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Stacking multiple skills in one skillbar slot was a brilliant idea that more MMORPGs should adopt

QuizzicalQuizzical Member LegendaryPosts: 22,099
A lot of MMORPGs have mechanics that demand a lot of skillbars.  You might have 30 different skills, plus some consumables that you want quick access to, and maybe some other items that you want to be able to use there.  World of Warcraft is the best known example, of course, but there are plenty of others, such as EverQuest II, Final Fantasy XIV, and so forth.  Astellia also goes that route.

Having a custom key for every single spot on a skillbar can get awkward, even on a keyboard.  Especially if you also want shortcuts to 20 other things to open menus, select party members, and the like, you end up having to use either combinations of keys or having to reach for more distant keys like the F-keys or the 10-key portion of a keyboard.  If you want to play using a controller, then even in a game like FFXIV that actively tries to be controller-friendly, some slots that you want to use a lot end up taking combinations of three buttons to activate.

Astellia found a solution to this, as mentioned in the title.  Like other MMORPGs, you can have several skillbars on the screen at once, and put lots of skills or items or whatever in them.  Unlike any other game I've seen, each slot on the skillbar can have up to four skills in it.  If you click on the slot, it opens up to show four spaces to put skills or items or whatever you want.  You can put whatever you want in the four slots, with no obligation to use all four, then click again on the slot to collapse it down to a single square.

When you go to press the hotkey, it will activate whichever is the lowest of the four skills that isn't on cooldown.  The icon displayed on the hotbar is whatever it will activate if you press the button.  For example, when nothing is on cooldown, it will show the lowest skill.  If you activate that skill and it then goes on cooldown, then the slot will show the second skill.  Pressing the same key again will use the second skill, which then goes on cooldown, and then the slot will show the third skill.  If all skills in a slot are on cooldown, it will show whichever will be the next to come off of cooldown, as well as the time until it becomes available again.

In principle, this could create a problem where you intend to use one skill, then another below it in the stack comes off cooldown just before you press the button, causing you to use a different skill.  In practice, this doesn't seem to happen much.  In some cases, it's because I tend to stack similar skills (e.g., single-target melee damage) on the same slot so that using the "wrong" one isn't such a big deal.  You could make it into a problem with dumb choices of which skills to stack in the same slot, but that's fundamentally a problem of user error.

There is no requirement to use all four slots.  It's completely fine to have some slots with only a single skill or item, some others with two, and some with all four.  The same skill can appear in the stack for multiple slots if so desired, though obviously, using the skill from one slot puts it on cooldown for all of them.  A skill that has no cooldown cannot have anything placed above it in the same slot, as anything above it would never be reachable.

One of the great things about this interface innovation is that you don't have to use it if you don't want to.  If you'd prefer to reserve a dedicated skillbar slot for everything that you want to use, you can.  Nothing is lost by making this into an option.

But if you notice that whenever you use skill A, it's immediately followed by B and then C, you can put A, B, and C all into a single slot.  Rather than having to jump from one key to the next to go through your rotation, it's simpler to just press the same key three times in a row, and not have to assign other things to more distant keys that are hard to reach.

The reason I really like it is, of course, that I use a controller.  This is the key feature that makes Astellia into the most controller-friendly of the MMORPGs that have dozens of skills for you to use.  It's still not as controller-friendly as some games that only have a handful of skills, but that's a substantially different design choice.

And that's why I'd like to see it implemented in a lot of other games.  If having 20+ skillbar slots visible on the screen isn't ridiculously excessive for how many skills you have available, then adding the ability to stack skills into a single slot would make the game a lot more controller-friendly.

That said, it's not something that is helpful to all MMORPGs.  Some games like Guild Wars 1 or Neverwinter just don't let you have very many skills available.  They have few enough that you care exactly which skills are available at a given time and always need direct access to every skill.  Meanwhile, they have few enough skills that you don't need such awkward combinations of three or four buttons to do things, but never really need more than two.  In some games, you can even get away with having a dedicated button for everything that you want quick access to.  But that's a restriction on game design, and stacking skills in a single slot is a way to get around that restriction.
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Comments

  • skeaserskeaser Member RarePosts: 4,097
    I think Aion did something similar where there were skill chains and the skill slot would rotate to the next skill automatically.
    Quizzicalblueturtle13
    Sig so that badges don't eat my posts.


