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Talent Systems Discussion

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Having played World of Warcraft, I'm a big fan of talents of any kind. They're what allow you to customize your character's skills and make them feel unique. I'm wondering what different kinds of talent systems there are. I've seen three:

 

1) Talent trees: This is from classic WoW (which I'm sure borrowed it from other games). You have starting talents which are also prerequisites for later talents which are prerequisites for talents deeper into the tree and so on. There are many different paths to take in the tree for uniqueness.

 

2) Talent rows: This is from current WoW. Every so often as you hit level milestones (level 15, 30, 45, etc), you are given access to a new row of talents to choose from. A talent row has a certain number of talents in it, but you can only choose one of them. 

 

3) Skill variants: This I've seen in Diablo 3. For every skill you have, you eventually gain different variants of that skill to choose from. Ex) A basic skill is a fireball. Variant (1) makes that fireball split into 3 fireballs. Variant (2) makes the fireball explode for aoe damage on impact. Variant (3) makes the fireball ignite the target burning them for additonal damage over time. You can only choose one variant. This is very similar in style to talent rows except that it is done for every single skill.

 

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What are some other talent systems that you've seen or that you have thought about and are willing to divulge?

 

 

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I haven't played WoW, so I'm not 100% sure what Talents even are (are they skills?), but the director of WoW said their talent system didn't work as well as they had hoped, and instead praised Call of Duty: MW2's system as superior (in some aspects). Note: The company that owns Call of Duty (Activision) merged with Blizzard to form Activision-Blizzard, shortly before he had said that, so he wasn't praising a competitor's game (which would carry even more weight in my mind).

 

One of my favorite games from my childhood is Quest 64. In Quest 64, when gain enough experience, you get a single point to put into your magic. You can put it into four different categories: Fire, Water, Earth, Wind. My family each chose a different element.

 

Two things were exciting about this system:

A) You can find skill points (called 'wisps') scattered around when exploring the world. Real skill points. That's pretty crazy, but very enjoyable. You find a wisp, click on it, and it's exactly identical in behavior as if you had just leveled up. Even catching a glimmer of a wisp was exhilerating.

 

B) You didn't know when a new skill would be unlocked. You'd gain a new skill for every 4 points you put in that element, but it might be three or five or even six points before you get a new skill. So after every point put in, we'd scramble through our sprawling non-linear skill menu checking if any new skill was unlocked, which built anticipation, like looking for an Easter egg. It was very pleasurable to finally see one in the menu!

 

C) Finally, you didn't know what that skill would be! Once a skill was unlocked, it'd just say it's name ("Water pillar" or "Hot steam"), and you'd have to actually use it in battle to learn what it did, and how to properly direct it at enemies (there was no targeting system).

 

(This was in the era where we barely had the internet, and while using GameFAQs on occasion, we tended to avoid spoilers).

 

D) This was my first RPG ever, so at the time we didn't know what 'experience' was. As far as we were concerned, we'd randomly get level ups when defeating enemies, which was another burst of exhilaration any time it occurred. 

It took us awhile to realize that this sucker wasn't tracking the day/night cycle:  :P

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Even after knowing what it tracked, it was still exhilarating to level up, because the experience bar wasn't constantly visible on the HUD. To paraphrase Sean Connery in Finding Forester: "The key to a gamer's heart is an unexpected gift, at an unexpected time."

 

 

Another system I loved was Fable's. Fable discarded leveling up entirely, and instead let you accumulate experience, and use experience as a currency to (effectively) "purchase" new skills (in a skill tree), or purchase level ups for those skills.

Further, there were three separate skill trees: Dexterity based, Magic based, and Strength based (or something like that - it's been awhile). If you used mostly Strength-based experience against an enemy, it'd give you General experience (spent on whatever tree you wanted) as well as Strength experience (spent only on the Strength skill-tree). So there were three types of experience based on what types of skills you were actually using, plus a general experience spent however you wanted.

 

 

A third system I enjoyed was Paper Mario's (a Mario turn-based RPG).

It was broken into two system:

1) First, you gained experience from enemies and leveled up (like many RPGs), and upon each level up, gave you three choices: Increase your max HP, Increase your max MP, or Increase your max Badge points.

 

2) Badge points let you equip badges. Badges are skills - either usable or constant effect (so you can equip constant-effect skills that are continuously on at no MP cost). You find badges in the world through exploration and so on (some merchants sell a few of them). There's a fixed number of badges in the world, almost all of them unique, but a few have duplicates, and they can be stacked.

 

By having badges instead of skills, Paper Mario lets you continually reconfigure/reequip what 'skills' you have (similar to, say, Final Fantasy 7's material). Different badges take different number of badge points to equip, so you have to make choices based off of trade-offs ("I can have this really powerful attack, but it takes five badge points to equip! I only have 14 badge points, so that'd mean I probably wouldn't be able to equip my constant-effect health regen badge, or my badge that reveals hidden items as I'm exploring... Or the badge that lets me use two inventory items (necessary for healing) on one turn...")

 

 

[Edit:] Could you go into detail about how WoW's Talent system works, and what you enjoyed about it? I'd love to hear what parts of it made it so enjoyable to you!

Edited by Servant of the Lord

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I can't believe you mentioned Quest 64! I loved that game!! Did you find the hidden palace in the desert with all the wisps? It was like being in level-up heaven.

 

You do an excellent job describing the exact fun-making qualities in everything you played. It was a real eye opener and quite educational. There's so many different enjoyable aspects of how games handle skills and progression.

 

I liked the talent system because it made me feel like I had tons of ways to customize how my character plays. I hoped I could fine-tune my talent choices for my own unique playstyle. But in reality it has had many struggles. The problem is there were always "cookie cutter" choices. This means there is a best choice of talents to choose to get optimal results. It kind of ruins the whole "customization" spirit behind the talent system. That's probably what Blizzard was referring to in that article you referenced. I'll have to check out how Modern Warfare 2 handles their customization.

