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Improving Melee Combat by Diversifying Zombie Behavior


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I thought I wanted a larger variety of melee weapons, because of course we should have more weapons, but I realized that in reality, I wanted more variety with the melee combat itself. After raving mad for four days and three nights, I've made up my mind, and here I'll suggest some changes to zombie behavior in order to create a foundation for more variety in the melee combat system.

 

I've found it necessary to work in reverse. The current paradigm seems, to me, centered around the sole goal of killing zombies, and thus all of our melee variety is centered around shelling out DPS in different ways. I believe that we've squeezed out too many ideas to do this. What if weapon and combat variety didn't just consist of choosing AOE versus DOT? It's hard to imagine what else we could possibly have, because zombie attack behavior reflects the same conventional philosophy: find the most direct path to the player, and kill them. This is a very simple way of directing the largest amount of DPS against the player in the shortest amount of time possible. This is not a complex behavior, and hence, players don't need complex weapons or combat mechanics to deal with them. So, before I can suggest a revamped melee combat system, there needs to be a reason for the player to deal with the added complexity, because if they're just there to kill zombies, then there's no good reason to make a straightforward thing more complicated.

 

Hence, I suggest making zombie behavior more interesting -- more deadly, more scary, and put more "survival" in the game's name.

 

I want to deal with two elements of player interaction with zombies: zombie encounters, and zombie attack behavior. Firstly, just to state my understanding (since I might be wrong), the player encounters zombies through POI (sleeper) spawns, wandering hordes, blood moons, and ye olde fact that they spawn here and there like it's nobody's business. Secondly, zombie attack behavior consists of seeking the path of least resistance to the player and attacking everything in the way, something like a constant flow of acid through a cast iron pipe on the way to the player. (Read: I won't be touching on the stealth system)

 

Zombie Attack Behavior

Again working in reverse, I don't think zombie encounters would make sense if the encounters weren't taking advantage of preexisting AI attack behaviors. I have four suggestions: grabbing, rushing, stalking, and horde logic.

  • Grabbing: A way for zombies to indefinitely and instantaneously immobilize the player. My initial ideas involved making this particularly deadly by forcing the player to face the grabbing zombie and locking the camera so that they're forced to deal with the grabbing zombie before anything else.
  • Rushing: A way for zombies to close the last few meters to grab the player. I don't imagine letting every zombie do this.
  • Stalking: A way for players to go out at night but still be terrified. Assuming zombies are set to run/sprint for nighttime, they will try to only attack the player from behind. If the player is facing them, and if they are 10 to 15 meters away, zombies will hide and/or watch the player and not attempt to attack. If the player throws a rock in front of them (or makes any loud noise) in that state, they will scamper away, but eventually come back. If they are more than 15 meters away, they will attempt to navigate around the player to flank or get behind them. If they are within 10 meters of the player, front or back, they will directly attack.
  • Horde Logic: If there are enough zombies on the attack, AI can start assuming horde behaviors regulated by some sort of director for the designated horde. The horde can gain tokens to spawn fresh zombies if the heatmap permits. Some non-binding examples:
    • Trapper: AI will detect the player's potential movement routes, and prioritize blocking them off by moving zombies to those routes and/or spawning zombies in them. Where possible, AI will try to ambush the player. If the horde is awarded spawn tokens, it will go for numbers.
    • Sadist: AI prioritizes toying with the player, and will move/spawn zombies to do so. AI will seek to prolong the engagement, and will be careful not to outright kill the player. If awarded spawn tokens, the horde will prefer a mix of durable/fast/annoying enemies. AI will make a full effort to kill the player if the player tries to leave.
    • Siege: AI prioritizes destroying the player's environment, and not the player itself. If awarded tokens, will definitely throw in some police officers and demolishers.
    • ***Horde logic does not have to apply to the whole horde. They can be mixed, and I'd think rightfully so, since maximum chaos can only lead to panic or spectacle.

