Wednesday, 9 February 2011

My Pyro Life (part two)

Valve has a habit of deleting old posts from the TF2 forums, so I'm preserving a thread I started here for posterity. You can see the original thread here.

Reliability vs. Opportunity

A mistake a lot of people make when talking about weapon balance is the difference between reliability vs. opportunity, and these are concepts which apply particularly to Pyros. An opportunistic weapon is 'Last week I was in situation x with weapon y and I did z to get a kill.'. A reliable weapon is 'Every time I get into situation x with weapon y and I do z to get a kill.' I'm wary that a lot of balance discussions around the pyro degenerate into lists of 'no he can't do this' vs. 'yes he can'. What I want to hear are arguments of the form 'yes he can every time', not just yes he can.

An example: A Pyro is a reliable spy checker, because he can set alight a spy every time with his flamethrower, even if that Spy is cloaked or invisible. A Pyro is an opportunistic rocket reflector, because he cannot reflect rockets every time. But note you can modify this statement to say 'A Pyro is a reliable reflector of long range rockets, because he can reflect rockets fired from a distance every time'. So it is possible that situational use can turn an opportunistic weapon into a reliable weapon (e.g. airblasts for environmental kills on the bottom bridge of Double Cross). The problem with situational use is that it makes weapons map dependent.

Hitscan weapons are intrinsically more reliable than projectile weapons, because they only take into account player skill - whereas a projectile weapon is dependent on predictive factors which are only partially under the control of the player. Note that this is not always the case: assuming perfect accuracy, the Soldier's Rocket Launcher is reliable at inflicting some damage up to x HU away from the soldier for an enemy moving at 100% speed: the limiting factor is the speed of the rocket times the width of an enemies's hitbox / the target's maximum movement speed (300 HU per second). The Soldier is also able to convert near misses into reliable damage by bouncing enemies into a predictable kinetic path, which he can follow up with one or more additional rockets for reliable damage.

Juggling enemies is a clear example where skill can be used to escalate the payoff of a particular weapon in a reliable fashion. The Sniper Rifle is another example: by aiming for a smaller, harder to hit target, the Sniper can triple the damage this already reliable hit scan weapon can produce. The additional damage that the Sniper Rifle does with a headshot doesn't make the Sniper rifle more reliable, but it is a payoff for increasing your skill level with that weapon, and through increased skill you can make headshots more reliably.

The Pyro feels underpowered and frustrating, because many of the Pyro weapons are opportunistic not reliable, and I've tried to with the testable side grades file to modify the designs to make them more reliable.

Pyro starts with 200 health instead of 175 health.
-25 health
Valve have tried buffing the health of the Pyro previously, with the +50 health bonus for using the Backburner. I'm suggesting a less severe buff, but increasing the survival rate of the Pyro - particularly the Backburner Pyro - is high on my list of requirements. Since I'm balancing these changes against the Degreaser - Shotgun - Axtinguisher Pyro, the complement to increasing the Pyro health is nerfing this bonus on the Degreaser. It also helps distinguish the Flamethrower from the Degreaser more clearly (more health & afterburn against faster weapon switches).

My main motivation for the 200 hp is that complex, and at the moment overly one-sided, balance between the Soldier and Pyro. At the moment, the Soldier dominates with rockets, and without the Degreaser, the Soldier will have the initiative on switching to Shotgun. To compensate, I feel that the Pyro must clearly dominate Shotgun vs. Shotgun. With 175 hp, this is too close to call, with your superiority speed and maneuverability, balanced against the Soldier's superior hit points. Yes, the Soldier will have lost hp rocket jumping, but you will have lost some by being edged or with mistimed reflects. Starting with 200 hp is an attempt to push the Pyro towards dominating this phase of the encounter.

