Feature: 'Intelligent Brawling'

How do you make a great third-person brawler? In this feature, THQ's creative manager Tom Smith cross-examines titles from God Of War to Ninja Gaiden and beyon
In his quest to improve enemy AI in 2007's third-person action-adventure title Conan, Smith looked at other top titles in the genre -- God of War, Mark of Kri, Genji, Prince of Persia, Ninja Gaiden, and Heavenly Sword -- to see what creative solutions the games employed to keep encounters challenging but still enjoyable. He explains his methodology: "In each case, I would get to the first significant combat encounter that had at least three enemies active at once. I would play this encounter repeatedly, spending most of my time doing nothing but holding down block so I could just watch the enemies and how they acted. For a few of the specific questions, I needed to move around or attack or otherwise break from block. And with some games, I would go a few more encounters in, especially if I knew major new combat concepts were added fairly soon. Yes, this is not how most players play. But I wanted to distill the AI down to its simplest, most repeatable state. To balance the block-focused bias, I made sure to also spend some time using normal blocking and attack strategies to see if the AI changed radically. In a game without block, I'd suggest finding another repeatable strategy that lets the AI (or whatever is the subject of testing) do its thing without the interference of constantly being damaged or killed." One of the first things the creative manager analyzed in the different titles was how many enemies fight the player at once, and how they organize themselves around the player: "The solutions used here are more varied than I expected. All the games group their enemies into one or two groups around the player character, but how the enemies attack from their groups varies a lot from game to game. Prince of Persia and Ninja Gaiden both keep enemies in a single group, with one enemy breaking from the group to make a single attack. This works well with smaller groups, but for our game, we want over a dozen enemies at once, so we need to spread them out more if we're going to fit everyone. Mark of Kri and Genji felt a bit artificial, because one enemy from the group would call the player character out for multiple attacks while the others watched. Genji could at least argue that the pattern fit the dueling style of the game. I did like the surprise attacks that Mark of Kri added from the far group-it made those distant enemies much more meaningful. The player has to keep half an eye on the outer ring at all times. But overall, God of War and Heavenly Sword had the best feel. Having multiple enemies near you keeps things on edge and makes it harder for the player to tell what to expect next-which was reassuring, since that was the basic direction we were already considering." You can read the full feature, which includes more detailed comparisons on how different brawlers manage different aspects of combat (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from other websites).

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