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Designing a Skill Tree for a Sci-Fi space game


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#1 Lurler   Members   -  Reputation: 144

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Posted 04 October 2013 - 01:20 AM

Good day everyone.

 

I am designing a skill tree for our game VoidExpanse, it a game where you as a pilot can fly around in an open world space, buy new ships and equipment and advance your character. Well, it is a bit oversimplifying things but oh, well.

 

Anyway, it turned out to be WAY harder than I first though. So far I have outlined all possible passive skill effects we can have in the game and now I need to make it into a coherent tree with different paths that are meaningful.

 

So far the rules:

* Only passive skills, as "fireball", "exploding arrow" or "bone shield" type of skills would not make much sense in the space setting because your ship can't magically start shooting plasma cannons just because you learned that skill. So I decided to only have two types of skills: passive that adds stats or % to stats, and the skills that allow the player to use something, for example bigger ship hulls of specific equipment.

* So far I am thinking of creating 4 pages of skills: piloting, combat, engineering and other, each of these will have a separate tree that would branch into specific areas.

* I don't want to create linear logical progression such as speed -> acceleration -> deceleration -> maneuvering or similar, because it is just too boring, contrary I want to create a tree that might seem very random at first where completely different effects are grouped together in different paths, but in the end it should produce smart character builds and take some time for players to figure out which paths they want to pursue.

* Ideology of "broad to specialized". I want top of the tree to be generic but then branch more and more into specific areas since we do not have separate trees for different character classes, thus having to rely on the trees itself to provide specialization for players.

 

So far I looked through skill trees in some games, for example EVE online, their skill tree is insanely huge in its scope and I like it, but this doesn't seem right for what we are doing. Another natural example is diablo 2, which is more like what we want to do. And of course Path of exile, also a great example of skill tree design.

 

Anyway, the reason for creating this topic if possibly to get some ideas from you guys smile.png

There are a lot of materials and ideas for classical RPGs design, but not a whole lot for sci-fi and specially space games.


Edited by Lurler, 04 October 2013 - 01:32 AM.


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#2 Acharis   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2350

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Posted 04 October 2013 - 02:12 AM

Ugh, skills for Elite kind of game. That would be tough indeed... The core poblem is that's an "arcade" game (you fly the ship, aim and shoot), and for these games artificial skills (no player's skills) are usually not working that well...

 

I can think of station skills (like buying bonus, negotiating contracts) and repair skills (repairing the ship during battle, prevention of system malfunctions) maybe also passenger capiacity skill (as a skilled captain you are able to cramp the passengers better and therefore take more of them on the ship :D). But for combat, I can think only of unlocking weapons (require X to operate weapon Y).

 

I guess I was not much of a help :)


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#3 Lurler   Members   -  Reputation: 144

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Posted 07 October 2013 - 09:21 PM


Ugh, skills for Elite kind of game. That would be tough indeed... The core poblem is that's an "arcade" game (you fly the ship, aim and shoot), and for these games artificial skills (no player's skills) are usually not working that well...

Well, in our case it plays like EVE in 2d world. So, there are a good number of skills actually. The problem is making it into a coherent system... which is hard.

 


I guess I was not much of a help smile.png

Well, anything helps :)



#4 LorenzoGatti   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2311

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Posted 08 October 2013 - 02:25 AM

As Acharis notes, the space for artificial skills is limited; probably too limited for ambitious, character defining skill graphs.

I think there's a replacement for artificial skills that might or might not be suitable for your game but serves mostly the same purpose: licenses and certifications, giving benefits that open new opportunities for the player rather than making the character boringly stronger.
The character studies (spends time and skills points etc.), goes to the appropriate places for paperwork and examinations, and becomes able to acquire and use advanced equipment (from flying car driving licenses to fusion reactor operation), obtains legal privileges (e.g. investment as a privateer or permits for ship weapons), accesses nonpublic information (e.g. initiation into a guild or secret society) and so on. Stores, organizations, even ship computers can enforce such restrictions and make them important.

In some cases there can even be a challenging in-game test, involving a chance of failure and actual practice on the player's part.


