Last week, I talked a bit about the thematic considerations of the monsters in the game. This week, I'm going to share some of the mechanical considerations that we've made to ensure that each monster fight in the game is action-packed from start to finish.
Designing Monster Gameplay
Monsters require a careful balance of threat and predictability. If a monster's movement and attack patterns are too erratic, it's impossible to fight them effectively. If they are too predictable and regular, the fight becomes a calculation. If they're too powerful or weak, the fight can feel hopeless or meaningless.
It took us a lot of development to find the right balance. In the end, we divided up monster behaviors into Sets and Patterns. Attack Sets are broad groups of attacks using the same big idea or weapon. These also tend to have similar effects and results. For example, a series of 3 attacks with a monster's claws, or with a flaming brand, or using traps in the arena, would form an attack set.
Within the attack set are Patterns. These are variants of the Attack Set's core theme. The flaming brand, for example, might always involve the monster stepping in and might always cause fire. Pattern A might be a straightforward attack that hits the monster's main threat area. Attack C might be an instant kill move that targets a very specific area of that range. Attack B might be an overhead that can't be blocked, and hits a slightly different range than the first attack. All these Patterns are effectively the same–hitting with that fiery brand and setting the stage on fire–but their different ranges keep players on their toes.
When playing against the monster, we reveal what attack sets the monster will do, and when. The hunters can see that the enemy is reaching for their weapon, or lunging in for a grab attack, or sweeping back with its claws, and this innate understanding of the nature of the attacks lets them know how to prepare for what's coming next.
Very early on, we realized that monsters need to be doing something even when they don't have a legitimate attack to play. With this in mind, we created Instinct Effects. These effects replace the second and third part of a Monster's attack if the monster realizes that there are no valid targets within its threatened range.
Instincts often fill the arena with hazards, move the monster closer to its primary target, or spawn minions to assist the big bad. While Instincts are as varied as the monsters that perform them, they all have the same basic function: to restrict player options and raise the stakes of the monster's next attack.
Maintaining threat in combat is important, but we also needed to make sure that monsters were constantly increasing the global threat level of the fight. Battling with supernatural creatures isn't a sustainable affair, and we want to make sure that hunters are working to end a fight quickly. Each time a monster finishes its 'routine' of attacks, it performs a powerful Finisher Move which escalates the battle and forces the fight toward its inevitable conclusion.
Some monsters place permanent traps, effectively reducing the size of the arena. Others inflict unavoidable damage that hunters just need to be prepared to mitigate. There are even a few monsters that start to break down themselves, and hunters can use their finishers against them just by surviving long enough.
As I mentioned in some previous posts, monsters scale to meet the hunters by making more attacks once more curses are in play. As hunters defeat more monsters, they acquire curses in their decks, which will trigger the monster more often. Scaling up with more hunters, this system works well. Later monsters feel more difficult to fight, and hunters have to rely more on strategy than good draws as their decks become more diluted by curses.
In solo mode, things tilt a bit in the other direction. Without the chaos and uncertainty of another players' choices, things can get stagnant. For this reason, we created several different levels of difficulty for the game, so players of different skill can participate. Of course, due to the nature of this game, even the basic mode is pretty tough.
In Paladin Difficulty ("Hard" Mode, which is also the recommended base difficulty for single player), we introduce pattern tiles that cause the monster to attack an extra time, throwing off calculations the player may have set up. We may introduce other kinds of tiles which alter the monster's behavior in new ways as development progresses. It's an exciting area that the development team is still exploring.
Monster Design Worksheet
In order to help us keep all these different factors in mind when designing a monster combat encounter, I created a Monster Design Worksheet and filled it in with data for each of the enemies that players were set to encounter in the game. These worksheets proved to be an invaluable guide when designing monster attacks and creating the that would support them.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at how we’ve created interesting and challenging combat within Seventh Cross!