The 3 Pillars of Combat – A Concept

When you want to create a game, what do you start with? The Story? The Characters? A Vacuum Cleaner (like Nintendo did it)? (A) certain core mechanic(s)? If you’re a creator like this the possibilities are seemingly endless if you have enough motivation, skill and eventually money. I am currently here thinking how a game from myself would look like, as I want to go into the direction of being a Game Designer. I now proudly present a concept of a formula for Beat’em’Ups which I call “The 3 Pillars of Combat”.

When going into my vision of a game, it all has to start with a certain foundation, on that everything is build on. This “foundation” is for me the most important part of the game, and everything should be built around it. So what would that foundation of “my game” would be. When I think of what’s the most important thing of my favourite genre, the Beat’em’Up is, it’s clearly the combat, so I begin with exactly this and the concept I call “The 3 Pillars of Combat”.



The 3 Pillars are a formula, on the pic above they’re broken down to the 3 fundamental elements, the 3 Pillars themselves which consist of “Offense”, “MOW (Moments of Weakness)” and “Dodging (Your Defense)”. Every combat situation in the game should revolve around these 3 pillars, if one of these pillars falls flat or does not exist in any combat situation, the encounter will not be fun. In other words, in theory: Every Combat situation fullfilling the 3 Pillars Concept is fun and challenging to play. This statement does not yet include the enemy mechanics which we will cover at a later time. First, let’s look at the 3 Pillars themselves.

Roughly these 3 Pillars fulfill each one very basic action:

  • Offense: Standard Offensive Maneuvers, for Dealing Damage and Enemy Position Control.
  • Dodge: Standard Defensive Maneuver, Guarding should also be possible but the focus is on Dodging.
  • Moments Of Weakness (MOW): Certain moments where enemies are exposed and where attacks hit more effectively.

Now, I have to further elaborate each aspect of the 3 Pillars, and most importantly how they interact with each other.


Now, let’s stay basic for the moment and most importantly, grounded, no jump ability, and give the player 3 basic offensive moves.

The basic jab is just that, a jab that does some minor damage but is very fast.

The kick is a move that takes a bit more time to perform but does more damage and can launch the enemy.

The Guard Break is a technique that breaks the enemies block and only does a minuscule amount of damage.

Now, just like that those moves barely make any difference if the enemy isn’t doing something. So let’s give the enemy some abilities that give these 3 basic moves more meaning.

First off, let’s apply hitstun. A short moment of staggering when the enemy gets hit by the jab, a longer moment of staggering when hit by the kick and only a very short moment of staggering when he gets hit by the Guard Break.

With the Guard Break, the different attacks already have a different effect on the enemy besides “Do Damage”. If there is one thing I noticed in God Hand or Bayonetta, it is that you have a combat goal besides just “Killing The Enemy”, for God Hand it is Exploiting the Enemies Weaknesses for Crowd Control/Staring Combos and in Bayonetta it is to keep your flow up during the fight. Frankly said, I think this is the key for a good Action Game, having a combat goal besides “Kill the enemy”, so I want to achieve something like this too.

However, the Guard Break doesn’t have any use like that, only does very little damage and staggers the enemy only very shortly. So we have to give this attack more relevance, a certain effect it has on enemies that gives you and advantage. We call these “effects” Properties, so let’s give Guard Break a property that gives it its name, the “Guard Break” Property. The effect is, it can break an opponents Guard, when he uses that to protect himself from enemy attacks.

However, this move still doesn’t serve any use when the enemy doesn’t guard in the first place, so let’s give him the ability to. For simplification sake, we are just gonna pretend he can do it at random (for now) and that he leaves it up for a while. The guard itself has the effect that every attack of yours, with the exception of Attacks with Guard Break property, can not damage nor stagger the opponent.

Now “Guard Break” then is able to break that block and expose the enemy to more attacks. However, a broken Guard like that allows to enemy to just block again right after that Guard is broken, so we need to have a lasting effect for being able to break an enemy’s guard. Let a successful Guard Break stun the enemy for a longer amount of time.

