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Article - 'Custom Battle Systems Originality' by Mateui

An item about Game Design posted on Aug 9, 2003


Explore the many types of RPG Battle Systems and then generate ideas to create your own!


Custom Battle Systems Originality

By Mateui

"Are we really running out of Ideas?"

If you take a look around the community nowadays, you will notice a certain trend. Custom Battle Systems are popping around everywhere, and the race is on. Everyone is looking to create a newer type of battle system, newer skill types, looks, and combos. With more people inventing, ideas seem like they are narrowing themselves, originality is very hard to find. So what is there to talk about?

Well, I am going to talk about the already existing battle systems, their use in Rm2k games, along with screenshots to show that they are possible to make in such a limited program. After, I will talk about ways to conceive new ideas about battle systems. (I was going to keep them all to myself, but.. just call me the nice guy, or Chocobo, or chicken, or.. you know what I mean.)

Existing Types of Battle Systems:

Ok. This section will be divided by each different kind of battle system. I'm not perfect (although it may seem so, let's pretend..), so I may miss a battle system or two. (Also, the screenshots are property of their respective owners, and I am sure that they won't mind if I use them as examples.)

Adventure/Active Battle System (ABS):

How it Plays:

Think of Zelda and you know what this system runs like. The player will press a button, most likely the Space/Enter command, and the hero will use his main weapon. The enemy or enemies run around the screen and attempt to attack the hero. The hero can also walk about the screen and shield/attack/run away from the enemies.

How it Works:

Common events are used a lot in this system, as well as "Monster Templates." One switch starts the battle mode, and triggers the rest of the common events. This is needed because you don't want the hero to be able to swing his sword in a town do you? An enter password is needed to see what the player presses and for what duration. If it is the enter/space command, the hero swings his sword. Next, a common event checks the hero's X and Y positions, and checks what the enemies coordinates are as well. If they are within range, the enemy takes damage.

Pros and Cons:

Since the hero can attack in all four directions (up, down, left, right) a lot of graphics must be made, as well as battle animations to make this system look nice. Another hard thing is the AI of enemies. You have to make them all different, with different strengths and weaknesses, as well as, once again, more graphics.

In this system, many variables are used, as well as fork conditions. If using different weapons, time will be consumed programming code that checks what weapons are equipped, changing hero graphics and weapon usability accordingly.

Also, since this is a one player battle system (although it is possible to implement more characters via computer AI) it is better to use this system for a solo party, with one member.


Ok, here is a screenshot of an "ABS" in action.

(From "The Legend of Zelda: Expel from Cockaigne." As you can see, health is displayed on the top of the screen. The hero losses health every time an enemy successfully hits him.)

Sideview Battle System:

How it Plays:

Up to four characters battle it out against single/many monsters. Can either be turn based, but most likely includes an Active-Time-Bar (ATB). The view is sideview, hence the name, and is the system generally used in all Final Fantasy Games (except FF Tactics). Many different features can be added, such as summons, special skills (ex: "Jump", "Sword Arts", etc.), and Limit/Trance. Can be customized to include more or less of these things.

How it Works:

Common events galore! Although many events will be required on the actual battle map(s). The system checks which characters are alive and inside the party and then puts them into the battle. A randomly selected monster(s) will appear, depending where the party was when they got into a random battle. Next, the ATBs of the characters and monsters will start, allowing a character to select a command when their bar is full. If the battle system is turn based, the character with the fastest speed will commence with a command. The battle continues, each turn checking if any characters are dead, removing them if they are, or winning the battle if all the enemies are dead. This continues until victory or defeat.

Pros and Cons:

Not a lot of graphics required, such as character stances, although having them would be a plus. Can be really nice, both graphically and gameplay wise. Lots of different characters can participate in battle, allowing more commands and choices on the playerfs part. And finally, looks way better than the Default Battle System used in Rm2k.

Coding this can be a pain however. Lots of Variables, Enter Password, and Fork Conditions, Cycles, and events. If not careful, can become laggy and slow down the overall game. If not customized well enough, all this system becomes is the exact same thing as the DBS, even worse, but with a different view.


Ok, here is a screenshot of a "Sideview Battle System" in action.

(From "Final Fantasy: Crystal Wings." Your usual Sideview Battle System, with ATB Gauges.)

Tactical Battle System (TBS):

How it Plays:

Turns are played in team form. What this means is that if one player on your side is currently on their turn, everyone else on your side will go next, until they are all finished, giving the turn to the enemies. Another way this system can work is going in individual form, meaning only speed determines when your turn is up, not on whose side you are on.

The biggest difference between this Battle System and the others is that this system actually allows you to move strategically, in a turn-based manner. Attacking power is different depending on which way your opponent is facing, and the range of your weapon. Some attacks may take time to cast and this makes the system more life-like and believable, also challenging.

