Monday 11 July 2011

Don't worry about failure. Worry about the chances you miss when you don't even try.

I’ve slowly grown weary of ‘Falcon Hyperdrive’ abilities on my various MMO characters, to the point where I often can’t be bothered to use them at all. You know the sort of ability to which I refer, characterised by excessively long cooldowns and a power that has both the potential to change the course of a battle, as well as a chance to miss.

Healer: “The enrage timer is getting closer!”

Rogue: [with a gleam in his eye] “Oh yeah? Watch this.”

[Expectantly, they look towards the boss as Rogue runs up and flails around ineffectually in front of him. Rogue and Tank look at each other and are thrown into an acute state of concern.]

Tank: “Rwwwarrrggghhh!”

Healer: “Watch what?”

[Rogue tries another ability. Still nothing.]

Rogue: “I think we’re in trouble.”

Paladin: “Sir, the possibility of successfully triggering a long cooldown ability with a To Hit component when you need it most, is approximately 3720 to 1!”

Rogue: “Never tell me the odds!”

[The boss hits his enrage timer.]

Rogue: “We’re in trouble.”


Rogue: “Okay, let’s finish this fight. Ready for Blimey Charlie![TM] ability? One…two…three! Punch it!”

[Rogue fires-off his ability and… nothing happens. The boss punches Tank two inches into the ground.]

Rogue: [frantic] “It’s not fair!”

[Tank is very angry and starts to growl and bark at his companion. Again, Rogue desperately fires-off an ability.]

Rogue: “The ability triggered, it just didn’t hit. It’s not my fault!”

[Tanks puts his head in his hands, and lets out a whining growl. Healer looks derisively at Rogue.]

Rogue: “It’s not my fault!”

It’s gotten to the point now that I imagine the Whee Whee Bwoo Bwoo Bwooooooo sound of the Millennium Falcon failing to enter hyperspace every time one of my battle-winning abilities fails to make contact, and thus fails to have any effect whatsoever.

I can understand abilities that can only be used once per fight, even if they do present the player with that awkward dilemma of trying to balance whether the situation is dire enough that use of the ability is mandatory for the group’s survival, against the fact that an even more dire situation may occur at some point in the near future. It’s like a sort of game show –How Dire Is This?– where the contestants have to gamble and guess whether their current situation is the most dire it’s likely to get, or if they want to risk struggling through because they reckon an even more dire situation is just around the corner.

“Well it seems that our contestant has just about made it through the pit of flame-thrower-wielding scorpions. And with all three lifelines intact, no less!”

“That’s right Frank, the situation certainly looked pretty dire, but Geoff kept his nerve and now he faces the next challenge. A little scorched maybe, but with a full suite of special abilities. So let’s see how dire the next challenge is…”

“Well Alan, looks like the next challenge is located in Dire Maul.”

“That’s pretty dire right there, Frank.”

“Which has been populated entirely with dire rats.”


“Who are riding on dire bears”


“Who are piloting Dire Wolf mechs.”

“Well it doesn’t get much more dire than that!”

“While playing the Very Best of Dire Straits.”

“Well that’s not so bad…”

“On bagpipes.”

“Hoo boy! Well I don’t know about our contestant, but I’ve blown a few cooldowns myself, Frank.”

“I thought I could smell something.”

Perhaps it would help to alleviate the stress of the situation if these emergency ‘Blimey Charlie!’ abilities let off comedy sound effects when they were activated: lengthy high-pitched flatulence being a prime candidate.

So you’ve decided that the situation is pretty dire –those Dire Wolf mechs are firing dire boars from their cannons– and you wind-up your special ability. Like any good MMO player you announce your plan of action to the rest of the group, in part so that they can respond to the situation, and in part because you want them to know that you are saving their arses again. Or, if you’re like me, you sort of just half-gurgle into the microphone while you frantically try to find the ability’s icon, an icon which suddenly (and, I suspect, with deliberate malice) has decided to look like every other icon on your hotbar. Of course you use it so rarely that when you do come to need it you have to try to find it, buried as it is between the numerous pointless other abilities that you never use, like the one that drops your trousers in a comedy emote, or the one that summons an ice cream van, or the one that transforms you into Abe Vigoda.

There’s quite the fan faire by this point, people are lined up along the red carpet to watch your special ability arrive. You’ve deliberated over when to use it, you’ve spent time building up its arrival, and you’ve spent time actually finding it once you’ve decided to use it. Now the magic moment has arrived! The limousine pulls up to the kerb, the door opens, the flash and sparkle of cameras lights up the night like a swarm of fireflies going into meltdown, and your special ability springs forth from the dark confines of the smoked security glass cabin… and promptly trips over the carpet and falls flat on its face.

Yes, it seems especially cruel to have a To Hit check on an ability which is used so very rarely but is generally vital to the survival of your group when it’s eventually called upon. Not to forget that when it misses (and it’s amazing how often a 2% miss chance occurs, you’d have to guess that it happens at least 90% of the time) it’s the sort of deflatory flaccidity you would image a young man to suffer upon getting home and realising that, when asking for a DVD of *ahem* mature content, the comedian behind the counter has given him a documentary on the life and times of care homes for the elderly since 1946; you can almost hear the Whee Whee Bwoo Bwoo Bwooooooo of the Falcon’s failing hyperdrives as he looks down and observes his rapidly dwindling chance of reaching escape velocity, before pulling up his underpants, making a cup of tea, and settling down to an informative yet dreary program on the history of geriatric healthcare in post-war Britain.

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