Skill Duration & Player Engagement

Punamaagi

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I've been going through my database recently, and I recently started wondering whether skills that last multiple rounds can be considered engaging or interesting.

When it comes to skill duration and its relationship with skill effect (damage etc.), I can think of a few skill sub types:
  • One-round duration, instant effect: player chooses the skill, character acts on their turn, and the effect is applied instantly afterwards. This is the "default" skill type in RPG Maker.
  • Fixed multi-round duration, delayed effect: character is "locked" (unable to receive other commands) for a set number of turns, and the effect is applied only after the expected number of rounds has passed and the character has acted. A good example could be Kain's Jump skill from Final Fantasy IV, where Kain spends his first turn jumping into the air and remains untargettable and uncontrollable until he lands and deals damage.
  • Fixed multi-round duration, constant effect: character is "locked" for a set number of turns, but the effect is applied each round on their turn. I can't quickly think of any games where this would have been used, but this is the idea I had for my own project (for a sorcerer who channels his spells).
  • Flexible duration, delayed effect: player gets to choose how many rounds they want to spend "charging up" the skill, and the strength of the effect is based on the number of rounds. A non-RPG example would be Megaman's Mega Buster, which is charged by holding down a button and deals more damage than his usual shot.
  • Flexible duration, constant effect: player chooses the skill and the character keeps using it on their turn until the player decides otherwise.
While I like the idea of multi-round skills, I started wondering whether they risk becoming "fire and forget" kind of skills that take away from player engagement. If a skill takes more than one round to use, they can also become difficult to use tactically because the character cannot immediately respond to enemy skills and other changes in battle. There's also the matter of balancing resource costs, particularly when the skill duration is flexible, and potency.

Therefore, I'd like to ask: Do you think that multi-round skills can be made engaging? Is a fixed duration better than flexible one? Should skills that do constant damage deal less damage at start and end with a larger burst, or is it better to have steady damage? How can multi-round skills they be balanced with each other and "instant skills" (e.g. should skills with delayed effects be cheaper to use, flexible duration lead to lower damage, or instant skills have cooldowns)?

I'd be curious to hear your opinions because I'm more of a storywriter than a game mechanics designer, and though channelling spells and charging up blasts feels compelling to me, I'm not sure if it's something players would enjoy.
 

KakonComp

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I think they can, but the payoff would have to be better than something that can be done on two turns. One example is using Charge or Concentrate in the Shin Megami Tensei games, where the next attack would deal 2.5x damage, giving you a slight edge on using one skill first before another.

So the more turns that pass, the more you'll have to think about whether or not it was worth waiting; it doesn't have to be all damage. You could give a healer a skill that takes a turn or two to set up, but then doesn't take effect until an ally is down a certain percent of health, say 30%, where it will automatically take effect, while the healer can still be doing other things after the initial casting turn it took to make it work.

I probably wouldn't use any mutli-turn moves myself. The most delay I'm comfortable with making would be using the current ATB-like battle system in MZ, and then adding a small casting time that makes spells take a little longer in return for being a little more useful. Same can apply to turn based battles, where casters go last in the same turn as others.

Either way, right now everything is the same speed, and battles flow well. It's not easy changing that up, and the battles coming out as more satisfying, unless battles by themselves take more than 30 seconds to dish out. Even then, I know a lot of people who would want to act asap.
 

Zelgadis85

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Going to chime in here for a sec.

I've been going through my database recently, and I recently started wondering whether skills that last multiple rounds can be considered engaging or interesting.

When it comes to skill duration and its relationship with skill effect (damage etc.), I can think of a few skill sub types:
  • One-round duration, instant effect: player chooses the skill, character acts on their turn, and the effect is applied instantly afterwards. This is the "default" skill type in RPG Maker.
These are good for your bread-and-butter generic skills, which could be a majority of all skills in your database.

  • Fixed multi-round duration, delayed effect: character is "locked" (unable to receive other commands) for a set number of turns, and the effect is applied only after the expected number of rounds has passed and the character has acted. A good example could be Kain's Jump skill from Final Fantasy IV, where Kain spends his first turn jumping into the air and remains untargettable and uncontrollable until he lands and deals damage.
You could consider adding a perk for this. Perhaps make a person who normally attacks a single enemy target all enemies instead? Just boosting damage seems, I don't know, dull. Or add a random debilitating state to his / her target. Or in case of a boost, maybe add more random boosts or a small heal if you require the character to stay "locked", as in your terms, for multiple rounds.

  • Fixed multi-round duration, constant effect: character is "locked" for a set number of turns, but the effect is applied each round on their turn. I can't quickly think of any games where this would have been used, but this is the idea I had for my own project (for a sorcerer who channels his spells).
The concept is cool, but it is probably the most difficult situation to actually balance.

