Tag Archives: video games

Q&A: Breath of the Wild, Game Design, and Combat Animations

How realistically/accurately does Link use swords/spears/greatswords/axes/bows in Breath of the Wild. I want to use his fighting animations as a visual reference for my fight scenes, but that only works if he’s a viable reference. Thank you!

The short answer: It’s not.

There’s some quick caveats, the spear usage isn’t, “inaccurate,” so much as incredibly basic. The bow draw is, “awkward;” it may be fine, but something looks off about it, to me, and, at a glance, I’m not sure what.

This is one of those times where I’ve got a vague sense of deja vu. I know I’ve addressed this with other games in the past, but I don’t remember if I’ve talked about it explicitly in the context of Breath of the Wild.

Games are, by their nature, not reflective of the real world. In some cases, you may seek to simulate elements of reality either because that’s the point of the exercise (most tabletop wargaming, and flight simulators are examples), or because you’re attempting to provide a sense of verisimilitude (weather effects that don’t affect gameplay, would be an example of this).

Game designers need to achieve many goals as part of their process. This includes reliably informing the player on the overall state of play. This includes considerations like what the other players are doing, or what options the player has to work with.

In a traditional poker game, the information the player has is restricted to the cards in their hand. They’re then asked to make assessments of the other players, and to evaluate their behavior. The state of play is the card combinations they can make, as well as the card combinations their opponents may posses.

In contrast, a game like chess provides the player with a clear, open, state of play. Both players have a clear, unobstructed, view of the board, and full knowledge over every possible move that can occur. The player is then asked to make assessments on their opponent’s potential strategies, and act accordingly.

If you’re wondering what this has to do with combat, the answer is simple, depending on your goals as a game designer, either approach is entirely valid for your game. Combat that is difficult to read, and hard to predict can create a sense of unfairness, but it can also result in far more tension during combat. In contrast, if you create a combat system that is easy to read, you can produce a more generally entertaining experience, which the player feels they have more control over.

Breath of the Wild is going for accessible combat. At any given moment you have a clear idea of exactly what the enemies are doing (assuming they’re not out of frame), and what your character is doing. This is actually accentuated by the art style, which keeps the visual noise down, and makes it significantly easier to track movement on screen. (To be clear, the art design serves other purposes as well, but we’re talking about the combat systems.)

In order to make the combat easier to read, Breath of the Wild uses very exaggerated strike patterns. This is true of pretty much all the weapons in the game. Link swings them around in massive arcs, which makes it much easier to know what’s happening at any given moment. Even with the spears, it’s taking a basic concept of that weapon, and playing it up to a borderline comical threshold.

This may sound like I’m being dismissive, but Breath of the Wild has a kind of cartoon aesthetic. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, and if you’re going for an anime or classic cartoon infused style of violence, then the game is absolutely fine as reference material. However, an important part of taking inspiration is understanding why your subject made the aesthetic decisions it did, and what those choices mean for the material as a whole.

In the real world, combat abhors the idea of large movements, like you’ll see in Breath of the WildSkyrimDark SoulsDragon’s DogmaKingdoms of Amalur, Darksiders, NieR: Automata, or any number of other action games. There’s two (major) reasons. First is inertia, and the second is because of how the human brain processes objects.

When you look around, your brain parses objects by finding the outline, and then extrapolating the object from its edges. If you remember back to Jurassic Park and the whole, “hunts by movement,” thing, that’s how some animals track objects, with humans, we’re looking for the edges and then our brain fills in the rest. This means, when you can’t clearly find an object’s outline, it becomes much more difficult to accurately determine if it’s there or not. This is also the basic issue with camouflage, the idea is to break up the silhouette, and as a result the brain has a much harder time saying, “yeah, there’s a person there.” Your brain does track movement, but finding the outline is absolutely vital to making fast assessments of, “oh, they have a sword.”

When you’re fighting someone, you want to keep your arms, and weapons, inside your silhouette whenever possible. Yes, you can see someone’s holding a sword or a gun, but it’s easier to see it, if it’s held away from the body at a clear angle.

For example: when someone raises their arm, and they’re holding a sword over their head, preparing to strike. All of the information is clearly presented in a nice, clean, profile, for your brain to parse, and it will, fast enough to respond.

