Why Is Swordfighting In So Many Video Games Terrible?

Illustration for article titled Why Is Swordfighting In So Many Video Games Terrible?

Swords are great and games are great, so why don't two great things go great together? Video games let us hack 'n' slash, sure, but it's often ultra-basic or even clunky. Why are games so good at giving us realistic guns, but not realistic swords? Let's find out.


Eurogamer decided to pit its pen against the issue of swords in games, and it found that there is no singular answer to the problem. Swordfighting in games is often functional, but it still has a long way to go. Why is this the case, even though swords have been appearing in games nearly as long as their bullet belching rivals? Eurogamer's Rick Lane, a member of a historical fencing society, broke it down.

"Unlike an FPS, where the input controls give a fairly accurate representation of the action involved when aiming and firing a gun, they bear no resemblance whatsoever to the full-body movements involved in swordplay. Even motion controls can't currently replicate things like the point at which two swords clash."

"In addition, whereas a gun fires a bullet in a straight(ish) line, a sword strike can come from any direction. You can attack from the sides, from overhead, across the diagonal, and even from below. You can cut or stab, or attack using the crossguard or pommel. There are different guards, different techniques, and even different styles. To give one example of the nuances of real swordplay, in medieval longsword there's no such thing as a parry. The length of the blade means every strike is designed to both defend the wielder's body and kill their opponent at the same time."


In short, swordfighting is an incredibly nuanced thing with hundreds of different forms and styles. Replicating every aspect of it in a virtual world would be nearly impossible. Many developers, then, are seeking to better replicate the feeling, if not every poke, prod, and pirouette of the real deal.

Examples include Chivalry: Medieval Warfare's first-person full-body system - in which WASD keys are basically your feet and your mouse controls your hips - and Blade Symphony's player-guided (as opposed to entirely pre-animated) swings. The Witcher 3, meanwhile, is including hundreds of subtle animations to replicate as many actual swordfighting possibilities as possible.

Illustration for article titled Why Is Swordfighting In So Many Video Games Terrible?

It's an odd time for swordfighting in games, though, largely because nobody's settled on a single good way to handle it. Worse, resources that might aid them in doing so are shockingly limited. Lane explained:

"There's simply no established framework for developing a melee combat game. Compounding this problem is the fact that there's no set rulebook for teaching real swordfighting techniques either. Much of the knowledge regarding the specific practice of Western martial arts has been lost in time, and the few instructive sources that remain are written in medieval variants of languages like German and Italian. Hence they require extensive translation and interpretation. So even if you tried to represent melee combat authentically in your game, there's no guarantee that the techniques you based it on will be correct."


It's quite a conundrum, then, but there's no doubt that swordfighting in many games is slowly but surely getting better. Moreover, it's grown fairly diverse with time, allowing for all sorts of different control schemes and combat cadences. Swordfighting is complicated, but that also means there's a ton to explore.

With a number of developers on the right track, there's no time better than the present for skull-splitting combat techniques that are hundreds or even thousands of years old. Well, aside from maybe a hundred or even a thousand years ago.


Developing by the sword [Eurogamer]

TMI is a branch of Kotaku dedicated to telling you everything about my adventures in the gaming industry (and sometimes other offbeat and/or uncomfortable subjects). It's an experiment in disclosure, storytelling, interviewing, and more. The gaming industry is weird. People are weird. I am weird. You are weird. Why hide that? Let's explore it.

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the Jedi Knight games had some fun sabre combat, don't know if that counts...