The Theory of Gaming

July 18, 2008

Resident Evil 5 and Race in Games

Filed under: game design — Tags: , — spotpuff @ 11:36

Recently there was some controversy over Resident Evil 5.  The game takes place in Africa and Chris Redfield, the white protagonist, was shown in the game trailer shooting a bunch of black zombies.  My first thoughts when I saw the trailer were “Wow, that looks great” (I enjoyed RE4) and “People are going to be mad about this”.

Now, people are going to be mad about anything, but race is always a touchy subject.  For those familiar with the Resident Evil series, you’ll know it’s about zombies.  Nasty zombies.  The kind that sprout tentacles and monsters from their heads and then try to eat your brains.  Having a white protagonist attacked by a horde of mindless black zombies is going to be about as well received as a Muslim person praying on an airplane.

There’s been the typical backlash by special interest groups and gamers (do gamers count as a special interest group?).  Those taking offense point out there’s a history of negative stereotypical portrayals of black people in video games and other media.  Gamers point out there’s been numerous other Resident Evil games portraying whites, hispanics, and other ethnic groups as mindless zombies, and no one really seemed to care about race then.  The only reason people are up in arms now is because the zombies are black this time.

Race is a tricky subject to address in any medium, and I use the term “race” with some reservation simply due to the fact that I don’t believe the traditional definition of race makes any sense; humans typically view race as based on physical appearance (skin colour, facial features, hair, etc.), but definitions based on geography, nationality, genetics and socio-economic status also exist.  None of the definitions really make any sense to me and a lot of them conflict with one another.

The question I ask of people is: is it possible to include black people in games without upsetting a lot of people?  When you look at video games, there hasn’t really been a “traditional” role occupied by black characters, unlike a lot of other media like film and theater.  You can’t really do blackface in a video game.  Well, I guess you could, but it would be ridiculous.  I can understand the concern on the part of black people with regards to adding another negative portrayal to them in video game form, even if the “traditional” discriminatory practices haven’t been prevalent in that medium yet.  It would be wise not to retread on past mistakes.

Video games have included black characters in many different roles, from gangsters to scientists (GTA & the half life series).  Granted, there haven’t exactly been a lot of black characters in video games, and the tendency for white video game designers to casually make them caricatures of people seen on Black Entertainment Television doesn’t exactly show that the video game industry can be responsible about this sort of thing. I don’t want to see affirmative action in video games, with token black characters filling out stereotypical roles, but given the scope of most video games (they’re centered on a small group of characters) that tends to be problematic without seeming somewhat patronizing. It’s like the stock photos you see on the internet: one out of every three people will be black, one out of three will be a woman, and sometimes they’ll add an Asian woman in just to be safe. Granted if enough black characters are added to video games, maybe we can finally get to the point where it won’t seem like a black character was added simply for the sake of having a black character in the game. For example, in Half Life 2, the character Alyx Vance is the main heroine, but it doesn’t feel forced since we know about her father, Eli Vance, from Half Life 1; it makes sense that he has a daughter and she’s part of the human resistance.

Unfortunately, examples like that are few and far between. Video games are, after all, made by real people who live in the real world, and who are surrounded by hip hop, television, films, and other media from which to take cues on how black people act. Games like 50 Cent: Bulletproof certainly don’t help matters, but really in these cases video games aren’t doing anything other media forms haven’t already done with regards to portrayals of black characters.

Video games do, however, have a tradition of hiding many character’s appearances or traits from the player. Gordon Freeman and Samus Aran are two such examples.

Samus Aran’s revelation as a woman character was a shock to pretty much everyone when they beat Metroid. Everyone just assumed the character was a man. That’s the way our society is; women serve only to be damsels in distress or objects of desire in video games.

In the half life series, the player never, ever sees what they look like. Gordon Freeman is only seen on the box art of the game. Mirrors do not exist in the half life universe, and reflective surfaces reflect everything but your face. The character Chell from the game Portal, also by Valve, is similarly hidden although using some careful portal placement allows you to see what your character looks like.

In that sense, there’s no reason similar approaches can’t be taken for black characters in video games. Hopefully they don’t go the way of women characters becoming hyper sexualized and typecast, but eventually if enough black characters are added to games it will become commonplace enough that it will stop becoming such a big issue. Outsiders and special interest groups won’t feel the need to attack the industry and gamers won’t have to defend it.

On the other hand, you just can’t make some people happy. I’d be the most naive person on the planet to think people would stop criticizing video games. They’ll keep criticizing video games for being too violent, too sexist, too racist, too casual, too hardcore or too addictive no matter what you try to do. So to all the game devs out there: hang in there and keep doing what you’re doing, keep touching on social issues, and your fans will keep playing.


July 14, 2008

You know you have a balance problem when…

Filed under: Game Analysis — Tags: , — spotpuff @ 14:31

It’s my belief the soldier is underpowered. Not everyone agrees (as evidenced by the comments), and in general I argued the demoman is superior to the soldier in a lot of ways. It’s hard to find good demomen because regular grenades are so hard to aim, but if you run into someone who knows what they’re doing with the grenade launcher you’ll find out why they’re so dangerous.

Stickies are another matter entirely. Stickies are the bane of Engineers and no one likes being hit by crit stickies.  But you know you have a balanced problem when one of the game’s own designers admits it:

Q. Some people are saying that the stickies for the demo are to strong. To the point where 3 stickies can remove a sentry, a dispenser and a full health Engie. Is this something that can/is being addressed or is it classed internally as “balanced”?

We agree that they’re a little too overpowered right now. In fact, internall, we refer to them as “winbombs”. We haven’t reached a decision on what we’ll change yet, though.

As some of you may have noticed on Gold Rush, sentries are very strong and it’s almost impossible to take Gold Rush 2-2 or 3-4 if there are a lot of sentries around.  Demomen become essential, soldiers become more obsolete.  Hopefully things continue to balance out, but I’m not holding my breath on this one.

July 3, 2008

Heavy achievements next, Gabe Newell shares some design insights

Filed under: Game Analysis, Patches — Tags: , , — spotpuff @ 15:19

On the official Team Fortress blog, a pretty informative post was put up detailing the upcoming heavy achievements. There’s some discussion on the Steam forums about it, and while most of the ideas are probably not the best, some of them are pretty good.

The main issue with the heavy seems to be that he’s slow in combat and his gun has a spin up and down time. This allows for enemies to hit him from around a corner, then duck behind cover. If the heavy doesn’t have a medic, his health is whittled down until he dies (never mind that the soldier has the same problem and even less health). So Valve’s goal with the heavy achievements are to reduce his dependency on medics and allow him to be playable without a medic without making him so powerful that a medic/heavy combo would be more powerful than it currently is.

Replacing The Minigun

The standard things are being tossed around: a shield that reduces damage, an overheating gun, a gun that fires in bursts instead of continuously, a gun that lets you deal more damage the less health you have, etc.

Some of these make sense and others don’t; the overheating gun mentioned in the Steam forum probably makes the most sense, but keeping the spin up and spin down times defeats the purpose of the intended design goals, unless it’s ridiculously short. I mean right now the spin up and down times are only about a second, so the new gun will fix that by making it half a second? Better to eliminate it entirely.  The other issue with spin-up time is that a lot of times the spin-up time on the minigun is irrelevant because the heavy can just run, jump and spin the gun up in the air.  If he does this while going around corners, the gun is ready to fire when he’s in sight of whoever might fire at him.  So the spin up time is irrelevant in a large number of cases, and it’s really only the cases where the minigun spin-up time does matter (getting jumped unexpectedly) that you need to consider, rather than “planned” attacks.

The issue with overheating is that heavies rarely fire in bursts longer than a few bullets at a time anyways. Their gun is strong enough that if you catch anyone in your spray at low to medium range they’re going to die in a few seconds anyways, it’s not going to take 50 bullets. Unless the gun overheats ridiculously quickly, or only fires in very short bursts, it’s going to be a bit strong if the gun does more damage than mid-range, has lower spin up time, etc. So perhaps a heavy gun with a very short spin up time, or none at all, but that only fires in bursts would be ok. The gun could also allow the heavy to move at regular speed while firing.

