2012 12 Sep

Combat System #2: Hexes vs.Squares

Categories: Game Design

As you may remember we mentioned the subject before when we talked about our die rolling experiments with D&D 4th Edition: Six sides are better than four. Let’s elaborate.

 Actually this was one of the more heated discussions we had when designing the combat system. There are times when game development can lead to combat only it’s usually resolved with arguments and words instead of the use of force and weapons. If that doesn’t work out we have those handy swords around from our LARP player. We usually tell visitors they are for our animator to try out stuff. Let’s just say they can serve other purposes, too and not go into much more detail here. One strong argument for hexes was that they add more depth to combat. Six sides are just better than four.

Reason one: Movement costs are more obvious. The distance from any position on the hex grid to the center of the next position on the grid is same for each of the six adjacent hexagons. There is no diagonal movement to an adjacent square that only touches the field you are currently on in a single point instead of sharing a side with it. With squares you either have to make diagonal movement cheaper (and thus preferable and exploitable) as moving two squares to reach the same diagonal one or more expensive than moving a single square. With hexes you move one field and it can always be the same cost. If you have played D&D 4th Edition (which will let you move diagonally at the cost of one square) you will know the urge to exploit that apparent “extra ground” you can cover by moving diagonally. We felt that in a video game where you want to simply point at your target field and have the character move there it was easier to calculate the path to go.
Reason two: With hexes you can have a clear facing into the moving direction. With squares you either have to start implying that it is actually an octagon you stand on and you have eight directions you can have your character face in or make facing be irrelevant (as D&D 4th Edition did where it is only relevant that two enemies cover opposing squares adjacent to the one you are standing in). We wanted facing to be relevant for actions like backstabbing since trying to get into the back of another character (or trying to make sure the back of your own character is covered) adds more depth to the decisions made in combat.
Reason three: Outside of combat we have a world that is supposed to look natural or even organic. So we do not limit our level designers to build the levels on a grid since the grid will only be relevant in combat and combat is only a part of the game. Most parts of a level may never have the grid enabled since there will never be a combat encounter in them. And with a simple test we found out that the hex grid covered the ground of the existing scenes with ease while it would be more likely to have to readjust scenes around the square grid which seemed to have advantages inside buildings with straight walls and rectangular corners (at least if you new from the start that you were building them for the grid) but not so much on a path in the woods where some rocks lie around or fallen trees cover some of the ground.














Seems pretty clear that hexes are the way to go, so why the heated discussion mentioned above? Simple reason: For pen & paper it’s easier to prepare a map on a square grid, at least unless you have some experience working with hexes. Since we prototyped much of Chaos Chronicle’s combat system on paper some of us were reluctant to give up the squares at first. The argument had to be settled with LARP approved foam weapons. Just kidding. We did it like the pros: Building a software prototype with the hexgrid in it. It worked and everybody was happy.


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