Upgrading Abilities

Eurgh

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What are people's opinions on upgrading your abilities as opposed to gaining the abilities through levelling.


What I mean by this is you start with a fireball, you can pay X amount of gold/points to turn it into Greater Fireball OR You have to wait until a certain level to unlock Greater Fireball which overwrites Fireball OR You gain Greater Fireball while also keeping Fireball.

My main question is what is everyone's feelings about these different kinds of ability systems, my personal feelings is the pay to upgrade is the best as it doesn't force a player to grind because they want a better heal spell or something and replacing the skill decreases the skill bloat since I dislike scrolling through a list of Fireball, Fireball II, Fireball III, Fireball IV.
 

Milennin

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I think it's largely agreed upon that upgrading is favoured over stacking the skill list.
 

Eurgh

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I think it's largely agreed upon that upgrading is favoured over stacking the skill list.
Fair enough, but that goes onto my question of whether people prefer to be able to upgrade them at any time, or if they like it to be a level thing
 

Milennin

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Fair enough, but that goes onto my question of whether people prefer to be able to upgrade them at any time, or if they like it to be a level thing
That would depend on the type of game, and I wouldn't say one is better than the other. Any time upgrade works better in games that allow for customisation where players get to decide what they want to upgrade in what order, while level-up upgrade works better in linear progression games.
 

Animebryan

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I hate to break it to you but there's no such thing as a 'one size fits all' solution. Different players will have different preferences on how to go about it. The more patient players don't mind grinding as its pretty much a given play mechanic in RPGs, while players who don't have a lot of time and/or patience will want to level up their stats & skills in the most fastest, efficient way possible.

Being able to level up too fast will make the player too overpowered & can just breeze right through the game with no challenge, while pacing out the upgrades prevents this. So basing it on leveling up seems like the better way, but the impatient players will certainly disagree.
 

Tai_MT

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I think the point at which you would "upgrade" your abilities would largely be determined by how you determine your own balancing.

My own system employs the "upgrade" system alongside a "choice of upgrade". That being said, the player must embark upon quests in order to get the option to do the upgrade. Baseline skills are relatively "weak", and the first upgrade is fairly easy to obtain, but any subsequent upgrades require more effort as the power tends to scale on a fairly high curve. For example, baseline damage skills usually start with only a bonus of 10 extra points of damage, while the strongest version can do 100 extra points of damage (something that would instantly kill many enemies in the very early game).

Honestly, however, I prefer an upgrade system. I've played too many games where you get Fire 1, Fire 2, Fire 3, Fire 4... and the player just stops using Fire 1 once they get Fire 2... stops using Fire 2 once they get Fire 3... etcetera. The skills end up just taking up space in the menus. I don't tend to prefer this either as a player. I don't need 20+ skills, of which I'll find 5 useful. For this very reason, my own characters don't have any more than 6 or 7 skills each. Though, there are 10 versions of each of those skills.

For the player, this means they have minimal scrolling. They don't have to memorize what each skill does. They can more easily slide skills into combat in tactical ways.

As for how a person implements an upgrade system... I don't have a preference on how it's done. If it's done by level, automatic replacement seems the most efficient to me. If it's done by paying someone, then putting that location to upgrade further into the game seems the most viable. If it's done by points... then making the player grind for significant gains in power seems fine with me.
 

bgillisp

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One thing you got to watch for with choice of upgrade is a player might not choose an upgrade that you planned a later battle around. I actually ran into this in my game where my tester didn't ever learn the skill Dispel then when I made a boss where you needed to Dispel the buffs they had no way to do it.

Also I wouldn't say a system which removes old skills is always preferable. I've had cases where I want to use Fire 2 even though I got Fire 3 as the enemy doesn't need the power of a Fire 3 to finish it off. Or maybe I need some healing but not the full power of Full Heal every player (I'm looking at you, every SMT game). This is made worse when there is a huge cost difference between the power levels too.
 

