What do you think makes turn based combat fun?

Slimsy Platypus

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I'm working through the thought exercise on a combat centric game and challenging myself to make a good ol fun combat system.


As a start here's my first thoughts on the constraints of the system:


- turn based combat; steering away from ATB (I personally don't like the urgency feeling it imparts)


- skill choices that vary turn to turn (maybe do extra damage at low HP, MP, TP; elemental weakness on opponents, balancing skills that use MP but generate TP alongside those that generate MP).


- a skill system that doesn't necessarily have a "correct" choice, but rather a situationaly correct choice.


What are your thoughts on what makes combat fun?  My initial thoughts were that skill selection needs to be a "puzzle" to figure out.  Do you think I'm way off here?
 
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kovak

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Wavelength

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Interesting and situational skills are great, but the yin to skills' yang is interesting and varied enemy troops.  Make sure that enemies feel different from each other and can do things besides hit your party up for damage.  Get creative with enemy team compositions - maybe a main, tanky damage dealer and a set of minions that buff the main baddie's power or heal him or disable your characters.  Maybe some optional inanimate enemies (like crystals) your party members can destroy to gain a buff.  Don't be afraid to do a lot of eventing for boss battles to make them even more interesting.


Beyond that, some quick tips on making turn-based combat more interesting:

  • Make it feel purposeful.  Explain (during the story) why your characters are fighting against all of these monsters/enemies, if appropriate, and what they accomplish by killing/defeating them.
  • Have some sort of renewable resource that most or all characters can use for most or all of their skills - it allows the player to feel okay about going all out with their skills instead of trying to save all their mana during a dungeon and only use resources for healing skills.
  • Keep battle length short.  Random encounters shouldn't last more than a couple of turns.  Bosses shouldn't last more than ten to twenty.  When in doubt, err on the side of high damage and low HP.  Additionally, keep animations short - half a second for attack, one second for normal skills, 2-3 seconds for really massive skills.
  • Minimize the impact of the RNG, and try to bias RNG elements in the player's favor (e.g. actors can dodge but enemies can't).
  • Make sure the player has something to focus on besides watching Health Bars deplete.  This can be a very dynamic resource system, it could be a favor bar, it could be Field Effects, it could be Unison Attacks, it could be a combo counter... almost anything works, but there should always be an important consideration on the player's mind besides "our health, their health".
  • Don't underestimate the importance of visual and audio stingers.  Have enemies pop when defeated, bounce the damage numbers onscreen instead of placing them in a text box, show actors' faces scrunch up when they take damage, shake the screen when an enemy boss uses a huge attack, and throw confetti on the screen with musical fanfare when a battle ends in victory.
  • Throw some dialogue into the middle of boss battles.  If you're using Voice Acting, you can even throw VA lines into all battles (such as playing one when an allied character is KOed).
  • Give satisfying rewards for winning battles.  Uncommon items.  Skill Points.  Orbs.  Small permanent stat boosts at random.  Crafting materials.  Every two or three battles, the player should get something that makes them feel like "I'm really glad I didn't just hit Escape to save time!"
 

Astfgl66

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Turn based combat needs to have the possibility of well thought out choices, (As opposed to ATB where you must make choices quickly).


You basically give the player all the time he needs to plan his actions based on things he thinks will come, so you should provide him with meaningful choices.


To achieve this feeling your battle system will need, imho:


-Clear enemy patterns so that the player can effectively plan.


Let's say you have an enemy that first tries to put one of your party member to sleep and then every time he sees an enemy sleeping launches a one hit kill on that party member. Except the very first time, the player will clearly know what will happen, and then can make choices accordingly. Kill the enemy before it can launch the attack or heal the party member? Other examples: an enemy that counters every 4 turn for massive damage. Maybe an enemy that deals more damage when alone accompanied by debuffers or glass cannons...


-Varied toolboxes for each hero. No hero should do everything, but the player should not feel like "Well, this is death now" except if they've dug their graves, obviously, by letting the healer die and having no items anymore, for example...


-Careful balancing.


