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Skill system design in an open-content MMO-ish

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First of all, let me say a big, "Hi!", to everyone -- it's only my second visit to these forums, and I must say I'm impressed by the breadth of knowledge and devotion to the craft I've witnessed. Now on to my question. A bit of background info on the topic at hand -- I'm developing a text-based multi-player RPG-like game. In it, players will be the ones creating (read, characterizing) all of the skills, items, specific places, and content in general of the game world. I have a very specific setting in mind for the game world, so content-management/approval is going to be an issue, but that's for another day to discuss. I'm trying desperately to avoid the cliche-ish trends in RPG design, including, to the point of this post, the commonly used attribute system and the character class/skills system. Now, the attribute system I'll be using (based on my current design objectives) is based only on three -- Body, Mind, and Spirit. For practicality's sake, these will influence one's HP, MP, and willpower respectively and one's "endurance" collectively. In previous iteration's of the game, I had specifically created almost 20 "skillsets" from which a player's "class" was comprised (these included ideas such as swordsmanship, elemental magic, etc., etc.). It's worth noting that there was no creation mechanism in place for character-designed skills, items, and the like. I am currently faced with two options -- keep this ideology and use my revised list of 15 skillsets (5 for each attribute) or get rid of skillsets altogether and make it ENTIRELY open-ended (within the bounds of the environment I've created). I personally love the latter choice. It offers the absolute in flexibility and user control. The main problems, as I see them, are going to be: a) Who manages the content created (besides me)? I can "encourage" the formation of guilds, etc., to stand as the authority over a certain type of skill (sword actions, but to be effective, I would need to REQUIRE that a player join one of these organizations in order to be able to use the creation-mechanisms. b) How in the WORLD would I, as a brand new player to this game, decide what kinds of skills I want to explore? With a potentially infinite number of skillsets, much less skills, it would be VERY overwhelming for me, anyway. With the use of defined skillsets, I am, to an extent, creating unwanted bounds on content creation that could otherwise be governed by the player-body. It does, however, provide an immediate structure for all players within which to learn, create, and ultimately, play. I'd love to hear any thoughts or ideas on this topic, presuming I've made a topic of some sort clear. Thanks!

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a) The OpenGL graphics API has what's called an ARB (Architectural Review Board) to make major decisions on the API's evolution. A company may come up with a feature they believe OpenGL could benefit from, but the feature request must go through a review period to ensure that all parties involved (among them, video card manufacturers) will be positively affected by the change.

You could set up a similar system. Allow anyone (or a select group) to submit "feature proposals", which you/you and some friends/some designated persons review, and give the OK to develop. Once the proposal is authorized, the requestor does the work and submits a beta version. Integrate the beta into the game world, test it, then open it to the public.

This isn't much different from how real-world contributors make changes to projects. There are other methods, too, however this was the first that popped into my head. :)

b) In many games, skills are often grouped together in order to reflect a certain play style.

For example, if you take a standard 'current-day' setting for an RPG, you might automatically assign numerous skills based on a player's particular interest.

Programmer: Basic Computer Knowledge, Programming Language Knowledge, Database Knowledge
Businessman: Basic Computer Knowledge, Economics, Social Skills
Nurse: Physical Sciences, Social Skills, First Aid
Lifeguard: Social Skills, First Aid, Swimming

Choosing skills in this fashion doesn't necessarily mean you'll become a Programmer, Businessman, or whatever. But if a particular play-style can be described using a standard example job, then you can offer template configurations to assist the player's skill selection.

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Yikes..

First, let me say I'm a big fan of designing systems like this. Text based RPGs/MMOs are just my thing.

Second, I think the open skill set idea is pretty cool, though I think it would be tough to code. The way I'm imagining it, a guild would form inside the game (either by choice or by force), and each guild would be allowed to create some sort of skill based off something similar to skill points. So now, we have a senerio in which there are 10 guilds, and each has produced some sort of unique skill (how to code this would be quite challenging.. but interesting and fairly cool). Guild 1 has a great sword technique, Guild 2 has a great heal technique, Guild 3 has some sort of magic technique, etc. Now me, being new to the game, would eventually want to be trained by one of these guilds in their own technique. I would pay them money that they would somehow invest back into improving the technique... and suddenly we have an economics game. The more desirable skills will eventually get priced higher.... and we're off to the races.

