Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Designing Tensai, Part 4: Weapons of Mass Prediction

In the early stages of Tensai's design (well, early is relative, I spent less than a week on the actual core systems design on Tensai before going straight into content design of moves, creatures, and the items), I made the decision to give each creature two equippable items: a Weapon and a Trinket.

Trinkets were essentially Pokémon held items. There were analogous ports such as my own version of Leftovers, Life Orb, and the Choice items from Pokémon, but of course... because of the good ol' trusty ACTION TYPE SYSTEM I've been beating an entire graveyard of dead horses about... there were some unique additions to the system.

The Primordial Switch and Reversal Charm trinket would be announced when a critter holding them swapped into battle, because their effects were QUITE important. The Primordial Switch trinket reversed the elemental hierarchy (so Fire would no longer be strong against metal, ice, and wood, but instead be strong against rock, water, and air.) The Reversal Charm would do the same for Action Types, reversing the flow into the opposite direction.

Pokémon's Arceus “Plates” made their own analog home in Tensai's treatment in the form of Amulet trinkets, which boosted the power of elemental damages by 20%. Of course, since elements aren't the only damage types it meant I also got to make Trinkets for...ACTION TYPES! These trinkets carried a bonus effect in addition to boosting damage of that Action Type: the creature holding that item would enter the battlefield in the Stance of their Trinket. (This Stance ONLY applied on entering the battlefield, not when idling on a turn, so if a Creature had a passive stance already, the Trinket wouldn't overpower the Creature's innate ability.

I tried not to go too heavy-handed with Trinkets, and stick close to the proven designs from Pokémon; with plans to balance or make additional creations/subtractions after playtesting to see what worked and what didn't. With trinkets out of the way, it's time to talk about the other items: Weapons.

I created the Weapon slot as a second answer in addition to Action Types to help alleviate problems of being in an elementally disadvantageous situation. Basically, Weapons were a generic move that is available to all creatures, regardless of their element. There were Rods, Halberds, Shields, Clubs, and Slingshots (to represent Magical, Aerial, Defensive, Melee, and Ranged action types) of each of the seven elements as generic 25 Essence-cost moves.

The general expectation behind the standard weapon choices was that players would look to equip a weapon that fully covered their type weaknesses (A Fire creature would want a Wood weapon to have strength against Air/Water/Rock creatures that counter it.) Of course, with Pokémon moves like Toxic, Substitute, and Rest being prevalent in TMs and able to be learned by nearly all Pokémon, there were weapons like the Kitchen Knife, Decoy, and Panacea respectively to translate those moves into a Weapon option for critters of Tensai, at the opportunity cost of type coverage.

But the buck doesn't stop there for items. I'd added one additional battle command option for players that didn't exist in Pokémon: The ability to swap items between your Critters. For example if you had an active creature that was getting low health (but likely able to survive an idle turn), you could swap your damaging weapon with a Panacea to fully heal and fall asleep for a few turns. If you had a creature with the Flying passive (Aerial Stance) that also relied on Aerial moves for its best damage, and had reason to fear your opponent's ranged moves, you could use your turn to swap your Trinket for a Reversal Charm held by another member of your team, adjusting your strategy on the fly.

If you wanted to bring in a creature with a Choice item in Pokémon, after using the move you are locked into using that same move until you swap out the Pokémon, sometimes losing a type advantage you'd backed the opponent into just because you couldn't undo your move selection. With the ability to swap items in Tensai, bringing out a creature with a Curse of Speed (Choice Scarf) could enable you to use your superior speed to knock out an enemy, then instead of swapping out your creatures, simply swap your Trinket to another member of your team, freeing up the ability to use any of your moves. While it would cost you a turn, you would not forcibly lose any positional advantage you had earned through the use of the Choice item.

The ability to change weapons also gave one other option: to sacrifice the elemental advantage your weapon was intended for to ensure you had Action Type coverage over your opponent's creatures after scouting his moves. Say, for instance, your opponent favored a Magical move for damage, and you did not have a Melee move in your creature's 3 move set, and currently had the Flowing Halberd (Water Aerial) weapon equipped. You could trade the Halberd to a creature with the Stone Club (Rock Melee) in order to get access to a move to negate the incoming damage of their largest threat, either forcing them to use a less efficient move by threat of you having a counter or forcing them into a game of chicken.

This ability to trade items between creatures could allow a player to cover situations their team was not truly prepared for by giving creatures action types that weren't prepared in team creation, and created dynamic customization as the battle unfolded.

I was a bit worried that even with the weapon slot, players might feel only 3 moves per creature was a little underwhelming, so I also made sure to design each creature with its own Signature Move. The giant flaming bear zodiac (I'll go into this when I talk about the world design of Tensai) creature Guiredaro had the ability to use Bear Hug, grappling its opponent and transferring any other negative status effects from the user to the target. Guiredaro was designed around setting himself Aflame (a damage-per-turn status effect) and then transferring that status to the opponent. The other fire zodiac creature, the Firefly, was designed around setting itself Aflame to heal itself, as fire-elemental moves healed it. Its signature move, Burn Up cured negative status effects and THEN set it Aflame.

One of the metal zodiac creatures was a squirrel themed around magnets; its signature move was called MagLev, which inflicted the status effect “Juggled” for one turn – a status effect that tied back into my Action Type system by ensuring if an Aerial move hit the target next turn, it took double damage (similar to a critical hit, only specific to one Action Type). If your creature was Juggled, you had to be extremely wary of an incoming Aerial attack. So you could prepare a Ranged attack...but again, the layers upon layers prediction come forth.

By making Signature moves for each of the creatures, it also adds a specific expectation of what the Action type that creature will use for its primary damage source once a player becomes familiar with the game. If you see a Guiredaro Aflame, you know he wants to Bear Hug you, a melee move. This preconceived expectation of a player's moves helps dictate the flow of an average battle, but as players become more intimately familiar with both the game and one another, it adds inherent depth into the possible interactions.

Combined back with the ability to swap out items, the semi-scripted nature of battle created by Signature Moves helps allow a player know what's coming before it comes and prepare for it by getting their items where they needed to be before they needed to be there. Or after. Whatever.

Regardless, the Action Type horse army has been sufficiently beaten to death, so my next blog on Tensai is going to focus on something else. Not sure yet what it will be. Could be the Astral Gate world in which Tensai is set (a fantasy world I've been worldbuilding for nearly 6 years now.) Might be just the Zodiac alone. We'll see when I get inspiration to write again. Thanks for reading!

Part 2
Part 3

Monday, December 15, 2014

Designing Tensai, Part 3: Hate PP? Urine Luck!

Okay, I'll admit that's an awful title. The real subject of today's blog is the resource systems of Pokémon and Tensai. I haven't mentioned it in the last two blogs, but Tensai wasn't designed to have a single player experience; I was creating JUST the Battler, and because of that, Pokémon's PP system, which was designed to be a sort of dungeon attrition system like a D&D “casts per day” or Final Fantasy 1's system simply wouldn't make sense.

Apart from the moves in Pokémon that only have 5 base PP, it's very rare to actually run out of uses of a move in a battle between trainers unless you're up against a Stall team, or you're playing 6v6 Rocky Helmet Magikarps. The only other exception came if you had a Pokémon with the Pressure ability, but even then, it wasn't that impactful in actually making the casting resource feel like a worthwhile part of the battle to worry about.

Because of this, I wanted a resource system in Tensai that would actually have an effect on the battle. And so, “Essence” was born. Essence basically works like mana systems in today's card games; you gain a little bit of essence every turn (however, essence spent is gone once it's spent, rather than you gaining even more the next turn.)

You would start and cap out at 50 Essence and most basic moves would cost around 10-25 Essence, depending on their base power and their effects, while the more powerful moves would cost 35-50. You gained 20 Essence per turn, and could elect not to attack and instead use the “Rest” command to recharge an additional 10 Essence for a total of 30, which would put you at the cap on the ensuing turn.

Draw a Card, Play Your Opponent
This system fed directly into the Action-Type system (see parts 1 and 2) as well, once you learned your opponent's team. For example, if your opponent only had 30 Essence, and you knew his strongest move was a 35 or 50, he couldn't use it this turn. That's one Action-Type you can eliminate from the realm of possible uses this turn. He can play Rock or Paper, but he can't play Scissors. Better play Paper yourself for the best odds!

If you saw your opponent rest on the first turn after hitting 0, it means he's rushing back to 50 Essence and probably wants to immediately use his strongest attack. If his strongest attack is a Magical Action-Type, ready up that Melee you have equipped and go to town while you take no damage!

From the attacker's viewpoint, it also made a player be wary on when to choose to use his strongest attacks; if you made it too obvious, you could be countered rather easily and use all that essence for naught. You would have to set up your opponent to unexpect the expected in order to deliver your wrath. Keeping smaller cost moves around so you can stay at max Essence and leave that threat of a high damaging move available was an important strategy.

By making the resource system actually impactful on the battle and give soft limitations on what moves could be used at a given time, it gave me as the designer a lot of control over the flow of a battle and more room for the direct Player-versus-Player Prediction interaction granted by the inclusion of Action-Types.

Mix, Mix, Swirl, Mix!
Furthermore, the Essence bar was split between whether the attacks were Aether (Magical) or Eidos (Physical) – if your move was Aether, you used Aether Essence. If your move was Eidos, you used Eidos Essence. Only one minor move in the game took Essence from both bars.

This meant that if you had Mixed-Damage type Sweeper with a powerful Eidos move AND a powerful Aether move, you could use the moves in succession, whereas if you had a Sweeper of just Eidos moves, using a 50-base power move would leave your bar depleted and force you to rest or use only weak moves until you recharged. While Mixed Sweepers weren't necessarily STRONGER than the more focused ones, but because of having their casting resource split into two bars, they could use more powerful moves more often, which could've give them a larger place in the eventual meta-game had Tensai ever been completed.

The separated Eidos/Aether resource system also encouraged players to potentially invest in one of their three moves as a Defensive or Magical Action-Type move of a different cost type (Clarification, Not all Magical Action-type moves were Aether. The two concepts are separate.) than their primary damage stat, even if they weren't mixed. Defensive-type moves almost all dealt a status effect in addition to a mild amount of damage, so it could come in handy having the ability to inflict Unstable or Stunned to an opponent with a Defensive move at any given time. By making this option on your Creature not cost the same resource as your attack moves, you could use it solely for its utility rather than caring about its inflicted damage.

A Balancing Metric, Should I Ever Need One
Last but not least, the revamped resource system of Tensai gave me an additional slider to use to balance moves, if the game had ever been completed. Say, for instance, a move felt like it did the right amount of damage, but its additional effects just seemed to much. But, if you removed any of those additional effects, the move wouldn't feel worth taking.

If they put that in Pokémon, and attempted to reduce its available PP, it wouldn't really affect the player-versus-player metagame too much. But in Tensai, I could increase the Essence cost and greatly affect its availability over the course of a battle.

I used this pre-emptively on Stun moves (read: Flinch from Pokémon.). Any move with a Stun except for a few exceptions costed AT LEAST 35 Essence. In other words, if you used it at 50 Essence, you could only use it one more turn successively before being out of Essence. This meant that you couldn't go Jirachi Serene Grace Iron Head RNG cheesiness to open up a battle. (Of course, since I gutted RNG, the Action-Type system alone nerfed this strategy, but it's still worth noting.)

I also used it on Increased Priority moves to make the majority of them cost over the 20 essence mark to ensure a player could not follow-up a Coup de Grace 50 Essence move with a high priority move; this may have been a heavy-handed over nerf before such a strategy was even tried, but my gut told me it would be necessary. The world may never know!