When someone holds their sword, pointed at you, inside their silhouette, and prepared to thrust, you’re not unable to see they have a weapon. This isn’t some lizard brain malfunction, where, “oops, I thought they had a thing, but I guess not.” However, it’s much harder for your brain to process what they’re doing with the weapon. Again, not, “you can’t see something’s happening,” but your brain is going to need a few more moments to keep track of what’s going on, and in that time you’ve just earned a few new holes from their blade.

The other part is inertia. It’s easier, and faster, to make small, precise, movements with a weapon, than it is to make large arcing sweeps. There are times when a large swing is appropriate, particularly with axes, but even then, the way Breath of the Wild uses them is more for visual feedback than combat practicality.

I’ll say this again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with using something like this as an artistic base, so long as you’re not worried about realism. However, if you’re looking for brutally authentic fight scenes, then you’re better off looking at HEMA or classic training manuscripts.

-Starke

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thoughts on for honor?

They can be summed up by, “oh, look, Ubisoft is releasing a PvP focused action game.” I’ve seen some footage of the combat, but it didn’t really grab my attention.

I’ll be honest, PvP arena games are really not my thing. I’ve played them before, I don’t think they’re some kind of scourge, they just don’t mesh well with what I’m after from a game. More than that, melee focused PvP really isn’t my thing.

It’s cool that the game exists, I can applaud the developers for actually implementing realistic female armor designs, but I haven’t played it, and most of the footage I’ve seen was people deliberately glitching out the game.

Now, producing video game content is something I would be willing to do, but we’d need to be pulling down a lot more through Patreon for us to have the time and resources to do that. Part of this is, it’s been a few years since I’ve had the option to upgrade my PC, so the minimum reqs for games like For Honor just slightly exceed my system specs.

Beyond that, my thoughts pretty much stop at, “oh, hey look, Ubisoft’s released a PvP focused action game at $60.” Before anyone brings it up, yes, I realize there’s a PvE campaign for it, but spending $60 for a seven hour campaign is a pretty hard sell at the moment.

-Starke

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you really want us to produce videogame content as well, we’re a long way from being someplace where that would be possible.

This is probably an odd question, given that it deals with a setting that isn’t by nature realistic, but what would be your advice on writing fight scenes set in a universe with video-game elements (ex. health bars, experience points, level-ups, combos) but where the fighters react realistically to pain, and medical knowledge is still in effect (limbs can still be broken, internal organ damage is still possible), like a particularly realistic RPG?

So, my first suggestion would be… play a lot of video games?

Okay, so, thing is, if you’re going to write about video games, you do need to know what you’re talking about. Actual violence isn’t something you’re likely to experience, but, if you’re building off video games; well, violence in video games is something that’s on tap.

Using just what you’re describing, the first recommendation that comes to mind is Fallout: New Vegas on hardcore mode. Hardcore doesn’t actually make the game more difficult, per say, it just enables some simulation like mechanics. Basic healing items only heal the player’s health, damage to limbs is persistent without medical attention, and starvation, dehydration, and sleep deprivation all become threats that you have to manage. There’s some writing in quests talking about more specific injuries occurring to other characters, even though the mechanics themselves don’t support them. (Fallout 3 lacks hardcore mode, so stimpacks will automatically heal limb damage, which basically negates that mechanic while you’re healing.)

If your setting is post apocalyptic, the STALKER games might be a good franchise to look at, even if they are brutally difficult. Character advancement is non-traditional, and I’ve taken flak in the past for calling them RPGs… but all three games fall someplace between an RPG, survival horror, and an FPS.

If it’s a modern setting, then some of the Tom Clancy titles, particularly the two Rainbow Six: Vegas games come to mind. They also don’t have any persistent damage mechanics, and are also extremely lethal, with a focus on “realistic,” tactical gunplay. It’s not, you know, actually realistic, but it’s also accessible.

If you’re looking at a fantasy setting then Dark Souls might be a good choice. It honestly isn’t has hard as some of it’s fans would have you believe. That said, it is unforgiving of mistakes, so expect to take quite a bit of time mastering the combat system. I’m actually going to come back to this one again in a second.

I think I’ve mentioned Mount & Blade before. I haven’t played the more recent games in the series, but it’s a sort of medieval version of Elite, where you build up a mercenary band and then go… do, whatever. Sign on with one of the factions, trade goods, prey on bandits. The mounted combat is really good, and it does mass combat really well.

If you’re wanting to go with a more cyberpunk setting Deus Ex: Human Revolution is worth looking at. The original Deus Ex is also, though the combat itself is a little wonky.

