front of your nose but never letting you grab it.

That's why the Wii would be perfect for a lightsaber game - the blade has no weight, but the handle does, and it SHOULD clip through anything it touches.

Except other lightsabers...

Mister Magnus wrote:
WipEout wrote:

Kengo: Master of Bushido on PS2. Spiritual successor to Bushido Blade. Not Kengo: Legend of the Nine for the 360, though.

Thanks for the heads up. I read a little bit about it, and while not thrilled with the description of the single player the two-player sounds like what I want. Ordered it for $1.99 on Amazon and I figure I'll try to track down a save game from somewhere.

The singleplayer was a lot of fun and challenging, in my opinion. The descriptions I've read (such as that of Wikipedia's) really paint it as much more monotonous than it really was-- yes, you fight clone students then a master, but those fights can be intense and fun enough that I, at least, hardly noticed. And I always thought the training sessions were fun and simple little mini-games that never really got too boring, as they had to be spanned across your samurai's day and evenly dispersed. That is, you couldn't just train one aspect each day, or other aspects of his training would atrophy. So there was a lot of strategy to maintaining skills and power and health. Another cool aspect was that after "finishing" the game, winning the tournament and mastering all the schools, you could not longer maintain all aspects of your training, but still receive challenges from other schools. So your skills would still slowly fade as you aged, if I remember correctly, but you could keep fighting to maintain your reputation. I always thought that was pretty cool, and aside from the lack of ability to run through different areas of the overall game world, I thought it was a fantastic "sequel" to Bushido Blade.

I love me my Bushido Blade, still play pretty often on my original Xbox (via emulator). How do the fighting mechanics in Kengo match up? The other aspects sound pretty cool.

It's been a while since I played, although all this talk is making me want to pull it off the shelf again. If I recall correctly, the fighting mechanics are very similar to Bushido Blade, minus the one cool bit of an immediate, one-hit kill. You can come VERY close in sparring matches, and I think you can pull off a one-hit kill during the tourney, since they use real swords instead of bokken. Other than that, the matches are all about timing and proper stances to counter your opponent. And while there are "special" moves, most are easily avoided with a well-timed parry-- and parrying becomes quite crucial at times which is a nice change of pace (and cool looking) from Bushido Blade. Now that I think about it, though, I don't think there is a variety of weapons a la Bushido Blade-- I'll have to play it again to be sure, but every weapon is a different katana, or some variation thereof (I think there's a guy with a wooden oar that if you beat, you get his weapon too).

Rat Boy wrote:
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.

Yes, at maximum four of the weakest strikes will fell an opponent not well armored - as in the arena. Or will fell you. Will Farrell.

I am so late to the M&B party. There is nothing left but the smell of ashes and stale beer.

grobstein wrote:

Bushido Blade?

I really should track down copies of those before time makes it impossible to find any for less than $100... I've heard nothing but tersely worded praise and stories of the kind of late night dueling that brings sweat to the palms and cements competitive friendships.

As for a Wii lightsaber game... As unsatisfactory as this may sound, the solution would be to set it in an age where the weapons are NOT common tools, and have the premise support the idea that you're the only being left with a functioning one (and the potential to use it). Not having level playing field duels is a bummer, but the fluid mechanics of literally cutting through ANYTHING combined with the motion+ degree of accuracy would be worth it, in my opinion.

Think about rail shooters, where your infinite ammo pistol (that still needs to be reloaded of course, pfft) can potentially defeat, deflect, and defenestrate anything in existence with the right timing and accuracy... The gameplay model actually supports the idea of the last lightsaber vs. the galaxy amazingly well!

mrtomaytohead wrote:
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!).

Oh wow, thanks for listening. Had no idea we had GWJ fans.

Yeah, it's an argument I've made before, obviously, though I feel like that podcast episode was awhile ago. My apologies if the MMO talk got excessive, we try our best not to get too deep into that stuff but they are something of a force in PC gaming and they're certainly an interesting business to talk about.

I think I can promise that we haven't delved too far into them for several episodes now, though, so you should be in for a respite if you're catching up.

I do like Mount & Blade's combat quite a bit, and should have mentioned it there. Maybe I'll do that as a throwback choice for one of our indie segments coming up.

I know others have already mentioned it, but when i think 'melee mechanics done right' nowadays, Mount & Blade is the one that comes to mind. It's truly the best 1st person melee system I've experienced. So intuitive and each blow just seems to have weight behind it. I'm sure some publisher with gobs of dev money is going to adopt the system for something big budget down the road... eventually. When medieval is hip again.

Dark Messiah of Might and Magic went overboard to try and deliver a visceral first person melee combat system. If the rest of the game development quality had stood up, maybe it wouldve been more memorable.

I don't mind some combo based melee systems. I liked Viking: Battle for Asgard. The weight of the blows was created more through animation and sound than the mechanics themselves though.

Die by the Sword didnt appeal to me. It's a long time now(so my memory might be foggy), but I think the combos were keyboard and mouse based and it just didnt gel for me. I think it was because you swung your arm with the mouse, but it was from a 3rd party perspective. Maybe Blade of Darkness was another one I tried, but.... it just didnt grip me.

Swords will probably continue to feel like clubs in videogames till your blows cleave and you are left prying your sword from the ribcage or skull of a downed virtual foe because you mis-timed or targeted your swing.

Note to author: Please consider an edit to mention M&B. It really deserves a place in any discussion of melee-based combat mechanics.

Note to Editor: It's limp wristed,not wrested.

Ravenlock wrote:

Oh wow, thanks for listening. Had no idea we had GWJ fans.

Picked it up after the Torchlight episode you posted. The promise of less MMO talk is very soothing.

grobstein wrote:

Bushido Blade?

Bushido Blade was the first thing I thought about as well.

Once the novelty wore off, I was stuck with a game that, in my honest opinion, was pretty boring. *I inch forward, my opponent inches forward; I step back, my opponent steps back. Then we lunge at one another "mashing buttons" like mad* Either that or I walk right into a random strike of the sword.

No thanks.

Hit points with a chance of critical or "extra damage" is the only thing that makes sense to me, unless we start talking virtual reality.

n10sity wrote:

Once the novelty wore off, I was stuck with a game that, in my honest opinion, was pretty boring. *I inch forward, my opponent inches forward; I step back, my opponent steps back. Then we lunge at one another "mashing buttons" like mad* Either that or I walk right into a random strike of the sword.

This might make for an interesting game if the controls were more appropriate. Right now, it consists of pressing buttons, and so the "skill" factor is limited.

Many of the same concerns apply to games with guns, or blasters, or whatever you prefer for long-range combat. On the one hand, I've heard stories about people being shot and only realizing it hours later after the firefight is over. On the other hand, a single bullet in the wrong place will instantly incapacitate someone. Games lean towards the former, but probably out of laziness than realism. Plus, being instantly take out by a single shot from an unseen enemy is frustrating for the player. (cue complaints about snipertown variants)

This also reminds me of an old debate about damage models, and whether or not shooting a bad guy in the toe enough times should cause him to keel over.

I'll just add by saying Bushido Blade came to mind for me too.

Another game I remember playing with a 'physical consequence' was Tao Feng on the old XBox. You could continually damage a part of your combatant’s body, and they would lose effectiveness in that limb. This worked both ways, so if you weren't careful and varied your own attacks, all punch based damage was halved because the guy fighting you had just landed a monster blow and effectively dislocated your arm.

Wasn't the best fighter in the world, but it did add another layer of strategy to the play mechanic.