I like the Etrian odyssey series for this, check it out if you can.
 
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orochii

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I believe that turn based combat lets you build even more tension based on peril instead than fast-paced action. Let's say for example in an active turn battle you make an enemy that does more than 50% of your HP in damage. Normally this will equate in a little cooldown, you want to give the player some time to digest what just happened.


In a turn-based system instead, the player can stop, reconsider things, cry... whatever s/he wants. Because of balancing issues you will not throw two attacks of that magnitude unless you have a way to contrarrest them, maybe it's the idea behing the battle, but I believe the cooldown you must give is smaller. You don't have to think the player has to react, select your skill which most of the time involves some menu, or plan ahead.
 

Slimsy Platypus

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Wow guys, this is going to sound really dumb on my part, but in my head I was really focusing on all the things my actors should do and have kind of forgot about enemies... derp. 


@Wavelength this is such great insight.  Thank you so much for your response.  I'm almost embarrassed to say that by default I was thinking my enemies would just do damage.  I can do way better than that!  There is so much great advice here, thank you.


@Astfgl66  You've inspired some great ideas for me!  I think I want to steer away from States that make you lose control of your character (lots of frustrating memories from Marlboros), but marking a player for a subsequent strong attack is a great thought that has plenty of space to explore.


I have so many ideas now.  Thank you guys so much.  I think an enemy that "guards" others (adds a reduced damage state to other enemies) has got a ton of space to explore.  Periodic counter attacks.  Tons of great stuff here.


Enemies that have actually synergy... what a thought!  I'm so excited to get back to RPG making now!
 

Astfgl66

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I'd like to add that you can and should balance and give player skills based on what your enemies do.


I'll take an example:


Let's say you have a boss that marks you for massive damage on the next turn.


Now the player knows that they will take huge damage the next turn, what could he do?


Maybe you have a tank that has a skill that makes him able to take the damage instead of another party member, maybe your mage can cast a shield to heavily reduce damage to one party member, maybe your witch can curse the boss for reduced damage?


Each time you create an enemy you should think about how you can make the fight interesting, surely by one or several of the numerous excellent ways Wavelength mentionned, but almost always starting with your particular encounter mechanics.


And then comes point three: balancing. You must balance a way around the fact that if your player can negate the effect everytime, the effect ceases to be pertinent. Maybe it's with mp costs, maybe by cooldowns or maybe because the action used up some special ressources,...


I agree that random encounters must be kept short. But short should not mean devoid of strategy. What I try to do, is devise a plan for your group of enemies to do in three/four/five turns at most, that could result in the player defeat, if left unchecked. And then make sure the player has several ways of responding. (Nobody likes it when you have only one way of dealing with something. Part of the fun of a game is expermenting after all).
 
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Wavelength

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I agree that random encounters must be kept short. But short should not mean devoid of strategy. What I try to do, is devise a plan for your group of enemies to do in three/four/five turns at most, that could result in the player defeat, if left unchecked. And then make sure the player has several ways of responding. (Nobody likes it when you have only one way of dealing with something. Part of the fun of a game is expermenting after all).



I definitely agree that "short" should not mean "easy" or "brainless"!


One of the rules I like to design by is that once the player knows what the outcome of the battle will be, the battle should be over very soon.  The outcome doesn't always need to be as simple as "win or lose" - sometimes there's no risk of dying in a RE but significant risk of losing some health (important in a game with limited ways to heal); sometimes there's a bonus objective to complete.  Whatever the gamut of outcomes, it's important that the player can't reliably predict the outcome until the battle is drawing near its conclusion, or it will become boring.  Think of it like a novel or a movie - the audience enjoys it more because they are left wondering what will eventually transpire, and the climax usually comes near the end.
 

Carduus

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I like turn-based combat because I'm playing video games, not a contact sport. I don't want to win based on dexterous thumbs, I want to win because I prepared better, have a better strategy, can adapt, etc. I guess I see it more as small strategy games for those of us without the attention span for Civilization or something.
 

