A hot topic throughout our playtests this summer has been 'execution'.
In Arena Gods, you can execute a knocked down opponent by standing over them and pressing B before they start getting up.
Like all moves in the game, once you start an execution you are committed to it until the animation ends or you're killed or knocked down. On average, attack animations have frame counts in the teens, but execution animations average 40 frames. They're considerably longer.
Each weapon has a unique execution animation. Currently, there are 3; unarmed, sword, and spear.
With Good Intentions...
Here is what I set out to achieve.
From the beginning I wanted execute to be its own button and not a contextual action of the attack button. I wanted to avoid scenarios where the game performs a different action from what the player intended. X is attack, Y is pick up/throw, and A is dodge so I used B for execute.
I wanted executions to be extravagant kills like in Hotline Miami which is why we made them long in comparison to the attack animations. I also wanted to implement some kind of feature in the future where you could earn 'glory' by performing spectacular feats, but had to risk exposing yourself while performing them. Glory would persist across rounds and could be spent to trigger things like having a weapon thrown into the arena or loosing tigers.
It was also important to me for each weapon to have a unique execution animation for visual variety.
Things don't always turn out the way you want them to...
Just about everyone complains that using a separate button for execute is unintuitive. While they all grasp it after a couple of matches, it is still an unpleasant stain on the game's input accessibility.
Being a 4-player game, what often happens now when a player tries to execute is they get knocked down or killed by another player who zeros in like a vulture. This is beautifully illustrated at 0:16, 0:21, and 0:46 in the video below. Funnily enough, the original victim often gets away. Because of this we've seen our playtesters wise up and reconsider executing at times. Our smarter playtesters will often knock a player down only to retreat if danger appears too close.
Arena Gods Pre-Alpha Playtest Highlights #3
Sam owns everybody, but not before Mike makes a spectacular play in The Pit!
Because weapon attacks kill and don't knockdown, weapon executions don't happen. I've only ever seen 2. Currently, to perform a weapon execution you have to knock an opponent down by punching or throwing a sword at them and hoping the hilt hits instead of the blade. Then you have to go pick up a weapon really quick and move into position on top of the downed player and press B to execute before that player starts getting up.
Sooner or later you gotta face the music.
Using the B button for execute is clearly causing more trouble than it's worth.
I like that executing has an especially clear risk versus reward dynamic now because of the lengthy animations, but I dislike players complaining about feeling sluggish when they aren't supposed to be. Furthermore, a single stomp taking twice the amount of time of a sword swing doesn't make sense. There also isn't any point holding onto this idea of 'earning glory with spectacular feats' when it hasn't been thought out and I have doubts about whether it can even work. It would also be a mistake to dictate to players that an action is impressive because it has a long and cool animation. That would be completely artificial. Rather, the game should highlight feats as impressive because they truly are difficult to achieve. What's impressive in this legendary clip isn't Chun Li's wonderfully animated ultra, it's Ken's parry which is practically a single frame.
Since weapon executions pretty much never happen it's questionable whether they should even exist much less be lengthy and extravagant.
So this is what I'm going to do next.
I'm going to deprecate the B button as execute and add execute to the X button as a contextual action. Pressing X will execute when standing over a downed opponent while there are no other opponents standing within range. If a standing opponent is close enough then X will attack instead.
I'm going to simplify the animations of all executions and shorten them to be roughly the same length as their corresponding attacks. Hopefully, the risk versus reward dynamic will still remain, but players will no longer feel sluggish.
Weapons executions will still remain for variety's sake, but they'll be visually efficient instead of extravagant.
I'm looking forward to our next playtest to see what effect these changes will have. I'll be sure to do a follow up post after.