City of the Shroud Fuses Tactical RPGs with Fighting Games

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City of the Shroud Fuses Tactical RPGs with Fighting Games

Chain powerful combos together next year on PS4.

When we set out to design City of the Shroud‘s combat, we knew we wanted to make 1) a tactical RPG and 2) combine it with the strategic thinking and a sense of split-second action found in fighting games. Simple, right? The end result is a tactical RPG / fighting game-inspired combat system that rewards both patience and think-on-your-feet strategy, allowing for rapid-fire battles in a story-rich world.

So how did we end up with this system? After a lot of iterating (you should see some of the prototypes), we came up with the “Combo Wheel” — a circle of inputs used to activate and chain together special abilities, similar to a fighting game. Think down-right-down to shoot a fireball and you’ve got it; if any of you ever played Legend of Legaia, it’s a similar approach, but in real-time.

Since abilities require specific input sequences to activate them, you can equip abilities that share a starting and ending point for easy combos. For example, if you set a Duelist up with both Dash (up-left) and Roundhouse (left-down-right-up), you can push up-left-down-right-up to activate both skills using only five inputs. This results in the Duelist dashing to her target to slash them with her sword (Dash), then following up with a powerful spinning kick to knock them backwards (Roundhouse).

One reason we settled on putting a big wheel up on screen for these combos is that there are so many abilities and potential combos in the game that remembering them all in real time battles would be a tremendous burden. To make it so you can focus on combat and not have to recall a specific ability’s path, we set up the Combo Wheel to show each equipped ability’s starting input, with the following inputs appearing once you start the sequence. With everything laid out visually, there’s always guidance on how to activate a character’s abilities, so you can think about which ones to use, not how to use them.

So now you have a bunch of abilities and several angry opponents to use them on. Great! Or not, depending on your perspective! How do we manage real-time combat with all these characters and combos on a controller?

Two elements come into play here: the first is that the game rewards patience and strategy. Wait for the opportune moment to strike and victory will surely be yours. Mash buttons and, well, victory will probably not be yours. Finding the right moment to execute a powerful combo is key, and the pacing in combat reflects that.

The other is that we’ve put a lot of time and thought into getting combat to feel good with a controller. You can easily swap between characters, quickly navigate the battlefield, and pop open the Combo Wheel — all with just four buttons.

The Combo Wheel is currently controlled with the left stick: rotating the stick around in a circle is like moving around the wheel and letting it return to center resets your combo inputs. It’s a lot of fun to enter combos this way, and it’s really fast. We’re still iterating, though! We’re thinking about additional options — for example, using the face buttons or directional pad to represent the four inputs on the wheel.

What we’ve created for City of the Shroud: Definitive Edition is a rapid-fire tactical RPG that’s chock-full of action and strategy. Throw in the combo mechanics we’ve adapted, and it’s quite the shift! We’ve worked hard to make the experience as awesome as possible on a controller, and we hope you enjoy the results when City of the Shroud: Definitive Edition launches in 2019 on PS4!

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8 Author Replies

  • That wheel is a bit of an eyesore.

    I don’t really get how it’s real time either. Is just the command part real time as in you have only seconds to input attacks before your turn ends or what?

    I dunno I like the turn based strategy genre or SRPG whatever one people like to call it.

    However this aspect alone doesn’t really draw me to it.

    It makes me think gimmick. I don’t care for gimmicks when a genre doesn’t really need them.

    The interactive enviroment of the xcom games are what I’d like to see in more of these types of games.
    And lots of classes and loot to keep it going.

    Well and interesting things to fight against.

    • Hi! Thanks for the feedback.

      Although the game looks like it’s turn based (it is on a grid, after all), there aren’t any turn mechanics. Everything happens in real-time, with moving and attacking limited by Action Points, which regenerate steadily over time (sort of like stamina).

      Since all the characters can be doing something at any given moment, battles are fairly fast paced, and so it’s more of a think-on-your-feet approach to strategy and gives the game more of an action feel.

      The wheel pops up as both the way to activate abilities and simultaneously to show you what you need to do to activate your special abilities, sort of like the Judgment Ring in Shadow Hearts or the input system in Legend of Legaia.

      We’re toying with the option to have the game pause while you enter your attacks and to slow down the overall speed to allow players who prefer a more turn-based approach to play that way as well.

  • Legend of Legaia! Now that’s a name I haven’t heard in a long time! I’m glad someone else remembers it. It’s such a shame that it never came out on the PS Store.

    • I know… That game holds a special place in my heart. I still remember how cool it felt the first time I pulled off a Miracle Art!

