Black Panther Character Mechanics Pt. 2 — Combat System, Abilities, Gadgets

Overview

In the Pt. 1, I talked about what I thought Black Panther’s character mechanics would be if he had his own game. I went through the camera, overall character mechanics, and the controls.

In Pt. 2 (which is also the final part), I will be going more in-depth with the overall combat system, Black Panther’s gadgets, health recovery, suit modes, abilities, and other aspects of the game besides combat.

Overall Combat System

The goal of the combat system will be focused on encouraging fast and fluid combat while also facilitating the fantasy of being Black Panther: a superhero that can elegantly and efficiently take on multiple enemies at once.

As mentioned in Pt. 1, the player will be fighting a couple enemies at a time, but not as much as Arkham or Spider-Man. The average number of enemies directly engaging the player simultaneously would be around 2–3. There can be more enemies in the overall encounter, but the number of enemies that are directly targeting with the player should be kept low so that Black Panther can flow between offense and defense.

Black Panther has a health bar, an energy bar, gadgets, suit modes, the suit mode’s corresponding abilities, and a combo that increases as the player does certain actions in combat, such as damaging an enemy, parrying (pressing the parry button right before an enemy hit lands will counter the hit), or pulling off perfect dodges (pressing dodge right before an enemy hit lands). If the player is damaged in any way, the combo breaks and goes back to 0.

When the player’s health bar hits zero, they die and return to the last checkpoint. The player uses the energy bar to use the abilities. T’Challa can actively engage groups of enemies, or forced into combat if he is found in a stealth section.

As stated in Pt. 1, this is not an open world game. It is wide linear, so players can approach some enemy encounters from different angles, but it’s about giving the player different entry points, not about giving the player total freedom.

Now that we’ve gone over the basic overview of the combat system, let’s dive dive into the three pillars of Black Panther’s combat mechanics: Melee, Gadgets, and Suit Abilities.

Melee

Black Panther has a single attack button (currently mapped to Square on a PS4 controller), so the player would primarily be using this to damage enemies. There are combos in the game, which is stringing together multiple attacks. There are also pause combos, which uses pauses at certain points in the combo string (similar to Devil May Cry) to unleash new attacks. The single attack button reduces the input complexity for players, so more players can pull off flashy moves. This helps with the target audience, since this isn’t a hardcore combat-focused game but a AAA Blockbuster game. However, it still has a ceiling high enough for skilled players that want something deeper.

As there is a single button for melee attacks, all the different interaction variations for a button press are used for different attacks. For example, holding the attack button charges an attack. The player can also pull off Critical Hits by pressing the Attack button right when the attack hits the enemy. This gives the player +2 combo instead of +1 per hit, incentivizing higher skill play. The difference between Critical Hits and pause combos is when the player be presses the attack button during a combo. For pause combos, the player hits the attack button when the animation has almost ended.

There are different attacks and combos that open up based on what state Black Panther is in. For example, different attacks are available if the attack button is pressed right after a dodge, a sprint, or a parry.

The biggest attack options that open up are in the air after the player jumps. This opens up Air Combat, where the player can do almost any attack in the air as they could on the ground. The player can dash, parry, and use abilities in the air also. This adds more layers to the combat, and opens up possibilities of extending juggles and combos.

This is just mentioning attacks using Black Panther’s base abilities. There are also special traversal abilities Black Panther can do such as wall runs and climbs, and attacks and combos off of these actions also activate unique combos and air combos.

The final layer of complexity comes from Black Panther’s damage system. When the player attacks, it turns on a hitbox on T’Challas active limbs and hits any enemies that come in contact with the hitbox. This allows for the player to hit multiple enemies at once. By default, when Black Panther hits enemies, they become stun-locked in the attack combo. This benefits both average and skilled players because average players can stun-lock multiple enemies with a combo, and skilled players can increase their combo even faster by hitting multiple enemies. Players can even uppercut and do air combos on multiple enemies.

Average players won’t need to learn these skills to succeed. These attacks have very low input complexity and average players can lower the difficulty and button mash their way through. However, for skilled players that want something deeper, this game has a lot of contextual complexity. It challenges players to be quick on their feet to pick a good strategy for the situation they are faced with.

Gadgets

The second pillar of Black Panther’s combat system is the gadgets. Black Panther has access to multiple gadgets that he unlocks over the course of the game. Gadgets are selected using the D-Pad, with each gadget mapped to a direction. Gadgets are used by pressing the gadget button (currently mapped to Triangle on a PS4 controller)

These can be used at any time in combat and are used to give the player some breathing room. Each gadget has multiple levels that can be upgraded over the course of the game, but the main function of each gadget will remain largely the same across levels (just more powerful, or expanded actions).

