Skills and talents are two words that we’ve been throwing around in diaries or our twitter feed for a while now. What exactly are they and why should you care about them? I’m going to answer at least part of that question today and the answer, I hope, throws some interesting light on our development process.
Skills have been in Card Hunter since its inception. My initial vision of the game was one where you equipped characters with various items and then those items determined what cards were in their decks. So, you equip the Reliable Axe and you get a whole bunch of Chop cards, for example. We’ve stayed close to that vision. But one oddity of that idea is that a character is a bit of a cipher. If you can re-equip your character with new items, you’ve entirely changed what and who that character is. Would there be no features that distinguished one character from another then, other than what items they were carrying?
That’s where skills entered the picture. The idea was simple: some items would be freely movable from one character to another and others would be bound to a particular individual. Those items would be called skills and they would be conceptually different from items. For example, here’s a skill that’s currently in the game:
You can see that this is an “item”, as we call them, that is, it’s a thing that you equip that puts cards in your deck. Unlike other items you’ve seen so far, that we call equipment, this is a skill. The idea is that, unlike regular equipment items, skills would be acquired by individual characters when they levelled up and wouldn’t be transferable to other characters. Each character would have a number of skill slots that they would have to fill with skills from those they had acquired during their growth. This would make each character unique in that they would have only a limited set of skills available.
Would these skills be acquired randomly or would you get to pick on level up? Well, we were tossing up between those two options. Randomness can be fun, but choice is nice because it allows you to grow the character in a direction you choose. Want a warrior that focusses on tanking instead of offence? Choose the defensive skills when you level up. Want a dwarf that works well in an all-dwarf party? Choose skills that contain Dwarven Warcry.
This is a pretty decent answer and we worked on that system until about the middle of last year. Then we started to realise it had a few problems. Here are some of them:
- The system can be annoying in multi-player. If you miss out on a skill you later find that you want in order to build a particular party/deck, there is no way of “going back” to the level where you might have acquired it and re-acquiring it, unless we added some sort of character respecing function.
- As with all these kind of systems, you often have to make a choice about which skill to acquire without having a good understanding of whether you’ll actually want that skill in the future.
- It complicated the deck building interface considerably because we had to separate out the skills (which belong to specific characters) from the general item pool that can be used by every character.
- If you only get skills when you level up, you would naturally end up with a lot less of them than regular equipment items and no way to acquire more.
It’s really another example of the tension that exists between single and multiplayer games.
Anyway, after much contemplation, we decided to cut this system and just treat skills like regular items. That is, you find them when adventuring and you can equip and move them around from character to character, just like you can with equipment items. Note: it’s still possible that we might need to introduce “soul bound” type items in the future, i.e. items that can’t be transferred from one character to another. We’ll need to think very carefully about that though because of the interface problems I described above.
So, what distinguishes a skill from an equipment item now then? Well, skills come in two flavours: class-based and race-based. So there are arcane skills (wizards), martial skills (warriors), divine skills (priests) as well as Dwarf skills, Elf skills and Human skills. This gives more distinction to the different class/race combinations since each class/race has a unique combination of slots that accept different skill types. There are special cards that only occur in certain skill items, so you still have to plan carefully if you want to build a particular type of deck. But if you have a high level Dwarf Warrior, and you decide that you really would like an extra copy of a low level Dwarf skill, you can always go back and adventure to try to find it (I’ll talk about de-levelling later).
Although we gave up something when we made this decision, overall I felt it was a win for the game for two reasons: firstly, it saved us work, allowing us to move forward with our development. Secondly, it simplified the game considerably. Deck building is complex enough without adding more constraints and features. That’s important.
OK, then what’s a Talent? I don’t have time to fully explain them this week, but you can see them in the item illustrations above. They’re represented by the little glass beads next to the item names and they determine which items you can use. I’ll run through more exactly what they are and how we came to adopt them next week.