Field Skills and the HM Mule
Today I'm going to try a shorter piece, about field skills,their quirks and how I want to use them in my game.
With field skills I mean things like the classical pokémon HM moves like surf, fly and cut, but also skills like lockpicking, or step by step regen.
Basically these fall into 3 categories:
- Key skills : Cut, Strength, Whirlpool, ...
- Convenience Skills : Fly, Step by step Regen.
- Reward Skills : Lockpick treasure chests
Today I want to mostly talk about the first category.
Key skills are skills like surf, or cut. They are required to physically acces or complete areas.
They might as well be replaced by a key somewhere in your inventory, or a boat item, yet at the same time they feel better.
Maybe it is because it feels like the character is being awesome.
The feeling of a character smashing a rock wall does conjure other images than the same character just turning a key in a door, while it is functionally the same.
On the other hand, in games with a numbered amount of skills per character, they feel like a skill tax, leading to the HM mule : a character that is not actually part of the team, but just is there for his key skills. This is, I find a big design flaw in those type of games, as they constrict player choice for no good reason.
I have made these type of skills a key point in my game, but with a slight difference:
Each key field skill is at first unique to one character, and there is no limit to skills known.
This seems like it solves the HM mule problem, but as my party size is a small 4 characters,
chosen out of a possible 20, it is actually still the same, filling up one of your 4 party slots without your choice.
This I have attempted to solve by:
- Keeping the dungeons short, under 30 minutes short, so you are never stuck with someone you dislike using for long, and by making character swapping as painless as possible.
- As there is no strictly better gear, there is no need for the equipment shuffle. Just toss the required character some gear he can use, and you are ready to go, no need to rob another character first.
- The balance is also more and more forgiving for a slight level difference, a gap that widens as the game continues.
- As the game progresses, eventually characters start learning other characters field skills, allowing you options, making the requirement sting less.
- Especially because eventually dungeons might require up to 10 required skills, necessitating that the player actually spends a little while puzzeling together a party.
- Because walking into the dungeon and realising you brought the wrong team, and making you walk back to the party select zone (or in pokémon, Bill's PC in the pokémon center), to go get that one character that can crush rocks is not something that I need in my game, I am being pretty explicit and forthright about my required skills for a dungeon, having the player find Enemy Intelligence on the next dungeon beforehand, to make it part of the puzzle the player can solve. It feels less like you are stuck with a character if he is there because he is part of a solution you thought of yourself, probably because it puts choice back in the hands of the player.
- Having an obstacle have multiple solutions. The poison gas rooms might be something for the Air mage, or the Poison-immune cyborg. The energy fields can be bypassed by either having the magic nullifying character, the electronics overloading one, or the hacker. Once again , player choice is preserved, while not negating the uniqueness of characters and the necessity to change up the party.
- Have them also be combat abilities.
Things I am trying to do with this:
- As I said before, it allows me to make party composition a puzzle that needs to be resolved over and over again. I like optimisation , but not of the set-it-and-forget-it kind.
- Give each character his moment in the spotlight. If I make a dungeon aout a characters abilities, he remains in the players mind throughout the dungeon.
- Easier cutscenes in dungeons , as I have a pretty good idea of who out of the 20 characters will be there.
- Make complex dungeons that are actually fun and intuitive.
Some examples of Field skills I am using:
- Air Bubble (Water Breathing, Smoke Screen, Survive Vacuum, reduce wind speed ...)
- Freeze (Create steppable ice, make ice boulders, ...)
- Absorb Magic/Energy (Bypass energy Barriers, destroy magic wards, ...)
- Shock (Overload electronics, stun guards, ...)
- Fire (burn bushes, melt Ice, ...)
- Move earth (Push Rocks, ...)
- Mind Control (Remove Guards, Have big beasts smash boulders, ...)
- Weather Control
- Radiation Immunity
- Give Light
What are your thoughts on these types of moves, and are you using them in your game ?