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Potion Use

January 14, 2014

Dear Reader,

Most games nowadays that have combat have some form of in-combat healing, such as a potion or medpack.  Thanks to my recent bgame dilettante-ism, I’ve found myself in a lot of different styles of combat with different potion paradigms.  It got me wondering how potion use hinted at design decisions.  I’ve recently encountered three specific forms of potion use in different games, and I thought I’d use those to pretend to plumb the depths of the designer’s minds.

“Uh-Oh” potion use:

In this type of design, potions are only used to help a player survive when he or she has made a mistake.  For example, if you accidentally pull two or three groups in some MMOs, not using a potion would be a death sentence.  Usually in these games potions aren’t ultra-plentiful, so they become a kind of resource against which you balance your caution when pulling.  If you mispull too much, you’ll end up potionless and dead, but if you’re usually pretty careful, the potions will see you through mistakes.  I’d guess these designers wanted the game to be challenging without every mistake being  lethal.  They allowed a kind of “reflex save” against mispulls; if you can get to the potion in time, you’ll be okay.  Additionally, they emphasize resource management as part of the game, with potions just being another resource to keep an eye on.

“Rotational” potion use:

In these types of games, you’re expected to keep potions rolling any time you’re in combat.  These games emphasize potion use almost as part of a rotation, and as a result the potions often have a cooldown of some kind.  You often see this kind of gameplay in the tougher end of ARPGs like Diablo or, particularly, Van Helsing.  Not managing your potions properly even on a normal pull can be fatal, and as a result, potions are often plentiful.  In Van Helsing, towards the end, I had over 200 potions saved up, never having bought one.  I suspect the designers here wanted the added challenge in harder difficulties of making the player not only manage their attack rotation but a sort of “defensive rotation” as well.  This reveals a desire for complexity without complication, adding an accepted mechanic to the “necessary” elements of game play.

“Cooperative” potion use

In these games, people cannot use potions (or medpacks, or bandages, or blood bags) on themselves, but must rely on other players to help them.  In these games, players often take on different roles, with one person acting as a healer while the others may be tanks or dps.  Team Fortress 2 has a role like this, as do some ARPGs (and of course all MMOs, though self-healing is an option in both).  DayZ operates this way, not allowing players to use adrenaline shots on themselves when they’re unconscious (for obvious reason) or blood packs when they’re weak.  This suggests a design decision that forces players to cooperate to survive.  Of course, DayZ is a haven for sociopaths and mass murderers, so it may be that the intended design is overwritten by the unintended design (see Rust Interviews for good examples of DayZ-style gameplay).  Still, it’s a nice thought, that one would have to rely on another instead of drinking a magical healing potion.

Those are the three variations of potion use I’ve come across.  Some games are clearly a mixture of them, but I think I’ve hit the main three.  Are there any other potion paradigms out there I’ve missed?  Do my analyses of design intentions make sense?  Let me know.


Stubborn (and drinking a caffeine potion)

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