I am creating a world specifically to try out a few ideas as to how the StoryNexus engine mechanics can be used for ‘life’ simulation. A number of ideas exist in my own mind currently, and as time allows (a degree being one of the things that might distract me) I will try and create a set of playtestable concepts.
Essentially why I am saying this is that I know what I like in a game. I know how I like combat to work and how StoryNexus should be done. What I don’t know is what everyone else in the world thinks. My inspiration for this comes jointly from an Extra Credits episode (http://extra-credits.net/episodes/non-combat-gaming/) which used Echo Bazaar (old name for Fallen London) as an example of how games can revolve around something that isn’t combat (and I owe them for introducing me both to Fallen London, and now the amazing story nexus engine). The episode speaks for itself, and non-combat mechanics is ‘phase 2’ of this project.
‘Phase 1’ (interesting combat from storynexus mechanics) was inspired by Knightly Tales, a game on this great platform (http://knightlytales.storynexus.com/ created by PostalElf). I felt this game had a good idea, and that more could be done with it.
For now, what I would value more than anything else is ideas, concepts and pet hates that may help me shape many a good idea. I am aware you will want to use your own ideas in your own worlds, but any wisdom or strong opinions will be gratefully accepted. Come the future (assuming I get this thing of the ground) I will obviously wish for playtesters etc, but for now, ideas are what I desire most.
I think one thing you could try is to give a lot of choices in combat, to really give it more of a story flair instead of an RPG-style exchange of mechanical blows. Have you ever tried the tabletop RPG Exalted? In it, players are encouraged to narrate their combat actions as if they were part of an epic story in a novel, which can lead to some impressive ingenuity and is much more interesting than just saying “I hit the Generic Monster with my Generic Weapon” over and over again. I think you could take a page from that – but building off of that idea more specifically, my sister and I were having a conversation recently about social combat (which is also a thing in Exalted, though it’s not implemented or tested very well). She mentioned that part of the problem is that it’s hard to emulate, because we know enough about conversation to realize that a mechanical model of it would feel stilted and “off”; either too simplified or not simplified enough. She cited regular combat mechanics as an example of this – if you showed something like the D&D model to someone in the middle ages, who actually knew about the intricacies of hand-to-hand combat, all the stances and attacks you could make, etc., they would balk at how oversimplified it was. StoryNexus gives you an opportunity to fill that gap, and I think it’s definitely a way you could make extended battles interesting in a game where your only form of interaction is to click a button repeatedly.
Oh, and you also mentioned pet hates, so: try to cut down on randomness factors when you can. StoryNexus games have a lot of this by nature, but – if I am correct in assuming combats will be extended “Must” sequences where you have to complete them before doing anything else – having to rely on luck in that type of situation is intensely irritating. Climactic and adrenaline-pumping sequences should be based on personal control and ingenuity, instead of leaving your fate in the roll of the dice, I feel.
Attempting to give a good number choices was certainly part of the plan, potentially trying to create a level of depth whereby it isn’t a quick and easy task to work out the ‘optimal’ (and sometimes optimal) way to perform a task. As you say, it certainly seems key to breaking out of ‘attack monster with heavy swing’ combat. Also, changing combat from just a task that you must perform to reach the next part of the quest, into the whole point of the game is an uncommon idea, and well worth further consideration.
And I share your dislike of wild luck. In Knightlytales getting a hand of actions that can only make the situation worse for you is highly frustrating, more so when the process repeats itself… Possibly a system where there are different aspects of combat going on at any one time (a bit like in the Inheritance cycle were battle takes place both physically, magically and in the mind) so that if one area becomes untenable, attention can be put into a different aspect which could in turn help out, might solve the problem. I like these thoughts.
Ooh, perhaps you could combine physical combat and social combat somehow? Like, if you sense you’re losing the battle, you can engage in social combat to throw them off or crush their will to fight or something like that.