Anyways, thats how I see it working. I wouldn't worry about a newcommer being overwhelmed.... as long as you give the user good information (ie, everything necessary, nothing that might confuse him), you'll be good. I've noticed that people can find out how to comparision shop very quickly.

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Thanks for the suggestions!

I'd actually thought of a combination of the two posts -- basically, players may form guilds (approved by game moderators) to study and develop basic skillsets (some of which I may offer "suggestions" for). Then, they may develop (using the in game skill creation system) as few or as many skills within that discipline as they wish. Upon proving their worth, so-to-speak, the guild may then teach those skills to any who wish to learn, basing pricing and such however they wish (discount for guild sign-ups, etc.).

So, bearing in mind the ancient-Celtic theme of the game, a guild may form which studies swordsmanship, and another which studies elemental magic. Then each, respectively, can develop skills however they see fit in sword technique and control of elemental forces. Then, again, once approved, they may teach these skills to others.

The problem then becomes how to control who may learn a certain skill. I don't want someone who's JUST joined the game to be able to learn the uber-powerful two-handed sword and lightning combinations. So then there's another idea. Can I expect to efficiently base skill-learning potential on the three attributes (Body, Mind, and Spirit)? In the previous example, the guild's skills would fall under one of those attributes, and the skills they develop, based on the choices of magnitude (say, for damage done or health recovered), would effect what "level" of achievement would be required in the respective attribute for a player to be allowed to learn the skill.

Blah. This has been plaguing me for some time. I've had the game in development and live beta testing for about 6 months, and this is the point I've reached. I basically trashed the entire existing system (my design skill has grown somewhat tremendously since I started the project :) ). Thanks again for the ideas!

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Heh this is always an interesting problem! You want to manage the quality of user-created content without having to manually review all the submissions for yourself. This is hard :)


I'd advise you to look at the MUD-DEV discussions (at http://www.kanga.nu/ but it seems like right now they're switching to a new system or something). Many of the posts there are pure gold; this topic for instance has been discussed to death, and excelent solutions have always been found.


The guilds idea is fine, but you will soon discover that every guild will try to come up with the best skill ever -- you'll have a sort of arms race between the guilds! This will kill gameplay when one of them suddenly becomes the most powerful faction, just because of a slight lack of balance in its skill.

And what about when a guild has created a skill? Is that it? Can they change it, or replace it? When a skill changes, or is replaced, do the players get to keep the old one? If so, guilds are effectively creating new skills at will; if not, it could be frustrating to only get one shot at creating a skill, and then regretting it. When a guild is destroied, or players abandon a guild, it makes sense that they will keep their skill; but then, players could join many guilds in succession to get all those skills; or worse, create and destroy as many guilds as they can, only to gain different skills over time. Another problem is that it's effectively impossible to get a guild's skill once it is destroied. These are serious issues that should be carefully considered!

The revision board would also be hard to manage, since some members could have biased opinions (wanting to favor this guild or the other), or could simply not be very helpful. But I can't think of a better solution than just being careful when chosing them. A private forum, with poll voting capabilities, would probably be enough to act as a round table for the members :)

Then there's the matter of who will actually create the skills! The guilds only offer an idea. The admins will have to create them manually, and test them. The skill also runs the risk of being technically unfeasible. I say the guilds should have a dev kit that allows them to present to the review board only the final product, to accept or reject, and immediately plug into the game.


I don't know if you have a levels system in place, but anyways, assuming that you limit who has access to a skill based on their stats, the new players should only have access to a set of initial skills created by the dev team. As you said, there's a host of hardcore and obscure skill sets created by the players, and a newcomer should be spared this trouble.


I hope this helps! There are many things to be said about this, but I just meant to tell you about the immediate potential problems of this system, otherwise the post would get too damn big ;) Some food for thought.

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Thanks for the info and opinion!

To clarify, the skill system I'm developing is ENTIRELY employed by the player. Basically, I'm providing a framework for characters to design skills that may affect various target types (self, target, or area) in various ways (health gain/loss, etc.).

