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Setting

A game I'm currently developing is in a dark, hostile setting full of otherworldly creatures. The world is set in an unusual series of castles, towers, and other enormous types of medieval construction that are floating in a foggy void. The player character awakens with no memory of who they are or how they got there.

Plot

The driving forces of the game are:

  1. Finding food and water in a setting where such would be scarce, encouraging exploration

  2. Looking for other people, if there even are any

  3. Looking for a safe place to stay when the monsters inevitably find the home base you have set up

Gameplay and why players may try to kill everything

The central gameplay loop involves searching out food and water sources in a bizarre location where both are scarce (the player has a very generous amount of time before starving or becoming dehydrated, as well as gaining buffs from being full/hydrated), and battling with the horrific creatures you encounter on your travels. Being constantly on the move is a necessity, as staying in one place for too long is a good way for the more predatory creatures to have you as a late night snack. I intend for finding a secluded hiding place to be very satisfying, allowing for respite and giving an opportunity to safely take inventory of all the things you've picked up. You can fight anything that you encounter, but it's often a better idea to carefully plan your attack rather than running in mashing attack buttons.

The combat is reminiscent of games like Dark Souls and Monster Hunter, focusing on strategic combat and caution, as well as planning ahead. Items, tactics, and the environment itself can be used to give the player the edge in a fight where they would otherwise be outmatched. There are many ways to approach fights, and they can often be avoided outright if the player feels the need to do so. Most enemies are monstrous, inhuman, and much stronger than the player. A good portion will also attack or become aggressive on sight. Some are even very intelligent and will use stealth or deception to catch you off guard.

Now, not all creatures are like the ones here. Many will attempt to kill and eat you but will give up and flee if you prove to not be worth the risk. Some will simply run and hide immediately. Some are territorial and just want you to leave, and will rely more on intimidation than actually engaging in combat.

You may even encounter small nomadic groups of humanoid creatures with similar intelligence to humans. This is where this problem comes in. They will generally not attack the player on sight, and will even be willing to cooperate with the player if you show you aren't hostile, may that be by putting away your weapons or giving them items as an act of peace. The creatures are visibly non human. If they see the player they will not immediately attack, and instead will display cautious curiosity or fear. They do not speak any human language, so interactions are done through body language or simple gestures. They will even do things like trade with the player or lead them to locations with abundant treasure. But this requires you to not immediately try to kill them.

Just because of the way the game works, players are conditioned to be paranoid and overly cautious, and a player just encountering them may just think to stealthily pick them off instead of attempting to interact or just see what they're up to. How can I give the players any hints that they shouldn't just murder them? Or for that matter, a way for players to learn that not everything they see should be killed. Preferably I would want to do it in a way that doesn't involve an immersion destroying tutorial screen or something similar.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you considered adding a Reputation metric? If word gets around the nomads that the player can't be trusted, they'll no longer trade with the player. If it gets worse than that, they'll start attacking the player on sight. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mast
    Sep 25, 2021 at 20:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ Highly related \$\endgroup\$ Oct 17, 2021 at 14:25

10 Answers 10

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The reason why players tend to kill anything that moves in most games is because those games reward them for doing so. Whenever the player kills an enemy, they gain something which makes up for the investment in resources, time and risk: Money, score, experience, resources, progression, you name it.

If you want to train your players to only fight when strictly necessary, then don't do that. When they defeat an enemy, don't give them anything at all. If fighting always means to spend resources and take risks with no hope of getting anything in return, then players will soon develop a habit of avoiding confrontation.

If you have both hostile and non-hostile entities in your game and want the player to find out which is which, then a good way to do so is to introduce non-hostile entities very early in the game and in a context where the player can't fight them. Like right in the beginning before the player obtained the ability to fight or during a non-interactive cutscene. This teaches the player that not everything that moves is a threat.