Tai_MT

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@bgillisp

Fair point with the first one. I think the second one usually turns out to be a "moot point".

You're a "conservative" type player, it sounds like. However, I don't know a lot of players who tend to play like that. Especially when MP is so easy and so cheap to restore. It's usually just easier to hit everything with the strongest stuff you got and then use the 500 Gold item to restore your MP back up to maximum.

Though, quite honestly, if a player can just hit "Attack" and kill the enemy with one hit, they're unlikely to spend any MP at all. I simply do not see a lot of players taking time to consider using a "weaker" version of an attack because "It does just the right amount of damage to not blow all my MP". Even in the cases of Healing.

Though, if a game is a bit more stingy with MP restoratives and they cost a lot of money or are very hard to come by otherwise... Then, it makes sense that most players will conserve their MP if possible. However, most RPG's don't put that much thought into their Mana Pool Economy, so it's usually just a lot easier to blow Ultra Mega Death Flare every single turn and then spend the 10,000 Gold to buy the item to restore the MP, when you're already rolling in 2,000,000 Gold anyway. It's a drop in the bucket. Especially when the monster you just killed with Ultra Mega Death Flare drops about 15,000 Gold anyway.

Put simply... you sort of need to design your skills, economy, Mana Points, and items around making sure the player isn't going to waste high tiered skills on weak enemies, just because they can and lose nothing for doing so (or the loss is so negligible, that it's the only way to really use the money or items they've been accumulating). I haven't played a lot of RPG's that require that... except maybe Tabletops. Or games like Secret of Evermore, where your spells cost finite amounts of resources and you don't want to be blowing them willy-nilly since the ingredients for the spells are hard to find (and can only be found once) or expensive to buy (and not every shopkeeper sells every ingredient).
 

bgillisp

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@Tai_MT : I'm guessing you don't play too many dungeon crawlers? Those are all about preserving your MP so you can go as far as possible, and in those a weaker spell might be the difference between you make it to the end vs you have to go back for more potions.

The example I was referring to BTW was Persona 4. Mediarama costs 12 MP and usually heals the party for a decent amount of HP. Mediarahan costs 30 MP and heals everyone to full HP, then Salvation costs 40 MP and heals everyone to full HP and heals all status ailments. Because you only get 8 spell slots you are usually stuck using Salvation when a simple Mediarama would heal you enough and cost 28 MP less, which is pretty significant when your max MP is a little under 400 MP.

But really all SMT games have this problem due to the fact you get 8 slots so you usually keep the best one, when maybe you just want a weak version to exploit the weakness then the bonuses will finish it off. And the MP difference is easily the difference between finishing the dungeon and having to abort and come back another day, especially when most SMT games I play horde Mana potions worse than a dragon hordes it's gold.

Edit: I will admit though most games the power curve is so sharp that if you use a level 1 skill in the final dungeon it won't do anything...unless the enemy dies of laughter. I actually tried that in Final Fantasy 3 once just to see if it did anything, and I think I did single digit damage, which is pretty useless when monsters got 4 digits or more of HP. So it does depend on your power curve if it even matters.
 
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Tai_MT

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@bgillisp The last Dungeon Crawler I ever played was "Champions of Norrath: Return to Arms", which was a pretty great game... though those skills "scaled up" with your stats, and only got major boosts if you put more points into them. So, probably not a good example for what you're talking about. The Healing and Mana potions, however, are difficult to afford in the early game, while mid-game, they become stupidly common and easily spammable.

I think the Persona game you mention is one of those that has taken the time to balance all the things I mentioned. As such... it's sort of a rare breed in the RPG Market. You simply don't see RPG's designed that well, with that much thought put in mind to them.

Most RPG's, including those created with RPG Maker tend to fall into the category I mentioned. Where, put simply, it's just better to remove the lower tiered stuff as it's pretty much a moot point to have later in the game as MP is so ludicrously easy to restore that it's a non-issue how much of it you ever spend.