All in all, the resource system of Tensai was a mechanism I was very proud of how well it fit into the rest of the design of the game, and excited to see how it would be handled once in players' hands. That's all for today's blog.

Next time (maybe tonight or tomorrow), I'm going to talk about why there were only 3 moves per creature (hint: there is a fourth move), about signature moves (not the fourth move), and about trinkets (read: Pokémon held items.) Hope you've enjoyed the read. Stay tuned for more!
Part 1
Part 2
Part 4

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Designing Tensai, Part 2: Playing Your Opponent, Not Your Cards

Last night, I wrote about how design by subtraction helped shape some of the primary mechanics of Tensai, and mentioned the use of a two-layer Rock-Paper-Scissors system in order to allow a very readable, clearly understandable elemental weakness chart while also giving room for those at an elemental weakness to be able to outplay their opponents through several layers of predictions-on-predictions-on-predictions.

I also mentioned this Action Type system gave me more control over one of the most bitched-about aspects of Pokémon from its competitive community: RNG / randomness / “Hax.” In Pokémon, some matches can be turned on their head in an instant by the random chance to inflict a status effect or have a stat lowered, or the bane of defensively-boosted stall teams: a critical hit.

The first two (status effects or debuffs) were easily remedied through Action Types. An attack move was considered “effective” if it was neutral or better against the opponent's move (For example, a Melee move was effective against Melee, Ranged, Magical, and Supplementary moves such as heals or self-buffs.) If an attack with an additional effect, such as a debuff or status effect, was effective, its additional effect was applied. While it's still somewhat random how often status effects would actually be effective, it wasn't decided by the game or some dice or some pseudo-randomized bullshit. It was decided by the players.

Because the effective chance would generally be a bit higher than most Pokémon status effects (apart from Spore / Thunder Wave's 100% hit rate), I tended to make the status effects weaker by comparison, including Stun (Flinch) and Unstable (A stun that takes place AFTER the player uses another attack or is hit by another attack...this would work great in combination with low Priority moves on one turn into a higher priority move on the next turn.) as common effects, rather than paralysis or Pokémon-level burns that cut attack by half.

When Triton (the programmer) asked how I could make critical hits not as game-changing, I stopped for a second and thought, “What is it that makes critical hits so bullshit?” A crit in Pokémon ignores any defensive boosts (treats you as +/- 0 stages, so anyone who's spammed Defense Curl or Harden doesn't have an advantage anymore) and deals double the damage. But the defense-piercing effect isn't what made it so frustrating.

It was the unpredictability and the abruptness of the effect. You never know if or when your opponent's next hit will land that lucky 6.25% chance to crit. If your strategy is built around stalling out, odds aren't entirely unrealistic that a critical hit could happen. But it's random, and you can't tell when it is coming. Oftentimes, a crit will completely wipe out the wall you were using to stall, and leave your entire strategy in shambles and you with a very slim chance at salvaging victory. Basically, you were playing against the game, not against your opponent. And that's bad.

So, how do you address that problem? Well, it's a turn-based game. My answer was to simply make the bonus damage effect take place a turn after the critical hit. Rather than a critical immediately flipping the board over in chaos, it creates a tipping point. The board can be flipped, but it is not a guarantee. The game is thrown out of balance (coincidentally, I'd renamed the “Critical Hit” into “Knocked Off Balance” to reflect that the creatures were more vulnerable for a turn.), but the player who was standing tall on the jousting platforms (man I miss American Gladiators) wasn't necessarily knocked into the pit.

By making the critical hit damage take place on the move used the turn AFTER the “critical hit” effect happens, what changes?

  1. The player on the attacking end knows that, their next attack is going to deal a LOT of extra damage.
  2. The player on the receiving end knows that they have to do everything in their power not to let that extra damage take place.

Since the damage bonus is tied into a status effect, the player on the defending end has the option to simply swap out their creature and take regular damage. If this system were applied to Pokémon, the interactions from this situation would be limited, but still add a layer of Yomi – if you predict the player wants to swap out of the damage, you have the advantage in guessing which Pokémon/type they are going to bring out next and can either use a move with a type advantage, or swap to a Pokémon that will have an advantageous match-up. You also have the potential of using higher priority moves (or regular moves if you're faster).

But this isn't Pokémon. Even if you're knocked off balance, the inclusion of Action Types still offers you a manner to have your active creature take zero damage in the next turn. For example, if your opponent's strongest move is a Melee type, and you have an Aerial-type move, and you predict your opponent is going to attempt a coup-de-grace, you can choose to use an Aerial-type move to keep your previous advantage. But he can predict your prediction and use an otherwise-less-optimal decision to go for more likely damage; for example, choosing an Aerial move as well to go for better coverage of your defensive options.

Some creatures also had passive abilities called Stances that made it so upon them entering the battlefield (or using a supplementary move) they were treated as using a specific Action Type, such as birds in the game having an “Airborne” Stance that allowed them to be treated as using Aerial moves when no Action Type was set by their selected move. Because of this, a player could use being knocked Off-Balance as an opportunity for a free swap-in, if their Stance matched up well against the predicted move. You're gonna use a Ranged move to try to capitalize on my off-balance creature? I'm going to swap in my Tortoice with the passive, “Defensive” so he takes no damage as he comes in.

So thanks to the inclusion of Action Types, my “delayed effect” solution to critical hits is given even more depth than it would've had if plugged straight into Pokémon (where it'd still be better than the current iteration). The player “screwed over” by the random chaos of a critical hit is still given some degree of control of what happens next. They're not playing against the game that decided the critical hit happened...they're playing against the opponent who decides what happens next.

And that's all for Part 2 of Designing Tensai. I'm not sure what or when Part 3 will be. Just stay tuned!
Part 1
Part 3
Part 4

Friday, December 12, 2014

Designing Tensai, Part 1: Take Up Your Chisel

A while back, I was pretty gung-ho about making a Battler (basically, a Pokémon clone). A friend had expressed interest in cloning an existing online Pokémon battler in order to practice his programming skills, so I took the opportunity to pitch an idea for a new game, in the vein of Pokémon, designed to improve on what I viewed as some flaws in the formula. Although the game got abandoned as the programmer got busy on other projects, I still dwell on the design and thing, “If I ever made this game, it would be fantastic.”

Don't get me wrong; I have no grandiose ideas of knocking Pokémon off the throne Nintendo's used Charizard's flames to forge together among the many cartridges of the other mobile franchises that have fallen before it, but I definitely see flaws in the franchise's design that irk me as a designer.

I've been pondering writing a blog series for a while about my mindset in designing and addressing Pokémon's issues / designing Tensai, but it wasn't until reading Hardy LeBel's recent blog about what he views as the Universal Truth of Game Design #1 that I really felt my approach was truly correct.

So Design Part 1: The Elements

Now, if you took the time to pause and read LeBel's blog, you saw that he said the second most important tool in a designer's kit is subtraction.

If you didn't take the time to pause and read LeBel's blog first, go back and do so. He says some seriously cool stuff. In fact, I encourage you to go read his other posts as well. Especially if you play Halo.

Back on topic: Subtraction.

One of the biggest flaws to the Pokémon formula in my opinion is the convoluted type strength/weaknesses the different elements all have. Sure, it's cool to have x be strong against y, and d/f dual type being 4 times weak to y while d/x dual type is neutral. But it's convoluted and needlessly complex. The player can't be expected to learn the type interactions through a normal play-through of the game, and there's too much information for it to be displayed in the game's UI in a clearly readable manner.

So when I started working on Tensai, I borrowed from a fantasy world I've been world-building for some time (which borrowed heavily from both Eastern and Western influences)...where there were simply seven elements: Fire, Metal, Ice, Wood, Air, Water, and Earth. (The keen of you will notice those are literally the 4 Classical Elements with the inclusion of Chinese elements Wood and Metal...and then Ice.) The interactions followed a simply RPS7 system; each element was strong against the 3 that followed it and was weak to the 3 that preceeded it.

By trimming the number of available elements from 18/17/15 (depending on generation) to 7, you immediately make it much easier for players new to your system to tell what is strong against what. Fire, for example, is strong against Metal (melts it), Ice (melts it), and Wood (burns it)...while being weak to Air (Blows it Out), Water (quenches it), and Earth (Smothers it / Doesn't Burn). The type interaction chart is so simple it could be displayed with a single chart featuring each of the seven elements with 3 lines of the same color going from each element's symbol to the three it is strong against. Your player base is now given a clear idea of how the elements work, which can be communicated even within a battle.

In addition to limiting the number of elements, I also made one mandate to go along with it that made the design very, very simplified compared to Pokémon: A Creature's base moveset can only include moves of the same element as that Creature. A Fire creature can only use Fire moves, An Air creature can only use Air moves, and so on.

But wait, Audley! I see a problem with that!

Oh, do you now?

Yes! Won't that mean the elemental type advantages are too steep to overcome if you switch into a bad match-up?!

Clever girl, you have found a weakness...and the second major design decision I made on Tensai...which came about as a domino effect of removing a large chunk of Pokémon's clutter.

Design Part 2: Action Types

In Pokémon, moves have their own “attack” element which interacts with the creature's element or elements. Say, for example, you had the Fighting-type Pokémon Hitmonchan. He wasn't limited to Fighting-type moves, thanks to Fire Punch, Ice Punch, or Thunder Punch giving him attacks of those elements to allow him to better cover his weaknesses (for example, Ice Punch or Thunder Punch would enable him to beat up any Flying types that came his way if he was fast enough.)

Since I'd removed this possibility in Tensai, I had to compensate for the aforementioned problem where there was no ability to cover your type weaknesses. And that is where Action Types came in.

I created five “Action Types” that an attack move could be quanlified as. Melee, Ranged, Magical, Aerial, or Defensive. These five also interacted in a sort of Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock format, but not in as straight forward a manner as the RPS7 chain of elements.

Melee attacks were strong against Ranged, but super effective against Magical.
Ranged attacks were strong against Magical, but super effective against Aerial.
Magical attacks were strong against Aerial, but super effective against Defensive.
Aerial attacks were strong against Defensive, but super effective against Melee.
Defensive attacks were strong against Melee, but super effective against Ranged.

Instead of just improving the damage your creature dealt, however, the Action Types did something better: they reduced the damage you took from the opposing creature. Strong = Half damage. Super Effective = No damage.

So if my Fire Creature were out against your Water creature...I would be at a disadvantage. However, if I predicted you were about to use a Ranged move, and my creature had a Defensive move in his moveset, I could use the Defensive move to take no damage, while dealing a slightly improved chunk of damage to your creature.

Since creatures only have 3 moves (technically 4, but I'll address that later) in Tensai, you can use process of elimination to get a reasonable guess of your opponent's moves and attempt to rock-paper-scissors your way to victory. It also leaves room for some Sirlin-loved Yomi Layer 3 in terms of “Well he should do this move for the most damage, so I should use this type of move to negate its damage...but if he predicts I'm going to do that, he may use this move to counter my counter...” et cetera, et cetera. In the few instances of practice battle runs I ran utilizing nothing but a Skype chat room and a PHP-coded calculator, the four of us who tested it all enjoyed the new layer of depth created out of necessity to coincide with the design-by-subtraction sledgehammer taken to Pokémon's element system.

In my next blog on Designing Tensai, I'm going to cover more in-depth how I approached the largest problem in competitive Pokémon, “hax” (RNG) in detail (I touched on it in the past in my blog Fighting Chance.) – but thanks to the Action Type system, I was able to have even greater control than would really be able to be tuneable otherwise.

So stay tuned for Part 2. Don't worry, this one will be updated much, much sooner than my Calling the Shots blog! And thanks again to Hardy LeBel for the inspiration. Seriously, go read his stuff: http://www.hardylebel.com

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

League of Legends Season 4 World Championships Predictions

League of Legends Season 4 World Championships are coming. Earlier this week, the four groups for the preliminary stages were revealed along with how the seeds will feed into the bracket. So with that said, it's time to make my predictions!

