As promised, I’m here today to talk about the Instinct system that I glossed over at the end of yesterday’s post. Before I get into the nitty-gritty of exactly what the system does, I feel it’s beneficial to give a bit of background for comparison, as the final system (at least as far as I’ve settled on it in my head) is really a combination of elements from several other games, all of which (coincidentally enough) are a part of Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy series.
The first system I’ll mention here is the Materia system from Final Fantasy VII. This system allows characters to equip “materia”, which offer various skills and effects, into slots on their weapons and armor; filling these slots gives the character access to the special abilities of the newly-equipped materia. All magic spells and summons in the game are obtained by equipping the appropriate materia to a character. Special linked slots on certain pieces of equipment even allow for a second materia to attach to the first, either amplifying or modifying its ability somehow. The interesting concept here that I’ve built upon for the needs of Atma is this idea of skills and bonuses coming from equipped items that aren’t directly related to your weaponry or armor. Thinking about it now, it seems likely that at some subconscious level, the materia system was the inspiration for the spiritwell modification I’ve mentioned in the past.
The second system worth mentioning, though I’m not sure I’ve directly borrowed any of the ideas, is the Junction system present in Final Fantasy VIII. Junctioning is worth noting as an update from FFVII’s materia system, where the materia grew mostly independently of the character it was equipped to, to a system which offers benefits more closely related to the character they influence. When a particular Guardian Force is equipped to a character, they offer that character the ability to junction magic to specific stats, modifying those stats by some amount (and often offering some special effect, a la elemental resistances and similar concepts). Thus, a character’s power is determined not only by their basic stats, but by which summons they have access to, which stats those summons allow them to junction, and which spells they have in their inventory to actually junction with those stats. As a whole, the system feels much more personal than FFVII’s, but I find the lack of interesting options (you could accomplish a lot of really neat things via clever combination of materia effects in FFVII) ends up making the final result a lot less enjoyable.
This brings us to the next stop on our trip, Final Fantasy IX’s ability system, which I’ll discuss in tandem with that of Final Fantasy Tactics, as the similarities between the two systems are quite strong. In both games, abilities are “learned” by accumulating experience while wearing specific pieces of equipment. While a particular item is equipped, the abilities offered by that piece of equipment are available for the wearer to use, and after learning those abilities through the aforementioned process, the character can use them even without equipping the associated item. The key difference between Tactics and IX lies in the fact that Tactics only allows you to equip a very small number of your available skills at once in a few categories (such as Reflexes and Movement Skills) , while IX gives you a set number of “points” which you are then free to distribute over your available skills to customize your character’s abilities — more useful abilities generally cost more points to equip. The abilities in question range from granting immunity to certain status effects, to unlocking new skills for use in battle, to granting damage and resistance bonuses against specific enemy types. Tactics goes a step further by offering passive skills that allow characters to walk on water, ignore the height of terrain, or equip multiple weapons.
The Instinct system I’ve been working on for Atma is somewhere between FFIX and FFT in terms of the abilities it offers player characters. As a quick description of what the system is all about, it provides a means for characters to obtain useful passive bonuses to their movement and combat skills. The idea of “instincts” was one that struck me as a solid metaphor for passive abilities in Atma’s world; by drawing information from the animal spirits that are bound to them, characters can train their minds and bodies to react to certain stimuli instinctually, giving them certain advantages that other characters may not possess. For instance, a character bound with a cheetah spirit would, as they trained, adjust their muscles to dealing with high speeds, gradually picking up instincts that improve their movement speed.
Obviously, a system like this one needs to have some restrictions in place, or the most powerful player characters would simply be the ones that have been around the longest — if they could experience the benefit of every instinct they’d picked up, then newer players would have no way of catching up to them. This need for a limit on the number of passive bonuses that affect a character was the inspiration for “Perception”, a stat that determines the number of instincts a character can use at one time. Perception is the in-game representation of a character’s mental capacity for monitoring and controlling their biological responses to certain situations, and as such, the amount of Perception a character is able to muster provides a limiting factor for the number of instincts that character can use at once. Perception would increase as a character gains experience (as you might expect), allowing characters at later stages of the game to equip a larger number of instincts at once, granting not only higher combat capabilities, but new options altogether, as certain instincts will work better in unison with others.
Consider, for example, an instinct that limits your field of vision while granting you much higher strength (I imagine such an instinct might be titled “Feeding Frenzy”, though I confess I haven’t given it much thought), coupled with an instinct that prevents your field of vision from being reduced (something along the lines of “Echolocation”). Granted, this is an off-the-cuff example that has no guarantee of making it into the game, but it’s an example of the sort of thing I’ll be looking to incorporate into the game when I get to that point in development. My hope is that I can avoid the inclusion of completely useless instincts, giving even the seemingly less useful ones potent partners that will make them invaluable for certain character builds.
There’s a long road ahead of me for Atma’s development, and implementing and balancing this system is just a small step along it. Regardless, I feel that, if done well — and I certainly plan to put enough effort into it to do it “well” — the Instinct system will serve well as a means of adding further customization into the character development system, granting players the ability to create and manage characters that truly mesh with their playing style, and (hopefully) avoiding the pitfalls of other MMOs where cookie-cutter builds abound due to the much more linear nature of their talent systems.