  • QuizzicalQuizzical Member LegendaryPosts: 22,099
    edited November 2019
    skeaser said:
    I think Aion did something similar where there were skill chains and the skill slot would rotate to the next skill automatically.
    I never played Aion.  I hadn't seen this done or even mentioned in any previous game, which is why I brought it up.  But if Aion did the same thing, then that's interesting.  Though it would be disappointing if it was in a game that launched more than a decade ago and didn't get picked up by others.  Regardless of who did it first, I want to see it implemented in more MMORPGs.

    Astellia has some built-in skill chains where a single "skill" is really a chain of two or three skills, generally all dealing damage.  But that skill chain only takes a single slot--or one of the four stacked positions for a slot.  But what's critical is that in addition to that, there are user-definable stacks of up to four arbitrary things that you can put on a skillbar.  You could (but shouldn't), for example, stack a damage skill, a healing skill, a potion, and roll (think Guild Wars 2-style double-tap movement) in a single slot.
  • AldersAlders Member RarePosts: 2,189
    skeaser said:
    I think Aion did something similar where there were skill chains and the skill slot would rotate to the next skill automatically.
    Yep Aion did and it saved a lot of bar space. I wish more games did this. I could not stand having 5-6 bars of abilities in EQ2. I'm a 3-bar max kinda guy.
    Quizzical
  • QuizzicalQuizzical Member LegendaryPosts: 22,099
    Interesting.  Now I'm going to have to go play Aion and see if you're right, or if there's some critical difference that you're missing.  Thank you for pointing it out.
  • Azaron_NightbladeAzaron_Nightblade Member EpicPosts: 4,825
    edited November 2019
    FFXIV has something like that for when you go into PvP matches.
    It really condenses the action bars. Instead of needing three full ones of them or something, you only need 5 buttons.

    Annoyingly enough, they never added it for PvE.
    Post edited by Azaron_Nightblade on
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  • QuizzicalQuizzical Member LegendaryPosts: 22,099
    So I just tried Aion.  It looks like it does have a somewhat similar skill chaining feature.  But it also looks like it's far more restrictive than what Astellia does.  Based on forum posts, it looks like user-defined skill chains aren't a very important part of Aion gameplay.

    For starters, skill chains in Aion are mostly built in, that is, defined by NC Soft.  As best as I can tell, there's a hard cap of 5 user-defined skill chains.  In Astellia, you could literally have a user-defined skill chain for every single skillbar slot if you wanted to.  It would be rather dumb to do that, but having 8 or 10 different user-defined skill chains is perfectly reasonable.  Not having a cap gives the user the flexibility to do whatever they want.

    It also looks like Aion's skill chains are intended to be, you stand there and then use the skills in order.  That's a valid use in Astellia, too.  But in Astellia, you could easily start a skill chain, finish off a mob, run to a different mob (or get out of the way of a mob attack), and then finish the skill chain.  Or you could start a skill chain, stop to use some other skill not in that chain, and then return to finish the skill chain.  Astellia skill chains are basically, "use skill A if it's available, or B if A is on cooldown, or C if A and B are both on cooldown, and so forth".  It doesn't look like that's how Aion does skill chains.  There's no requirement or even expectation that you use A and then B and then C without stopping to do anything else in between.

    That seems to be partially due to Aion skill cooldowns having much greater variance in Astellia.  Aion has a lot of very long cooldown skills that really can't be part of a heavily used skill chain because the cooldown takes minutes.  Aion also has a lot of very short cooldown skills such that if they were the start of a chain with the functionality of Astellia, you wouldn't be able to finish the chain before the first skill comes off cooldown.
  • blueturtle13blueturtle13 Member LegendaryPosts: 12,359
    I like many things about Aion. That being one of them. They had some interesting design decisions some good some just ok. 
    I feel the same way about Astellia. Much to like some to not like. 
    I like when companies try different things and slightly different ways to get more out of an old system. 
    cheeba

