Saturday, August 4

Blocking in Action Games

First of all, I want to apologize again for not posting for a week. My brother got married and most of my family was here for a few days and it was hectic as all get out, but a ton of fun. As a warning, I'm going on vacation for a while with my family in a couple of days. You should expect new posts by the end of the month. I'll be making a more official post about this soon .Sorry again, hope you enjoy the post.

There are a lot of action games out there: Dynasty Warriors, Ninja Gaiden, The Legend of Zelda. All of these happen to be close-combat based, swords, essentially. Three other games, two yet to arrive and one already available, are also close-combat action games. These are Fable 2, Heavenly Sword, and Okami. Whats amazing is that each of these titles has a completely different combat system, and, more specifically, different systems for blocking.Fable 2 is Peter Molyneux and Lionhead Studios' upcoming 360 masterpiece. It is innovating in many ways, including combat. Fable 2 features a one button combat system. The X button is devoted to attacking with a short-range weapon, like a sword, and Y and A are devoted to bow/arrow and magic use. But today we're just going to talk about short-range combat. All attacks, throws, and combos while using a sword can be achieved with the X button alone. To attack simply press the button. To combo, players must tap X at varying intervals in tune with a beat. Players can perform finishing moves with a counter by tapping X right when an enemy attacks. The X button is also devoted to blocking with a sword. How? Just hold the button. Holding X allows player characters to block most attacks automatically. And thats it. Tap X to attack. Tap X at the right time to counter. Hold X to block. Its a simple system but becomes progressively more complex as players learn the combo system, Molyneux contends. He even once said that players will be able to beat the game no problem simply by mashing on the X button. Yes, Molyneux condones button mashing. But is there anything wrong with that? I don't think so. It makes the game simple for novice players while remaining appealing. However, he says that if players so desire, they will be able to exploit a deep combat system, all with just one button. Long story short: block by holding X.

Our second featured game is Heavenly Sword. As the beautiful Nariko, players will embark on an epic journey, and all the while slaying countless clone-faced foes. Developer Ninja Theory has invented an intruiging combat system for players to fight with. Nariko has at her disposal three combat stances. Standard is speed, hold L1 to switch to ranged mode, hold R1 to switch to strong. Meanwhile on the controller face, the triangle and square buttons allow Nariko to attack and counter. The shoulder buttons act as modifiers. They change Nariko's stance, and therfore attacks, but they also change her block.

Blocking in Heavenly Sword is fairly unique for video games. Nariko's blocks by not doing anything. Sitting there and not pressing anything allows Nariko to block any standard attacks. However, different enemy types will attack Nariko as well. Stronger blocks will blow right through Nariko's standard block. As will arrows and other projectiles. But switching to the respective stance allows Nariko to block these attacks as well. The enemies and their respective attacks come in three different types too: standard, strong, ranged. By tapping triangle just as the enemy attacks will make Nariko counter, assuming she is in the right stance for that enemy type. Ninja Theory, I think, has created an interesting and balanced combat system. Three different enemy types, three different attack stances, three different means of blocking. Players must constantly be switching up their stance to deal with the varied enemies and incoming attacks. Nariko blocks automatically. However, she will have to be in the correct stance to block the different enemy types. The other fulcrum of balance, if you will, is the players choice to attack or sit still. If you attack, you risk the chance of being hit. If you sit still, you'll be more likely to deflect an attack, or at least more focused if the need to switch stance arrives, as it will often.

The third game is Okami. This epic is the only game discussed today that has already been released. Clover Studios, unfortunately disbanded, was the developer behind Okami, and also created classics like Viewtiful Joe and Killer 7. Okami has gameplay very much like The Legend of Zelda. Which means adventure over an expansive fictional land. However, the great Ameratsu's combat style differs greatly from Link's. First, players can use brush techniques to help defeat enemies. Second, Okami has multiple weapons that she can switch out to serve as primary or secondary. The primary attack works as you might imagine, just tap the button to attack repeatedly. The sub weapon serves varying purposes depending on the weapon itself. At the beginning of the game, Okami has no means to block. She can run around, and jump, and dodge eventually. But before players cannot block until they get a weapon of the type Reflector. Equiping the reflector as a sub weapon and pressing triangle in combat will bring up a large round shiled in front of Okami. But the shield will not stay up. Regardless if the players tap or hold triangle, the shield will only stay up for a second. After the shield comes down, Ameratsu will be momentarily defensless until she overcomes her shield lag. However, the shield will only lower if nothing hits it. If the shield does block an attack like fire, it will remain up and continue to block Okami until the attack subsides. Sometimes long, constant attacks will bombard Okami, like fire or poison. Bringing up the shield before the attack hits will block the entire attack stream. Also, pressing triangle right in front of enemy will make Okami grab it and pile drive it into the dirt. Its awesome and does a ton of damage. I think its an interesting way to form a block mechanic, the shield is there when you need it but gone when you don't.

These are not the only blocking mechanics nor combat systems to be found in action games. They are a sampling, they represent a diversity of systems present in a single genre of video games. The point is, there are millions of ways to achieve something. Look at something as simple as blocking, even this can be designed in a variety of ways, as we have just seen. This is true across all of game design. Everything can be designed in different ways. This is how whole genres are born. When designing a game, dont just rely on one system or mechanic. Just out of sight, hidden in your labrythine mind, there may be a solution or superior alternative awaiting discovery.

Who do you think is coolest: Ameratsu Okami, Nariko, or Peter Molyneux?

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