I'm going to be practicing a more comedic, satirical style of writing in this blog, so...if any jokes feel forced, that will explain it.

Without further ado...

Group A: Edward Gaming, Samsung White, Dark Passage, and ahq eSports Club.

Let's be real here, Dark Passage are Thanksgiving dinner in this group. Samsung White are licking their chops and preparing to dig into the roast Turkey presented on a platter to them by Riot. EDG are leaning back in their seat and kicking their feet up onto this Ottoman Empire wannabe, knowing the poor five wild card players will give them about as much of a chase as Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

AHQ probably celebrated when they saw they were drawn into a group with an IWC team, but that Westdoor got slammed shut the moment White and EDG were roped into the party. Unfortunately, there's no sipping GreenTea for ahq – the #2 seed (and generally regarded as best all-around team) from Korea and #1 seed from China who have dominated the last two seasons of LPL will likely end AHQ's field trip to Taiwan prematurely and send them packing back home to Taiwan after Group A's dust settles.

The big question of Group A comes down to EDG versus White – and while most pundits are giving White the for-sure victory, I'm here to offer a dissenting opinion. And unlike the few voices that are saying “The fix is in.” and claiming White will throw the matches to avoid their abusive big brother Samsung Blue who've knocked them out of the last two OGN seasons...I'm here to say EDG will win the group legitimately.

White somewhat rely on their bot lane to succeed. Imp struggles when he plays against ADCs better than him; just look at his results against Piglet during SKT's hot streak (before Piglet lost his touch) and his results against Deft, who is stronger in lane and team fights. Namei is a better ADC than Imp. And although Mata and Dandy are fantastic at vision control; vision control's value is devalued if you're just being fought constantly. Your gold gets wasted if your opponents don't care you see them and engage anyway. Sometimes I wonder if the Chinese understanding of wards is “That's gold that isn't going toward my ability to tower dive.”

I think EDG's superior team fighting and stronger ADC (I won't say stronger bot lane; Mata is in my eyes the greatest Support player in the game of League of Legends.) will empower them to take first in a shocking upset of the group. I may be the only one with such a faith – but I also said OMG would take their first game off SK Telecom T1 K at Season 3 Worlds after certain analysts insisted China's meta was massively behind the rest of the world.

So, for Group A, my results:
  1. Edward Wong Hau Pipelu Tivruski IV Gaming
  2. Mind over Mata, Samsung White
  3. We're About as Good as a Team from the West-door, AHQ.
  4. Does DP stand for Double Penetration? Dark Passage

Group B: Team SoloMid, StarHorn Royal Club, Taipei Assassins, SK Gaming

This group has the best parity of any of the groups there are. But as far as displaying consistency over the course of the season, this group is a barrel of monkeys. It may end up fun, and if you leave them in Taiwan long enough, maybe they'll produce Shakespeare, but this is going to be the brawl group.

SK Gaming looked good at the European regionals, and despite getting 3-1'd by Alliance, they put up a strong fight in their first two games. But that doesn't change the fact that their ADC is literally one of those comically oversized magnets Wile E. Coyote uses after filling the Roadrunner full of metal pellets mixed into his bird food. CandyPanda's ability to dodge a skillshot is about equivalent to the mother in What's Eating Gilbert Grape's ability to get out of bed. When you're in a group with mechanical greats like Bjergsen and InSec, you simply can't afford to make those mistakes. And with nRated's Crucible allergy (is he a fucking vampire or something?), CandyPanda's positional and dodging woes are compounded further.

TPA aren't getting much respect either. And after their performance at All-Stars this past spring, not even Rodney Dangerfield can complain. Winds looked more like a leaf on the wind – so moving forward he may have a difficult time Washing that performance from his record. Winds may have channeled S3 Worlds Mata at All-Stars, he's still known for being a fantastic jungler in the GPL. Combine that with Bebe's innovation in the ADC spectrum – where he's popularized the Greased Up Deaf Guy Ezreal build (Fuck you Iceborn Gauntlet) and the Why-Can't-I-Hold-All-These-Blades BoRK+Ghostblade build (even before ADC itemization revamp) on Twitch, Lucian, and even Draaaaaaaaaven. If that's not enough, TPA will have throngs of hometown fans bringing the noise to give them that last little edge they may need to advance through the group.

Sometimes, regardless of what the current roster is, people say Dyrus is the glue that holds TSM's chances of winning together. He's consistent, he's solid... But he's totally going to get rattled by that TPA crowd. I mean, when you're used to everyone worshipping you for your globally mediocre play, then having a massive crowd chanting against you is a terrible thing for your mental game. Bjergsen and Amazing are known to tilt as well. Unless LustBoy can quickly implant his Korean Robotics into the rest of TSM before Worlds kicks off, TSM could be in trouble. Lord Loco must teach them how to steel their resolve. Crowd noise, even with noise-cancelling headphones, is a very serious thing.

I saved the best for last. Take one of the most notorious ADCs from Worlds last year. Give him a Korean jungler and a Korean support. Congratulations, you now have StarHorn Royal Club. Zero may have been just that with the KT Rolster organization, and InSec may have been short for InSecure Job...but the two have found success in securing a trip to Worlds in their new region. InSec's balls-out overaggressive playstyle is right at home in the land of “Go” (the verb to advance, not the board game). Royal Club will out-skill and out-play the teams of Group B with ease to earn their place as kings of the group.

I honestly think this group is hard to truly predict, since TPA will be underestimated and TSM are still growing their synergy with LustBoy, but my predictions from Group B are:
  1. KT Rolster Chu-ko-Nu, StarHorn Royal Club.
  3. “Why are they pronouncing S-M wrong in their chants?” Team SoloMid.
  4. Caught-With-Their-Underpants-Down, Schroet Kommando.

Group C: Samsung Blue, OMG, LMQ, Fnatic

Let's get one thing out of the way, Blue will likely run away with this group. And by likely, I mean they came into Worlds holding an Ace and King of Spades, and the flop revealed a same-suited Ten, Jack, and Queen. If Blue drops a game, I will be shocked.

For the rest of the group...it's not as easy to call. Let's start with LMQ. The LPL rejects that retreated to North America to pick on some easier competition and dragged down the former Worlds Semifinalists Godlike with them – dragged him down so much he lost the rights to the name Godlike and simply became Ackerman. Vasilii and XiaoWeiXiao treated their lanes all Summer Split as avenues to collect the US's debt back for Mother China. But all that said, even a mid-tier team from the LPL ended up unable to emerge atop the North American LCS, falling to third in Playoffs. They've got good team fighting and consistently good-not-great solo lanes, but compared to the Eastern regions, LMQ still don't show any sign of being able to compete with their former superiors.

Speaking of third place, OMG of LPL! Cool is still ridiculously good. Gogoing showed no fear in Chinese regionals. The two, combined with jungler Loveling, are a really great trio of players. And then you have this enormous anchor by the name of Dada7. If you think Kiwikid is good at getting caught alone and dying... Dada7 has perfected the art. At this point, I'm pretty sure his coach has mandated him to get the Nike Swoosh as a tattoo across his face so he will forever be known as “The Facecheck” – his penchant for dying for no reason leaves his otherwise perfectly fine ADC unable to get his job done.

And if your bot lane's weak, that gives an opening to a team whose solo lanes are nothing special, but whose bot lane is getting vastly underrated on the global scale – Fnatic. Rekkles is the real deal. This team of mostly Caucasian Adonises (disregarding sOAZ) managed to draw themselves into the best pool for their chances of making the playoffs. Rekkles is proof that Swedish genetic engineering is a booming industry – as his mechanical prowess from the ADC position is unmatched in the west. If Fnatic decide to play Benny Hill and give the Chinese teams the runaround with multiple teleports across their team, they can live to fight another round. If they take the Chinese bait of team fights, it will spell their tournament demise.

This group depends entirely on what playstyles the teams decide to exhibit...but if the teams play to their own strengths, rather than to the meta, my picks for the group...
  1. Don't be Sad, Samsung Blue
  2. ratdoto is best doto, Fnatic
  3. OMG it's OMG
  4. “Time for a roster change, oh wait, we can only pick up Americans RIP” LMQ

Group D: NaJin White Shield, Cloud 9, KaBuM! e-Sports, Alliance

I don't think a team could be more aptly named than KaBuM. They're going to get blown up in this group. Obliterated. They'll be lucky to escape the event as anything more than a smoldering mess of eviscerated body parts. Their ADC may be named for the Roman goddess of wisdom and war, but they're more likely to be a display of her birth – a split skull. Seriously, the only wisdom they'll bring to this tournament is the acceptance that they'll be truly blessed by gods to take even a single victory.

Cloud 9...known for Meteos' jungling and Lemon's notebook. The notebook will do them wonders against NaJin Shield, since Ggoong only plays 3 champions ever, but how do you prepare against a Froggen? Cloud 9's chances aren't abysmal. They know how to close out games and get vision control after taking a lead – a talent SK Gaming lacked that cost them in two games against Alliance in the European regionals. On paper, Cloud 9 actually have a decent chance in match-ups against both Alliance and NaJin White Shield. In practice, however, their questionable mechanical prowess in the lanes will probably spell a few sad doodles in the LemonNote.

Alliance have been begging Riot to introduce a new map with only a single lane all season – so the deadweight of Wickd gets mitigated and Tabzz/Nyph can realize they don't really contribute that much to Froggen's victories. A large part of Alliance's success in the latter half of the season was strictly off Shook using AoE CC while Froggen did burst damage with Xerath ultimate from off-screen. Set 'em up, knock 'em down. If Wickd can avoid becoming the star of his very own snuff film laning against Balls and Save, and if Alliance can get enough defensive wards to keep Meteos and Watch from placing deep wards, Alliance can set up Froggen to shine. Tabzz isn't a pushover bot lane, and he+Nyph'll have a good match-up against C9's bot lane (if C9 doesn't lane swap), so having pressure taken off of him by the Threat of Froggen will play into Alliance's favor.

Shield are the favorites to win the group. With Save in the top lane and Watch setting him up for success, it's no surprise. Shield played phenomenally in the Korean Regional gauntlet. But they aren't without their weaknesses. Zefa hasn't looked impressive for an ADC in the strongest region; whether or not that means he'll look weak against Tabzz or Sneaky is still to be determined. Shield's vision control is only outshone by Samsung White, and that will be a large part of their road to victory against both Alliance and Cloud 9. If they can secure a comfort pick for Ggoong, Shield is set.

With that said...my Group D predictions:
  2. Totally Not a Racist Team Name, NaJin White Shield
  3. No Longer On, Cloud 9.
  4. At least Tristana still cheers for us, KaBuM! E-Sports.

So that leaves my bracket as:
Blue vs Shield

White vs SHRC
Fnatic vs Alliance


Welp, we've left the home field for TPA. Now we're on a neutral field, and they're outmatched here. NaMei vs Bebe will be an interesting match-up, but nothing else about this quarterfinal will be exciting. Should be a 3-0 or 3-1 in EDG's favor.

Blue vs Shield

Ouch, no All-Korean Top 3. Blue simply out-match Shield in the late game and Shield's not strong enough early to force Blue into a situation they can't come back from. Blue 3-1.

White vs SHRC

While I mentioned EDG's bot lane outmatching White is going to be a problem for the Samsung hopefuls, I think Mata will be much more prepared for SHRC than for EDG; he has experience against InSec from Champions Spring 2013, and so InSec's prowess on the blind monk will be countered by the All-Seeing Mata. White won't be caught off-guard by SHRC's playcalls. White 3-0.

