Daniel Prejean on Apocalypse Blade, a Strategy Melee Game

Sooo I’m finally back from GDC (I literally just stepped in the door about an hour ago and exhausted doesn’t even begin to cover it. It was basically 24/7 every day for a week, but I’m back now and this week I’ve got another interview for you guys and I’m particularly excited about this one. I’m sure there are others of you out there who, like me, love melee combat in games, but wish it was more than just mashing buttons like in your standard hack’n’slash, but at the same time somehow retain its excitement and fast pace. Daniel Prejean has come up with a solution that should help scratch that itch! The result is a melee fighting game called Apocalypse Blade that combines the fast-paced action of a hack’n’slash with deep strategy and sophisticated levelling that mimics real combat. Most martial arts fans like me have no doubt that swordfighting, like any type of fighting is extremely tactical. If you’re still unconvinced, check this out:

It’s a shame then that games that involve melee combat don’t tend to reflect this, which is why Apocalypse Blade seems to fill a much needed niche. Here’s Daniel explaining more about his concept in his own words:

Excited yet? Good, because Daniel agreed to do an interview to let you know why we should all be excited by Apocalypse Blade.

  1. So why did you decide to make Apocalypse Blade? What were your inspirations?I primarily wanted to make a game with the intellectual depth of a strategy game, but the grit and flurry of an action game. A big draw for me of the Total War series was the elegant combination of the deep strategic campaign map and the intense, cinematic real-time battles. I thought, “How could you have both simultaneously?”
  2. What sets your game apart from other melee combat games?

    Most importantly, there are no “canned moves.” Combat animations are completely dynamic. Unlike in the old Jedi Knight games (or more recent medieval fighters in the Mount and Blade tradition) where directional input combined with keys or buttons activated various directional attacks, or say Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance’s “Blade Mode” where you control a weapon directly, the specific logic of what arc a swing of the sword takes is handled by the game; user input consists of higher-level execution.

  3. You’ve described your game as a blending of the hack’n’slash and strategy genres. Do you feel those two genres mesh well or is it a balancing act?

    I think the two combine so well, I’m surprised there aren’t more games doing it. So many games try to emulate “realistic” melee combat, but in real life, thinking was as important as physical prowess. Sure, games may simulate strength, agility, fast attacks, slow attacks, blocks and parries, but what about the psychological aspects of a duel? What about getting into the opponent’s head, shouting or feigning attacks? If you don’t believe me, watch fencing or kendo.

  4. There seems to be a particular focus on realistic combat. How have you gone about creating this?

    I felt like the best way to produce smooth, realistic melee combat was to leave the specific animations up to the calculations of the game. Since the game knows all fighters moves at the same time, it can simulate the real-time minute reflexive reactions of the characters. Secondly, the damage system is meant to be realistic, so a single solid hit will probably decide a duel. No health bars here! Draws, with both the player character and the opponent dying, will also be a common result of poor play.

  5. Tell me more about the RPG elements of the game, for instance, how attributes will affect gameplay.

    There are four basic “stat” attributes from which the effective “derived” attributes are calculated. However, derived attributes only material effects are to modify the physically simulated performance of the character in game. That means no numeric damage buffs, no increase in percentage block chance or critical hit chance. What you will see will be very gradual increases in the quickness of attacks or movement speed, with the entire game’s progression staying mostly within the realm of human capability. The major results of game progression and leveling up will include the ability to learn more moves and more complex move patterns, allowing for the customized development of more sophsiticated strategies for dealing with more difficult opponents.

  6. Could you tell us more about attack animations and what you mean when you say they’re dynamic?

    Say one character initiates an attack on another character. That attack consists of a vertical, overhand sword strike. The game will calculate a specific vector for the defending character’s block/parry, based on a number of factors. Blocking animations are blended to produce the precise motion intended by the game engine. In turn, the the attacking character’s overhand strike is deflected in a certain direction, which affects the vector of that characters next attack, and so on. Over the course of a high-level duel, minute gradations in positioning and balance are key to deciding who ultimately catches the opponent off guard to land the final blow. Think ping-pong with swords.

  7. You’ve compared the game to Dragon Age. Can you elaborate?

    I really appreciated the context-sensitive character decision making popularized by the Dragon Age series. I wanted to implement a similar mechanism to allow the player (and the AI) to “strategize” melee combat. The idea is that you have so many “slots” based on your level in which you can queue up context sensitive commands. These commands are what the game uses to decide the precise physical actions of each character.

  8. Will having high-level decision-making rather than issuing specific attacks affect the fast-paced action of melee combat? 

    Ultimately, I want the game to be a thinking-man’s game that’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch. The idea is to take the focus off of button-mashing and allow a more mentally intense, if slower, part for the player to play. The melee combat itself will still be as spectacular as ever.

  9. You mention that you’ll be able to build up your own styles and stances. Tell me more about that.

    So the idea is that you have styles or stances that you can cycle through in combat; The number of different styles available at once is limited based on level, and each style can only contain so many moves or commands. The game will have certain pre-built styles that you can progressively learn from various “masters” scattered throughout the world, like martial arts. At some point the player will become a “master” with the ability to customize a totally new style.

  10. How big of a factor is the story to the game? Would you be able to ignore it if you wanted to or is it a major part of the game?

    We’ve got a couple of talented story-writers on board, and a really talented dialogue writer, so I’m pretty excited about the story. I’ve personally always been a fan of the Fallout style story, where there is a main story line, but the primary immersion consists in learning the about the details of an elaborate fictional world.

  11. Have you had any thoughts about multiplayer? Or is this strictly going to be a singleplayer game?

    Right now, the game is only planned for singleplayer. There are so many multiplayer games out there that offer a fun competitive experience; I wanted to focus on having a really immersive single player game that people wouldn’t forget.

  12. Is there anything else you’d like to say that I haven’t asked already?

    I would like to pose a question to our potential audience concerning a small matter of design direction: Would you rather see a game with really gritty, bland, realistic combat effects or more cinematic, exciting special effects like sparks and swing arcs, etc?

Thanks again Daniel for agreeing to do the interview and I hope you’re all as excited as I am about his game. He doesn’t have a website at the moment, but I will update you all when the game is released or about any major progress so remember to check back! He’s hoping to put this out possibly via Steam Greenlight and other avenues, so if you’re interested at all, remember to show your support. I hope you guys enjoyed that and remember to keep an eye out for Apolcalypse Blade!

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