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Item Development - Information

If someone asked me what Path of Exile's greatest strength was, I'd answer with just one word: depth. The breadth of choice and volume of interesting interactions between skills, supports, passives and items are what differentiates Path of Exile from other games, and what keeps players coming back over and over again. Path of Exile's greatest weakness, on the other hand? Complexity.

One of the problems we as game designers repeatedly run into when adding new content to the game is communicating so many complex elements to the player. For someone relatively new to Action RPGs, wrapping your head around our item and mod system is a pretty big ask, and that's not even including all the wild modifiers we then introduce on unique items.

So when we're designing unique items, we often have to consider how we deliver information to the player. How much is too much? An experienced user would argue there is no information that we could possibly provide that would prove useless. They'd like to know every possible application a given item could have with every skill.

The average player, however, needs to know just enough to get by, and any more than that will tend to end negatively impacting the effect of the item. For example, Zahndethus' Cassock:

That final mod functionally heals any ally standing in the radius for 4% of their maximum life per second, lasts 8 seconds, and is a specific size. We could have had a mod for each aspect so the player knew exactly what they were getting with Consecrated Ground, but most important information (how to trigger it) is already communicated, and the rest can be learned by using it.

Then there's the concept of luck on items. We currently use luck precisely twice -- once on the Diamond Flask base-type ("Your Critical Strike Chance is Lucky") and on Lori's Lantern:

This is a concept that is much easier to understand as a flavourful keyword than if we directly explained exactly what was going on under the hood. With a lucky critical strike chance, you'd basically expect to crit more. That's exactly what happens, broadly speaking. With the final mod on Lori's, it's a little tougher to exactly predict how it will act, but you intuitively understand you'll take less damage on low life.

What's actually going on, however, is that these chance-based mechanics -- critical strikes and damage -- are being rolled an additional time, and then a specific roll is being chosen based on criteria to determine the final outcome. For Diamond flasks, the higher of two critical strike chance rolls is used to check for a critical strike. For Lori's Lantern, the lower of the two damage values is applied. These mods functionally give the player an extra chance at a favourable outcome, and the keyword of luck communicates this every time without going into crazy amounts of detail.

Which leads us to Whispering Ice, an upcoming unique Staff. Here's what it looks like right now:

This staff has led to a huge amount of internal debate about how information is given to players. Where opinions split is when it comes to how players will assess this item as it is above.

Icestorm is only available through The Whispering Ice, and there's currently no point of reference for what Icestorm does. The closest thing is Firestorm, and handily that's the skill Icestorm is based on. An average player may assume that Icestorm is functionally identical to Firestorm, except much cooler (pun intended). Level 1 Firestorm isn't such an attractive prospect at level 33, but Icestorm, on a caster at that level, should tear everything apart thanks to the unique scaling mechanism of the skill. Here's what the skill description says:

The really important part here is the 1-3 base Cold damage per 10 Intelligence. With this, Icestorm can be a mighty core skill. However, looking at the staff, a player could easily assume that the version of Icestorm this staff gives you is garbage and the spell damage scaling on the staff isn't very rewarding. The only way to learn otherwise is to actually equip the staff, but with the assumption that it's a crummy low-level skill, why would you do that?

We can't have a mod that says the staff itself is granting you the added cold damage, because it's not; It's part of the skill itself. And if we give exact values on the item, given the other method of scaling damage, it risks becoming a very difficult item to assess. When assessing the item internally, there was a desire to signal the attribute scaling on the item, to help players better assess its potential power. However, we've never had a non-functional descriptor on an item before, and there's a fair argument that we shouldn't start now. One suggested idea would be to make the scaling a property of the staff rather than of the skill. There are mixed opinions about the implications of this implementation, though.

It's not often that so many people get involved in the minutia of an individual unique, but when it comes to ensuring players have the right amount of information, we become passionate. You'll be able to see the final result of our ongoing discussion when the expansion containing Act Four launches later this year.
Last edited by NickK_GGG on Apr 7, 2015, 7:50:59 PM
So now we have oskills.

Wow, Nick. You really did a great job of encouraging GGG to go back on their word with unique item design from the early days.

Not a bad thing, but there's no way we'd have seen this in CB or even OB.

Haha this was my concept, and in the past wasn't possible for technical reasons. We're also only able to do this because the art already exists, and isn't used by an existing player skill or microtransaction.

