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Heads Roll in an Interview with Torn Banner Studio’s Steve Piggott on Chivalry

Posted on August 22, 2012 AT 04:13pm

First person perspective for a video game that isn’t a shooter is something we rarely see in gaming, even less so a medieval warfare game. It’s definitely a genre I want to see explored a bit more than it already is, but for that to happen it needs to be proven to work well and for Torn Banner Studios’ Chivalry, that means getting the combat right. To answer a couple of questions about their upcoming competitive first-person slasher, I got to talk with Steve Piggott, the president and lead game designer of Torn Banner Studios.

One of the first things I had to ask Steve was how they intended to balance the various strengths and weaknesses of the different weapons available in Chivalry. As this is a competitive game and you have tons of different weapons available to use, I wanted to make sure that this stays balanced and no one weapon dominates the battlefield. Steve reassured me that while there are strengths and weaknesses to each weapon, they are balanced out and based more on skill.

“The combat system is so skill-based that the differences in weapons can offer advantages in certain scenarios- such as a spear in a narrow pass- but never to the point where you as the player aren’t able to overcome it. The game is an interesting blend of First-person Shooter twitch based reactions- and fighting game or Action RPG strategy in the variety of combat options available to you. A lot of the balancing is made easier because due to the nature of our combat system, the better player generally wins while at the same time, each opponent you face has a different style complimented by his class and weapon selections. I really think of it like boxing or martial arts, you can be the best, but only if you are able to deal with a variety of fighting styles and find a way to beat them all.  No one strategy will work on every opponent. “

He also explained how ranged combat doesn’t put you on a level above those who want to go toe to toe. Skill plays a big factor in how successful you are in ranged combat, miss and you will be eating several inches of steel.

“This was a really interesting issue to deal with and tough to balance.  We wanted to make charging an archer and attempting to close that distance really exciting and tense for both players. In order for this to work we had to really evaluate our levels and make sure there was plenty of cover to hide behind, had to look at the speed of projectiles and at what distance a melee player should be able to avoid them with his reactions and also made it so that archers have to be precise, not just fast. So if you hit an enemy in the leg, you won’t do nearly as much damage as if you are able to land the headshot as he is charging in. Shields also give a huge advantage against archers so we were able to capture and experience where on that approach you have a lot of tension, you don’t know if you are going to get hit or not, but you are ducking behind cover, dodging out of the way, sprinting towards him and once you get there you have a big advantage in the melee combat as well. For the archer it’s about making every shot count, the game definitely rewards a calm, calculated approach as much as it does the berserker playstyle. “

Now since he went and mentioned shooting people in the head over the leg, I had to wonder just what kind of impairments you could give someone up close and personal. Unfortunately we won’t be seeing anyone alive without any limbs like in Monty Python though you can chop off enough heads to make even King Henry the eighth happy.

“Damage is influenced by the type of damage the weapon you are using deals (Cut, pierce, blunt, Chop) and the type of armour your enemy has (Cloth, Leather, Chain, Plate). So this allows something like a mace, dealing blunt damage, to be more effective against a knight in full plate armour than a sword. It also encourages players to use a variety of attacks as different types of attacks deal different types of damage, a sword for instance cuts with a slash, but pierces with a stab. In addition to that the location the hit lands in influences the damage received and the game encourages aiming for head shots with additional damage, though they are a more elusive target than the wider body.

There is no status impairment in terms of slowing your character or otherwise impairing his ability to fight when injured. This is something we intentionally stayed away from because we love that feeling of being battered and bloodied and fighting on your broken knee or on your last breathe but we generally find the mechanics for those systems in other games frustrating. What we have tried to focus on is the feeling, the emotion that you are being overwhelmed- that when your enemy hits you it hurts you and we believe we’ve captured that feeling of finding a way to fight on and survive those tense moments without having to impair the player or frustrate them with slow limp-movement or bleeding out. “

Fair enough, as fun as it would be to start making everyone limp around with arrows in their legs, you need to make the game fun for everyone involved and nothing is worse than winning a fight and finding you just died of blood loss after the fact. Still, the different armors reminded me that this was a class based game and I had to ask just how locked in the load outs were.

