What Makes Video Game Combat Feels So Good

The first time you dove into a gang of thugs in Batman: Arkham Asylum or lobbed a few grenades then switched to a Needler against the Covenant in Halo: Combat Evolved, you knew. You knew that something about the fighting mechanics of the game felt so good that you were hooked. But what exactly was the secret formula that made the combat feel so satisfying, you wondered?

Designer Sébastien Lambottin — who works at Ubisoft's Montreal studio — asked himself the same thing and the answers he came up with went into a great article about the design of combat systems that's up on Gamasutra:

The main objective we have in mind when we design the gameplay mechanics of a combat system is to push the player to make clever choices and use the right ability at the right time. We want the player to be able to anticipate the next action he'll perform and also to develop a tactical plan during the combat.

There are many ways to reach this result, but here are two very important characteristics which help to design the player's abilities for a combat system:

• Each ability has a unique function: hit a specific area, stun an enemy…

• Each ability is balanced with the reward vs. the risk of using it.

Lambottin hits on something when discussing the trial-and-error method which many players use to feel out just what they can do:

As mentioned earlier, when we design a combat system, we are really aiming to challenge the cleverness of the player, and the tactics he'll be able to apply during the battle. So basically we want a system with multiple choices, but in which the player has to evaluate and choose the best option for each situation.

He also offers some illuminating slides about how balance work, too. The next time I really enjoy the combat systems in a video game, Lambottin's article will be knocking around in the back of my mind.

The Fundamental Pillars of a Combat System [Gamasutra]


    A heavy sweep is more risky and does less damage than a Hadoken.

    And by less damage I mean more damage...

    Any system that gives you the freedom of fighting how you would want to fight in a real time 3d space, with a simple control system that give u options.
    Entering combo codes, does not feel as good as hitting face buttons to react to each movement like in batman. I'm glad there are games who have evolved past that.
    The 3rd person view is also a lot closer to reality in terms of peripheral version and body awareness, that also makes combat feel better overall and look better.
    I think the best combat so far has been the ones that let you interact with the enemies and environment the most, like Dragons dogma, Sleeping dogs, and Arkham (probably in that order). Not just shooting enemies from a distance.

      I agree with your view on 3rd person perspectives

    I found the combat in arkham to be really boring. Everything is so automated, it's like a glorified series of quicktime events. It worked when you combined it with the stealth system, but those "room full of baddies" were lame.

      Did you play NG+? It's a hell of a lot tougher (and more fun) when you aren't given warning that you're going to be punched...

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