The only issue I can see with the whole “burst fire” and allowing movement while firing is that then the heavy essentially becomes a soldier with more HP and no splash. He can duck out, fire a burst of bullets, and duck behind cover. This is the same sort of thing the rocket launcher is for, although without the juggle power or splash, and infinite velocity bullets instead of a slow moving rocket. Valve has mentioned that the heavy achievements should not encroach on another classes’ role and while they didn’t specifically note what those roles were, a burst weapon is similar enough to the rocket launcher to rule itself out.

I’ve thought about things like adding a shield for the heavy’s gun, but any shield that blocks damage and allows firing at the same time needs to have a major drawback for it to not be incredibly overpowered. Blocking incoming damage is the same as increasing the medic’s healing rate, and has a passive effect on HP. For example if the shield blocked 50% of incoming damage, a buffed 450HP heavy has, effectively, 900HP now instead of 450 and is being healed for the equivalent of 48 health per second instead of 24 in combat. So a shield is out unless it prohibits medic healing while in use, and buffing at all times. If you don’t prevent buffing at all times, the heavy can just pre-buff before going into a dangerous situation and with 900 effective HP that’s better than having a medic anyways.

Given that the heavy probably shouldn’t get a burst weapon that allows movement while firing and no shield on the gun, an overheating gun that instantly fires (0 spin up time) seems like the only viable option.  I’m not entirely convinced there’s a way to give the heavy a new gun without changing the dynamics of the class entirely or making him incredibly overpowered, though.

Replacing The Fists

The shotgun and fists are harder weapons to replace. Just as the sniper rifle makes the sniper, rocket launcher the soldier and flamethrower the pyro, the minigun defines the heavy class. Realistically the shotgun and fists don’t fill any significant tactical void in the heavy’s arsenal; the minigun is weak at range and has a spin up time, but deadly in close quarters and fairly good at medium range. So the shotgun doesn’t really help, and fists are too slow compared to the chaingun.

In that case, the secondary weapons need to augment the heavy’s current weaknesses, but how?

I’m thinking for melee, the heavy can get a shield. Make it large and make it obstruct his view; it can be one of those riot shields with a small window that blocks 90% of his FOV (only small parts viewable on the left, right and bottom) save for the little window that still won’t let him see much other than a small area in front of him. The shield can double as a weapon (shield bash), and also serves the purpose of not being overly powerful when the medic is healing the heavy (since it’s a melee attack and not his minigun). It also helps his retreats from battle by allowing him to swap the chain gun for the shield when retreating. It protects him from snipers while the shield is up, but in order to do any damage he’s still going to have to switch to his main gun and expose himself. And just for kicks you could add a little mirror to the shield so the heavy could see what’s going on behind him and if a spy is trying to knife him or his medic in the back. The mirror would have to be large enough to see, but not so large as to make a spy’s job impossible.

A shield for melee for heavies adds a lot of interesting tactical opportunities, like side-strafing to “escort” lighter classes across sniper covered terrain, protecting a sentry gun from an uber heavy or pyro, shielding himself and another player on a CP from a sentry gun so they can cap, and more, but it depends on how they design it (if they add it at all). Would deflecting all damage be too powerful, even though the heavy can’t see effectively enough to maneuver? Does it change his class role too much into a “tank”? Is it too powerful for defense?I don’t believe on defense it’s any more powerful than a pyro airblast which can stop an uber push in its tracks and possibly get the ubered target killed when the medic is pushed out of uber range.

Blocking all damage is potentially more powerful, but also more interesting from a tactical perspective. Without actually implementing the shield though, it’d be hard to test. Valve’s going to have to do it on their own (if they think it’s a good idea) and decide whether or not to add it in. If it’s too strong defensively, they could remove the shield bash so the shield is a strictly defensive option and tweak the other various effects as well, such as making the heavy move slower with the shield equipped so he can’t just whip out the shield and rush a defensive position with a medic in tow; moving slowly gives enemies a chance to outflank the pair and still leaves the medic pretty vulnerable with the heavy unable to kill attackers.

Replacing The Shotgun

As for the shotgun, it has its uses currently, although most heavies tend to get in the mindset of only using the minigun. If someone’s trying to hit and run you to death you just chase after them until you get them in a position that the minigun is viable. In the mean time you can use the shotgun, and it’s a decently solid choice. The problem then is to have a weapon that augments the heavy class while not being too overpowered e.g. flare guns vs snipers.

The heavy’s main enemies are snipers and spies, with fast moving classes in close quarters coming in after that; scouts and pyros can strafe you to death if your firing cone is being particularly uncooperative or your sensitivity is too low. So perhaps the heavy can get some sort of small, short range AOE stun to nail those pesky scouts and pyros who try to circle strafe you. I like the idea of the heavy getting concussion grenades with no way to throw them, since it’s fits with his presented intelligence level. I can totally see him detting a flashbang on his own forehead and yelling “POW!”.

I’m thinking the stun would have an effect similar to the first iteration of concussion grenade from QuakeWorld TF, the one that made your aim go all loopy before returning to normal (this was changed at some point to a jittery, slide all over the place effect after someone created a script to counteract that in QWTF, IIRC, however QWTF also allowed for scripts to control mouse movement (forward rocket jump script, I miss you), while I believe Steam does not, so that isn’t as much of an issue I hope). This prevents scouts, pyros and spies (should you hit them early enough) from dealing excessive damage to you up close, but still leaves you vulnerable to snipers (which is fair since the shield would already mess with snipers). To be balanced the concussion would affect you as well, so you can’t aim your minigun very well; it basically just prevents two pesky classes from killing you while you spin your minigun around in vain trying to hit them.

Now the only issue with this is that the scattergun and flamethrower tend to kill you very quickly. The flamethrower will kill a heavy at point blank range in just under 2 seconds (150 DPS or so) and a scout with a scattergun can do it in ~3 seconds or so given no buffing or healing. So you really have to be quick on the draw with this stun device, and that’s assuming it fires instantly (with the normal 1 second delay for weapon switching).

The other question is whether or not this AOE stun should affect your teammates; currently none of the weapons in TF2 can affect teammates in a significantly adverse manner, so giving you a weapon that turns everyone’s aim loopy is probably opening the door to griefer heaven. Solutions could be having VERY limited ammo combined with long cooldown, and shorter duration for teammates. Some might argue that a heavy could suicide charge into an enemy formation and mess up their aim, but in practice you’re not likely to hit more than 1 or 2 enemies with this, and you have to somehow make your rush valuable in the likelihood that you die.


1. Not sure what to do about the heavy’s gun.  Current one only has limitations in certain situations, and some changes could be overpowered or too similar to other “burst” weapons like the rocket/grenade launcher.

2. Replace shotgun with small AOE concussion effect.

3. Replace fists with armor shield.

Well, those are my thoughts for now.  Obviously design isn’t an easy thing to do, but hopefully Valve does a good job on this like with the other achievement ideas.  I’m not expecting things to be balanced since it seems they don’t even test things *cough* backburner *cough* but interesting ideas are more important to me, since imbalances can always be fixed later.

June 23, 2008

On the new pyro changes…

Filed under: Patches — Tags: , , , — spotpuff @ 11:34

Ugh. I’m beginning to think Valve does not play test these changes, which makes me wonder why they can’t release more of these things sooner if they’re just cooking up terrible ideas and releasing them.

The pyro is absolutely insane now. You absolutely cannot survive a close encounter with one no matter what class you are. Their high amount of ammo combined with no reload requirement, now instant crits from behind, beyond soldier level HP, excellent speed and “wall of fire so you can’t see shit” weapon means you are basically screwed when a pyro jumps on you. And for those saying get real bounce a pyro away with rockets/stickies/whatever, play some Dustbowl 3. Many maps have tight corridors and you cannot avoid a pyro if he jumps on you… you’re screwed.

Damage has been increased to the point where a pyro can take out a heavy and his medic if he gets the jump on them… in about two seconds. You can kill a heavy now before he spins up the gun if you jump on him, and the medic only has to eat about 1.5s of pyro fire before he is in death range from the burn.

Light classes? Light classes are screwed. Pyros will drop your health into “You’re going to die even if you run away” range within about 1 second now… as a medic or soldier even you’re screwed, so scouts, spies and engineers don’t stand a chance.

