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The Skill Divisions Of Combat-Heavy Game Players

There are three strata of gamers that play combat-heavy action games in distinct ways at specific skill levels. This article explains the nature of these divisions, why you want to please their members, and how to go about doing it.

Ben Ruiz, Blogger

October 23, 2012

5 Min Read

(When I refer to "combat-heavy games" in this article, I am referring to any game in which its melee combat mechanics are core to the experience: fighting games like Street Fighter or King Of Fighters, beat 'em ups like Devil Mary Cry or Bayonetta, action-adventures like Darksiders or God Of War, and etc.)

Division 1: "The Scrappers"

The scrappers are the the lowest level player in terms of skill, but this is not a condemnation! They are playing a combat-heavy game for what is arguably the purest reason; just to have fun being violent. They simply enjoy pushing buttons and experiencing a sense of power and impact when they do. Their zone is the quick feedback loop of aggressive burst > defend > move > aggressive burst > defend > move > etc. Essentially, they are the button mashers.

Why should we please them and how do we do it?

It's very very important to please the scrappers because truthfully, most gamers playing combat-heavy games are scrappers. And while they are not taking it very seriously, they are still having a very genuinely good time and they are the division most likely to get excited and tell a bunch of people about it. In order to please them, the mechanics need to look and feel really good so that they are instantly hooked aesthetically. While this is an obvious and universal rule of all action games, it's especially important in more complex combat-heavy games. At best, scrappers don't care about the complexity but at worst it will intimidate them. Hooking them in this manner will help them continue to play the game in spite of its threatening intricacy. But it's also very important that the second tier of mechanics (anything that involves more than just mashing on one of the primarily-used buttons) need to be easy to do AND feel powerful. Ideally, the scrappers get to feel awesome without having to move into the higher levels of play.

Division 2: "The Warriors"

The warriors are the mid level players. They are the ones who will develop enough of an understanding of the combat mechanics to express themselves in interesting ways. They can withstand arduous series of fights because they have the ability to find the key rhythm and stay in it. They play combat-heavy games because they enjoy the nuance and expressiveness of combat systems, and require a certain level of complexity because of it. A very reliable metric of a combat-heavy game's depth is if it holds the warrior's interest.

Why should we please them and how do we do it?

You want the warrior to be excited about the game because their word is meaningful to members of all three skill divisions. In order to please them, the requirements for the scrappers need to met. Additionally, there needs to be enough complexity and nuance that they don't get bored. Warriors play a lot of combat-heavy games so they're very comfortable in the stress of combat, and without a remarkable spectrum of tools to utilize, they will very quickly map out the range of mechanics and become under-stimulated. Warriors are particularly fond of games that have a lot of weapons (mechanic sets) because of the inherent variety, but will be content with games that have a few weapons that are very rich. The caveat here is that while warriors require a certain breadth and depth of mechanics, most of them want to be introduced to them slowly and methodically so they can meticulously construct their vocabulary.

Division 3: "The Masters"

The masters are the highest level player. They're incredibly rare, but they are unbelievable beasts. While the masters also need the scrapper's requirements met, they want what the warriors want as well, but at a much higher level. Their pleasure comes from the rigorous exploitation of the combat systems in order to achieve an otherworldly level of success and expression.

Why should we please them and how do we do it?

In all honesty, it is not important to the short-term success of a combat-heavy game that the Masters are happy. They're so few and far in between that even if the scrappers and warriors cared about their word, it wouldn't make a huge difference in "moving units". However, the master's approval indicates that a combat-heavy game is immensely deep and meaningful. Masters won't even play most action games because most of them simply don't have enough to offer them. Shallow systems negate the value of their commitment levels, so in order to please them a combat-heavy game must be very, very rich. Additionally, the combat mechanics needs to be somewhat balanced against themselves. It contradicts their highly expressive nature to participate in a combat system that is imbalanced by an overpowered mechanic or two. Making sure these players are happy is obviously very daunting, but when done it means a combat-heavy game qualifies for timelessness, which very few of them have done. But it happens; to this day people are still making combo videos for Devil May Cry 3, and it's incredible to watch what masters do within the game's profoundly nuanced and expertly engineered combat system.

On principle, we combat designers should be shooting for this! ;)

Read more articles on action game combat design at: www.aztezgame.com!  

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