Saturday, March 28

Towards a deeper skill system

I've been trying to think of ways to get a more unique experience across the board for my perfect MMO, part of that train of thought requires a more unique and in-depth skill system than anything we currently have on offer, it also means the death of a class system. The problem with class systems is that your tied down right from the word go to what style of attack, defense and skills you are going to have access to, then of course theres that virtual fashion victims usual gripe of being limited to armour sets that your class can use (I have to give a big nod to Spellborn for getting rid of that idea). Designing your own class and making your character unique relies on the ability to choose from a wide array of skills, of course skill points must be earned for skills to be useful. Unlocking them for my perfect MMO would be something akin to the Guild Wars Prophecies way of doing things - you unlock alot of skills by completing quests, it's a nice idea. GW allows you to buy skills from a trainer too, I wouldn't go down that route, I like the idea of quest systems that are relevant to the skill you need, you want the skill? go work for it...

Skill points is another good idea I would probably plagiarise from GW, you get a skill point everytime you level up, once you reach max level (a modest 20) you get subsequent points for roughly every 15,000 XP you earn, the beauty is that with this system you never stop earning them and for a game like GW where swapping around your secondary profession is a common occurence you need the points to unlock the skills for most if not all professions, as it currently stands that is a grand totall of 1319 skills to unlock in GW.

In my perfect MMO skills wouldn't be static and feat trees wouldn't exist, other mechanics such as attribute points - spent to increase the strength of schools of magic and melee skills would still be useful. I wouldn't dream of having as many skills as GW currently has, espicially with the idea I'm proposing, it would take far too long to come up with the necessary base skills and their way of advancement to enable such a vast choice, the choice would be about how you invest your skill points in that skill and further on from the possibility of combining skills.

Heres the basic idea along with an example, I've gone with a health transfer skill as it's common and is an easy option for me to initially start looking at how a system like this could work.

Instead of having feat trees, each skill would have it's own tree of options, you spend your points in those options to progress the skill to suit your needs.

Life Transfer
In the centre of this skills tree is the initial skill, when you initially gain it it's useless until you start to add skill points to it's tree. The skill lives up to it's name by transferring life, how that transfer works is totally up to you.

The first 'tier' of this skill has 4 initial options surrounding it, each of those options cost 1 skill point to unlock, to stop a skill becoming imba a skill point cap is probably required, for this skill I allocated 6. The further progression options outside the first tier cost 2 points each and require at least 2 points spent to unlock them, again to stop too much gain for too little cost.

First tier options:
  • Life steal from foe to you
  • Transfer life from you to heal your pet/minion
  • Transfer life from you to heal ally
  • Steal life from your pet/minion
By investing 2 points in that first tier you could have one of the following options
  • Steal life from foe, transfer it to your pet/minion
  • Steal life from a foe, transfer it to an ally
  • Steal life from your pet which in turn is stealing life from the foe it's attacking
  • Transfer life from you to your pet/minion while it's in turn stealing life from a foe, useful if you created a tanking pet/minion
  • Transfer life to your pet which in turn passes on a percentage to the closest ally, draining on you unless your gaining health from elsewhere
  • Transfer life from your pet to you while it also transfers life to an ally, not a useful option unless you invest more points so that the pet/minion in turn is stealing life from a foe
Moving on to tier 2 by investing a further 2 points to unlock another progression allows you to start adding in an area of effect (AoE) life transfer, the T2 would probably need to be capped allowing you to only unlock one T2 progression. Adjacent T1 skills need to be unlocked to progress.
  • Steal life from multiple foes within the AoE
  • Transfer life to your team rather than a single ally.
In the above example, using all 6 allocated points
  • Life steal from a single foe (1 point)
  • Life transfer to your pet/minion (1 point)
  • Pet/minion steals life from foe it's attacking (1 point)
  • Pet/minion transfers life to the nearest ally (assuming it's a melee pet that should be the nearest ally using melee) (1 point)
  • Life steal from multiple foes within an AoE directly to you (2 points)
A simple skill has gone on to something much more powerful and complex and has been progressed to suit your playing style, a melee character would probably just invest 4 points to gain the AoE life steal while only losing a little to the nearest ally. The tree could even be expanded to include the option to steal life through another ally rather than a pet so that a caster could steal life from the multiple foes within the AoE of the tank.

Another layer of depth : Combining skills
Rather than having a skillbar full of different skills that only have subtle differences why not have the ability to combine some skills to give them a bonus? This shouldn't be cheap but something you do at a later stage of the game to give you more options and even more depth, it would need to be limited so that two powerful skils cant be combined to create something imba.