Gadgets are replenished with a cooldown with charges. The player has a maximum amount of gadget charges, and when a gadget is used, the charges decrease by 1 and a gadget cooldown starts. When the gadget cooldown is complete, the player gains 1 gadget charge. This means that the player can use multiple gadgets back-to-back, but will have to wait to gain the gadget charges for each charge used.

The player can speed up the gadgets cooldown by successfully pulling off defensive actions such as parrying or doing a perfect dodge. The cooldown will also speed up the higher the player’s combo is. This rewards players for high-level play, but doesn’t punish players that don’t want to focus on skilled combat.

Since the Gadgets are mapped to the D-Pad, there are four gadgets, one for each direction. The player can customize which gadgets are mapped to which directions. The directions listed below are the default. The gadgets can be used with any suit mode, so the functionality is very generalized since it exists on top of all of the base attacks and specific suit abilities the player has access to.

Heal (Down) — the most important gadget for the average player would be the heal gadget. when it is used, a player instantly refills a portion of health (approximately 20%). Most new players would have this gadget equipped, but as players progress through the story and receive new gadgets, they will get more skilled and be able to utilize different gadgets. This also means that high-skill players wouldn’t need to have this always equipped and can optimize their DPS by switching through the other gadgets.

Stun (Left) — when used, this gadget will go to the nearest enemy and stun them, meaning that they will freeze in their current position and not be able to do any actions for a set amount of time. This can be used by average players to give themselves breathing room, meaning one less enemy is trying to attack them. For higher skill players, this would help decrease risk of breaking combos, since there would be less enemies to hit them.

Green is Black Panther, White is Gadget, Purple is Damage, and Red is Enemy

Bomb (Up) — when used, this gadget will do damage, knock down, and push back enemies within a radius around where the bomb lands. The damage isn’t so high that it would kill an enemy at full health, but it does deal splash damage to multiple enemies based on how close they are to the bomb’s impact point. This helps give the average players some breathing room since it knocks enemies down and deals some damage. For skilled players, it helps extend combos by doing damage.

Green is Black Panther, White is Gadget, Purple is Damage, and Red is Enemy

Pull (Right) — when used, this gadget will pull all enemies within a radius to a single point (where the gadget landed). Enemies will stay stuck on that location for a short amount of time. This will help new players get breathing room by reducing the amount of enemies that are near them. For new players, this would open up new combo possibilities, like combo-ing a bomb after a pull, and starting a juggle after enemies are knocked into the air with the bomb.

Green is Black Panther, White is Gadget, Purple is Damage, and Red is Enemy

To summarize, all the gadgets provide average players easy methods of getting some breathing room when they are overwhelmed by the combat encounters, and provide skilled players even more opportunities to extend combos and express themselves through the combat system.

Suit Abilities

The final pillar of Black Panther’s combat system is the Suit Abilities. T’Challa has the Black Panther suit that can switch between four different modes on the fly. When the player switches between each mode, the abilities the player has access to also changes. Each ability uses 1 energy, and ultimate abilities use 3 energy. The player can also upgrade this energy bar as the game progresses, with a maximum of 5. When the player uses an ability, each ability for each suit mode will have their own separate cooldown timers(similar to Overwatch). This is so players don’t spam abilities to deplete a full energy bar, but can also switch between suit modes to use abilities while others are on cooldown.

The player uses the abilities with L2 and R2, and uses ultimate abilities with L2 and R2 pressed simultaneously. The player switches between modes by either pressing R1 to cycle through the modes, or by holding down R1 and using the right analog stick to select from a radial menu that displays a high-level description of what each suit is. When the radial menu is active, the game also slows down time for a short period. The time slowdown gives average players time to make a decision between which mode to switch to, but isn’t so long that it can be abused by skilled players to plan out whole strategies.

If players press R1 after a attack lands (the same timing as a critical hit), the suit will fire a small burst in a radius around the player, very lightly damaging nearby enemies and giving the player +1 combo. There is also a small cooldown (approximately 1–2 seconds) on when a player can quick-switch suits. This encourages skilled players to stay in the flow of combat while switching suit modes, without giving players an infinite amount of easy to hit, AOE attacks.

The player has an energy bar that is made up of discrete pieces that is used to activate the abilities. The energy bar refills slowly over time, but with every offensive action the player does (like damaging the enemy, or killing an enemy), it fills faster. The energy bar will also fill faster the higher the player’s combo is.

The following are the four suit modes. The way it is visually indicated is with the accents on the suits. In the movie, it’s shown as purple. In the game, the accents would switch each time the mode switches.

STRENGTH (PURPLE)

Ability 1: Ground Pound — Black Panther jumps into the air and then slams into the ground, moderately damaging and slightly knocking back enemies in a radius where the player lands.