So really, they're just choosing effects, describing the action, and that's it. When they demonstrate a skill to me, it's going to be functioning, whether it's balanced or not or makes sense or not. It's going to be an experimental process, but I believe it'll work.

However, I do appreciate your feedback on the life of a given skill with respect to the guild that fostered it and the possibility that the guild/players who know the skill disappear. It's definitly something to consider, but I actually kind of like the notion of "extinction." The game is based on an ancient (real life) society, including the mythos of all the peoples that lived there, and their ways, mannerisms, and actions are hardly still around today. So it almost makes sense. If the only one knows this great secret dies or disappears, so does his secret. And that, my friend, is how to roleplay a technical disfunction. :)

Thanks again for the feedback, and I was wondering what happened to MUD-DEV, I'll have to look for its return.

Blessings,
John

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The way I think you should do it is to have a giant form that allows the guild captain to invest points into certain skills. However, for every... lets say 3rd point invested into magical damage, there is a manditory requirement the wielder to have 1 Mind and 2 Spirt. Thus, for a magical skill with 9 points, you'd have to have 3 Mind and 6 Spirit. Then of course, the captain could invest skill points into lowering the attribute requirements... but that sorta-kinda wastes points.

To continue my thought, you could make it such that there are new unlockable abilities. For example, there may be several guilds that have techniques that deal magical damage, but under the right conditions... the captain of the guild could suddenly invest into a skill that makes the user receive less magical damage.

Anyways, thats my take. Hopefully you'll find it useful.

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Hmm. Interesting thoughts, but they kind of miss the mark a bit with regard to my topic of discussion.

I will not be personally creating the skills -- the system I'm trying to develop is one that allows the players to create the skills, not me, within the bounds of the environment (in terms of content) I've created.

Thanks for the thoughts though!

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I see what you are creating is something similar to Civilization Series.

To new players, the game got so much contents that you simply get overwhelmed. However this is a problem that almost all the games have. Don't worry too much about it.

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I have Worked On MUDS in the past and what you are describing is nearly a "Wiz Mud" which were open code Muds.
Generaly people could play the mud and have access to the literature on editing the mud, if they passed an exame showing they had the skills to edit efectively and in a balanced manner, they were allowed to add thier own content, it was well organised, at any time a specific wiz's additions were easily deleted.
The games tended to be disjointed and scattered, but alot of fun playing eachothers additions. based on the theory people enjoy making games and testing eachothers work, was a game for builders.

The logistics of letting players customise thier skill trees is frightening, sometimes game design is about choosing the best compromise while still targeting your audience. not that easy :)

I would recomend a guild based system where a guild leader had the power to implement additions for guild members. It also makes damage control easier as you know who have addopted any changes based on guild.
A leaders options could be leveled, having to pass each level to recieve more options at the next level, basicaly making small blocks to learn as they go.
Good for harm minimisation and your reviews would be in an organised manner, you know what your reviewing when each proposals are made as they are based on common formats. Membership base could also be a limiting factor for passing each level, so only popular systems would evolve all the way, you dont realy want 500 different systems running with 1 player in each and a new player being flooded with 500 choices. A new player could have access to generic system untill joining a guild.
Dead guilds could degenerate and loose thier features as members leave/become inactive. - read permanent deletion.
Themed systems for a guild growing organicaly like this would be a great feature, though there is a risk players would only want to join fully developed guilds, so you would need a bonus for members who are part of the guild as each stage is awarded to encourage diversification, bigger rewards for each level being cumalative with earlier rewards.
With a bit of luck you could have guilds like "Axemaidens" whos skills are Axe specific with banshee shrieks and feminine wiles, hehe.
A popular leader would have to satisfy his/her members and you, to build up the system, put the weight on someone elses shoulders, hehe.

This system could be incorperated as a template with specific rules, all you would have to do is review language if the proposal passed the mathamatical restrictions, though if you want to add world content too, thats a bigger kettle of fish.

Hope this may spawn some ideas for you :)

[Edited by - Tharsis on January 12, 2006 5:49:13 AM]

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