Another approach suggested recently was giving the Pyro innate explosive resistance. I've toyed with this idea before, but decided you want to encourage Soldiers to try to kill you with an opportunistic rocket, precisely so that you can get the chance to use reflects. If every Soldier switches to Shotgun when they see you, you will lose this, in favour of a Shotgun fight you are less likely to win than with the hp buff I've proposed.

On kill: Guaranteed criticals for 3 seconds
+100% ammunition consumption
My first reaction to editing the items_games.txt was giving the Backburner back the air blast, but increasing the ammunition cost. I'm not alone in suggesting this, but testing with the Airburner pointed out one significant flaw with this design: you rarely run out of ammunition, because you rarely live long enough if you're on the front line air blasting back rockets. The other flaw is that the weapons merge into each other: the Flamethrower Pyro already plays like a gimped Degreaser Pyro, without giving the Backburner the only ability which distinguishes him.

Is it possible to make an intelligent play style for the Backburner? I think it is, and a mention in the Heavy forums of kill chaining using the KGB suggested the above change. The difference between a regular Backburner pyro and the buffed Backburner I've suggested, is how a beginning Pyro approaches the ambush. A regular BB relies on the opportunity of someone facing the wrong way when they approach, falling back on spamming the group so everyone is alight and the afterburn has some effect while they respawn. This buffed BB helps you focus on getting the next kill; because as soon as you do, you can reliably kill chain through the rest of the nearby enemies. In terms of balance, 3 seconds of guaranteed criticals is no more powerful than silent backstabs, and in a Medic - Heavy pair, the overhealed Heavy still has enough time to turn and kill you before you can take him out with the criticals the dead Medic gives you.

The +100% ammunition consumption is designed to discourage W+M1, and make the Backburner Pyro actually run the risk of running out of ammunition. But didn't I just state that ammunition consumption didn't apply to Backburner Pyros? It does with the critical buff. You will find you run the real risk of having to switch to your secondary, because you actually are capable of killing a cluster of multiple enemies in quick succession using your primary without getting killed in return.

Flare Gun
+50% burn damage.
Minicrits become crits which means you crit against burning targets at all ranges.
My initial concept of buffing the base flare gun damage worked really well, with one important exception. I buffed the flare gun to 66% additonal damage, that is 50 base damage, 67 minicrit damage, 150 critical damage, and it didn't feel at all overpowering. You get flare hits on targets at long range infrequently enough that the critical damage feels like an appropriate reward, and the increase in spike damage from 90 hp to 150 isn't that noticeable because the vanilla flare gun takes out most of the low hp classes with that hit anyway - it is only soldiers and heavies who are at higher risk from the high base damage flare gun. More importantly, you start to get to useful DPS territory in the short and medium range, and the minicrit becomes a more meaningful spike, but mostly because the base damage is that much higher.

But there is one significant problem with a flare gun that does 50 hp base damage: it is feels too effective against sentries. But why? A 50 hp flare is less effective than a 90 hp rocket, and Soldiers can fire rockets more frequently and less accurately to take sentries out. But bumping the flare gun base damage brings the flaregun to within 30% of the effectiveness of rockets. [Edit: Removed text about ramp down. As several people have pointed out below, buildings are unaffected by rampdown].

Instead, I've tried to make the Flare gun at least justifiable, by bumping the afterburn damage and allowing crits against burning targets to apply at all ranges, so it is a useful alternative to a puff and sting axtinguisher or shotgun attack, while having longer range utility.

+40% sentry damage resistance
What is so noticeable about this homewrecker buff, is that it is not actually as useful as it looks. Sure, you get effectively as many hit points against sentries as a heavy - the problem is that you don't have the damage output of a heavy at anything except point blank range, so taking down a sentry nest is much harder. The homewrecker buff is therefore to try to give you a bit more survivability in a situation where you end up with engineers aggressively using minisentries, or to rush a poorly positioned level 2/3 sentry and come off not quite as badly as you would otherwise have done.


These are design notes. They are notes about design for people who like reading.

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