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Developer Journal #4

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I attack you and hit for 22 damage. You attack me and hit for 17 damage. I attack you and miss. You attack me and critically hit for 34 damage. I attack you…

Does the above exchange sound familiar? It probably does, because that’s the way combat works in just about every MMORPG on the market today. In reality, combat is a complex dance of subtle maneuvers, split-second perceptions, and exploiting opportunities, which is why most RPG battles seem so sterile and monotonous by contrast. It’s tough to get excited about a match of dueling calculators, but one of the things The Chronicle is attempting to do is add a new dimension to RPG style combat, putting more emphasis on strategy and timing than just clicking auto attack to find out who has the best damage per second and hit points.

The image most people conjure up when speaking of real-time tactics is first person shooter, or “twitch” based combat, which relies entirely on the skill of the player, not the character. To clarify, The Chronicle will still be largely dependant on character skill, but certain edges in combat will be available to those who understand how to use the opportunity system, detailed below. What we’re aiming for is the first effective hybrid of RPG (character skill) and FPS (player skill) combat.

In the heat of battle, certain situations arise in which an opportunity for one character to exploit a temporary weakness or distraction of another character to produce various effects. Unlike the combo point system common to several other games (most notably Diablo 2 and World of Warcraft) in which one character builds up an amount of personal potential to cause greater damage to another, the opportunity system is a function of the defender, not the attacker. As such, once an opportunity arises, anyone may take advantage of it. A visual queue appears on or around the character afflicted with the opportunity, visible to all except the subject character.

Furthermore, any type of character will be able to exploit opportunities, not just a specific “rogue” or “assassin” class (mostly because The Chronicle is not crippled by a class system) and not just characters with certain, special skills. Engaging a character with a regular attack that is currently exposed by an opportunity will result in a slightly better chance of hitting, better odds of scoring a critical hit, and a noticeable amount of bonus damage. Basically, anyone can use an opportunity up to get in one big hit. But those are just the commonplace exploitations of opportunities.

Characters with the proper skills and abilities, however, will be able to put opportunities to much more effective uses. A skilled duelist would immediately recognize the opportunity as a chance to disarm his or her opponent, while a martial arts master would use the momentary distraction to perform a tripping maneuver. A precision archer who sees an opportunity would take the chance to employ one of his or her special attacks, knowing that the resulting effect is greatly enhanced if it activates in time. While normally unable to achieve concealment during a fight, someone with the proper skills could use an opportunity to escape the situation by engaging their stealth ability.

While further uses of opportunities are quite obvious given the above examples, what exactly causes an opportunity is what really illustrates how dynamic combat will be in The Chronicle. Anytime a character critically hits another character, an opportunity arises on the defender, but anytime a character critically misses, an opportunity appears on the attacker. Since combat is often unpredictable, there will also be rare, randomly assigned opportunities, but they will be more frequent on characters with poor ratings in the attributes that govern opportunities, mainly coordination (more widely known by its synonym dexterity). Random opportunities will also be caused by environmental effects, such as bad weather or unstable surfaces, like the deck of a ship on a rolling sea. Not surprisingly, intoxication will also be a factor.

Multiple opportunities do not stack in terms of the number of times they may be exploited, so once anyone uses the opportunity, no matter who caused it or how, it is resolved. They do stack in terms of time the opportunity is available, though, so that several characters could continue provoking opportunities in a single target until an ally is able to unleash the proper exploitation. While a random opportunity or minor skill that produces them might only last a second or two, it’s entirely feasible that multiple applications could have one character exposed by an opportunity for much longer, at least until someone chose to exploit it. Some actions a character takes can invoke persistent opportunities, such as running, picking a lock, or opening a chest. In these situations, the opportunity exists as long as the action is being taken.

Those are just the starters, the regular means by which opportunities come around. Some characters will have access to skills and abilities that can conjure up opportunities in other characters, things like taunts, vision obscuring spells, tricky maneuvers, and attacks designed to unbalance a foe instead of causing damage. Additionally, there will be at least a few tactics that allow one character to feign an opportunity, but when the attacker attempts to exploit it, that attacker instead becomes the subject of a real opportunity. An important thing to remember is that every attack in The Chronicle has an equally effective defense, ensuring that no single ability emerges as the super attack that everyone has because no one can defend against. Skills will be available that allow characters to avoid or resist having opportunities themselves, as well as tactical skills that allow talented commanders to reduce or negate opportunities in those they lead.

Perhaps one of the most appealing parts of the opportunity system, from a game design perspective, is the relief it gives the game mechanics from the “stun paradigm,” or the situation all games inevitably face when the player base realizes that stun effects are much more powerful than damage effects. The ability to completely incapacitate your target, even if only for a second or two, is incredibly powerful, especially in player vs. player combat, yet game developers of the past never seem to discover the discrepancy until long after release. An attack that causes 1 damage, but stuns the target for 3 seconds and can be used every 3 seconds is infinitely more powerful than an attack that does 1,000,000 damage every 3 seconds. When we say the opportunity system provides relief to the stun effect, what we mean is that we can design an enormous amount of abilities that cause, prevent, or exploit opportunities in clever, effective ways without always having to levy a frustrating few seconds of complete incapacitation on the target. The Chronicle will still have attacks and spells that stun targets, but with opportunities handling most of the more subtle combat situations, stun effects can be saved for more powerful actions, where they belong.

- Nathan Knaack - Lead Creative Writer, Rapid Reality

Thank you Nathan!

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