Fight Back!… Or Don’t

Run Away!

Run Away!

Let me talk for a second about violence in games again. Most games emphasize fighting over all other mechanics, and it’s actually fairly rare that games take the time to try and offer a different kind of conflict resolution. We’ve seen sophisticated beatings and rampant gun fights, crashing cars, explosives and every other form of combat you can think of. It’s very easy to take a heavily established system like guns or brawling, modify it somehow (a gimmick) and then make it work again as something sorta new. That’s how most of the game industry works — the difference between an original gimmick and a boring one is how much it changes.

So let’s talk for a second about non-combat resolution. As I’m sure everyone knows, there are two basic responses to danger; fight or flight. Let’s start with flight.

Fleeing is as non-combat is it gets. Running away isn’t often made in to a viable mechanic in most games. Some that do include Mirror’s Edge and Grand Theft Auto, to start. Mirror’s Edge made running an option by basing it’s mechanics around the parkour — moving rapidly over urban terrain. By making movement a fluid action, running becomes a natural sensation.

With GTA, however, the movement has always been a little basic, but the ability to flee is established across all of the games — it’s even encourages. While part of the fun in GTA is causing as much damage as you can as fast as possible and racking up a huge Wanted level, the solution to any conflict with the cops is actually NEVER combat. Killing cops just makes things worse, so this just encourages players to get greasy and creative. Solutions have included running away as fast and far as you can, but also hiding, disguise, bribery and the ever popular dying. Running and hiding normally bare the best results, and have the most flexibility in terms of when they can be used and how, so they become options players get skilled with.

Of course, fleeing isn’t the only thing you can use that could be described as ‘flight’. There’s also stealth; letting players move in to an unseen location, duck under cover, lock themselves somewhere safe, just for a little while. Hiding and sneaking are both excellent ways to resolve a combat situation, but provide a new problem — what happens when they fail? A character equipped with only stealth abilities may not be able to try again if they’re caught the first time. Sometimes that’s the point, and sometimes success is optional, but regardless it’s something that you need to keep in mind when designing the abilities and scenario.

So what about ‘Fight’ options? We can immediately discount the violent options of actually fighting, but how about non-violence fight options? Incapacitation is an easy one; tying people up, or knocking them out. The Art of Theft is a game that focused on non-combat options; while you could taser your enemies, it was discouraged.

A variant on incapacitation could be mixed with flight; knock things in the way between you and them and run away, eventually the obstacles would stop your enemy all together without actual combat.

And then there’s the non physical options. Diplomacy is one — talking your opponent down. Disguise is another, which while stealthy may involve direct contact with the enemy. It could be possible to confuse or trick your opponent as well; chatting with them, throwing your voice, prestidigitation or slight of hand.

Something to think about. I mean; why haven’t we seen any games about a magician who uses slight of hand and misdirection to evade his opponents? That sounds like a blast, to me.


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