Saturday 19 February 2011

Civilisation V on sale this weekend only for USD $48.67

In Australia.

We have dollar parity with the US, but for some reason this news doesn't appear to have reached 2K Games.

Thursday 17 February 2011

Good game

I've just been interviewed by ABC2's Good Game. Thanks to Ben Abraham for the shout out.

More details to come.

Angband Experimental Fiction

I shared this via Google, but it really is good enough to justify its own post.

"Angband, or His 55 Desires" is an experimental fiction piece by Mike Meginnis.

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.

My Pyro Life (part one)

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.

I'm a pub player, not a pro and one of those folks who are in love with the Pyro. I main Engineer/Spy/Pyro with a side of Medic, but of all of them, the Pyro is the most fun to play when I'm doing well...

How I play the pyro and how successfully depends on which map. The Pyro feels balanced on the Arena and KOTH maps where the smaller spaces that play to the strength of the Pyro and increased deadliness of afterburn - even with all the afterburn removal effects in play. Here I'll go Degreaser-Shotgun-Axtinguisher for the most part, and Degreaser-Shotgun-Powerjack if I'm feeling like a change.

The Pyro is great fun only on CTF and CP maps with lots of verticals or opportunities for environmental kills: Double Cross, Eqypt, Badlands. Maps like Well and Granary are playable, provided I'm getting my shotgun kills and reflects right, but I need to be playing with a pretty relaxed pub crowd before I'll consider it. I'll definitely skip Pyro on Well and Granary if there is any competent enemy engineering going on.

Yukon is a special case, as is Watchtower. These are the only maps where I'll switch to Flare Gun - because of the long gently curving corridors and slopes and lack of sniper nests - and I'll stay at mid range and use reflects to counter soldiers and work on picking targets off with flares.

On AD, PL, PLR maps, where there is a defined front to the game, playing a Pyro gets much more complicated. I've got three choices on these maps. Firstly, I can keep the Degreaser-Shotgun combo, stay near the front and harass and reflect. This is generally unsatisfying, because I'll achieve little, and tend to die in the spam. The other option, short of changing class, is to switch to Backburner-Shotgun-Homewrecker. This is an interesting combination: because it paradoxically forces you to hang back when the front is static or being pushed forward or back. You can't be effective on the front lines with a Backburner - you'll just die, so instead I hang back and spam shotgun and get lucky with the odd de-sap if an enemy spy manages to take out a friendly engineer.

What I'm waiting for is the front to either hit an ambush spot such as exiting the tunnel on Badwater, where the Backburner comes into play, or for the front to "break down": where we've either killed enough players (on defense) that most of them are heading back from respawn, or we've just captured a point and more paths have opened up (on attack). Whether the Backburner is more useful than the Degreaser in these open situations is debatable, but if I end up behind the enemy front after its reformed, then it is highly effective.

A key indicator on whether the Backburner can be useful is if you have more enemy heavies than soldiers on an AD, PL, PLR map. A heavy will kill you in 'open play' if you have the BB: his spin up time will finish you off before you can burn him with the flamethrower, unless you can hit him point blank from behind, but on these maps his attention should be on killing your compatriots in front of him, not you sneaking up behind him.

The Degreaser Pyro is IMO balanced with the map caveats I've given - you just won't get kills with your primary weapon, except for environmental kills, with the odd reflection thrown in. At the moment, there is no point switching to Flamethrower, and the loss of the airblast you get with the Backburner makes this weapon feel a lot more one dimensional and only suits certain maps or defensive positions as I've discussed.

Since the Polycount pack, I've also switched back to the Shotgun after an extended period of using the Flare Gun, and much like an ex-smoker, I feel the need to point out how inferior the Flare Gun is in almost all situations. The best possible situation to use the Flaregun - where you are consistently hitting burning opponents at long range with a shot every 2 seconds - does a maximum of 51 DPS including afterburn - that is, 20% worse than the short to medium range DPS of any other weapon except the L'Etranger. Sure, damage ramp down means you are doing more damage at this range than most other weapons and you'll end up occasionally getting lucky 2 shot kills on the 125 hp and 150 hp classes, but there is a class for fighting at long range which can one shot any of these classes a lot more reliably, and you give up the ability to be at all effective for the 2.3 seconds you need to rush a target from the edge of medium range to flame thrower distance (assuming they don't move).

I suspect people love the the Flare Gun is that it feels really effective - a chunky plastic design, and satisfying animation and sound fx - but since switching, I get two to three times the kills with a Shotgun than with flares on most maps. In fact, I'm almost Shotgun primary, flicking to the Degreaser only if someone gets in flame thower range, or I need to do a reflect.

I particularly have a problem with the decision to have the Flare Gun do minicrits to burning opponents at short to medium range. There are only three situations where a minicrit on a burning opponent helps you: if the extra 11 hp damage will allow you to kill someone in the next 2 seconds, if every possible target up to 120 HU further away is on already fire, or every nonburning enemy is standing next to a Pyro who can airblast the flames off. In any other situation, you are better off setting a new target on fire for for a minimum of 12 HP afterburn damage over the flare gun reload time, instead of 11 HP from the minicrit.

The Axtinguisher with the Degreaser will win you fights, but I'm finding myself more drawn to the Powerjack at the moment, because of the opportunity you get to chain kills against lighter classes while not having to find health to recover from the inevitable damage you sustain in close combat. The Homewrecker again is strictly defensive, or where your Engineers are having problems with incoming spies.

tl; dr

I play Pyro, but there's only 1 effective primary, and 1 map limited primary; 1 effective secondary and 1 map limited secondary; 2 effective melee weapons and 1 map limited melee weapon. My instinct is to try to balance the less useful weapons up.

The key to balancing games is making a change and playing with that change, then revising based on feedback - a model of game design that Valve have mastered. We as a community should be copying that process and adopting it - there's no point filling the forums with unlocks and arguments about relative power levels without any proof one way or the other that the idea is good. And a DPS chart isn't proof - in game testing and server logs are.

Luckily it is relatively simple to modify the weapons - done here by editing the items_game.txt file - and testing the changes by playing in offline mode. This means we can start to have this kind of discussion without relying on Valve giving us access to an open beta. It is not possible to test every kind of suggestion this way - advanced movement being an excellent example - and I'm limiting myself to not changing any other file at this stage; just to see if the process is worth doing and whether people on this forum find it at all useful. If it is not useful, and no one else feels like contributing to this effort, then I've not wasted a huge amount of time.