Spies have been rendered obsolete by what is basically AOE backstab with the Backburner. Instant crits from behind + no damage dropoff = omgwtfbbq. And for those saying “Well, just face the pyro” don’t forget he runs faster than 8/9 classes in the game if they’re backpedalling, never mind the strategy of having two pyros with backburners pincer a group of enemies… turn this way, you’re screwed, turn the other way, still screwed. The backburner basically amounts to AOE backstab, with range.

At least the Axtinguisher is, for all intents and purposes, totally useless. It’s the last unlock and it’s totally unnecessary; if you’re going to run up to someone and axe them, you might as well just run up and backburner them to death given how much damage it does now. It’s a great idea for a weapon, but also totally unnecessary. Things die so quickly to pyro fire now the axtinguisher is nothing more than a novelty. Again, that’s fine though.

The flare gun makes soldiers lives at longer than medium range hell. Pyros can duck around corners and flare gun you until you are on fire and they’re out of effective rocket range. It also gives snipers fits, but pretty much everyone is affected other than engineers right next to a dispenser.

Pyros have made Critzkrieg basically useless because if you get jumped and you’re on a soldier or demo, you’re both dead unless you bust out the uber, and you’ve wasted the charge. Half the time soldiers are self-rocketing to death on a pyro now because of the increased pyro and self-rocket damage. Makes sense, soldiers were so overpowered before.

Let’s not forget that Valve also released two new maps that are now considered official. Never mind that they are player generated custom maps. It makes total sense it takes this long to come up with map ideas. I look forward to future Valve map packs filled with Castle4, CanalZone, 32smooth and many other original Valve ideas.

Just like Blizzard used to rigorously play test all their new encounters without mods and ensured they were beatable before release, I’m sure Valve is rigorously play testing these new patches before release to ensure damage is reasonable and the pyro isn’t overpowered. Really. We won’t see any patches soon nerfing the pyro. He’s perfectly balanced and doesn’t require any changes to be a perfectly viable and balanced class to play. Valve is infallible when it comes to class balance, and the pyro is another shining example of that.

OK I’m all sarcasm-ed out for the day. I’m sure pyro players are loving the new changes, but it’s not a matter of adapting to the new pyro class… it’s a matter of holy crap everything falls over in 2 seconds now and there are too many hiding places to check while assaulting a base.

June 18, 2008

New pyro achievements and unlockables revealed, more maps to come

Filed under: Game Analysis — spotpuff @ 16:40

Valve released the list of upcoming pyro achievements and unlockables, as well as the additional maps that will be added to the “official” list.

See for more info.  Initial thoughts?

  • Backburner is going to be brutal.  Anyone who’s run into pyro crits knows you get dropped in less than a second usually (~400 DPS).
  • +50 HP with the backburner puts the pyro at soldier level HP. Joy.
  • Airblast has a lot of great tactical applications.  Cooldown needs to be long enough that soldiers aren’t useless vs pyros.
  • Flare gun is going to give snipers fits… which is fine with me.  Won’t be useful vs engineers that have a dispenser nearby.
  • Valve still can’t release new maps to save their lives.
  • Achievements are in-line with actual gameplay now for the most part.  Things like “kill someone with a taunt” are fun, but impossible unless you’re farming achievements.

Expect to see a lot of pyros running around tomorrow.

June 10, 2008

Upcoming pyro achievements and speculation

Filed under: Game Analysis — spotpuff @ 9:30

Pyro has been confirmed as the next achievement pack by Valve.  No one knows what the unlockables will be, but Valve has acknowledged they did a terrible job with the Medic achievements and will try to make the pyro achievements more in-line with actual gameplay rather than the imaginary land of chocolate gameplay that involves needle gunning scouts to death.

The only confirmed unlockable is the Axtinguisher, an axe that does 50% damage unless an enemy is on fire, in which case it will score a guaranteed critical strike (195 damage).  Yikes.  I hope they fix melee hit detection first so you aren’g being axetinguished by people 10 feet away.  Valve has also said they’re changing the pyro class to make him less sucky, which I’m sure pyro fans are glad to hear.

I had some ideas on pyro unlockables I thought we’d see, and the Axtinguisher is close to what I had in mind.  My idea was to have an axe that maimed people so that they walked slower, so if you ignited them they couldn’t get to health as quickly.  However, the Axtinguisher is a much better idea since maiming people isn’t as good as killing them, and the pyro being the 3rd fastest class in the game allows him to melee people pretty easily, so maiming them serves no purpose.  If you wanted to prevent them from getting health, well, just keep torching them with the flamethrower until they’re dead.  No maiming required.

The other ideas I had were a flamethrower that cannot crit but that can light objects/walls/floors on fire, creating a “firewall” that would prevent people from walking over it.  It would be an area-denial type weapon much like the sticky launcher, but not last nearly as long.  The idea is to give the pyro a way to run away from people by laying down some fire that people aren’t going to want to walk across.

The shotgun is a bit trickier; the “crit people that are opn fire” idea has already been used (not to say that they couldn’t use it again for a weapon, but I doubt they would) so maybe the pyro could get a flare launcher that lit up dark areas for a while (similar to the sniper’s flare in TF1) or a secondary weapon that left an oil trail that you could ignite (similar to the idea above, just a different execution).

We’ll all just have to wait and see what Valve has in store.

June 6, 2008

Facestab explanation

Filed under: Game Analysis — Tags: , , — spotpuff @ 13:28

One of the big problems in TF2 right now is “facestabbing” where a spy will seemingly be in front of you, or even running right at you, but miraculously land a backstab one hit kill on you.

A thread posted in the Steam forums
has a brief explanation as to why this can happen:

The backstab problem is due to the time delay between when you fire and when the hit lands, and the discrepancy between whether it should be a backstab at the start and/or the end. If we make the start case authoritive, players get facestabbed if they turn around before the hit lands. If we make the end case authoritive, Spies claim they got screwed when they got a backstab animation and no instant kill. Right now we have a system somewhere in the middle, where we allow the Spy to keep the backstab as long as the receiver doesn’t turn to look almost directly at the Spy. This is something we’re still hoping to improve.

Latency and multiple client synchronization is an ever-present problem in online gaming.  The server has to decide how to synchronize the data coming in with all the clients it is hosting.  A soldier with 200 ping may see a spy in front of him when the spy is actually beside him, resulting in an apparent facestab due to the server accepting the spy’s data instead of the soldier’s.

Melee in general in TF2 is problematic.  I’m sure most people have had an experience with being meleed seemingly from 10 feet away due to lag.  On your opponent’s screen, they’re right next to you, but on yours they’re 10 feet away.  The server accepts their data and says you are being hit, and you’re busy trying to figure out what is going on while avoiding death.

There’s no real good solution here with the spy since everyone is going to have latency when playing over the internet.  Even if you’re lucky enough to have very low ping, your enemies may have somewhat higher ping.  And while 50ms doesn’t sound like much, in terms of melee movement and directional-facing detection, it can mean the difference between a facestab and a harmless melee attack.

Personally I feel right now the facestab detection is horrible.  Backstabs land in a 180 degree arc behind the player on level ground and from the bottom and top of the player.  To avoid a backstab you essentially have to face where you think the spy is going to be when the stab actually lands, which is practically impossible.  Plus adding luck into a skill based game is sort of annoying, although for whatever reason a certain level of randomness is included in most games in terms of damage ranges, but when a weapon is an instant kill, the stakes are somewhat higher.

May 22, 2008

On TF2 stealth patch changes

Filed under: Patches — Tags: , , , — spotpuff @ 12:30

CdTrix started a thread on the Valve forums that has been an issue that’s for a long time: stealth patch changes. Valve will issue a patch, list 2 or 3 totally mundane things in the notes, but then you start playing and notice other huge, unlisted patch changes. I don’t understand why this happens as for sure Valve’s programmers know what changes are coming days or weeks ahead of time and “lock down” an update.

