On January 9th we went to the Mount-Royal Game Society meetup at the Royal Phoenix in Montreal. There were demos to watch, beers to drink, and impromptu play-tests to conduct! We loaded a work-in-progress build of the Canto combat prototype onto a laptop and brought it along.
We grabbed a bunch of people to try out the combat and we got a lot of good observations. We have been playing our build internally for many months now but it’s great to see what happens when new players give it a shot.
Our combat system is certainly tuned a bit more to the hardcore side; the enemy creatures have plenty of punishment moves and they love to use them. But one thing we noticed pretty consistently was that new players really didn’t feel incentivised to explore the combo system. Despite there being a pretty flexible two-button mash flow, we saw a trend of players sticking to the primary attack and hammering it as quickly as possible. Unfortunately the combo finishers are triggered with the secondary attack at the end of a chain, and a lot of player damage output is lost if the finishers aren’t used, making battles take much longer than they should be.
I’ve got some theories about why players bounced off the combo mechanics. Firstly, since we demoed the mouse & keyboard control mode, primary attack is on Left Mouse and secondary is on Right Mouse. It’s actually pretty tiring from an ergonomics point of view to keep hitting RMB in the middle of the mash flow. It would probably be much easier for players using a gamepad (we’ll remember to bring one to our next location test!).
Unfortunately just asking players to use gamepads isn’t a great solution for us since we’re targeting PC first and foremost. We can’t guarantee our players will have controllers. So we are trying something else.
For the rest of this week, we have been experimenting with a more streamlined mash flow, removing the secondary attack inputs from the standard chains. This new approach is more like the control scheme used in Devil May Cry 4 which uses a single Attack button for most combos (disregarding the Buster Claw thing and the firearms), but instead relies on context sensitivity and gap-timing to produce more interesting combo chains.
Another change we’re trying out is allowing pre-hit-frame dodge cancels from most of the player attacks. We still prevent dodges during the actual hit frames, then allow dodge cancels as soon as the hit frames are done (with some input buffering of course). This makes it a lot easier to dodge enemy attacks but still requires the player to commit to at least part of their attack animations. This keeps some of the “hardcore” feeling we are trying to preserve while hopefully mitigating some player frustration.
The results of these changes are pretty promising, and have given me a good excuse to go back and tighten up a bunch of combat animations. We’ll run our internal weekend playtest with these changes and see how they feel to our band of “seasoned vets”.
It was a blast seeing all the games being demoed at MRGS on Wednesday and thanks to everyone who came over to check out our build!