Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ability Resources and their Economy

A good story is about interesting people, making interesting decisions in interesting situations. Likewise, good gameplay is about you making interesting choices in interesting situations. Now, what each person finds interesting is different, and so therefore, some games are more fun than others to different people. With all that aside, the idea of mana is to allow the player to make interesting choices in an interesting situation. Frankly that means that mana only serves a purpose in battle. If you are in no danger, then mana should not be an issue. In theory, we could replace mana with anything, including cooldowns and make the game interesting. So why mana?

At first, magic users could only cast spells a certain amount of times per day. This meant that they had to focus on not wasting spells. The problem with this situation is that players would oftentimes not ever cast a spell, in fear of not having it when needed.

When mana was introduced, it essentially allowed for the same functionalities as before, but now, the player could replenish the resource, and continue to cast spells. At this point though, mana does not replenish on its own, and instead the player must use items (that are often expensive) to replenish the mana.

Mana replenishment soon becomes standard in games, and we now see times where players would stand still in a safe area for years (hyperbole) before they had enough mana to move on exploring the game. With mana replenishment now common, mana potions became cheaper.

Now, the idea of players sitting around for a few lifetimes was seen as boring, so what came next was mana regeneration boosters. This was either having the character eat or drink something, or sit in a certain way. This allowed the downtime to be reduced, but still allowed for mana to be scarce during combat.

The next step from mana was energy. Though energy was interesting that it works side by side with mana (certain units use energy and others use mana). Energy usually has a hard cap, and abilities work in conjunction with cooldowns to limit use. Energy recovers extremely quickly, and often proper use of energy is about timing ability use, rather than spamming. This is an important distinction, since at this point mana allows for spell spamming.

Moving further away from mana and energy are cooldown only abilities. These require only the time resource. This leads back to the original issue, of certain abilities (with longer cooldowns) not being used in fear of not being able to use it when needed.

The next step was already taken in WoW, when they created Death Knights. DKs opened up the doors to really combining resources to make decisions more interesting. Since then Paladins and Warlocks have had similar alterations made.

So looking at resources, we have Charges (which are replenished over time, or have a replenishment mechanic), Mana (which replenishes over time at varying degrees and can grow to insurmountable amounts), Energy (which tends to be static, and therefore the same throughout gameplay), Cooldowns (these require no other resource and so are often treated as “free”), and Building Power (for example Runic Power, Rage, Holy Power). Most anything else currently available works similarly to one of these 5 ways.

Now, aside from simply combining these different functions to make gameplay more interesting, the mana has to be fixed or else it will still cause problems, even in spite the the other functions.

So why use mana at all, if other combinations of resources could result in more fun gameplay? Well for one, it has become how we view a magic user. Mana defines the magic they use. But what if we simply broke away from Mana? What if we reduced ability resources to 4 in combination until we found a way to fix mana? Is mana fixable at all? If so, how do we easily define a magic user from a Rogue or Fighter?