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Death of a Wish’s combat does not have a stamina resource, this has substantial implications for its tone and texture.

Kevin Wong, Blogger

September 5, 2023

5 Min Read

Death of a Wish’s combat does not have a stamina resource, this has substantial implications for its tone and texture.

Death of a Wish is a very different game from Born of a Dream. Death of a Wish is about anger, aggression, and liberation. The protagonist, Christian, is filled with a righteous fury that drives him forward with reckless abandon. We want these character traits to be systematized through combat design.

In our 2018 game, Born of a Dream, there are two resource pools that are tied to combat actions, Stamina and Charge. Stamina is a limited resource consumed by using melee attacks, dodging, and sprinting. It regenerates when the player refrains from performing stamina-consuming actions and waiting for a few moments. During this recovery period, the player can still use ranged Familiar attacks, which consume the secondary resource pool, Charge. Charge is restored by striking the enemy with melee attacks. If the player attempts to perform an action without the proper resource for it, then it will fail, leaving the player vulnerable.

This feeds into a simple resource-management loop.

For example, if my stamina is insufficient to use a melee strike or evasive action, I should use a Charge-consuming Familiar attack while stamina regenerates. Once my Charge is depleted, I will switch to stamina-consuming melee strikes to top off my Charge pool. This loop is complicated by different enemy types and behaviors; enemies that attack from different ranges force scenarios where the player needs to be attentive to the two resource pools, which attacks they can use at any moment, and what risks enemy attack patterns present. This was suitable for Born of a Dream, but Death of a Wish aspires to different aesthetic and player-experience goals.

The “Stamina” resource pool is rooted systems-rich RPGs, the history of which falls outside the scope of this blog post. With that said, the most immediately comparable to how stamina works in Born of a Dream is Dark Souls.

The stamina resource in Dark Souls forces players to be deliberate and thoughtful about their decisions at the atomic-level. Every attack has a quantifiable stamina cost, which means that missing an attack will waste a precious resource and risk penalizing the player with failed actions in the exhausted state. Furthermore, defensive abilities like blocking and dodging also use stamina, which players should always budget for in order to avoid enemy counterattacks. This incentivizes players to abstain from attacking in certain circumstances, such as when an enemy is blocking or out of range. Every stamina-consuming action is thus a commitment of limited resources that cannot be wasted.

The resource-management and animation-management play is a fundamental part of these games core verbs. In Dark Souls there are two types of attacks, light and heavy. Light attacks have a low time commitment, and a low stamina cost. They can be strung together when there are small windows of opportunity in an enemy’s attack pattern to work in strikes. Heavy attacks cost a lot of stamina, and have a long anticipation and follow through, making them riskier to use.

Unique to Born of a Dream are Hold Actions, which are powerful techniques that can be weaved into combos by holding down an attack button. Hold actions consume both stamina and charge, which makes them extremely likely to leave the player vulnerable should they miss. However, the immense damage that they do to stunned and broken enemies makes them efficient in a way that normal attacks cannot be.

In practice, forcing the player to perform resource management under the pressure of combat creates a sense of tense anxiety that forces deliberate decision-making. This suits the mournful tone of Lucah: Born of a Dream and Dark Souls because the fear of depleting these resource pools and being exposed to danger is omnipresent. This element of stress reinforces the tone set forth by each game’s representational elements. Successfully managing those resources and overcoming that tension leads to rewarding catharsis.

On a thematic level, the player’s experience of overcoming the stamina limitations with technical mastery and build customization suits Born of a Dream’s theme of “finding oneself”. As the player grows into their play style, the resource limitations become less of an issue as they learn how to play best with their build’s strengths and weaknesses. As the player progresses and develops their character, the initial Dark Souls-like pacing gives way to a pace of combat reminiscent of stylish-action games like Bayonetta.

Speed and aggression are critical to Death of a Wish’s thematic and tonal goals, and this is systematized through every aspect of the game’s design.

One design goal with Death of a Wish was to prevent overly passive play centered around baiting and parrying enemy attacks. Removing stamina reduces the punishment for playing aggressively and prevents the player from having to wait to recover stamina. This dramatically increases the pace of the combat by making forward momentum less risky. Removing the need to repeatedly use Familiar Attacks during the stamina recovery phase also means that more options are available to the player at any given moment, which further expands the depth of combat. Charge Actions also return, but are less costly to use, making them easier for players to weave into their combos improvisationally.

Increasing the pace of combat and simplifying the resource systems risks undercutting the game’s challenge. To this extent, Death of a Wish features faster and more aggressive enemies. They counter passive defenses with relentless pursuit, gap closers, projectile attacks, and defensive tools of their own. Whittling down enemies with single, intermittent attacks is discouraged because maintaining constant combo pressure is far more effective. These new behaviors transform defensive play into a more active style matching  this more assertive design.

These aspects of the combat ultimately tie back into Christian’s characterization; he’s angry because he was hurt by an oppressive culture that raised him on self-hatred and self-harm, and he seeks freedom through revenge. There are other action games that define their characters through their systems and fighting styles. Doom and Metal Gear Rising both conveyed the righteous fury of their protagonists by tying health restoration to fatality moves. With Death of a Wish, we want to convey Christian’s anger in a holistic manner by tying it into every aspect of the game’s combat, and this starts with reconsidering fundamental systems like stamina.

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