Here’s the original post:

We would like to know when the classes are getting balanced with each updates.

for this latest update:
-Right doorway to upper house on second cap first map of gold rush has been removed
-Changed structures on left spawn exit on first cap second map of gold rush
– Decreased rate of fire for the sticky bomb launcher

Gold Rush patch phantom upgrades
– increased rate of fire for sticky bomb launcher
– increased direct fire damage for pyro
– increased burning rate when on fire
– increased mid range damage for heavy
– increased back stab radius for spy (it’s easier to face stab now)
– increased front stab damage from 20 to 60

Random phantom updates
– added doors to granary to prevent scout rushes
– added fence at the last cp on each team for a sentry gun

These are updates that were not published in the “update news/change log”. People will have noticed or not and is subjective to how people play these classes.

Some people don’t notice a difference in heavy mid range damage but some will see the difference in front stab damage for the spy.

Unless everyone is notified of the changes, why make them a “do you feel the difference” type of testing? Just tell us you changed it to test out something and we’ll test it out. I don’t want to come on the forums to see if my theory that X class was buffed or Y class was nerfed.

While some of his numbers are off (front stab I remember being 30, not 20, but lists the damage range as 30-50), I can definitely vouch for the demo sticky launcher nerf.  I think this is good, since after the Gold Rush patch stickies were ridiculous, but a lot of the other stuff is anecdotal.

I added some details in post #61.  Most are speculative, but the Engineer buff was very noticeable and welcome:

I’m surprised people didn’t notice the sticky nerf after the patch yesterday; I was playing demo (and I don’t play demo much at all) and I noticed both the increase from the gold rush patch and the nerf last night; even in set up when laying a bunch of stickies in an area the rate of fire decrease is noticeable.

I look at this post as an informational thing; the stupid thing is Valve knows FOR SURE what they are changing. Why not just TELL us? The gold rush patch seemed to buff soldier rocket crit rate, but I can’t really say for sure. I only noticed it because I play soldier a fair amount and I seemed to be firing a lot more crits than before. I have no statistical evidence to back this up though.

The hard part is “proving” these changes. As the OP said, we cannot undo patches and you can’t play this game offline, so how exactly do you compare between patches?

Attacking the OP is missing the point; there are for sure stealth changes made in patches, and an example was given (gold rush 1-2 door removal). The other changes are up for debate, but other than tremendous foresight of recording demos for everything you want to test in the future NOW (and realistically, how can you know what to test now when we don’t know what is going to be patched later?) due to the inability to roll back patches is a little unrealistic. Hindsight is 20/20; saying the OP should have recorded a video of demo sticky firing rate when he couldn’t have known it would be changed is unfair.

As for anecdotal evidence, there’s a few cases for things:

1. Pyros who KNOW a disguised spy is a spy and start flaming him. Spy charged pyro and stabs the pyro while being lit on fire; and apparent “face stab”. This could be due to changes in how TF2 resolves lag between clients; for sure due to lag people can seem farther away than they are (getting melee’d from 5 feet away is another example of this). A spy could easily be beside you on his screen (valid backstab) but not beside you on your screen (face stab), but when TF2 resolves these inconsistencies it says backstab.

2. Not sure if this is intentional or not, but it seems as a spy if you do the overhand backstab on one person, but then turn and stab someone else in the face, it still counts as a backstab. Only happened to me once and I only knew what happened because I was on vent with the spy who did it; he said he backstabbed someone else, missed with the overhand, and hit me in the face and I died to face stab.

3. A pyro getting the jump on a heavy + medic before had a hard time killing the heavy before the heavy would spin up and kill him but now a fully buffed 450HP heavy will die to a pyro if he doesn’t have his gun spun up. I don’t recall this ever happening before.

4. Sticky rate of fire; getting juggled indoors on gold rush 2-2 (the 2nd floor “small” houses), I noticed I would get juggled into a corner by a demo and he could fire 2 pipes before I even landed. It was a noticeable buff; the debuff for yesterday’s patch was equally noticeable especially when piping an area as a “trap”.

5. I don’t believe this change was listed in patch notes; engineers trying to upgrade guns that are shooting now will drain more metal but also refill the gun’s ammo in addition to the 25 ugprade per swing. This is a HUGE change and makes upgrading sentries much easier; previously when you wrenched a sentry that was firing, you would only use up 2-3 metal and refill the gun’s ammo but you would NOT get to upgrade the gun. This made setting up guns very difficult. Now, though, you use up say 32 metal per swing but refill the gun’s ammo AND the gun gets 25 upgrade. You use up metal faster, but the gun upgrades faster and as I’m sure most engineers can attest to, getting a gun to level 2 quickly is really important. I am not sure if you can also repair a gun and upgrade it at the same time now, I don’t think you can, but am not 100% sure.

I do not remember reading about the engineer change for sure, but the rest of the changes are anecdotal and “feel” based. Maybe it’s just play styles that have changed, and not the classes, but it’s impossible to tell right now since as mentioned several times we cannot uninstall patches.

The main issue I have with the flaming and mod response is we cannot undo patches.  How the heck are we supposed to test if we can’t undo patches?  We cannot know what Valve is going to patch next since the patches are unannounced, so how do we know what to record now for later?  If you don’t know rocket jump  range is going to be buffed then how would you know to record a video of it now?

May 15, 2008

Soldier? More like captain useless.

Filed under: Game Analysis — Tags: , — spotpuff @ 14:10

Soldier is my most played class in TF2 and I’d like to think I am pretty good at it. Soldier was my favourite class in TF1: if you were good, you could take out a whole team and cap the flag on many maps by yourself. TF2 is a bit different: you need a medic and you can’t really do a whole lot to most of the classes. There are a lot of issues I have with the class. Some of them may be a weakness in the soldier class, while others may be other classes being too strong, but the points are usually a mix of both.

The main issue with soldiers is they’re worse than a demoman in almost every situation. Whether or not this means the demoman is overpowered or the soldier is underpowered is a larger question on the balance of the game, but nevertheless there are distinct cases where soldiers are clearly and irrefutably weaker.

1. You can’t kill sentry guns

So soldiers are supposed to be this well rounded offensive class that is capable of dealing with all sorts of obstacles. I guess when Valve designed the game, they thought soldiers should be able to deal with challenging obstacles like staircases and hills, and just those two, because as soon as you run into a sentry gun it’s basically game over.

It takes three unanswered rockets to kill a sentry gun. It’s 3/4 of your clip and requires at least 3 seconds. If an engineer is hiding behind his gun with a dispenser, and they are not against a wall, you are not going to kill the gun. You may get two rockets in, but an engineer is capable of repairing both his dispenser and his sentry in that time span, so again, you can’t kill either one.

The biggest problem though is that rocket splash damage doesn’t go through sentry guns. Or other people, too, for that matter, but that’s another issue entirely. So an engineer can duck behind his gun and heal his sentry while you shoot it ineffectually, without fear of being killed.

The only real solution is to shoot the ground near the sentry gun and try to kill the engineer first, then take out the gun, but this is problematic at a range that allows you to outrange the sentry. First of all, rockets are slow, so the engineer can dodge the rockets if they’re smart. If they don’t crouch behind their gun, dodging is easy at range. If you’re close enough that they can’t dodge rockets in time, then you’re in sentry range and taking fire. Keep in mind here I’m talking about well placed sentries, not ones built near doorways or something similar. Think the elevated platform or covered enclave at the 2nd capture point of the 2nd map of Goldrush. There is no way you can hit an engineer or the gun without being shot at; at best you’re going to have to shoot a wall near them, but the healing from their dispenser will take care of that damage and you’re still not going to kill the sentry.

A laughable “strategy” for killing sentry guns is apparently firing at the sentry until the engineer runs out of metal. I don’t know what game the people who suggested this strategy have been playing, because apparently they didn’t notice you get 20 rockets to start with now and that’s it. Assuming you have full ammo by the time you reach the sentry gun, you still require 6 seconds every time you want to fire 4 rockets at the gun. That’s 26 seconds for all 20 of your rockets, during which time no one can come interrupt you in your sentry destroying quest. Dispensers generate 40 metal every 5 seconds and hold 400 metal max. I’m not sure of the exact numbers but each rocket hit requires approximately 25 metal to repair. Over 26 seconds a dispenser will regenerate 200 metal. So the engineer has about 800 metal to play with including the 200 he’s got on him. That’s 32 rockets worth of damage that can be healed (assuming my numbers are correct, which they might not be; comments are welcome if you know the exact numbers). How many rockets do you get as a soldier? 20. So, slight problem there.