  • Flexible duration, delayed effect: player gets to choose how many rounds they want to spend "charging up" the skill, and the strength of the effect is based on the number of rounds. A non-RPG example would be Megaman's Mega Buster, which is charged by holding down a button and deals more damage than his usual shot.
  • Flexible duration, constant effect: player chooses the skill and the character keeps using it on their turn until the player decides otherwise.
So these can be applied as toggleable auras of some sort? Nothing bad having such passive boosts, if they won't become too powerful on their own. Perhaps you should consider adding a weakness to these, as well. (Not just MP / TP cost)

While I like the idea of multi-round skills, I started wondering whether they risk becoming "fire and forget" kind of skills that take away from player engagement. If a skill takes more than one round to use, they can also become difficult to use tactically because the character cannot immediately respond to enemy skills and other changes in battle. There's also the matter of balancing resource costs, particularly when the skill duration is flexible, and potency.

Therefore, I'd like to ask: Do you think that multi-round skills can be made engaging? Is a fixed duration better than flexible one? Should skills that do constant damage deal less damage at start and end with a larger burst, or is it better to have steady damage? How can multi-round skills they be balanced with each other and "instant skills" (e.g. should skills with delayed effects be cheaper to use, flexible duration lead to lower damage, or instant skills have cooldowns)?

I'd be curious to hear your opinions because I'm more of a storywriter than a game mechanics designer, and though channelling spells and charging up blasts feels compelling to me, I'm not sure if it's something players would enjoy.
It's not bad having more powerful skills in your repertoire, but the main issue is that the player should not have to them too early. After all, the major point of levelling up and advancing characters is the feeling of growing stronger. What was a difficult encounter yesterday can be a breeze tomorrow. Balancing is a constant work-in-progress in every game, so don't feel bad if it seems off at a first glance. If you like the concept and the flow of your skills in your game right now, I think there's no need to change them. Feedback from others can be important, but first and foremost you should make a game you yourself enjoy playing. I mean, if you won't like it, chances are no one will.
 

Aesica

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I've considered trying out the whole "sings for X rounds for Y effect over the duration" mechanic, but ended up scrapping it because it pretty much just turns the character using such a skill into a walking aura. I prefer my characters to be doing something different every round, but multi-round abilities are (as the OP said) just fire and forget other than having everyone else keep that character alive.

As for the "casts for X rounds, executes at the end" for longer casts, I use the wait-based ATB/TPB/whatever you can to call it approach rather than classic turn-based, and have no problem adding higher risk/reward skills. Specifically, skills that take a long time to cast (since loss of control effects or death can interrupt it) but deal a lot of damage or healing.
 

Milennin

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I have a lot of skills with effects that last for multiple turns (and a few that also lock characters for the duration), including for most of my ultimate abilities. But my combat system promotes planning ahead for at least a turn or 2, since in-battle HP/MP resource management is a big deal and you always want to know how much you're going to be having ahead of time. So firing off multiple of these at a time, you can't just forget about them; they become a part of your strategy planning. With how many of the skills have effects that last for more than a turn, and with how strong they are, you can't get around not using them.

I think these kind of skills work in combat systems that last for a few turns at minimum. If your combat system is fast paced and expects players to speed grind easy encounters, I'd mostly go with instant effect skills.
 

Grunwave

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Generally for battle mechanics: any time you give players more control/options - the better.

Normally a good JRPG boss fight has you juggling between:
-Damage dealing
-Healing
-Buffing
-Rezzing(because of instant death abilities, which can not be buffed against, I consider rezzing a wholly different activity than healing)

From a glance, it appears your intended system would add a wagering factor into this. I think this is an interesting idea, which would definitely be fun for the first couple hours of combat. If your entire system relies on gambling though, it will get boring quickly -- because you are removing the players' decisional merit and relying too much on luck.

If you can find a way to add predictive outcomes to this, where the risk is lessened or the benefit is heightened by an external condition(say something as simple as time of day, weather, terrain, et cetera) then I see a lot more potential here.


I presume the playerbase's desire for luck controlling the majority of combat is extremely, extremely low.
 

Wavelength

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I've tried "charge up" skills (where you have to spend turns preparing to use a skill a turn or two later), or "channeled" skills (where you apply effects to enemies or allies that last a duration during which you can't act), and what I've generally found was that while the ideas sound really cool, they tend to fall pretty flat in practice because they rob the player of interesting decisions to make each turn. A channeled spell you can drop at will wouldn't be too bad, but in general for charged and channeled skills, the juice isn't quite worth the squeeze. Make sure the player has interesting decisions to make each turn. Skills that you use instantly and then they take effect for multiple turns (via states or troop eventing) are fine. If the effect would be too gamebreaking without sacrificing additional turns, then consider some kind of malus effect on the skill (perhaps health loss each turn for the user, or weakening his allies' stats while the spell is in effect) instead.
 

freakytapir

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Not to be nitpicking, but you forgot one type of effect.
The one turn delayed effect.
Basically, you spend one turn casting it, but it only goes into effect multiple turns later.
Examples would be Future Sight from Pokémon, which hits the opponent in 3 turns.
Another example could be a meteor type skill, where you cast it now, and the meteor drops in a couple of turns, but otherwise leaves your character free to act.

But all multi-round skills need one thing: For combat to last more than one turn.
Which off course raises the question, how long do your combats last? I mean even if your combats last 3-4 turns on average, that means these skills are near useless after round 1 if they take too long to charge.
 

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