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Kest

RPG skills, narrow or broad

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Just a simple A or B question. But feel free to explain your reasons. Concerning a detailed character advancement role playing game, as a player who is enjoying both gameplay and character advancement (contrast to enjoying character advancement while puting up with gameplay, or vice versa), do you prefer improving skills that have a narrow capacity, or improving skills that have a broad capacity? All skills will be useful, either way, to some types of characters. With narrow skills, each one will cost less, and improve a very specific enhancement, giving the player absolute control and authority over exactly what changes. Broad skills would cost more, and be spread out over a range of improvements, removing some responsibility and commitment from the player. I've just started coming up with a list of likely enhancements for the game (rather than coming up with a list of skills), and the list is already rather large. Here are a few examples: + Counters the weight penalties of heavy armor. + Determines the quickness of aiming ranged weapons. + Determines maximum stamina. + Determines the maximum height that can be dropped from while avoiding damage. + Determines the magnitude of attack power that can be absorbed without reacting to it. + Determines the chance of quick near-death recovery. + Determines the amount of intimidation and anger inflicted by taunting opponents. Another way to go would be to use a header-style grouping of skills. Which would effectively allow either type of access to players. They could spend experience on the header itself to increase everything it parents, or open it and spend it on specific improvements for a fraction of the cost. Honest opinions are welcome.

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Another way to go would be to use a header-style grouping of skills. Which would effectively allow either type of access to players. They could spend experience on the header itself to increase everything it parents, or open it and spend it on specific improvements for a fraction of the cost.


That bit right there sounds like a wonderful idea. How about nesting headers even? You could have combat abilities, then defensive and offensive, then specific abilities. Ally the same to other headers. The main thing to watch for here is to make sure that everything under a header is related and that there are about as many equally useful abilities under each. Alternatively, you could create a formula to calculate cost based on what is under the header therefor circumventing the need to level the headers as they are costed per item within them (though that doesnt preclude giving a discount for mass purchase via a header)

As to the question you actually asked, I generally put up with gameplay, but only cus it often sucks because of massive holes in its design. i would love to enjoy both equally. I like relatively narrow abilities that have general use. I am a bit enamored with the idea I read in the Dues Ex postmortem where they designed the game in terms of problems and game tools to create solutions. They didnt think in terms of puzzles with a specific solution, they created challenges and then created tools with multiple uses and allowed the player to solve their problems with them. That in mind, i would support abilities that acted in that way, they could have very specific functions, but should have general usability in a wide variety of situations.

Im not entirely sure that made since, Im thinking about it as I talk about it.

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Sounds pretty much like the "packages" in neverwinter nights... Packages were just pre-assigned groups of skills that players who were'nt d&d nuts or just in a hurry could pick and get a generally beneficial set of skills, or you could drill down and pick exactly what you thought to be good.

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Well there's a difference - spending on a skill group should spread the investment over groups in the skill more efficiently than individually investing in those skills to the same degree. That provides some counter-balance to skill optimization.

Regarding narrow and broad options, I always prefer narrower options since there is more opportunity for strategic variety, and character differentiation.

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I should also note that I prefer the ability to permanently differentiate my character from other possibilities. For instance, choosing skills, but ultimately leveling to the point where I have taken all possible skills or maxed my stats means that I am not longer different from other choices and, to me at least, some of those early decisions lose meaning. On that though, having narrow abilities means variety and lessens the possibility that every character ends up a generalist and essentially the same. Keep in mind though that if a skill is too narrow you may find that either everyone or no one takes it because its a false choice. (IE, extra carrying capacity. If your game fills the inventory a lot, everyone will take it, if it doesnt, no one is. It doesnt end up being a real choice because the decision is too narrow)

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I think I certainly agree with what has gone before...

Narrower skills == good;

skills too narrow == bad, e.g. if you have four or five factors which alter standard attack damage in subtly different ways, giving the player the opportunity to alter each seperately will just create confusion and the player will not kno if they are making a sensible choice, limiting those choices to for example min/max damage would give some flexibility but also keep things simple.

And I like the header idea

And, don;t forget you are asking mainly game developers rather than game players here (not that of course we don't play games, but I'm sure everyone knows what I mean...)

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I prefer a mixture of two...

Let's say the game has a skill tree where players can advance along the skills and become more focused in each category depending on what the player choses.