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Sometimes you still do need strategies with ABS because you need to know which character is strong against which enemy. Real-time battle does not make it a "contact sport" and a lot of people actually find it rather fun because you are forced to think quickly. With that said, however, some games have awesome turn-based battle systems such as Chrono Trigger, because you can fight where you stand. To answer the original question, though, I think to make a turn-based battle good, you need it to be unique to our game's situation. I don't know about you, but I'm tired of the classic stand-there-in-one-place-shooting-arrows-at-the-enemy-with-nobody-able-to-defend-themselves battle system because it gets extremely frustrating and sometimes boring seeing the same battle over and over. Make each battle different, and if you wish, taunt the player to keep fighting.  
 

trouble time

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I like turn-based combat because I'm playing video games, not a contact sport. I don't want to win based on dexterous thumbs, I want to win because I prepared better, have a better strategy, can adapt, etc. I guess I see it more as small strategy games for those of us without the attention span for Civilization or something.

You just described elements common to acton RPGs and turn based RPGs, and actually several other genres like fighting games (if you count training mode as preparation)


As for what makes turn based combat fun I'm gonna have to second most of what Wavelength said, especially the importance of enemy design. Though on the point of RNG I feel that putting RNG that favors the enemies and adding ways to mitigate the impact of the RNG on the players side like specific skills and the like.
 
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jonthefox

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Wavelength's advice is really good.  The only thing I'd quibble with is that I personally don't love really short encounters--they often feel meaningless to me.  I prefer games with FEWER encounters, but more meaningful ones...for example, in a dungeon, instead of 10 to 15 random encounters that last 1 or 2 turns each, I'd prefer 5 to 10 random encounters that last 3 or 4 turns each.   I'd only expect 1 or 2 turn encounters if I was coming back to an earlier area of the game just for fun, and I was now very overpowered for those monsters.


I think you're on the right track--give players different choices, and as the game progresses, increase the difficulty by making it harder to discern what the optimal choice is.  Not because it's random or unpredictable, but because the player has more variables to consider.


Just a quick example, maybe the very first boss has a pattern where he does three moves...a normal attack, a high-damage attack, and a defensive stance, and he does these in a particular pattern.  If the player uses his high-damage skill (which costs MP or TP) while the boss is in a defensive stance, it ends up being wasteful and therefore a suboptimal decision.  If the player doesn't use HIS defensive skill when the boss uses his high-damage attack, he takes a very large amount of damage and takes on a high risk of losing the battle.   This is a very simple example, but as the game goes on, using skills and responding to enemy skills in strategic combination and planning is what I think makes turn-based combat fun and enjoyable.  ESPECIALLY if the skills and the math are very transparent and understandable, so that you have this beautiful simplicity yet from which complex strategy emerges.  
 

trouble time

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Wavelength's advice is really good.  The only thing I'd quibble with is that I personally don't love really short encounters--they often feel meaningless to me.  I prefer games with FEWER encounters, but more meaningful ones...for example, in a dungeon, instead of 10 to 15 random encounters that last 1 or 2 turns each, I'd prefer 5 to 10 random encounters that last 3 or 4 turns each.   I'd only expect 1 or 2 turn encounters if I was coming back to an earlier area of the game just for fun, and I was now very overpowered for those monsters.


I think you're on the right track--give players different choices, and as the game progresses, increase the difficulty by making it harder to discern what the optimal choice is.  Not because it's random or unpredictable, but because the player has more variables to consider.


Just a quick example, maybe the very first boss has a pattern where he does three moves...a normal attack, a high-damage attack, and a defensive stance, and he does these in a particular pattern.  If the player uses his high-damage skill (which costs MP or TP) while the boss is in a defensive stance, it ends up being wasteful and therefore a suboptimal decision.  If the player doesn't use HIS defensive skill when the boss uses his high-damage attack, he takes a very large amount of damage and takes on a high risk of losing the battle.   This is a very simple example, but as the game goes on, using skills and responding to enemy skills in strategic combination and planning is what I think makes turn-based combat fun and enjoyable.  ESPECIALLY if the skills and the math are very transparent and understandable, so that you have this beautiful simplicity yet from which complex strategy emerges.  

