Wednesday, 6 October 2010

The Actual Gameplay (How to Rock Your Battle Scenes)

Recently, I bought a nerf gun. Why, you ask? Well, I'm doing this little thing called HvZ - Humans vs. Zombies. It boils down to a week long game of cross-campus tag. Only in this case, whoever isn' t 'it' can shoot your sorry self with a nerf gun. This calls for massive training.


I know they have to advance plot and/or characterization, but sometimes it's hard to know how to make it interesting. Be honest: how many times have you skimmed over battle scenes in books, even if you cared about the outcome? *COUGH*toomanytimestocount*COUGH*

Yeah, me too.

But not every battle is equal to every other. Here are three types of battles:

A) Social battle - oh no she did NOT just steal my lip gloss. This chick's going DOWN.

B) Physical conflict - fight breaks out on the team after Quarterback John discovered Runningback Bill also has a crush on Band Geek Mary. (It could happen.)

C) 'War' Battle - Not one to raise the stakes, but the one that decides them. Small country of Snickers revolting against the Cotton Candy King, that sort of thing.

How to make people care?
Well, let's ask the people who not only make 'readers' care, but do it so successfully that their battles are the main reason people buy their products.
That's right - it's Legend of Zelda Time!

(For previous posts, check the left sidebar)

Battles in Twilight Princess were, without a doubt, the best improvements on the game. Sure, the plot was cool. Yes, the 'new look' was nifty. But being able to use the Master Sword while riding a horse?
Heck. Yes.

But how do we do this with writing?
One of the classic Zelda game formulas is a dungeon - or a temple. It's pretty formulaic.
Enter Dungeon
Go through trials and puzzles
Defeat Mini-Boss
Get a new weapon
Go through more trials and puzzles
Boss Battle - best way to defeat the boss is using the new weapon.

See? What Legend of Zelda has done - what many games have done - is tied the battle fully in the story line. It isn't just the stakes that matter, it's not just who wins, it's how they win it.
For example: Cotton Candy King and his land of Tastiness have long oppressed the minor province of Snickers. From that province arises a hero. Hero has a flair for drinking milk. Hero confronts King and wins because milk made him strong.

Okay, I get it. Makes sense - the milk comes back into play. Clever. But is it enough?

Cotton Candy King and his land of Tastiness have long oppressed the minor province of Snickers, forcing them to drink milk rather than other, tastier drinks. A young man from the land - one who can drink more milk than any other man alive - rises from the province and leads a rebellion against the Cotton Candy King. In a clever twist, Hero destroys Cotton Candy King and his army by drowning them in milk.

I know the difference is sort of subtle - but do you get it?
The best advice I have (and you should take it, cause, um, I'm a genius. By which I mean, be swallowing this stuff with cupfuls of salt, a spoon won't cut it) is to stop thinking about your battle scenes as battle scenes. Think of them as puzzles you can use to bring previous aspects of the story back into play.
Want an example of this? Jim Butcher's Codex Alera. Read them. Read them all.

What about you? Do you like battle scenes? Hate them? Avoid them?
What about Legend of Zelda? Isn't it flipping awesome?



Marsha Sigman said...

This is where the generation gap happens between you and I. I have no interest in Zelda (gasp). But I would totally get into a nerf

I also used to be slightly(read:major) addicted to the Gauntlet and we played it on Nintendo64!!! Since then I must control myself so I can hold down a full time job. I do love battle scenes and hells yes they are hard to write! Even fight scenes are hard. Because you should really act them out if you want them to be authentic and then I could like break a hip or something. Ok, I'm not really THAT old. I also love those old spice commercials.

Great post!!

Sangu said...

Oooh great post! I find myself usually skimming battle scenes in books, unless they're particularly well-written or original, and I don't really like writing them. But this mostly the war-battle kind. I love social battles, those are fun!

Janet Johnson said...

Ugh! I have battle scenes in my book, and they were major pain to write. I had to do a lot of editing to get to the strategy you're talking about. Definitely made them better.

Renae said...

Battle scenes are a challenge for me to write, I don't want them to be something that gets skimmed over. I like this stratey. Great post!

Jen Daiker said...

I'm definitely into battling scenes however I normally don't have to do very many with the novels I work on.

Horror, Romance and more in my novels... very few battles... but the one I'm working on for NaNo will probably have battles... guess I better be prepared!!

Speaking of battles I need to jump to Carrie Harris's site to vote for the next battle between weird beings!

Missed Periods said...

I don't read many books with battle scenes in them, but I know what you mean because of the battle scenes in movies. I tend to get bored with them because there's nothing new or they are too over the top. The last battle scenes I can remember enjoying was in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon because they were so beautiful. Oh, and Karate Kid.

Wild Rose said...

Lovely post and that image of the old spice guys had me laughing :)

Talli Roland said...

I love verbal battles but the physical... not so much. :)

Lisa said...


And so are Nerf guns. AWESOME. This post is dripping with awesomeness.