Skill and Combat System
I am Coen Neessen, the Lead Game Designer for The Chronicles of Spellborn. I have been involved with designing most of the core mechanics for TCoS and I am currently working on the skill and combat systems. In the article below I will try to explain a bit about what makes the skill and combat system for the game so special and interesting.
What we are doing with the combat system in TCoS is to increase the effect of tactical choices made by the player during combat. Furthermore we think that too many games use a combat system that is too dependent on damage outcome using formulas and percentages that sort of take away player control, and can take away the joy of victory. For instance this can be especially true of a combatant who wins due to a lucky streak of critical hits, or by using a weapon which does random bonus damage.
One of the things that has drastically changed in our game (in relation to most other MMOGs) is the targeting system. We have removed auto attack combat where you would target an opponent and click the attack button once and wait utill the opponent is defeated. Instead you hit where you swing by actually keeping your opponent manually targeted using a targeting 'reticule' or 'crosshair'. So if you win a battle it means your choices and reactions made the difference, not dice rolls and statistics.
If the player must aim and make tactical choices during combat we don’t want to swamp the player with tons of spells and skills, at least not all at the same time. Players will have access to a large number of different skills they can use during combat, but never more then a handful are displayed on screen at any time.
All the skills a character has learned so far are kept in their Skillbook. Characters learn new skills as they advance through the world of TCoS and uncover more of the past. Skills learned at the early levels of advancement are by no means weaker skills which have no use when the character becomes stronger. The damage and the effects of a skill are related to the power of the character that uses them and thus remain useful throughout the game. Which skills a character can learn depends on their chosen archetype and class. Warriors can learn melee skills such as overhead cleave while a Runemage can learn magical skills like rune blasts.
Skills in a character's Skillbook are not yet available during a fight; they must be placed into the Skilldeck to be used during combat.
The player must select several skills from the Skillbook and place these into the character's Skilldeck. The Skilldeck can be compared to a deck of cards as seen in many collectible trading card games. It consists of 6 rows (called tiers) with 5 skill-slots per row. Each skill-slot can be filled with a chosen skill, as long as the skill was learned and is available in the character's Skillbook. There are some minor rules for placing skills in the Skilldeck, but other than that the players are completely free to experiment and create their own fighting styles and tactics. Teams can coordinate the composition of their Skilldecks to increase their battle performance during large tournaments in the Quarterstone Arena.
During combat only one of the six tiers is active at any time. Combat always starts at the first tier. When a skill is executed the next tier becomes active and so on until a skill is used from the last (sixth) tier, in which case the first tier becomes active again. The time it takes before the next tier becomes activated (and thus when the next skill can be executed) depends on which skill was used and the current attack speed of the character. To execute a skill, the player selects it with the number (1 to 5) keys (this is similar to selecting a weapon in a first person shooter game) and then uses the skill with a press of their mouse button. Once used, the skill takes effect in the area where the player is aiming.
In addition to this, skills can form combo-chains. All skills have a combo type and these combo types initiate certain bonuses if they are used in the correct order. For instance a skill can be labeled as an opener, which means that it starts a possible combo-chain. A skill labeled as a finisher ends the combo-chain and will do increased damage (or provide additional positive effects for the character, or negative effects for their opponent) depending on the skills used in between the opener and the finisher.
Being prepared is just half the work. A focused Skilldeck with flexibility to adjust against various types of opponents will greatly improve a character's battle performance. Players are free to play around with their Skilldeck and adjust it as much as they like to. They can change skills at any time (except during combat) in order to defeat a previously too difficult enemy. Players will even have the option to ‘save’ different Skilldeck setups. This can be useful if players use certain team tactics with their guild or if the player wants a special Skilldeck for use during PvP encounters.
Skill and Combat System Follow-up Interview
In the forum topic linked to the article we had a lot of comments and good discussion. Many of you expressed that the system is very refreshing and will deliver some real next generation MMORPG combat, while others wondered about how this new system would work in practice. As in all forum discussions, there were also some valid questions raised. We thought it would be a good idea to strike while the iron was hot and sit down with lead game designer Coen Neessen again and let him answer the questions the community asked.