How it Works:

Extremeness at it's worst! Soo many events! Variables, Enter Password, Fork Conditions, Cycles, Switches, Labels, and more! X and Y tracking, not only for the hero(es), but also for the enemies! Events check for which characters are still alive and participating in the battle, what their statuses are, and if they are within range of enemy attack.

But wait, there's more! Enemy Artificial Intelligence (AI). Creating enemies that actually appear like they are thinking is no small task. Many Fork Conditions must check where all the heroes are and which ones the enemy should attack, if he should heal himself, or another of his team members. Believe, this is no small task. Good luck if you actually attempt to create this, you'll be on the computer a lot, so grab a Coke, some cookies, and a pillow. ^_^!

Pros and Cons:

The ability to move your characters give you a greater satisfaction that just pressing the space bar on the attack button. Your characters are more life-like, and the Enemy AI is something to be seen if executed correctly. Mission Scenarios, such as "Defeat the Enemy Leader to gain Victory" can be interesting, as your strategy and tactics change depending on what the task ahead requires. Overall fun!

But there are some cons. First, battles are very long. I'm talking 10 minutes+. Even longer when you get more characters and the amount of enemies increases. Another obvious con would be the time you spend programming this beast. But oh well, the more work you put into it, the more you'll appreciate it.

(From: "Aurora Wing." Notice the target range, and how the characters are able to move about during their turn.)

Getting New Ideas and Battle Systems:

Yes. I know that those aren't all of the types of battle systems, but I do believe that they are the basis of the others around. When you think about, most battle systems are the same. Only a few things are different. You turn is either governed by speed, or it is turn-based. You can only chose one command during a turn, or many, depending on some stat points, like strength and stamina.

So what is there that you can do to conceive a new idea for a battle system?

There is one guideline that I can set to aid you in this regard. Pick a battle system that you enjoy and like, and give it a twist. Change one or more things and your system will "appear" original. Also, you can take two or more systems, and add them together to get a new type of battle system.

Need examples of some successful Rm2k games with "newly" improved systems? (I used an oxymoron! Yay!) Ok. I'll give you two, giving screenshots and how they changed the system.

What do you get when you cross an Active-Time-Bar with an Active/Adventure Battle System? Don't know? (Even though you should, as the answer is right above you in the heading...) If you've played "The Chimera Report", you'd know that not only is it fun, but exciting! (Try it out the game if you haven't yet.)

Anyways, what the Battle System incorporate? It stayed with an ABS, allowing you to move and attack the enemies, but it gave you more. Hitting the space/enter command didn't just allow you to swing your weapon, like most conventional ABSes, but it gave you a whole command menu, where you could just different attacks, escape, and use items. Not only that, but you had to wait until an ATB Gauge filled up until you could take command. Your attacks were also ranged, meaning the enemy didn't have to be right beside you to inflict damage.

See. Two very different systems when put together make something completely new.

(From "The Chimera Report." Notice the three red squares on the top left of the screen. Those work as the Active Time Bar allowing you to use the battle command menu, as seen in the screenshot.)

Sideview + Stamina Points = Complex Coding!!
You may or may have not played "Phylomortis II" due to its complex use of words and storyline, but hey! You have to admit it had a nice little, I mean big, complex battle system.

What was different? It was basically the same as a regular Sideview Battle System. But there was one large addition. Every character, including enemies were given stamina points. When their turn was up they could continue on attacking for as long as the wanted, until their stamina gave out. However, if they used this tactic, their stamina would not replenish fully during their next turn, and the enemy would get the upper hand. This system forced you to think and plan ahead, much more refreshing than the DBS with the space bar/enter button smashing.

(From "Phylomortis II." Notice the bars near the bottom of the screen. This was your Stamina Bar, so to speak of, which would fill up with every command you took.)


So what have we learned? Generally, to make a new type of battle system you'll need to incorporate different features from different systems to create a new type of battle. Also, you can improve one of the above mentioned systems to your liking. For instance, add an ATB into a Tactical Battle System, spice up the Duel System (Sorry, that I didn't spend time talking about this system, but it's pretty straight forward and anyone can explain to you how it works.) and maybe add an ABS to a Sideview Battle System. Anything is possible right?

Well, I guess this concludes this massive article. (HeeHee, I spoke soo much about the current existent systems that I didn't really help you as much as usul, oh well! ^_^!) (I'm actually reaching the 2000 word count.. must keep on speaking and taking up room.. I must go on! Can't.. too much work. I.. I give up.)

My final advice, just improve something, generate ideas, add a new skills system, maybe combos, etc.

Just remember not to give up hope, there are literally hundreds more possible battle systems to come up with! So no, we are not running out of ideas, we are just gaining more people into the community who also want to create something new, therefore allowing us less time to create and think up of something, because there is a great chance that someone else may make something before us. (Did that make sense? It's so early in the morning that I'm just too lazy to go back and correct it. You're smart, figure it by yourself.)

Happy Battle Systems Making! (Run! Get the ideas before someone steals them from you!)

- Mateui