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Default Gamasutra - Why I Hate Cooldowns

May 4th, 2012, 23:43
GameBanshee's Eric Schwarz writes a piece at Gamasutra titled Why I Hate Cooldowns:
If there is one design convention that you can count on being included in almost every modern game (and especially modern RPGs), it's the cooldown. Conceptually, cooldowns sound great - they allow for easy regulation of a player's abilities through the use of a second meta-game resource, time. Perhaps it's no surprise that cooldowns have summarily been worked into just about every single type of game out there, both real-time and turn-based. In fact, cooldowns have become pretty much the de-facto standard for balancing games and designing combat interactions.
I have to be up-front about this: I think cooldowns are, as they are implemented in most titles, bad design. While they allow for a few upsides, not the least of which is quick and relatively easy balancing, they also have some major drawbacks, often which end up hurting the rest of the game mechanics they interact with. In this article, I'll be discussing why I think cooldowns aren't compelling as a mechanic, and why they are in most cases simply unnecessary in the first place.
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May 4th, 2012, 23:43
Oh it's so good to see someone voice what I've been thinking for so long. I generally hate cooldowns, although they're not always awful. In some limited circumstances they fit the situation.

But all one has to do is look at "stealth" in Dragon Age and just say "What!? Why!?… WHAT!?".

There are usually much better ways to limit an action. A special melee action, let's say, should (a) expend some replenishable resource like stamina and (b) it should reduce in effectiveness or be more easy to block the more often and predictably you use it. There are other options, but at least this makes some sense and adds to gameplay depth.

Cooldowns with magic are a little less reprehensible, but there are still better ways to limit use.

Generally, though, I consider them representative of the laziest of game design.
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May 5th, 2012, 00:27
I actually like cooldowns, it makes combat more immersive to me
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May 5th, 2012, 00:34
I also hate cool-down timers. So many of our RPGs are going down this road, becoming MMOrized. It's much easier to make a gimmicky MMO than a real character-development system. Skyrim is an example. I enjoy the game, but it's not much of an RPG in terms of character development anymore. It's just full of gimmicky skill trees. This is the same reason I didn't care much for Dragon Age: Origins. The stats that are there really offer little choice and railroad you down a specific path.

Those who point out Skyrim's new MMO is a separate division and wont affect the single-player RPG can nark my words. You will see this trend increase in the single player, as the two branches of the franchise "share assets."
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May 5th, 2012, 00:45
As games continue to become more min-maxed and focused on DPS, cooldowns will remain in the limelight to give the illusion of variety in player skills.

Well you can either do 1 dmg, 2 dmg, 3 dmg, or 4dmg, in order of increasing cooldowns. Such choices in gameplay!
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May 5th, 2012, 00:50
The problem for me with skill or item cooldowns is that I sit staring at the visual representation to time the next use and/or learn routine ways to maximize it. It leads to repetition.
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May 5th, 2012, 01:12
Still I'll take that over the alternative, where you only use the 4 damage skill and ignore the others.

Cooldowns can be over used by some games, but they still serve an important purpose and used correctly can add a fair amount of complexity to games where you would otherwise just spam your best ability over and over again.