Even if my own game, I've had to seriously tweak a lot of my systems together just to ensure that my MP was valuable and not very easy to restore. Even after I removed Healing Skills altogether. It's a tricky task to tackle, especially as players accumulate money and stats.
 

jonthefox

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Depends on the type of game, but generally I prefer systems where spells are upgraded. For me this is because I prefer systems where there's like 10 spells, and the player gets to choose which combinations he likes to use and therefore upgrade to make stronger, with most of the spells not being that much overwhelmingly better than the others. This is as opposed to a system where you start with a weak skill at level 1, then learn a slightly better skill at level 3, then a slightly better one at level 6, then a slightly better one at level 10, etc., and it's just a progression of "oh look this spell just hits harder now" - pretty meh and one dimensional. But when I level up or get to the next town and I have to go "HMMM how do I want to spend my points; what spell(s) do I want to upgrade?" -- that's interesting and fun to me! And it gives replay value to boot, since you can try different builds and such. I do agree with Bgillisp's concern though - you have to make sure there's either a way to re-spec, or that particular upgrades aren't mandatory for progressing through the game, since the player obviously might not choose to opt for that upgrade if given the freedom.
 

Wavelength

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The problem with "paying" to upgrade your abilities is that usually you have to pay some sort of Job Points, Skill Points, or whatever, which will also require "grinding" battles in some fashion (sometimes it will require doing specific things rather than simply killing monsters to accumulate the JP, but in the end it still means participating in more battles to get more JP).

If you're upgrading the skills with rare Treasure Items, then it means you're being confined to a specific number of upgrades that is roughly based on the player's progress through the game, rather than level or grinding. It also means that the player is limited to a certain number of upgrades and can't get more at any given specific point in your game.

If you're upgrading the skills with Gold, then unless Gold is a relatively scarce resource, the player can essentially get the upgrades without making any real choices or sacrifices, and might jump far ahead of what you (as the designer) to be balanced at any given point in the game. A solution could be to increase the MP costs of bigger skills so that they are prohibitive to use at low levels... but then in practice you are gating the upgrades by Levels, which defeats the point. (And if Gold IS a relatively scarce resource, then the player may once again be "grinding" battles to get more of it to upgrade their skills as well as buy the equipment/consumables they need.)

The one difference that all of these systems have, versus a straight "receive upgrades at a certain level" system, is that the player has some agency to choose the order in which they upgrade their skills. Some people might want to spring for that Greater Fireball early on, whereas others might think it's more important to invest in Greater Confuse or Greater Heal. I think there is definitely some appeal in this dynamic; however, the amount of additional complexity (and work for the designer), and the additional risk of imbalancing the game, are drawbacks that you have to weigh against the gain in player agency.
 

AxelNinjaGamer

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I've been messing with the idea of skills upgrading through continued use. let's say the player has access to fire magic, after using your level one fire spell "let's call it HEAT" 10 times you gain access to a stronger version of that spell "let's call this one HEATWAVE". The more you use fire magic the better spells you learn, kinda like your muscles, the more you use them the stronger they get. Obviously you would need to use HEATWAVE more than 10 times before getting another upgrade, but the idea is to encourage the player not to button mash and explore as many spells and abilities as they can.

This also allows the player to have a unique experience, they might decide to play the game again and this time they use water magic and discover an entire new line of spells they didn't know existed.
 

PhxFire

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One thing to think about is that you can use two methods of upgrading together, so they need an item and gold... or they need gold and to be a certain lvl... or even have it where they upgrade skills at a certain person/ building and that place have more upgrades available at each progressive city/checkpoint. All of these can help to limit upgrades and prevent players from getting too strong early on.

Personally I like the idea of having to upgrade skills but each skill also has a min lvl before you can unlock/ upgrade it.
 

Aesica

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In my game, all skills are made to scale in such a way that they never truly become obsolete, but if your skills aren't like that, upgrading skills (replace Fire 1 with Fire 2, etc) is far better than bloating up the skill list with obsolete crap.

