So recently I was partly rewatching Avatar: The Last Airbender. Or rather, my girlfriend was rewatching it and so I ended up rewatching about half of it in big chunks. Again I was struck with just how diverse the combat is in this show, which led to thoughts about how diverse is combat in the real world. AtLA borrowed the Chinese word/concept 勁 (Jing, energy) and turned it into a fighting schema. To use positive jing is to advance or attack, and to use negative jing is to retreat or dodge. Neutral jing is the art of doing … nothing. Waiting for the perfect moment.

AtLA makes great use of negative and neutral jing combat. The main character is an airbender, and airbending’s combat philosophy is described as Avoid and Evade. Aang will sometimes win entire fights without making a single offensive strike:

Okay, aside from that one butt-bump.

What I would like to see is a video game where your combat is as anti-offensive as possible. Where your character’s options in combat are all either negative jing or neutral jing. I’m not quite sure how many different “skills” you would have, but they would all be various dodging maneuvers. Here’s a brainstormed list:

-Conventional dodges in all directions.

-Feints, where you change direction mid-dodge.

-Charge evades, where you run straight at an enemy and then go over, under, or around at the last second.

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-Shadowing, where you manage to stay exactly behind or even back-to-back with an enemy for a short while (seen in the video above).

-Rapidly circling an enemy (if you can find a rope to use, you can tie them up with this one)

What I have in mind for game structure is a series of linear levels, maybe with bonus side branches. Each level would have you trying to survive being assaulted by enemies of increasing numbers and potency. Your main strategies would be to try to get them to hurt each other, or hurt themselves on environmental hazards.

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There would be a point system, and, crucially, an offensive option. At any point you can press a button and insta-damage your foes, but you lose massive points for doing this. The less you use it, the higher your grade on the level. Use it not at all, and you get the highest regular grade. Bonus points can be accrued by using especially fancy evasion combos, and by getting the enemies to create environmental hazards and then hurt themselves with them. Hoist your enemies by their own petard. Then go back and replay earlier levels to get a better score.

Who are you anti-fighting? This is where story comes in, and feel free to invent your own. The one that occurred to me is that you are some kind of misunderstood demon/monster creature, whose mere touch is damaging to humans. You have been condemned to death by the Queen, who has ordered her entire army to kill you on sight. But you don’t want to hurt them, so you use negative and neutral jing. Your goal is to survive your way to the palace and convince the Queen you are harmless. (One option is to have it so that the higher you score on levels, the faster you get your audience with the Queen, but then this would remove levels from the main track, so I’m not sure about this part.)

The setting, I think, should be middle ages/medieval. Not only does this fit well with the witch-hunt story, but it removes guns from the combat. I want the gameplay to be such that you are strategizing on the fly, but you have a second or two to think about where your enemy is going and where you need to be. You can’t do that if they’re firing guns. Arrows do present a slight complication, and I think this would be reserved for later/harder levels. I also think the archers would have a nice, visible pulling animation, so you could learn to anticipate where and when they’re going to shoot.

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What are your thoughts? What other combat strategies are under-represented in video games?

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