Dev Diary: City of Heroes' Kinetic Melee

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PCGamer.com routinely features Developer Diaries: tales of what goes on behind-the-scenes in the development studios making your favorite games. This Dev Diary is titled “Be Water My Friend – How We Made Kinetic Melee” and was written by Nelson Tam, Character Animator; Floyd Grubb, Senior Game Designer; and Keetsie Braz da Cunha, VFX artist.

Castle:Bruce Lee proved to be a fantastic inspiration for the Kinetic Melee Power Set. When we first came up with Kinetic Melee, we called it "Street Fighting" and it was meant to be a "punchy martial arts set." We envisioned it as a hybrid of Claws and Energy Melee with Siphon Power from Kinetics. Siphon Power ended up not being very friendly to the melee playstyle, and I'd had an idea for a new gameplay mechanic that instantly recharged a specific power as a "proc" effect [meaning the effect has a chance to occur when you attack normally] for awhile. So I combined the ideas and the concept of Power Siphon, a power which makes all your other attacks steal power from the enemy, was born.

Nelson: Kinetic Melee is like the “Yin-Yang” concept from ancient China. While “Yin” represents the dark, soft, passive, and contracting, “Yang” would be the bright, hard, active, and expanding. The shape of the Yin-Yang symbol shows the continual movement of these two energies, Yin to Yang and Yang to Yin. Kinetic Melee is a melee attack set based upon siphoning your opponent’s energy (Yin) and using it to power your own attacks (Yang).

It’s quite interesting working on the choreography of this power set. When you animate regular attacks, you only need to demonstrate power and dynamics through a punch or kick. It’s very straightforward. Kinetic Melee is a little different; you need to combine both the Yin and Yang in one single move. After a great amount of research, we all agreed that Tai-Chi was a very good starting point to capture this type of attack.

Tai-Chi uses slow, smooth body movements to achieve a state of relaxation of both body and mind, which perfectly depicts the soft, passive side of the Kinetic Melee. But that wasn’t enough; we were still missing “Yang”--the active side of the power. I didn’t want Kinetic Melee to become Tai-Chi; I just wanted to use it as a reference. That's the point when my imagination had to take over. Each power would start off with a soft, circular movement, and end with a fast, snappy, dynamic energy blast-type attack. The result of combining Tai-Chi and Energy Blast is very satisfying. The great contrast between the soft and hard, slow and quick really captured our original idea of what Kinetic Melee should look like.

Keetsie: After working on Demon Summoning, which naturally lends itself to a magical visual style, I wanted to create a look that could easily be adapted to all five of our character origins (Science, Magic, Mutation, Technology, and Natural). However, it's difficult to create effects that complement a wide range of character concepts while remaining visually interesting. To tackle this challenge for Kinetic Melee's visual effects, I decided the its "look" needed to satisfy two criteria: it had to be visually related to our other existing Kinetics sets, and it had to conceptually support Nelson’s very distinctive animations.

Nelson’s animations were very graceful, but still implied great force and impact. There was a big emphasis on the “windup” of attacks that I found intriguing, as though the player was manipulating surrounding energies before he delivered the attack. I wanted to give the impression that air was collecting around the player and then bursting out in a violent, but controlled, manner. Scenes from “Shaolin Soccer” and even the “The Last Airbender” trailer really captured the feeling I wanted to create--swirling air, and the sense of power being expertly controlled.

Now that we’ve incorporated color customization for players’ powers, I usually don’t add color until the powers are finished. (This helps me focus on shapes and timing.) I was pretty surprised, then, at how much stronger a reaction the finished set received when I showed it off with the dark palette. While I chose bright colors for the default version to tie it in with the buff set, Kinetic Melee may be one of the few sets that actually look better with dark, inky colors. So, villains and emo kids, give it a try!

Nelson: Bruce Lee once said, “Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless - like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle, you put it in a teapot, and it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”

Kinetic Melee is all about that!!!

If you want to read more of our Dev Diaries, or ask us some questions, come by our Facebook Fan Page, where you can see Kinetic Melee in action. See you guys next time!