59 hours left in our campaign! If you haven’t backed Legend of the Time Star yet, now’s the time.
First prototype footage of Legend of the Time Star, showing off Hyder’s Wood and the Hero’s Quick attack, as well as some basic movement. We’d love to hear what you think!
ATTACK MOUNTAIN DEVELOPER DIARY
DEVELOPER DIARY 2 - BASIC COMBAT AND CONTROLS
Great art, great music, excellent animation – none of it means anything if the game isn’t fun to play. In today’s Developer Diary, we’re going to drill down a bit on combat, and explain the basic mechanics and how they’re is incorporated into the game. We’ll also talk a bit about general controls, too. Ready? This one’s pretty long and has a lot of info in it, so you might want to go grab a coffee or a cup of tea before you start reading. Enjoy!
What is an Action RPG?
How does Wikipedia define an Action RPG?
“Action role-playing games (abbreviated action RPG, action/RPG, or ARPG) form a loosely defined sub-genre of role-playing video games that incorporate elements of action or action-adventure games, emphasizing real-time action where the player has direct control over characters, instead of turn-based or menu-based combat. These games often use combat systems similar to hack and slash or shooter games.”
That sounds about right, doesn’t it? Unlike a game such as, say, Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, everything related to combat in an ARPG happens in real time. Each button press equals an action, and each action has an immediate consequence. For pacing, the difference between a turn-based RPG and an action-RPG is tremendous. You can’t put your controller down and lament for ten minutes about what spell to cast on a boss in an action RPG. If you’re swarmed by ten enemies, they’re not going to wait for you to figure out what to do; they’re just going to jump on you.
Every game is essentially a huge group of spreadsheets put together that dictate its rules – the difference with RPGs is that a lot of those spreadsheets are more transparent, closer to the surface, and players have a much bigger hand in tweaking the numbers in those spreadsheets to provide themselves with the best advantage they can muster. This is the common thread that runs through all RPGs, action or otherwise.
Through and through, Legend of the Time Star is an action RPG. Today we’ll shed some light on how the ‘action’ part of that comes into play.
The Feel and Inspiration
Let’s talk a bit about some games and studios that, collectively, have been a big part in defining the gameplay for LoTS.
The AM team grew up playing all sorts of games, but for Time Star we have focused a lot on bringing back that satisfying, but nuanced feel that many of Capcom’s games of the 90’s so easily captured. One great example, despite the fact that it’s a beat-em-up as opposed to a platformer, is their acclaimed Dungeons and Dragons series. Take a look at the Fighter class in that game – every sword strike felt immediate, yet at the same time they had a ‘weight’ to them. You felt each hit, and it was for a few major reasons;
- Responsiveness - Our mantra for gameplay in general is to provide a 1-to-1 ratio for user input/result. What we mean by this is that when you press a button, you get immediate feedback. It’s really important in games where every second counts that the user doesn’t fight with the controls; they need to be able to pull off any maneuver that they cook up in their mind without having to worry if the game’s going to be able to understand or keep up with them. If there’s even a half a second’s worth of lag between a button press and its resulting action, the entire experience suffers.
- The Details – When you hit an opponent in DnD, you feel like you did some damage. This is because of the way the entire package comes together – the collision detection is excellent, and the moment your blade hits your target, you’re rewarded with a variety of different feedback types – the crunchy sound of steel hitting flesh, the split-second pause at the moment of impact, the brief flash of the target sprite. It gave you a moment, no matter how small, to absorb and register the events currently occurring in the game. If it’s a really heavy hit, all this would happen in addition to a screen shake, and after that moment of absorption your opponent would be sent reeling, tumbling a few feet away.
This game was also unique in the fact that it had moves tied to special commands. For example, players could do a powerful upward strike by using the command down->up->attack, or a what was called a ‘sliding strike’ by rolling the joystick from down to front before hitting attack.
Here’s a video of the Fighter from Dungeon and Dragons: Shadow over Mystara in action. (Feels good just watching it, doesn’t it?)
Their Dungeons and Dragons series obviously isn’t the only one that captured this feel – a lot of their games did. Street Fighter, Final Fight, Magic Sword, Knights of the Round, King of Dragons, even The Punisher - the list goes on for a long time. We want Time Star’s combat to be technical and nuanced while at the same time be satisfying and flashy, with players able to pick it up and immediately feel as though they know how play it.