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#5 Lurler   Members   -  Reputation: 144

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Posted 24 December 2013 - 03:59 AM

Here is our progress on the skill tree.

 

46.jpg?maxwidth=500

Full size: http://atomictorch.com/Images/Upload/46.png

 

The tree itself is procedurally generated from a list of skills. Any skill can have a parent.

 

What do you think? smile.png


Edited by Lurler, 24 December 2013 - 04:00 AM.


#6 LorenzoGatti   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2311

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Posted 24 December 2013 - 05:40 PM

How does the player learn skills?


Produci, consuma, crepa

#7 Iron Chef Carnage   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1645

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Posted 25 December 2013 - 01:48 AM

Make sure your skills and character progression are enslaved to your gameplay.  Catalog the mechanics of the core game and build skills that impact that.  As a long-time Eve player, I tend to think of spaceship skills as passive skills, leaving the selection of active abilities in the realm of ship loadout.  Let's take a look at your skill tree ideas:

 

Piloting:  This one's pretty easy, and can be paralleled to the Eve Spaceship Command and Navigation skill sets.  A library of skill boosts would be appropriate here.  Maneuverability, acceleration, top speed, inertial dampening, fuel efficiency, whatever influences your ability to fly the ship effectively will fit here.  Ship-specific skills can deepen and expand the library, so you can have a skill that boosts top speed, then have another skill that further boosts top speed in fighters, allowing players to spend points both for general aptitude and for specialization.

 

Combat:  Think about your forward-firing weapons.  Do they have aim assist?  Do they have a random spread?  Give the player skills to improve rapid-fire accuracy or rate of fire or chances for critical hits or cooldown on special weapons.  Player skill will let them point the ship at a target and pull the trigger, character skill will load the dice in their favor when the RNG takes a hand.  Guided weapon systems like missiles and torpedoes could similarly be boosted in performance by the relevant skills, allowing a player to get really good at targeting and electronic warfare in a general sense, and then get extra good with masers and mass drivers as they level up and specialize.

 

Engineering:  I'm thinking of this primarily as a defensive function, combining Eve's Engineering and Mechanic categories.  Various stats like HP and HP regeneration and resistances could all be bundled up here.  If your game features a mana/capacitor stat, that could fit here nicely.

 

Other:  I don't like the idea of having a "Miscellaneous" category in a skill page.  It seems clumsy and unpolished.  If it doesn't fit into a category that's worth pursuing and building upon, then it's probably not worth having a skill for it.  What would go here?  Cargo capacity?  Fuel Capacity?  Communication range?  Equipment hard point overrides?  Funny hats?  Shoehorn it into one of the other trees or move it to another system.  Novelty effects could be equipped, maybe in an unobtrusive "utility slot" that can't be used for weapon or shield components.  Boosts to non-core systems could be low-cost, optional branches in one of your three main trees.  Don't let your players know that you have a "kitchen sink" category for shit you couldn't fit in or do without.  That's weak.



#8 Iron Chef Carnage   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1645

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Posted 25 December 2013 - 02:34 AM

Thinking further, a lot depends on whether or not you'll allow respecialization of your character skills.  If you can't respec, then GameFAQs' "best build" will become the only way to play, and you may as well just have a linear "level up" progression.  With respec, you can control the pace of upgrades and the timing of respecs, so players will have a certain amount of versatility and power, which will increase in potency in a linear way.  They'll never have all the skills at their level, but they'll always have any of them, and experience will allow them to be narrowly effective at higher and higher levels as they get stronger.

 

As with Diablo II and Path of Exile and other games of that type, you will inevitably see the rise of "build archetypes", where the players will invest far more hours in your game than your testers humanly could, and they'll distill the most successful and efficacious combinations of skill unlocks in mind-blowingly short order.  That's not a bad thing, per se, but you should account for it.  Respec is a good way to accommodate this.



#9 Lurler   Members   -  Reputation: 144

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Posted 26 December 2013 - 01:46 AM

How does the player learn skills?

Hm. What do you mean? You just click on the skill and bam, you learned it :) But you need skill points that you get by earning levels.
 