For example:

Weapon Master - Grants 1% improvement to all weapons per level
- Sword Master - Grants 2% improvement to swords per level
- Spear Master - Grants 2% improvement to spears per level
- Bow Master - Grants 2% improvement to bows per level

Weapon Master grants improvement to all weapons used by a player, while Sword Master grants improvement to usage of sword. The improvement will be much more when compared to Weapon Master, this allows a player to customise the character accordingly to how they want to play it.

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Note that header-style groupings is not a perfect answer to combine the two concepts into one. Some broad skills would be able to combine a multitude of minor effects that wouldn't work very well or be very meaningful as stand-alone skills.

Since everyone seems to be favoring narrow capacity skills, I thought I would try to bring attention to a few positive things about broad capacity skills.

+ It works like a bonus. You're trying to improve a skill, but then later realize that you have this other incredible ability to do something else.

+ Every individual skill can be made equally important. When one isn't, it's as simple as adding another positive effect to it. This makes choosing between skills a heavier choice. You may not know exactly what to choose, because you want everything.

+ It could lead players to explore gameplay that they wouldn't have, otherwise. Maxing out a skill that increases your melee kicking power could result in your ability to jump down from great heights without injury. That could lead players to begin exploring a side of the game that they wouldn't have considered on their own, just to make use of their side-effect ability.

Having all of that said, I prefer narrow capacity skills, because I enjoy taking risks and making personal sacrifices to obtain more power.

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Original post by Argus2
Well there's a difference - spending on a skill group should spread the investment over groups in the skill more efficiently than individually investing in those skills to the same degree. That provides some counter-balance to skill optimization.

I considered that, but I'm not sure it's the way to go. The counter balance already exists in the fact that you don't need to know exactly what you want (aiming speed, aiming accuracy, recoil suppression, etc), and can just invest in a general concept (ranged offense).

Increasing the header would have resulted in a slow and balanced climb in all ranged abilities. There really isn't a negative side to it for players who prefer balance, since it would have taken just as long to increase individual skills seperately.

However, some players may have a certain style of playing that makes some skills less useful than others, giving them an edge by focusing on the ones that compliment their style the most. An example would be someone who loves sniping with single-shot rifles. In which case, recoil suppression could be ignored to more quickly boost accuracy. But they would have to accept and play with the limitation that they can not use automatic weapons very well, and that is a negative cost for specialization.

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Original post by Mathmo
And, don;t forget you are asking mainly game developers rather than game players here (not that of course we don't play games, but I'm sure everyone knows what I mean...)

I don't think there is a perfect group of people to ask. Players won't necessarily know what would cause them to have the most fun until they experience it. Even then, it may be misinterpreted. For example, I hated the war-mongering AI in Civilization IV, but I ended up heavily involved in the game because of how much I hated it.

It's the duty of game designers to see beyound the first layer, such as in that case. We need to be able to see the final result of a game because of a choice, rather than just see how the choice immediately effects the gameplay.

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Original post by Humble Hobo
It's true.

For some strange reason, when a gamer becomes a developer, they somehow lose the ability to know what the average gamers want. It's really bizarre, and kind of sad.

They need to spend less time inventing fun and more time figuring out what fun is. The best way to do that is to play games.

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Original post by JasRonq
I should also note that I prefer the ability to permanently differentiate my character from other possibilities. For instance, choosing skills, but ultimately leveling to the point where I have taken all possible skills or maxed my stats means that I am not longer different from other choices and, to me at least, some of those early decisions lose meaning.

There are a couple of things that cause that. And I've been attempting to find things to counter it.

One of the biggest problems is the uneven ladder of RPG skill climbing. As skills become more filled, they become harder to increase, making it more worth-while to switch to increasing another skill. Eventually, you end up with nearly all skills being moderately high, but none maxed out. I tried to offset this by providing Fallout-like perks when skills are mastered. When a skill reaches 85% of maximum, the player is able to choose between a range of perks that relate to the skill. This happens again at 90%, 95%, and 100%. The perks found at 100% cause pretty dramatic effects, while those at 85% cause moderate effects.