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FFX has the sphere grid system. In a way, it's a skill tree in a specific layout, except there may be multiple paths to unlock a particular skill, some of them are short while others are longer.

 

FFV had a crystal job system. I can't remember exactly how it worked (it's been 11 years last time I played it); but you had several job classes your characters could switch (as story progressed you unlocked more job classes; some of them were optional through sidequests). Your chars had individual levels, and also class levels.

Your chars first needed to grow experience on that class before they were useful. e.g. if you had a lv 99 character but lv 1 as a white mage; he would have a lot of mana, but barely any useful spell (like Cure1). Mastering a job sometimes gave some side effects outside that job (i.e. permanent health or mana increase regardless of the current job, unlocking a few commands when going job-less)

You could only switch jobs outside of battle. Switching jobs was complex because if a character was a powerful black mage and then you suddenly made him a knight, you'll end up with a weak knight; and also you had to change his equipment. It was very fun, but also very hardcore and time consuming. Something great when I was younger and had the time, not so much now.

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I can't believe you mentioned Quest 64! I loved that game!! Did you find the hidden palace in the desert with all the wisps? It was like being in level-up heaven.

Yep, the desert palace was fun; I loved the room with the circle of chests - even knowing I'd never actually waste any of those (except when playing no-water playthroughs). The palace was a worthy reward for having to first to survive that hell-hole of a mining tunnel.  <_<

Earlier on, the hidden "wisp forest" (Glencoe forest) just after the first boss is a dangerous but enjoyable escapade; similar to the palace, but mixing danger in at the same time (normally I tackled it as soon as possible, making me a really low level), which is interesting as it simultaneously makes you excited for the wisps and anxious for the danger.

 

I liked the talent system because it made me feel like I had tons of ways to customize how my character plays. I hoped I could fine-tune my talent choices for my own unique playstyle. But in reality it has had many struggles. The problem is there were always "cookie cutter" choices. This means there is a best choice of talents to choose to get optimal results. It kind of ruins the whole "customization" spirit behind the talent system. That's probably what Blizzard was referring to in that article you referenced. I'll have to check out how Modern Warfare 2 handles their customization.

 

That's probably what they meant. With Modern Warfare 2, there are tons of customization options, and while everyone has their preferences, there are very few that you can point to and say, "this is actually best".

 

Decisions where one choice is superior than others, ain't much of a decision, and as Sid Meier famously said, "Games are a series of interesting decisions" (as one way, among several, to look at game design).

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@Matias: I recently replayed FFV and it's refreshingly brisk, at least the SNES version is.  Even with the end-game ultimate weapon sidequests it's just a 20-30 hour RPG, not one of the 50-70 hour behemoths that followed.

 

Speaking of FFV, learning-skills-from-enemies (being a "blue mage") is a classic kind of skill system, whether that's by getting hit by spells, capturing enemies, eating them, etc.  That's good for getting players to explore, seek out enemy encounters rather than avoiding them (and sometimes, trying to do something else in battle rather than kill all opponents as fast as possible).

 

The skill system in FF9 and the FFTA series is interesting.  Skills are inherent in equipment, but each piece of equipment has an experience bar where once you fill it up, you get that learn permanently even if you de-equip that weapon.  Absorbing skills gives you a reason to use a wide variety of equipment rather than just equip your most powerful thing and discard it the moment something better comes along.

 

There's an obscure Squaresoft RPG called Rudra no Hihou where all your magic (I don't remember there being skills apart from magic) is a systematic language of magic words (something Square inherited from the Oubliette/Wizardry school of RPG design), and you're able to work out what some of the words are going to be ahead of time if you pay attention.  (You're only limited by the fact that powerful spells would exhaust your MP too quickly at lower levels.)

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There are slot systems where players are intended to eventually collect most or all skills in the game but can only equip 10 or fewer at a time.  There are also non-tree systems where players purchase different ranks of skills by spending skill points earned by leveling up.  In some cases the lowest rank of every class skill is free, allowing players to try the weak version before deciding to buy more levels of it.  This kind of system is good for a game with lots of levels.

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Champions Online had a Free-For-All talent system, at least in the beginning. It was nigh-unbalanceable, and made for some nonsense characters, but it definitely left you wide open when it came to player expression.

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Hello gyus.
This theme is good for discuss. My english is not good, but with your permission, may i make a contribution on it? ;)

Let's see, what we now about talent system from 1980 and on today?Talents or skills learn systems in games is like a limiter for character those who be controlled by player. In real life we has limiter too - time, in games - levels. We can learn any professions IRL, but us time is limited, and we can't perfectly learn all, but we can learn a little bit from every profession and in the future, use these skills where we need to. In games talent system, games have same princip. Your character is growing up and then, get some special abilities, or improves some existing abilities.

 

World of Warcraft Old and New talent systems.

 

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See yourself, nothing has changed. Except the efficiency of pumped talent. What I mean?

Look, pumped talents from old talent (wow) version as effective like one talent from new, and for new branch talent learning we most get not 1 level but 15:

 

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And almost all games making the same systems with by 70-90% similarity.

 

Some games have another system like a FF10 or Path of Exile. Their systems have interesting case, but as a rule in theri system talents give's little growing for character params or stats (STR,INT,DEX etc).

 

Sorry for my english, i've trying. Thank you and peace to all!

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So.

 

My opinion is, when there is a talent system involved, it should help the player to make his or her character unique and different from other ones.

I liked the old (and mid) talent systems of WoW. A lot of customization to make your "hero" unique, just as you want to.

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