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Breaking the Mold: Designing a kung-fu game that's not about fighting - Part 2
by Drew Parker on 09/30/13 12:13:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


By Drew Parker, Mark Animation (Ontario, Canada)

Creative Director, Shuyan the Kung Fu Princess, coming this Fall exclusively to iPad

This is part two of a series in which I'll blog about the Making of Shuyan the Kung Fu Princes - Designing a kung-fu game that's not about fighting. Missed Part 1? Read it here.

Part 2:  To Not Get Hit  -  Deciding on our Primary "Attack"

In his book, Jesse Schell proposes one reason many games feel so derivative is because they all ask you to perform the exact same actions.  Thinking over my own gaming experiences, this made a lot of sense to me. 

How were we going to make a unique game about Kung Fu, if everything you do in our game is the exact same as other melee games?

The most often repeated action in melee combat games besides navigation is the primary attack. Of course in a combat situation this makes sense. If you want to win, you must "attack" until the opponent is beaten. If you want to do other more powerful moves, they are still variations of "attack," (like the secondary attack) and typically are opened up by doing the primary attack first.

I looked to our essential experience, "Finding self-restraint through kung fu training, by learning to have no intention to fight."  My kung fu teacher would say things like, "Hitting is easy, anyone can hit. Not getting hit, that's kung fu."

Then an exciting (yet scary!) idea emerged. What if the primary operative action, the action performed most by the player, was not an attack?  Our game should be about how to not get hit.  Perhaps the move could be defensive, similar to what a melee combat designer calls a "Block."

Our game is played from a somewhat top-down perspective, and conflicts take place in small arenas.  We already had entity path-finding, enemy attacks, and player controls setup from a previous prototype.  Enemies could chase the player around, and if they got close enough, damage the player with a punch.

We added a new defensive movement, and made the move directional and only successful if the player matched an incoming attack line. Now the player could stop any incoming attack if they timed it right.  In addition, we removed our previous attack action! 

We called this new defensive move the GREET, because in kung fu thought, every time you intercept an opponent's attack you are not trying to forcefully stop him, but are actually greeting his energy like a handshake.

As many designers have mentioned, the only way to make a game is to build the game, you can't play a paper design. So we built it, and found the experience did not work yet - so we iterated.

The enemies swarmed the player and hampered the player's movement, as our old attack which used to push enemies back was gone - so we set up enemy-formation logic to help enemies maintain a minimum distance from the player.  The player could just run away from fights, so we sped up the enemy movement speed, added running acceleration to the player (it's slower to change directions) and slowed them down if they bumped into an enemy.  The combat pace dragged, so to speed things up we increased the enemy attack rate, allowed the enemy attack windows to overlap, and added movement prediction to the AI so the enemies would start to attack if they thought the player would be in range soon.

It felt better, but still too repetitive.  When switching my viewpoint and looking at the game as a board with pieces, I realized the problem was the game "board" (arena) was too static, as all the "pieces" (entities) were in the same place!  All the blocking of attacks stifled the navigational and group formation logic.  So I added physics responses on all the entities, and gave each landed or blocked attack a velocity impulse with a slight random variation.

Now the design felt like it had promise, because it was stirring up my emotions some, and finally started to feel like Kung Fu!  Attacks were flying in from any direction (excitement), being surrounded by enemies you had to wait for just the right moment to defend yourself (tension & skill) and as everyone was being shoved all over the place and smashing wooden walls (pleasure of surprise), when you finally survived a flurry of punches (pleasure of success) you realized you were on the other side of the game grid!  (new situation, new choices).

Because that small experience proved by itself it was fun and had potential, our team gained confidence we could make this "fight without fighting" idea pan out.  But there was still a lot of hard work and uncertainty in front of us.

What are the other moves?  We need attack moves somewhere, but how do we create them without falling into old ideas and losing what we just gained?

At this point we followed more closely the conventions and standards of combat design. This gamasutra post gives an excellent outline of how to design a combat system. Sébastian Lambottin’s design process gave us a lot of guidance in setting up our combat system, such as in how to pick different abilities and make them all unique and interesting.

During that process, one of the most obvious yet important questions raised itself: in a game where you are supposed to "fight without fighting," how do you end the fight?

Watch out for Part 3 of the series where I'll get into how our team discovered our victory condition.


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William Johnson
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Interesting! Can't wait to hear what you came up with and to play this game :)

Drew Parker
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Thanks William!

Luis Blondet
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I'm glad to see people incorporate real life concepts into games in order to better communicate the spirit of it.

I'm surprised that no one has bothered to represent the true spirit of Kung Fu in a game yet.

Keep up the good work.

Leonardo Ferreira
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I quite like this one, event hough is a bit traditional:

Drew Parker
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Thanks Luis! There's many definitions of games out there which have been useful to me, but one in particular was by Tynan Sylvester who wrote, "Designing Games." He mentions the idea of games being engines that generate artificial experiences.

Looked at it in that light, it helped free up my mind from trying to gamify everything and instead focus on those real-life concepts and experiences.

Of course video games still have to be entertaining, but I think they also have a lot of room for us to pack more meaning into them, which then for the player can become a more satisfying experience.

Heliora Prime
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Very interesting, I've been trying to think up some new kind of close combat gameplay.
I'm not a programmer so I can't get grabs to work and have to make the combat deep
in another way. While actually programming and testing close combat I realized just how difficult it is. Shooters are way less complex.
Looking forward to how this will end up.

Drew Parker
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Hey Heliora - I hear you. We had a lot of technology challenges, even though I made a point for our team to side-step technology problems instead of solving them. Because the uncertainty with some of those things in terms of scheduling can be really high.

We had to iterate a few times on our underlying technology for handling the hand-to-hand combat to find the right match. We ended up with a mix of collision circle detection and messages broadcasts, which each entity's state machine interprets differently.

Andrzej Marczewski
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This sounds really interesting. I am still waiting for a game that makes better use of redirection and throwing. After the greet, unbalance the attacker throw them in another direction - more aikido like I know, but that is more where my martial arts experience is seated. One game that came pretty close was Fighters Destiny on the N64.

Looking forward to part 3 !

Drew Parker
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Hey Andrzej - interesting ideas there. :) While I was training in Wing Chun my cousin did Aikido, and sometimes we'd compare and contrast moves.

We looked into the idea of redirections, and while I can't let that cat out of the bag yet, we do have a number of moves beyond the "Greet" which focus on the softer martial arts movements.

Rui Mota
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And today I learned something about kung-fu, thanks. Looking forward to see how this pans out.

Drew Parker
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Thanks Rui!

John Trauger
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This has been an especially enjoyable read.

Drew Parker
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Glad you enjoyed it John - thanks for checking it out!

Drew Parker
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Thanks for the great comments everyone, they are really encouraging! Part 3 is up if you are interested... u_game_thats_not_about_fighting__Part_3.php