Today we'll be taking a look at what I call, Talent Trees. Here's a quick summary of the new system to get you familiarized:
- Players play games to earn a currency (lets call it gold).
- Losing a match awards some gold, but winning awards more.
- Players spend gold to unlock new races, units, and abilities.
- Unlocking new content is done through this new interface.
That covers the basics of our new system, but now lets explore why this new interface is necessary and the benefits it awards us.
Progression is Important
Most games that I've come to love have a sense of progression built into them. Either you're building a character with new equipment and abilities, exploring a map, completing quests, leveling, unlocking achievements, or just putting points on a score-board. Whatever the system is, some sense of progression is good. It gives the player a sense of moving forward and improvement.
In Salt the Earth players start with one race unlocked. This race is chosen when the player first enters the game and is choosing their username and password. Of that race only three units are unlocked, and only the basic (free) abilities on those units are unlocked. You might be thinking, okay, so I start the game only one race, almost no units, and no abilities. Well, we wouldn't be so cruel, we would just rather give the player agency. So, new players start with a sizeable amount of gold, so they can choose what they initially unlock. You can spend the gold on a 2nd race, new units, or more abilities.
Suppose we started a new player off with all 5 races unlocked, all 40 units, and over 140 abilities. The combination of units and abilities alone would likely overwhelm most players leaving them unsure what to do with so many options.
Instead of overloading the player at the start, we let the player play games, earn points, and use those points to purchase new abilities and units. If you're anything like me, you'll likely be playing matches, saving up those points for a new unit or ability you're interested in, and as soon as you unlock it, putting together a new build and testing out the new unlock. By doing this, the player learns each unit and ability at a time, and is interested in what it does because it took some amount of effort to unlock it.
Lets be honest, there's something about grinding for a reward that makes it worth it. Things are worth what they cost, and sometimes that cost is effort. This progression system is designed to allow players to unlock things in a way such that they can learn as they unlock. With that being said, we need to talk about how fast things are unlocked.
By my current thinking, a new Race should take 25 matches to unlock, a new unit 5-6 matches, and a new ability, 2-3 matches. When I use the term match, I mean a game played. I know player's earn more points winning than losing, so when I say match, I'm assuming a 50% win ratio.
The goal should be to allow players to frequently unlock things, but also have to work for them without feeling like they're grinding mindlessly.