USING ENEMY ATTACK PATTERNS

Attack patterns and why you should learn to love them

"So, you finally made it," the final boss intones menacingly from atop his fortress of bone and souls. "I've been waiting for you!"

The heroes, of course, are not intimidated. They stand firm, the resolute determination given to them by the hopes of their people and their newfound friendship allows them to fight without fear. They swear an oath to defeat the villain and return the world back to its true form. The villain chuckles, drawing his sword, which is far too large to be wielded with one hand. He does anyway, because he's just that badass.

The screen flashes, and we're in combat. The music swells menacingly. The villain reveals his true, terrifying final form. The final battle has begun.

The villain opens with his “MegaDeath Hyper Laser Cannon” attack! That really hurt! Our whole party took some serious damage from that. Our healer is gonna have to spend some time next round patching us up, or this is going to get ugly.

Round 2, the villain uses “MegaDeath Hyper Laser Cannon” again! Ugh! My healer didn't even get her heal off yet! Now she's dead, and we'll have to use an item to pick her up. Next round I guess everyone will need to spend some time using some potions…

Round 3, he does it again! What the hell!? Does this guy even have any other moves?! The Game Over screen consumes your monitor, mocking you with your inadequacy. Now we'll never save the hero's true love!

You are frustrated. You feel cheated. There was never much of anything you could have done to prevent that! You were at the mercy of the RNG, and the villain rolled boxcars.

But what really happened is that the designer didn't think to include any sort of attack pattern for his enemies.

This article will explain why he should have, and why you should too.

War of Attrition

Think back to some of your favorite RPGs of old. If you're my age, games like Final Fantasy VI or Chrono Trigger probably come to mind. Gamers older than me might prefer FFIV or perhaps Dragon Warrior. And if you're younger, maybe it's Final Fantasy X or XII or hell, I don't even know what you kids play these days. I'm old, get off my lawn.

The point is that if you think of some of your favorite battles from those games, there was probably something recognizable, predictable, or calculated about how enemies, especially bosses, fought. He didn't just toss out whatever move he felt like at any given time! There was a pattern.

NonononononononononoNONONONONO



It was that pattern that informed you how to approach the boss, and how to fight him. If he had just used MegaNuke every round, that wouldn't be a very interesting fight at all! Chances are he only used MegaNuke once in a while. In fact, he might have even telegraphed when he was going to use it!

Using patterns like this helps your player out a lot more than just having a boss spam whatever move the RNG picks for him. It informs the player’s decisions, gives the player space to breathe between huge attacks, and lets him know what's coming next. Ever fight a Boss battle in an RM game where you were just frantically pounding the button hoping the boss died first before he pulled out some big attack to finish you? That's because the boss had no pattern, and there was nothing else the player could do but try to make the other guy die first. Such a fight might be tense, but probably not for the right reasons, and it probably isn't a mechanically interesting fight.

It might sound kind of intimidating to have to program a boss to use a certain sequence of moves in a certain way. How do you know what's an appropriate pattern? Well, you're in luck, because it's actually pretty easy. In general, there are really only three or four types of moves an enemy can have. Where the move would fall in a pattern depends on which of these types of abilities it is.

A boss's pattern, or an attack cycle is I will call it, will generally have one to two types of attacks in it.

Type I- Constant Damage, Attrition, or Wear-Down Attacks

The most common and basic type of damage. Attacks like this may include basic physical attacks, weak-to-moderate area attacks, or annoying status ailments such as poison. These attacks are not threatening on their own, but they provide a constant source of damage to the heroes that they must react to, and can soften the player's party up for the bigger, scarier attacks that are to come.

Variants might include party-wide damage over time attacks or reducing the party's defenses.

Type II- Spike or Burst Damage, Nukes, or Finishers

The second type of attack is the kind of attack that your player should learn to fear. A spike in the boss' damage output, or a “nuke” to you MMO players, this is the kind of move a boss uses when going in for the kill. A single-strike dealing severe damage to a character, a particularly devastating combo, or a seriously debilitating status effect such as paralyze, petrify, or confuse, might qualify as finishers.

Variants might include an attack that the enemy telegraphs in some way, or might even inform you who he is going to hit with it. You then may have a round or two to figure out how to mitigate the damage or to prepare to revive the hero who is on the receiving end.