 

Grabbing, Rushing, and Stalking are individual zombie behaviors that can easily kill you if you were equipped with A18 melee weapons in a new game -- once you are immobilized, you can say goodbye to at least half of your HP. Horde Logic, if coupled with some sort of player behavior sensing system, can make situations like "merrily looting and next thing I know, the entire house was surrounded" possible. The same framework can also be potentially used on raider AI. Overall, I reimagined attack behavior to give players more to worry about, and because these additional mechanics will tend to kill them a lot more often, then a diversification in the player's combat counter-mechanics is justified.

 

Zombie Encounters

Right now, we either randomly bump into them, wake them up in POIs, attract them via heatmap, or of course, wait for the blood moon horde. May I suggest:

  • Loot ambushes - Press 'E' for a zombie to grab you by the collar once you open that closet
  • Getting surrounded
  • Getting surrounded in a loot ambush
  • Getting surrounded on all sides in a city intersection

As you can see, almost all of these are just some variation of an ambush. Currently, this is really only possible if it's dogs coz there's nothing like a pack of six of 'em coming after my level 2 @%$*#!, or if the zombies are always set to sprint. If it's just some random daytime horde, I just go "Oh, a horde", and I take potshots at them before going back to tend to my potatoes. So, really, the only way I can think to ambush the player with very slow zombies is by allowing the player to walk into the situation without them knowing it. Only then will grabbing and rushing take good effect, especially in an indoors setting. Prompting mechanics that would tend to kill the player should prompt the player to use mechanics that are there to help them not die -- mechanics which can be activated if the player has the right weapon equipped, thus incentivizing the situational use of melee weapons.

 

Finally! Melee Combat 2.0

 

If my point was buried under too many words:

Quote

Give zombies OP mechanics that kill players more often, then give players OP weapons that have OP mechanics that help them not die so often. Arm both sides. Profit.

 

Now that rushing and grabbing are supposedly a thing, the new weapons need to be built from a defensive philosophy that takes the new mechanics into account:

  1. Stay away;
  2. Failing that, run away;
  3. If can't run away, don't get spotted;
  4. If spotted, don't get approached;
  5. If approached, don't get rushed;
  6. If rushed, don't get grabbed;
  7. If grabbed, don't get hit;
  8. If hit, don't get damaged;
  9. If damaged, don't die.

 

Of course, you can be hit and grabbed at the same time, considering there can be multiple enemies. Anyway, there are several strategies that we can derive from this 9-point philosophy:

  • Kill the zombie before they can approach the player -- Very many obvious ways to do this.
  • Disable the zombie's mobility before they can rush the player -- Currently not very viable on melee.
  • Disable the zombie's arms before they can grab/attack the player -- Also not viable.
  • The weapon affords passive protection, with certain quirks -- Non-existent.
  • The player has to do some weird ritual before the weapon affords any kind of protection -- Heh.
  • The weapon makes the player faster in combat -- We only have drugs for this.
  • The weapon actively makes the player harder to detect -- ?????

 

We don't need more variations of the first one. Instead, we can play between all the six (I refuse the last item). I imagine weapons to have roles, and thus I don't expect that they all be used equally. Instead, I aim to let each weapon have its own personality, and to make players think "I wish I had <weapon> right about now", because they recognize that this is what it's meant for. As an example of how I'm imagining things to go, I'll spotlight three weapons: the club, the spear, and the knife.

 

The Club: Limb Breaker

Can't get grabbed if the zombie's arms are broken. Assuming NO perks:

  • Implement two debuffs for zombies: Smashed Arm and Smashed Knee. The Smashed Arm debuff will disable zombie grabbing once it reaches 100%, while Smashed Knee will disable rushing in the same way. Only the club is capable of applying these debuffs.
  • All damage made by a club to a zombie's torso will be redirected to the arms; this concession is made only because it's so hard to hit the arms with the current hit detection system.
  • Smashed Arm and Smashed Knee are much easier to achieve than completely destroying those limbs, and so much easier than scoring a head decap.
  • Active parry mechanic that nullifies incoming damage if player and zombie attack animations meet.
  • Stacking attack rate bonus for every successful application of either Smashed Arm or Smashed Knee.
  • Power attacks will always stagger a normal zombie upon a headshot.
  • Having a club equipped when grabbed will nullify damage coming from the grabbing zombie. Power attack will shove the zombie away.
  • Hitting a zombie with a power attack precisely while it's rushing will knock it down.

