AURO: Not Taking Skill Trees For Granted
I thought I’d fill people in a bit on where we are with the AURO Disciplines today. We’ve been in a limited closed Alpha phase that we hope to get out of soon, but while we’re here we have a few really helpful testers who have provided some awesome insight into the abilities as they are.
Some of one of our most active testers inspired me to want to talk about the skill trees in AURO, and how, just as with every other element in AURO’s design, we’re not taking it for granted. Many developers would probably just take the normal “skill tree” approach and not really even question it, but just fill it up with their own skills. I’ve recognized though, that the skill tree model itself has a lot more to it than a lot of developers might realize, and I should be considering every element of it, not just filling it up with skills.
We’ve talked a lot about the vertical trees: the Fire tree, the Ice tree, and so on (if you’d like to learn more about specific spells, we have an old and slightly outdated, but still gives you the right gist article here). It’s always been of extreme importance that each of these trees has a strong sense of identity to them, to give different playthroughs a very different feel and different kinds of challenges. However, there’s also the horizontal element to the trees, which we haven’t talked about. I call them “tiers”.
So, in order to get a Tier 2 ability of a tree, you have to have Tier 1, etc — normal “skill tree” behavior. But what’s interesting here is that we’re really trying to make not just the schools have identity (which at this point is getting very solid). The tiers themselves should have some identity. Currently, here’s what’s going on with that:
Tier 1: Tactically useful, not usually directly useful in and of themselves. They’re only useful when you use them intelligently. Flexibility is most crucial with these spells, and also these should be the most deep spells to use, since they are the ones that will get used the most. It should be obvious (although apparently to many RPG developers, it is not obvious) that Tier 1 abilities should remain useful for the entire game.
Tier 1 represents the first step into a tree. Many players will not focus on one tree, but rather get 2 or 3 Tier 1 abilities, and so it’s important that these Tier 1 spells do a great job of expressing that tree, even if they’re all alone. That way, when you mix the two (say, Elude and Ice), it develops into its own strong flavor. If Tier 1 is weak or lacks identity, players will have to invest more skill points to reach these strong flavors.
Tier 2: Sort of a multiplied Tier 1 ability – similar, but more powerful and often having an effect on “multiple” creatures or tiles. Tier 2 represents a level of commitment to a tree.
Tier 3: This is meant to be the sort of “calmed down”, often passive spell, that’s certainly good, but also meant as a bit of an investment-point to getting Tier 4 spells. Interestingly, we can justify making Tier 3 spells less powerful than Tier 2 spells because of the “investment point towards Tier 4” thing, as long as Tier 4 is strong enough.
Tier 4: These should be super-spells that really give you a very powerful option. Although they still need to be interesting, they have to be very strong, clearly more strong than getting the first two tiers in another tree combined. They should also be the ultimate representation of the Discipline.
Currently, I think we’re doing alright on this. Guard is by far the least-developed tree, and we’re not going to implement it for awhile, until basically after all the other four are totally done and balanced (just as a matter of work-flow). Other than that, I think we have a little improvement to do, but it’s really coming along.
I think the important lesson here is to not take any mechanisms for granted. With AURO, we’re trying to make sure the entire game is “from-the-ground-up”. I hope other developers will follow our lead!