2012 03 Sep

Combat System #1: Turn-based vs. Realtime+Pause

Categories: Game Design

Let’s start discussing the combat system. It’s a complex subject and during the long time Chaos Chronicles was only an idea we bounced around as possible next project to work on we went through pretty much every way to implement a combat system into a game. At some point we even discussed making the combat more console friendly and action oriented.

But right from the beginning turn-based clearly was what we wanted. Everything else was worth discussing but never struck us as ideal. We all played Dragon Age (the first part of course, since the second part is just a sad joke and should not be mentioned again) which has a realtime with pause combat system. But nobody here felt comfortable with the idea of having a similar combat system in our game.

The only point during the concept development that we almost decided to prototype  a realtime based combat system was when we started working on Jagged Alliance: Back in Action which was supposed to be realtime based in order to appeal to a larger audience. Fortunately there was some backlash (i.e. shitstorm) to that decision and that gave us a very strong argument to implement a turn-based combat system for Chaos Chronicles.

So why do we think turn-based is more fun?

Do you remember a very influential RPG that came out in the late 90s? One that actually pretty much singlehandedly revived complex RPGs as a genre? We’re hinting at Baldur’s Gate here. Which had what you might call a realtime with pause combat system. It played similar to what was already a very popular genre on the PC as gaming platform: Realtime Strategy Games. At that time this was a new and exciting way of implementing combat. It felt fresh and exciting. And maybe that’s what it took to revive the genre back then. But nowadays both approaches to do fantasy combat are pretty much on the table. Players have experienced both. Some prefer the one system some prefer the other. We prefer turn based since we feel it’s much closer to what we aim at: Bringing back some of the elements of the old school games we enjoyed in our youth.

So nostalgia plays a large part in our decision. At the same time a turn based system offers some advantages over one with realtime. First of all it pretty much eliminates the element of hand-eye-coordination from the game and puts the focus clearly on strategy and tactics. Clicking and hitting pause fast enough is not important and while that may sacrifice the adrenaline rush included in the more action oriented real-time approach it makes the combat transparent and clearly about the decisions you make. You can take your time to make your decision. You can think through different solutions for a problem.

In the end your correct analysis of the situation is what determines the outcome of combat.

If there ever was a doubt it was completely eliminated when we started playing D&D (pen&paper) in our office again. You know that this is fun when you have all players at the table discussing what each single character should do this turn. When there are several opposing opinions on what is the right move to make. “Don’t waste your healing word on me! Save it for the Fighter!”, “If you don’t cast your Wall of Fire now we will get in trouble!” Sounds familiar? That’s what we aim for in a battle in Chaos Chronicles. It’s fun, even if you have to do some of the arguing with yourself.

And despite the fact that almost all CRPGs of the last ten years have  used some kind of realtime combat, there has been a relevant turn-based game called The Temple of Elemental Evil developed by the magnificent development studio Troika Games (you are being missed). Regarding the combat system, ToEE shall be our paradigm.


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