Originally Posted by Drithius View Post

Well you can either do 1 dmg, 2 dmg, 3 dmg, or 4dmg, in order of increasing cooldowns. Such choices in gameplay!
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May 5th, 2012, 02:04
Originally Posted by fadedc View Post
Cooldowns can be over used by some games, but they still serve an important purpose and used correctly can add a fair amount of complexity to games where you would otherwise just spam your best ability over and over again.
It's an ILLUSION of complexity. Instead of different tools for different purposes such as de-agro, dots, snares, roots, crippling, slowing, stat debuffing, speed increases… instead of all that, you have an increasing proclivity for games that focus on abilities that do the exact same thing (damage) as one another, only varying in magnitude and cooldowns.
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May 5th, 2012, 02:31
While other solutions might be more elegant, such as the black tonics in Bastion, I still found the lengthy cooldowns in DA2 to significantly enhance my personal enjoyment of the combat gameplay, particularly compared to DA:O's combat, where you could simply spam cheap potions to get through any battle.
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May 5th, 2012, 04:42
Originally Posted by SveNitoR View Post
The problem for me with skill or item cooldowns is that I sit staring at the visual representation to time the next use and/or learn routine ways to maximize it. It leads to repetition.
i totally agree and think the article is really significant, too. cooldowns are, if nothing else, exposing too much of the playtesting methodology, like glaringly exposed infrastructure. I can see why they're convenient for the devs, especially in games with sprawling powers lists, but they're the easy way out and the gameplay suffers. DA2 was a particularly relevant example, because the stifled powers had a lot to do with making every class feel similar gameplaywise. Even KoA, which uses cooldowns, and has a fairly simplistic character building system, introduces more variety in gameplay by making the lead-in animation for each skill different. The balance is far from perfect, but you really figure it out through trial and error, not just practicing how often to stare at the power list.
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May 5th, 2012, 06:12
Well cooldowns and different tools for different purposes are not mutually exclusive. Many games have both. In fact, in adds a great deal of strategy if you have to decide the right moment to use your tools because you can't just use them over and over. It also allows designers to create tools with big, interesting, dramatic effects without worrying that they will make everything else obsolete.

If the only thing with cooldowns are your damaging attacks, then that's quite a bit less interesting. However there is still more strategy in a game where you have to choose the right time to use your big damaging attack then there is in a game where you just hit the same attack over and over.

Originally Posted by Drithius View Post
It's an ILLUSION of complexity. Instead of different tools for different purposes such as de-agro, dots, snares, roots, crippling, slowing, stat debuffing, speed increases… instead of all that, you have an increasing proclivity for games that focus on abilities that do the exact same thing (damage) as one another, only varying in magnitude and cooldowns.
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May 5th, 2012, 15:45
The problem the Author and I both have with cool-downs is that they are arbitrary and artificial limitation that rarely makes sense within the context of a game, especially a fantasy based game.

Sci-Fi - sure, it takes 15 seconds for the phaser coils to cool between shots. Of course you could make that interesting and let me fire them more often and risk damaging them. That would be strategic.

Arguing that cool downs are better than quaffing ridiculous amounts of potions so you can spam abilities is silly. Both systems are retarded.

Cooldowns are to gameplay what barrels and crates are to art assets. The designers in question just couldn't come up with anything better so they threw their hands up and said $!%$ it - everyone else does it, why not us?
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May 5th, 2012, 16:14
Originally Posted by CrazyIrish View Post
The problem the Author and I both have with cool-downs is that they are arbitrary and artificial limitation that rarely makes sense within the context of a game, especially a fantasy based game.
Where were you in the rounds vs real time discussion of yonder years?

I don't see cool-downs as much different from speed factor or round-based systems, but then people were complaining that real time skills/attacks etc. were un-desirable.
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May 5th, 2012, 17:25
Actually I think having a cool down is realistic in most situations. Like mentioned above with the phaser example wouldn't casting a spell cause the magic power to be expelled from your body so it would take time for the power to build up again and having low mp would mean you are exhausted from expelling magical power so many times. One area where it isn't realistic is in melee combat since you just do it. A good way to do special attacks in melee would be to either require a certain amount of attacks to be done before you can do the special or have heavy attacks or feints that are designed to weaken the opponents defense that you have to do before you can do the special.

