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Non-lethal fights with lethal weapons

Add Comment! By David Rosen on May 6th, 2009

After watching a lot of swordfights in movies, I've noticed that many of the most memorable ones are not 'to the death', despite the use of deadly weapons. Many, if not most, movie duels end with the winner disarming his opponent, or stopping just short of a lethal strike. Non-lethal endings allow for a wider range of motivations than just wanting to kill one another, and adds drama to the scene by adding a new choice - should the victor murder his opponent in cold blood, or try to find an alternative?

In this scene from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a young girl (Jen) has stolen a legendary sword, and challenged a more experienced swordswoman (Shu-lien) to a fight. Although she uses a whole arsenal of deadly weapons, Shu-lien has no intention of actually hurting Jen - she just wants to convince her that she is not disciplined enough to wield such a dangerous weapon. On the other hand, Jen is young and angry, and is not above taking advantage of Shu-lien's hesitation.

This classic scene from The Empire Strikes Back shows even more lopsided intentions. Darth Vader could easily kill Luke Skywalker, but his goal is to capture him and convince him to join the Empire. On the other hand, Luke's goal is to kill Vader and escape with his friends.

The Princess Bride has an unusually cordial duel between the masked hero Westley and professional swordsman Inigo Montoya. Westley just wants to get past to save his true love from a forced marriage, and has no intention of hurting anyone who doesn't deserve it. On the other hand, Inigo half-heartedly tries to do his job (killing Westley).

None of these scenarios are really possible using traditional fighting game mechanics. There have been some attempts - usually triggering a cutscene as soon as one fighter's health drops below a certain threshold, but that is pretty clunky and unsatisfying. We have some ideas about how to represent a broader range of lethality and honour in our fight scenes, but first I would like to hear your ideas. How can we represent different kinds of fight scenes in Overgrowth without resorting to cut scenes?