I'm still working on some other solutions. For example, I would like to make it worth-while to train in skills that are already maxed out. Don't ask me how I plan to make that happen. I haven't gotten anywhere with it. It could be something like a long-term but temporary boost that dissipates over time. Such as each point of experience that is spent on accuracy will cause +1% damage over a period of time.

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That sounds like your thought there is motivated by a want to keep the player training and using the skill; you don't want it to become unloved and underused because a player is no longer training it up and paying attention to it. I would suggest then a topless system where the player can train it up and up as long as they like. No idea how to balance that, it might not be possible, but its worth a thought.

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My favorite stat system came from the old Mercenaries of Astonia (now Astonia III). You spent exp to raise your stats - levels were almost meaningless outside of an approximation of how much exp you have. As you raise stats, the cost increased exponentially. Everyone had most of the same stats, but the mage had a lower base cost of magic stats, fighter a lower cost of fighting stats, etc. The stats and skills went hand-in-hand - that is, as a mage, your only damaging spell Blast, was raised just like any other stat.

There was also 5 primary stats - Strength, Agility, Braveness, Wisdom and Intelligence. Str and agil were used in equipment requirements, making it pretty hard for the mage to get good armor on since their base cost of those were a lot higher than a fighter's. These also cost significantly more than secondary stats. But they also increased the secondary stats as they increased... I think it was something on the lines of:

secondaryStat += (PrimaryMod1 + PrimaryMod2 + PrimaryMod3) / 5

So your two-handed weapon skill, a secondary stat, would be a total of:

twoHanded += (Str + Str + Agil) / 5

If you wanted to pump out the most juice from your character, you had to take into consideration the bonuses you'd get from raising those primary stats, what you could raise directly with your secondary stats, and see which would benefit you more at the time. You could, of course, just pump up whatever looked good and do decent, but great players were often pretty specific on their stat-raising order. Unfortunately the system wasn't executed its best, resulting in most new players sucking horribly because they'd raise the wrong stats because the have no idea what they were doing.

This also resulted in insanely unique characters. Some people would pump up their resistance, which prevented negative spells being casted on them, then go after some really high level magic creatures. Others would stick to a more predictable approach, balancing between defense and offense and fight monsters their own level. Some suicidal dopes, like myself, would raise their Stun and Blast spells to an unholy level, allowing them to keep a monster "perma-stunned" (constantly stunning them between Blasts so they can never move) and take down creatures WAY beyond their level, even though they'd die in like 2-3 hits if they screw up the timing on their stun.

*takes a deep breath*

Anyways, enough with the nostalgia. I think some of the best systems (personal opinion, of course) are ones that start off basic enough to allow you to do fine until you learn how things work, progressively teaching you and giving more options. You don't want to throw someone into some complex soup of stats, especially when raising them poorly from the start will result in their character being weaker in the long run. Too often do I follow a "guide" for a game that I am new to since I don't want to be punished because I was a confused nooblet. Characters should be able to hack together their own gameplay styles. I don't mean give them some options to choose from and let them choose a path, but if I want to be a fighter that punches people in the face instead of stabbing them, I should be able to without being insanely weak. There should be no one single "obviously the best" way of creating my character.

I think one way to approach this is to think outside of the box when it comes to fighting. Who says a fighter has to rush head-on melee into battle? That a mage has to be weak and cast strong spells from afar? What if I want my mage to suicidally sneak up on an enemy then just blast them with all my mana for an unholy amount of damage, then sit there and pray no one else comes by to pick off my weak wittle body? Who says I even want to fight? Maybe I want to run around town, pushing little kids over and picking locks on doors. That'll show that town for denying my loan! Bwahahaha!

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Original post by Kest
Quote:
Original post by Argus2
Well there's a difference - spending on a skill group should spread the investment over groups in the skill more efficiently than individually investing in those skills to the same degree. That provides some counter-balance to skill optimization.

I considered that, but I'm not sure it's the way to go. The counter balance already exists in the fact that you don't need to know exactly what you want (aiming speed, aiming accuracy, recoil suppression, etc), and can just invest in a general concept (ranged offense).

