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[GW2] Balanced Gameplay

Yep. Just another day, trying to cap a ruin in Guild Wars 2, when…

Now, I knew I was dead as soon as I saw another player. I’m there to complete my daily quest, the Roamer is there to Roam. That’s cool. What’s less cool was this:

One-Shot

Balanced!

For those playing at home, that’s a total of 29,073 damage unloaded within… what would you say, looking at that footage? One second? One point five? Less? The two actual damage abilities would have left me with less than a hundred HP, if not for the Steal (which teleports the Thief 1500m) or the Lightning Strike, which I believe is a weapon enchant proc.

If you were wondering about buffs, this is a closer look at the Thief:

GW2_Buffs

Possibly fair? I dunno.

It looked like the Thief popped something as he crossed the ridge. Is it captured in the buffs up there? I’m not super familiar with all the icons, and GW2 does not have any feature to look up other characters, so I’m kinda stuck.

Still though… in what particular universe would something like what happened be okay? I’m not in full Ascended gear or anything, but I doubt the gear difference would have gotten my HP above 29k, which is all that matters in the literal second it took to down me. Maybe the particular build the Thief has to use to achieve this level of absurdity makes them less useful in zergs?

To which I would reply: again, how is this okay?

For the record, this occurred last week, so the recent balanced changes were not involved.

As the PlanetSide Turns…

A few weeks ago, SOE released a new weapon: the pump-action shotgun. New weapons in a F2P game is somewhat expected, with two different SMGs having been released the month before. I am starting to get the impression that a metaphorical corner has been turned with these shotguns though.

The problem? The shotguns offer a one-hit kill (OHK) at ~7 meters and less. A one-bodyhit kill.

It is nothing new that some guns are better at others at various ranges. Bullet damage decreases the farther it travels, and there are wild swings both in terms of Rate of Fire and Bullet Velocity amongst each factions’ arsenals. The difference this time, IMO, is reaction speed. If I see an enemy at the same moment he sees me, the fight comes down to a number of factors. Sometimes pulling the trigger first is the difference, especially when “bullet flinch” (which has thankfully been decreased) can cause your counter-attack to miss its mark. Of course, even if the enemy has a gun advantage over yours, you can still win with either better aim (headshots), luck (headshots), or environmental awareness (ducking behind cover, etc).

With the new pump-action shotguns, this has all changed. The outcome of any encounter is boiled down to a single variable: did the guy with a shotgun miss? If he didn’t, you’re dead. If he did… you’re probably still dead a few moments later. Your gun having a 1.27 second Time-To-Kill is meaningless when the shotgun’s is 0.00 seconds.

If you believe that the short OHK maximum range is a good enough downside, well, I would ask whether you play PlanetSide 2 at all. You see, for however large the “maps” are – and they are extremely huge – all of the infantry action typically takes place within 7 meters anyway. There are medium engagements, sure, but they are either always brief or consist of steady exchanges of fire from cover. The latter is necessary because tanks and jets will murder you in moments if you are spotted on open ground. Ergo, between the need for cover and that all capturable objectives are located in small sheds, a short-ranged weapon is no downside at all; especially not one with such a high payout.

In PlanetSide 2, you are either sniping or in bayonet range.

Honestly, something like this is probably less nefarious than it is inevitable. There are only so many “sidegrades” a design can accommodate before the number of permutations reveal downsides that aren’t downsides at all. Care has to be given to how the game itself plays out most commonly. A 30-second cooldown that increases damage by 10% is not the same as 100% damage cooldown every 5 minutes, no matter what it says on paper. Similarly, a gun with a low rate of fire and a high reload timer is irrelevant in a firefight that ends as soon as it begins.

There undoubtedly would be havoc unleashed should SOE come out and nerf the $7 shotgun, so I am not entirely sure what the solution to this newfound problem can be. Indeed, I have already resolved to purchasing the shotgun myself; not to fight fire with fire, but to eliminate the fire-starter before he can even react to the heat of my flames. The only reason I have hesitated is because, much like the SMG before it, another pump-shotgun variant is slated to be released soon. And it is entirely possible it will be more powerful than the original, which is how it worked out for the Vanu SMG.

