Results from Game Design Challenge: The Pen is Mightier than the Fist

By Danny Cowan [05.24.16]

With the recent release of Street Fighter V, Capcom's flagship one-on-one fighting franchise is once again in the spotlight. While the series is best known for helping to lay the foundation for the fighting game genre, it also spawned Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, a competitive puzzler that swaps out flying fists and feet for tile-matching, combo-chaining puzzle mechanics. Though Capcom never revisited its mechanics for a sequel, Puzzle Fighter is fondly remembered today, and competition remains fierce among veteran players.

For Game Career Guide's latest Game Design Challenge, our readers designed one-on-one fighting games that don't employ traditional fighting game mechanics. Here are our top picks.

Best Entries

Cláuvin Erlan José da Costa Curty de Almeida, Graduating Student at Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, To The Gentlemen's Contest! (see page 2)

Joshua Hallaran, Game Designer at Critical Games, Mega Mech Fighter (see page 3)

Daniel Fu, Game Designer, The Grapplers (see page 4)

João Gabriel Guedes Pinheiro, Game Designer at, Draw Your Sword! (see page 5)

"Kuroi Karasu", Unaffiliated (see page 6)

Cláuvin Erlan José da Costa
Curty de Almeida, Graduating Student at Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, To The Gentlemen's Contest!

Genre: Versus Bullet Hell Game
Number of Players: 1 to 2
Platform: PC/Tablet


1902. Edward William Barton-Wright closed his Bartitsu Academy of Arts and Physical Culture in England, since it was unsustainable as a business. A man ahead of his time, Barton created mixed martial arts 100 years sooner and brought fighting skills from Japan to England... but apparently was a bad manager.

He also didn't meet with prince Edward of Wales when ordered to, thanks to a hand injury.

What IF he did, and the prince, years later, decided to put them to the ultimate test, sending calls to all the world for a honourable gentlemen contest to find out which are the best fighter and martial art?

User Interface:

The fights are a bullet hell duel between two "ships", each representing a character, with the format of the character's weapon(s) of choice(in the case of some martial artists, their bodies. To others, their weapons.). Characters are outlined in black, projectiles not. The green bars represent each character's stamina.

(Yasokichi having a hard time: his Hand Slaps are being dodged by Sherlock, and Sherlock threw a Gentleman's Handkerchief, which will stun Yasokichi and leave him vulnerable to Sherlock's two other projectiles, the Falls of Reinchenbach.)


Stamina is used both as a resource to attacks, defense and skills and ALSO the life bar. This avoids a projectile-screen-filling war: shoot too much and one hit can finish you. Stamina can be recovered by simply not using skills. Not doing anything at all, movement included, recovers more.

Fights ends when one character loses all his stamina, or when the time ends. In case of time ending, who took less damage during the fight wins.

Attacks are projectiles, varying in speed, trajectory, strength, quantity and cost, depending of the character and his available arsenal. The exceptions are throwing and immobilizations: both are done by touching the opponent. Throws send the opponent to a direction chosen by the thrower, do damage and and also applies a temporary damage-done debuff area against the opponent.

Immobilizations place both players in a small time limit Undertale-like mini-game: the grappler attacks with bullet hell patterns and the grappled tries to set himself free by leaving the square area without being hit.

To defend, characters can move around to dodge. Specific defense techniques depend of the character: as examples, Amelia has More Than It Looks, where she just reflect one projectile back; Sherlock Holmes has Applied Deduction, which turns back time a few seconds and Jack Dempsey has the Dempsey Roll, where his hitbox and character become smaller but he can only move in one direction with it.

Certain attacks can also create temporary Advantage and Disadvantage Zones: an Advantage Zone give to the projectiles of who is in it twice damage, and Disadvantage Zones give half damage.

Joshua Hallaran, Game Designer at Critical Games, Mega Mech Fighter

My concept for a one-on-one fighter that eschews traditional mechanics has players take control, not of a human combatant, but as the pilot of a giant robot or ‘mech'.