Isn't that just then a UI feature which saves me time by increasing all skills in a category evenly, that could have been achieved by increasing each skill in the category individually to the same extent? The issue is that it is highly probable that your game mechanics (and game scenarios) will ultimately favour some skills over others. The players that maximise investment in the favoured skills and minimise investment in the unfavoured skills will find the game too easy. Or if it is still difficult for them, then the players who evenly distribute their skills will find it really hard. So what I'm saying is: It is almost guaranteed that evenly distributed skills will be sub-optimal. Ergo you should give the even distribution (balanced) options some kind of inherent advantage.
Quote:
An example would be someone who loves sniping with single-shot rifles. In which case, recoil suppression could be ignored to more quickly boost accuracy. But they would have to accept and play with the limitation that they can not use automatic weapons very well, and that is a negative cost for specialization.

Let's say that in your game, the best automatic weapon is a really crummy one, and the best single-shot rifle is really really good. It's not really a negative in this game to not be able to use automatic weapons very well, since they're ineffective anyway. By spreading skill points evenly, my resulting character would be weaker - it would have been better to spend those automatic weapon points elsewhere. This is an extreme example, but there are almost certainly going to be some skills with less utility and some with more, and in this case, even distribution is not ideal.

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Original post by Argus2
Isn't that just then a UI feature which saves me time by increasing all skills in a category evenly, that could have been achieved by increasing each skill in the category individually to the same extent?

That's essentially correct. But the grouping is chosen by the game and is initially closed, so players don't need to bother learning the exact implications of every stat. The headers would be relatively simplistic. They provide a straight-forward shot towards offense, defense, etc. I think it ends up being more than just an interface feature for some players.

You have to realize that rewarding generalization is also punishing specialization, and there just isn't a reason to do that. Especially when generalization is already rewarding by requiring less commitment and sacrifice. Some would call it safe and boring, others would call it quick and effortless.

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The issue is that it is highly probable that your game mechanics (and game scenarios) will ultimately favour some skills over others. The players that maximise investment in the favoured skills and minimise investment in the unfavoured skills will find the game too easy.

Players who make better decisions in games will always have better tools to work with. That's a universal constant. If a part of the game requires no meaningful choice, then it probably shouldn't even be a choice to have to make. If all skills are equally useful to all types of characters throughout the game, then it's not a meaningful choice.

Each single skill will be useful for one type of character in the game, but they won't all be equally useful for every type of character in the game. For example, there's a berserker trait (permanent character starting ability) that reduces ranged combat damage to that character to 50%, as well as reduce that character's own ranged offense to 50%. That effectively makes ranged combat skills worthless to them, while making speed and melee skills twice as useful.

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Or if it is still difficult for them, then the players who evenly distribute their skills will find it really hard. So what I'm saying is: It is almost guaranteed that evenly distributed skills will be sub-optimal.

In a linear game, I would agree. Fortunately, my players have the capacity to choose their own challenges in the game. So the game only becomes too easy or too hard if they want it to be. Becoming more powerful just gives them a larger range to choose from, while not becoming more powerful does nothing.

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Let's say that in your game, the best automatic weapon is a really crummy one, and the best single-shot rifle is really really good. It's not really a negative in this game to not be able to use automatic weapons very well, since they're ineffective anyway.

I understand where you're coming from, but I don't feel comfortable laying the responsibility of my bad game design choices on players. The situation you describe doesn't fix anything about the problem - especially for players who don't use the skill headers or players who enjoy automatic weapons. It just happens to make the headers seem less wasteful.

Look at it this way. Players who don't like automatic weapons and don't plan to use automatic weapons are in the same boat. The points spent on recoil are still being wasted for them. That's why they can open them up and spend them on everything else without having a cost penalty.

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Honestly, Kest, if there is no penalty for using them like that, individually, and there is no benefit to buy the skills in mass through a category, then why have the tabs at all? I think if it is so hard to figure out what a skill does that a player is better off with the tabs that maybe you should rethink your skill set. It just shouldnt be hard to figure out.

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Original post by JasRonq
Honestly, Kest, if there is no penalty for using them like that, individually, and there is no benefit to buy the skills in mass through a category, then why have the tabs at all?

I said it was another way to go. You were actually the one who seemed attracted to it. The reason to implement it, from my perspective, is the same reason to implement any type of broad skill setup. To simplify character development, and remove the necessity to read through and understand each individual effect. I see no meaningful reason to apply a bonus to it.

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I think if it is so hard to figure out what a skill does that a player is better off with the tabs that maybe you should rethink your skill set. It just shouldnt be hard to figure out.

