Meaningful Combat

by Darius Kazemi on December 7, 2005

in Uncategorized

John Rogers keeps a blog about script writing. It is funny and caustic and occasionally brilliant. Today he has a post that I think is very relevant to action game design. The major point of the article, Writing: Action Scenes, is (and he bolded it himself):

Don’t write action scenes. Write suspense scenes that require action to resolve.

He talks about making combat part of story development. The only game that I’ve ever played that made me feel this way was Deus Ex. Not just combat itself, but every move I made during combat related to the development of my character and his outlook on the world. Do I shoot the terrorists or use my stun gun? Do I avoid combat through stealth or just hack the security system? Do I use my nano augmentation or do I try to make it through on my natural human strengths?

Deus Ex is a game about the identity of J.C. Denton, the main character. And every choice in the game (combat included, in fact combat especially) is a choice about identity. I think more games can take this to heart.


Craig Perko December 8, 2005 at 5:05 pm

I agree, but it should be noted that combat – and conflict in general – serve a very different purpose in a video game.

They are puzzles.

In a video game, it is not at ALL clear that you will get through the combat this try. Even if you do, how badly are you depleted doing so?

It’s a long chain of puzzles, a pattern you need to work out.

This doesn’t happen in a movie, of course. And it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work character development into every pore of your game. But it does mean that combat – sheer, pure combat – serves a purpose in a video game.

The mate of that post is one on writing sex scenes, which I can’t seem to track down at the moment. The originator of this whole shebang doesn’t like writing sex scenes – because there’s no conflict. Everyone pretty much wants the same thing, unless you add some weirdness.

In a game, this is ALSO not relevant. Like sheer combat, sheer sex can serve a purpose. Of course, both definitely change the nature of your game.

In the end, games are different than movies. Knowing how is a rather critical element of game design, don’t you think?

Craig Perko December 8, 2005 at 5:09 pm

I couldn’t find the post because I am mired in my own little world. That IS the post. Too many people referencing it. Got me all confused.

Darren Torpey December 14, 2005 at 8:54 pm

Yes, but I think that what Darius was talking about was how a game can make the puzzles, the combat, and the elements of suspense into the same thing. Games like Thief and Deus Ex showed this well.

So in theory that’s the best way to go, when you can. Then again, I think you’re right, Craig, that some elements like violence and sex have an inherent appeal and can almost work alone in a game, to some extent at least.

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