Mega Mech Fighter is a game designed for dual-screen platforms - such as the 3DS or Wii U. On the top screen/TV, giant robots battle it out in hand-to-hand brawls, like your average fighting game. However, the bottom screen/gamepad is transformed into a control terminal - displaying the robot's schematic and diagnostic readouts. The game is played exclusively via touch.

Rather than directly controlling the robot's actions, the player is in charge of directing energy to different areas of the mech's body. In the top right-hand corner of this display, there is a battery icon. This contains the robot's energy reserves and is broken into five pieces - each worth 20%. The player must use the stylus to drag energy to different parts of the robot's anatomy, powering it up.

Now, battles consist of two rapidly changing phases - an Attack Phase, and a Defence Phase. In the Defence Phase, energy will allow your robot to block attacks. Attacks can come from three different angles (High, Medium, and Low), so which body parts are energised (and the amount of energy they've been given) determines how much, or how little, damage the robot takes. If the enemy's attack is utilising a higher amount of energy than the player's defence, they must either take the hit or scramble to siphon energy as quickly as possible. The relatively slow, weight-y pace of the robots' movements allows players a chance to predict and react to their opponents' actions.

In the Attack Phase, distributing energy to different body parts determines how you'll attack. For example, if you provide energy to the Right Arm, the Robot will perform a Medium Attack. If you then quickly siphon energy to the Left Arm, it will attempt to unleash another attack - resulting in a combo. However, when a Phase Change takes place, all energy is returned to the reserve.

Each Phase is governed by a strict time limit, but a Change can also be triggered by an Overcharge. An Overcharge occurs when a robot channels 100% of its energy into one body part, and this body part successfully defends against an attack. The overcharging robot staggers its assailant, resulting in a Phase Change.

Players also have access to Super and Ultimate moves. Like most fighting games, a gauge fills up as the player deals and receives damage. A Super move can be activated with half the gauge, while an Ultimate requires the full gauge. These abilities can be used at any time to interrupt the current turn and force a Phase Change, in addition to inflicting damage. But they can also be interrupted.

Mega Mech Fighter is an unusual take on fighting games, focused on resource management and a unique control method. However, the frantic gameplay (manipulating energy) and on-the-fly strategic decisions maintain the essence of what makes the genre so special.

Daniel Fu, Game Designer, The Grapplers

This design focuses on a group of grappling-style fighters set in a turn-based game system. Each player selects a move at the same time (possibly using a countdown timer) from a short list of possible moves.

The entered moves start the first action by the characters, moving them together to initiate the fight. The moves entered rely on a rock-paper-scissors system that defines the move choices. In the first stage, inputting the same move would cancel each other out. In following stages, ties go to the player that won the previous stage. Moves need to be chained together across stages into a final submission state. In this way, players move their characters into grapples and counter grapples, attempting to anticipate the other player's next move, participating in a virtual "tug of war" until a character is forced into submission. Once a character is locked into submission, the referee breaks the fight and the sequence begins again. This game would probably work best as a mobile game, so at each stage, the players would enter their move, then hand the phone to the other. Moves would execute once both entries were made. If the game were played on a console or PC, a timer bar at the top could indicate how much time the players would have to enter in a move (shown below) and moves could be tied to the appropriate buttons.

3 submissions = a win.

The below images show the perfect path for Player 2 (on the right). The move options are in a "rock, scissors, paper" order in each stage displayed below. The players' selections at each stage are shown with a dark ring (though this wouldn't be apparent in the game). In each frame of this example, Player 2 selects the option that happens to win over Player 1's selected move. If Player 1 at any time selected a winning move, the "tug-of-war" would shift back, placing the players back into the previous stage state. This example is probably a condensed move set. I would actually prefer that the # of moves in a perfect path would be closer to 4 or 5 to allow for more tug-of-war. Please note that the moves shown below are samples, only! More research is needed to learn the actual grappling moves used (I don't personally know anything about Jiu Jitsu!).