So basically, there’s some maps where you run into a sentry gun and you are totally useless. Even if you are ubercharged running straight into a sentry’s coverage, blowing your whole clip will basically only let you kill the engineer with rockets. Then you have to whip your shovel/shotgun out to finish off the gun, or suffer through the painfully slow rocket reload which is great for wasting that 10s of uber. And if you planned on making it out of there alive, well, too bad for you because most likely your ubercharge will run out just as the gun goes down, and chances are the rest of the enemy team is waiting for that to focus fire and kill you.

Why the demo is better:

Demos are better at sentry killing because they can burst damage and because their splash damage goes through sentry guns. They have two options: fire 3 stickies at a gun and detonate them all at once to kill the gun, the engineer, and the dispenser at the same time, or fire grenades directly at the sentry gun and barring the annoying bug where your grenades just bounce off engineer buildings, the splash from 2 grenades will kill the engineer and then the gun is easy pickings.

Demos can also lob grenades at elevated platforms around corners and have them land near the gun, whereas a soldier cannot, which allows the demo to kill the guns I mentioned on Gold Rush 2-2 as well as numerous other locations where sentries are built on elevated ground. The best counter an engineer has against a demo is to wrench/shotgun the stickies away, but using the wrench for that is a quick way to die and the demo can fire stickies faster than you can shoot them away, so really it’s just a stall tactic rather than a counter.

2. You can’t kill Heavies with a Medic unless you crit

A Heavy and a Medic is one of the most difficult combos to take out in TF2. If they’re the two players are good, spies are ineffective, and on some maps sniping is effective or possible to take out heavies. Especially on Gold Rush, where you can just duck behind the cart, sniping becomes a very difficult counter against heavies. Heavies can also cause a sniper to flinch constantly with fire from across the map, so there may be further balancing issues required there.

As for the soldier, well, soldier cannot kill a heavy with a medic without crits, period. According to, a splash damage rocket does about 60-80 damage at close range and only about 40-50 damage at medium range Heavies have 300 health, and when you add in the +50% hp Heavies get 450 health. Your rockets do 240-320 damage total at close range and 160-200 damage total at medium range. Then you have to reload. So at close range it would take at least 6 splash rockets to kill a buffed heavy, and at medium range it would take at least 9 splash rockets.

Now that’s assuming the medic just buffs the heavy and then leaves. If he continues healing the heavy at a rate of 20 health per second and you fire around twice per second the situation gets even worse. To fire 6 rockets at close range takes at least 4 seconds (due to reload) which means the heavy doesn’t have 450 HP, he has 530 HP (450 + 20HP/s * 4s). At medium range under the same assumptions, it takes 9 seconds to fire 9 rockets, which means you have to deal 630 damage to the heavy (450 + 20HP/s * 9s). Good luck with that.

Now some of you might be thinking ok, that’s with splash rockets but what about direct rocket hits? I’ll touch on this more later, but direct rocket hits are harder to get than they sound.

At medium range, direct hits are out of the question. Even with reduced speed, hitting a heavy directly with rockets is hard if they’re constantly strafing. You’re also going to be taking fire, and maybe it’s just me but it seems like heavy damage has been upgraded in the recent patch, so it seems like you go down even faster than before to heavy fire.

At close range, you’re only going to get off 4 direct hit rockets on a heavy before he kills you if the heavy is terrible. Assuming he’s not, you’re toast.

At long range soldiers suck. Period. Rockets are slow. The heavy isn’t going down at long range unless he stands perfectly still and lets you shoot him with direct-hit rockets repeatedly. This is not a situation that arises frequently.

To top that all off, according to tf2wiki, a direct hit rocket deals 112 damage (which seems low to me, but I can’t really test right now so I’ll go with it). 4 direct hit rockets on a heavy will deal 448 damage. How much HP do buffed heavies get? 450. 448 < 450. Doh. Granted you could still reload and shoot off one more rocket to kill the heavy, but again, that’s 3s of fire and a heavy with a medic under fire for 3s essentially has 510 HP. Ugh.

Unless you get a magical 225 damage splash crit, that heavy/medic is not going down before you do no matter how many times you shoot him.

Why the demo is better:

I’m going to start sounding like a broken record here, but the reason demos are better than soldiers at heavy killing is because they can burst damage and because their grenades fire faster than rockets. Their grenades also don’t lose damage over distance. You can lob 4-5 stickies at a heavy and unless he spins his gun down and runs, he’s basically dead. Even if he does do that, your stickies have cut off the medic from him, so the medic has to back off, or take a long route around them to continue healing the heavy. You can det those stickies and then continue placing more to try to kill the heavy and your damage output is greater than the medic can heal. Plus you have 8 stickies and 4 regular grenades to get the job done. So 12 rounds vs 4 rocket rounds and a shotgun.

Grenades also fire slightly faster than rockets, and are capable of doing more damage, so the medic has less time to heal the heavy before you have to reload. In my experience, a heavy with a medic can be killed in 3-4 direct hits with the grenade launcher. If you run out of regular grenades, switch to stickies.

As an added bonus, if you get a crit grenade and the medic is standing close enough to the heavy, you can kill the medic with splash damage, since demoman splash damage goes through people and engineer buildings.

To top it all off, if the medic hits his ubercharge, your stickies can still launch the heavy or medic out of uber range even if the heavy is firing or has his gun spun up at the time. Soldiers on the other hand are totally worthless when a heavy/medic ubers.

3. Your splash damage doesn’t go through people/engineer buildings

Soldier crits are everyone’s favourite punching bag. True, there is some element of luck involved, but it’s not like that luck aimed the rocket for you. If there’s a crowd of people and you fire off a crit into it, you might initially feel pretty darn good as that rocket leaves your launcher, but you’ll be surprised to see that you kill just one person. If a person at the front of the crowd is hit with the crit rocket, they absorb the full 270 damage, and none of the splash damage goes through to nearby enemies. So one guy eats the crit and everyone else tries to kill you. True you could splash the ground, but then you’re only dealing 225 damage, not 270, and if people are buffed and you crit splash them they just go flying in different directions, which makes landing a follow up hit even harder in some cases.

Even if we ignore the case of critical hits, a direct rocket hit will only injure the person you shot, not anyone around them, which is aggravating in and of itself since you only get 4 rockets.

Lack of splash through buildings is also the main reason why soldiers suck against sentry guns. Engineers just duck behind them and laugh at you.

Why demomen are better:

Demo splash goes through people and buildings. A crit grenade will kill pretty much everyone around your target. It’s common to see 2 kills per crit and not uncommon to see 3 kills per crit if people are bunched at bottlenecks as in Gold Rush/Dustbowl.

Also, demos can take out sentry guns with regular grenades fired directly at the gun. They’ll get the engineer too.

4. 90% of the time rockets don’t do full damage, they do splash damage

Unless you are the god of leading shots and aiming, and your opponents don’t know how to dodge, you are going to be hitting people with splash rockets. This means rockets for all intents and purposes will not be doing 112 damage per hit. They do either 70 or 50. Looking only at direct-hit rocket damage is like looking only at sniper headshots and spy backstabs; it ignores the other cases in which you will be doing damage.

Did anyone notice the spy knife damage buff in the last patch? Previously spies could never critical strike with their knife from the front, and it did something like 30 damage. I thought this was fair since a backstab was a one-hit kill, but evidently Valve thought differently and buffed the spy knife damage so it does about 50 damage per hit now.

So Valve understands that even though full charge sniper headshots and spy backstabs are one hit kills, not every hit is going to be a full charge headshot or one hit kill. Evidently though they do not understand that rockets don’t do 110 damage per hit, they do either 70 or 50. Go figure.

Why demomen are better:

This one’s a toss up. Demomen can be hard to play because you have to be good at leading and aiming. My friend CdTrix taught me a trick as a demo though: just aim upwards with your grenades so you lob them. Grenades are incapable of getting direct hits as soon as they hit the ground. This is a change from TF1 where you could bounce grenades off the ground into people and was actually a good strategy in some cases since the bounce actually took some forward velocity off the grenade and made it possible to sort of create a “screen” of grenades where a scout or other fast class couldn’t run past for fear of collsion.

