The trap of adding combat to your game

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A thing I’ve realized making non-combat focused games is how expensive combat mechanics often end up being in the end.

If you add combat…

“The basics” to get you in the door take immense effort. Enemy design, encounter design, player design, attack/defense systems, game feel, all the art and fx.

Then once you’ve got your combat system stood up, you are still competing again thousands of games that are roughly equivalent. It is the indie puzzle platformer swamp writ large. Lotsa substitute products. Trivial switching costs away from your game.

And of those 1000s, a handful of dominant titles are beloved hobbies. Players are fans of specific game feel often tuned over decades. The tiniest aesthetic deviation invalidates all your labor.

Balance your game for 12 months, still get comments like “feels floaty. sux.”

What experience do you really want to design towards?

And the amusing part is most of the clever differentiators that I care about exploring as a designer have nothing to do with combat. Story, progression, building, discovery, social systems, emergence?

You only really get to work on those after you overcome the Olympic-level challenge to ‘make combat perfect’. Often your inclusion of ‘a little combat’ ends up starving your actual design dreams of precious development resources.

So combat becomes this trap for many types of games.

  • You have to have it. Because that’s the expected core mechanic.
  • But it is going to be overly expensive.
  • And no one will like it.
  • And it will prevent you from making the systems you wanted to make in the first place.

– Danc.

(This was originally a Twitter thread:

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