Saturday, 8 December 2007

Cool down the moon energy of the left nostril.

Cool-downs on skills are a curious thing:


Darth Vader: "Your powers are weak, old man."

Obi-Wan: "You can't win, Darth. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine."

Darth Vader: "Nice try noob, but I'm not falling for that; I know you're just stalling because your Jedi skills are on cool-down."

Obi-wan [raising arms in the air and closing his eyes]: "Oh bum."

[Bvvvvwwom]

Luke [Standing beside the grounded Millennium Falcon]: "Ben! No!"

Spirit of Obi-wan: "Run, Luke! Run... Your blaster trigger-finger is still on cool-down!"

Spirit of Obi-wan: "Now how in the name of the Force am I supposed to make this corpse run from Dantooine back to the Death Star? Bah, I'll just stay as a ghost, at least I can't get ganked by Vader any more and I won't have to listen to that green imp bleating on at me: 'Fix the leaking sink, you must', 'Be nice to my aunt when we visit, you will', 'My supper, on the table it is not.'" [Hands deep in his robe pockets, shoulders hunched, he grumbles off into the distance, kicking at stones, through which his foot passes without stopping.]


There's nothing quite so frustrating as being a hero, super or otherwise, and leaping into the midst of combat with a 'Stand thee back!' and 'Never fear!' only to glance at one's skill bar and realise that nine out of ten of the best powers are on cool-down. Admittedly there is some argument for learning not to jump into the middle of a cliché of villains without having first checked whether one can do anything more than perhaps distract them with the dance of the seven veils, but where's the sense of adventure in that?! The sense of imminent personal pain and death is clear for all to see, I'll concede.

It's a curious evolution and is yet another mechanic that seems to be nothing more than sand thrown into the delicate moving parts of the player experience. There can be no doubt that cool-down mechanics, where a skill is disabled for a set amount of time after it has been activated, solve many rankling problems that would otherwise plague developers striving towards that incongruous mixture of restrictions and barriers that we know as 'balance'. Yet from the player's perspective, there can be few things more annoying than having an ability that will solve the current problem at hand and not being able to use it due to an artificial restriction. I say artifical restriction because cool-downs seem to be a strand at odds with the rest of the wily woven web of balance that entraps all players, the foundation of which is that set of mechanics that we shall call skill enablers. Skill enablers are the mechanics that limit the amount your character can do before they become exhausted, in World of Warcraft it is the rage of the warrior, the energy of the rogue and the mana of, well, everyone else. These mechanics serve as a way to control what a player can achieve and, with only a modest suspension of disbelief, make a reasonable amount of sense. Cool-downs, on the other hand, just leap out of the screen and pull down on your tie in that way that makes the knot so incredibly small that you need nanotechnology to get in there and unravel it. Annoying. I was trying to say that they're really, quite terribly annoying. What do you mean you don't wear a tie whilst playing so you wouldn't know? What do you wear, then? I'll tell you now: a tie is the only garment of clothing that I consider a necessity when playing an MMO!

Hmmm. Too much information?

I find it hard to put myself in a mindset that can accept cool-downs; I always envisage a warrior unable to perform the ability he did but a second ago use, yet is still able to perform any number of other combat feats, just not that specific one, not for another six and a half seconds at least. You slammed your shield into the enemy's face to great effect, and now you can't do it again? Why on earth not?! Was it perhaps too effective, and you think it would be better to give the enemy a fighting chance? Are you afraid that you have exhausted poor Kenneth, your shield, and you want to give him a chance to recover before slamming him into a sold object again? Perhaps you have some sort of religious belief system whereby you can cave-in the skull of an enemy using a solid wall of metal, but only after you've spent the ten seconds it takes to say seven Hail Marthas and cross yourself in penance. How about we say that you have a strange injury that causes you incredibly specific temporary amnesia every time your jar your arm in a specific way, such that you can't remember how to perform that action again for a short period. Yes, let's say that. Let's say anything, anything at all that gives me a fighting chance to reconcile the utter stupidity of not being able to perform a basic action that you performed flawlessly only a microsecond ago.

And relax.

No, not 'and relax', because furthermore the more powerful the ability the longer the cool-down. If you spent half a lifetime's worth of gold at the money grabbing freeloader that you call a trainer, in order to learn a powerful ability that can help turn the tide of a fight whenever you use it, then it goes without saying that you can only use that ability once every blue moon. Which is quite the undeniable shame, considering that ninety nine percent of the time that you're in a fight which requires such intervention you'll find that if you cast your gaze fleetingly upwards the moon that you are fighting under just happens to be bloody well WHITE. OK, OK, lemon-scented oak-soaked barely with a hint of camembert, or whatever those twits in the emulsion paint marketing department have decided the colour of the moon is today.

Oh, I'm so very glad that I sold my castle and half my lands in order to buy this ability that, having now used it, I can't use again until the wedding of my great great grandchild.

Still, in the end cool-downs are there to protect us from ourselves, otherwise we might be faced with characters with stupendous powers that they could use at will, and wouldn't that be plain madness:


Wise trainer: "BEWARE!"

Hero: "Ok!"

[Hero looks at wise trainer. Wise trainer stares back through squinted eyes.]

Hero: "Uh... beware of what?"

Wise trainer: "Eh? Oh, right. BEWARE..."

Hero: "Yes, we've done that bit."

Wise trainer: "Don't INTERRUPT me in the middle of a BEWARING!"

Hero: "Sorry."

Wise trainer: "I don't know. Heroes these days, ALWAYS butting in, think they know better. Why, when I was younger... bah, now I've FORGOTTEN what it was that I was SAYING!"

Hero: "BEWARE!"

Wise trainer [looking around in mild panic]: "What? Where?!"

Hero: "Eh?"

Wise trainer: "You said 'Beware!'. Beware what?"

Hero: "No, no. 'Beware' is what you were saying."

Wise trainer: "No it wasn't. You just said it."

Hero: "Yes, yes, I know. But I was saying it because that's what you were... oh never mind, can we just get on with it?"

Wise trainer: "BEWARE!"

[Hero makes a rolling hand gesture in an attempt to speed things along]

Wise trainer: "The POWER that I have bestowed upon you can DESTROY the entire WORLD, however, you can use it but ONCE every ten years!"

Hero: "So I can destroy the entire world."

Wise trainer: "Yes."

Hero: "But I have to 'beware', because I can only do so once every ten years."

Wise trainer: "That's quite correct. You MUST only destroy the ENTIRE world when it's really necessary, because you won't be able to do it again for AGES."

Hero: "Uh huh, well I don't think that that's going to be a problem. And why do you emphasise WORDS like that."

Wise trainer: "It's a CURSE, thrust upon me by that ACCURSED witch at number SEVENTY ONE."

Hero: "But you're able to cure curses aren't you?"

Wise trainer: "It's on COOL-DOWN."

2 comments:

Elf said...

At last! We find out why Kenobi came back as a ghost. It's all because he couldn't be arsed to make the corpse run back to the Death Star. It all makes sense!

Nick said...

It is similar to:

- Levels
- Classes
- "Kill X" Quests
- Instancing
- Stupid NPC AI

In that developers can't be bothered to think up any other way of doing things. There is a very careful formula that was created by WoW. A magical, perfected blend of mechanics and features that somehow made them filthy ritch.

Deviate from that formula in the slightest, and you risk your shiny new MMO going up in smoke. Hm... actually even if you follow the formula to the letter your shiny new MMO is still going to burn.

I guess it's just a lose/lose situation, with thousands upon thousands of eager game studios desperately josteling in line to pour their money down a hole first.

Now I'm depressed.