Type III- Sweeps, Wipeout Attacks, or TPKs.

The last and most deadly type of attack, herald of the dreaded "Total Party Kill," a sweep or wipeout is the kind of attack that is meant to kill your whole party in one shot. This might take the form of a single, very powerful area attack, or perhaps one that inflicts multiple ailments to your whole party. Such attacks are often telegraphed well in advance, and usually come at the end of a boss's attack cycle, after various other attacks have worn the party down. Magus' Dark Matter, Zeromus' Big Bang and Bahamut's Mega Flare are all examples of sweeps.

Variants might include an attack which counts down from 5 or 10 before going off, giving the player plenty of warning that the attack is coming. The player than may have to spend that time preparing to weather the damage, or, perhaps more dramatically, must kill the boss before the attack goes off or face certain doom!

A boss might have other moves in his arsenal, such as healing or self-support abilities, but these three types of moves form the basis of nearly any boss's attack pattern. How a boss's pattern will go likely depends on when in the game he's encountered.

An early boss will probably only have a one or two minor attrition attacks followed by a finisher. This gives a beginner player plenty of time to adapt to the boss's pattern, and probably will never be in any real danger if he learns quickly. Bosses towards the middle of the game may stagger their pattern of wear-down and finisher attacks to keep a more powerful and advanced party on his toes. Particularly important bosses, major villains or legendary creatures, may follow a cycle of moderate wear-down attacks, increasingly powerful finishers, and may pull out a sweep attack after he reaches half-health or so. End-game and final bosses may forgo attrition attacks entirely and focus entirely on nukes and sweeps.

The threat level of bosses in a game doesn't have to rise linearly with how much INT they have or how much damage they can do. A clever or robust attack pattern can make a very powerful boss more manageable or a very weak boss into a much more serious threat. Your player will likely appreciate the variety in the types of bosses and the various ways they can threaten the player.


A marathon, not a sprint

There's no prize for who can kill a player the fastest, except maybe the prize of “dumbest game designer.” A boss who annihilates a player before he can do anything isn't fun or interesting! (Hi Marquis Elmdor.)

A properly-planned Boss should feel like a marathon. It should be epic, and take skill and endurance to succeed. If a Boss is a race, just to see who can kill each other first, it can lack the level of climactic finality that players enjoy. It can also mean for a Boss who can kill players too easily. A boss with an attack pattern will never catch a player off-guard. They'll always have a chance to prepare.

Let's compare two examples.

Let's say our Boss, Baron Nefarious, has four attacks. He has a basic melee claw attack which will do moderate damage to an appropriately leveled party, a weak area fire spell, a powerful attack called “Rending Tiger Claw” which deals very serious damage, and a powerful ice spell called “Nuclear Winter” which affects the whole party.



In the above example, there is no rhyme or reason to his attack cycle. He might cast “Nuclear Winter” every round! The player can't really prepare for this, except to be prepared to weather the worst of his attacks at any given moment. They never know, from one moment to the next, what he might do.



Now, in this example, I have adjusted the priority and conditions of his attacks to give him a clearly defined attack cycle. Both Rending Tiger Claw and Nuclear Winter have a priority of 10, which means those moves will always be used at the appropriate times. This means Baron Nefarious will alternate roughly evenly between his basic melee attack and Flame Wave on most rounds. On Round 6, and every sixth round thereafter, he will use Rending Tiger Claw. He will never use this powerful move randomly, there is always a six round cooldown.

When Nefarious reaches half-health, he will add Nuclear Winter to his arsenal, casting it every seventh round. He will only start to use this ability when half of his health has been depleted, meaning the stakes rise the more Nefarious is damaged, and it prevents the player from getting complacent in thinking they have the boss's entire pattern figured out.

Note that I didn't even mention Nefarious' stats in talking about his strategy. They aren't really important! His attack cycle is where the meat of the planning out how a boss works should be done. Stats can be adjusted during testing to make sure he is an appropriate challenge.

10x Combo Platter

Such patterns are useful, but when used too much they can become boring and predictable. That's why you should never stop shaking things up and surprising your players with new patterns, or interesting variants on old patterns. Here are a few examples.