It's also only really possible for a GGG designed item because of the level of iteration required and the number of design constraints a skill design has.
Balance & Design
Tanakeah wrote:
So looking at this as a veteran player I am left wondering a few things, and please pardon if they sound stupid.

1. The staff grants you the skill Icestorm and is the only way to get it...ok...makes sense. Now, because the skill is granted as such and is not a gem, does that mean that if you put any gems into the staff they will not affect Icestorm? I know things like Bringer of Rain and the like have 'Supported by X-Type of Gem' in them, but this is something that is totally new to me even after a long time of experience with this game.
While this is the first unique that grants a skill you can't otherwise get, it's not the first one that grants a skill - see Jaws of Agony, which grants Bear Trap. This works exactly the same way. The skill will be supported by any applicable support gems socketed into the item.
There are also several corrupted implicit mods that cause items to grant skills in exactly the same way. This isn't quite as new or unique as you seem to think, at least in terms of granting a skill from an item - only in the fact that this skill itself is a new one, which doens't affect any of the mechanics of how items from skills work.

Tanakeah wrote:
3. If Icestorm can indeed be enhanced via gems put into it, then I am going to assume that other skill gems will work function as they do when linked up in the sockets in this item, blah, blah, blah?
I'm not 100% sure what you're asking here, so you may need to clarify if this isn't the answer you're after. But while all supports socketed into the item will each apply to the item's inherent skill, that doesn't mean the sockets are linked to each other (just like how on the items that grant supports, that support will apply to any skill socketed into the item without making the sockets count as linked).

Tanakeah wrote:
4. To follow up with 3, if Icestorm can be enhanced then this weapon will be the first one where you could feasibly put 6 support gems into all of the links and effectively make it a 7-Link. Ok...well...maybe not THE FIRST, but you get the idea of where I am coming from, yes?
It would be the first where you could add six support gems to get a seven link, but there have been several other uniques which allow an effective seven link by granting supports in addition to your sockets. I'm unsure what you feel is significantly different about this one providing a skill rather than one (or more) of the supports)?

Tanakeah wrote:
5. Saying that this item grants a 'Level 1 Icestorm Skill' would make some believe that because it's specifically stating the level that IS will act like a skill gem that you could level up with Empower or the like. Now, I know how you described it means it's only at level 1 and can't be leveled up like a true skill gem, but again, is this accurate?
Again, this works exactly like the existing item that already grants a skill. Empower, like Enlighten and Enhance, explicitly only apply their effects to skill gems - unlike other supports, they affect things that are properties of the gem, not the skill it grants. Since this item, and Jaws of Agony before it, grant a skill without a gem, those gem-only supports cannot apply to the granted skills.
Drumheller wrote:
jacky5047 wrote:

Wrong.Check this out. http://pathofexile.gamepedia.com/Jaws_of_Agony
"Support gems socketed in the item link with the granted level 20 Bear Trap Skill. Effectively this allows for a four link bear trap in a three link shield. The use of the Multiple Traps support gem results in thre..."

How does that work if the sockets are not linked? Do you get 3 instances of Level 20 Bear Trap skill with one different support on each instance?

No. You get one instance of Bear Trap supported by any applicable supports in the item, regardless of links.
Vorakiv wrote:
There's at least one item that doesn't explicitly state the skill's level... Asenath's Gentle Touch
Asenath's Gentle Touch does not grant a skill at all - this in fact highlights the main reason for having the level of the skill shown; that being that players tend to use differences in descriptions, as well as similarities, as tools in understanding. Players expect that things that work the same will be described the same, and that if something is described differently, it works differently.

This item works the same as all other items granting skills (which all use the same phrasing, including the level), and so is currently described the same. Asenath's Gentle Touch is described differently because it does something mechanically very different - it's not an item granting a skill of any level to the player.

For the record, anything applying a curse on hit will apply a curse equivalent to the curse from a level 1 skill unless otherwise specified - this isn't spelled out for the reasons described in Nick's articles (and is always applied consistently, so that players can learn the full details and apply them correctly to other cases that use the same descriptions).
Last edited by Mark_GGG on Apr 8, 2015, 12:41:18 AM
I have mixed feelings about oskills like this. I love the idea of the item and the way it's done but it takes away a bit of diversity. Players who want to go Icestorm can only do by using this staff.
Without this item, they would have zero options for a weapon in an Icestorm build, and would not be able to make that build at all. With it, they have one option for a weapon (and can build their other gear differently based on their preference), and can make the build. This has literally only added build diversity.

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