Bullet Sponges

What do you think of the phrase “bullet-sponge” enemies? Is it a valid complaint?

Yes actually. It’s a weird matter of pacing to have an enemy you just keep hitting that won’t die. This is also tied into poor feedback, about how much health enemies have left. I have some old notes and ruminations I wrote on this that were never really completed, but I’ll share it here:

I think this is why some enemies use multiple health bars, because feedback about how much damage you’re doing is more clear to the player when the bar moves more each hit.

It might also be because of how much enemies react after being hit, but I remember enemies in bioshock infinite’s hard mode getting totally fucked up and still feeling bulletspongey because seemingly I’d unload tons of shots into them any they wouldn’t die.

In NuDoom, the big charger enemies feel weirdly bulletspongey because sometimes I can kill them in 3 shots, and sometimes they take like 15 shots.

In Bloodborne, I love the way bosses will have their bodies reel like jigglebones when they’re hit, but continue playing the same animation. Great feedback there. Dark souls games in general have the right balance of health if you ask me. Gets a big boost on the first NG+ and much less for every one afterwards. Presumably because NG+1 is where it’s at a reasonable level to be hard, and after that is excessive.

In Nier’s hard mode, everything felt extremely spongey. Had way too much health relative to how much effort it took to fight them.

I think bullet sponginess comes from the perception that your shots just aren’t affecting the enemy. I dunno beyond that, just scattered thoughts.

You mentioned in that answer of bullet sponges that the base challenge of Dark Souls is so intrinsically interesting that it allows number buffs to be. What specific aspect do you find so interesting? Dark Souls is basically more about spacing, than it is about combat, combat is rather shallow by itself, and the spatial awareness and control challenge is incremented through the level design, and the great variation in enemy patterns. But beyond that, due to its relative slowness, it doesn’t seem that fantastically interesting.

Compared to your average FPS enemy, Dark Souls enemies do a lot to keep it interesting. Fighting them for a bit longer is more of a risk and more interesting than your average FPS enemy. I know I’ve told the story of how I had to learn the 4 kings boss fight very in depth on NG+ before, due to the added HP and damage in order to actually beat it; most critically, how to avoid having all the kings tag team me by staying close to one king, which makes the other kings more passive. More HP demands more consistency from you, demands better understanding. A simple HP boost works fine in a lot of action games across difficulties (which of course a lot of action games do across difficulties).

Also the slowness of Dark Souls combat is one of its relative advantages actually. Because both you and enemies are slow, it totally changes the whole dynamic of combat. It’s about this fuzzy evaluation, “is it safe to commit to an attack right now? Can I get away with this? How much can I get away with?” Then the enemies use their different patterns to play on this core dynamic in a bunch of different ways. When you know the game well enough it becomes a lot like this:

I wrote an ask a while back about all the things I love about dark souls combat which should help explain what’s interesting or deep about souls combat a bit better: https://critpoints.wordpress.com/2016/02/12/the-joy-of-souls-combat/

hm, but isn’t that advantage of its slowness a perceptual matter, rather than a real change in the way it’s played? Haven’t you said something similar, on twitter I think, about TF2’s heavy vs scout, with relation to the argument that the heavy promotes a more strategic play related to position whereas the scout is more twitch based, to which you argue that it’s just that slowness allows worse players to engage in strategic thinking, but it’s even more present in fast play, just that it’s behind a wall of a certain skill level to be able to appreciate it? Like, I’d argue that Vanquish has a similar spacing element to Souls, but it’s more interesting because the movement freedom gives a lot more options, and the speed and aggressivity of enemies is on par with that. Also bloodborne is often praised for adding speed and aggressivity (just a bit though) to the series.

I disagree that it’s perceptual, or at minimum I’d say that a perceptual change here is a very real change in how it’s played, because the timing of attacks is related to your reaction time, which is a big factor in how games are played. Most action games have very fast player character attacks, so that even if you see an enemy attack, you can always attack fast enough to interrupt them first. When your attacks are slower, you can’t always see an attack and still have time to attack them first. Beyond that, the basic idea is that your attacks move at a similar pace to enemy attacks, but enemy attacks are still well outside the reactionary blind spot to keep it fair. Bloodborne was faster, but it kept this principle up.

I don’t think I ever made such a statement about heavy and scout, but it sounds fairly on the nose.

What’s strategic or not depends on context. Slowness works when it works. I tend to prefer higher speed games overall, but I recognize that in some cases slower speed works. For example, Starcraft didn’t do so well in the transition to Starcraft 2 largely because the fastest speed was made even faster and that became the standard speed. A lot of players better than me say that it made the game much less micro oriented and more based on anticipating unit formations before they actually attack you, because once they attack it’s too late to micro your way out of it.

For the record, I think the Heavy (and the rest of the classes) should move faster. Like twice as fast or 1.5 times as fast. I think both heavy and scout are strategic, just in different ways. The heavy has superior damage output, but he needs to figure out where to plant himself and get revved up, which creates a unique tactical challenge compared to the scout.

The possibility of interrupting enemy attacks after seeing them comes from a relative difference in speed between player and enemy, not from speed of the game, and greater speed would increase possibility space. I’m interested in your thoughts of my comparison to Vanquish. I realize that I’m comparing a shooter to it, but despite the interactions with enemies being different, Vanquish requires tons of target prioritization and position choosing, so it seems comparable, and the dodge and boost (speed) give a greater access to available space than that seen in Souls games. Also there’s a comparable (sort of) dynamic to committing attacks in Souls, as shooting effectively requires a near detention of movement, thus making you vulnerable to attacks. Overall Vanquish just seems to have a more interesting dynamic, it just is inferior in level design.

Okay, I thought relative difference in player and enemy attack speeds was basically speed of the game, given that enemies can only feasibly be so fast, leaving you only the player to speed up.

I can see the comparison between Vanquish and Souls in a loose sense, but I don’t think they’re totally comparable, mostly because there’s no hitstun or attack startup time. I think the dynamic in Vanquish is generally very different, being concerned with position on a battlefield more than position relative to an enemy and immediate surroundings.

The other thing is, when you make a game faster, or more specifically the player character, the level design has less impact. It becomes easier to move around enemies and obstacles and they are less able to block your path and limit your options, even if they are fast too. This is why a lot of Crazy Action Games end up being about fighting in big empty arenas, because more significant level design generally just gets in the way.

Greater speed sometimes affects possibility space, sometimes it just feels nice. It depends on how the rest of the game is designed. I have a personal preference towards faster games, but I don’t think it’s better 100% of the time.

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