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What a title, eh?

I'm currently designing a videogame; a turn-based RPG like Final Fantasy (because everybody knows Final Fantasy). It's a 2D sprite game.

These are my ideas for combat:

  • The player has a group of 15 members (main character included)

  • During battle, five of the group are designated as active, and appear in the battle.

  • These five may be switched out at leisure, or when one of the five die.

  • At any time, the Waiting members can cast buffs, be healed by the active members, or perform special attacks.

  • Battles should contain 10+ monsters at least. I'm aiming for 20, but I'm not sure if that's possible yet.

  • Battles should feel larger than normal due to the interaction of Waiting members, active members and the increased amount of monsters per battle.

  • The player has two rows in which to put the Active members: front and back.

  • Depending on the implementation, I might allow comboing of player attacks and skills.

These are just design ideas, so beware! I have not been able to test this out yet- I have no idea yet if any of these ideas bunched together will make for a compelling game. What sounds good on paper doesn't necessarily have to be good in practice!

What I'm asking now is how to create the layout for this. My starting point are the battles in Final Fantasy VI, with up to 5-6 monsters on the left and the characters on the right- monsters on both sides if it's a pincer attack.

However, this view would not work feasible with my goal of 20 monsters and 5 characters. All the monsters on the left would appear cluttered unless I scale them far far back. If I create a pincer-like map, then there would be no real pincer-attack possible. If I space the monsters out, I force the player to scroll the screen- a game mechanic I've come across and not enjoyed.

Does anybody have any layouts or guides for designing battle maps in turn-based RPGs, especially with a larger number of enemies taken into consideration? How should it look?

I am not asking for specific combat mechanics, just the layout for the moment.

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It might not work for the "look and feel" that you're going for, but one thing to consider might be a top-down or more isometric view for your battle map, similar to how e.g. Warcraft or Civilization represents the world. These styles of maps lend less size to show the fine detail of your sprites, of course, but they tend to give you a lot more room to show sprites and to move around. You might also consider some sort of "intelligent zoom", where as folks on either side start dropping the view could automatically zoom in a little closer as it needs less room to show off the scale of the battle, meaning that as you whittle down the opposing force your players go from a very broad view to a much more detailed view -- not unlike what your characters would experience as they transition from smashing a massive army to mopping up the remaining stragglers.

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My first thought is to switch the view from FF-standard side-on to looking from behind and above the player characters. That way, you can render arbitrary numbers of monsters, with more distant ones scaled down, and instead of falling off the left side of the screen, the ones farther away are just partially or completely obscured by the nearer ones. This should give a good sense of the size of the group facing the players and of its thinning out as the battle progresses.

The downside is that it's a bit harder to have your PCs standing there looking epic if you're staring at their backs, but I think it would work to show them as facing somewhat sideways.

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This was a thought of mine as well (didn't write it down, so I'm not getting credit for that :D). The problem is that I have a 2D sprite game, and a very limited staff of artists (myself and one other person atm). Creating sprites for the normal map and extra sprites for battle, that are even pseudo-3D would be so much work that I don't think it can be realistically done. If I had the time, and the manpower, this would indeed be one of the more serious choices I'd consider. – IAE Feb 17 '11 at 10:24
@SoulBeaver: Ahh, okay. Darn those real world resource constraints. :) Well, then it miiiight be worth trying keeping the side perspective but shifting it upward, and rendering the out-of-immediate-combat people on both sides "in back" (higher up on the Y axis and scaled down). So you have a main body of combatants rendered at full size and the rest of the force trailing off in the +Y direction. – chaos Feb 17 '11 at 14:53

Try looking at turn-based strategy games like the old Might&Magic or Civilization games, which can display a large number of armies on tiles.

Note that in the early Final Fantasy games, the only reason there were only a few enemies is that the enemy sprites were drawn so much larger than the player sprites. Reduce the size of the enemies and it's easier to cram them all in there (at the expense of having them be less recognizable, so your artist would have to put in extra work to make them really distinctive).

Another alternative, if a typical monster group contains many copies of an individual type (so when you say "20 enemies" really you mean "10 rats + 5 bats + 5 wolves"), you could just limit it to, say, 6 enemy types and then put a number next to each enemy sprite to denote how many of that type there are.

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If you want to keep the side view, you could have the monsters function in a method similar to how you imagine the player's characters to be situated. The enemies would have a "front rank" of sorts with the other monsters on standby. Give them the ability to support the ones in front with their attacks or perhaps sometimes have different weaker (or stronger) attacks that are only launched while not in front.

This would add consistency between the player and the enemies, and limit your on-screen resources to reasonable levels. It could also add some strategy depending on how the monsters are arrayed (probably have some way to see their full group, either via text or a quick pan), how they fill forward as the front line falls, and how different monsters react to their position.

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Try having your camera move dynamically.

Center on the front rank of players, and the front-most monsters, and then switch views or move the camera to show the rest of the enemies when they are being attacked, attacking, or being selected by the player for an attack.

This would also make your battles more engaging, I bet.

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