 

These characteristics make the club an excellent starter weapon, and will continue to be an excellent weapon well into late game. Its use is dictated by how many arms and legs you can smash per minute, and the fact that headshot staggers are guaranteed will definitely encourage it. However, it is little help when the player is grabbed, only managing to keep the player from dying if it's just the one zombie.

 

The Spear: Ultimate Standoff

Can't get grabbed if they can't get to you in the first place. Again, no perks:

  • Knockback by default.
  • Implement an impaling mechanic, whereby stabbing a zombie in the gut will immobilize both player and zombie. Player has the initiative to either let go of the spear or kick the zombie (governed by fist damage) away and recover the spear.
    • Dogs and spiders can be impaled wherever you hit them.
    • They can't move, they can't even turn, but they can still attack if you're directly standing in front of them.
  • Implement a pinning mechanic:
    • When stabbing at a steep-enough angle
    • Dogs, crawlers, spiders, and other 1-block-high zombies can be pinned to the ground
    • Upright normal zombies can be pinned to a nearby wall
      • Can eventually escape
    • Again, the player has the initiative to either let go of the spear or kick the zombie away and recover the spear. Also works with thrown spears.
  • Spearfishing: Can be implemented either as a mod or a perk. Either way, the idea is that players can recover their thrown spears if within a certain distance.
    • The practice of throwing spears at point blank range is already there so why not take it all the way and let people feel safe throwing their steel spears.
  • I'm Above You damage bonus: Aiming at a steep enough angle grants a large damage bonus.
  • Tip of the Spear damage bonus: Do more damage at the tip of the spear.
  • Fighting Retreat movement bonus: Move backwards faster upon a successful attack.
  • A Mile Away reach bonus: Stacking slightly increased reach per successful attack.
  • If a spear wielder is grabbed, incoming damage from the grabbing zombie is nullified. Increased resistance to external frontal attacks. Power attack to shove zombies (yes, plural) in front of your screen away.

 

My hatred against dogs and crawlers is manifested in the Impaling and Pinning mechanic. Anyway, these should make the spear a viable base defense weapon, considering spears are the only "melee" weapon that can be used through bars. Considering it's already pretty good early game, these additional mechanics should do more to help the player survive against zombies that can grab them.

 

The Knife: Eight Inches of Hate

Let the zombie grab you, then let it see what happens afterwards.

  • Passive auto-parry against any frontal melee attacks
    • One-hit damage resistance
    • Needs a short cooldown between attacks
    • Eats less stamina than a normal attack
    • Successful parry grants one (1) consumable instant power attack; decays if unused
  • Power attack is a punch that only staggers with no damage
  • Very brief (non-stacking) movement bonus upon a successful attack
  • Stacking temporary movement penalty vs victim per successful attack
  • Stacking temporary attack rate bonus per successful attack
  • Zombies that grab a knife wielder take constant damage before giving up
    • The knife wielder is also awarded an instant normal attack that will immediately release the grab

 

I reimagined this to be a low DPS weapon that emphasizes control of the opponent rather than outright killing it. This is the weapon you use if it's just one zombie and why risk it? Furthermore, this is the better weapon to use if walking into a claustrophobic POI filled with jumpscare-like ambushes. You can switch to a deadlier weapon if you found that you'd accidentally walked into a pretty bad room, but at least that first guy didn't get you.

 

===

 

I understand that the amount of mechanics I'm jamming into this post would probably take months to code, test, and debug, if ever it sounded like a good idea. However, I believe that that's the cost of giving each weapon its own personality. In order to make each weapon shine, they must necessarily be different just as much. Mechanics make weapons different, not their stats.

 

Of course, I'm biased towards my ideas, but if I'd have a reservation to share with everyone: Did I think up zombies that are deadly enough to warrant all of this? Is there something about 7DTD's design philosophy that I completely missed, and thus I accidentally considered things that shouldn't have been considered?

 

If you've reached this far, thank you for reading.

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