As soon as I started aiming upwards with my grenades, I started getting significantly more hits than when I was just aiming straight ahead (due to grenades not landing on the ground first). The hit box also seems to be pretty large for lobbed grenades as well. And don’t forget they do full damage at range, so you can lob a fair distance and still be quite lethal if your grenades strikes anything.

5. Your rocket damage decreases with distance

No one gets hit at long range with rockets unless they are terrible players. Rockets are slow. If you see one coming, you move out of the way. This is known as dodging. Good players know how to do this.

Long distances are not really the concern here, it’s the medium distances that really kill you. You’re already can’t get direct hits and so you’re relegated to splash damage, and then to add insult to injury your splash damage decreases if you’re any distance from your target.

This is in addition to the above point regarding killing engineers hiding behind sentries and heavies.

Why demomen are better:

Grenade and sticky damage does not decrease with distance. Other than crits and snipers, they’re the only class with this distinction. QED.

6. Self rocket damage is too high

Soldiers have great mobility because they can rocket jump. Too bad it takes off 1/4 of your health. I hate to compare to TF1, but just as a reference, in TF1 soldiers had 200 armor and 100 health. A rocket jump would cost you about 40 armor and 10 health. Not a big deal. In TF2, though, a single rocket jump takes off a quarter of your health, and puts you in easy-to-kill range for a number of classes from demos to scouts.

The other big problem with rocket self-damage is that an easy counter to soldiers is to just hug them. Being backstabbed by a spy is bad enough, but now with increased front melee damage, I get spies stabbing me in front for 50 damage. If you rocket them direct hit, you take about 50 damage as well, so now you’re down to half health… and the spy isn’t dead yet. He’ll stab you again for 50 damage. Now you’re at 50 health and another rocket self-hit will kill you. Another stab will kill you. You can’t run away. No matter what you do, you’re dead and there is no counter. So much for the mighty soldier.

The same problem is true with scouts, snipers, or any other class that just runs up to you, which isn’t as hard as it might sound on most maps. Keep in mind the soldier is the 2nd slowest class in the game, and is only slightly faster than a heavy. Backpedalling incurs a 10% speed penalty, so if you are backpedalling against a heavy that isn’t firing his chain gun, he actually moves faster than you. Essentially once someone gets close to you, you cannot get them away without incurring some self-damage, and it’s not a trivial amount of damage either. 1/4 of your health per hit is a lot, and considering it takes 2 non-crit rockets to kill any full-health enemy in the game, you’re really only playing with half your full health, or about 100 HP. If your enemy takes off 100 damage of your life, you’re basically dead unless you whip out the shotgun and can kill them before they kill you. As far as I know none of the other classes have this problem.

It’s not so much that rocket self-damage on its own is a problem, it’s that combined with soldiers’ inability to get people away from them once they are close, resulting in you killing yourself along with the enemy. On all maps this is a losing situation; your respawn timer is longer if you’re on defense than the opposing team, and most likely you’ve killed a “lighter” class such as a scout or engineer than you, a soldier. Once people are close to you, you no longer have 200 health, you essentially have 100 health.

Why demomen are better:

This one’s pretty close. Demos take pretty much the damage damage from self-splash as soldiers do. They have slightly less health too.

Where demos have the advantage is in using stickies to cut an enemy off from even getting close to you. If someone’s rushing you, you can just look down fairly close to yourself, drop a few stickies, and continue backing away. Your enemy has to go around the stickies or die, as 2 stickies is enough to kill any unbuffed class in the game other than a heavy, and a heavy can’t catch a demo even if he’s backpedalling. So demos can really avoid having people get in close on them, whereas soldiers have a bit of a harder time since you have to score a direct rocket hit to bounce someone, whereas demomen can deny a fairly large area to an attacker quickly and effectively with sticky grenades.

7. Your are constantly running out of ammo

I’m still not sure why Valve found it necessary to reduce the soldier rocket count from 40 to 20. All it seemed to change was that I can’t do anything without running out of rockets now, or I’m constantly looking around for ammo.

This is exacerbated by the system Valve uses for ammo collection. You have 4 rockets in the clip but only 16 in reserve, and when you pick up a weapon, the ammo only goes into your reserve. This makes perfect sense, but it also means that you typically only get 1 or 2 rockets when you pick up a weapon after a kill. The reason being, you most likely used 3 or 4 of your rockets to kill your enemy, but by the time you grab their weapon you’ve only reloaded 2 of your rockets from your reserve into your clip, not 4, so you go from say, 2/14 (clip/reserve) to 2/16 rockets. This takes 2 seconds to do with reload time, and if you want the full 4 rockets you have to reload for 4 seconds. Maybe it was Valve’s intention to make soldiers wait around 4 seconds after every kill to collect the full ammo amount. Net result is the first time you kill someone and don’t wait around their corpse for 4 seconds you are down 2 rockets at the least and potentially 3 or 4 if you were closer to the weapon when it dropped and accidentally picked it up. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s 10-20% of your ammo reserve you are missing out on. That makes it sound a bit worse, no?

The other big thing is that your rockets push dropped weapons away, so when you kill someone, their weapon potentially goes flying into a corner across the map or into enemy firing lines. This makes it rather difficult to pick the ammo up as you kill things without you yourself being killed, and you slowly run out of rockets.

Granted other classes are affected in the same way by the ammo pick-up system, but realistically because their ammo reserve is larger, it isn’t as much of a problem. The rocket change was immediately felt by myself and others, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve run out of rockets since then, without even realizing it just because I’ve been backpedalling and laying down suppressing fire against a superior number of enemies or I’ve just been under constant pressure as I kill things and haven’t had the opportunity to pick up ammo.

I’m not Valve so I don’t know why they made the rocket capacity change, but apparently it was to reduce doorway spam on some maps. I would argue they’ve done nothing but cripple soldiers as an offensive class. Doorway spam is still a problem since most maps are set up to provide ammo resupplies to the defensive team, and they are close to their respawn and ammo closet. On top of that you usually have a few dispensers around to replenish your ammo on defense. These conditions have led to doorway spam not being fixed at all; grenade spam is just as much a problem as it was before, but soldiers are stuck always looking for ammo.

Why the demoman is better:

You get stickies and regular grenades. So twice as many explosives. Both are replenished when you pick up ammo, so if you fire a mix of stickies and grenades, you can replenish both with one ammo pick up. Maybe they should give the demo 20 grenades and make stickies and grenades fire from the same reserve…

A soldier having to rely on the shotgun is stupid if the rocket launcher is his main weapon. Switching to the shotgun in combat before you’ve exhausted rockets can be effective but also takes a full second now (they fixed the “quick shotgun shot” when switching weapons in the last patch) and lets the enemy get in more shots than you. It’s also like telling snipers to switch to their SMG to finish people off to conserve sniper rounds because they only have 25 of them; it’s not really a fair suggestion. The rocket launcher makes the class, not the shotgun. Soldiers are not engineers.

8. You are effective at exactly one distance: medium range

Close range you self-splash. Long range your rockets get dodged. Medium range is the only range at which you can kill things without getting hurt, but it also means your rockets do less damage. Ugh. This seem stupid to anyone else?

Even at medium range, other classes may still be more effective than you. The other day I was killed by a spy with a revolver at medium range because he was strafing around higher ground on Gold Rush. You have to stay at medium range against a spy due to stab issues, and that revolver is pretty accurate and does about 60 damage per hit at medium range. They also reload faster than you. Now maybe it’s just me, but I don’t feel like spies should be better than soldiers at medium range even if they do have higher ground. Scouts and engineers also give soldiers huge problems at medium range if they have a slight terrain advantage.

Why demomen are better:

Demos are better at medium and long range because their damage doesn’t decrease over distance. Your stickies make it easy to cut off terrain where enemies can run at you. You have enough speed to actually outrun things, unlike a soldier.

At close range, it’s pretty even. At medium range, I’d give the demo the edge because of pipes, and at long range I’d give the demo the advantage because of damage.