Make sure your skills and character progression are enslaved to your gameplay.  Catalog the mechanics of the core game and build skills that impact that.

Yes, that's exactly what we did. We are happy how it turned out for a piloting and engineering trees, but combat tree... so far we can't make it any good. The problem is - we don't want to group skills there by weapon types, it's just too simple, plus it would lock players to only use one weapon type. But doing it otherwise - we just can't make it any good/interesting/balanced.
 

As a long-time Eve player, I tend to think of spaceship skills as passive skills, leaving the selection of active abilities in the realm of ship loadout.

Yup, that's my idea too. We have ship modules for "action" effects. And skills add passive stats or ability to use something.
 

Piloting: ... A library of skill boosts would be appropriate here.  Maneuverability, acceleration, top speed, inertial dampening, fuel efficiency, whatever influences your ability to fly the ship effectively will fit here.  Ship-specific skills can deepen and expand the library, so you can have a skill that boosts top speed, then have another skill that further boosts top speed in fighters, allowing players to spend points both for general aptitude and for specialization.

Exactly. That's what this skill tree is about. Plus we made three major branches: fast fighters ships, slow and heavy ships, and civilian ships.

 

Combat: [snip]

While I totally agree with you on everything, we faced a problem of organising all these skills in a coherent three with pathes for player to pursue. So far I am not happy with any of our attempts. But maybe later we can devise something.
 

Engineering:  I'm thinking of this primarily as a defensive function, combining Eve's Engineering and Mechanic categories.

Yup, mostly this. Plus civilian stuff like asteroid mining and manufacturing.
 

Other:  I don't like the idea of having a "Miscellaneous" category in a skill page.  It seems clumsy and unpolished.  If it doesn't fit into a category that's worth pursuing and building upon, then it's probably not worth having a skill for it.

I don't really like it either, but if we don't add it then a whole lot of interesting skills would have to be thrown out of the game. For example where do you put a social skills? There are quite a few of them, but not enough to create a separate category just for them. So, they are in the other. And there are a number of skills like that.
 

Boosts to non-core systems could be low-cost, optional branches in one of your three main trees.  Don't let your players know that you have a "kitchen sink" category for shit you couldn't fit in or do without. That's weak.

Maybe you are right. I will think more on this. Maybe there is a better way to go about it.
 

Thinking further, a lot depends on whether or not you'll allow respecialization of your character skills.

That's actually another important point. We are not going to allow respec. Because these skills pretty much determine your character "class". I think you can agree that if you were playing a warrior and suddenly decided to switch to a mage it would be just too simple. Plus it is a hardcore game and your choises must matter in a long term.
 

If you can't respec, then GameFAQs' "best build" will become the only way to play, and you may as well just have a linear "level up" progression.

To be honest I wouldn't worry about it too much. First of all what determines the most what you can do is you gear. Plus if someone wants to be a munchkin it's their decision :) But the way we are preparing these trees there won't be a single best build. Maybe several really good ones, but it is certainly not a deal breaker.



#10 Iron Chef Carnage   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1645

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Posted 26 December 2013 - 09:43 PM

Well, it looks like you have your work cut out for you.  You say your skills will define your class in an organic way, so it would make sense to have the trees arranged in such a way that they define an archetype.

 

Say you want a "Fight Pilot" type character, you'd care less about fuel efficiency and turret tracking and more about forward-firing weapon systems, maneuverability and targeting.  Could you offer synergy between the skill categories, so that your aptitude for more maneuverable ships would offer a bonus to the effectiveness of cannons that are aimed by maneuvering the ship, or would you just let the player's superior ability impart that bonus in the practical sense?

 

Without knowing what the individual skills are, I can't give much specific feedback on their organization, but this is a fun topic to think about, and I wish you luck with your design.



#11 Stormynature   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2545

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Posted 27 December 2013 - 08:49 AM

You might consider examining skill sets somewhat differently than from what I have seen above.