Square’s Secret of Mana series also had a large impact on how we structured the game’s combat. Where Capcom nailed the feel, Square excelled at bubbling that ‘spreadsheet’ aspect to the surface. Numbers fly each time a strike is made, and it’s hard to argue that anything’s more satisfying than seeing a huge number fly off of an opponent after nailing a particularly juicy critical hit or spellcast. When combined with other heavy RPG elements like stats (HP, MP, Strength, Constitution, etc) and an expertly balanced equipment system that heavily impacted how your character fared in battle, it’s easy to see why Square was at the forefront of the action RPG movement in the early 90’s.
As an aside, we have a special place in our hearts for Legend of Mana. We know that it’s not from the same era as these other games, but it’s one of the last games we all played that gave us that nostalgic feeling we want to bring back with Time Star.
Finally, the Castlevania series had a big impact on us, namely after it made the leap from point-a to point-b sidescroller to ‘Metroidvania’. As an all-around package, games like Symphony of the Night, Circle of the Moon, Harmony of Dissonance, and those that followed had very satisfying progression in terms of your moveset expanding as you advanced through the game. It’s also the only game out of all the ones we’ve mentioned so far that is a true platformer, just like Time Star. Just like LoTS, you’re locked onto a 2D plane in these games, and that has serious impacts on the way the game’s laid out. If you can’t reach a ledge that leads to another area, for example, you can’t go there until you satisfy some requirement in the game world, whether that’s defeating a certain boss or acquiring a certain piece of equipment. Like many other ARPGs (which at the end of the day, the ‘Metroidvania’ games are), you also are treated to damage numbers whenever you deal damage or damage is dealt to you.
Furthermore, Castlevania games did a great job making your weapon decision feel meaningful; you could opt to fight with quick jabs by using a very fast short-sword, or sacrifice speed for raw power by brandishing a great axe with a wide, arcing swing. Not only did it allow you to match whatever playstyle you felt like using at the time, it also allowed you to make on-the-fly decisions based on the enemies you were facing. We’re looking to do this same thing with Time Star’s Forge System by allowing players to decide whether to use one-handed or two-handed swords and customize them based on their needs.
Many other series have impacted the game in certain ways, but when it comes to combat, these are the major ones. We’ll be getting more into these inspiration breakdowns in future Dev Diaries. The takeaway here is that we’re after responsive, varied, pulse-pounding combat that is impacted by your play style, as well as the decisions you make while customizing your character.
So What’s it Like for Time Star?
A (messy) page from the director’s sketchbook, outlining some of the game’s moves and techniques.
Combat in Time Star occurs within the game world, in real-time – there are no cutaways or ‘switching to battle mode’. This means that if you’re outside of a town, you should stay on your feet – anything can happen when you’re in the wild. For the most part, enemies will be spawned as soon as you enter an area, and will respawn each time you return to said area; but there are also chance encounters that will leave you ambushed. You could pass by some bushes, for example, only to have a horde of monsters leap out in an attempt to take you down using the element of surprise.
In case you’re wondering, yes, you see damage dealt on-screen with each strike. If this isn’t your thing, we’ll be making it optional, with the ability to toggle it on/off via the settings screen.
There are two control styles currently, but the main one is keyboard only with the mouse used for UI navigation. We are currently establishing a mode that we’re calling ‘Modern’ mode, which utilizes WASD movement and relies heavily on the mouse for combat. (Terraria did something like this.) However, it requires a lot of deep-dive from a design perspective to determine its viability for Time Star, so we’re going to talk about the keyboard only for the sake of this Dev Diary. We’ve selected a cross-section of controls taken from the game’s Design Doc to show you here. We’d like to stress that this isn’t every move in the game, just some of them, and that we’ve truncated each technique’s description for the doc heavily for readability.
We’ll start off with the basic controls so that you have a frame of reference for the combat moves listed.
(All commands assume player is facing right).
Walk (← →): L + R Arrow keys
Allows the player to walk. Players can only walk left or right.
Jump: Space Bar
Allows the player to jump.
Crouch: Down Arrow key
Allows the player to crouch. If the player is in tall grass when crouching, beasts are 50% less likely to notice them. Players may move when crouching, though their movement speed is reduced by 45%. The user will remain in a crouching position as long as the crouch key is being pressed.
Sprint: Double tap and hold → while standing or walking
Allows the player to run at 150% normal speed. This effect is ended when the player collides with any obstacle, such as a wall, door, or enemy, or the player lets go of the arrow key.
Roll: Double tap → while crouching
Causes the player to dive and do a singular roll in the direction tapped before returning to a crouching position. This is useful in combat because it ignores collisions for most smaller opponents, allowing the player to get behind them. It’s also useful – and sometimes necessary – for getting through smaller spaces.