Now, this is all assuming you want a sort of real time, action game style combat system. If you want a more abstract system, looking at games like the Firaxis XCOM reboot, or Shadowrun Returns might be more appropriate. Also, on that subject, if you have a solid understanding of 3rd and 3.5 Edition D&D, Order of the Stick is probably worth a look.

Okay, that’s just writing combat… if you’re wanting to write about video games and RPGs, and play with the concepts there, you’re going to need a slightly different recommendation list.

I’d start with Knights of the Old Republic 2. This does some brilliant stuff with talking about mechanics like discussing leveling up as the player consuming anything they fought, and addressing how once party members join, they’re effectively stripped of their free will in service of killing for the player.

The developers revisited some of those themes in Neverwinter Nights 2’s first expansion, Mask of the Betrayer, and I would recommend that game, but it requires spending a lot of time getting through the main NWN2 campaign to get there. (Technically, you can fresh generate a preleveled character for MotB, but without having a solid grasp of the systems going in, it would be a horrible introduction.)

Dark Souls actually does some interesting setting stuff. Some of this requires digging around in the item descriptions and trying to piece it together… or just looking up YouTube videos, with someone else doing the musing. Marcus “EpicNameBro“ Sanders is probably the best in depth source out there, and VaatiVidya has some good primer videos. (Somewhat obviously, there’s a fair number of spoilers in both of those links.)

The one thing I’ll highlight that is really interesting to me is this: In Dark Souls (and the sequel) you play as an undead, and most of the characters and enemies you encounter are also undead. The mindless undead are called “hollows” and what differentiates the player character from hollows is that they’ve been completely broken by the constant cycle of death and revival. This isn’t an instantaneous process, and as the game progresses, you’ll see several NPCs who become increasingly despondent, until they ultimately go hollow. Without something to work for, they eventually give up the will to live. Which works as a fantastic metaphor for player burnout and fatigue, with hollowing being the point where you put down the controller and walk away forever.

The Saints Row series (particularly 3 and 4) are excellent snapshots of the psychopathic impulses of the average player, codified into dialog and decision making. For all the puerile jokes, the games actually have some surprisingly strong writing, so, if your setting has any inclination towards a GTA style, these are worth looking at.

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but Spec Ops: The Line is an absolutely fantastic tear down of your standard Modern Military Shooter protagonist. The game itself feels fairly generic, up to a point, but, if you want to present your protagonist as an actual person trying to deal with what they’re doing, this is almost exactly the opposite of the Saints Row games, so one of these should be useful to you, though probably not both.

Also, read The Metaphysics of Morrowind. This is a really interesting discussion on player agency, and the implications of it. Specifically, the author is talking about The Elder Scrolls setting, but the discussion on modding, cheat codes, and quickloads as part of a larger coherent multiverse is worth reading.

I’m also going to toss this link to Super Bunnyhop’s Metal Gear Solid 2 analysis video in here. This one might not make sense for a few minutes, just stick with it, you’ll probably learn something. (Also, obligatory spoiler warnings for a game that was published in 1998.)

-Starke

The bit in your recent post on infiltration reminded me of the Hitman series (Suit and tie). In that vein, I had a question: Just how accurate to actual infiltration techniques are those games?

Hitman’s a mixed bag at pretty much every level. It takes effective tactics like using dead drops to get weapons past a security cordon and tosses it into a universe with a peculiar kind of obliviousness where no one asks why the chef suddenly grew six inches and lost all his hair, and looks curiously like that homicidal madman that just offed a bunch of bodyguards. But that guy wasn’t a chef, so it’s must be okay.

The worst part is, the more they tweak the AI, the weirder it gets. In Absolution’s NPCs will spot 47 if he’s disguised as them, or more specifically disguised as someone with the same outfit. Which actually makes a certain kind of sense; if 47’s screwing up any part of his disguise, they’d be the ones to notice. But then 47 will disguise himself as a chipmunk, clown, ice cream vendor or whatever, and none of the guards, cops, or janitors will realize anything’s amiss.

The actual practice of passing yourself off as someone who’s “supposed to be there”, yes, Hitman’s one of the few game series that actually uses disguises and social camouflage as a core mechanic. Someone else mentioned the original Assassin’s Creed as another example. But, Hitman immediately lapses into a weird almost parody, with those mechanics, where the best way to hide is in the most absurd way possible.

-Starke