The Swarm
A swarm is a powerful boss with a lot of minions. He leaves the busy work of attrition and wear-down damage to his minions, and can concentrate on his finishers. Wiping out the boss's minions will make the boss much less dangerous….but maybe he also has a way to revive his fallen minions if they all die.

The Two-Part Finisher

This is exactly what it sounds like; a finishing move broken-up into two attacks. Maybe it's just two strong attacks in a row against one character, or maybe the first attack somehow “sets up” the target, by lowering his defense or increasing his vulnerability to a certain element, making the next attack all the more devastating.

Royale with Cheese

One of the more infamously annoying types of attacks, which is why I call it a “cheese” attack, a Supernova or Grand Cross style attack, that just hits the whole party with every ailment imaginable and leaves them helpless. There isn't much defense against this style of attack, other than for the player to be psychic and know which ailments to make sure their characters are immune to. But an attack like this can leave a party very vulnerable to any number of follow up nuke or sweep attacks.

The Black Wind

An attack pattern stolen from Magus in Chrono Trigger, a boss like this will use a variety of moderate wear-down attacks, but once sufficiently damaged he will start exclusively using a big, flashy and powerful sweep attack every few rounds. This generally makes for a really powerful attack followed by a few “down” rounds where the boss doesn't do anything. Even if he is doing nothing but charge his next attack during the alternating rounds, it can do a lot to make a villain seem threatening and powerful, even if he is basically wasting rounds doing nothing in the mean time. This can make a boss seem much more dangerous than he is, too, if he has a really powerful attack, even if it is staggered in such a way that he can't use it frequently enough to really kill the party. It's also a cool way to show off if a villain has a stylish signature move.

There are lots of other combinations I haven't gone into here, and I'm sure you can all think of lots of them. Feel free to post any ideas for patterns below!

Posts

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GreatRedSpirit
Reality is more interesting than fiction. There's no writer, no editor, just raw humanity.
5355
The villain opens with his “MegaDeath Hyper Laser Cannon” attack! That really hurt! Our whole party took some serious damage from that. Our healer is gonna have to spend some time next round patching us up, or this is going to get ugly.

Round 2, the villain uses “MegaDeath Hyper Laser Cannon” again! Ugh! My healer didn't even get her heal off yet! Now she's dead, and we'll have to use an item to pick her up. Next round I guess everyone will need to spend some time using some potions…

Round 3, he does it again! What the hell!? Does this guy even have any other moves?! The Game Over screen consumes your monitor, mocking you with your inadequacy. Now we'll never save the hero's true love!

You should just recap the endboss of FF3 because this is literally it.


This means Nuclear Winter will always follow his powerful Rending Tiger Claw

Double check your AI: Your intervals are different and therefore this isn't true. RTC will occur on turns 6, 12, 18, ... and NW will occur on turns 7, 14, 21, ...



Also I wish RPG Maker had some real enemy AI script power. The best control I could ever get was using switches in 2k3 and having them be conditions or turning them on/off after actions to make troop-independent AI but that is still a really awful substitute and it got worse with VXP Ace. Enemy AIs can be fun to make but it's nice when you have the right tools.


Other boss patterns:
ZERG RUSH
The fight start and right out of the gate the boss is already unloading on you. There's no time to sit and buff or try to land weak status effects, rip out the bug guns and kick his face open! Any boss whose power is tied to HP is one of these although they aren't too common for good reason.

Counter Whore
Fuck you Zeromus! Bosses that rely on reacting to what you do. Can be mixed and matched!
Solitayre
Circumstance penalty for being the bard.
14391
Yeah the AI tools for RPG Maker are very limited. I was unpleasantly surprised that I could turn on abilities when he reaches a certain HP threshold, but couldn't turn OFF others!
GreatRedSpirit
Reality is more interesting than fiction. There's no writer, no editor, just raw humanity.
5355
Another delight: You can only set *one* condition for an attack in Ace. The latest RPG Maker.

I messed around with the Super Mario RPG editor, Lazy Shell, and you can edit enemy AI in it. You can do so much more shit in it. Hell FF5 was more advanced: One of the bosses in that game was six bombs that could explode to OHKO a party member (if they had enough HP) and then another bomb could revive them back to full health. It isn't a complicated strategy and there's a few solutions to it but it is nice and different and likely to take a first time player by surprise without being impossible.
Wait...you mean most people DON'T incorporate patterns into their enemies?!