Fnatic vs Alliance

Alliance will repeat EU Regionals. Fnatic will be sad. Alliance 3-0.

EDG vs Blue

Blue are much better at team fighting than their sister organization, and much better at mitigating early deficits. They aren't a team you can write off if you fall behind, and...the one weakness I think Blue actually has (Dade's champion pool) won't be taken advantage of by the Chinese teams. Blue 3-1. I think Namei will have a powerful performance in one game.

White vs Alliance

This will be an interesting match-up of styles. But White's vision control and tactical superiority will drown out Alliance's chances. Looper vs Wickd will enjoy their island, but Imp will overpower Tabzz, Mata will overpower Nyph, Dandy will overpower Shook and PawN will not be strong-armed by Froggen. White should 3-0.

Grand Finals
Blue vs White

White's mental block continues. I'm not sure what White's problem against Blue is; whether Imp walked in on Deft giving it to his girlfriend or what, White just doesn't seem to show up when they play their sister team. Both teams deserve to be in this final, but I have to give it to the superior team fighting team; Samsung Blue take Worlds.

I lost my creative energy near the end...hence the absence of humor mid-Group D. Oh well. I'm not a humor robot, yet. Please give me feedback regarding the writing; I want to improve my ability to write satire.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Sticking To Your Guns: Appealing to Various Playstyles with Competitively Viable Weapons

If you've ever had a conversation with me about playstyles in a game, whether it be a card game, a video game, or a Tabletop game -- there's a good chance you've heard me reference the Wizards of the Coast archetypes for Magic the Gathering players, Timmy, Johnny, and Spike. For this Audley Enough, I'm going to examine how FPS titles can make weapons that appeal to all the archetypes – even the guns designed for Timmy and other casual players to enjoy solely in the campaign, in order to make them fair in competitive play and therefore a weapon Spike can enjoy.

If you haven't read the Wizards of the Coast article about the archetypes, and don't have time to, let me summarize:
  • Timmy likes to live large. In card games, he likes big creatures and big spells, and to win by outright dominating. In an FPS landscape, Timmy's the one rushing for the tank or the Rockets no matter what. He wants power at his fingertips.
  • A Johnny wrote the Yu-Gi-Oh anime. He likes combos. He likes to use deck-building in card games as a form of self-expression. Winning is nice, but he wants to win on his own terms. When a Johnny player stumbles upon a Shooter, there are two things that appeal to him: being rewarded for smart choices and pulling off that perfect weapon usage to get that sweet kill. (Think the Walshy-trademarked “insta-splode” in Halo 3. That's something a Johnny introduced to the community...before Spike perfected it.
  • Spike wants to win. Period. He wants the best, most efficient tools at his disposal to do so. He wants to win every game if he can. Spike also likes opportunities to outplay his opponent mechanically and feel like he's rewarded for being better at the game than his opponent.

As a lifetime Johnny (with a generous helping of Spike mixed in), I'm a player that really enjoys being able to play a game my way, whether it's the most effective way to play or not – I love to win, but I like to win by forcing a player to react to the unexpected. In some games, I do this because I know my limitations and that I won't win a straight up battle of skill, but I still want to win.

In a card game like Magic the Gathering, where deck-building is a large part of the business model, creating cards that appeal to a single player archetype is fine. You don't care if Spike likes the 8/8 monster with a ridiculous cost for its effect – if he gets that card from a booster pack, he simply won't use it, and he'll go buy more booster packs until he gets what he wants. It's not a problem for a card to not have broad appeal.

In a First Person Shooter, however, a gun that doesn't appeal to Spike may be outright cut from the game when the game is put into the hands of tournament organizers. Shotguns, “Noob Tubes,” Needlers, and the like are often cut out of the competitive console shooters we see. They don't fit into the line of thinking common among Spikes (and let's face it, if you're organizing a tournament, you're at least a half-breed Spike.) in terms of what “outplaying” an opponent is. Spikes have almost a tacit chivalrous code in terms of what constitutes “proper fighting” in their mind – if you used a CQB weapon you're a total LAMER right? (These types of Spikes are what Sirlin would call “Scrubs” – but they make up a large portion of Spike communities. They don't care about letting the game evolve around the things that counter their concept of proper play.) We meet top mid at daybreak, 20 paces, first to 4shot wins.

You may wonder how you determine whether a weapon (or a player) is a Timmy, a Johnny, or a Spike in a shooter – I devised a set of three questions, with each one being directed toward a specific player archetype – chances are if you are anything but a Spike, it will come through in the first two questions.

  1. Regardless of how practical it was to use it, what is your favorite weapon in any Shooter you have ever played?
    1. This is generally the Timmy question, though a Johnny will shine through as well. Timmies will answer power weapons. Johnnies will answer weapons that were hard to use. My personal answer was the Shock Rifle from Unreal Tournament – a very Johnny weapon.
    2. Spike will usually answer the “default” weapon from whatever his favorite shooter was.
  2. Regardless of how reliable the weapon was, what weapon felt the most satisfying to use optimally?
    1. This is generally the Johnny question, though a Timmy can spring up here. Johnny will answer a weapon that felt genuinely difficult to use well.
    2. The Timmy in me really liked the Redeemer from Unreal Tournament and answered that here.
    3. The majority of Spikes I saw answer this question responded with some sort of Sniper Rifle, though a few included the “default” / utility weapon from whatever Halo they liked best, or whichever CoD they played the most of.
  3. What weapon you've used in a shooter felt like it had the most impact in a game or match? (This doesn't just mean it was stronger than all the others -- keep the ammo and spawn timer of a weapon in mind.)
    1. This is the Spike question. No matter what archetype you are, you answered something strong here. Whether you're a Timmy or not, that probably meant a power weapon.
    2. Coming from a BTB background, I answered the Halo Reach DMR due to its sheer versatility – again, that's the Johnny in me bleeding through. I'm not Timmy enough to answer Rockets or Sniper to this – which were the prevailing answers in my polling.

So, how do you incorporate weapons that would appeal to Timmy and Johnny without making them “banworthy” weapons for the competitive scenes where Spike likes to show he is and forever will be the best? Well, that's what I'm here to talk about. Aren't you glad you have such a well-spoken Aud-onis like myself to assist you in these troubling game design conundrums?

First, let's take an example of a success story. And... you know, despite the fact that the game's core design was a miserable failure competitively... I have to point to Halo Reach.

SUCCESS, the Timmy/Johnny/Spike special: Halo Reach: The Grenade Launcher

This is a beautiful example of fine game design from its very core to all of its practical applications. It's a power weapon, with the potential to instant-kill – congratulations, you've appealed to Timmy. Holding down the trigger after firing prevents the grenade from exploding right away, and when you do release it, it blows up instantly with an EMP blast and the potential to kill the target. Congratulations, you've appealed to Johnny. And, because of the mix of Timmy power and CLEAR ability to outplay opponents with the “cooked” grenade mechanic, you've given Spike a weapon that he knows he can show off his power with. Welcome to the League, Halo Reach Grenade Launcher.

And going a step further, since the above only applies to 4v4 settings – the Halo Reach Grenade Launcher's EMP-capabilities appeal to all three archetypes in Big Team Battle as well – stopping a vehicle in its tracks means potential to highjack it or destroy it. So even though the Grenade Launcher alone isn't likely to kill a vehicle, it's great for combatting them and getting you out of a hairy situation with just one cooked grenade giving that terrorizing tank a close shave.

I don't want to harp on the Grenade Launcher too much – if you've played with the Reach GL, you probably know well enough how good it felt to get a kill with the weapon, and how it had plenty of room for mastery of Spikes, versatility for Johnnies, and power for Timmies. So we'll just stop there.

FAILURE, the Timmy/Spike abomination: Halo 3 Spartan Laser

This may be controversial – retrospectively, a lot of people still like the Spartan Laser. I fucking hated it. Part of it is the fault of the Halo 3 BR on large maps being about as spray-on butter for making toast (sure, it got the job done eventually, but you had to fucking push the button so many fucking times when all you wanted was a goddamn piece of toast for fuck's sake buy some real fucking butter.)...but a bigger part of it was just how overpowered the Spartan Laser was.

Now, I say the Laser is a Timmy/Spike weapon, with little appeal to Johnny, because there's simply no finesse to it. I mean, some Johnny players may like it because they want to specialize in keeping vehicles down. But it's on such a long respawn timer and there's usually only one on the map for 16 people to fight over. When it comes to using it, the thing's a bit too easy for a Johnny to truly care about. Spike likes it because it means his enemies aren't going to be running any vehicles, so they have to fight him with their rifles. Aww yeah, that's the shit Spike likes.

So why is the Spartan Laser a failure? Well, in addition to not really being adopted by Johnnies (clearly I speak for all Johnnies, #forumlogic), its sheer existence and possession in a game meant an entire other playstyle was off-limits to the team that didn't possess the laser. If your team had the Laser, you're free to run vehicles. If your team didn't have the Laser... WELP GOOD FUCKING LUCK BUDDY.

If you wanted to run a Warthog on Standoff or Valhalla, and you didn't have the Spartan Laser... well, somewhere on the map there's a Spike hiding behind a rock, pointing a red dot at the rock while the rest of his screen is watching you try to utilize a few rocks for cover and that cave to sneak around behind the hi—AAAND IT'S GONE! Goodbye Warthog, you're dead now. Two kills to the enemy team, good job mates!

So how do you make the Spartan Laser acceptable? Well, what are its problems?
  • It kills vehicles too quickly – there's almost no counterplay once you're targeted. (Again, part of this is the fault of the H3 BR being a shitty weapon. Teammates can't descope the Laser user.)
  • It's too easy to use for that instant-kill potential.
  • On Valhalla, it spawns in the most important control point on the map, so the team that gets map control gets the weapon best at keeping map control as well (heavy snowball mechanic.)
  • In 4v4 situations, the charge is too long to allow it to be reliably used as an anti-infantry weapon. I mean, how often do you see SERIOUS players picking up the Spartan Laser in default Team Slayer on Construct? You'll see it in Lone Wolves when a person can rely on having Gold alone and laser into the purple lifts, but that's about it.

Okay, so apart from the 3rd problem up there, this is actually a pretty easy group to fix. You know that long charge time...and instant kill discharge? (I don't have exact numbers, so let's throw some placeholder numbers – you charge up for 2 seconds to kill in 0.1 seconds.) You may not realize it, but that discharge actually fires 5 shots...five individual laser shots that each deal a lot of damage. So this is actually a really easy design to fix – you take that 2s charge time, and you shift some of it to the discharge time. Instead of charging for 2 seconds and discharging in a near-instant, drop the charge time to 1s (or slightly longer), and make the 5 discharges in subtle pulses over a full second as well – to get the full kill on a person, you hold the Laser over them for 2 of the 5 pulses – you've now not only nerfed the Spartan Laser, but you've also added one of those LoL Core Design philosophies I went so in-depth in my last Audley Enough about: Meaningful Choices.

If the Spartan Laser's discharge is done over a longer time period, it has a lot more potential as a multi-kill weapon against infantry that are clustered – and it's also weaker against vehicles, as they have a chance to stop in their tracks, or in the Banshee's case, roll AFTER the Laser has begun firing in order to attempt to evade – it requires more skill for the Laser user to secure the kill (Hey, Spike, here's more differentiation for you!) – and given its new increase in versatility, and the faster charge time making it more ideal against clustered infantry, Johnny can decide to pick up the weapon in smaller maps and attempt to utilize it to live his dreams of being a Ferguson police officer.*

*Note: I played Cards Against Humanity for the first time last night. I won handily. I make no assertion that every, or even any, Johnny player aspires to work in law enforcement, nor display questionable moral code should they choose to do so.