One game which does both of these very well is Subnautica. I would really recommend you to check it out, because it seems like a game with a very similar premise to yours. The major difference is perhaps that Subnautica also avoids making combat interesting by not giving the player any good weapons or cool combat maneuvers, which removes another incentive for the player to seek combat.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You could also tie this in with the shortage of food if you tie food to healing. Players would very quickly see combat as costing food, and start to evaluate if fighting is worth the likely cost. \$\endgroup\$
    – yesennes
    Sep 24, 2021 at 15:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ You have never experienced the thrill of reaper wrangling I see ;) but yes, combat is undesirable in subnautica because there is no benefit beyond getting the big nasty to buzz off. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 24, 2021 at 19:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ They also made sure the deaths weren't visually interesting or fun. The fish or leviathan just kinda stops moving. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 26, 2021 at 4:12
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We can try to frame it as a balance between gain and loss (we are excluding risks and applied costs, for simplicity):

Typical monsters:
Attack Gain - when player attacks a monster, they gain experience and loot.
Attack Loss - none (cos we exclude the risk factor of being hurt/killed and applied costs for simplicity).
NoAttack Gain - none.
NoAttack Loss - none.
Conclusion - attacking monsters is always a good idea.

Now we can already see where this can be going, we need to apply similar rules but "invert" them to discourage the attacking of NPCs. Attacking should be discouraged and Not-Attacking encouraged.

For example, neutral or friendly NPCs:
AttackGain - when player attacks an NPC, they should gain little/nothing. No experience and little/no loot.
AttackLoss - when player attacks an NPC, they could lose reputation, ability to trade, etc.
NoAttackGain - if player does not attack an NPC they gain a lot from being able to interact, trade, get quests, etc.
NoAttackLoss - none.
Conclusion - attacking NPCs should be costly/undesireable.


Another aspect of it - player usually gets visual/audio feedback from their actions. If attacking NPCs looks/sounds unpleasant - player will do that less.


Now what about "attacks by mistake"? Many times a player can mis-click or attack by instinct/reflex. For such cases the games usually make the NPCs tolerant to some damage and/or completely invulnerable and/or standing in "no offence" zones.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Suggested AttackLoss for monsters: getting tired, increasing the need for food/water. This would encourage players to avoid fighting with the "territorial" monsters mentioned in the question. Suggested AttackLoss for neutral/friendly NPCs: when an NPC is killed, a ghost/zombie/other kind of monster can be spawned as a result of the kill. \$\endgroup\$
    – Stef
    Sep 24, 2021 at 9:53
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There are a few ways to get players to try to interact with creatures instead of attacking them.

You can decide what makes the most sense for your game and the mechanics you have and whether players even having the option of attacking these creatures is ultimately something you want.

I mention human NPCs in some of the below solutions. This would obviously only apply if you actually have human (or other clearly friendly) NPCs.

Tell players to interact with the creatures

You can have some human NPCs casually mention that some creatures can be interacted with. Although this could be fairly easy to miss.

You can have loading screens tell the player this.

You can have info messages pop up occasionally when players approach these creatures.

Force interaction once

Tutorialise interaction

This is probably the most in-your-face solution that still allows players to do their own thing.

The first time they encounter such a creature, you could pause the game and prompt them to put away their weapon or interact with the creature. Or you could prevent them from attacking and only allow them to interact with it.

After they've interacted with one of the creatures, they can freely choose to instead murder the next ones they run into.

Tutorials are common in games, but I don't think I've seen any for this specific purpose. Then again, most games tend to clearly differentiate friendlies and enemies in various obvious ways (some of which are listed in this answer).

Make interaction an (optional or required) quest

Give them a quest to interact with one of the creatures (either a specific one, or just any of them).

This makes it fairly clear that these creatures can be interacted with.

Introduce the creatures in the beginning of the game

You can have the player be awoken by one such creature or in a dwelling of the creatures.

The player might not have any weapons yet or you may simply prevent them from attacking until they get away from the creature or leave the settlement.

This makes it clear that the creatures are non-hostile, but it may make sense to also tutorialise interacting with them in case players miss the fact that they can do this.

