What Is It?
Now that we're done with apologizies, let's get on with the Game Design Breakdown, where I, Chad Wolfe, break down mechanics in games and explain why they may - or may not work. Note that I try to express facts, not opinions, but I will be expressing my opinion as well. So, here we go!
Today we're going to be talking about characterizing with leveling, and basically what I mean by that is making an individual character in a game seem different than another through the use of the skill tree, leveling system that the game in question is using. This is something that I feel a lot of games suffer greatly from lacking, when such a thing could really improve the overall intrigue and ubiquity of the characters in the game.
I've shared here a picture of the skill tree from the game Path of Exile. This is mostly comprised of passive skills, and is by no means exactly what I'm trying to express as characterizing through the creation of a skill tree. Rather, the point of using this example is to show how one could manipulate the way a character develops through a complex system.
The Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X is a similar way of setting up the levelling system.
It's important though, that we stress that most of the nodes through both level systems are passive skills. This means that they won't drastically change the way the character plays right off the bat when the player is using it, while allowing for a lot of manipulation through a lot of information.
Okay, I don't really know good terminology for what I'm going for here, but using this Oblivion example to display what I'm talking about will help.
Now, in some ways, creating diverse characters by using a combination of complex skill trees and multiple skills might be a bit of an overload. But, at the same time, it could be constructed in a way that works more like...
The main thing I'd include is make the character have a personality skill. And rather than making the character more interesting to other characters when the skill increases, make it determine whether the character may be more aware of things, be more destructive, work harder, etc, etc. And all of those steps in the leveling of that character could be set by default, or could allow the character to develop.
Simply by using a more intelligent skill tree and leveling system, the designers of a game can create a world that feels more real, and create characters that the player will really remember and understand as an important character, regardless of what impact they make in the world around them.