Features and Philosophy, Part Three



This is our third entry on the Features and Philosophy behind Unchained Heroes. The first post was on the Gamer VS Roleplayer divide and how it is handled by Unchained Heroes, you can find it here. The second post was on the Philosophies behind equipment; you can find that here. This installment will be about the Timeline VS Turns mentality. Unchained Heroes features the concept of the Combat Timeline and the Real Time Combat Engine, the philosophy behind it is that by using a dynamic action structure, players will be more engaged with the events of the encounter. This came about because of my own failings, one of those being a tendency to “check out” when it was not my turn and start doing something else. Another reason for this was the idea that turn order could put players at a tremendous disadvantage without options to respond to the threats they faced. My philosophy on actions would be two-fold for combat scenarios: we needed a way to engage the attention of all players and we needed to give them real options when threats emerged.

Enter the Real Time Combat Engine

I wanted to promote player engagement by giving them control of the pace of the battle rather than it being entirely in the hands of the Gamemaster. There are many different ways to accomplish this, but I felt that the best way of doing this was through the use of what I call, the Real Time Combat Engine. For those of you who are familiar with the Square Enix title Final Fantasy 10 you have seen the Real Time Combat Engine in action via a video game. It is the closest visual comparison to the system that I can give you. When you play Unchained Heroes, the time it takes to perform your action is almost as important as the action itself. I don’t plan on going in depth on the Real Time Combat Engine here; I intend to explain the why I made these choices and how it is a strong feature of the game.

Matching Intent to Practice

Those of you familiar with Turn based games also understand a concept that your turn can be divided up into different action types, most often: a minor, a major, and a move action. In most games, a player might be able to perform 1 Move Action and 1 Major Action. You might also be allowed 2 Minor Actions instead of a Move or a Major. This gives you options, the concept is that in your 6 to 10 second turn you can do a bunch of little things or one big thing. This is a very good strategy, but it doesn’t match the philosophy that Unchained Heroes is built upon. While it may give you options on your turn, it doesn’t make you any more engaged during the rest of the time, and it doesn’t give you the chance to respond to threats on other turns. There are methods around this, but Unchained Heroes goes straight to the heart of the matter, timing. If you put the players in control of the timing, their attention changes drastically. If they get to choose the “When,” each moment takes on a new intensity.

The Real Time Combat Engine uses Combat Timelines and Action Times to give players the option to choose “When.” They can do a high frequency of actions to try to trigger effects and get a particular combo, or they can take their time to perform an ability with a lot more punch in a single instant. On top of all that, we give them Reactions and Instants to put them even more in control. A player might be able to say, “I am going to time my action to occur the second that this status effect disappears.” They could also start an action so it lands on a particular moment; for example, the interval before an opponent gets to perform their action. The tactical reasons for each example aside, there are usually penalties to doing something like this in a turn based game such as: delaying actions, forcing initiative rerolls, or there might not be an option to do this at all.

Reducing the Opportunity Cost

When you do something, you can’t be doing another thing. Sounds obvious right? This is summed up as Opportunity Cost. When we talk about turns, it is very clear how much your Opportunity Cost is going to be each round. It doesn’t fluctuate very much. For example, casting a status ailment on a foe means you can’t do anything else for one round. Performing an attack on a foe means you can’t do anything else for one round either. If you are a fighting melee class, this model may not always apply, sometimes it isn’t one action for one action, it might be multiple actions compared to one good action. For example, as a fighter, you might get 3 attacks per turn, but you have a great debuff that most people want on a monster. In this case, the Opportunity cost is not so clear cut, you might want to perform 3 attacks to whittle down the monster, but if you perform that status effect, the rest of your team is happier and it buffs their damage. What do you do? If I was that melee fighter, I would say that the Opportunity Cost for that status effect is too high. I would rather perform 3 attacks on my turn because my saying is, “A dead enemy deals no damage.” As a fighter, I am good at hitting things, so let me do that. This can happen a lot in a turn based game. That is where the feature and philosophies of Unchained Heroes can help remedy this situation. It is not a 100% cure, but it we reduce the occurrences of this scenario with the Real Time Combat Engine and the Combat Timeline.

Action Times Save the Day

It has been identified in many games that not all actions are created equally. We talked about that it is a good mechanic to use minor and major actions to remedy that, but it is not in tune with the Unchained Heroes combat philosophies. Each action should have tactical significance, have an opportunity cost that fits the situation, and not feel like a chore to perform. To get in tune with that, we use Action Times.

Action Times are the RTC Engine way of mitigating the tactical significance/opportunity cost/chore trifecta. You will always be in situations where you will lose some damage output or combat effectiveness one way or the other, but with Action Times, you have a granular control over how much time you spend. The Unchained Heroes Philosophy is that most buffing and debuffing actions are not that fun, most people would rather do something action packed like dealing damage or knocking a foe off their feet. For that reason, we made the Action Times of status effects (buffs and debuffs) very short and have long durations. This means you spend a short time to apply a status effect and then they last a long time, so you can do the fun stuff in battle. The flipside of that is also true, if you suffer from a terrible affliction put on you by your opponent, you can spend a short period of time to remove it. Either way, the Action Time is short and it keeps you close to the battle. The Action Times are meant to reduce your opportunity costs during combat.

Every action you perform in Unchained Heroes is meant to have tactical significance, so even if you perform a fast action, it can be produce very significant changes to the battlefield. The actions you perform are designed with the idea that even being a debuffer won’t be a chore. The decision to perform one action over the other is going to be important, but won’t stop you from getting in the thick of things. You might be able to get in 3 actions before your opponent, whittling away at their effectiveness for the rest of the battle. The intent is that helping the team will be as satisfying as helping yourself. As a role-playing game, we play this together; someone always needs to play defense, it doesn’t mean they need to be bored doing it.

Even if all you want to do is attack your opponent, you are given interesting choices with RTCS. At the most basic level, a fast weapon does a few things: it gives you more chances to perform a critical effect, it allows special effects to trigger more often, and it gives a sense of speed and accomplishment. A slow weapon packs more “bang for your buck” into each strike, it benefits highly from abilities that reduce its action times, and makes it harder for people to recover from burst damage. With Unchained Heroes, you can even coordinate all your attacks to occur in the same moment, such as when your opponent’s impenetrable defenses are down for a split second. There are many more details that involve weapon speeds and timing specific to Unchained Heroes, the previous examples are just general aspects.

More Control means better ability to React

I often felt that when it was not my turn, I had no control. I couldn’t really even nudge things into my control, the Combat Timeline was my feature to change that. This level of control is illustrated in the moments when you can perform multiple actions before a specific moment on the Timeline. Lets take the moment a Dragon is going to spray the battlefield with sulfuric fire as an example. They might be using their Breath Weapon at Time Interval 20 and you are at TI 2. You have 18 Time intervals from your current TI to then. Armed with that knowledge, you can arrange your actions in such a way to prepare for the oncoming assault. You could use 3 heal spells and top everyone off, perform a number of actions and then stun the dragon the moment before their breath weapon goes off, or you can drink enough energy potions so you can do your magical shield that absorbs all damage. You get 18 Time Intervals to pack in whatever you can think of doing, in whatever order you want. That is a lot of power, and it is in the hands of you as a player.

All in One

The Combat Timeline is a feature that maintains all the aspects of the philosophies that I hold dear in a battle scenario. You get active participation, you can make tactical choices, you feel in control at each moment, your opportunity costs for helping the group are low, and all of this is done with simple math. Turns will always be a staple of RPGs, the Combat Timeline of Unchained Heroes just gives you another option.


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