Perhaps this new one will hit so hard it kills you again on the respawn. Or shoots explosive shells that damage tanks. Or both. The sky (up to 7 meters) is the limit.

Once More, With Feeling

Allow me to revise my previous post a bit. The fundamental question I was asking was:

“Is it a good use of designer resources to specifically construct one-time events (in MMOs)?”

The traditional sort of knee-jerk response would probably be “Yes.” My answer is No.

A one-time event is essentially the most extreme example of planned obsolescence in MMOs. If you get upset at the idea that nobody does Tier N content when Tier N+1 is released, then you should be grabbing pitchforks at the very mention of one-time events. Were you upset when ToC made Ulduar irrelevant? Were you sad when Cataclysm redesigned the entire leveling experience, including removing your favorite quests? Do you support attunements as a means to make all raids relevant through the duration of an expansion? Are you sad about how fast leveling has gotten in WoW, or how many dungeons are being “wasted?” If you answered Yes to any of those questions and yet still enjoy the idea of the AQ gate opening just the one time ever, then you have some serious cognitive dissonance going on.

A raid being rendered moot by the next patch’s 5m heroics is just another form of planned obsolescence; it is another form of one-time events, same as the leveling speed changing, dungeons becoming empty, and so on. The only difference is one of duration, e.g. months/years versus an hour on a Sunday afternoon.

There is, however, an important distinction to make here.

When ToC made Ulduar irrelevant, Ulduar still existed. In fact, you can still zone into Ulduar today and go have fun. Will it be the same experience as it was when it was the new hotness? Of course not – you can never cross the same river twice. The difficulty changed quite a bit following the months of its release, to say nothing of the changing abilities of players, the higher level cap, and so on. But fundamentally the place is still there and still capable of generating new memories. The planned obsolescence was social in nature, not structural. Blizzard did not simply remove the raid portal, or leave all the bosses dead. Few people wanted to do Ulduar after ToC was released because better gear was available elsewhere, they had gotten their fill of Ulduar content, they wanted to tackle new challenges, or whatever.

This brings me to a smaller point I was trying to make yesterday: social obsolescence happens naturally, automatically, and inevitably. If ToC was released with just sidegrades available, there still would have been fewer people raiding Ulduar; the exodus might not have been as abrupt, but it still would have occurred. Even in horizontal-progression games, you do not see an evenly distributed population. People generally crave novelty, and will mob whatever new content is introduced, leaving barren ghost towns in their wake. Nobody cares that you have got the Kingslayer title yesterday.

And so now we have arrived at my larger assertion: making events only occur once adds little to nothing to the experience.

Liore and Syl in the previous comments said that the AQ opening would have been less epic/less people would have showed up if it were repeatable. Based on what? Did those people know, for sure, that the gong would never be struck again? Would the significance of the first opening have been diminished in any real way if the event was available the very next year? Or weeks later? I have a hard time believing that could be the case, because Firsts are always special. Neil Armstrong is the first human to step on the moon; his accomplishment is in no way diminished by the fact eleven other dudes have also stepped on the moon. Have you heard of Eugene Cernan or Harrison Schmitt? Those are the last two people to have rung the gong on the moon, so to speak, but no one really cares. Neil still is/was the man.

Ultimately, to me, it comes down to a question of where best to utilize limited designer resources. When new raids and dungeons are released, there is always a special moment attached to it. A camaraderie that exists as thousands and thousands of players try something for the first time, race to the top, and otherwise share an experience. Undoubtedly that is the same goal of one-time events, to evoke those same feelings and perhaps pretend that this is a game world that is always changing (at 12:00 PM Pacific Time/19:00 GMT this Sunday only). The difference is that with the latter, the content is thereafter removed, generating no new experiences, no new memories, and no lasting history beyond the recollections of an ever-dwindling veteran playerbase.

