Godzilla Unleashed Designer Diary #5 - The Fighting System

Simon Strange from Pipeworks Software talks to us about the combat system and controls in the now almost-finished Godzilla Unleashed.

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Godzilla Unleashed's release date is now less than a month away and so, unsurprisingly, the game is all but finished. In this our penultimate designer diary from the team at Pipeworks Software, lead character designer Simon Strange talks about the game's all-important combat and control systems.

The Fighting System

By Simon Strange
Lead Character Designer, Pipeworks Software

We're up to the fifth of our ongoing columns on Godzilla Unleashed on the Wii, and we think it's time to go into detail about the final version of the controls that folks will be using to play the game this fall. The controls have been pretty volatile throughout the project, which has been one of the most exciting challenges for us. Since we rebuilt 100 percent of our animations, characters, and environments for this game, the field was wide open for any and all control innovations.

Since we didn't know from the outset exactly what our controls would be--and thus what abilities our characters might have--we had to start out building for all possible scenarios, which meant that we had to throw a significant amount of stuff away as we nailed down exactly how people would play the game. Over time, we got closer and closer to our final configuration and were able to build new characters more and more efficiently. That meant more monsters in the finished product--but more monsters means more controls exceptions, which meant that each monster actually forced us to adjust the controls slightly. That process was a major driving force behind our schedule and final monster list.

You can play Godzilla unleashed as a tradition side-view 3D fighter…
You can play Godzilla unleashed as a tradition side-view 3D fighter…

What sort of game is this, anyway?
Pipeworks and Atari have collaborated on three of these Godzilla games now, and most people call them fighting games. They play very well as traditional side-view 3D fighters, like Virtua Fighter, Soul Calibur, and Tekken. But they can also be played as four-player games, with an isometric camera view--and in this mode, people tend to play them as madcap action games--more in the vein of Super Smash Brothers, Power Stone, Gauntlet, or King of the Monsters. In Godzilla: Save the Earth, we also started to introduce an over-the-shoulder perspective, which made parts of our game play like a lumbering version of action titles like Grand Theft Auto or Jak and Daxter. Very few games use multiple styles like this, and nobody is crazy enough to use a single control scheme to drive all three. We tried it in Save the Earth, and I think critics and players will agree that there were some problems with our action-perspective gameplay elements.

But we're always ambitious, and with three-plus years of Godzilla experience under our belts, we thought we had a chance to develop a whole new game, and get the action elements right, and totally revise the combat system, and implement a new type of dynamic story, and make up a new control scheme to drive the whole thing.

Wii to the rescue!
Almost all games have more things to do than controllers have buttons to do them with. There are three ways you get more abilities with the fixed number of buttons: 1) You put multiple actions on a single button. 2) You use multi-input controls for some actions (we call these chorded actions). 3) You make actions context-sensitive. We've used all of these solutions to some degree on past Godzilla games, and each has their own advantages and weaknesses. The Wii has fewer buttons than the controllers used to drive previous Godzilla games, so we knew that we'd need to strongly consider each of these options. We quickly decided to avoid the first option because it decreases clarity and makes the game hard to learn. Our first Godzilla game suffered from this with the run/duck button. People would press it, see their monsters duck, and then walk slowly forever. We wanted to avoid that this time around.

Context-sensitive options are also a problem because you can't experiment with them and figure out what controls do what ahead of time. Our primary context-sensitive action is grab. Godzilla and company can grab other monsters, or they can grab buildings off the ground and use them as long-range missiles. As you move around the world, buildings will flash to indicate that if you pressed grab, you would grab the building rather than try to grab a monster. That has been clear to players, so we kept that system in place, with the small change that buildings now flash white--not pink.

…or as an isometric game supporting up to four players.
…or as an isometric game supporting up to four players.

We used chorded actions a ton in the first two Godzilla games--most fighting games do. Press A for a basic punch, but tap "Up" on the stick and press A for an uppercut. Tap "down" on the stick and press A to get a hammerfist. That's pretty standard fighting fare. Many series of games are differentiated almost entirely by what sort of chorded actions they use. We used Up-Down-Away-Toward as our primary modifiers to attacks. "Away" and "Toward" are based on the fact that the camera usually has you on the left or right side of the screen, facing your opponent.

But "Away" and "Toward" don't make any sense when the camera is behind you--and we knew that would be happening a lot in our new game. Another problem was that tapping the stick, even for an instant, would turn your monster to face that direction, which often made the attack miss. We could solve this by locking monsters to face one another, but that almost totally eliminated a player's ability to navigate the environment during a fight. That was exactly the case we tried to solve with our old run/duck button, and we didn't want to go down that path again. All of this pointed to the fact that the control stick couldn't be used to chord different attacks together. We seriously considered cutting back to six attacks per monster but ultimately decided that we would lose too much of our fighting game feel if we did that.