Green is Black Panther, Purple is Ability Hitbox, Red is Enemy

Ability 2: Rocket Punch — Black Panther lunges forward with a powerful punch, knocking back and heavily damaging enemies that come into contact with the punch.

Green is Black Panther, Purple is Ability Hitbox, Red is Enemy

Ultimate: Daggers — Black Panther summons two energy daggers, enhancing the player’s damage for a period of time.

SPEED (BLUE)

Ability 1: Pounce — Black Panther pounces forward, targeting the enemy the player is pointed towards, and deals moderate damage.

Green is Black Panther, Purple is Ability Hitbox, Red is Enemy

Ability 2: Back Slash — Black Panther slices in front of him, dealing moderate damage, while flipping backwards, avoiding all damage while doing so.

Green is Black Panther, Purple is Ability Hitbox, Red is Enemy

Ultimate: Time Slowdown — Black Panther increases his reaction time, slowing down time. Black Panther moves at normal speed while enemies move at 50% speed.

DEFENSE (GREEN)

Ability 1: Push — Black Panther sends enemies flying within a radius around him. This does not damage the enemy, just knocks them back.

Green is Black Panther, Purple is Ability Hitbox, Red is Enemy

Ability 2: Energy Field — Black Panther places a large stationary circular field on the ground. When the player is in this field, their defense is increased. When enemies are in the field, their defense is decreased.

Green is Black Panther, Purple is Ability Hitbox, Red is Enemy

Ultimate: Armor — Black Panther forms a layer of armor on top of his suit. This adds an armor bar on top of the health bar, and the armor does not regenerate. After a set amount of time, the armor will be removed.

STEALTH (WHITE)

Ability 1: Panther Vision — Black Panther uses this to highlight nearby enemies, items, and other points of interest. After the Panther Vision deactivates, the items stay highlighted for a short period of time after before fading away.

Ability 2: Sleep Gas —Black Panther releases Sleeping Gas in a radius around him, causing enemies within the area of effect to fall asleep.

Green is Black Panther, Purple is Ability Hitbox, Red is Enemy

Ultimate: Invisibility — Black Panther turns invisible for a set amount of time.

Other Aspects of the Game

I’ve gone into depth with the overall combat system, but this Black Panther game also has other sections. I won’t explore them too much, but I do want to touch on them to show how the combat system interacts with them. The three aspects I want to mention is stealth, traversal, and skill trees.

One of Black Panther’s main skills is stealth, so the game will feature stealth sections where the player will traverse an area while quietly taking out enemies. The player would be using the Stealth suit mode (as defined above) to progress through these. Because Black Panther’s combat system focuses on taking on 2–3 enemies at once, the punishment for getting caught in stealth sections would be facing many more powerful enemies at once.

Certain open questions remain with stealth that would have to be explored and iterated upon:

  • Should the player’s energy bar refill faster during stealth sections so the player can use the stealth abilities more often?
  • Since the player wouldn’t be taking out enemies or getting hits in, the energy bar wouldn’t fill as quickly as it would in full-on combat.
  • Gadgets should be able to be used in stealth sections. There should be upgrades or multiple versions of gadgets that the player unlocks throughout the game, and certain versions of each (stun, bomb, and pull) that supports a more stealth approach. For example, a bomb upgrade or version could be a mine that explodes when activated (like a C4) vs. on impact.

Another one of Black Panther’s main skills is traversal, specifically parkour. The player can run along walls and climb up walls with ease, and this would be used for platforming challenges throughout the game, as well as enhancing the player’s combat capabilities with attacks that can be done after parkour skills (like attacking after running on a wall).

Finally, the player would be upgrading Black Panther’s skills throughout and getting more powerful. Each one of the suit abilities, gadgets, and melee attacks would have their own separate skill trees. For example, new combos would be unlocked for melee attacks, gadgets would get more powerful or add new variations, and abilities would become more powerful and expand in different ways.

All of these may seem overwhelming for a player, but it would be slowly paced throughout the game so that players can learn each new aspect, as well as having new things unlock to keep player’s attention.

In Conclusion

The goal of the game’s mechanics is to showcase Black Panther’s personality and character through his combat and mechanics, while also pulling from games with a more hardcore combat audience (like Sekiro, Devil May Cry, and Nioh) and fitting them more closely to AAA blockbuster sensibilities. My goal with the mechanics is to provide average players the power fantasy of being T’Challa, and skilled players a ceiling high enough for self-expression through combat.

Thanks for reading, I had a lot of fun designing Black Panther!

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Tri Nguyen

Tri Nguyen

is writing game design exercises and analyses

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