Skills and Combat
After crunching polygon after polygon, my GPU bit the dust last week, taking the motherboard with it in its unglorious death. No data loss, thanks to regular backups and an intact drive, but two-three weeks lost of active development time, between trying the get the thing repaired and waiting for the new laptop to arrive, which is still too much days ahead for my taste. Hopefully the new 4th gen i7 processor will help catching up with better rendering times on those normal and ambiant occlusion maps.
Oh well. Life happens. Goodbye Spock (the computer’s name), you’ve been helpful, let’s hope Kirk-to-be will live longer and prosperer.
But don’t worry, I’ve not been idle either. Digged up an older computer, fired Word and set on some design and writing tasks. We’ve sketched the world setting and lore a bit better, including some history elements, and outlined how the cult/religion elements would work. But more on this another time, let’s first continue the disscussion started in the last post with classes, and talk a bit today about skills – as we’ve also used this time to design skill trees in more detail.
The Skill System
As explained in the previous update, classes will be based around the concept of skill modifier. In a nutshell: skill points x skill modifier = skill level, as shown in the following screenshot:
There will be seven skill levels for every skill. Everyone starts as a Novice at 0 skill points, and then follow, calculated after the modifier of course (any similarity with the skill level names in another game is not the result of a coincidance and is fully intended) :
- Apprentice (5 points)
- Journeyman (15 points)
- Adept (30 points)
- Expert (50 points)
- Master (75 points)
- Grandmaster (100 points)
At each level, the character will gain access to unique perks, be it special abilites, new attacks or passive abilities. The skill level itself will however be also used to boost combat stats or spells power, to avoid the slightly unfun situation at higher levels where you keep adding points on level up and nothing happens and then suddenly you gain a lot of power when you cross the threshold.
The question of trainers is yet undecided. The original idea was to include a trainers system similar to the one used in Might & Magic VI & VII for higher skill levels (Expert, Master & Grandmaster), where you would need for example to find the one Swords Grandmaster to obtain the title. On second thought, this worked well because the game world in these games was huge, allowing the trainers to be spread all over the place. As the explorable world in DarkDale will be relatively smaller, trainers would end much more packed together, lowering a bit the interest of the “quest” part. This is something that will need to be retought once the game world itself is more developed – the idea is on hold right now, but not fully abandoned.
Combat in DarkDale
To give a better picture of the skills system, let’s take a look at how combat skills will work, but first, a small discussion of combat itself. Many of you wondered why the combat is intended to be real-time instead of turn-based. Let me assure you that it is neither a buisness decision nor an attempt to make the game more “action” oriented. I love the tactical depth that turn-based RPGs have to offer, but I feel that there is still much design space unexplored in real-time crawlers.
The main critique of tile-based real-time dungeon crawlers is that you can essentially cheat your way through combat by just stepping around monsters and hitting them while they are facing another direction. While definitely an issue, I think that it is not an unsovable one, and it is the first thing that I started brainstorming about when approaching the DarkDale project. A few ideas:
- Armor and evasion ratings, as well as protection spells, will have a more important effect, to encourage standing ground in fighting and making armor valuable. As it its, in Dungeon Master or Legend of Grimrock, if you just danced around monsters, having a shirt or a Plate Mail didn’t change anything, making finding better armor equipment a bit unrewarding.
- Stun, paralysis, slow, webs and other similar effects will be more prevalent, to hinder constant running around.
- Attacks will have to-hit penalties when striking at moving targets. Waiting for the monster to stop moving before attacking will guarantee a more efficient attack but also make it more dangerous. Again encourages standing fighting.
- Running around will use stamina more quickly and, as we’ll see, stamina is required to use special attacks.
- Monsters will have more special attacks or special AIs which play around the “two-step dance”. Legend of Grimrock introduced the side-attack for example, which was a good idea. More of the sort.
But all this won’t prevent combat from becoming boring and repetitive if there are no options for how to engage enemies. In Grimrock, exactly like in the Eye of the Beholder series, you had one option: you right-click the weapon, it hits or misses, and that’s it for the whole game. Grimrock‘s special attacks happened at random without any control from the player and weren’t adding much. Dungeon Master, on the other hand, proposed attack modes: you right-click the rapier, you get to Jab, Swing or Thrust. A great idea on paper, but poorly implemented. As the only thing that changed with better attack modes was that they dealt more damage at the cost of a longer cooldown, and that tradeoff was always at your advantage, there was no incentive to use anything but the best attack once you had the skill level to access it. So the system ended up in the same dead-end than the other games mentionned above, only with one mouse click more. Note also that in all those games, having a sword or a mace didn’t actually change much to the combat style either, apart having a different icon in your hand.
Swing & Thrust & Stun & Cleave
What if we had a system like in Dungeon Master, but where the different weapon types and the different attacks would actually matter? That’s what we’re going to attempt in DarkDale. Every skill tree will have access to three distinct modes of engagement: a standard attack, a special attack and a power attack. In comparison with the standard attack, the special attack will have the same base cooldown, but will use more stamina and generally deal less damage in exchange for a special ability, like armor penetration. At Expert, Master & Grandmaster levels, power attacks will give access to powerful abilities. These use up a lot of stamina however, and have double the cooldown.
Swords, blunt weapons and axes will exist in one- or two-handed varieties. These two-handed weapons have a +50% cooldown penalty and a -5 accuracy penalty, but the penalties go away at higher skill levels. Staffs are always two-handed and do not have particular penalties. In addition to the perks gained at each skill level, characters will receive a +1 bonus to damage for every 5 skill points, and a +1 bonus to accuracy for every 10 skill points.
While designing the skill trees, special attention was paid to make sure that all six melee combat skills had unique characteristics. Unarmed combat gives access to unique critical hits with a chance of paralysis or even instant kill as a tradeoff for the lack of equipement. Staves are the only weapons able to reach from the back rack. Daggers will allow dual wielding. Blunt weapons will be able to stun opponents. Deciding on a weapons build for the party will thus be a much more interesting and flexible process. Let’s take a look at the Swords and Axes skill trees:
As you can see, the sword’s Thrust attack is less powerful but ignores part of the enemy evasion rating, while the axe’s Cleave attack does the same for armor. Why, if the equation is essentially To hit chance = Character accuracy – Enemy evasion, isn’t the Thrust attack simply adding to your accuracy instead of taking a percentage off the enemy evasion? Precisely because it would be simpler, and would make the attack better against any type of opponent, while when calculated this way, Thrust is only better against fast and agile ones, Swing being better against the slower ones. You’ll thus be happy to have a good swordsman when facing a fast flying Vampire Bat, but an axeman will do much better cleaving away at a Stone Golem.
Power attacks may sound like a huge thing, but they don’t come for free: the stamina cost for using them will require you to carefully think when to use them instead of mindless clicking, making sure to keep some reserves if you get cornered, something we guarantee will happen.
Of course, we haven’t told you everything yet about skills, and there’s more in store for another post, so stay tuned!