9. Soldier mobility sucks

Rocket jumping eats a quarter of your HP, excluding falling damage. For all intents and purposes you are the slowest class in the game. Yes, heavies are slower, but only marginally; you basically move at the same speed. Everyone can outrun you if they want to, which essentially means you are always fighting on someone else’s terms.

Why demomen are better:

I’m not sure if this is a recent change or if it’s always been this way, but demomen can sticky jump ridiculous distances. Gold Rush has no forward-moving respawns, so on the 2nd and 3rd map the respawn walk begins to matter significantly. As a demoman on either of these maps, you can sticky jump from the respawn to almost the first cap point. The travel time is ridiculously longer for a soldier, not to mention it consumes more ammunition and you require a med pack due to the damage you’ve taken. You also have to be moving backwards to get maximum rocket jump range whereas demomen can place a sticky and detonate it on their terms while still being able to see what they’re sticky jumping into.

OK this sucks, but how do we fix it?

Offering a bunch of complaints about problems without offering any solutions is pretty lame, so I’ll try to give some suggestions here. My main concern is that demomen are just as good as soldiers in the majority of situations and better than soldiers for offense and defense a lot of the time. Each class should have a specific role to play and should have advantages or disadvantages in certain matchups; one class should not dominate the majority of match ups and pull even in the rest. If one class is clearly better in almost all situations, then why bother playing the inferior class?

Fix #1: Increase damage

The soldier needs to be able to kill things that have a lot of HP or that are being repaired/healed. A sentry gun should not be unkillable by a soldier, and yet killable by other classes (heavy, demo, etc.) without aid. It puts the soldier at a disadvantage. Either increase the damage so a soldier can kill a sentry gun after say 6 hits, or increase the amount of metal required to repair guns dramatically. 800 metal is a lot of metal to burn through if you’re a soldier with 20 rockets, and I showed above why it may not even be possible if my assumptions were correct.

A heavy with a medic is a trickier situation. That’s two players working together, and so one player shouldn’t be able to kill them. Two soldiers can kill a heavy, so it’s balanced enough. I wouldn’t have a problem with this if it weren’t for the fact that an individual demoman can kill a heavy, and a soldier can’t.

Direct rocket hits should kill light (125 HP) classes at close range, to prevent hugging and melee mutual kills.

Fix #2: Reduce self-splash damage

If soldiers aren’t going to move faster, then make it so they won’t die if people melee them twice and they shoot themselves twice. This would also let soldiers rocket jump more than twice without putting themselves in one-shot range of basically every other class in the game.

Fix #3: Change rocket splash to go through other players/objects

If Valve isn’t going to increase damage if rockets over distance or damage to sentry guns, let us at least kill the engineer. Again, the demo is stronger in this situation than a soldier, which would be ok if they weren’t already so much stronger than the soldier in almost every other situation.

Fix #4: Increase soldier movement speed slightly

This is mainly so other classes can’t hug you as easily, which gives you more time to backpedal and fire rockets to stop their forward movement without splash damaging yourself to death. Other classes can still catch you, but not quite as easily, and they’ll take more damage doing so.

Tying it all up

I’m sure there are other possible fixes to the points I mentioned. Not everyone is going to agree with the points I made. But other than “crit rockets”, does anyone have any problems with the soldier class? Anyone feel they’re overpowered? If so, feel free to leave a comment, because I haven’t seen anyone who thinks that. Most feel demos are overpowered, and I feel pyros and heavies are a bit strong right now, but I haven’t talked to anyone who thinks soldiers are too strong.

What exactly is the soldier’s role supposed to be? The demoman was supposed to be for defense and support, but it’s turned out on the majority of maps that a demoman is more useful than a soldier in a large number of situations. If that’s the case, there’s no reason to play soldier; anything a soldier can do a demo can do better.

In which cases should he be better than a demo, and in which cases should he be worse? That’s a pretty subjective question, and one that only Valve can really answer definitively (since they make the game) but right now it seems like the soldier’s role is to play second fiddle to the demoman, waste rockets on sentries and feed points to heavies.

If Valve does decide to patch the soldier and address some of these issues, I hope they do it to the base soldier class, not with soldier unlockables.  That just makes the unlockables mandatory instead of bringing the soldier to where he should be by fixing the underlying problems with the class.

May 11, 2008

Scouting and Map Control in Warcraft 3

Filed under: Game Analysis — Tags: — spotpuff @ 22:42

This is another article I wrote a while back. Its title is fairly self explanatory.

Scouting and Map Control

By Spotpuff


Scouting is perhaps the most undervalued tool available to Warcraft players. It provides you with information on where your opponent’s army is and is not, what buildings and units they possess, and whether or not they have expanded. This information is vital to the outcome of the game, and superior scouting is often the reason for victory.

This article is aimed at the beginner to medium skilled player, but I hope that players of all skill levels find it helpful. This article seeks to formalize the advantages of scouting and discuss the possible advantages that may arise from it. I’ll try to be as general as possible, but I’ll use examples where I think they’ll be helpful and where the scope is specific enough to warrant them.

Scouting is important because it gives you an information and map control advantage. You can turn those advantages into further advantages in expansion, unit counters and map control. In my previous article I discussed different advantages players seek to create while playing a game; you can refer to that article at It would be a good preparatory article for this one, as this article and the previous one will use some common terminology.

Map control is impossible without scouting. Simply put, if you do not know where your opponent’s army or base is, you cannot win the game. If your opponent has superior scouting skills, they will have a huge advantage over you.

Scouting can be divided into 2 categories:

Dynamic: Dynamic scouting refers to scouting with a unit or building that can move. For example, a gyrocopter (er, “flying machine” *rolls eyes*) provides a large sight radius and can move around the map. Dynamic scouting is useful for scouting bases and expansions.

Static: Static scouting refers to scouting performed by a unit or building which does not move. For example, a farm built by a peasant provides a limited scouting radius but cannot move. Static scouting is useful for scouting expansions and key paths on the map.

During the course of a game, you will most likely have to use some form of dynamic scouting to win, but static may not be used as extensively. Different races have different scouting methods, with some being stronger at one form of scouting than the other, but generally making up for that with unique advantages over other races. Some races are weaker than others at scouting entirely, but again this is compensated for in other racial strengths, although that discussion is beyond the scope of this article.

Now let’s discuss each of the above in detail and explain how to transform them into map control.

Dynamic Scouting

Dynamic scouting is most useful as a tool for information when you are planning on assaulting your opponent’s buildings, rather than their army. The reason is simple: the chances of your scout running into your opponent’s army are rather limited compared to running into your opponent’s base or expansions. Armies move, buildings don’t. Maps have a limited number of starting locations and expansion points, and it often makes more tactical sense to locate an expansion closer to their base rather than farther away from it. The number of locations you need to scout are limited, compared to where your enemy’s army is, which changes from moment to moment. With the exception of shades, which are permanently invisible, you will be unable to scout the location of your enemy’s army continuously without being detected and most likely having your scout nullified.

Dynamic scouting is the most common type of scouting as it is the most flexible as well as the most valuable form of scouting. Typically, you send a unit that is expendable or fast to check out an opponent’s base or expansion points to gain information about what buildings they are producing or where they are expanding.

Dynamic scouting gives you an informational advantage over your opponent at the cost of resources and time. The exact resource and time costs are dependent on what unit you send (peon or knight?); peons do just fine as they cost little gold, no lumber, 1 food and are worth little experience to your opponent.

Unfortunately, peons are slow. Really slow. It takes them a long time to get anywhere. Still, in situations where you want to just scout the map and time isn’t of the essence, peons are often the best choice. Just shift click a peon to the various points you want them to scout, and make sure to avoid creeps (or scout at night while they’re sleeping, except for golems) and return it to your base (or wherever you want them to be) at the end of the click order.

For early cheap scouting each race has numerous options available. Skeletons, wisps, and spirit wolves are all good options, however you may have noticed that humans in particular lack an effective renewable scouting option that doesn’t require a significant resource cost. Skeletons from a rod of necromancy and spirit wolves have a limited life span anyways, and wisps can acquire lumber from anywhere on the map. Peasants on the other hand walk slow and typically die once they are discovered, making them one-shot scouts. So humans are left with basically dedicating a peon to scouting, or at least not using one for a short period while he runs to a location and back. Blizzard did take this into account however, as we shall see in the static scouting section.