FAILURE, The Johnny/Spike red-lasered step child: Halo 4 Light Rifle

I wanted to like the Light Rifle. It was a really cool design for a utility rifle. It did more damage scoped than unscoped and fired in a completely different manner (single shot instead of burst). The single-shot scoped variant could kill in one less shot than the burst-fire mode, meaning relying on your single shot skill rather than some “oh you only missed a little” burst-fire (though I can't actually recall if the LR allowed partial-hits with its burst mode). But you could also mix in the unscoped shots with 2 scoped shots in a way to keep the same shots to kill, so cases of rapid-strafing or jumping in close range combat could allow you the freedom to choose when to scope (or simply press-hold-release the scope button to scope in for the shot and unscope after).

The Light Rifle was a prime example of a weapon that displayed two vastly different aspects of gun skill: accuracy and calculation. The calculation portion was where the gun became Johnny bait. In a battle of Light Rifles, the better gunner almost always won – whether it was by more-accurately four-shotting in scope, or by knowing you could dodge or force a missed headshot with the scoper's flinch and a timely jump to get the leg-up while you elected to remain unscoped.

The Light Rifle didn't live up to its hopes and dreams though, and wasn't really adopted by the player-base despite its very competitively-conducive design. And part of that is because when it came to the default Rifles, there was a clear-cut choice for Timmy. The DMR didn't kill much slower than an LR 4-shot – and it also had much more forgiving aim-assist and in the case of BTB maps, the longest red reticule range of any rifle (30 longer than the LR and 60 longer than the BR/Carbine). It wasn't really a contest. Timmy wants power, Timmy wants the DMR. And when it comes to a DMR versus an LR in regular combat situations... you lose the finesse required of winning an LR vs LR. You pretty much have to go for one of the Four-Shot methods... and your opponent has a weapon that helps him aim more. You're trying to play craps when one of the dice says 4 on all 6 sides. It's not easy.

Since Spike wants to win, and Timmy wants the most powerful weapon – and Timmy is favoring the DMR, that means Spike also wants the DMR (hey, it's the most powerful.) – so the LR gets left in the dust for Johnnies alone to play with. Sure, you could master the LR enough to the point that it was formidable even against a skilled DMR – but what's the -point-?

So how do you fix the Light Rifle for everyone to like a little more? Well, let's reassess its problems...
  • Weaker up close since you don't want to be in scope in close range fights where flinch will affect your aim more. Heavy reliance on quick-scopes in short range.
  • Shorter range on long maps (prior to DMR nerf/LR buff in the Weapon Balance patch.)
  • Freak occurrence where there was a method that made it take 6 shots to kill instead of 5 unscoped or 4 scoped, not sure if the bleedthrough issues that caused this were fixed.
  • Felt” harder to aim than DMR/BR.
  • Longer range than BR/Carbine not able to be accentuated on smaller maps.

Unfortunately, these problems are a lot harder to really deal with – and some of it just the actual feel of the gun rather than practical issues. I'm not entirely sure myself if the aim assist on the LR was different than that of the BR or DMR, but I know it just seemed like it was more difficult to aim – even though it was my personal preferred weapon.

The slower kill time than the other rifles in its unscoped variation made it unappealing to use short range – so bumping that up to better compete would help. I think the weapon balance patch actually took the WRONG approach by slowing the unscoped rate of fire for the LR. Make it MORE competitive against the others in its unscoped form. You don't want it to lose in the core stages. Hell, after the update, it killed 0.3s slower than the DMR, while the BR and Carbine closed the gap to the scoped LR to a mere 0.2s (1.2s vs 1.37/1.4). Its low unscoped rate of fire meant that to combat the “midrange” rifles, you had to be scoped in the entire time. If instead you raised the unscoped rate of fire (but nerfed its RRR to lower than the unscoped BR/Carbine, matching the AR or other automatics) you'd give a window for the BR/Carbine to be favored, while still enabling the LR-wielder to weave in scoped shots well enough to take advantage of their faster kill time, so long as they didn't miss the assistless unscoped shots.

To reiterate: Increase the unscoped LR's rate of fire while keeping its damage low (Hell, nerf it to a 6 shot if you want) but make it so you aren't outright punished for utilizing the LR out of scope. Nerf its unscoped aim assist if you don't want it winning in closer ranges.

The disproportionate advantage of the DMR over the LR was fixed with the weapon update – though I think the nerf wasn't quite strong enough – because I felt both deserved to be nerfed, not the LR buffed while the DMR was lightly nerfed. The RRR of both was roughly 25% longer than BR/Carbine and 20% longer than the Magnum (wait, the Magnum was longer than the BR/Carbine? Yep. Pistols are better than Rifles, silly.)

But you have to make the weapon -feel- like it really is the strongest of them if it has the POTENTIAL to be the strongest, and that's the department in which the Light Rifle failed. Timmy didn't want to touch it, Spike wanted the DMR pre-nerf and the BR post-buff. Because the LR just wasn't worth the effort to learn. And so the LR ultimately devolved to a Johnny-only weapon that not even Johnny really wanted to try to use. Make its base power strong enough to compete and its optimal power strong enough to overpower, and you've got a weapon even Timmy won't overlook, and Spike and Johnny will be much more interested in.

FAILURE, the Timmy/Johnny unrealized potential: Halo 3 Brute Shot

This is a weapon I feel was drastically overlooked by the competitive community, and really isn't as big of a failure so much as it was simply not given the chance to shine the way it could've been. This was a weapon I used whenever I had the opportunity. As a BTB player, knowing how to use the Brute Shot was an undervalued skill that could help on any map.

Unlike the Halo 2 Brute Shot, the Halo 3 iteration packed a much stronger punch (though, sadly, its melee potential wasn't as impressive. I missed the Halo 2 jumping one-hit beatdown.) Four body-shots with the Brute Shot would kill a target, or a full clip of nearby shots could finish off the target or leave them at half health. It was great on Rat's Nest for taking out CQB campers who waited atop doors – either by outright killing them with splash damage or by using PHYSICS and SCIENCE to bounce them off the ledge. Those same Physics made the weapon a terror to any improperly positioned Warthog on Standoff.

Why does Timmy like it if it's not an instant-kill weapon? I mean, it's a fucking grenade launcher, sort of. With a big-ass blade. The LOOK of it screams Timmy weapon. It may not have delivered to the power fantasy Timmy wanted when he picked it up, but that's why Spike doesn't really give many fucks about the weapon. Meanwhile, Johnny knew its stun potential and the ability to send a Warthog re-enacting Dane Cook's “flipped into a Ravine” routine (literally...) were not to be trifled with. It was strong in tight corridors as well. It was an underestimated weapon – Johnny's favorite.

On 110% damage settings (read: Halo 3 MLG settings) the Brute Shot was actually worthy of being a Spike weapon. It became a 3 body shot kill. Half a clip direct to kill, a full clip indirect. That's a fucking good Spike weapon. I'm not entirely sure why the weapon was never given a chance in MLG – perhaps they just felt the longer-spawn timer Rockets were better for game health (and, given how stale Pit TS became, I think Rockets may have been the ONLY thing that could've broken those stalemates) but on maps like Onslaught, Construct, Amplified, or maybe even Guardian, the weapon could've seen some use, somewhere, perhaps. Maybe not, but it wasn't really given the chance it truly deserved in Halo 3's hayday.

So, if I'm sitting here saying the Halo 3 Brute Shot was a failure, why am I praising it? What could've been changed to make it a better weapon?

  • The blade needs to be implemented in its design – it LOOKS like it should be a great melee weapon, but it's no different than any other. It literally only deals 2 extra points of damage. I don't actually know if this has any effect on whether or not 1shot+melee is a kill or not (as opposed to the 70 damage normal melees vs 72 brute shot) but the Brute Shot itself doesn't actually feel like the melee is better than a gun's melee. (Also since the weapon has splash damage, the idea of a 1shot+melee at CQB range is a bad idea... it semi-stuns both players and makes you feel like you're punishing yourself for trying to kill at close range even with the melee coup-de-grace to follow the shot.)
  • Three direct shots for a kill in default settings – half a clip so a skilled player can get 2 kills with a clip. This was implemented in the Brute Shot's Halo Reach / Halo 4 sister weapon, the Concussion Rifle. This change is necessary for Spikes to not feel like they're guaranteed dead in a 1v2 if they have this weapon.

That's it. That's really all it takes. After all, we saw the Concussion Rifle in the Halo 4 Global Challenge as a core part of the design and focus of the 1v1 matches on Skyline. The only noticeable mechanical difference between the Concussion Rifle and the Halo 3 Brute Shot is its shots to kill on default settings. No need for 110. Buff its damage, makes it stronger for Spike – it's still strong enough for Timmy (better than a BR or AR if you land your shots, it's pretty fucking rapid-fire!), and versatile and unique enough for a Johnny.

I have other examples I can offer from non-Halo games, and got a lot of good answers to my 3-question poll when I posted them on forums, Skype, and Twitter – so I may revisit this subject in the future, but for now, I think I've rambled enough. I don't want to wreck your eyeballs too badly while they're still recovering from the massive two-parter on vehicles. (Speaking of which, I may revisit this same subject and apply it to vehicles.)

But for now, you'll find that Audley Enough, the most beloved weapons in shooters are weapons that could appeal to all three of the player archetypes described herein – even if they were ultimately the core weapon of the game's design. Take the Tribes Spinfuzor for example... an instant-kill default weapon that required ridiculous finesse to use... though, Tribes' steep learning curve makes it a game only Spikes and Johnnies can really stick around, as Timmies will feel useless even with the power weapons at their disposal off spawn. But thanks for reading and remember, if you have something to say in response, post a comment or contact me on Twitter @TiberiusAudley.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Vehicular Manslaughter: An Analytical Look at the Vehicles of the Halo Series (Part 2 of 2)

Time for Part 2 of my Vehicular Manslaughter set...analyzing Halo vehicles against the 6 core design tenets Riot Games applies to their design decisions for League of Legends. As a quick refresher, those six tenets are:
  • Mastery (ability to improve constantly),
  • Meaningful Choices (tradeoffs exist regardless of which choice you take, choose the one that mitigates the risk for best reward),
  • Counterplay (the player on the receiving end has opportunity to outplay you in most any situation),
  • Teamplay (the team covering weaknesses or enhancing the strengths of something),
  • Clarity (the game should make information clear to the player, letting them focus on playing the game, rather than tracking obscured variables), and
  • Evolution (room for the vehicle's usage in the game should be subject to change dependent upon the metagame of completitive play as players learn each others' tendencies and the vehicle's true capabilities).

Part 1 covered strictly UNSC (Human) vehicles of Halo's history, so for Part 2...it's time to visit the enemy's arsenal and hold the Covenant vehicles under the microscope. So without further ado...

Ghost (Halo 3)

It was a tough choice for me to pick which title to analyze for the Ghost. The Ghost underwent significant changes regarding its mechanics each time it migrated to a new title. And, although the Ghost is strong in a 4v4 environment, it wasn't often that useful in a Big Team environment, so it was seldom seen as a true terror of a vehicle.

Regardless of the title you approach, the Ghost's areas of Mastery were still the same – using the slow(ish) projectile plasma cannons to kill, or using the boosting ability to run over scrambling infantry. Dealing with enemy vehicles was rarely a job for a Ghost, as the Ghost's inferior armor often led to dire situations, unless you were able to get on the exposed tail of a Warthog and pick off the gunner. The only BTB map where the Ghost was truly seen to be used effectively in Halo 3 was Rat's Nest, where some teams had a player who would run interference on spawners or lurkers in the Mauler tunnels in order to draw attention away from the hot zones of the Kitchens. Only those who were confident in their Ghost abilities really bothered, but a well-used Ghost could mean big results.