Here we have the opportunity to combine our life stealing skill with a skill that hits multiple targets, after being combined our skill now steals life and returns it to you when it hits those targets.

The multiple target skill would have a progression that allows you to use it with different weapons and increase its AoE.

You wouldn't be able to combine any skill more than once in order to stop you creating an overpowered skill, you need to make careful choices.

These are just rough ideas that I thought i'd share to see what you think, feat tress are boring and I'm not a fan of overly large, hard to manage skill bars either, a limited skill bar filled with skills you designed to suit your playstyle seems a whole lote more fun to me.


  1. I really like your Skill workshop concept. It reminds me of such old-skool games like Dungeon Master, where you could create your own spells from runes. (Within the rather expansive limits of the game designers' imagination)
    I really like it a lot. You could spend hours perfecting your skills and maximizing their efficacy for your personal needs.

    I wouldn't want to play your perfect MMO though.

    I mainly see the detrimental effects to the social aspect of Multiplayer gaming.
    You see, a classless system in an MMO means one or more of the following options:
    A) Everyone plays a self-reliant character, I.e. a tanking, healing DPSer.
    B) People default back to specializing into the unHoly trinity anyway,and those who don't won't get into groups.
    C) Huge flavor of the weak trends. If you're not running this week's preferred LifeTransferrer build, you're out.
    D) Just imagine all the three letter ICA's you'll have to memorize if group-play is any concern to you.

    It all depends on whether or not you're allowed to change your build, how often and how easy this is made. But I believe that's what you'd like to see. Easy reconfiguration of your class-less skills. GW has a shaky 'Magic Circle' due to it's Magic the Gathering setup but your game would be worse in that regard I fear. It'd be great in a signle player RPG, something along the lines of a new Elder Scrolls game perhaps. Bethesda's games already are nearly Class-less as it is. What classes there are are nothing but loose skill-combinations with a few boosts to the ones you expect to use the most.

    I have always liked the low level cap in GW and the way you start progressing 'sideways' by increasing your stack of skills rather than progressing steadily on a linear curve where you and your skills get n% more powerful and the mobs become n+1% more powerful.
    But mostly I liked it because after about 4 weeks 90% of the concurrent playerbase was (potentially) in grouping range level-wise.
    The secondary profession swapping on the other hand never really saw much use by me. Not that there's anything wrong with the mechanic, it just reduced attachment to my character if I kept changing such a huge part of 'me'. Come to think of it, I never much changed my Builds either. I preferred to play characters, not ever changing Builds.
    As I said, GW never was big on the Magic Circle thing. It was immersing nonetheless, but in the end that lack of attachment to my characters because you had to keep changing them so much added to my departure from the game.

    Additionally I foresee huge problems with your skill workshop and balance. Keeping well-defined skills matched to well-defined classes balanced in a PvE environment is a huge undertaking. Imagine the work going into such a free-flowing system.
    Customer Support departments would need to triple in size to deal with all the hack/cheat/balance complaints and when alterations are made, to deal with all the complaints about unfair nerfs. *shudder*

    No, while in essence your idea's are lovely, I think they're not suited to a Multiplayer environment, let alone a Massive one.

    Guess I'll have to start on that classes post of my own real soon now, if only so you can poke at my harebrained idea's in retaliation :-)

  2. Ok, that could have been more... nurturing :-s
    Sorry for that first response. It wasn't quite phrased the way I should have done.

    I really do like your concepts and have been thinking about them off and on. While I'm still inclined to say stay with classes, I'm warming up to your Skill-tree thing. On a side note, you'll probably want to include a 'self' icon too, unless every skill & spell you devise will affect foes / allies /pets&minions only. Which could be a design choice.

    Anyway, some things you said and what that made me think of are finally coming together in my mind. For one I share your dislike of too large skill-bars. I'd prefer 20-24 skills maximum. Distributed over 4 hotbars of 6 hotkeys.
    1st row uses 1-6
    2nd row uses CTRL 1-6
    3rd row uses ALT 1-6
    4th row uses SHIFT 1-6 (or CTRL+ALT) or META if available.

    Hotbars can still be 10 long (not 12!) but that's for incidental stuff you don't need in a fight. This really ought to apply to every game.

    Something else:
    Age of Conan has a very cool melee system where you use directional attacks 7 or 8 in total in a string or chain combo. This makes the game stand out. Sadly, Casting is pretty much the same as in every other MMO. Making the game stand out not so much anymore.

    Something (not quite) else:
    Your Skill tree concept. Why make that a once in a blue moon thing? How about if you have to make those choices on the fly? In a combo maybe?
    See where I'm heading?

    Now for the U turn:
    (Bugger. The Commenting system will not allow me to do what I want now, so this will become a post then.)