Black Panther is one of the most interesting heroes in the Marvel Universe, and the MCU has done a great job breathing life into the character. However, we haven’t had a game with Black Panther as the main character, so with this write-up, I’ll be pitching my design for Black Panther’s combat mechanics if he had his own game.
First, I’ll go over what this hypothetical game is, so the character mechanics can be designed to fit it. Next, I’ll walk through the 3 C’s for the character: camera, character mechanics, and controls.
Black Panther: The Game is a third-person action-adventure game, divided up into missions that take T’Challa all over the world to help protect Wakanda from the enemies that threaten it. The missions are linear, but the spaces are wide enough so that the player has the freedom to tackle objectives the way they see fit. As he completes missions, he returns to Wakanda to upgrade his suit, gear, and gadgets with the help of Shuri, his genius sister. As the game progresses, the player’s efforts can be seen through the transforming and growing Wakanda.
The combat of Black Panther is focused on fast-paced and intense close-quarters melee, emulating the style of the movies Black Panther MCU, Captain America MCU, The Raid, and Logan.
Since the game is focused on more intense melee combat, the combat camera must also facilitate that tone. A farther camera, like Marvel’s Spiderman or Arkham Knight wouldn’t fit because it puts the player farther away from the action (making it less visceral). However, a close camera, like God of War, would also not fit because even though the player is right next to the action, Black Panther is also very agile, elegant, and mobile, and a close camera wouldn’t be able to keep up.
The camera that would most fit the fast-paced melee combat and accommodate for Black Panther’s speed is the mid-ranged camera, similar to that of Sekiro and Nioh.
This gives the player enough room to be able to assess the threats around them, while also being close enough for the combat to fill fast and intense.
This camera angle is also a factor into how many enemies that Black Panther can face at one time, since only a couple would be onscreen at once. This has the positive side effect of having each enemy be more of a threat to the player ,versus having many grunts that can be easily taken out, further facilitating the sense of an intense melee brawl.
Character Mechanics Overview
Since the goal of Black Panther: The Game is to have a fast-paced melee combat, his actions should also facilitate that speed, be simple enough for the AAA mainstream player, but have a high enough skill ceiling for combat experts.
These following abilities are Black Panther’s base abilities; things that the player will always have access to in the game.
Move: move around the area at base speed
Attack: attack enemies using a series of different combos
Dodge: Dodge horizontally to avoid getting damaged. This also applies invincibility frames so the player can dodge through hitboxes.
Jump: Jump vertically to access jump combos, clear obstacles, or avoid enemies
Parry: Right before an attack hits, the player can parry the attack and not take damage (similar to Arkham’s counter)
Sprint: Black Panther can sprint, moving at an elevated speed
Lock-On: Locking on will focus Black Panther’s attacks on a single enemy
Within the base abilities, the player has access to many ways of avoiding damage. This suits Black Panther’s character and personality, as he’s a very nimble character, using his agility to jump, dodge, and parry to win fights. Players can also string these abilities with attacks to access to a larger suite of attacks (like attacking after a dodge or a jump).
One note is that there isn’t a Block ability listed. I made this decision because the game should be facilitating Black Panther’s speed, encouraging the player to move and keep the momentum up, not turtle behind a Block ability (and consequentially, making the fight more stagnant).
The player’s offensive ability is limited to a single attack button, simplifying inputs for players that play mainstream AAA action games. However, as stated above, there will be multiple ways of adding new strategies to the attacks so that the skill ceiling is still high enough.The player will also have access to the Special Abilities detailed below, which has a larger toolkit of damage dealing methods.
These following abilities are Black Panther’s special abilities. These won’t be used as often as the base abilities, but they have much more impact.
Use Gadget: Black Panther has an arsenal of gadgets to enhance his combat and stealth that the player can use them at any time (even in the middle of combos)
Switch Gadget: Black Panther can also switch these gadgets at any time, giving the player the ability to string together multiple attacks and gadgets consecutively
Switch Suit: Black Panther has multiple modes that his suit can switch between, each giving him access to different abilities, attack combos, and buffs (more strength, speed, or defense). The player can also switch these suits on the fly, so advanced players can string together multiple types of combos, abilities, and buffs fluidly. This will be communicated visually to the player using the colored lining of the suit (for example, the suit in the movie has a purple lining), switching between colors each time the player switches a suit.
Suit Ability 1, 2, Ultimate: Each suit has access to 3 unique abilities: two regular abilities and one ultimate ability. This is similar to the way abilities and ultimate abilities are structured in Overwatch (2–3 abilities that are used at a consistent rate, with the ultimate firing off once or twice every match).
For the combat control setup of Black Panther, the player must be able to access the most important functions during the heat of combat. These controls are specifically used for combat encounters, not for the other gameplay sections such as stealth or traversal.
The base abilities are mapped to the face buttons, which are primarily what the player will be using. One aspect of the face buttons is that all of these functions cannot be used simultaneously with camera control (because the player’s right thumb will be either on the face buttons or the right analog stick). Because of this, the abilities will be working based off of where the camera is currently looking, either according to the current locked-on enemy or through a camera system that automatically leans towards what the player is attacking.
Another set of face buttons is the d-pad, which is mapped to switching to specific gadgets. The player will not be using gadgets as often as the suit abilities, so the player’s left thumb will be on the left analog stick more often. This set-up also gives the player more control into which gadgets are being selected.
The shoulder buttons are for abilities that the player should have access to while on-the-move (because of the left analog stick), so these are abilities that the player will be using a lot, almost as much as the face buttons.
Parry is mapped to L1 because it will be something the player will be always using, as it counters incoming enemy attacks with a well-timed press (similar to the counter system in Arkham).
The player can either tap R1 to cycle through suits without slowing down the game, but when the player holds down R1, a small radial menu with the player’s suits will appear, and the player will use the right analog stick to select one. More advanced players will likely prefer to just tap to cycle, as it won’t slow down their momentum. This is mapped to R1 both because it will be used often and because of the convenience of holding down R1 to bring up a radial menu.
When the player switches between suits, this also switches what abilities the player has access to. These are mapped to the two shoulder buttons, L2 and R2. These will be used pretty frequently, but one of the reasons these are mapped to the shoulder buttons is for controller feel, as these abilities are more powerful than regular base abilities on the face buttons. Shoulder buttons feel better when used for bigger abilities. This same logic applies to the ultimate ability, which is mapped to L2 and R2 pressed at the same time. This will be utilized very rarely (maybe once or twice an encounter) so unleashing it should feel good.
Some of the weaknesses of this control scheme is that certain aspects of it are not symmetrical with the rest of the controller. Often, when parry or block is mapped to L1, then R1 should be attack. Same for switching gadgets with the D-Pad. Another is that it does not take in account the other gameplay sections, which may require more real estate on the controller (particularly the D-Pad).
My goal for this control scheme is something that leans into the learned history of most AAA mainstream control schemes (so the player can learn it quickly), and giving the player the most freedom possible to chain together lots of different abilities back-to-back.
Black Panther is an extremely interesting character to design for, as his character abilities and mechanics are very specific because the character (both in comics and movies) is very strict in how he operates and fights. This makes the design space very tight, but lots of room for interesting mechanics. My goal was focusing all 3 C’s (Character, Camera, and Controls) to specifically fit Black Panther‘s personality and create a agile, awesome, efficient killer.
In Part 2 of this Black Panther Character Mechanics write-up, I’ll be diving into the specifics of the combat system. You can read it here!