The classes you choose do influence the weapons you are able to select but there is still a great deal of options and variety within each class. Each class has the option of selecting a primary, secondary and “special” weapon. For vanguards alone you can choose from 9 primary weapons, 3 of each weapon type. The weapon types available to the vanguard are 2handed greatswords (William Wallace anyone?), polearms (Such as Halberds) and Spears. In contrast, on the archer class the primary weapon types are Longbows, Crossbows and Javelins (Also short spears, for the Spartans).”

A little bit of customization is never a bad thing and pulling a William Wallace routine and cutting people’s heads off with a 2-handed greatsword does sound awfully satisfying. Shields though are something we haven’t really had explained yet when it comes to Chivalry. While it is obvious what they are used for, Chivalry uses a free-form mouse driven combat system that works on skill so I had to ask how having a shield would change things up in combat.

Shields are an interesting trade-off because the way we have setup the weapon selection system means that you have to choose to equip throwing weapons OR a shield. This gives players the option of adding more offensive or more defensive power to their load outs. So using a shield with a melee weapon gives you a larger blocking radius, making it easier to block incoming attacks and it also allows you to hold your block up as long as you like. This differs from defending yourself with a weapon as parrying is reaction based. Shields also give players the ability to shield bash, which is a physical move that cannot be blocked and pushes the enemy back, making it great for opening up an opponent who is blocking or knocking someone off a cliff.”

I’m noticing a trend here that the guys at Torn Banner are really focusing on making players figure out their own style of combat. Do you forgo the safety of a shield for a ranged weapon to initiate a fight with, or do you play it safe and use your shield to beat back those who get reckless with you. Enough about the mechanics of the combat, time to talk about the various battlegrounds that we will be able to crush our enemies on.

At initial release we will have 7-8 unique environments and each map will be playable on a variety of game modes. We have 2 smaller, more death match style maps and then we have several team objective-oriented maps which are much larger and essentially 3-4 maps all on their own as they play out in phases that you move through as you complete them.

The team objective mode is a linear progression where the players need to complete or defend one objective at a time. This allows players to see their progress in winning the battle as you might start out battering down the gate with a ram, but then once you smash the gate in your objective becomes to get to the throne room and take out the enemy king.  There is also a lot of tactical depth and choice for players in this mode because our objectives are based on iconic medieval actions, such as raiding a village or besieging a town, so if your objective is to raid a town you still have a lot of options in how you go about doing that. You can burn all the buildings, kill all the peasants or selectively choose which targets based on which ones the defenders are attempting to protect. “

Burning towns and raiding castles as a battlefield for multiplayer combat is definitely a cool way to distinguish your game from the rest of the online games out there. One of the things that have been mentioned about the objective modes that are special to them was the addition of specialty weapons for the attackers and defenders. I asked Steve to explain a little bit more about what those weapons are and their place on the battlefield.

Siege weapons act like turrets in other games but with a lot of variety between them. The catapult is a long range area of attack weapon that can kill multiple enemies at a time and is great for clearing areas before mounting an assault. The ballista is essentially a giant crossbow which excels at taking out individual infantry with the added bonus of being able to pin them into walls and the boiling oil is, you guessed it, really, really hot oil that can be tipped over on enemies attempting to breach your gate. All siege weapons are also destroyable, so it becomes a valid secondary objective to attempt to shut down your enemies’ siege weapons so they stop bombarding your allies.”

Impaling people to walls and burning them to death seemed like a good place to end this little interview with the head of Torn Banner. Chivalry is shaping up to be a fun title for the PC with a lot of variety and good ideas; I just can’t wait to see what it will be like upon its final release later this year. For more info on Chivalry, you can take a look at their website here, http://www.chivalrythegame.com.

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