FUNDAMENTALS OF GAME DESIGN, SECOND EDITION

USING SKILL TREES

Skills are usually organized into a skill tree, a growth path analogous to the tech tree that Chapter 14 discussed. As with tech trees, learning a particular skill in the tree makes subsequent, more advanced skills available. Other than that and the differ­ences in the previous section, they're really quite similar. Take a look at the discussion of tech trees in Chapter 14 for some other ideas on things you can do with skill trees.

Figure 15.7 illustrates the idea of skill trees as implemented in Diablo II. The right side of the screen shows a skill tree, one of three different trees for a single charac­ter, an Amazon. The tree currently shown is labeled "Passive and Magic Skills."

(The other two available for this character are "Javelin and Spear Skills" and "Bow and Crossbow Skills.") Each icon represents a skill that may be learned, with the ones that are required first at the top (this tree is upside down). The arrows leading from icon to icon show the progression. An unlearned skill appears in dark grey, such as the horned helmet at the lower left of the tree. Skills that have been learned are shown in white.

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Skills

Players earn skill points in Diablo II through experience, and may learn a new skill or improve an existing one by assigning the skill points to one of the skills in the tree. The "Skill Choices Remaining" box at the upper right indicates that the player has two skill points available to assign to one of the skills. The small boxes next to
each icon hold the number of skill points for that skill so far; each additional point strengthens the effect of the skill during play.

Character Design

The design of tabletop RPGs allows the player to create her own avatar character before the game begins. Most CRPGs follow this model, particularly multiplayer online RPGs. Single-player CRPGs sometimes allow the player to create not only an avatar character but all the members of the party. Others let the player create only the avatar, then add further, predefined characters to the party as the player encounters them in the game world.

ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF PREDEFINED AVATARS

A small number of single-player games come with predefined avatar characters that the player may initially customize in only a limited number of ways. This system constrains the player to use the given characters, which players who want complete freedom may not like. However, it has the great advantage that it enables you to tell a story in which the avatar already has a past and relationships with other characters when the game begins. Because you already know something about the avatar, you can build those details into the quests that the player will face. If you know nothing about the avatar (because he doesn't exist until the player creates him), you must make all the quests and other interactions in the game generic so they work for any kind of avatar. See the section “Specific and Nonspecific Avatars” in Chapter 6, and the sidebar “Character-Agnostic Plots and King of Dragon Pass” in Chapter 7, for further discussion.

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Typically, players set their cosmetic attributes any way they like: name, gender, hair color, clothing, and so on. They can also choose their character's race, class, and moral attributes if the game implements such features. For other characterization attributes, the usual mechanism is to allow the players to roll simulated dice to gen­erate a number of points and then allow them to distribute the points among their attributes however they see fit. This lets them concentrate their points in whichever attribute they're most interested in developing. Players are sometimes allowed to ask for a new die roll if the first one is too low.

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