The Dord of Darien

Musings from the Mayor of the Internet

Secret project: Skills in-depth

We’ve talked about skills in terms of the actual mechanical means of activating them (including discussion and suggestions in the comments — exciting!), but we haven’t said thing one about what the hell they actually do.

First, let’s talk about what they don’t do. First and foremost, they don’t deplete some damn magic meter. If there’s any mechanic that’s more hackneyed than that, I’m not coming up with it offhand, and that’s not even to mention several serious design problems with it (if you’ll permit the digression). If you have the type of magic meter that replenishes on its own, then you create a situation where the "optimal" strategy is to kill a mob and then stand around and wait for your magic to come back. If it doesn’t replenish, then you have a situation where the players are bottoming-out on resources as they get to the end of a dungeon — which is, of course, where the damn boss is. This is the exact tangle that leads to designs featuring magic pools of restoration or whatever right before boss fights. And of course, either way you slice it, you’ll end up with most of your skills being pretty much worthless since, in most cases, there will be something more efficient or powerful to use.

So where does that get us? It gets us to a situation where there’s no uniform resource that’s consumed by skill usage. Instead, they’re kept in balance via a cooldown system — once you’ve used a skill once, you can’t use it again until it’s cooled (most MMORPGs have a system like this). But doesn’t that just lead to the waiting game again? It would, except for one thing: our skills don’t cool over time. Instead, skills are cooled by the use of other skills — every skill has a value by which it cools other skills.

This is a little confusing in a block like that, so let’s look at it in practice. A skill description looks like this:

Ultra Mega Ass-kick 3000: Way kicks ass, cools 5, cooldown 20

So you have a skill called "Ultra Mega Ass-kick 3000" that tells you its cooldown is 20. You get attacked by a Viscous Moldmonger and you need some of that goooood ass-kickin’, so you use it. Now it’s on cooldown. You want that skill ready again, but it needs to cool; you have this other skill, though, called "Punch Inna Mouf" that says it "cools 3." When you use it, your Ultra Mega Ass-kick 3000 cools down by 3 points to 17 — still a ways to go before you can use it again, but, hey, it’s a start.

All skills have a cooldown, and almost all of them have a cooling value. This interplay keeps you able to do something frequently while preventing you from simply spamming a high-powered skill over and again. But what happens, you ask, when all your skills are on cooldown? There are other ways to cool skills. First and foremost, every successful normal attack cools 1 — note that the attack must be successful to cool anything, as in it needs to hit a mob and do some damage (this is to prevent the situation where standing in a corner and swinging your sword between fights just replaces waiting for your magic meter to fill). Also, it’s possible to get from the "common drop" pool (as mentioned briefly here) a minor cooldown replenishing pickup. It’s also possible to use a spell to cool skills — more details on that when I cover spells.

This system should keep skills interesting and viable, while also making "less powerful" skills more useful than they often are — since the weaker skills may be on shorter cooldowns and/or may have higher cooling ratings themselves. In fact, there exists a skill on one of the characters that’s nothing but a melee attack that does less damage than normal, but has a high cooling value. So there’s some potential for flexibility here.

Be sure to tune in next time if you want to know what all this nonsense about spells is, and how they’re different from skills.

April 8th, 2008 Posted by | My secret project | no comments

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