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  • KajidourdenKajidourden Member EpicPosts: 3,025
    They had something kinda like this in chronicles of spellborn too.  Also, most recently (other than astelia) Soul Worker does it.  It makes sense particularly in a game like Soul Worker where you are naturally comboing your skills together.  The best part in soul worker is that they don't kill the skill component because there is a manual component for each skill that does extra damage if you lmb in the right way.  Some skills require a hold to a certain point, others you hit is rapidly, etc.  So although you naturally flow from one skill to the next you still have to input the correct way for maximum performance.
  • ChildoftheShadowsChildoftheShadows Member EpicPosts: 1,896
    edited November 2019
    Rise of Agon did this more extensively. You can put as many skills or item shortcuts in a slot as you want. If there are 10 different 2 handed weapons you use at different times in different preferences then you can press the button and it won’t matter which one you have on you it will always equip the next preferred one. You can set skills to shoot the next off cool down, or  if you have skills associated to different weapons it will choose the skill for the weapon you have equipped. 

    In the end though it’s my opinion of you have that many skills you can use at any given time then it’s stupid anyway. 

    Keep it simple stupid. 
    Kyleran
    "Wake up, It's RNG, there is no such thing as 'rare'"
    - Ungood
  • QuizzicalQuizzical Member LegendaryPosts: 22,099
    They had something kinda like this in chronicles of spellborn too.  Also, most recently (other than astelia) Soul Worker does it.  It makes sense particularly in a game like Soul Worker where you are naturally comboing your skills together.  The best part in soul worker is that they don't kill the skill component because there is a manual component for each skill that does extra damage if you lmb in the right way.  Some skills require a hold to a certain point, others you hit is rapidly, etc.  So although you naturally flow from one skill to the next you still have to input the correct way for maximum performance.
    No, Chronicles of Spellborn didn't have something like this.  What that game had was something like having several skillbars, and every time you use a skill, it rotates to the entire next skillbar.  That's a legitimate combat mechanic, but it's very different from what Astellia does.

    One way to think of it is that if you imported Astellia's skill stacking approach to WoW today, you wouldn't break anything.  It's just extra options, and people in WoW who wanted to ignore it could.  If you imported Spellborn's skillbar approach to WoW, that would be a pretty radical change to combat and people would be furious about it.  That's not to say that what Spellborn did was bad.  It's just the sort of thing that if you're going to do it in a game at all, it had better be there before the game launches.
  • RidelynnRidelynn Member EpicPosts: 7,060
    edited November 2019
    FFXIV has been able to do this via macros for a while now. The only difference is that macroing does not allow the internal 0.5s skill queue to be used, so you lose out on DPS as your skills won't line up on server ticks as they otherwise would. I still use it frequently though, because I'm a bad player.

    Seems like you could do some abusive macroing in the original Everquest as well that would get around this.

    There were other games that acted similarly with combos - none come to mind directly, but seems like it was pretty popular in a lot of Asian titles. TERA perhaps, although it's been a while since I played that one.

    I am not a big fan of the whack-a-mole skill set that EQ/WoW/FFXIV made popular - once it expands out past about 8 needed skill action buttons I start to get lost. But on the flip side, when you devolve it to just mashing one or two buttons over and over to perform combos, it tends to dumb it down a bit too much. 
  • QuizzicalQuizzical Member LegendaryPosts: 22,099
    Being able to hack something together with macros isn't nearly as good as having it built into the UI.  At minimum, macros to give the same effect would need if/else branching functionality and the ability to query whether a skill is currently on cooldown.  And even then, it's unlikely that macros would have a clean way to display what was going on.
  • acidbloodacidblood Member RarePosts: 877
    Could definitely use a system like this in FFXIV... there is just no reason you need a multi-part combo spread across 3,4 or even 5 buttons when exactly the same functionality could be achieved with 1 or 2 buttons. And don't even get me started on mutually exclusive skills (e.g. Lay Lines > Between the Lines).
  • RidelynnRidelynn Member EpicPosts: 7,060
    edited November 2019
    Quizzical said:
    Being able to hack something together with macros isn't nearly as good as having it built into the UI.  At minimum, macros to give the same effect would need if/else branching functionality and the ability to query whether a skill is currently on cooldown.  And even then, it's unlikely that macros would have a clean way to display what was going on.
    Nah, it’s just a priority system — list skills in order of preference, it triggers first one in the list that isn’t on cool down. No if-then required (at least at the user macro level)

    true that it isn’t as nice as having it part of the UI,  it still possible to emulate
  • DAOWAceDAOWAce Member UncommonPosts: 351
    FFXIV has something like that for when you go into PvP matches.
    It really condenses the action bars. Instead of needing three full ones of them or something, you only need 5 buttons.

