When a single hit kills, another method is needed to measure progression in a fighting game.
The dual life bar that whittles down to a K.O. is one of the central conventions that defines what makes a fighting game a fighting game. (The absence of this, replaced by damage counters and stocks, is one of the points oft-argued against the inclusion of the Super Smash Bros. series in the genre, although many gameplay concepts remain similar, and increasing damage is still a factor in getting your enemy to the blast zone.) While this model is the fundamental basis of fighting games, it often falls to indie titles to mix it up and find other ways to express the same ideas in innovative new forms.
Nidhogg, as a fencing game, was built instead as a reverse tug-of-war: since a single attack kills your opponent, the level itself acts as a shared life bar between the two fighters. As you gain ground, you accomplish the same effect as removing life from an enemy’s life bar — the same result, but expressed in a much different, almost unconscious way. The concept of damage has been spatialized.
In this video, LudicRyan explores how Nidhogg and its sequel combine the life bar concept with the high-tension neutral game of other one-button-attack indie fighters, and still hold true to the core idea of a fighting game as described in Patrick Miller’s From Masher to Master. Check it out below!
For some more insight into the design of Nidhogg II, check out our interview with developer Mark Essen.