Developer's Log 002: Player Controls
In the last update we talked about the foundation of how the games will build missions for players to challenge, so this week we're going to talk about how the player will actually be able to challenge those missions. Player controls are absolutely vital to a game being successful- anyone growing up with game rentals can attest to how deeply a game with poor controls can ruin the entire experience, or how in the right hands it can define it. We're working in the vein of classic arcade cabinets (and actually have far-future plans to build at least one actual physical four-player cabinet to put our game in, shh!), so what does this mean for the game? In summary: simple controls with depth for skill and improvement. For a side-scrolling arcade brawler you want to give players the tools they need to work towards their goals from the onset, which means no stat growth, no experience gain, no unlockable weapons; you plunk a quarter into the proverbial machine, you hit start and you're presented with one of four toolkits and a mile of dudes to beat up, then you learn how to beat them up without letting them beat you up! That's the core of what we're aiming for, to make a game simple and immediately accessible while allowing room for players to get better at the game. There's a time and a place for stat growth and gear checks, but I don't think the kind of game we're making is the right fit for that sort of gameplay. As you may have seen, there are four selectable player characters: Lizzie, Alice, Lou and Monday. Each of the four characters are going to have their own unique strengths, but they won't necessarily have weaknesses. The idea for "familiar variation" is that they'll all be based on a core set of rules, a blank everyman template they all expand upon without detracting from so no matter who you pick (since you might not always get to play the exact one character you want to all of the time), the controls will be familiar and you'll be able to play how you like, you'll just have a different extra set of tools from everyone else. We're going to go over the four characters individually in the next four weeks' posts, but as far as broad archetypes go, Lizzie is a "bomber", Alice is an "artillery", Lou is a "tank" and Monday is a "commando". I'll leave a bit of mystery to what all that means for now, but those are the one-word summaries of each player's unique strengths. The core controls are still in flux since we're in very early development but the foundation is pretty solid. We're designing the game with your basic four-button controller in mind- in modern PC gaming terms this translates to an Xbox 360 or PS3 controller button layout or any third-party clone of that template- so a D-Pad, four face buttons and a Start button, at the bare minimum (this is also what you might have in a classic arcade cabinet!). Directional controls are obvious, you'll be able to move in any of eight directions you'd like. The four face buttons are planned as Jump, Melee, Ranged and Special. This is going to be the core of the game, with genre-staple abilities like a divekick and dash attack (in addition to non-attack dashing); we're thinking about familiar elements like "pick up and throw barrels/rocks/etc", "grab and throw bad guys" or "use temporary melee item" but we have to do more live tests before we decide whether this adds meaningful depth to the game we have in mind or if it's just extra complication that gets in the way of Beating 'Em Up. The heart of the game's combat is based around the melee and ranged attack buttons . Melee as a rule will do a bit more damage per hit than Ranged and it'll have more Z-axis depth to it, whereas Ranged will be more of a straight line compared to Melee's arc. Melee offers you a bit more power and hit stun but Ranged offers you the safety of distance, whose utility cannot be overstated. Switching weapons won't be immediate, however, when you press the other function's button there will be a few frames where the character visibly swaps between one weapon and the other; if you have your ranged weapon out and an enemy is getting closer, you will have to decide whether to keep shooting or switch to your melee to better defend yourself up close. The idea here is to encourage players to think about their positioning, the presence of the enemy pieces on the board and what resources they have available rather than simply use ranged until a player is in melee distance and then start pressing the melee button immediately. You'll need to think about which tool you want to use when, and why. Mashing attack buttons will absolutely be an option to players, but it won't necessarily be the best one. Whether you're using melee or ranged, you'll be able to pace your inputs and execute three-hit combos for bigger damage and knockback on the third hit. For example, assuming a melee attack does 10 damage per swing against an enemy with 200 health, you could mash out a string of tens OR you could time your hits and land a sequence of 10, 15, 25 damage, knocking an enemy or enemies onto their butts with the third hit to give yourself some breathing room. You'll also be able to add weapon-switching to combos, so a ranged, ranged, melee, melee command input would do, say, an 8 damage ranged hit, a 12 damage ranged hit, a 0 damage weapon cycle animation and a 25 damage final melee hit. The inverse would be possible too, assuming you kill Guy A with your second melee combo and Guy B is a ways behind him. This will allow a player to develop skill at learning to pace their timing switch up their attacks as the situation changes around them. We want you to be able to "get good" at the controls, so we need to make sure the controls have enough depth to actually get good with. The other option we had was one which is not uncommon: the "light/hard attack" setup where hard attacks act as an off-ramp for combos with different effects. You may have seen this before in games like Castle Crashers or Dynasty warriors, where the number of light inputs you land before you input a heavy determines whether you have a sweeping arc attack or a deep-dashing drill attack or what have you. We've found that this method usually has one "really good" combo that you want to execute over & over and the less-balanced ones just serve as a misstep- we want to simplify this process and make the one combo a good combo but let you switch back and forth between melee and ranged instead. This is still prone to change and tweaking, but given the weapons the characters actually use in the comic it seems like the most fitting while also hewing to the classic arcade experience. The biggest challenge in balancing will probably be the way the characters branch out from this core set of controls. In summary, each character will have both a melee and a ranged weapon but they will have an affinity with one- Lizzie's mop, Alice's carbine, Lou's wrench & plunger and Monday's twin pistols. Imagine a four-square matrix between "Melee & Ranged" and "Burst & DPS" and you'll start to see how the different characters specialize in their preferred weapons. The trick of it is balancing encounters so you can't get away with only using one of your two weapons all the time unless you're really good with it, but this will be the role of smart enemy design. No matter who you pick to play as, someone will be particularly good at harassing your strong point you might have a better time battling with your other weapon. The big important aspect of character specialties we will absolutely need to reassure is that your non-preferred weapon is not underpowered! This all comes back to the idea of "strengths, not weaknesses": your affinity is based off of a core set of functional stats so the things that don't necessarily have a boost are still just as useful across all characters, you're just good at a particular thing. Next week we'll start to take a look at what these character specializations entail, but as far as the foundation of player controls goes, that's what we have in mind. Simple, but deep enough for mastery. Thanks for reading, see you next week!