PS.With bows it probably shouldn't have a cool down but it should take some time to prepare a special attack. You would be able to do them repeatedly but at a risk because of the amount of time needed to prepare. Also some attacks would require special ammunition like if you wanted to do a special attack that pierces armor you would need armor piercing ammunition but it wouldn't take much extra time then a normal shot.
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May 5th, 2012, 17:31
Glad he mentioned The Witcher's solution of potion toxicity instead of a cool down period. That worked quite nicely. I also liked Gothic 3's Stamina Bar. You can flail away, but after a certain point, you don't do much damage. Much more realistic. Same with the Fatigue from Lizard bites that you had to cure, it affected damage and stamina.
I would think limiting the effectiveness for potions as you stack them would work, too. For example, for each potion of a type you stack, the effectiveness would drop an increasing percentage. Also, consuming certain combinations would have negative effects. It just takes some forethought and creativity.
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May 5th, 2012, 17:56
Cooldowns are definitely more abstract then realistic, but that's true of many classic RPG elements. I mean we are talking about a game system where if you have enough hit points you can survive being hit in the head a dozen times with a battle axe. But much like hit points are an abstraction for you ability to avoid and minimize the effects of that battle axe, cooldowns are an abstraction of your ability to find an oportunity to use certain techniques.
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May 5th, 2012, 17:56
Originally Posted by guenthar View Post
wouldn't casting a spell cause the magic power to be expelled from your body so it would take time for the power to build up again and having low mp would mean you are exhausted from expelling magical power so many times.
I mean that would explain some limit on over all spell casting speed, but not why when you cast spell A then B then C you can then cast spell D a few times while you wait for A, B, and C to become availible again. I guess you expelled the fireball, fire bolt and lightning energy from your body but not the fire arrow energy?

You're kind of talking more about what he prefers - where limits are built in to the lore or the mechanics and not arbitrary timers on each of your abilities. If that's how magic worked in a world it might seem less lazy than the timers seem.
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May 5th, 2012, 18:15
Well it would definitely be nice if games explained cooldowns in the lore, but so few games explain anything about the magic system in their lore. Where are wizards trained? How much effort does it take? What is mana? Where do the effects you conjure come from? How do you learn to cast a completely a new spell when you level up?

Given how little lore there usually is on the magic system in general, I can't really justify singling out cooldowns as an improperly explained lore element. Again it's just an abstracted game system like many others.

Originally Posted by jhwisner View Post
You're kind of talking more about what he prefers - where limits are built in to the lore or the mechanics and not arbitrary timers on each of your abilities. If that's how magic worked in a world it might seem less lazy than the timers seem.
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May 5th, 2012, 18:39
…i feel like we've shifted the key issue, from one of cooldowns being boring, to one of their being an unimaginative abstraction. Admittedly, the fact that every game uses cooldowns these days means most games feel like… WoWish. But the bigger issue is that it's just boring and inflexible. Why should combat be 85% waiting and spamming the dodgeroll button? Not all games suck at dodgerolling, so let's not get too carried away on that issue, either. But I think that more complicated systems would make each engine far more intriguing. The most compelling of which are probably the aforementioned riskvreward systems, like allowing you to spam abilities at the risk of breaking some necessary item, or at risk of putting yourself in a vulnerable state, or (perhaps ideally) at risk of having the enemies develop defenses to your methods. AI like that is the eternal holy grail for most of us, i think, but it could also be something as simple as having enemies which drink antifire potions if you spam fireballs or develop other natural defenses. Regardless of which system you choose, I hope it is one that doesn't require me to stare at the recharge timer. At the very least, I hope to not play many more games in which cooldown is the ONLY balancing factor. It works ok in MMOs, a little uncreative… but just plain boring in single player games.
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May 5th, 2012, 19:15
Originally Posted by qpqpqp View Post
It works ok in MMOs, a little uncreative… but just plain boring in single player games.
I think it's an understandable part of MMOs since the need for preiodic re-ballancing is pretty much a given. In singleplayer games there's almost no reason you should see a cooldown timer instead of even a functional equivalent of one that is at least couched in the pretense of being something less mechanical and slapped on.

For magic it doesn't seem to hard to have 2 bars - one that is the traditional slow-regenerating or non-regenerating mana and maybe another that you can fall focus, concentration, mental stamina, or party juice which regenerates very rapidly. Cast difficult spells in rapid succession and you find yourself bent over in pain, unleashing some terror from the warp, disoriented, or maybe just more open to attack and slower (the idea of risk/reward.) This gives limitation on spamming, more room to develop different styles and strategies, and less clock-work hotkey tapping.
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