What Makes Combat Fun: Tips From A Combat Designer

Mike Birkhead 11:33 pm on September 19, 2011 Counting comments...

I have covered a lot of different topics about combat: How to unless core, be spelled out.

This battle of options, constraints, and clarity can feel Herculean. We provide our player with as many tools as possible, but never so many that he is overwhelmed with too much choice; we constrain the player in various situations, but never so much that we remove all choice and personality; lastly, we communicate with clarity, but never in a way that removes all doubt and discovery. Like zen teachers we are constantly in search of the middle road, and there is some wisdom in that; as one of my favorite quotes says, “Add things until it starts sucking, take things away until it stops getting better.”


Combat is at its best when you provide the player with multiple valid Intentions and Action Sequences, and then constrain them through the situational context of their Goals, their Environment, and their Opponents. It sounds simple, when you read it, but we both know that it is not.

Admittedly, I tend to write with great force — all “musts” and “requires” — but know that this is not a rule. It is simply a tool, a guide, and like all tools it has its time and place. Take comfort in it, as in all likelihood it will guide you to the right questions, but do not become married to it. Look at the combat you are designing and ask the good questions: ask yourself for a list of the intentions; ask what constraints you can impose; ask what happens if you change the goals; ask if you are showing it all with clarity. Most of all, though, ask if you are having fun. You can’t go wrong with that.