That's one of the most rewarding aspects of boss battles. Figuring out those simple quirks that separate them from the humdrum cannon fodder. Its one thing to have a big muscly demon constantly beating down on your heroes, and another entirely to realize that he's only focusing on one at a time. Moments of revelation like that are only going to make a battle that much more fun. Even if you still can't really do much against the enemy at least it makes the fight more interesting.

Good ol' Baramos just wouldn't have been the same if it weren't for his attack pattern. That and sending my damn healer to limbo.
Intelligent articles brighten an otherwise hellish work day. Thank you Solitayre.
Enjoyable read.
I find boss crafting one of the funnest things to do in Rpg Making.
Max McGee
My name is Legion: for we are many.
8247
The entire purpose of the Mage Duel games is this, by the way. Every enemy has phony but relatively effective "AI" (yes, it's FAKER than Artificial Intelligence) that lets it go for its best combos (like blind + berserk), heal when appropriate, dispel you when you buff yourself, banish your summons, and so on. It's a bitch to "program" and test, but it's my favorite thing about the games.

Ironically, it's there for about the opposite of the reason that Solitayre mentions. It's not there to make the game easier by keeping the enemy from spamming FIRAGGGGGGGGGGGGGGAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! it's there to make it harder by letting the enemy 'sploit the same comboes and synergies you have to choose from. (Mage Duel is also one of my games where if you look under the hood, enemies are built on the same exact mechanics as PCs, but that's neither here nor there.)

EDIT:

"In the above example, there is no rhyme or reason to his attack cycle. He might cast “Nuclear Winter” every round! The player can't really prepare for this, except to be prepared to weather the worst of his attacks at any given moment. They never know, from one moment to the next, what he might do. "

Note that this CAN be perfectly fun, by the way.

People do play numerous entire games based around rolling dice, and have for literally thousands of years. It just makes the gameplay more emergent, rather than more planned. Just I guess if you do this, don't do it thoughtlessly, understand you're making a choice to rely on the "roulette" more rather than less.

Also I wish RPG Maker had some real enemy AI script power. The best control I could ever get was using switches in 2k3 and having them be conditions or turning them on/off after actions to make troop-independent AI but that is still a really awful substitute and it got worse with VXP Ace. Enemy AIs can be fun to make but it's nice when you have the right tools.

Yanfly wrote a script for VX that gave enemy AI. As far as I could tell from To Arms! it worked really, really well. It also made the "AI" style I was working on so hard for Mage Duel completely obsolete, so I'm kind of happy it was incompatible with other scripts and had to be jettisoned. But it was very functional. You could even have abilities and status effects that made enemies smarter or dumber, or more or less prescient, which I thought was really cool.
Solitayre
Circumstance penalty for being the bard.
14391
I do not like dice rolls being major factors for success or failure in a game.

I played a Bard in Dungeons and Dragons to try to undermine the influence of dice rolls.

Also, I definitely didn't notice any AI at all in To Arms! Attacks seemed completely random, and it is a game I felt would have really benefited from a planned attack pattern.

You're fighting two alchemists. They'll never use their chemical bomb attack of death on round 1, so no annoying first round KOs you can't do anything about! On round 3 they'll always use it, so you better do something about them before that happens! (and you have two rounds to figure something out!)
Max McGee
My name is Legion: for we are many.
8247
I do not like dice rolls being major factors for success or failure in a game.

You really shouldn't play D&D then. Or Yahtzee or Risk or Settlers of Catan for that matter. Or almost all video game RPGs.

I played a Bard in Dungeons and Dragons to try to undermine the influence of dice rolls.

I seriously, seriously, seriously question your understanding of how D&D works. If you had said "Wizard" instead of "Bard" this sentence might make SOME modicum of sense.

Also, I definitely didn't notice any AI at all in To Arms! Attacks seemed completely random, and it is a game I felt would have really benefited from a planned attack pattern.

