The Theory of Gaming

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.

Summary

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.

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 TF2Wiki.net 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 5, 2008

Another take on the TF2 “Gold Rush” patch

Filed under: Game Analysis, Patches — Tags: , , — spotpuff @ 16:19

Achievements can be a bit of a mixed bag. When done right, they are a badge of honour; a mark to other players that you are either skilled or have way too much time on your hands and are probably obese with poor hygiene and smell funny. You know, the guy no one wants to sit next to at a LAN party.

When done wrong, achievements are the bane of any online game. They completely destroy any semblance of co-operative team play and instead degenerate the game to a state of achievement farming.

That’s exactly what happened with TF2.

There were a few problems Valve brought upon themselves with the release of this patch:

  1. They put achievements into the game, but only for medics, not for other classes.
  2. They put unlockables into the game. Unlockables are items you have to “unlock” to use, rather than being able to use them right away.

Now normally this wouldn’t be such a big deal, but the achievements are not practical at all. Some of them are not achievements you would get if you were playing medic as a team player. For example, needle gunning 50 scouts to death, or bone sawing 50 medics to death. These are NOT things that happen in a regular team fortress game. 99% of the time if you are a medic and you don’t have your medigun out you are doing it wrong. The bone saw has a place in spy killing and last-ditch melee attacks, and the needle gun is useful, just not against scouts. If you needle gun a scout to death the scout either sucks or you got lucky or both, but realistically you should have been healing someone who kills the scout for you. So why did you have the needle gun out in the first place?

After the patch team composition went out the window as people tried to get achievements. Joining a pub server would result in a team that was 90% medic trying to get achievements for the new toys, instead of having a balanced team that would be better at winning the game. If Valve had released achievements for all the classe,s then they wouldn’t have had this problem. People would play their favourite classes, end of story. I understand medic was the most underplayed class (and with good reason; the medic is boring as hell to play), but instead of making new achievements and unlockables for the medic they should have focused on finding ways to make the medic more fun to play.

Give medics an electric field that is only active when healing, so they can run into people and zap them. Make it so healing a target also heals or buffs the medic past 100% health. Something to make it so holding down the heal button and standing around trying not to get knifed in the back or lit on fire is not the only thing medics can realistically do in the game.

Even with the new unlockables, medics are first and foremost the healers of the team. The new needlegun does almost nothing to improve a medic’s killing power (it heals you 3 health per hit but also cannot crit) and the new ubersaw is just plain overpowered when two medics use it together, but bone sawing 4 people without dying is still a challenging prospect and getting two medics who both have the ubersaw to do an ubersaw train is even more unlikely now that the achievement_unlock_all exploit has been patched and people have lost some interest in obtaining medic achievements.

I have a problem with unlockables in general. I paid for this game, and there’s new content in it that basically is only available if you jump through hoops to get it. There is now an achievement farming map for medics called “achievement”. It’s basically a small map that will let you get all the medic achievements if you have enough people and enough time. This is not how TF2 should be played, on a server with your clanmates farming achievements; achievements should be unlocked through teamplay and skill. As I mentioned though, some of the achievments are plain impossible to achieve without “farming” them or prohibitively screwing your team out of a useful player for the duration of the game.

Part of the problem is a question of reward and entitlement. Should the players who spend the most time on the game be rewarded with gear that gives them an even larger advantage over their more time-constrained peers? Or should everyone have access to the same weapons and skill be the main determining factor? The more time you invest in the game, the better you should be at it anyways. It’s one reason I stopped playing World of Warcraft and started playing DOTA and TF2: skill determines how well you do, not time invested. The two are correlated, but not absolute. I am decent at TF2 and DOTA so I can beat some players who play more than I do based on skill, and that’s the way it should be. Unfortunately that’s not the way it is. TF2 should not be about who has more time to mindlessly grind out achievements, it should be about who has the better teamplay, individual skill and map knowledge to win. If Valve continues on in this direction TF2 will become a game of haves and have nots based not on skill but who has the most free time available to do stupid repetitive tasks.

April 30, 2008

GG Valve

Filed under: Game Analysis, Patches — Tags: , , , , — spotpuff @ 13:22

Alright you rogue, I’ll play your game.

Valve released a new patch yesterday for Team Fortress 2. It’s the “Gold Rush” patch that includes a new map and 36 new achievements for the medic class.

For every 12 achievements you attain, you receive a new weapon. The first is a new needlegun that heals you when you damage oppponents, the second is a new medigun that gives 100% crit chance to your target instead of invulnerability, and the third is the ubersaw which converts bonesaw kills to ubercharge; 4 bonesaw kills = 1 full ubercharge meter.

After spending 3 hours grinding these out last night for Kodene, I found out there is a command to do it. If you open the console and type achievement_unlock_all, you get all the achievements and new weapons.

Ah Valve. Pitiful content patches for 6 months and now this. How are they going to rectify this without rolling everyone back? Maybe they can scan everyone’s console log for that line and if someone typed it they lose everything?

Time will tell, but this is a major screw up on what was supposed to be the first major content patch of TF2. It does not inspire confidence in their ability to either deliver new content or patch existing imbalances in the game.

UPDATE

Well, they patched it and rolled back everyone, but some of the cheaters still kept their achievements.

And Kodene did too, so yay! He is the proud owner of an Ubersaw and the envy of other medics with their puny regular saws.

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