Since there’s a thread on conversation, I’m curious as to how various authors have handled the task of complex or difficult feats of physical exertion, including combat.
I’m having trouble envisioning good approaches, but maybe I just haven’t been exposed to enough work yet that has attempted – possibly even successfully – to carry this kind of narrative.
Here’s a list from IFDB: http://ifdb.tads.org/search?searchfor=tag%3Acombat. Looks like it covers most of the notable games of the combat and puzzle combat genres.
(IFDB is a great place for requests like this: you can even start a poll where other users can vote for games to be on the list, for example: ifdb.tads.org/poll?id=4lroom6mc963xree)
I think a “good” combat system would generally meet the following related but distinct criteria:
The combat system in question provides an entertaining experience for the player. If a game isn’t fun, then the player’s time is wasted; when many players start to spread the word that their time was wasted on a game, a subsidiary result is that author’s time in making the game has been wasted because his effort will be considered a failure (unless we’re speaking of a commercial game, in which case the author’s main concern is whether or not he got paid and a happy audience is a pleasant bonus but not a primary focus). In general the most important characteristic of any game or any component of any game is whether or not it will serve to entertain the player; if something isn’t fun, it must go or be revised until it is fun.
The combat system in question complements the general tone, themes, and style of the game. This somewhat relates to the first criteria in the sense that certain types of people will be drawn to certain types of games in the first place, and will have fun playing a game if it meets their expectations. On the other hand, this criteria is more subtle as well. A realistic fighting system would likely seem odd in a surreal-style game; in a game focused on clever puzzles, a means of resolving conflicts by solving puzzles is probably more appropriate; in a game with a highly realistic general environment, a fighting system that is too simplistic will likely be a disappointment.
In more specific terms of a text game (as opposed to graphically-oriented games), I think fighting or combat should serve the story by providing a means to enhance the general excitement level of the player and increase the sense of tension at key points, by allowing an alternative means (via physical challenges) for resolving difficult situations/puzzles, and by providing increased replay-value through the introduction of a randomised element of gameplay. Unless we are speaking of some sort of unusual text game dealing with elite martial-artists or such, a fighting system that aspires to much more than these goals is likely to detract from rather than enhance the game. Furthermore, without the assistance of a graphical interface any system of combat in a text game that moves much beyond a relatively simple system with intuitive commands and concisely-written descriptions of the actions of all participating characters is likely to directly frustrate the player.
I think three of my generally favorite IF games used combat/fighting in an effective way that meets the above criteria: Scavenger by Quintin Stone, Crystal and Stone, Beetle and Bone by Jenny Brennan (particularly the “boss fight” near the end of the game), and King of Shreds and Patches by Jimmy Maher. Another game that integrated and handled fighting fairly well in my opinion was the recent Duel That Spanned the Ages Part 1. I haven’t played many of the games listed on Nitku’s link, but of those listed that I have played I thought Crimson Spring had a fair fighting system (for at least as far as I played into the game, which was about halfway).
Although my tastes in IF certainly wouldn’t be shared by everyone, when I was building a fairly intricate combat system to entertain myself I wrote down the following notes as guidelines and tried to stay closely focused on them:
a) Criteria (1) and (3) from above;
b) The average fight should last between 5 and 15 turns. Assuming we have a “true” heavily randomized fighting system rather than a fighting system that is just an alternate way to present traditional puzzles, a fight lasting only 1 or 2 turns is unlikely to provide much satisfaction for the player while a fight lasting 20 or more turns is unlikely to be fun;
c) The average person is not a trained combatant, but fortunately neither is his opponent likely to be a trained combatant; therefore most attacks (particularly with weapons that require some level of skill, such as guns) should miss. Furthermore unless powerful weapons are in use, most attacks are only minimally damaging to the target of the attack; for example it’s actually fairly difficult to punch an actively resisting person to death in real life, and barring a strike to the head the average person can usually survive at least several blows from a heavy club. Barring “lucky shots” to the head or a vital organ, most healthy adults do not instantly fall over dead even after being shot with a common-caliber gun several times (although they may well faint from shock, or bleed to death eventually unless they recieve medical attention). While such gameplay could be very boring in a graphically-oriented game, a text game can shine here by making good use exciting descriptions for failed and ineffective attacks to create a sense of continuing urgency for the player;
d) Weapons and armor must be described in such a way that 1) the player clearly understands how to use them, and 2) the player can clearly comprehend the relative effectiveness of any weapon or armor compared to other such items.
Yeah, I think those are reasonable criteria. I don’t think ‘randomized’ is strictly necessary, but otherwise I agree with you on those three points.
I’ll take a look at those examples. The ones from the ifdb ‘combat’ tag are… well, many of them I question. Zork 1, for instance, can hardly be accused of having much narrative for the combat to support, and the combat itself was… hardly anything to speak of.
Happily, I was surprised by the recent release of Backup which, on initial examination, seems to have glimmerings of a viable combat system. I haven’t gone far in it yet, and I fear its simple mechanic could potentially become monotonous, but I’m holding hope for now.
In my experience, combat randomization doesn’t work terribly well in IF, because it interacts badly with turn-based play and the presence of UNDO. There have been a few attempts to get around those problems, but they remain fairly pervasive; there’s some theoretical discussion here:
ifwiki.org/index.php/Past_raif_t … t_2#Combat
However, the games with the puzzle combat tag on IFDB tend to be doing something a bit more interesting ( ifdb.tads.org/search?searchbar=t … archGo.y=0 ): they all require puzzle solutions.
If you’re looking into attempts at more tactical play, in addition to Backup you should check out Victor Gijsbers’ combat experiments; the playable demo is mentioned at
gamingphilosopher.blogspot.com/2 … alpha.html
but there are a number of other posts on what he was trying to do.