As far as Meaningful Choices go, the main one encountered by Ghost drivers is usually the same: Do I try to gun this player down, or do I try to time a splatter for him? Sitting still gunning can give rocketeers time to land the coup-de-grace on your Ghost, but botching an attempted Splatter often means loss of ownership of your vehicle (or getting yourself stuck by a Plasma Grenade from the baiting victim). Bubble Shields made bait even juicier at times, and were a great magnet for Ghosts (and sometimes Warthogs) to set up a plasma grenade, where you must have tons of confidence in your abilities before driving headlong into the safety of the bubble.

The driver's seat of a Ghost is possibly the most exposed vehicle seat (rivaled only by the Chopper) in the game – leaving it open to all sorts of Counterplay from the opposition. You can shoot the driver, snipe the driver, stick the driver – so long as you aren't looking dead at him (or more specifically, he's not looking at you). The hoverbike's agility may mitigate some ability to land shots on the driver, but it's unlikely the driver will escape unscathed from a situation where he presents anything but the hulking bulb of an engine at his enemies. The ability to highjack the Ghost coupled with its usual reliance on splatters for kills rather than utilizing the effective-but-not-efficient plasma cannons increases room for Counterplay with the Ghost by playing a sort of matador mini-game between the players. One player jumps “Toro, toro!” to bait in the hoverbike, and prays he can time the next jump or side-step in a way to ensure he can take away the enemy's precious mobility. Regardless of whether you've just spawned or have been in combat for a while, the Ghost's low time to kill with its guns leaves you with options on how to handle a situation of being run down by the Covenant bike. Unlike Halo 2 and Reach, however, the Ghost lacks its signature “weak spot” of the gas tank on the side – where previously a few shots of the default gun or one shot from the Sniper to the tank could completely eliminate the Ghost from play, Halo 3 leaves it to taking down the exposed pilot and leaving the vacant Ghost ripe for the plucking should you wish to attack its weakness. If worse comes to worse, the final bit of Counterplay for the Ghost is to simply seek shelter elsewhere – on Rat's Nest, stick to the bases, the bridge, and the Kitchens. On Last Resort, stick to higher ground. The Ghost can't fly, so you're safe up high, right?

As far as Teamplay goes, the Ghost is the icon of the lone wolf – it's a vehicle that can draw some attention, but most people will ignore it unless it poses a direct threat to them, so its value as a distraction is not huge. It doesn't take a team full of players to take down a Ghost, either. One of the Ghost's best uses from a Teamplay perspective is the ability to use it in Assault variants to force potential disarmers off the Bomb area in order to secure a score. Apart from that, the Ghost neither requires nor encourages much teamplay from either side.

The only Clarity-related issue there is to the Ghost in Halo 3 is the continued existence of its gas tanks on the model while taking away their status as a weak point from Halo 2. Players coming into the game from the previous title may expect the weakness to carry over, but alas, that is not the case. The Ghost's appearance barely changed, but the function of the gas tank was completely removed, leaving an out-of-place bit of appearance that doesn't actually do anything.

In terms of Evolution of the Ghost's usage over the course of Halo 3, or any Halo really, the pattern is fairly consistent: players attempt to use it early in the game's lifespan, learn it's not really useful in 8v8 scenarios, and then abandon it except when they need a faster transport to a power weapon in certain Big Team maps. Of course, that doesn't mean there aren't champions of the vehicle, but as far as being a staple of the metagame, the Ghost is more of a tactical-use only sort of vehicle, and its presence in Halo 3's BTB reflected that quite clearly.

Overall, the Ghost was really a vehicle more tooled toward skirmish/objective-related 4v4 maps, as facing off against smaller forces highlighted the Ghost's strengths without its weakness being exploitable from almost any position. When elevated to an 8v8 format, however, the Ghost and its driver were often too fragile to be formidable, leaving it mostly only used for transportation except on a map (Rat's Nest) where the majority of combat took place isolated from vehicles. However, its design in the 4v4 sense highlights what a Light Vehicle should be like – strong, but with plenty of avenues for it to be countered.

Wraith (Halo Reach)

How fitting, I took the “light vehicle” from UNSC in Halo 3 and the “tank” from UNSC in Halo Reach...and now I'm doing the same for the Covenant.

When it comes to Mastery, the Wraith is a vehicle that is at the top of the food chain. The nuance to the vehicle is something that cannot be taught, only learned. The angles to fire, when to boost for a splatter, or how to choose which to choose when that monkey-fucker crests the hill jumping to attempt to board you. All of these are amassed as a part of that underwater mental iceberg I like to talk about when referencing how good a player is. No sane player would be able to tell you precisely why he aimed there to land that shot with the Wraith; he did it because it felt right. And he just so happened to get a triple kill on that flag-loaded Warthog as a result. The Reach Wraith was strong – especially given its ability to shoot off boarders with its primary cannon given a proper aim. A Wraith driver's ability was the difference between tying a game of anything-on-Hemorrhage and losing a game of anything-on-Hemorrhage. If you weren't good enough, you'd die, and your team would suffer. But focusing strictly on the Wraith again, everything about it encourages kinetic learning of the vehicle's limitations. A slow-moving, gravity-affected projectile main cannon and a limited-burst booster for splattering nearby infantry. The vehicle's mobility was greater than that of a Scorpion, leaving room for outplaying incoming rockets or Plasma Launcher rounds, but not enough to prevent a good Warthog run from ending a Wraith's life. In terms of Mastery, the Wraith is near perfection.

The Meaningful Choices are mostly tied into Mastery – do you fire at the incoming boarder, or boost at him – if you're near a hill or a place where boosting could lead you into yet another member of his team, do you just let him board you, then fire at the ground and sacrifice a stage of damage to get rid of the gnat that nipped at your ankles? Knowing whether to boost or fire, or fire then boost, or whether to focus downfield with long-range artillery or watch for incoming vehicles are all a part of the decisions the Wraith pilot must weigh over the course of his defensive duties. When the enemy Wraith is down, do you move up to try to bait enemy Sniper fire (to discover his location and have your Sniper take him out) – or do you stay a little more patient and wait for a larger advantage before moving up for a potential flag run? Aggressive positioning of a Wraith prematurely could lose your Wraith and give your opponents a window to rebound when their Wraith comes back up before yours, so sometimes simply keeping yours alive may be the better choice.

As for Counterplay, the Wraith is a tough nut to crack – its slow turning speed enables light vehicles to get behind it to its weak spot in its back vent, and its limited boost potential allows infantry opportunities to board it, though as mentioned before, the Wraith can sacrifice some damage to itself to shoot you off if the pilot knows how. Given the Wraith is often played as a stalwart defensive unit, its options for counterplay are limited even further. However, weighed against the Scorpion, the Wraith has more room for error given its less-ensured kill potential, and a single mistake from the Wraith driver can mean potential death. As the vehicle also contains Reach's vehicle health system, sustained DMR fire from a team can also eventually take down a Wraith, though it requires several clips in order to do so. Also, there's ALWAYS the Plasma Pistol. (Or Armor Lock, fuck Armor Lock.)

In terms of Teamplay, taking down a Wraith or protecting a Wraith as it moves up onto the map requires team coordination. While a Wraith CAN be taken down by a one-man covert operation deep behind enemy lines, chances are Sylvester Stallone will be too busy raking in his Planet Hollywood money to star in John Rambo: Combat Evolved to take on the arduous task. Whether you use a bait-and-switch tactic to take down the Wraith with mobile vehicles like the Ghost and Revenant, or simply harass from long range with the Warthog turret, the Wraith encourages a team effort to take it down, especially any time it moves forward on the map. Its hulking frame being weak to Snipers also encourages direct teamwork between your Wraith pilot and Sniper to assist one another in neutralizing the biggest enemy threat. In the case of the Breakpoint map, teams could elect to sacrifice the Wraith (blow it up) if they thought their player rushing it would not be the first to grab it.

As far as Clarity goes, the Wraith has some good points about it – the back vent, for example – it's a strange looking area that seems it may be susceptible to enemy fire...Hot damn, it is! Of course, it suffers from the same issue the other Reach vehicles suffer from – a vehicle health system that NEVER TELLS YOU WHAT YOUR VEHICLE'S HEALTH IS, except in terms of stages. I beat this horse to death last blog, though, so let's move on. The reticule for firing the Wraith isn't perfect – it could offer more information such as your current turret angle, or something along the lines of a distance the mortar would travel assuming the land ahead is flat – while information like this would reduce the nuance/mastery level of the best Wraith pilots, it could help less-experienced drivers better guess where they need to aim – or help them find the angle they need a second time should they return to a situation they've been in before. The previous point is mostly neutral, but communicating information to the player that can help them make better decisions improves the potential level of play. After all, the information suggested wouldn't guarantee a hit – the player still has to play the situation right, they're just better equipped to read the situation should it return in the future.

The Wraith's usage in its two primary maps didn't evolve much over the course of Reach. Its usage was tied almost entirely into the Mastery of its user or the standing of the other 7 members of the team controlling it. Controlling Spine on Breakpoint defense meant the Wraith could move up to spawn kill, but lacking Spine control meant the Wraith's duties were usually focused on the main vehicle tunnel at the top of the map. As mentioned earlier, Hemorrhage Wraith aggression was usually dependent upon the status of the enemy Wraith, although one of the unique usages of the Wraith in Hemorrhage Territories was as a complete meat shield for Territory 3 (near Grassy Knoll) – blocking bullets for the players capturing the territory.

Overall, the Wraith is possibly the best-designed vehicle in Halo. It requires the user to be GOOD to really be effective – and only allows the user to be GOOD by actually using it and garnering a feel for its controls and firing mechanism over time. Its mobility is enough to give it room to outplay others, while also being sluggish enough to allow it to be outplayed as well. The vehicle health mechanism added to Halo Reach also allows the Wraith to be susceptible to long-range sustained fire, preventing it from regenerating its health while slowly being chunked through stages of damage. Situations of infantry rushing in close quarters feel engaging for both parties involved (although the Wraith has a substantial advantage regardless) and although the Wraith fills the role of the Covenant “Tank” it feels much more fair to play against than its UNSC counterpart.

(Adding this bit after I've finished the Wraith section as I forgot it and it'd be easier to just mention it here: the secondary turret on the Wraith... this thing is about as useful as a mall cop. Yeah, go ahead and hop in, Paul Blart, I'm sure you'll be enormously effective in keeping me from getting boarded! Oh, wait, I can do that on my own. Well, you can sit there in the enormous hovering baby walker and entertain yourself by shooting at the wall, because God knows that turret's about as accurate as a platoon of Storm Troopers at any sort of range. Seriously, please stop putting secondary turrets on the fucking tanks unless they're going to DO something. Tanks aren't mobile enough to justify wasting a second body to use in a piss-ant turret. Stop it.)

Chopper (Halo 3)

“Master Chief, that Ghost is operating without core containment!”
“That can only mean one thing... Gorram Reavers!”

No, but seriously, if the Reavers from the Firefly/Serenity universe were to move into the Halo universe and modify a Ghost, you would have the Brute Chopper. The thing is a fucking monster that, while it looks like a Ghost, operates in an entirely different capacity.