    Annoyingly enough, they never added it for PvE.
    Would massively help controller users as well, but alas..

    They consolidated skills for SHB so everything fits on 2 bars.. except certain classes, notably GNB (who stole other tank skills), has too many ACTIVE abilities to fit on the main bar, requiring awkward (or RSI inducing) modifier keys every time you want to use them.  Well, unless you completely change your hotbar layouts for one specific job for a role with 4 classes (similarly designed), which isn't something many people are going to do.

    Still, this system can be done with macros, and people do do it, but it's not something that's reliable, at all, especially for raid content.
    Azaron_Nightblade
  • bcbullybcbully Member EpicPosts: 10,211
    DMKano said:
    Rift - dead game but could stack so many skills on 1 button 
    Must have came with a much later update I played rift for over an year
  • WizardryWizardry Member LegendaryPosts: 17,848
    As i keep saying FFXI was way ahead of it's time,way ahead of the rest of the pack.Already been there done that and adding in the LUA scripts later on meant you could do whatever you wanted and WITHOUT cluttering the screen with tons of constant hotbars.FFXI had ZERO hotbars cluttering the screen and only became visible when you wanted to use them,one at a time,so only one hotbar shows up on screen.

    All these mmorpg's since have been making worse designs both UI wise and combat wise and even often character design wise as well.GO figure all these years and none of these developers have learned a damn thing,no wonder the genre became stagnant.

    Never forget 3 mile Island and never trust a government official or company spokesman.

  • MendelMendel Member EpicPosts: 3,903
    Interesting observation, @Quizzical.  I've not played Astellia, nor Aion, so I've not had direct exposure to this mechanism.  From a high-level, hands-off perspective, this seems like a pretty good mechanism, but might be severely limited.  Mixing different situations, like crafting and fighting, for instance.  Putting an action to ask an NPC something on the same button with an attack skill could be very embarrassing.

    It's probably very useful in situations where there are a multitude of similar skills on cool downs.  I've always thought there were more and possibly better ways to restrict usage than cool down timers.  Apparently, the industry doesn't agree -- everyone uses them.  Even venerable old EQ1 uses so many cool down timers it's almost impossible to track them all.



    Logic, my dear, merely enables one to be wrong with great authority.

  • QuizzicalQuizzical Member LegendaryPosts: 22,099
    Mendel said:
    Interesting observation, @Quizzical.  I've not played Astellia, nor Aion, so I've not had direct exposure to this mechanism.  From a high-level, hands-off perspective, this seems like a pretty good mechanism, but might be severely limited.  Mixing different situations, like crafting and fighting, for instance.  Putting an action to ask an NPC something on the same button with an attack skill could be very embarrassing.

    It's probably very useful in situations where there are a multitude of similar skills on cool downs.  I've always thought there were more and possibly better ways to restrict usage than cool down timers.  Apparently, the industry doesn't agree -- everyone uses them.  Even venerable old EQ1 uses so many cool down timers it's almost impossible to track them all.
    Certainly, it could be used stupidly.  But my argument is, put that on the player and let the player decide whether to stack skills or other actions on a single slot.  Don't artificially restrict it to things that the developer anticipates would be useful.  Sometimes that can make it viable to play games using input devices that they developer didn't even realize existed.

    Astellia does a good job of having a flexible UI that players can use however they want.  A lot of games let you put skills and consumables on skillbars.  Astellia also lets you put everything on your skillbar from changing equipped gear to emotes to marking particular mobs with symbols as a way to communicate with teammates.

    Certainly, stacking dissimilar things on a single skillbar slot could be stupid.  But sometimes stacking skills with something else could make sense, such as stacking healing skills with healing potions, if you have a preference of always making one a higher priority than the other if it's not on cooldown.
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