Force interaction always

If you don't want players to attack the creatures, make them unable to attack the creatures.

It's fairly simple, and it's an approach many games go with.

Some games allow you to attack friendlies while they will just idly stand there staring at you boggle-eyed while you try to murder them, until you give up eventually when you realise you don't seem to be having much of an effect on them.

Present the creatures as NPCs

This is what almost all games I've played do.

Either something is an NPC or it's an enemy. Players can't non-violently interact with enemies. Players may or may not be able to attack and kill NPCs.

Skyrim (and other Elder Scrolls games) are probably a decent example of this. In towns attacking people is not going to go well (you'll have a bunch of guards to deal with soon enough). But there are also more remote settlements where you're free to kill NPCs, but it's still obvious that they're NPCs.

There are a few ways to present creatures as NPCs:

  • Their dwelling uses a "town" as a marker on the map (which is possibly usually used for humans in your game)

  • The UI shows them as neutral / ally.

    • They don't show up as enemies on the minimap.
    • You see an "interact" crosshair when looking at them (or something similar that's easy to differentiate from what they see when looking at an enemy).
    • The crosshair doesn't change to an "attacking" crosshair until after you've attacked them for the first time.
  • They live in what's basically a town. The creatures could have various trades and they do things that humans would typically do. Overall, such a town might look a whole lot like a palette-swapped human town.

  • Some of the creatures live with human NPCs inside a friendly town.

  • Some or all of them run away when you attack them.

  • Even when fighting, they generally try to keep their distance from the player. They may draw a sword and just stand there, waiting for you to engage (like someone who doesn't actually want to fight would do).

  • They have "guards". After you attack one of them, that one may run away and a bunch of others might engage in combat instead. Guards will engage in combat, most others will just run away (even after all the guards are dead). Some others may defend themselves if attacked.

    Building on the Skyrim example, you can have some dwellings be large with plenty of guards (meaning it's really, really difficult to fight your way through that, which may make it clear that fighting probably isn't the best option), while other dwellings are small and fairly easy to wipe out. Think large city versus a few adventurers in a tent or two (with plenty in between).

  • They may stop attacking when you put your weapon away (but they may still be "on guard").

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An example that fits the bill are Minecraft Piglins. They are humanoid, but clearly not human. Don't have verbal communication (only gestures and grunts). You can trade with them. They are not hostile unless provoked.

When you attack them (or provoke them), you are marked. You may get away from them, but they remember you attacked them and stay hostile. Also other piglins will come to help hunt you. Which means that if you stay and fight, they will become overwhelming by numbers.

It is important to note that you provoke them by picking up gold items. So you pick up a gold item in front of them, and they attack you. And that is likely to happen because there is gold available for mining in the enviroment where they are.

As a result, the player learns to not attack them and not pick up gold items near them. Which will give the player enough pause to observe that the piglin picks the gold items, and drops something else in exchange. This is how you trade with them. Drop gold items, they pick them and give you something in exchange.


You can take the same concept and apply it to your game:

  1. Fighting them is hard. It could be they heal fast, or resit a lot of damage, or it could be they keep summoning help, or whatever. Depending on your death mechanic, you may want to give the player the opportunity to escape the combat, even have them disengage easily. In fact, it could be that they push the player away, so the player can't melee them.

  2. They give you a trade opportunity. I don't suppose you mine gold, or trade by dropping items. Instead, make it obvious that there is trade opportunity with them, and trust that once the player learned to not attack them, the player will notice. I suppose that having them approach the player will trigger fight or flight. So, instead, I suggest some sort of sign that the player can see from reasonable distance, which also promts the interactions when the player approaches.

Note: I agree with the other answers that not giving a reward for killing them is a good idea. However, I want to note that there is reward for killing Piglins in Minecraft. And that works in Minecraft because you lose your inventory upon death. If that is the case in your game too, then that might work.

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Why not put a corpse of one of those humanoid creatures near the spawn point? The player will be able to find a note (book) on them with some facts about trading with those tribes => to not be too obvious but still give the player some hint that those humanoids are another intelligent life form.