Now, let’s recap what we have:



With that the player has the possibility to keep a certain “flow” going. However, there is still nothing really stopping the player from just using Jab, Jab, Jab, Jab the whole time, only thing is that the enemy doesn’t die as fast.

What is needed here is a punishment for player who just mash X the whole time, so let’s give the enemy something I will refer to as “Guard Tolerance”. What I mean with that is that the enemy, when the player continuously attacks into the Block of said enemy, the Guard ends and the enemy parries the player causing a stun on the player, making him unable to attack for a time.

Now once again, the player is still not stopped from continuously attacking, so this is the moment where we give the enemy the ability to attack. And with that, we should introduce…


I said before the Defense should be Dodge focused, so let’s give the character a sidestep. A quick move with so-called Invincibility-Frame, aka frames in which the enemy attacks do not affect you in any way. To make sure that this doesn’t become an overpowered gimmick, we make sure that you have a short so-called Recovery animation, which is a cooldown after the dodge in which the character can’t dodge again, so the timing is more important than just spamming dodge.

Let’s just give the enemy a high kick. It is important to say it is a “high” kick, I will reveal later why.

Now with the kick finally giving the opponent an attack, we have to look when he uses it. One instance of course is directly after the enemy parries your attack

Other instances are at random when he is in idle position. Let’s just give him these two moments of attack right now.

What is important here is that the enemy can be aggressive without screwing up the player too much. What I mean here is simple, the player should always have a chance to avoid damage during an incoming attack. With that in mind, even during a repelled attack, and the player shortly stunned, he should be able avoid the incoming attack.

With that in mind, instead of completely stunning the player after they get parried, let’s give him a single option, the sidestep. In addition to its primary use as an evasive move, it is also recovering the stun he received from being parried.

So now we have the following flow in case of a parried player attack:

(Repeated) Attack by Player
Parry by Enemy
Hitstun on Player
Enemy counterattacks
Player evades via sidestep

Rinse and Repeat if we would go by that.


Now, are you still with me? We have now an amount of player actions and enemy actions:

  • Attack
  • Block
  • Parry
  • (Counter) attack
  • Guard Break
  • Evasive Sidestep

 Every move can be responded with by another:

Attack >< Block/Parry
Block >< Guard Break
(Counter)attack >< Evasive Sidestep

The importance here is that every of your moves has a purpose in dealing with the enemy and can cause a specific reaction out of the enemy.

This is the very basic of the concept now, covering both Offensive and Defensive of both Player and enemy. If we would just expand on this concept, we could give the enemy several different attack with different timings to evade, while giving the player a thing like a combo for example. None of these would break the balance above.

In addition to that, you can add an evasive move for the enemy that can be followed up with a counter to add more movement into this. There is more details that can be covered here like timing and such. If you have sidesteps for example you gotta make sure that you can sidestep an entire enemy combo. Not that the enemy does a two attack-combo, you evade the first one but get hit during the recovery animation by the second one. This would be pretty unfair, and we want to construct a game structure through which a player can go through perfectly, without taking damage.

Now, we could make this standard. Give every enemy a certain moveset that can be dealt with the tools I just gave you. However, so far we have only covered 2 of the Pillars of the entire concept: Attack and Defense (Dodging), now let’s take care of…


Moments of Weakness (MOW)

Now, first, what is a MOW? A MOW is a certain state of the enemy in which attacks of the player have a bigger effect on them. This of course mean primarily more damage but also other effects. If you remember at the beginning, we gave the player a Jab, Kick and a Guard Break. Jabs and Kicks were basically the same, just that the latter one does a bit more damage. The Guard Break is causing a stun after it breaks the enemy guard. We’re making this stun the first, and the “simplest” MOW of the enemy. We will talk about the effects later, let’s add more MOW’s to the enemy pattern.