The skills are clearly explained in detail. There's nothing obscure about them. I, for one, wouldn't use the headers. If you believe no one will, then that's something to consider. That's why I'm here. Going on my opinion alone, optional skill group spending won't do anything to help or hurt the game. I just wouldn't use it.

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Ah, but I like it because it makes an easy to understand method of creating a generalist possible and viable by giving a discount to buying those skills through the category tabs. Without the bonus there is no difference between clicking each skill individually and clicking on the tab, at which point you might as well learn the skills and figure out what you want because you will do better that way. Simple fact is that Argus2 is right, most games dont have completely even and balanced skills. You are also right that they shouldn't, it would be bland. But if they arent even then that means there are skills you dont want, so why buy skills 1-10 at base prise, when you dont want 8-10, when you can click on 1-7 yourself and then pick a few more? Because its easy for a noob to figure out the category? As I said, I think you need to rethink the skills if they are too hard to understand, otherwise you cant make a meaningful choice. Giving a bonus to encourage the generalists is something RPGs could really use.

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Original post by JasRonq
Simple fact is that Argus2 is right, most games dont have completely even and balanced skills.

How does employing a penalty for specialization help that problem? It was used as an example of how generalizing can cause more suffering than specialization. Yet, someone who specializes in the doomed automatics skill would suffer even more than someone who's just wasting a few points on the header because of it, and the penalty makes it worse for them.

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But if they arent even then that means there are skills you dont want, so why buy skills 1-10 at base prise, when you dont want 8-10

You wouldn't. The mass purchase would be for players who plan to eventually strengthen them all anyway. Such as someone who wants to master everything about firearms so that they can pick up any weapon type in the game and fight the good fight, rather than having to restrict themselves to certain guns while trying to avoid certain types of actions with them.

They already have a bonus in the fact that they can use any weapon, while a specialist already has a bonus in the fact that they can do more with one type of weapon. Those are natural penalties that already apply balance. The grouping of skills would make it slightly easier on those who generalize, while not causing anything negative to those who don't.

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Giving a bonus to encourage the generalists is something RPGs could really use.

I don't agree. Not being focused on specific strengths and weaknesses makes my own gaming experiences less interesting. Extreme generalization is somewhere on the path to nullifying all choices involved with character development.

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Original post by JasRonq
So is extreme specialization.

How is extreme specialization on a path of voiding choices? Any type of specialization would only happen because of commitment to those choices, rather than taking a little bit of everything to play it safe.

A character who chooses specialization is purposely inheriting a weakness in order to obtain more power. That weakness is already enough of a penalty to make generalization attractive.

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Extreme generalization means not making a choice as to what to take. Extreme specialization means making only one choice, what to specialize in. The middle ground is the rich area where there are many choices because the player is willing to adapt and change their character and make meaningful choices later in the game rather than sticking to their initial choice.

I.E. if the player chose a sniping specialty and later was offered a choice between a solid secondary skill, and something that helps sniping, its no longer a meaningful choice for them, they take that which helps sniping above all else. A player more open to new choices than an extreme specialist would look at the choice honestly and determine if their main skill, sniping, is lacking, and if another skill might help them as well.

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You've got a good point there. That was a problem in Fallout Tactics. It seemed like each character only needed to worry about a single skill. Sometimes, there may be a secondary skill, like outdoorsman or first aid, but they were optional, and no where near as essential as whatever offensive skill the character was focused on. My own character was focused on energy weapons, and I had allies to cover everything else. After reaching a skill of 200% in energy weapons, I stopped noticing any improvement, so leveling lost all meaning (except the perk every 3 levels, which stayed interesting).

Fallout Tactics was purely about combat. It could have had several defensive, manuevering, and tactical skills, rather than gambling, science, and repair, which didn't do much of anything for it.

For example, a skill could have been implemented to speed up aiming, reducing the time unit cost of shooting. It would have been a balancing dilemma to worry about the accuracy of shooting and the speed of shooting at the same time, since both are essential. Some characters may opt to focus on speed, and use run-and-gun tactics to get in close, while others could focus on accuracy, and snipe them from a distance. Despite the specialization, firing speed remains very valuable to a long range sniper, and accuracy remains vital to a run and gunner.

Just one choice at that magnitude makes things interesting, but more would do better.

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