Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Skill System

First, I should say that I'm making a concerted effort lately to narrow down the specific gameplay features that Vyde will possess. It's difficult, but it's time to start crossing the threshold between brainstorming and design.

That said, here's another feature I haven't touched on yet: Vyde will have a skill system. But it will be non-traditional in that numbers won't play a huge part in it, at least not as far as the UI is concerned.

When Ultima Online was released several years ago, I was interested enough in it to get a copy and play for a while. I really liked its skill system: it was intuitive in that you improved your skills in the trades that you actively practiced, but it spoiled the suspension of disbelief by exposing numbers for each skill to 3 signficant digits. I decided back then that numbers aren't necessary for a skill system that is targeted toward an immersive environment. But this sour taste was mitigated by the fact that UO's system wasn't outwardly level-based; that is, your skill progression within any particular character level was linear, not stair-stepped.

Stair-stepped skill systems (like Diablo's) are, to me, the most unrealistic and unenjoyable methods of advancement in a game. Deus Ex and its sequel both suffered from this problem, though their systems were masked a little more cleverly through the use of tangible "things" that made your skills better if they were plugged in.

At any rate, here are the characteristics I want to borrow from skill systems that I like:

  • The player will be able to specialize in a wide variety of skills, including machinery, shooting, mining, rappelling, botany, etc.
  • The player will improve skills by practicing them.
  • The player will be able to assess his skill level in two ways: by observing the time or trials required to practice a skill successfully, and by consulting a bar graph. The bar graph will provide a "feeling" for the player's skill levels. Though very accurate in a programmatic sense, the bars will not have numbers associated with them.
  • Skills will atrophy with disuse, at rates related to factors such as last use, frequency of use, etc.
  • Skills can be improved by watching another player practice the skill, albeit at a much slower rate (passive learning).
  • The player can improve his skills at an accelerated rate by learning from a teacher (active learning).
  • Tasks in the world may require one or more skills to be completed successfully in a reasonable amount of time.
  • Rather than wasting resources attempting tasks and failing at them, Vyde will rely on a system that relates skill level to time required rather than yield produced. When building a machine, low machinery skill will result in the machine taking (much) longer to build, not the consumption of lots of raw material in exchange for very low yield. While there will be waste involved, it will not be nearly as prevalent in Vyde as it was in, say, UO. Time to complete tasks may involve random timing elements to prevent completion from being too predictable, time-wise.
  • Skill level can improved faster by having the user provide "hints" during the process. For instance, a tinkering task may be completed in less time if the player is able to gesture an on-screen pattern with a high degree of precision. Similarly, strategic clicks in the process (ala Thief III's lockpicking UI) can act as shortcuts in the process.

Like in GTA:SA, the player should become good at what they do most, but be able to change their line of work if desired.


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