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The Basic Philosophy Behind Witchfire's Combat

What do games like Dead Cells and Dark Souls have in common and how Destiny and Call of Duty are on the opposite side of the spectrum?

If you said health, you’re right, but that’s just the beginning. Indeed, the first two games don’t have a regenerating health as the core element of the experience, and the other two do.

But what does it really mean? What does it really translate to?

To me, it’s about the way the player feels responsible for their actions. It’s a difference between “the game got me” and “I made an error”.

In Destiny 1, there was a mission you had to finish in order to get a certain great weapon. Here’s an example playthrough. Notice how the player is in the red – near death – through most of the playthrough. That’s because there’s constant pressure from the enemies, most with long range attacks, and it’s basically impossible to avoid the enemy fire all the time.

There are good things about the regenerating health. It’s a pro-action solution. Not worried about your precious health that much, it’s easier to make a decision to push and Rambo.

The downside is that the game needs to cheat and the rules become fuzzy. High enemy pressure and the player constantly getting damaged mean dying quickly. To remedy that, most or even all of such games have a feature than drastically reduces the damage when you’re near death and your screen flashes red. All to give you enough time to find the cover and heal.

The problem is, not only this changes the rules in an arbitrary way, but sometimes you get a random extra damage and die, despite the fact that in the past you survived 90% of other seemingly identical encounters.

In cases like that, you feel like “the game got me”. You don’t feel fully responsible for your death.

The non-regenerating health keeps things clean, the rules stay the same. If there’s a boss with 20 Damage per hit, and you’re 19 Health, you know you won’t survive it. If you’re 21, you can afford getting hit once. Nice and clean.

The other extra benefit of non-regen is the tension. Being near death and having to beat three enemies on your way to the health pack can be an exhilarating but fantastic experience. And you know that if you fail, it was your fault. “I made an error”.

But there are downsides to it, too. If every health point is so precious, it promotes a campy, safe playstyle, especially in shooters. Why would I Leeroy Jenkins with a shotgun and risk damage if I can safely shoot the enemy from a distance with a sniper rifle?

Still, at the moment we prefer the “I made an error” approach. Internally, we call it a “no damage run” approach, because in theory, it allows the player to finish the game without being hit once. Sure, of course only the absolute best of the best will be able to achieve it (here’s an example from Bloodborne) but such approach dictates the entire design philosophy behind the combat.

Here are some very basic and simple examples. Ignore the UI, numbers floating off enemies, lack of damage effects, etc. – this is all from our internal work in progress builds.

Clip 1: You just stand there, and get hit. No screen flash and camera shake implemented yet, so it looks like the player moved back — but it’s the push from the sword attack. You do not react in time, you get hit. Shocking, I know. The point is: damage received is the player’s fault.

Clip 2: The enemy attacks, you try to defend yourself and shoot him. You get a 55 HP body hit, you miss the second shot. That’s neither critical damage nor enough damage (in a certain time frame) to cancel the enemy attack, so he executes the attack and you get hit. Again, damage received is the player’s fault (but at least you put some damage into the enemy too).

Clip 3: The enemy attacks, but you react in time and dash back. No damage received, and you create space between you and the enemy. It’s now easier to finish him off before he closes the gap. Easy to execute, no immediate big gain, but still, better than getting hit.

Clip 4: Charged melee attack cancels the enemy attack. Medium reward (120 damage plus pushback but you emptied a powerful shockwave melee on a single enemy), medium risk (if you timed the melee wrong when approaching the enemy, you would get hit).

Clip 5: The enemy attacks, you try to defend yourself and shoot him in the head (ignore that placeholder particle effect). Executed properly, you remain healthy, you cancel the enemy attack, and he gets 99 damage in just one shot. High reward and most efficient move out of all presented (spent just a single bullet, high damage, melee remains charged) but also of high risk, as it requires more skill than the two previous moves to pull off.

This is all very basic but the point was to show the core design thought behind the fair fights, the outcome of which depends entirely on the player choices and skill.

If you now multiply the enemies and multiply the tools to your disposal (because obviously a hand cannon, a dash, and a shockwave melee are just a small part of the arsenal, we’re yet to unveil the rest), you’ll see that what we’re after is a dance of death the outcome of which is 100% up to you and your decision-making. Long story short, if you juggle the weapons and abilities properly, you should be able to win the fight unscathed.

To further emphasize the concept, let’s talk ranged enemy weapons. At least for now, they are all telegraphed (you can see the enemy aiming and charging the weapon) and projectile-based (bullets have travel time), not hit-scans (no travel time for the bullets, instant hit).

This allows for multiple levels of the player’s reaction, as you can avoid getting shot when the enemy is charging the shot (dash/run to cover, counter-attack, etc.) or even when the shot is already fired (juke the incoming bullet, shoot it down, apply protective spell, etc.). With options like these, getting hit feels more like “I made an error” than “the game got me” (if the attacks were hit-scans).

So this is our core “fair fight” philosophy behind the encounters. The “no damage” run possibility (for now more of a concept than something we’re sure will be in the final game) is a nice bonus but the real reason for our approach is we believe that if the player always feels like the punishment was due to their own error (missed a crit shot, didn’t react in time with an ability, tried to use an uncharged ability, didn’t step out of the way of a bullet, etc.), it provides for a more engaging experience.

In reality, you will get damaged, and it’s going to be extremely hard and bordering on impossible to remain at full health all the time (and you will die a lot, too). We will provide multiple ways to deal with health replenishment, but again, the point is not to center the design around the value of the health but around the feeling of fairness in the fight due to exceptionless rules and the player’s ability to react depending entirely on their own decision-making and manual skills.

Question of the Week

Combat, some smaller puzzles (like secrets to figure out), and there will be a big non-combat layer, too. But the game is not a combat/puzzle hybrid like, say, God of War.

Side note: it’s just Witchfire, not WitchFire. We understand when people writing it this way come from, many game titles come in XxxxXxxx format. But in our case, it’s just Wichfire. It’s actually a real, non made-up word[1]

[1] Yes, I know, all words are made-up. But you know what I mean.

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