So instead, we decided to use accelerations on the Wii Remote. We developed a really great system for detecting small-to-modest flicks up, down, left, and right. These replace the control stick flicks from our past games, which frees up the stick to always just control your monster. It also lets us get rid of the "Away"/"Toward" convention--so our attack variations work from all camera perspectives.

Give me more!
The great innovation that ultimately drove the rest of our controls development was the fact that we can now walk with complete control while doing other things with our attacks. We can strafe, brace, jump, run, creep, or just stand still with our left hand and punch, uppercut, kick, stomp, and tail whip with our right. And all of those things play together nicely. Although our past Godzilla games had 15 to 18 attacks per monster, we had to use up three of those attacks especially for jumping. But in our new game, every attack is available at any time--whether jumping or not. We extended this to our weapon system, which is entirely controlled by the C button on the Nunchuk. Not only can monsters attack and move in concert, but they can attack, move, and use their energy as well!

The Wii Remote has purportedly allowed for a more dynamic control scheme than in previous games.
The Wii Remote has purportedly allowed for a more dynamic control scheme than in previous games.

What happened here was that we eliminated our chorded controls, which will allow players to dynamically chord different types of actions on the fly. That is awesome and very exciting. It provides players with a ton of opportunity to do awesome things (throwing a building from the top of your jump or beam fighting while on the ground) without giving everything a different control that must be learned separately. This is going to be one of the highlights of the game and of future Wii games, in general.

Final combat controls
So in the end, we settled on the following scheme: A executes a punch/high attack. B is kick/low attack. A plus B together executes your fierce attacks (tail whips, drill punches, flight attacks), and swinging the Wii Remote together with any of these gives you different variations on those attack themes. Z is brace/strafe, and C charges your energy and fires your weapons. Our final control innovations were two movements--shake the Nunchuk to jump and shake the Nunchuk while braced to rush forward. Rushing is a new mechanic in the game and sure to be another crowd pleaser. Rushing turns your whole body into a weapon, allowing you to move quickly, plow through the environment, and clobber your foes in one fell swoop.

So, despite the fact that we took 10 months to finalize them, our controls ended up being simpler than on any previous Godzilla game.

How the game plays out
So if we have these great animations, environments, controls, and story in place--what is the game actually like? Next time, we'll go into detail about the single-player experience, but today, we'll end with a discussion of how the combat plays out. We're mostly talking about management of health, energy, and your critical meter. You'll see how the new controls make their impact felt in the moment-to-moment battles that are the core of the game. Our goal was to make sure that players would use all three types of basic combat actions--basic attacks, heavy attacks, and weapons.

Monsters have a health bar, but they now also have health cells, which sit above the bar. Taking damage depletes your health bar, just like one might expect. When the bar is depleted, the monster loses a health cell and the health bar is refilled. But it takes a special effort to do the damage necessary to destroy a health cell, which allows monsters with low health to have a fighting chance to come back. Health crystals will refill your health bar completely, which makes them very attractive for monsters that are losing but means they give no advantage to monsters that are fresh to the fight.

In control terms, basic A and B attacks cannot eliminate a health cell, but a Wii Remote swing plus attack can do it. So monsters often use their fastest, basic attacks to rip each other's health bar down and then switch to heavier attacks to try to keep their opponent down.

Beam weapons are powerful but will never actually finish off your opponent.
Beam weapons are powerful but will never actually finish off your opponent.

Weapon attacks are now instant-fire, rather than charge-and-release. They can deal significant damage--their damage grows the longer you hold the beam on your opponent. But beam weapons never eliminate health cells, so long-range combat will never defeat a monster.

Heavy attacks do have a weakness; however, they can be parried. All monsters can parry while braced, and parrying an opponent's attack will cancel the attack and take your opponent out of the fight for a moment. So players who throw nothing but heavy attacks are actually easy to take advantage of. For those wondering--yes, grabs may be parried as well.

The last element is a player's critical meter. This increases whenever you interact with crystals. Collecting health or energy crystals builds a bit of your critical meter. Attacking and damaging crystals builds the meter as well. Destroying a large crystal (there are a limited number of these), puts your monster into an "excited state" during which all damage you give and have inflicted on you builds your critical meter at a rapid rate. When your critical meter hits full, your monster goes critical--gaining size, weight, strength, and making it much, much easier to eliminate an opponent's health cell. The drawback is that you take more damage yourself, and when you drop out of critical, you lose an entire health cell as a penalty.

That's our summary of what moment-to-moment, button-to-punch gameplay is like. Next time, we'll go into more highbrow territory, discussing what sort of decisions players will be making in the story mode and why players might just want to play through the story again, and again, and again.

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