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.

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