That said, I'm not a fan of using gold because I just don't see the reason to make skills compete for the same resource as gear. Skill/Job points is a much better approach, even if you make it less grinding by only awarding a fixed amount of them with every level up. This method is actually similar to learning skills at fixed levels, except the player gets to choose their own path. This is what my current game uses, and although you could run into the problem of choosing the "wrong" skills, (I bought the fire spells and now I'm in the volcano, oops!) I get around this by offering the player a skill reset system.

I'm also not a huge fan of having to collect certain items to learn skills, especially since it seems like a lot of RM developers like to add missable content to their game (something else I dislike, but that's for another topic). "What's that, you want to learn your ultimate skill, but didn't get the Magical Bear Ass out of a dungeon you can't backtrack to? Tough luck!"
 

bgillisp

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@Aesica : That is true, many like to hide them behind hard to get or impossible items. A solution, which I used in my game was at a certain point I auto-gave the required items to the player so they could learn the skills. That way they can still get them, and I can control the latest point they will learn the skill too when I balance.
 

M.I.A.

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@Aesica & @bgillisp , I do something pretty intuitive for my "Blue Mage" job class to ensure the player has a better opportunity to acquire all the skills from battle. The "Blue Mage" is actually my Monk class. What I do, is I create a "false" skill for all of their obtainable skills. Then I make the dummy skills unusable & greyed out. However, if the player highlights the skill, the description of the skill will clue the player in on which enemies to obtain the skills from. For example, "Quick Punch" description would say something along the lines of "A fast punch learned from some goblins".
Once the player obtains the skill, the condition set in events will remove the "false" skill and be replaced by the usable skill. :)

I prefer Aesica's method of giving all skills relevance and utility, rather than creating better "versions" of multiple skills that render the previous versions obsolete.
Hope this helps!
-MIA :)
 

empresskiova

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For Arcane Paradise I’m using a bunch of different ways to get skills since it makes sense for the game world.

First, you’ve got 4 Skillsets for each character (generally 2 weapon based skills, a character based skill, and then a status skill that grants extra stats and permanent passive boosts). You get 1 Skill Point per level up and each rank costs 2 points. Upgraded skills replace each other unless the new version of the skill is massively more expensive or the character learned the skill via leveling up, since I wanted to make sure players got a good range of abilities.

I’ve also got buyable items that teach stat boosting/dropping spells (kinda like how Pokemon has some buyable TMs). These skills aren’t super strong, but they affect all allies/enemies. There’ll likely be a few more available too, but one I know will be hidden. It’s only a spell of invisibility (ignore RNG encounters and 100% evasions in battle), so no deathnukes.

Then there are tomes that let two of the four characters use a specific unique spell. The tomes won’t be deathnukes either, they’ll just offer different ways to battle and won’t really be hidden.

Finally you have other ways to learn skills. The pure mage grabs an orb from his house in the first city that lets him pick a deathnuke spell (that he can’t cast for awhile because it costs too much MP). It’s not really hidden because the game even tells you to go tell goodbye to everyone’s family before adventuring :p
 

TheoAllen

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From my player standpoint, I always like upgrading skill. I always like the anticipation to do so. When the skill is auto-upgraded from a fireball, to fireball+, and to fireball++ without me doing it myself, it was like, "Okay...". But when the game tells me that the next level of the skill is going to be "like this", there's an excitement.

Now the actual balance of the upgrade system largely depends on how the dev does it. And if for some reasons the lower tier skill works better in some case just like bgillisp and you have no way of using it, the dev probably didn't do it right.
 

somenick

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In the game I'm currently making, I'm sort of implementing a Materia type system, where you input small microdevices into your weapon obtaining this or that skill (only for as long it is inserted into the weapon). In my case I chose this due to the game being very scifi overall. Even so, some characters are a lot better with these than others (those who dont perform well with the microdevices tend to have more physical power, etc). So upgrading would be a thing of taking out one micro and inserting another in.
 

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