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When Fist Meets Face - Momentum

In the greatest comic book fights, we are witness to battles of epic proportions. When titans clash, only one can remain standing! As the battle stretches out, the warriors often seem to become energized by the vigor of the challenge, drawing out new levels of power in order to win. They seem to grow in direct response to the battle, and the combat becomes almost mythological.

Giving players magnitude is easy. But part of what makes these battles super is the acceleration. It's as much about where you start as where you finish, and the gap between the two. It's about a sense of pushing your limits, going as far as you possibly could, and then taking a step beyond. Sometimes that means you wind up on the floor, defeated, but the wreckage behind shows that you had a heck of a time getting there.

Carrying that feeling over to a video game is a difficult challenge which can be taken many different ways. Many modern games have used “Action MMO” systems, adapting techniques and methods from First Person Shooters and incorporating them into the role-playing game. Others have tried build-up effects, where combat fills a bar to enable powers. And yet others use quick time events to create a canned response chain, animation or effect. While these methods can increase the pacing, it can also feel hollow – you're not truly being more epic, you're just being more active so you don't notice the sameness. Your enemies do the same things from the beginning of the fight to the end, and so do you.

We are not doing any of these

Rather than trying to adapt the techniques of the FPS, limiting powers to a build-up container, or using fancy special effect tricks, we took on the challenge of how to adapt ideas found there and in other innovative titles and use them in new, novel ways. Lots of research, lots of examination, lots of number crunching involved. But we came up with a solution we think everyone will enjoy.

We call it “Momentum.”

Momentum is another statistic bar, like Health and Energy, but unlike those two, it starts off at 0%. When you engage in combat, taking damage, triggering powers, be they attack, defense, buff, debuff, control - whatever your build does to win a fight - your momentum builds. Like health and energy, momentum, when not in active use, “heals.” Health and Energy heal back to full. Momentum slowly drops back to 0%. But it's not a total loss - Momentum bleed-off turns into Reserves – that extra jolt of willpower, of capability, of heroic might which allows you to temporarily boost your abilities over and beyond what even your powers grant for a brief moment. Those of you from our old home know how inspiring this can be
(Reserves are going to be discussed in detail in a future update.).

Momentum is thematically generic: it can mean whatever you want. Is it your lyrical flow? Keeping your Ki focused? Your character getting angrier the more he fights? Learning the tactics of your enemies and striking them in their weak spots? Believing in the will of the cards? Thematically it doesn't matter what you, the player, decide to call it - the mechanics are the same but the story is yours.

But what, mechanically, does Momentum do? Well, that depends. Momentum is our wild card meter. It exists for all characters. But different powers and masteries will use it differently. Some will use it in predictable ways, adding damage or reducing endurance cost for instance. Other sets or masteries use Momentum for global buffs or attribute shifts. And yet others actually burn Momentum for super-powerful actions, turning your basic PBAoE into a nuke, or allowing your single target control to overcome the resistance of the most powerful archvillain. By balancing between what burns Momentum and what uses it, we can ensure nothing becomes overpowering, while allowing you that heady sense of growing power, of rising to the occasion, superhuman style.

Momentum can apply to any set, be it defense, support, ranged, pet, control. We have ideas on the table to do stranger things, but we're leaving those for a future update, once we've got them better nailed down. Let us just say some of them allows you to hit them where it hurts.

Momentum is not just for PC's. Your enemies gain momentum as well. Of course a Minion class mob has such low limits it hardly matters. But a supervillain is a different story. What a supervillian can do with a full bar of Momentum can change the entire course of the battle. How you handle that will, of course, depend on your character or team.

But it's not just about how the supervillain will burn his momentum. Its momentum levels will affect other things too. Their tactics, which powers they use in what combinations, their entire style of combat will respond to their momentum. Instead of your big boss fight being against a giant bag of hitpoints with nasty unique-powers requiring warning signs, you now get a dynamic battle, one where the opponent responds to the pace of combat itself. Run and gun fights produce less momentum than in-your face battles, resulting in your opponent responding appropriately. While it will take much playtesting to perfect, the enemy AI can be programmed to use momentum to change its reactions, attack chains, and power combinations, all to match the fight at hand.

So two groups facing the same enemy may not have the same reaction sequence, or face the same attack chain or power combinations – it all depends on your PC or your team. This ability to adapt also neatly avoids the whole “We need a Battle Thief for Magma Chamber” problem we find with other games. Different player builds give different combat results, enabling adaptation without relying upon traditional MMO raid gimmicks.

Why should “The Sleeping Dragon uses Deathtouch after it rears on its rear legs and roars once past ¼ health” be the only way for game designers to challenge their players?

Momentum adds the dynamic of action packed combat without the need for ActionMMO controls or locked-out powers. It also adds an element around which you can further define your character, and allows us to 'see' how you have done so and give the game world a way to respond. And it enables more dynamic boss battles without relying on the crutch of pregenerated routines to give a challenge.

See you next time, and let's carry the momentum forward.

Written by - Nathaniel 'Doctor Tyche' Downes

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