Late game dynamic scouting options remain the same for most races, although some interesting new options do open up with the use of magic immune units. Because of their magic immunity, dryads, destroyers and faerie dragons can be used effectively in scouting/harassment and cannot be immobilized except by web and ensnare. All of these units have a fast movement speed and can therefore scout enemy bases and expansion without fear of being lost except through carelessness (spellbreakers are not included because they are slow and can easily be killed by faster moving units). Faerie dragons and destroyers also have the added advantage of being flying units, which means they can easily evade defensive forces by flying over tree lines.

These units demonstrate the need for anti-harassment measures at expansions such as towers and/or stationary unit defenses such as crypt fiends and riflemen. If your opponent was foolish enough not to place anti-harassment defenses at their expansion, make them pay by killing his peons with harassment forces, running away and waiting for him to make some more, and then killing them again. In this way, your opponent’s expansion actually becomes a resource drain rather than a resource gain. The exception of course is night elf expansions, whose wisps are nice and cozy in an entangled gold mine.

A special form of dynamic scouting is Faerie Fire, which gives you the sight of whatever unit you cast it on. This can be extremely annoying as, besides the huge -5 armor penalty, units with Faerie Fire on them must be microed away from buildings or your regular army lest they give away your army’s position. While Faerie Fire is extremely annoying, good players can completely nullify its scouting potential using various anti-magic spells or with good micro.

So, you’ve located your opponent’s base and/or expansion. Now what? Attack it! Your scout gives you information on whether or not your opponent’s army is located at their base, and what fortifications are present if any. Use this information to your advantage.

This “lead scout” is often a good idea when assaulting a base. If your army is already near your opponent’s base and your lead scout walks into your opponent’s army, then you know that it’s not the best time to attack. This is a simple idea many players overlook, as confronting both your opponent’s army and their base defenses at the same time is a bad idea.

Your objective in attacking your opponent’s base or expansion will shift depending on the state the game is in; that is, what your plan is and what your opponent’s plan is. Destroying your opponent’s barracks will prevent him from making reinforcements, tech buildings will counter his teching, peons their economy, and destroying their expansion late in the game will prevent them from making anything. So which buildings you target will change depending on what your game plan is.

Dynamic scouting in the later stages of a game is important because if you don’t know where your opponent has expanded, you can’t attack that expansion. If your opponent knows where your expansion is, you can bet they will harass or attack it to prevent you from obtaining more resources and building more units. It’s important that you do this to him before he does it to you.

Static Scouting

In contrast to dynamic scouting, static scouting’s primary function is to determine the location of your opponent’s army at a specific time. A unit or building is placed at a bottleneck on the map such that when enemy units pass by that point, your can determine with relative certainty where they will be shortly thereafter.

Again, peons make a good choice for static scouting as they are cheap and only cost one food. However in the early game wide scale static scouting is not possible, simply because you need peons to gather resources, and wasting money to build a bunch to statically scout will put you needlessly behind your opponent. Night Elves are the undisputed leaders of scouting with workers. Not only are their worker units medium speed, so they can outrun some heroes and most units, but they can harvest lumber at any location on the map without having to return to their town hall to return the resources. This gives Night Elf players a large scouting advantage when playing as they can put wisps at every expansion point and bottleneck on the map with little or not effect on their economy. The only drawback is losing wisps to your opponent’s army, but then you know where they were, and if you detonated your wisp before it died your opponent didn’t gain any experience, and you gain the opportunity to destroy summons or drain mana.

In contrast to dynamic scouting, static scouting is the one area Humans excel at. While Night Elves may rule static unit scouting, Humans rule static building scouting. This is due to the fact that Humans have two of the cheapest buildings around: scout towers and farms. Thankfully scout towers’ cost were reduced to the point where you can actually use them for scouting (prior to a recent patch, scout towers cost the same as a farm). Farms are even better than scout towers as they are quick to build, fairly cheap (80/20), possess fortified armor AND provide you with 6 supply. The drawback of course is that if you use farms for scouting and your opponent destroys them, you have to build another farm to replace it. The Orcs, Undead, and Night Elf all lack cheap buildings that can be used rather recklessly for static scouting purposes, as they all carry significant resource costs or provide your opponent with experience. The Undead can’t even build on regular terrain without blight, which is probably why they get superior dynamic scouting in Shades in order to balance out their lack of static scouting.

Static scouting is a powerful tool for scouting the location of your opponent’s army as well as its composition. It is also useful to some extent for scouting an enemy’s possible expansion points; in most cases where you want to scout an enemy expansion statically you can place a peon at a probable expansion point, most likely their natural expansion, and if they build an expansion you’ll know about it.

In addition to peons, certain units designed for scouting or otherwise also make good static scouts, particularly gyrocopters as they are cheap, have a large sight radius and can detect invisible units; plus flying units can be positioned behind tree lines such that they are invisible to ground units. On some maps like Scorched Basin if your opponent is located on the top portion of the map and the terrain slopes upwards towards the edge of the map, a gyrocopter can be placed right on the edge of the map on higher terrain such that it is invisible on the minimap, but you will be given a nice view of a large portion of your opponent’s base. Other good cheap units for this type of scouting are Shades, Gargoyles, a Beast Master’s hawks, Batriders, Hippogryphs and Faerie Dragons, although none quite match the resource economy of the humble gyrocopter (They came from… behind!).

Special forms of static scouting include sight wards and reveal from the Goblin Lab. Both of these are temporary, and have their unique advantages.

Sight wards are great because they last a long time and are invisible. Other than their telltale sound when activated, sight wards are hard to detect. They have a large sight radius and can detect invisible units. An orc player who uses sight wards properly will have important bottlenecks scouted at all times, giving him a huge advantage. Some low level creeps drop sight wards, which can be placed in an enemy base early on to give you information on what types of units they are building and what their game plan might be, as well as at bottlenecks or possible expansion points to scout army movements or expansion.

Reveal is a versatile tool in the right hands. A wisp or farm placed at a goblin lab gives constant access to the Lab at negligible cost, and allows a player to scan an area at will say in the middle of a fight to detect invisible units, or to check an enemy’s expansion. At 50 gold a pop, it’s not cheap, but then again it has no cooldown so multiple locations can be scanned quickly and it does not require you to be proximally close to the area you are scanning. Humans can gain this incredible ability for “free” by upgrading their arcane towers with Magic Sentry or Mortar Teams with Flare. While also only lasting a few seconds, these abilities are both renewable after a short cooldown and most importantly free, providing a large scouting advantage to you.

So how does static scouting help?

Well, first of all, while your opponent may destroy a scout farm or peon, keep in mind that those buildings or units are fairly cheap. Trading a peon which cost 60 or 75 gold or a farm that cost 80/20 to know the exact location and composition of your opponent’s army and the level and inventory of their hero (if your micro is good enough to click on him quickly) is a fair price. Contrast this to a reveal from a Goblin Laboratory, where you pay 50 gold to scan an area on the map, where your opponent may or may not be.

Secondly, it puts pressure on your opponent to actively finish whatever they are doing quickly. If your opponent feels that you know the location of their army, they may feel like they need to change what they are doing or where they are going so that you don’t interrupt them. For example on Lost Temple if you’ve fast expanded and then placed a scout farm at the bottleneck leading to your natural expansion and your opponent decides to go destroy your expansion, he’ll have to run past the farm or through your main base. Either way, you now know where your opponent’s army is, and where they are most likely headed (your expansion). Now you can race your army back to protect your expansion and Call to Arms at your main, saving yourself a Town Portal and flanking your opponent’s army, most likely killing units in the process.

Also static scouting gives you the opportunity to creepjack your opponent, and no one likes being creepjacked. Knowing this, you should creepjack your opponent as much as you possibly can over the course of a game if you have employed a lot of static scouting.

As you can imagine, knowing when your opponent’s army crosses through key bottlenecks around the map, especially near your base, is a huge advantage and can win you games.


I hope this article has been informative and has given you a new look at scouting. Most of the information in this article you may have known, some of it you may not have. Hopefully this has provided you with a brief glimpse into the importance of scouting and how you can use it to help you win.

If you have questions or comments, you can direct them to Thanks for reading!

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