In the article you briefly talk about combo-chains. Could you tell us a bit more about them?
It’s very important to keep in mind that using combo-chains is an extra dimension to combat that enhances your efficiency. Making combos is a solo exercise. You are not dependant on other classes or players to perform them. Your opponent can break a combo though. Using combos makes PvE a bit easier (while not being necessary), but it will probably have the biggest impact on PvP competitions where every little bit extra helps. In order to make a combo-chain you have to use an opener skill, which is a normal skill on its own, with the added affect that it opens a combo-chain. Combos may consist of up to 10 skills, at which point they are automatically finished. All combo types (each skill has one) have a certain extra effect if they are used in a specific order. Using the ‘wrong’ one doesn’t stop a combo-chain, it just means you don’t get its extra effect. A choice you might be willing to make if you deem another skill more useful at that time.
The manual targeting using a ‘crosshair’ sounds a lot like FPS gameplay, is The Chronicles of Spellborn going to be an MMOFPS?
If the difference between an mmorpg and an mmofps is that the mmorpg is static and the mmofps is dynamic, it is more an mmofps then an mmorpg. Lots of the common formulas found in a traditional mmorpg have been replaced by things that can be directly influenced by the players themselves. So If the definition of an mmorpg is upgrading your character's formula sheet: it isn't an mmorpg for most part. There are attributes and statistics you can enhance or decrease which are similar to other rpg’s. Like increasing attack speed or reducing an opponent's maximum hitpoints. Other than the ‘to hit’ and 'dodge' chance, most of the statistics of other rpg’s are used in TCoS. There is still some tweaking to do with these statistics but they are not as numerous as in some other games. This has been replaced by the Skilldeck, a more visual version of statistics in a sense. It should be noted that TCoS is not a typical First Person Shooter, however it is a Role-Playing Game. In this sense, the acronym MMORPG seems to be appropriate, and is what we've chosen to call something that, above all else, is intended to simply be fun to play!
Are skills on top of normal (autoattack) combat or do you start attack mode by activating a skill on tier 1?
Skills are the only means to do an attack. There is no default autoattack. Skills can range from a normal Slash attack to a devastating Poison Eruption.
Isn’t a maximum of 5 skills at any one time too restrictive? For instance, a heal spell, a damage spell, an emergency teleport leaves only room for 2 more skills. This can make it very hard to have variation in your attacks and combo-chains.
We don’t prevent that, because we don’t need to. You won’t need a combo-chain opener skill or a finisher skill on every tier. Furthermore you can learn multiple open or finish skills. They can be totally different skills with different effects. Heals or other buffing effects are combo skills too, so they add to a combo-chain. Combo-chains are an added dimension: they enhance your battle performance but the foundation is still the skills and their effects. The setup of your Skilldeck dictates more or less your flow of moves in combat. There is no need to have a heal ready at all times because moving to the next tier happens quite quickly. Having a diverse but specialized (sort that one out and you have the balance) enough Skilldeck is key to victory. Finally there will be some rules as to how you can fill your deck. Some skills have a limited number of times they can be placed in a deck for example.
What do you do when in combat and you need a skill that is 4 tiers away?
It really is all about making a diverse enough Skilldeck. It lets you react to most situations correctly if you have a good setup. Sometimes there will be situations where you would have rather had access to a certain skill but this really isn't much different from skills with 'cooldowns' or 'refresh timers'. The Skilldeck is a bit more fast-paced and gives you relatively short windows of opportunity in which to perform the right skills. If a window of opportunity is lost you’ll have to use the next one, which will come relatively quickly since tiers come and go regularly. Again, having a heal on each tier might seem a good idea, but it really restricts your options a great deal, which leads to being too dependent on those heals instead of trying to kill your opponent. Instead you should try to work out a combat flow with heals and other buffs available at times where you know (or at least suspect) you’ll need them.
Concerning the windows of opportunity: it is important to know that you only stay at your current tier for a certain amount of time. When you wait too long the combat bar will rotate back 1 tier every time a window of opportunity has passed. This also prevents combo-chains from being built on other targets than, for instance, the planned PvP target.