After writing the piece about the way in which Bulletstorm’s scoring system can influence a player’s behavior in changing how they approach combat situations by rewarding player trial and error, I started to think about other games and how they might be influencing a player’s behavior in combat through the use of a scoring/combo system. There were three games, (well game series) that specifically came to mind as I thought about this, and while they all have combo systems that reward the player with points to use to improve their character’s abilities, they each implement these systems different. And because of that they cause the player to approach and engage in combat differently in each game.
God of War (series)
God of War’s combat scoring system is pretty simple: the more hits you get in the combo, the more red orbs you get. This orbs act as the game’s experience, and so as you get them you spend them to upgrade your weapons and abilities in the game. This makes them pretty important of course, and is definitely something that as the player you would always want more of.
Now the way this system is setup the player is rewarded for being good at the game (being able to execute long combos,) but is also rewarded for playing the game less efficiently. By which I mean that you are incentivized by the system to attack the enemies with your weakest moves, because it takes more hits to kill them with a weaker move then with a stronger one.
Additionally because there are a number of sweeping or spinning attacks you can execute in combat, you are also incentivized to let enemies surround you rather than perform any sort of crowd control during combat, or attempt to take out enemies from a distance as they approach you.
Now it seems a bit odd that they are basically trying to get you to play less efficiently with this system, but I think it is likely designed to be like this because God of War’s combat is best in close quarters. Plus those sweeping and spinning attacks are pretty cool looking, and they feel pretty powerful especially when they are hitting a lot of guys.
So I don’t think it’s so much about incentivizing player’s to player the game less efficiently, but rather to get them to engage in combat in the ways that will be most enjoyable to them.
Devil May Cry (series)
Now on the other hand Devil May Cry’s “Stylish Rank” system is about rewarding players for mastering the game’s controls and combat. Like God of War it’s about having long combos where the longer it is the more red orbs you get, but unlike GoW you can’t just perform the same attacks over and over again.
Instead in DMC you have to not only perform these long combos, but you also have to mix different attacks, and increasingly more difficult to perform ones in order to increase the “Stylish Rank Gauge.” Once the combo the player is performing ends the player is given a grade for their performance, and based on their grade they get progressively better rewards.
So here the player is being rewarded not just for having a long combo, but for also demonstrating their mastery of the combat system through their ability to execute a varied of attacks of varying difficulties during a combo. The way this system is designed shows that the designers perhaps saw the fun in their game in the player learning to execute these very difficult moves, and then skillfully demonstrating that. Thus rewarding the hardcore player of the game more than the more casual player.
Batman: Arkham Asylum & Arkham City
The way the combo system is setup in Arkham Asylum and Arkham City is similar to both the God of War system, and the Devil May Cry system, but with a few additions of its own that make it into something else. In AA/AC each enemy is worth a predetermined about of experience points, but by performing a combo the player is able to increase the amount they get by a multiplier. The longer the combo the higher the multiplier, so so far it is a bit like GoW's system.
However unlike GoW you generally cannot attack more than one enemy in an attack, and so there is a lot of crowd control by keeping the enemies off balance, or far enough away from you, so that you can avoid getting hit and thus breaking the combo.
Now the part that is like DMC is that you are also able to continue the combo, and increase the multiplier, by using some of Batman's gadgets. This can be fairly difficult to use in combat without breaking the combo, although in AC they made it a little bit easier to do. And in both, but especially AC, as you progressed in the game you encountered enemies that needed to be attacked in a certain way, or with a certain gadget, before they could be comboed into or off of.
This is in line with how DMC's system was about rewarding players for demonstrating their mastery of the game's controls by requiring them to do more difficult things. Though in these games it wasn't necessary for you to be able to quick use the gadgets in order to have long combos, but being able to do made them a little bit easier and on top of that the game rewards you for mixing up the combat, basically making it more difficult.
But unlike DMC and GoW the combo system in AA and AC doesn’t just reward the player with experience. The player is also rewarded with their attacks getting stronger attacks. The addition of this aspect changes the dynamic a bit by keeping it in line with how Batman would fight these enemies, because the way the system is setup you can’t purposely attack weakly to extend the combo.
There are also special moves that you can only execute after you have gotten a large enough combo, and these moves help with crowd controlling large groups of enemies. This helps to make it easier to extend the combo a bit more in case the player begins to get overwhelmed with enemies.
When you take all this into consideration in regards to AA and AC’s combat systems, it seems what they are trying to do is to influence the player to want to have longer combos because that is the most efficient way to fight enemies, but also not be too punishing if the combo does break. This helps the player feel like they are really playing as Batman, and doing things the way Batman would.