4 April, 2009
I want to do some analysis of interesting game mechanics. I think often developers don't really look at game mechanics to really understand them; often it's, "Hey, that's cool, let's copy it!"
For this installment, I want to look at non-mana resources for characters.
What are non-mana resources? These are resources a player uses to fuel abilities besides mana (or direct mana replacements like "skill" or "power"). In WoW, this would be Rage and Energy; in LotRO, this would be Fervor or Focus.
Resources are something that players have to manage in a game. Mana, put simply, is a way to limit the player from mindlessly pounding on the most destructive power he or she has endlessly; in a traditionally balanced game, a player who did this would run out of mana (or other resource) quickly and be unable to perform other actions. A skillful player will know how to manage the resources for the largest return.
In some games, this has changed. In some games, the more immediate limiting factor is a cooldown for the skill. A skillful player must know how to use character abilities with the right timing to maximize damage. This is the concept of a "casting rotation" common in WoW raiding.
Mana is a pretty straight-forward resource. You have a maximum pool and regenerate mana over time. A player can increase the maximum pool to be able to cast more spells before running on empty; alternatively, a player can look for ways to increase regeneration to regain mana faster. Generally, a larger pool is better for large bursts of activity (like PvP), whereas regeneration helps in an event that takes longer (like a raid boss encounter).
Non-mana resources fill the same role, but they work differently. Let's take a look at WoW's examples first.
Warrior types in WoW have a stat called Rage. The maximum pool is always 100 and does not scale upward with level. The value starts at 0 but increases in combat by doing and taking damage. Some warrior abilities generate rage, and others require a certain amount of rage to be spent to use the ability. Outside of combat, range will disappear.
Rogue types in WoW have Energy. This also has a maximum pool size set to 100 (although that can be increased slightly in some situations). Energy regenerates fairly quickly, but at a set rate. Abilities require a specific amount of energy.
Death Knights have Runes and Runic Power. Runes are like Energy, and Runic Power is like Rage on a very crude level.
What is the point? The way these stats work is to change the pacing of combat. For a warrior (or druid in bear form), the beginning of a combat tends to be a bit slow, especially if they are attacked unprepared. A warrior must focus on generating rage. Once the warrior gains some rage, they can rip off some of their more powerful abilities.
For a rogue, however, they are almost always ready to go. If they finish one combat and get into a second one quickly, they will not be "mana starved" like a caster would be. During a longer combat, rogues already have a pace set by the constant regeneration of energy, although they have to make a lot more smaller decisions about when to use an ability and when to let energy regenerate for a more costly attack.
The downside is that this creates different, incompatible systems for your players to deal with. A newbie caster may not understand that a warrior has to build up rage to get to their good abilities. Also, things like mana potions and gear that increases Int stat are useless for the classes that don't use mana.
LotRO is interesting in that every class uses mana (called "power"), but a few classes have additional non-mana resources to manage.
Champions have Fervor points, that work similar to Rage in WoW. A champion's basic attacks increase fervor, and the advanced attacks require fervor to be spent. Some of the champion's toggle abilities will generate fervor over time while in battle and they get an ability to instantly generate some fervor, too. The maximum pool is set at 5 points. Fervor goes away if the champion is not in battle. The same abilities that give champions fervor points also give big bonuses to power regeneration, so that the main limiting factor is fervor points, especially in shorter combats.
Hunters have Focus points, which work similar to Fervor points in many ways. The two main differences are that Focus points go away if the hunter moves, and the maximum pool is 9 points.
These two resources change the behavior of the two classes. Champions are encouraged to build up fervor to get to their more costly and more powerful attacks. At the beginning of combat, a Champion has limited choices, but they open up as more fervor points are generated. Hunters, on the other hand, are encouraged to plan ahead. Moving around a lot means that the hunter will not get access to their higher level abilities. Maintaining range and using immobilization traps (or a good tank) is important for a Hunter.
What other game mechanics could use resources?
One way to keep all classes using a mana system to to give them a unique flavor is to change how mana regenerates. For example, a system where mana regenerates faster if you have more mana in your pool would mimic some aspects of the Energy system in WoW. It would encourage users to perform single actions then wait for the mana bar to regenerate. A character could then burn through a mana bar for a big effect, but would then take longer to regenerate.
Another idea is to tie game mechanics to the amount of resource a character has. Some WoW skills do this for Rage or Energy, where the ability consumes any remaining resource and converts that to damage. For a mana-type resource, you could give a bonus based on the amount remaining: an interesting idea would be to give a small "desperation" bonus to damage if the user is low on mana. A player could then decide if he wanted to conserve mana "just in case" or burn through the mana bar quickly and stay nearly empty for a bonus.
So, what do you think? What other types of resources have you seen in games? What other types of resources could you have for a character in a game?