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Expeditions: Rome Dev Diary #13 - Building a Great Combat Encounter

Expeditions: Rome Dev Diary #13 - Building a Great Combat Encounter

Development Info - posted by Infinitron on Tue 21 December 2021, 22:52:48

Tags: Expeditions: Rome; Logic Artists; THQ Nordic

The esteemed members of our community tried out the Expeditions: Rome demo this weekend and shared their impressions. The game has clearly been casualized and the included tutorial scenario is rather linear, but it seems decent enough in most other respects. With the launch date approaching, THQ Nordic aren't slowing down their promotional efforts. On Sunday they released a new combat trailer that introduces the basics of Rome's combat system and offers a glimpse at a few advanced tactics as well. They've followed that up with the game's thirteenth dev diary, which is all about encounter design. Logic Artists aim to make every encounter in the game a set-piece battle with multiple paths, verticality and interactive environments. Here's that new trailer and an excerpt from the dev diary:

In Expeditions, every new level begins with a narrative context. Even a random encounter level or a purely combat-focused so-called “pacification quest” level will have some snippet of story associated with it that helps guide the creativity of the world builder. This isn’t just about placing the level geographically so the environment artists will know what kind of nature or architecture to sculpt. At the earliest stage it’s just as much about creating a feeling in the player. A bustling overpopulated metropolis on the banks of the Nile will need a very different layout than a small quiet fishing village on the coast of the Sea of Marmara.

This nebulous yet crucial idea of “feel” will also inform the combat design in important ways. Overwhelming the player with the size and freedom of choice of a wide-open battlefield, or making them feel claustrophobic and limited in a smaller room, are important ways to sell the fantasy of a particular scene. A mix of open spaces with narrow corridors and chokepoints creates variation between encounters and gives the player a choice of fighting somewhere that fits their tactical play style.

No design choice is purely about gameplay in a game as story-driven as Rome, but the gameplay is generally the most important aspect of level design. Pathing choices is one of the driving factors when setting up an encounter area: by placing small islands of obstacles in an open space, we create smaller paths that lead to the same area. When faced with multiple paths, the player begins to think about why they should go left or right. That choice can be based on enemy positioning, what cover is provided along either path, or if one path is slightly longer than the other. Conversely, an open space gives the player more freedom to manoeuvre around enemies, but also makes it more difficult to control enemy movement and positioning.

Height differences have also been a huge focus for us this time around. Encounters in Expeditions: Viking usually took place on flat planes, and several mechanics in the game were designed around that relatively 2-dimensional landscape. In Rome, we wanted to use elevation better, which involved redesigning ranged attacks to use a real line-of-sight check and giving archers a bonus to their range from high ground. The most important piece of that puzzle was to make sure the levels themselves offered high ground and permitted vertical movement.

Designing levels with plenty of vertical elements such as cliffs or scaffolds creates a height difference that separates hexes from each other by their edges instead of needing to place an empty hex between them. This is another, different form of pathing choice. A landscape with a lot of verticality will block the player’s vision and occasionally force the player to rotate the camera to see the encounter area from a different angle, which gives the player new ideas for how they could approach a problem they’re trying to solve.

We also added new ways to traverse those new obstacles, in the form of ladders and jump points. Using a ladder as a shortcut while another character flanks around makes you feel smart, as does spotting a jump point to get quickly from an elevated platform to a lower position. Not only does jumping off a cliff look and feel cool, it connects the different paths of an encounter area in interesting ways since you can typically only jump in one direction (thanks gravity).

Traversal isn’t the only way to interact with the environment, however. We’ve also implemented a host of new combat objects to use during an encounter. Many combat objects allow you to pick up tactical items just until the end of combat, such as torches from a bonfire, water from a well, or bandages from a medicine box. Other objects can change the battlefield if damaged, such as oil jars which can make someone’s day a lot worse if targeted with a fire arrow.

The dev diary also includes descriptions of two actual encounters from the game that demonstrate these qualities. Good stuff. As usual, a dev stream about this topic is scheduled for Wednesday, on December 22nd.

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