Turn based combat bothers me a little. See, it originally evolved for war games. Giant maps in your basement covered in little tanks and fake trees. The whole point was that it allowed you to play a game with waaaay too many moving parts and rules.
Now we see it in many other places. For example, computer RPGs. So we're using a system developed to keep details under control in the absence of a computer... on a computer that can keep details under control anyway. That's the definition of irony, according to a song I once heard.
Today I was also thinking about gamefeel. Turn based systems are usually about choosing which tactic to use. Considering how awesome it feels to take a turn is normally not high on the list of considerations. But what if we were to do just that?
What could we come up with if we wanted to do a sort-of-turn-based combat system while focusing on it being responsive and fun to use?
It's an interesting challenge. The play has to respond to the player's touch sharply and tightly, but you have to have depth and skill involved. The player has to be able to see exactly what is going on, and his actions should become second-nature enough that he does them automatically to express his wishes, rather than having to think about traversing menus.
I'm also arbitrarily writing off the idea of a detailed grid map, mostly because I think the grid map is too tightly linked to our concept of a turn-based game, so using it would limit our creativity.
I think an answer is in the initiative system. I think everything can boil down to initiative. Who gets turns, when. Moreover, how many turn-order phases your action can execute for before being interrupted.
Imagine that every battle's centerpiece was a giant turn order wheel. You could clearly see who gets to go, when. Let's say Anna is fighting two goblins.
Anna sees herself, and she sees the goblins going after four turn-order phases on the wheel. She has a few options, such as "attack". She mouses over attack, and sees an arrow from now forwards in time on the turn wheel, shooting past the goblins and a few ticks further. Simple, right? On the goblin's turn, they do much the same. Press attack, choose a target, watch it resolve, watch the wheel spin.
Well, on her next turn she decides to do "flurry", a more advanced attack. The arrow once again flies forward on the turn wheel, but this arrow is not properly an arrow because it does not end. Instead, every two or three turn-order phases there is a hack mark and it fades out after twenty or so phases to indicate it will continue until the chain is broken. Once she selects this and selects a target, she will automatically attack that target every time there is a hack mark until she is interrupted or her target dies.
Barry is a knight, and he comes in specifically to help her with that. Barry's ability is to intercept attackers. He selects "guard" and then selects her. Now, when an enemy attacks her, Barry is in the way. Moreover, Barry's next turn happens the turn phase after he intercepts an attack, or the turn phase after Anna's ongoing attack stops.
Alternately, Chad might cast his "freeze" spell, which has a long refresh rate but causes a target enemy's turn to be delayed for quite a long time as well. There are plenty of other tactical options - tradeoffs as you manipulate the wheel.
I think this has some merit. It's very clear what is happening, when. There are a lot of fun tactical tradeoffs, and the control is easy and, if properly implemented, crisp and clear.
... Maybe I'll even do a demo of it, if I can drag myself away from the demos I'm already doing.