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.)


2 thoughts on “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?”

  1. Here’s the thing. You asked, do you have to know a lot about video games to write about this- no, that’s not what you asked; you asked have played allot and gained experience. Well think about your criteria. You are asking if you can write about something with health bars and stuff and limbs can be broken. You are basically asking if you can write about a topic according to certain criteria and if you need to understand allot about the other criteria set/ topic to do that. Not necessarily. If you are writing about Skyrim, for example, it’s probably more important that you know the lore than have played it.
    Your basically asking if you can book a game. I think you need book skills to do that. If you want to game a book, your’d need game skills. I don’t think the people who read Harry Potter will be doing well game side without playing games, and I don’t think someone who only played game versions of movies would always have much of a clue what’s going on.
    For example, brave, was actually a great ‘shovel ware’ game (and not just as an example- there was a reason why it was free with gold- they kind of doing a classic game give out rather than free crap games; great for game designers there choices). But, you wouldn’t really know much of what happened in the movie while playing it, and vice versa.
    But you could have criteria where you want the players to respond to game like mechanics and have an idea, or maybe not, no it’s a game, but it the mechanics are the same. You wouldn’t necessarily have to be a gamer, in real life, you might handle game stuff differently. There are also many anime’s that are very rpg. Seven deadly sins, etc. People get more powerful, they ‘train’ though it might be ubusrd like in games what counts as training or getting more powerful.
    Like in re-no suba (a trapped in another world anime), the protagonist mentions how he is strong because he swung a sword around for years for no reason. And the characters who use swords basically just stand and repeatedly swing a sword in a way to ‘train’, so no, you don’t have to have gaming experience or play games to have getting stronger mechanics that are ubsurd just like games. Seriously, these people can throw their friends up propeller plane ceiling high. Because they swing a sword over and over again. Many roblox games that are a simulator can be like this. Some games you punch and jump and before you know it you are jumping ten stories and can run faster and more. I don’t think re no suba was inspired by roblox simulators.

  2. So for example, I came across “what Skyrim weapon would I chose to have in real life” and I chose wabajack.

    Why? Because in real life it can explode a tank to death, turn tigers into chickens, or sweat roles (and realistically any damage done to a real life predator that is weird and spooky will probably make it run away. What else can it do? Turn ants into chickens? Turn things into sweet roles? Turn animals into Dramora, and then they fall to their death? and free armor. It is mostly nonlethal, but can be if needed repeated shots, and it would get stronger just you used it (for killing things though).

    It would be a survival tool that lets you be a baker and a blacksmith. Need an rpg on that elephant? Solved. Boom. Run away or die, because it will always explode a bad guy. And what does it run on?

    Energy. Harvesting souls in Skyrim just takes their spirit, and it’s energy. They don’t actually harvest the soul. So charging it would likely not be so hard. All one would need is one of those charger things that are like a plate that wireless transfers energy through a short electromagnetic field. It would likely be able to be charged.

    This means that you can no run around with a backpack all the time with a battery, insulated, water proof, heat proof, if you want. You could have enough charges that could harvest from the requirements to have energies a magnetic field or plasma to make a holographic ghost like thing for a portion of it’s shots. It probably is only like a big portion of an iphone charge. Which isn’t bad for a multi shot rpg/ pasifist weapon/ survival tool/ matter converter, food maker, and forge good crafter. Not to mention, if one of the gangsters suddenly turns into a daemon, and instantly attacks the others (armored) It might even take a few gun shots and will definitely distract the enemy, poofed in only one of your own hits, or an amount of time.

    I don’t need to have played the game with it to realize this, just reading it should be enough. So naturally, characters should have similar effects.

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