You're fighting two alchemists. They'll never use their chemical bomb attack of death on round 1, so no annoying first round KOs you can't do anything about! On round 3 they'll always use it, so you better do something about them before that happens! (and you have two rounds to figure something out!)

AI != Attack Patterns, Solitayre. That's an important distinction you seem to be missing.
Solitayre
Circumstance penalty for being the bard.
14391
When I play Final Fantasy VI or Chrono Trigger, random dice rolls have very little influence over my progress.

when I play To Arms, dice rolls have a significant influence. A larger influence than the decisions I make.

Another RM game where dice rolls were a major factor was Dhux's Scar, though I didn't mind it quite as much there because the game comes with a built in "I win" button that let's you instantly win any fight (for a price.) Even though I adore that game, I think it would have benefited greatly from attack patterns with its bosses.

I seriously, seriously, seriously question your understanding of how D&D works. If you had said "Wizard" instead of "Bard" this sentence might make SOME modicum of sense.

To be more specific, I play Pathfinder. The point of a bard is to add a static bonus to the chance of success at virtually anything your party tries. A bard makes any given task 10%-15% more likely to succeed. Bards also have lots of skill points, to lessen the impact of dice rolls on skill checks. My particular bard ALSO has a spell that can retroactively add 2 to a failed roll if that would change the result, all to undermine the influence of bad dice rolls. She's also a pirate, though that's irrelevant.

Pirates are always relevant.
Corfaisus
"Winning" internet arguments via dismissive hyperbolic falsehoods and selective ignorance.
3944
Although I haven't found the time to make myself experienced with the nature of attack patterns, games like Everlong pull these off beautifully. The second biggest optional superboss in the game (Ultimate Weapon) is loaded down with attacks that keep it from being challenge-able until your stats are maxed, and remain just as deadly even afterward as they're all scripted to do massive damage to your party, so memorizing the attack pattern is a must! You should also never keep your party members at absolute max health as Reversal (an attack that takes your current percentage of HP and reverses it) can kill you that way. Another attack called Flashback can be just as deadly if the target has their stats memorized at a less than fortunate time.

You can also use such attacks to your advantage if you have the pattern memorized to not waste turns that could be used tearing into the Ultimate Weapon's 1,500,000 HP and instead let it heal and revive your party.

(Part 1 of 3)


This, I feel, is a perfect example of using attack patterns to both create an 'unstoppable' monster and give the more clever players an infinitely satisfying method to use their know-how to accomplish something great in a game they've found worthy of their determination.
I remember playing a rather childish (but still fun) game called Magical Starsign for the Nintendo DS. For a few opponents, you could tell when it was about to use a nuke. Let's take Chard, for example. When you first fight Chard, there is a huge icicle hanging over him. Sometime during the battle, he will cast a spell, and all it does is target one or more of your party. The round after, he will make the huge icicle drop and harm the people targeted. It's not really about the targeting, but he's cast this spell, and know you know the nuke is coming. It's an inventive way, and you see it with other bosses in the same game, too~
SMT, simple attack patterns but holy shit 8|
Specially the DEMI FIEND.
Adon237
if i had an allowance, i would give it to rmn
1668
Wow, this article is pretty freaking great! *Searches for more Soli articles.*
Gibmaker
Now older than Commander Shepard. :(
7954
Grand piece of writing sir. :)
Solitayre
Circumstance penalty for being the bard.
14391
author=Gibmaker
Grand piece of writing sir. :)


Thanks bro, I enjoy your games. =)
Solitayre
Circumstance penalty for being the bard.
14391
It was recently brought to my attention that this article was included in this list:

http://gamedev.tutsplus.com/articles/roundups/fantastic-gamedev-tutorials-from-across-the-web/

I don't know who out there found it and put it there but thanks!
author=Solitayre
It was recently brought to my attention that this article was included in this list:

http://gamedev.tutsplus.com/articles/roundups/fantastic-gamedev-tutorials-from-across-the-web/

I don't know who out there found it and put it there but thanks!

Grats!
I am working in RM2k3 where the number of "turns" elapsed is the total number of turns elapsed for BOTH enemies and each party member. This could make some boss patterns that I want to make real tricky because you could interfere with their pattern if an enemy's attack condition is something like "Turns Elapsed 2x".

Is there some kind of work-around for this?
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