 

From a pilot's perspective you would need to not only be aware of the capabilities of your ship but you would also need to know how to navigate around or through hazards, dock at starports/motherships safely, land and takeoff from planets of differing environments. Depending on the types of hazards in game you might develop skill sets that might enable navigation through or utilisation of...for example the ability to weave through an asteroid field or slingshot off planet or land successfully on an asteroid with microgravity are possible ways you might explore with regards to travel shortcuts, fuel savings or opening access to previously inaccessible environments.

 

From an engineering perspective: You may not always have the parts on hand to make repairs by slotting the right spares in which means jerryrigging fixes utilising whatever is at hand. Oftentimes you might find yourself in a situation of needing a tool or a machine to be created to service a particular unique need...for example a vacuum hose to suck up some exotic atmospheric gases from a planet you cannot land on in order to replenish your fuel. Or perhaps marrying alien technologies into your spaceship in order to utilise them or simply being able to determine whether the unusual piece of alien technology is something more than a toilet seat.

 

Combat skill sets you might consider from the perspective of not making them anything more than simply a license structure for example; The (legally obtained) planetbuster bomb might require you to have qualified and met an incredibly stringent set of conditions but in meeting them you would have a better understanding in the implementation of the bombs as opposed to a "pirate ship" with their (illegally obtained) planetbuster bomb i.e. inline with this link. Licensing requirements might also lead to trade opportunities (either as a company salesman or gunrunner) with regards the selling and obtaining of combat related equipment.

 

You might also wish to consider such things as a master trader tree by where you develop skills associated with trade, languages, legal knowledge, diplomacy. Dependant on your skill level and reputation established you might open previously inaccessible markets, receive more comprehensive trade reports i.e. be made aware of shortages or surpluses. Other aspects might be ameliorating offended aliens by your drunken crew's antics of urinating against the sacred wall of kybosh.

 

 

Hope this helps :)



#12 powerneg   Members   -  Reputation: 1037

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Posted 02 January 2014 - 08:28 AM

One game i played had a skill called "learning" by leveling it up you unlocked other skills,

then again a player could also spend everything on leveling up a few skills which are unlocked in the first few learning-levels

 


We are happy how it turned out for a piloting and engineering trees, but combat tree... so far we can't make it any good. The problem is - we don't want to group skills there by weapon types, it's just too simple, plus it would lock players to only use one weapon type. But doing it otherwise - we just can't make it any good/interesting/balanced.

Hmm, how much do weapons themself differ to make the players choose different types ?

You could have different skills affecting a multitude of weapons;

for example:

one skill to boost all weapons made of iron.

another skill to boost big weapons.

a third skill to boost long range accuracy.

A player choosing these 3 skills would most likely fly around with a big iron long range gun,

but he/she could switch to a short range big iron gun for a certain mission, missing out on his/her long range accuracy skill but still using 2/3rd of their weapon-skills.

 


Thinking further, a lot depends on whether or not you'll allow respecialization of your character skills.

That's actually another important point. We are not going to allow respec. Because these skills pretty much determine your character "class". I think you can agree that if you were playing a warrior and suddenly decided to switch to a mage it would be just too simple. Plus it is a hardcore game and your choises must matter in a long term.

So if a player makes a few silly choices at the start of the game he/she should pay for it until he/she makes a new character ?(which will happen)
You don't have to allow "free" respec, btw. Players can have to do missions or pay or whatever to respec, this can be made expensive enough so that a player will almost never fully respec to another class, just finetine stuff.

If need be, you could give the ability to "forget" one ability(maybe over time) whenever a new ability-point(experience, whatever it is called in your game) is earned by the player.



#13 ferrous   Members   -  Reputation: 935

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Posted 02 January 2014 - 07:27 PM

Yeah, the problem with skills is that a player doesn't really know what they do, or whether they will actually like the skill, until they've chosen it.  So having a way to respec in these type of games is a good thing for limiting player frustration.

 

I would try making the different tree branches be based off of playstyles, so that a player can have some idea of what branch or branches they should try going down.  If one is all about maneuverability, one is about dealing damage rapidly, one is about high alpha strikes, one is about stealth, the player can then decide they want to play a stealthy ship with high alpha damage, or  a fast ship that has high alpha or a fast ship that deals rapid damage, etc.



