Garrett is an engineer by day, gamedev by night.
A few months ago, I was discussing with a friend why I was unsatisfied with Diablo 3, as compared to Diablo 2, and the topic of skills came up. I argued that permanent skill choices encouraged a feeling of user agency and character ownership.
Tangent: My friend disagreed, saying he'd rather have the ability to experiment with new characters without having to make a new character. Making a new character should be a joy. Playing through the game again should be fun, and should not feel like a chore. In most RPGs, players level up the fastest at the start of the game, which feels great. In Diablo 3, the game forces you to play through every single quest, often making you wait to even start talking to a character (Act 2's Karyna in particular comes to mind). This decreases replayability because the game gets less fun, not more, when you play it again.
A week or so later, when I was starting development on Black Ice, I watched the following TED talk on why people are happy.
There's a better version of that video on the TED website, but for some reason I can't embed it.
For those of you who may not be able to watch the video, the TL;DR (TL;DW?) of it is that the human mind creates happiness for itself by justifying its past actions. They ran a fascinating series of studies asking people to keep one of two paintings which they had little feeling on. When the choice was permanent, a week later, they were certain that the painting they chose was the better of the two, but when they were allowed to change their choice, they worried that they had made the wrong choice and would often change their choice.
Tangent: Have you noticed how people tend to have few regrets about their life, even when they've made obviously bad choices? That's the mind justifying and creating happiness.
This immediately made me think of Diablo. In Diablo 2, the player had to make permanent skill choices, and this must have been a huge contributor to the longevity of the game. Anecdotally, I still look back fondly on my first terribly built Thorns/Zeal/Charge Paladin, even though I made several characters later which were exponentially more effective. My Diablo 3 characters are basically the same as all other Diablo 3 characters of the same class.
I've come to think of character malleability as a trap. The player might ask for it - in fact, Skill Respecialization was probably one of the highest requested features for Diablo 2 - but it's your job as a developer to determine whether that would actually make them happier.
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