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Making Combat Suck Less

Super Adventure Pals 2 was Greenlit last week and we are taking the opportunity to fix areas of our game that were overlooked; in this case combat. We share some of the simple things we changed to get good feeling combat in our 2D platformer.


Who are we?

Super Adventure Pals 2 is an upcoming platformer adventure game made by two people; Jay Armstrong of Massive Monster and Julian Wilton of Corupted Games. The game was recently Greenlit and is going to be published by Armor Games.

The Story.

Julian and I usually work remotely with me based in the UK and while he works at his home near Sydney, Australia, but in the last few weeks we’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time together in order to aid our Greenlight campaign as well as (and more importantly) to take what was a bloated flash game and turn it into a tight, exciting and super fun Indie game built from the ground up for your desktop.

To do this, we are using new tech and workflows - including a really great Haxe library called OpenFl and for the first time using GitHub rather than sharing files over dropbox. This allows us to have high res graphics running full screen at 60fps - a huge improvement from an 800x600 flash window running at 30fps!

We’ve recognised this as an important opportunity to get the game ‘right’ this time. Not many people will know this, but this will be the third attempt to create Super Adventure Pals 2 (If you are interested I wrote an article about it in February 2014 here). With the pressure of a greenlight campaign and Armor Games backing us we are fully aware that this game needs to be special. So the two of us have spent a lot of time over the last two weeks simply sitting down with pieces of paper and pens and having extensive and exhaustive talks about what we think worked in the original game, what we think didn’t work so well and how we can get it spot on this time around.


How to make combat not suck so much.

What of the things we realised was always a bit “meh” is the combat in Super Adventure Pals. It has so far only consisted of dumb enemies mindlessly running at you, usually falling off cliffs and then button mashing them into submission. While we like button-mashing, you could also just as easily run past any and all enemies. Enemies weren’t dangerous, they weren’t threatening, they weren’t even irritations - they could just be completely ignored! This also meant that upgrading your weapon wasn’t particularly important.

1) Avoid clumping, mindless enemies.

To combat these issues we’ve made a number of changes. Enemies now patrol until they see you, then they rush to attack you but importantly, they can recognise when you are being attacked on the side they are coming from and will wait their turn. Unless of course you are being attacked from the other side, then they will sneak in and try and flank you. This makes for a remarkably seemingly ‘smart’ enemies. Don’t get me wrong, this is still straight up button-mashing goodness, but it’s nice to see other enemies standing by and watching on until you dispatch one of his colleagues at which point they’ll jump in to the fray.


2) Make the whole world revolve around the player and his actions

I’ve also made the camera more dynamic, when you are engaging with an enemy there is the slightest zoom in, and the camera centers itself between all the combatants. This works well as there is no mouse or camera-position related controls. It just makes the game feel more alive and responsive.

3) Give things weight and substance

You also can no longer run past enemies, instead they are solid masses which you must either jump over or defeat in combat to get past. I toyed with the idea of them damaging you if you touched them but abandoned this for two reasons. Firstly, it was inconsistent with the enemies attack animations - why would they attack if just touching them killed you? It just felt ‘off’. And secondly, it made it very hard to pull off combos as whenever you got too close you’d pingback and be damaged. No, this approach wasn’t going to work. Instead I created a system where upon touching an enemy you moved back ever so slightly and were unable to move your character forward again for a 1/6th of a second. This meant they felt ‘solid’, even without the use of a built in physics engine, enemies were suddenly sturdy objects and could also act as obstacles in a level.

4) Shake, shake, shake!

Take a note from the good folks at Vlambeer we added a subtle amount of screen shake on landing a hit and then a big amount when killing an enemy. We also flash the screen red when you get hit and white when you defeat an enemy. There is also a few frame’s pause on these events as well and plenty of particles on a hit to create that feeling of power. These all combine to create a subtle feeling of impact during combat. Thanks Vlambeer!

5) Don’t be what you are not

We toyed between a Demon Souls ‘hard-to-land-a-hit-but-when-you-do-its-super-satisfying’ feel for combat and the traditional button-mashing. Needless to say we opted for button-mashing! We removed almost all delay between attacks, you can almost attack as quickly as you can press the attack key, which feels great. We also have attacks that throw enemies and yourself in to the air and others that slam them down again. Smaller hits also knock enemies back a bit and pop them in the air slightly. Again, more subtle techniques to make you feel powerful and have each hit feel like it has impact.


6) Know what you aiming for and focus on being the best you can at that

At the moment we are discussing whether we should have damage numbers and life bars during combat. I think we will probably avoid these for a number of reasons. Firstly, you end up watching the life bars and not the character animations, and the same goes for the damage numbers. It may also make it feel too ‘gamey’. Super Adventure Pals always aims to be slightly self-aware, but with mechanical things like this, its important to get the feeling of immersion right. And finally, if attack damage is consistent the screen will become flooded with the same numbers over and over again, however if there is an element of randomness added to the attack damage that may also feel unfair and be tricky to scale when it comes to levelling up your weapons.

Thanks for reading!

So, there you have it, our rethinking of combat in Super Adventure Pals. I’m pleased to report that engaging with enemies is now actually ‘fun’, and no longer a neglected part of the experience.

Thanks for reading, any questions about this or any other element of Super Adventure Pals 2’s development please just ask! Keep checking back for more news from us - a post a week, that’s what we promise!

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