Also, at the moment, we did not have set any kind of timings. For example how long the i-frames on your sidestep last till it goes into the recovery animations. For the following step, having those timings in important. We also have to elaborate on the cooldown of the enemy attack. Or basically, on the timings of everything, since a single MOW shouldn’t be the most reliant one.

For future reference, we’ll assume the framerate of the game at 60 fps.

Let’s give the enemy a combo that contains 2 high kicks. The wind-up animation before the first kick hits is 30 frames. Half a second is more than enough for a normal human to react properly. The time between the first kick and the second kick is at 30 frames. Your own side-step dodge (the i-frames) lasts for 25 with 5 additional frames as recovery animation, that can be cancelled out with an attack. Your high kick has 15 frames till it connects. In other words, you need 40 frames to sidestep and connect with a high kick.

With the average human reaction time, this shouldn’t be enough for you to land a kick in-between those two kicks. However, how about we give the player a faster type of dodge that comes with a certain penalty? Let’s give the player a dodge that lasts for only 15 frames, the last 5 frames being cancellable, with 10 additional frames as recovery animation, which can be chained together indefinitely. However, that dodge is only “ducking” in front of the enemy and you are stuck in place, you are not able to move. Now, with your high kick connection in 15 frames, you have a total of 25 frames till to duck and connect with a high kick if things go smoothly. This more than enough time to get a kick in.

Keep in mind those numbers are only for a better visualisation and are only used as an example here. The point here is giving the player a dodge move, which is faster, and is able to land a following attack into an opening of the enemy combo, with the penalty of only covering half the body and being stuck in place.

What is the purpose of this? Interrupting an enemy combo or in the middle of an attack animation with an attack is called a counterhit and often is also used as an MOW in most Fighting Games, and so they are part of this concept as well. Being able to read the enemy combo and then precisely interrupting those combos when there is an opening is separating the experienced from the unexperienced, since with higher difficulty, the Guard Tolerance mentioned earlier will become lower, till relying solely on your Guard Break to hit becomes almost impossible.

With that in mind, we have expanded the defensive repertoire by a move that is also sees great use in exposing MOW’s. We have two types of MOW’s now, the Guard Break and the Counterhit, let’s expand it by one more.

As of now, a fight would barely take a break. With how hectic an action game can get, it is always wise to put in certain breaks into the hectic struggle. I want to introduce a certain state  that rewards players that are able to continuously beat down their enemy, the Dizzy State. It is a long state in which the player is allowed to just beatdown their enemy for a long time, causing lots of damage before they recover. A simple idea, but it gives the good players something to play around with and a good “pause” before they have to concentrate on the enemy moves again.

MOW (Moments of Weaknesses).jpg
Here the idea of MOW’s explained in a picture.


Now, we got all 3 Pillars standing. This concept is entirely based on those 3 Pillars, as the game continues to expand, we have to pay attention to all 3 Pillars being covered. We’re getting a lot into details here, you can modify each pillar a little bit. For example you could make an enemy that needs more than one Guard Break to be sent into the Guard Break Stun. However, we also avoid breaking rules, like i-frames being ignored and such.

With the last part, you should know also understand in how the 3 Pillars work together. Offense and Defense work together expose the enemy MOW better. This also is in mind with how the enemy works. Your offense and defense deal with the pattern of the enemy, while the player works towards the most efficient goal to take them out, exposing the MOW’s.

To me, it is important that in an Action Game, there needs to be a dynamic the player has to aim for, in order to take out enemies as quickly as possible. In other words, a goal besides just “defeat the enemy”.

What I have here is the basis, the very raw idea of the 3 Pillars of Combat. They need to be expanded upon, and I will do that! Not in this blogarticle though. In the next article I will concentrate on enemy behaviour and will of course do that on the basis of the 3 Pillars.

With this, I am ending this article. i hope you liked my ideas and concept and can give feedback to help me improve on my way!

See ya, Bye Bye then~

MrEinFan aka Chris




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