Action Button: A or Shift
The action button is the catch-all button used throughout the game. This button’s context changes based on the player’s immediate vicinity. By default, the action button is used to attack, but this is superceded by other available actions. For example, if the player is standing in front of a switch, pressing the action button would cause the player to throw the switch instead of attacking.
Another page of move concepts from the director’s sketchbook. Note the fifth-grader style font that’s completely intentional.
Combat Techniques, Offense
Technique: Quick Attack
Command: Tap Action Button
The standard and staple technique that causes the player to strike swiftly with their weapon.
The Quick Attack, in addition to being a staple move in the player’s arsenal, also shoots a crescent-shaped projectile out over a very short distance in front of the player. The projectile is destroyed upon first contact with an enemy or obstacle, or when it reaches the end of its lifespan. When an opponent is struck by both the projectile and the direct strike, damage received is determined by whichever roll was higher. For example, if an opponent were to take 15 damage from the projectile and 25 from the direct strike, they would simply take 25 damage.
Technique: Fierce Attack
Command: Press/hold Action button
A strong attack that deals more damage at the cost of a longer wind-up.
The Fierce Attack’s wind-up leaves the player vulnerable, so it should only be used when the player has an opening. Unlike the Quick Attack, Fierce Attack does not shoot projectiles. If an opponent is struck with this attack, they will suffer knockback. More heavily armored creatures may only be staggered, and the heartiest of monsters may suffer no ill effects at all.
Technique: Jump Attack
Command: Press Action button while jumping
While in the air, the player will draw their weapon and rapidly spin with it in hand, creating a whirlwind of weaponry that damages everything within its radius. The player will spin until they land once the jump attack is initiated.
The Jump attack is an invaluable attack with a variety useful applications, due to the fact that the attack can be initiated from at any moment after the player has left the ground. It can be used to damage and escape opponents when surrounded when activated the moment after jumping, strike an airborne opponent when the player is in the air, or get the drop on an enemy or group by activating it right before landing near them.
The another page from the design sketchbook – you can kind of see some interesting stuff from the other side of it, wonder what those are about…
Combat Techniques, Defense
The player blocks a physical or projectile attack with their shield, taking only a fraction of the damage. If the player is not using a shield, they will parry instead and will take a larger fraction of the damage.
Block is based on a few variables: the first is the user’s block chance. The higher the user’s block chance, the higher likelihood the player will block the attack. Block chance can be increased via certain item types or skill tree . The second is the player’s action at the time of the strike. If the player is attacking, their block chance is reduced by 90%. If they are casting, block chance is reduced by 75%. If they are moving, the chance is reduced by 50%. If the player is standing and not performing an attack or casting, their block chance is normal.
Command: Action Button (timed)
The player swats a projectile aside, taking no damage from it.
To deflect a physical projectile, such as an arrow or rock, it must first be tagged as an applicable projectile. If it is, it will flash white moments before impact. If the player presses the action button while the projectile is flashing white, it will be deflected once it reaches them. The player must press the action button once for each projectile: if multiple projectiles are incoming, the player will need to hit the action button once for each one to queue up the deflections. There is no theoretical cap on how many projectiles can be deflected at once, but it assumed that eventually enough projectiles would overwhelm the player and cause them to take at least some of the damage. This technique is useful for damage mitigation when under heavy fire and can mean the difference between life and death if used properly.
Command: Action Button (timed)
The player retaliates after an opponent’s unsuccessful attack with a Fierce Attack. This attack is a guaranteed critical strike with knockback and stagger (on regular opponents only).
When the player successfully blocks an opponent’s attack, the player will flash white momentarily. If the player hits the action button during this time, the opponent will be staggered and the player will immediately and swiftly strike them with a guaranteed critical Fierce Attack. The player remains invincible for the duration of the swing, becoming vulnerable again as soon as the animation is over.
Counterattacks are unlocked through gameplay and are useful when going up against a tough opponent one on one, especially if the player has skewed their skill point spending in defensive trees that improve block chance. It’s also useful when being attacked by multiple weaker enemies, as a counterattack does significant physical damage that can cripple foes.
That’s it for today’s developer diary update! Stay tuned for our next one, coming next week – trust us when we say you’re going to love it.
Oh, last thing before we go - you’re likely wondering about magic. Well, we felt that magic deserved its own update, so you’ll see a dev diary on it in upcoming weeks.
Enjoy the rest of your weekend, everyone, and if you like what you read, reblog it! As always, be sure to check out our Kickstarter and donate if you like what you’re reading here! We need your help to make Legend of the Time Star a reality.