There's a vast gap between a Champion of the Chopper and even a veteran of the vehicle. Mastery of the Brute bike was not easy – the thing's momentum and handling made controlling the beast a task in and of itself. On the open maps like Sandtrap (or Standoff Heavy or 1SO on Avalanche), the Chopper was a threat to any vehicle – even those in the sky – hell, a Chopper can SPLATTER Banshees and Hornets if it hits a jump the right way. On the Sandbox variants, the Chopper's power was an entirely different entity – sitting back like an unassailable artilleryman, feathering the trigger to fire long range harassment shots to keep people off the tops of bases and from pushing in the open. No aggression was ever required from the Chopper on Sandbox – just sit back, stay alive, and you will always have to be a consideration of the opposition. The Chopper wasn't really able to be killed on the map unless a lucky Rocket landed or it let the Missile Pod stay locked on a moment or two too long. But even with the simple task of “stay back, stay alive” there was a marked difference between good Chopper drivers and GREAT Chopper drivers. I harp on Gamesager's Banshee prowess a lot – but Fall of Reach was just as good when it came to the Chopper. There were countless games where his Chopper simply could not be taken down and his team came out victorious on the map as a result.

Unlike the Ghost, Meaningful Choices for the Chopper rarely related to splattering infantry – the Chopper's guns were much more powerful versus isolated infantry, so simply staying back and gunning them down was more efficient. Engaging an enemy Chopper often had the choice available of going for a Splatter, if you got behind in damage and simply wanted to go for a trade of kills (double-suicide splatter). The Chopper was stronger playing defensively and focused on interception on larger maps, able to plug Keyhole from any vehicle aggression on Avalanche, or able to control the Rocket-side Dip and keep the map clean of rogue Warthogs. If an enemy light vehicle got onto your tail, you had the option to try to escape into cover and engage when they followed, or to whiptail and head straight into them, using your thresher-like wheels to crush their vehicle and their dreams. Sorry kids, there's no Santa Claus...or Easter Bunny.

On the open maps, Counterplay for the Chopper centered around the same weakness of the Ghost – the pilot is heavily exposed on the rear, while the vehicle itself has a hulking front that protects him from whatever he's looking directly toward. Frag grenades were also much stronger against the Chopper than other vehicles, since throwing the Chopper's momentum off meant forcing a spin out that would leave him disabled almost like an EMP for a moment. On Sandbox, however, there was almost no Counterplay for the Chopper, as I mentioned in the Mastery section, save for lucky Rockets or Missile Pod usage. The bastard would move out to the dunes, position his wheels toward the enemy base, and be protected from any attempts at long range BR fire. Had the game been like Halo Reach and vehicle damage could kill it, the Chopper could've been whittled down until it was disabled, but since Halo 3 had no such mechanic, the Chopper on Sandbox was a stifling, overpowered mess of a harassment vehicle. It could stop any Warthog in its tracks with the physics-heavy weapons that sent a Warthog flying, so the only other vehicle on the map couldn't counter it, and it could stay back out of range for any other weapon to truly be effective against it. It was a nightmare playing against a team with a good Chopper on their roster.

The Chopper itself on Sandbox though was a great assistant for Teamplay – weaken the people in an area, tell your team to push. Clear enemies off the top of the base so your team can push. It was great for racking up assists and a few kills but ensuring your team had the advantage. On Sandtrap, the vehicle was more a lone-wolf style of play, but putting your Chopper on defense in Flag meant the rest of your team could generally play a bit more freely, since the Chopper's ability to stop Warthogs and Mongooses was strong enough to rely on for defense, should anything slip past your Spartan Laser user. The Chopper was great at locking down areas of the map to free up your team to focus elsewhere, knowing they wouldn't be giving up much where the Chopper was patrolling.

There's one issue of Clarity for the Chopper, which also applies to the Halo 3 Hornet, and it's something that all the best users of those vehicles knew: holding the trigger isn't the fastest rate of fire for the vehicle. Feathering the trigger allowed you to fire faster. How's a player supposed to know this outside of experimentation or being told by a source outside the game? They aren't. Bad Clarity. Apart from that, everything about the Chopper is communicated pretty clearly by its visual design – the spiked wheels suggest you may not want to drive straight into it, lest ye become spare parts and the wheels turning sideways as you turn suggest the handling may not be the best. The Chopper's role is made pretty clear the first time you see its weapons in action against a vehicle, as the poor helpless bastard gets sent into a death roll from which there is no recovery prior to being blown to smithereens.

The Evolution of the Chopper depended on the map and the player/team using it. On open maps, some preferred to use it aggressively to stop vehicle runs before they started, some saw it as a stalwart defense. On Sandbox, there was a sort of arms race between the safest defensive positions and ways to get the missile pod-wielder in position to take down the Chopper. The best Chopper pilots stayed ahead of the curve, and as a result, stayed alive. The other unique evolution of the Chopper was strictly on Sandtrap – where, originally in high level games, teams would simply Laser the Banshee rather than rushing for it (meaning, the 1-3 people on the enemy team rushing for it were suddenly put without a task, and thus their manpower was wasted), it was eventually realized the Chopper could fit the same role, flipping and eventually destroying the Banshee faster than a Mongoose or Warthog could reach it. Either way, top teams avoided the initial Banshee on Sandtrap and elected to blow it up instead.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of anti-vehicles, it was the age of suppression, it was the epoch of patrolling, it was the epoch of artillery – in short, the Chopper was such a massively different vehicle depending upon the map, that I insist on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. (That's right, I just gave you a Dickens reference in my blog.) The Chopper is truly a marvelous design in that its usage was so versatile depending on the map's geometry, though it is unfortunate the vehicle was so overpowering and oppressive on Sandbox. If the vehicle existed in a more recent Halo, the power would not have been as great, since it could've been whittled down. Regardless, the Chopper is a monument to beautiful vehicle design.

Revenant (Halo Reach)

The Revenant was the bastard child of the Wraith and the Ghost. An agile artillery vehicle that packed a punch. It was Reach's replacement for the Chopper as there were no Brute vehicles in Reach. It ended up being used in a substantially different niche, however.

Mastery of the Revenant wasn't as pronounced as mastery of the Wraith or Chopper. The Revenant's faster movement speed, projectile speed, and rate of fire made it much easier to use the main weapon than the Wraith. Missing isn't as punished, and should you get in over your head, you can usually flee without much consequence. The prevalence of Armor Lock in matchmaking made attempting to splatter with the Revenant the equivalent of rolling dice – one wrong decision meant one dead Revenant. But patience circumvented the issue and baiting out a player's Armor Lock gauge made the roads a bit safer for more reckless driving. The Revenant wasn't so much a vehicle for dominating your opponents (passenger bug aside, I'll address later) as it was a tool for intercepting advancing enemies without putting yourself at much risk of death.

The Revenant's superb handling and mobility mitigated several of the Meaningful Choices the Chopper had to make regarding when to boost – the Revenant was fast enough to rarely have to worry about a situation that didn't involve a power weapon. The only risky choice a Revenant ever really had to make was whether or not to pick up a passenger while a Wraith was looming nearby. If you got a passenger into the Revenant, you had a good chance to escape with the flag (though, the DMR's accuracy made it quite strong for taking down a passenger and stop the flag run). Really the only choice a Revenant worried about was whether or not to splatter the guy who hasn't used his armor ability in front of you yet. Because it was always a gamble to find out the hard way whether or not he had Armor Lock.

Counterplay for the Revenant is difficult to measure. Without the existence of Armor Lock (read: in BTBnet settings), the Revenant is given free reign as a splatter-mobile and can be a bit more careless in its decision-making. The DMR is able to inflict damage into the Revenant, however, and Reach's permanent vehicle health damage ensured that attempting to do so enough would eventually whittle the bastard down. Even if your Warthog got taken down by the Revy, as you drove it to the levee, you wouldn't come up dry. The chain gun's damage would stick with the Revenant until your next run, increasing your chance of coming out ahead the next time. Still, the Revenant was a powerful vehicle and essentially a mini-tank with ridiculous agility, and could be a major thorn in the side if not dealt with quickly. Reach's nerfed Spartan Laser and preference to include the Plasma Launcher on maps gave the Revenant a little more wiggle room compared to Halo 3 vehicles, even for a side that was behind.

The major points of Teamplay for the Revenant focused around using its agility as an objective carrier or abusing a bug present in all passenger seats in Halo Reach. Although it applied to the Warthog/Mongoose as well, the bug was given the nickname “The Revenant Bug” because it was in the Revenant it was first discovered that the aim assist for headshot weapons was given enormous weighting to grant almost a guaranteed headshot...and this included the Sniper. Putting your Sniper into the Revenant and driving around meant easy sniper kills (although, it also usually meant you were picking on weaklings.) This bug wasn't practical to abuse in high level play, but several clips circled the BTB community showing off the enormous Sniper sprees players could rack up against teams of randoms. Apart from those aspects, the Revenant's teamplay usually revolved around keeping threats away from the Wraith and patrolling the map to stop flanks. Teamshot could take the bastard down, but it took enough bullets to discourage trying unless you were safe from other infantry fire.

Clarity, Reach, Dead Horse, vehicle health. SHOW US HOW MUCH DAMAGE OUR VEHICLE CAN TAKE BEFORE THE NEXT STAGE OF DAMAGE. SHOW US WHEN/IF THAT DAMAGE REGENERATES. Everything else about it was pretty clear cut. Your remaining boost amount was tied to the Armor Ability gauge, and the reticule even has an indicator to let you know how long until you can fire again (it blinks three times). So apart from the dead horse complaint, the Revenant does a fine job of letting the player know what's what.

Unlike the Chopper, the Revenant's usage didn't vary much depending upon the map. In fact, because of its mobility and mortaresque firing mechanism, it wasn't really as useful on the smaller or medium-sized maps as the Chopper. As far as its usage on the maps where it was utilized, it was fairly predictable, but there was always room for individual decision-making regarding how to utilize the fuchsia bullet. Individual playstyles mattered more for its deployment than a strict metagame of players, so the Revenant was a vehicle of freedom of choice. And given its mobility, it had plenty of choice.

The Revenant was a fun vehicle to use, but overall it felt like it lacked a clear identity. It wasn't as strong as the Chopper in anti-vehicular duties (though, given Reach's implementation of vehicle health, it isn't as though that niche was a necessity), and its mobility and inclusion of a passenger seat made it outshine the niche of the Warthog as an objective delivery driver, while also carrying superior firepower. The vehicle was less like a light vehicle and more like a light tank, with all the mobility of a Ghost. It was almost as though the Reach designers realized how powerful the Chopper had actually been and tried to find a way to match that while attempting to design something intended for more aggressive use. I'd almost compare the Revenant to new champion designs in League of Legends – it had an overloaded kit designed to rival other champions' mobility while having higher damage potential and extra utility, to make sure it got used as much as possible. It was a case of having too much, though it was balanced by the power of the DMR in 8v8 settings. And Armor Lock. Fuck Armor Lock.

Banshee (Halo Reach)

I know I'm pretty centered around Halo Reach for this. Kinda funny, as much as we voice disdain for Halo Reach, when my former team and I reminisce about the different Halos, we realize a lot of the good things Halo Reach gave us. That's right, I said Halo Reach had some good things. (A shame it got buried under bloom and armor abilities and a 3x zoom heavy aim assist weapon.) Anyway, to the point... The Halo Reach Banshee seemed weak to most players. It seemed to fly like a brick. Attempting to use the primary guns got you shot out of the sky and melted by DMR fire. The Halo 3 flight method of sitting at the ceiling of the map and reigning down plasma like napalm was no longer a viable strategy. Then came Gamesager (the most prominent of good Banshee pilots – don't get me wrong, there were other good Banshee pilots...but if you ask a Reach BTB player to name a Banshee pilot, you will ALWAYS get the response of Gamesager.) And then the Reach Banshee's secrets were unlocked.