  • Wow, I think you’ve got a really cool concept here! It seems a little difficult to explain in writing, but I assume it’s easy to understand once you’re actually playing it. Will there be a demo on PS4 or PC?
    So for your example of chaining combos, does it rely on the first ability (Dash) ending in the same direction as the next ability (Roundhouse) begins? So you’re looking for abilities that begin or end with the same direction inputs to chain together?
    And since I’m an old-school nerd, it reminds me of doing the Blitz combos with Sabin in Final Fantasy 6.
    Anyways, I love your art style, is that cel-shaded graphics?
    Does the terrain or vertical position affect combat?
    Do you have an idea of what the price will be, and the average game length?
    All right, enough questions from me.
    Thank you.

    • (My response got long, so I’m posting two replies!)

      Thank you!! And you are completely right, communicating this in writing has been my personal struggle for a while now.

      Also, Sabin, yes. Exactly. Left Right Left A forever.

      We do have a demo on PC available! It’s up on IndieDB and GameJolt (also, but that one is out of date). It runs on Win/Mac but the controller support isn’t as good as it is now :)

      When doing a combo, you don’t have to end one ability to start a new one – so, for example:

      Mage Class:

      Disintegrate: Up > Left > Down > Left
      Corrupt: Down

      Result: Basic Attack (like a light punch) > Basic Attack > Corrupt > Disintegrate

      means you’ll actually trigger the SECOND ability, Corrupt (down), before the first (long) one, Disintegrate. This is good because Disintegrate gets a damage multiplier from Corrupt. Corrupt on its own is fine – there are stronger moves you could equip that start with Down, but the option to use it with other abilities for enhanced damage is very tempting. It’s up to you!

    • The art is… how to put it, hand-painted? Yeah, hand-painted works. Basically, we’re using traditional (but stylized) lighting, modeling, and texturing techniques but doing them all in a hand-painted way. We worked with some friends of ours to develop a way of generating a hand-painted look procedurally as well! (Only for the characters, the environments are all actually done by hand)

      Vertical position does affect combat – there are some vertically tiered levels where range is a big advantage. It works out to be less about immediate damage bonuses and ends up being more about the ability to hit the opponent harder and faster than they can hit you, which makes for a nice bit of king-of-the-hill antics.

      We’re not set on the price for the Definitive Edition yet, so I’d have to get back to you on that one. Apologies!

      And average game length is still up in the air since the story isn’t fully written yet (the story is driven by the decisions of the player base leading up to the Definitive Edition), but expect a full-length action RPG’s worth of story and fighting, I’d say (I also tend to underestimate these things, so grain of salt!).

    • Thanks for the reply and all of the info Keaton, I’m definitely getting this once it releases!
      The artwork is amazing, thanks for the link. It definitely shows off how much detail goes into your models, far more than you can see in the videos above.
      And since you mentioned Final Fantasy Tactics (my favorite game of all-time) in a reply below, you have my respect now.
      Best of wishes on the final push before release. And I hope you sell a ton of copies.
      Thanks again.

  • Definitely try to post about this on the PS Blog again before it launches! Looks neat (and I think the wheel looks interesting)!

    • I will! We wanted to make the announcement now because of the way the game is structured (i.e., how it’ll be updated leading up to the Definitive Edition), so we’ll make some more noise once the PS4 release gets closer :)

  • Ah I got confused cause the videos only seem to show one person ever attacking at once.

    And by the wheel being an eyesore I only mean it was hard to make a connection to what the symbols mean
    to what was actually happening.

    Thank you for replying. It actually does seem more interesting now.

    I might actually pick up down the line.

    • Totally understandable, and thank you very much!

      Showing off how the real-time elements work is one of the things I’ve struggled with showing, so I’m glad to get honest feedback! I’ve found that if more than one character is doing stuff, it’s hard to understand what’s going on or why, but showing one character doing things makes it look more turn-based than it is. I may have leaned too hard in one direction this time, so I’ll keep that in mind for the next trailer!

  • Looks amazing. Taking tips from Suikoden Tactics like camera angles, paneled elements and adding more interesting features with the PS4 graphics. A very successful combination.

    • Thank you! *Very* early on, we experimented with an isometric Final Fantasy Tactics-style camera, but the more dynamic angles and motion you get with the type Suikoden Tactics used was so good we couldn’t pass it up. The battles are in 3D, so we figured we’d go all-in!

  • I hope it plays well on an arcade stick.
    I think that would be a really cool option.

    • That… is a really good idea. Thinking about it, it should actually be pretty fun that way – the arcade stick would control what tiles you have selected and inputting combos (in our default control setup), and the buttons would swap characters / open and close the combo wheel. Now I want to go try this out!

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