Why is ranged combat so much more common for the biggest action games than melee? What are the design benefits of having a gun or things that work like a gun?

It's generally easier to prototype and develop ranged combat that feels good than it is for melee.

Melee combat lives and dies by the animations and systems we build. If my character swings her sword in a horizontal arc, it creates very different expectation for a hit reaction than stabbing or chopping. A player will probably realize near-instantly if the reaction animation doesn't match the type of attack properly and it will make the combat feel cartoonish, breaking immersion. The melee animations are also performed extremely close to the camera, so the player gets full view of all of the details. We need many different attacks and many synchronized hit reactions in order for the melee combat to look right.

Ranged combat, on the other hand, does not usually carry this kind of action-reaction animation expectation. Shooting animations are generally simple and small motions. Playing a hit reaction can be as simple as a flinch or just falling over. Hit reactions are limited to hit location and typically don't need to take the motion of the weapon into account. Enemies that play hit reactions are also usually smaller on screen and further away, meaning less overall player scrutiny. We can sometimes just get away with turning on ragdoll and not even need a specific hit reaction.

Really, it comes down to the fact that animation and system requirements of making a good melee combat system work are more expensive than making a good ranged combat system work. Since the act of shooting and the act of getting hit are significantly distinct from each other, ranged combat is much easier to get working than melee combat where the hitting and the getting hit are inextricably linked. Combine this with the fact that melee combat is, by necessity, up close and immediately visible and you have a noticeably higher bar for acceptable quality from a melee combat system.

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