Mastery. Oh lord, the difference between someone who hopped in the Banshee because there was a Banshee and someone who actually knew how to use the Banshee. Mastery is the selling point of the Halo Reach Banshee. Top pilots controlled games. If you let an Ace pilot get in a Banshee, you fucked over your team. If you didn't immediately have your Sniper dump his entire clip into the Banshee, you fucked over your team. When a top pilot got in the Banshee, there was no more DMRing it. Aerial acrobatics were a must – if you stopped flipping, your armor started melting. Of course, timing your flips was also important, flipping as you fired a Banshee bomb accelerated the missile as well as increased the aim assist. If you flipped randomly, you couldn't ensure you were picking off stragglers with ease in the process. Even on a map like Tears of Joy with its neutral Banshee and hugely open sightlines, an ace pilot could stay alive long enough to reach Rampage sprees or beyond. Paradiso was controlled by the better Banshee, where although the Scorpion could take it down in one shot, a pilot with balls and skill could neutralize the enemy Scorpion and set up for full control of the mountain.

The Mastery spilled over into Meaningful Choices. Enemy has Laser, you don't have to be afraid. Hell, you're so goddamned acrobatic you can dodge it, right? No need to fear the lock-on mechanisms of the Plasma Launcher and Rocket Launcher. Those are just for Falcons. Just flip, you're free of locks! The Banshee was so feared on Spire, some offensive-side teams made the ultimate choice: They would lift 3-4 players to top Spire and unload their DMRs into the Banshee to ensure that no one got it off the start. As your health whittled down to dangerous levels, it became a question of whether you continue to make bomb runs and lose the Banshee or keep lurking in the shadows for an opportunity to make a safer assault. If the enemy's Sniper was active, do you wait for him to burn his shots on infantry, or do you fly free from fear, hoping he doesn't choose to target you (note: 5 shots from a Sniper would kill a Banshee.)

In terms of Counterplay, the options for a regular soldier against a -good- Banshee were highly limited. Your DMR could put in damage, (and, unlike Halo 3, where the SMG and AR were more effective against the flying menace, actually using your DMR was better, since it dealt more damage to the vehicle.) but mostly it was the equivalent of buzzing mosquitoes and simply made the Banshee retreat to regenerate the invisible health before a stage of damage was taken before retaking the skies and smiting the nuisances with the green bolts of doom. If you didn't have a Laser, a Sniper, a Banshee of your own, or a Tank...your chances against a Banshee were nearly zero. Your best bet in matchmaking occurrences was to Armor Lock to survive the Banshee Bomb and then resume shooting it until it fled or bled.

Teamplay: EVERYONE SHOOT THE BANSHEE. SERIOUSLY, JUST LOOK UP AND SHOOT IT. IGNORE THE OTHER 7 MEMBERS OF THE TEAM, SHOOT THE BANSHEE. This may sound ridiculous, but that's basically what the communications of a team left on the wrong side of an asymmetrical Banshee situation sounded like. If you left the Banshee alone, you lost. If you ignored the other 7 members and focused the Banshee, you may stop the bleeding before you gave up an objective or fell into insurmountable leads in Slayer, but oftentimes, unequal Banshee usage meant game over. As far as using the Banshee, its teamplay encouragement revolved around communicating the status of enemy threats – Tank, Laser, Sniper. Find out where those are, fly elsewhere, or fly straight at them and kill them, depending on whether you thought the Banshee's boosters could support the weight of your enormous medicine balls for testicles or not.

Clarity. Reach. Dead Horse. Vehicle Health. Yadda yadda yadda. Once again, the Reach UI makes it visible when you'll be able to fire again (there's a small bar that fills up on the Banshee Bomb's reticule). The Boost mechanism is communicated through the Armor Ability slot. It's a little unclear upon first entering the Banshee that there are two weapons – there's no indicator apart from the reticule to show which of the two weapons you have active. If you are coming straight in from Halo 3, you may wonder how to use your Banshee Bombs, which were tied to the melee button in the previous title (though, to highlight the step up in Clarity, Halo 3 didn't show how long it took for a Banshee Bomb to recharge). Some sort of UI inclusion to explain there are two weapons would be a nice help to ease newer players into the vehicle. Furthermore, the aforementioned “accelerated Banshee Bomb” from flipping is also not something made clear to the player – though I suspect it is a bug with a similar source as the Halo 4 “super grenade” that was patched out, and therefore not something the developers were aware existed.

The Banshee's Evolution in Reach was simple: Get good, kid. If you learned how to fly as well as the best pilots, you were a major force on the battlefield. If you couldn't fly, you were a deadweight in the sky. You were fired years ago, but somehow through a glitch in payroll you still drew a check. Better hope an enemy doesn't fix the glitch. It's hard to overstate it, but a good Banshee pilot dominated games. Period. The forward flips while boosting, the flipbombs, the daring bomb runs with seemingly-narrow-but-not-really-all-that-close escapes were all made possible entirely by the user's aptitude with the Banshee. And being able to pull those off meant you could rack up easy Running Riots or Inconceivables or whatever spree you really wanted depending on how cautious you decided to be.

Seriously though, if you want a vehicle with a near-limitless skill ceiling that highlights even a marginal difference in skill between two pilots, the Banshee is the pinnacle of design in that regard. Was it overpowered? Absolutely. Was that a good thing, given Reach's vehicle health mechanics? Maybe. It may have been a little on the too-tough-to-handle end of the spectrum, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, given it required a huge time/skill investment to get that good with the Banshee. It was seriously an artform that, even at the end of Reach's lifespan, I could count on one hand the number of pilots who had reached the level of Ace pilot. As a competitive player, the frustration of being destroyed by the Banshee was outweighed by the admiration for the level of skill required to utilize the vehicle in such a dominant manner. Granted, weighing it against unorganized play and unskilled players would DEFINITELY push it into the zone of “too stronk pls nerf.”

Spectre/Prowler (Halo 2/Halo 3)

I'm doing a two-piece for the last vehicle, because both attempted to fill a similar niche. They were a 4-seat vehicle in an 8v8 game mode that rarely got used in the manner they were intended. The turrets were ineffective against competent opponents, and the side seats were rarely a place you'd want to be unless you were in an objective gametype and some idiot decided to drive the Spectre or Prowler. I will offer the caveat that I haven't played Halo 2 in 8 years, so I'm a bit rusty on the Spectre, but for the most part, the only thing I recall it being used for was climbing the wall on Coagulation to get into the Sniper nest spot on one side of the map.

Mastery of the Spectre/Prowler... It's like driving a Warthog that can't actually deal damage at range. So you've got a greater chance of being stuck, a greater chance of getting in too deep, and a greater chance of just being absolutely fucked over. The Spectre had some decent mobility, and wasn't as affected by terrain as the Warthog, but its primary cannon was shit. It was a rapid-fire plasma cannon, with standard plasma projectiles. It's good for dropping shields, but actually finishing the kills meant having ridiculous accuracy, and with the slower projectile speed plasma weapons have, it's hard to actually get a kill beyond being in close. The Prowler mitigated that SLIGHTLY in two ways – it put the turret up front (means, you're a little closer to the target your driver is trying to deliver you to), and it replaced the frame of the vehicle with a doom sled. Most often, when you saw a player on HaloCharts with a high amount of Prowler kills, they weren't from the turret – Bungie paid so little attention to the vehicle in its design that it counted both splatters and turret kills as the same weapon...and the enormous block of a front the Prowler had made it great for splattering. In fact, although the Chopper was known for its ability to Splatter anything, the Prowler, used properly, could splatter a Chopper. It was that scary.

The only Meaningful Choice for a Spectre is “Don't.” Don't get in. Don't attempt. Don't drive. Don't waste your time. The Prowler's adjustments to the design gave it a little bit more leeway. Again, the hulking front made passengers a bit safer from damage, and the vehicle's penchant for splattering made it a fantastic tool for the variant One Bomb on Sand TARP. Deliver the Bomb, use Doom Sled to splatter anyone off of it. Win round. But mostly, either vehicle was dead weight. The Prowler just gave you better potential to run over foes who underestimate the Prowler's size and speed.

Countering the Spectre and Prowler is as simple as ignoring them. Okay, not completely ignoring them, they CAN kill you. They just probably won't. I mean, they've got those useless plasma turrets. Just stay away from the roads where they can splatter you and you're pretty much safe from them. They can't turn on a dime, so stick to lateral movements when attempting to escape. Their frames are huge, throw a Plasma Grenade. It's not difficult to deal with a Spectre or Prowler. And, if they were dumb enough to load up to the T, then congratulations on your Killtacular / Overkill (depending on the game) that was just gift-wrapped for you and delivered by the Sleigh of Sangheili Claus. Hey, I only said SANTA doesn't exist.

Teamwork makes the Dreamwork. But while you may think you're on the Road to El Dorado, you're really on your way to being Shrekt if you attempt to seriously utilize the Spectre or Prowler. They're too weak to be effective. Seriously, you'd have better luck trying to learn How to Train Your Dragon than trying to drive a gunner for either of these vehicles to get kills. Unless your opponents are straight out of the jungles of Madagascar and just learning how to play video games for the first time, you're better off ignoring these vehicles and sticking to playing the game on foot. Or, if you remember the “Halo True Men of Genius” series, being “Mr. Take Off In the Warthog with No Gunner Man” – except in the case of the Spectre or Prowler, you may actually be a true man of genius by doing so. Hell, you may even call yourself MegaMind as you roam the dunes of Sand Tarp in a lone Prowler, splattering the Nomadic Spartans attempting to walk the earth a bit. But seriously, these vehicles suck (in terms of effectiveness.)

To be honest, I couldn't actually remember if the Spectre had a booster or not and looked up some YouTube videos to refresh my memory (it appears to). Not that it matters much, you don't need to know if the Spectre can boost or not to know it's as effective and likely to enact change and reform the status quo as a third-party Presidential candidate. Regardless, the Clarity of the vehicles is somewhat cut and dry. The Spectre's side seats are a bit easier to recognize than the Prowler's (which, in Sand Tarp bomb, were sometimes problematic attempting to find and get your bomb carrier on in a timely manner. The Prowler's front design does suggest it's not a wise idea to run into – the teeth/mouth appearance make it seem it eats smaller vehicles for breakfast. The turret's reticule is static, although it has a very apparent Bloom mechanism behind it if you hold down the trigger as opposed to pulsing it. I'm honestly not sure why a plasma turret has bloom given the (relative to bullets) slow travel time of the projectiles – it's hard enough to get the bead on your opponents to START hitting them, why make it even harder by introducing randomness?

The Evolution of these vehicles...well, let's just say they were taught Evolution by Red State schools deep in the Bible Belt, and leave it at that. It's just nonsense, that's all.

Overall, these are less effective Warthogs with a less clear purpose (why are there TWO passenger seats?) and more exposure to danger (gunner in Spectre is highly exposed, driver on Prowler is). The one advantage the Prowler has over the Warthog is how protected its gunner is, but given the Plasma's comparatively weaker damage versus vehicles, a Warthog still has the advantage. Still, most players who insisted on using either vehicle used them alone, relying on the mobility and potential for splattering over actually attempting to utilize the guns. I'm going to say it one more time: Plasma Turrets in Halo suck. They don't do anything effectively. If they had an effect of stunning vehicles like Halo: CE's Plasma Rifle stunned players, maybe it'd be better, but... since they do not, it's a moot point.

That's the end of my two-part series analyzing Halo's vehicles versus Riot's 6 core gameplay design tenets. I know it was a lot of words; I tried to weave in some humor and pop culture references to add brevity and make it worth the read. If you read it and disagree with anything or think I've missed something, PLEASE, comment below or message me some feedback – I'd love to hear it. It's how I can grow as a game designer and competitive gamer.

I hope those of you who made it through this 21 page, 14,000 word thesis of a rant enjoyed the ride. Because unfortunately, the game didn't tell us how much vehicle health we had left and now we're about to blow u