I'd rather say there needs to be a certain amount of randomness, but it needs to be "controlled" in a way. If everything comes down to patterns it will quickly become boring if you can figure it out quickly. I actually don't believe making everything constant makes things better, the random parts just need to be something that has a lower chance of screwing you over if you're able to prepare for it. I mean unless you make everything run on a pattern and do completely predictable damage then there is always a small degree of randomness, and I think there's always room for a small degree of randomness.
 

jonthefox

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@trouble time I think equal-value randomness is very good.  For example, the enemy might use a move that attacks for double damage and lowers his physical defense by half, or he might attack for 50% damage and double his physical defense for a turn.   He might use an aoe spell that damages all party members, or he might use a nuke that does 3x as much damage but only to a single party member.   I think randomness here is very good because it adds unpredictability that the player must adapt to, but the player is still actively able to respond to it with strategic decisions i.e. choices.  To me, this is the essence of what makes for enjoyable turn-based combat.


However, randomness whose value is very polarized doesn't feel enjoyable to the player(or at least not to me).  If the enemy has a 30% chance to dodge (and thus completely mitigate all damage) then if the enemy succeeds in dodging, the player feels he just got unlucky--and that's exactly what happened.  I feel like if one is going to include rng-based skills, they should play a very minor role, and should only have a chance to reward the player (not penalize him), i.e. like wavelength said, only give players the chance to dodge or critically strike, not enemies.  I tend to stay away from this though because I don't like the idea of giving players the ability to do or have various fundamental combat traits that enemies cannot.
 

trouble time

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@trouble time I think equal-value randomness is very good.  For example, the enemy might use a move that attacks for double damage and lowers his physical defense by half, or he might attack for 50% damage and double his physical defense for a turn.   He might use an aoe spell that damages all party members, or he might use a nuke that does 3x as much damage but only to a single party member.   I think randomness here is very good because it adds unpredictability that the player must adapt to, but the player is still actively able to respond to it with strategic decisions i.e. choices.  To me, this is the essence of what makes for enjoyable turn-based combat.


However, randomness whose value is very polarized doesn't feel enjoyable to the player(or at least not to me).  If the enemy has a 30% chance to dodge (and thus completely mitigate all damage) then if the enemy succeeds in dodging, the player feels he just got unlucky--and that's exactly what happened.  I feel like if one is going to include rng-based skills, they should play a very minor role, and should only have a chance to reward the player (not penalize him), i.e. like wavelength said, only give players the chance to dodge or critically strike, not enemies.  I tend to stay away from this though because I don't like the idea of giving players the ability to do or have various fundamental combat traits that enemies cannot.

What if the enemy has a skill that gives it 30% evasion, but you've got a skill that sets evasion to 0? If resource management is important then it creates a simple risk reward situation. Do you risk going all in without using the debuff (high risk) but also potentially save more resources (high reward) or use the skill for guarenteed damage (low risk) and spend some of your valuble resources (low reward).
 

jonthefox

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@trouble time  yes I think something like that could work just fine.  I'd be very careful about how I set that design up though.   If the dodge chance is only 30%, the player might still feel like it's a waste to use resources and just try to "play the odds" - and then his success or failure depends on whether or not he gets an unlucky roll of the RNG, which doesn't feel good.    I think a better design would be one where if the enemy uses the skill, his dodge chance is extremely high, and it's pretty obvious that physical damage attacks are going to be ineffective against him for the duration....so, the player can either use the skill that reduces the dodge chance, or maybe he's been investing in his party's magical attack and decides to use that instead.  This gives the player a choice in how he responds to a situation, and even though there's a bit of RNG, it still feels clear-cut that if the enemy uses that skill, then the player will be at a distinct disadvantage and must make a choice to adapt (use the skill to reduce the dodge chance, or use non-physical skills).  30% doesn't really provide much of a compelling reason to not just roll the dice, but then it feels bad when you get an unlucky roll.