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I can think of a few ideas.

  1. Resources are scarce; fighting causes your character to dehydrate and starve at a faster rate as they consume the (really valuable) energy he regains once he finally encounters something to eat and drink. This way the character feels the urge to choose his fights better, and if something doesn't attack the player at first sight, the player will fell free to get close and interact without attacking.
  2. Make these creatures change their behaviour according to the player's actions. If the player doesn't attack them, they won't attack the player. If the player attacks them, they will run away. If the player keeps attacking them, they will fight back, and the next time the player gets close to them, this time they will attack first. You could also make that the next group the player encounters also attacks the player immediatly.
  3. Use visual cues, e.g. a colored glowing aura around all the creatures roaming this place. Aggresive creatures glow in red; scaredy creatures glow in yellow; non-aggressive creatures glow in blue or green. This can be some kind of in-universe mechanic, a special hability the main character has, that is somehow tied to his past and origins.
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Try to look at the problem with a different perspective. In such a dilemma providing a solid background for your NPCs hostiles or not will help you foresee and feel why players would not fight everything that moves.

  • Lets start by figuring why those other creatures are non-hostile to players?
  • And why hostile creatures are hostiles to player?
  • Then lets define if there are various degrees between full hostility and total friendliness; and if this can change during a journey/session or is engraved in rules and cannot change.

When you have answered those 3 questions above, you have a better picture on why player may not be hostile toward all creatures.

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Make sure your players respect the world they are in. Much like in the real world there are large consequences of making stupid choices.

Make the enemies passive dangerous. I am reminded of the giants in skyrim. You can also remove many rewards from them, but making them more hostile is a good step.

If there are NPCs or guards, make them very capable and respectable. Look at morrowind for example, you learn the laws in that game and there is a respectful sense of fear for even small things like sleeping in someone's bed . Or Alma Alexia's right hands.... Those guys are not easy and starting a fight or stealing around them is a death sentence.

Here are some funny videos talking about this.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dVkGPavq0VE

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvNb3jts-Qs

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=09t_ZuA__6U

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I would simply add very negative Voice Actor lines and strict sanctions of the game, for once you can make things harder if you act aggressively, and twice, you can have a karma-like system that opens options only for players who behave cooperatively and careful.

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My first idea was outlines. When you hover your mouse/crosshair/whatever over an enemy, it gets a red outline. But friendly creatures get a green outline.

Even when a player has been initially conditioned to attack anything and everything, the sudden green outline (which is unlike all the red outlines they've seen so far) should give them a pause for thinking. And in most cultures (but not all! Beware!) red==bad, green==good.

I think this should be a strong enough nonverbal cue to the players that "you should try to interact with this creature peacefully". To give them extra safety, if your game relies on savepoints, place one such a savepoint just before the first few friendly encounters, so that the player feels safer to try a risky approach. (A few, because they might miss the first one)

Alternatively, if outlines aren't your thing, I've seen games give other kinds of visual cues. For example in Hollow Knight most enemies have some orange about them, while friendly creatures rarely do. You could do similarly with glowing red eyes or whatever. But that of course depends on your chosen art style, so it may or may not be an option.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This doesn't really answer OP's question. Outlines are effective when trying to tell friends from foes, but they don't prevent players from attacking anything and anyone. You can edit and expand your answer to include more information and address the current core issue. \$\endgroup\$
    – liggiorgio
    Sep 26, 2021 at 9:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @liggiorgio - Ok, is this better? \$\endgroup\$
    – Vilx-
    Sep 26, 2021 at 10:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think the point of the question is to make players avoid attacking even hostile creatures. So they would focus more in avoiding conflict than in running head-on into fights. Telling apart friend from foe would not solve this. Also I think this type of intervention is a bit lazy and not interesting, as it breaks the immersion. Good design solutions make sense in the world of the game, they make the in-game world richer instead of taking the player out of the experience. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 27 at 14:35

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