João Gabriel Guedes Pinheiro, Game Designer at, Draw Your Sword!

This game is about drawing swords, in both meanings: you'll draw your sword to stab, or slice, someone, drawing your movements.

The very basic idea of the game is to give players a blank character, with a common sword, and the players agree on a certain number of movements or a time limit. After all, this game is slow, very un-like fighting games in the sense that you are not actually performing the action of striking someone: you are performing the act of moving your arm towards someone, and moving your legs to enhance that move, rotating your hips to further enhance it...

Each player receives a certain number of frames: they can draw a model in a canvas, and the computer will try to turn it into an actual position, or pull each limb to its desired position, in that single frame. Once the first is made, the following ones will be based on it: if you prepared yourself to do an attack when drawing the sword from the scabbard, you won't need to once again adjust the body from the start, you can adjust it from that point in the first frame.

As said before, the computer will perform the actual action: with the idea of letting players do their moves, it`ll reward the players who understand actual sword fighting, where you wouldn't do a spinning move - in the game it would require extra frames, so in the end of the attack you would be lacking defense - where your back is exposed.

Also, if you just made a move where your arm goes up and down, it would be weaker than someone who spend his time moving his entire body to strike: as the computer performs the action and calculates the damage based on the physics of the movement, it increases the damage of those who are supported by their muscles and bones, while weakening those who are more "flashy and not that effective".

As the game is almost entirely blank, save the characters and the room where they are fighting, it can focus on being an accurate representation of swordplay, and rewarding not the player with faster reactions, but those who understand more of what they are doing than just "slashing the other guy".

"Kuroi Karasu", Unaffiliated

The basic idea is to use turn based RPG mechanics to deliver a fighting game experience, through recreating dynamics unique to fighting games with mechanics associated with RPGs.

The aim is to present a game that will help players new to the fighting genre to understand its most important concepts like commitment, spacing, and frame advantage.

The game will feature two opposing characters (possibly two teams of up to 3 or 4 characters with variable team size for each player) that battle each other on a 2D segmented stage (movement is in discrete steps rather than continuous.) The goal is to deplete the opponent's health meter or have more health when the timer runs out.

Players can use actions (choose from a menu) presented in 3 categories: Movement, Attack, and Defense.

The course of the battle will be governed by an ATB-like system where each action will take some "charge" (that I call startup) time to execute (similar to the time used to charge up a spell) and a cooldown period.

Whenever a character is ready to act, the game pauses (or slows down for a moment) giving the player some time to select his next action. A player can always choose to not take an action and concede his turn. Actions cannot be interrupted or reverted in the middle by the player. Opponent's actions can interrupt (counter) the player's actions, if the proper counter is selected.

Movement actions give the player options to advance, retreat, or stay in place, alongside some options unique to each character. They also provide options to advance/retreat with different amount of segments. Movement actions take some time to travel but have no cooldown.

Attack actions provide 3 types of offensive maneuvers that have to be defended against in different ways (through defense actions.) Some attack actions can be defended against with in more than one way.

Each attack action has a set range (discrete number of segments that defines the effective range of an attack) and a set startup (charge time) and cooldown.

Each character has access to few basic attacks that can be used whenever an action can be taken and others that require a resource to be used.

Each attack will have a different outcome depending on whether it hits, is defended against properly or completely misses the opponent, and will have benefits and drawbacks in each situation.

Defense actions provide options for the player to defend himself against the opponent's attacks, either by head on defense to reduce damage or by avoiding the incoming attack.

The gameplay will revolve around how players can use their movement to get to an advantageous distance (number of segments where they can use an attack while their opponent can't) from their opponents and how they use the startup and cooldown of their actions to keep their opponent guessing how to defend and score damage before the clock runs out.

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