Another way to think about this is, instead of the enemy's skill giving him 30% chance to dodge, and giving the player a skill that his dodge chance 0, why not simply have the skill boost the enemy's defense by 30%?   And then have a skill that removes that state/buff.   This provides the same net effect (do you want to fight the enemy with his defense buff up, or do you want to invest resources to remove it?) without the RNG which inevitably feels bad when an unlucky roll occurs.  
 

trouble time

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@trouble time 


Another way to think about this is, instead of the enemy's skill giving him 30% chance to dodge, and giving the player a skill that his dodge chance 0, why not simply have the skill boost the enemy's defense by 30%?   And then have a skill that removes that state/buff.   This provides the same net effect (do you want to fight the enemy with his defense buff up, or do you want to invest resources to remove it?) without the RNG which inevitably feels bad when an unlucky roll occurs.  

Because giving him 30% more defense isn't the same net effect. One involves managing a risk, the other doesn't. In the situation of 30% greater defense the correct choice is always to remove the buff since there's no way you'd get full damage (well there is a critical hit but you're still missing out on damge there).


Any way the only reason I used the number 30% was cause you used it earlier, and even it is significant if say your highest damage skills are multiple hit skills. There's a lot that goes into the design of a game and I don't think that RNG should be dismissed as a tool. 
 

jonthefox

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@trouble time  It is the same net effect, key word being net.  It is the same effect, just without the variance.   Everything else being equal, the EV of attacking an enemy with 30% chance to dodge the attack is the same EV as attacking an enemy who will mitigate 30% of your damage every time. 


You're not really managing a risk, you're managing a disadvantage.  The disadvantage is the same in both cases, except that in one case the disadvantage is consistent:  you deal 30% less damage to the enemy each turn.  In the other case, you're dealing 100% of your damage 70% of the time, and 0% of your damage 30% of the time.  Your action has the same EV, but the result will vary based on RNG.    In both cases you're managing the disadvantage of "should i invest resources to remove the enemy's buff, or use non-physical attacks?"   But in one case, the positive or negative value of your choice can be determined by sheer luck, not your actual decision-making.   Note that some people do find this fun; I just personally (usually) don't.  


I'm not dismissing RNG as a tool, and I've already described the kind of RNG I think is very good and in fact important (equal-value possibilities) but I think it has to be used with care.  
 
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trouble time

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@trouble time  It is the same net effect, key word being net.  It is the same effect, just without the variance.   Everything else being equal, the EV of attacking an enemy with 30% chance to dodge the attack is the same EV as attacking an enemy who will mitigate 30% of your damage every time. 


You're not really managing a risk, you're managing a disadvantage.  The disadvantage is the same in both cases, except that in one case the disadvantage is consistent:  you deal 30% less damage to the enemy each turn.  In the other case, you're dealing 100% of your damage 70% of the time, and 0% of your damage 30% of the time.  Your action has the same EV, but the result will vary based on RNG.    


I'm not dismissing RNG as a tool, and I've already described the kind of RNG I think is very good and in fact important (equal-value possibilities) but I think it has to be used with care.  

It's not the same net effect though, let's say the enemy dies in 2 turns worth of attacks there is still a chance of it dying in 2 turns with evasion, but there isn't if it's defense is increased by 30%. That's the most important part of all of it in one case you have to increase the length of the battle or spend resources because there's no chance you'd win in the same amount of time, in the other case  you could choose not to and win in the same amount of time while keeping your resources up or choose to use a skill to reduce evasion, or you could make the first choice but end up with a higher time to kill. Also I also don't think it's the same mathematically but I realize that's not the actual point.
 

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i use different encounter types. some enemies use semi-patterens making them predictable yet unpredictable at the same time. some enemies charge on charecter but use a wide variety of attacks. some enemies are slow paced at the beginning of the battle and work up. others just blitz you and wear themselves down. some work in groups others dont. some groups have a leader that affects there actions based on what he/she does, others work together to try and overcome you basing there actions off there teamates previous actions


I can go on and on, im sure you get my point by now
 

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