#14 Lurler   Members   -  Reputation: 144

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Posted 02 January 2014 - 09:36 PM

Well, it looks like you have your work cut out for you.

Well, I guess so :)
 

You say your skills will define your class in an organic way, so it would make sense to have the trees arranged in such a way that they define an archetype.

Yup. That is what we are trying to do.
 

Could you offer synergy between the skill categories, so that your aptitude for more maneuverable ships would offer a bonus to the effectiveness of cannons that are aimed by maneuvering the ship, or would you just let the player's superior ability impart that bonus in the practical sense?

It is not that simple unfortunately. There are not that much possible combat skills that we can realistically implement. Mostly increasing different stats. Creating something wholly new is time consuming and not always worth it.
 

Without knowing what the individual skills are, I can't give much specific feedback on their organization, but this is a fun topic to think about, and I wish you luck with your design.

Thank you :) And yes, that is certainyl a very interesting topic!
 

You might also wish to consider such things as a master trader tree by where you develop skills associated with trade, languages, legal knowledge, diplomacy.

Yes, this is another interesting idea. We have skills for basic trading and skills to get services at stations for cheaper. But we also have skill for persuation that the player can use in dialogues. Right now it works just by providing extra option when talking to npc. I was thinking of possibly making it more interesting in some way.
 

Dependant on your skill level and reputation established you might open previously inaccessible markets, receive more comprehensive trade reports i.e. be made aware of shortages or surpluses.

But how is this going to work? The character can't just "know" that. He will have to ask that information in a station or somewhere else. But in that case why can't he ask that without skill?
 

Hmm, how much do weapons themself differ to make the players choose different types?

Well, we have weapons divied by size (small, medium, heavy) and type (energy, ballistic, missile). But inside each group there are many different weapons. For example light energy weapons could be: lasers, pulse lasers, plasma cannons, ark dischargers, etc.
 

You could have different skills affecting a multitude of weapons; for example: one skill to boost all weapons made of iron. another skill to boost big weapons. a third skill to boost long range accuracy. A player choosing these 3 skills would most likely fly around with a big iron long range gun, but he/she could switch to a short range big iron gun for a certain mission, missing out on his/her long range accuracy skill but still using 2/3rd of their weapon-skills.

That is interesting possibility. But in that case how would you suggest to lay out the tree? What main branches would you add?
 

So if a player makes a few silly choices at the start of the game he/she should pay for it until he/she makes a new character ?

No, the tops of the trees are generic enough and usefult enough that it would be okay for anyone to pick it. But the more down the tree you go, the more specialized skills become. So, you will understand the usefulness of each skill before you can actually learn it. But yeah, you have a point, I can't deny that.
 

I would try making the different tree branches be based off of playstyles, so that a player can have some idea of what branch or branches they should try going down.  If one is all about maneuverability, one is about dealing damage rapidly, one is about high alpha strikes, one is about stealth, the player can then decide they want to play a stealthy ship with high alpha damage, or  a fast ship that has high alpha or a fast ship that deals rapid damage, etc.

Yes. That is the idea. I don't remember if I mentioned it already, but for example for piloting tree we have following main branches:
* fast combat - for people who plan to have fast and maneuverable ships.
* slow combat - for people who are interested in slow and heavily armored ships.
* civilian - mostly for these who are interested in trade, engineering, mining, etc.
But these are only general archetypes, you can of course mix skills for different branches to create something that you would like yourself.



#15 Lurler   Members   -  Reputation: 144

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Posted 06 January 2014 - 01:09 AM

Also. It might not be the best place for it... :) But if you people are interested to try the game we are looking for people to be in the Closed Alpha Test team.

In that case please follow the link below:
http://forums.atomictorch.com/index.php?topic=21.0



#16 mippy   Members   -  Reputation: 989

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Posted 08 January 2014 - 04:22 AM

I would go for a set of static skills which you can upgrade as the game moves forward (like precision in aiming, trade bonuses etc.). The extra special effects like abilitiy to construct a ship would be accomplished through items and consumables. I think that makes the game easier to design, as you can place the "enablers" in maps/planets etc. rather then a vague upgrade of player character.  






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