I want game worlds to get bigger by having more things in them, not less, and not temporary things. Designers should stick with making the tools and toys; let the players bring the dynamic themselves.

And if you need something to only happen once to enjoy it the most, 1) I feel bad for you, and 2) the first time only happens once already. Enjoy the feeling as it lasts… don’t just take the ball and go home.

Design Notes I Like to See

From the latest Dev Blog:

That said, we also wanted to let you know we’re keeping a close eye on Inferno. The intent of incoming damage is that it should be a very consistent drain on your health, and mitigating that drain is a major part of what makes Inferno mode difficult. Right now, there’s a lot more damage “spikiness” occurring than feels right, and that’s one major area we’re looking to adjust in patch 1.0.3. While we don’t have any specifics yet, our design goals are to support and promote build diversity; continue to ensure that a mix of champion packs, rare packs, and boss fights are the most efficient way to acquire the best items in the game; and ensure that all classes are viable in Inferno.

[…]

We’ve also seen some people saying our intention with Inferno is just one-shot you to make it difficult. While damage is a bit spikier than we’d like, we’re actually seeing a pretty significant number of people attempting Inferno without sufficient gear. There’s a good chance that returning to the previous Act to farm upgrades will do the most to help you survive. That said, we’d like to shift some of the focus away from survival and more toward using a variety of offensive tactics to succeed. Survival will still be important, but finding ways to maximize your damage while staying alive is more exciting. We’re not particularly concerned with whether or not a boss is “beatable,” though it should feel epic and challenging to defeat it. We’re more concerned with ensuring that acquiring 5 stacks of Nephalem Valor and taking on as many Champions and Rares as you can remains the most challenging and rewarding way to play.

And then there is this bit about the crafting:

Other areas of concern have been both the gem combination system and Blacksmith leveling and crafting costs. The intent, especially with the Blacksmith, is that he’s leveling with you, you’re able to use him as an alternate source for upgrades. Our design goal is that once you get to level 60, his recipes are actually good enough to help fill a character’s potential itemization gaps. To correct these issues, we’re looking to adjust the Blacksmith costs for training (gold and pages) and crafting from levels 1-59, and reduce the cost of combining gems so that it only requires two gems instead of three (up to Flawless Square). Both of these changes are scheduled for patch 1.0.3.

I had been avoiding crafting altogether because A) what’s the point when you have access to the AH, and B) what’s the point when vendoring magic items is more profitable than Salvaging them? Then again, the Commodities portion of the AH has been down since launch (I believe) and I am somewhat convinced it was precisely to get people to do their own crafting/salvaging.

In any case, after hearing the news that maybe the endgame isn’t supposed to be about endlessly kiting mobs around, I leveled up the Monk up to 17 to get Seven-Sided Strike. Decently fun ability. While I was moving talents around, I decided to give Crippling Wave another try as my left-click ability now that I unlocked a Rune for it. As soon as I did this, I ran into a pack of the flying wasp creatures and proceeded to get kited the fuck around. I cannot imagine a worse feeling than getting kited around by a mob in a hack-n-slash game.

So I logged back onto the Witch Doctor, looking for that cave with the first piece of the sword. As I was walking around, I encountered one of those bull-like creatures with the charge attack. That one move by an otherwise unremarkable mob one-shot my Zombie Dogs.

All of them.

Translation: Fuck this game.

While on the level 6 Wizard, it occurred to me that I have no particular desire to kite things. If a bunch of zombie torsos leap (!) out of the bushes, I do not want my first instinct to be to Frost Nova and left-click myself away. Nor do I want to wait for however many levels it takes to get the spells necessary to actually deal what feels like some legitimate damage.

So I did the only thing left of me. I uninstalled rolled Barbarian.

Two Lords A-Leaping~

Now, this? This feels good.

P.S. And this doesn’t look bad either.