Thursday, September 3, 2015

Audley's Workshop: Balancing an FPS Vehicle Sandbox

I'm bored and feeling creative, so it's time for another visit to Audley's Workshop.

This time, instead of talking about a variety of guns from the Halo series, I'm going to focus on the vehicles we've encountered in the past. Just in case my previous rants about Halo vehicles weren't enough (Part 1, Part 2). And unlike the situation with guns, where I was mostly speaking of how to buff underpowered weapons into being used competitively...this time I'll be talking about how to make certain vehicles more fair to play against.

I'm gonna cover a few Halo vehicles as well as a few vehicles from other shooters that we've seen. Vehicular sandboxes are one of my favorite parts of most FPS games. Fuck running around on foot, there's driving to be done!

To start, let's talk about Halo 3's most overpowered vehicle (that was witnessed in matchmaking, I'm not counting the default Hornet).

No, it's not a tank.

It was this motherfucker right here. The Brute Chopper.

I referred to it once as “If Firefly Reapers got a hold of a Covenant Ghost” and I don't think that's far off. On enormous open maps like Sandtrap, the Chopper actually had meaningful trade-offs. The Chopper was forced to move, exposing its weakness of having three sides completely open to small arms fire.

Unfortunately, because the Halo 3 BR was not really a long ranged weapon (unlike the CE pistol, H2 BR, Reach DMR, etc.)...most of the maps in Halo 3 ended up not being very large. And as a result, we ended up with this map called Sandbox.

On Sandbox, the Chopper became a monster. The best Chopper pilots simply moved out to the dunes and fired from afar, feathering their trigger to rapidfire long range, high damage shots at anyone found out of cover. Only the Missile Pod or Rocket Launchers could threaten to dislodge a Chopper from its post on the edge of the map, as well. With those threats heavily telegraphed, it was rather easy to keep the Chopper in its oppressive suppressive mode.

Granted, there is one easy solution to balancing the vehicle in TODAY'S context...Reach introduced Vehicle Health, which means any vehicle can simply die from small arms fire. Just BR the bastard til it blows up... But how do you balance the emergent gameplay of the Chopper within the context of Halo 3?

There are two “easy routes” to take in regards to the vehicle.

The first is to simply reduce its standard fire range, missile speed, or gun damage in order to further encourage the use of the grinding front tires to splatter Spartans across whatever improvised road you choose. The issue with this easy route is that the Chopper had notoriously bad handling when making any sort of sharp turn (which would be necessary whenever playing on Sandbox map variants, as the maps featured some tight corridors).

The second easy route would be to gut the Chopper's impenetrable front armor identity and separate the wheels ever-so-slightly in order to expose the driver's head. This route leads to a “feels bad man” situation for drivers where there is no correct decision to make in terms of positioning, as you have no safety.

If the latter option WERE explored, increased side or rear armor would also be necessary to compensate for the new heavy exposure to danger from the front. Requiring more precision to take down a pilot from the sides or rear also somewhat encourages more aggressive plays from the Chopper as a missed Splatter does not necessarily equate to death.

An alternate method is one that would fit the animation of the Chopper much better, improving its visceral feel and the level of mastery necessary to operate the Chopper on smaller maps, while also ensuring the “park and be a mortar cannon” style of play was no longer possible, without actually nerfing the Chopper's viability in other roles – Because the wheels are constantly grinding/rolling, even while the Chopper is stalled, the Chopper could have a consistent forward momentum – guaranteeing the vehicle moves forward, even if very slightly. This means parking on the dunes has a limited timer, or a sort of cooldown for how long you are able to maintain the position. While on larger maps, where the Chopper must be constantly on the hunt for new vehicles as its pilot hums the theme from Jaws, this forward momentum would not greatly impact its playstyle or use cases.

Next on the Chopping block (Ha, Chopper, Chopping block... Great Segue m8) hands down the most overpowered vehicle in Halo history when used optimally... a level of play less than a dozen players can honestly say they Reached during the vehicle's game's lifespan. (Ha, you'll see what I did there in a second.)

The Halo Reach Banshee.

This fucker right here. THIS fucker.

Okay, if you ever faced Gamesager in the Banshee (or a handful of ace pilots that existed in the game), you know how fucking absurdly broken this vehicle was. Outside of the hands of ace pilots, the Banshee could be taken down by a coordinated assault of DMRs or a lucky Laser.

The only thing an Ace Banshee pilot feared? No, not a tank. Not a Spartan Laser. Not Rockets (ha, flips break lock-ons, good luck hitting me sucka). They feared Sniper Rifles.

But the Banshee in the hands of an ace pilot was truly a weapon to be feared – the type of fear that could also be mistaken for respect. I've said in my most recent blog that MOBILITY IS SURVIVABILITY. Well, when you have the fastest vehicle in the game able to dodge and roll (which breaks any sort of lock on), you've multiplied that survivability to crazy levels. Coupled with properly timed boosts, the Banshee's flip animation could be faster and cover more ground. If you thought Neo was crazy for dodging bullets in The Matrix, then seeing an ace Banshee pilot zip across the sky might leave you with dampened pants.

But that wasn't all that made the Banshee strong. Like its Halo 3 counterpart, the Reach Banshee had the ability to fire fuel rods at its opponents. Giant green Banshee Bombs that could kill in a single hit. Normally, these were easy to dodge. But the most mobile vehicle in the game and greatest of aerial vehicles in Halo history came with a trick up its wing.

Those flips I mentioned? Yeah, if you had a target in your sights as you did one, and launched a banshee bomb at the same time... that target was 100% dead. Because a flip accelerated the Banshee Bomb and magnified the aim assist.

While this was probably a bug, it was an enormous part of Ace pilots ability to find an isolated target, flip toward them, bombflipdestroy them, and literally flip the fuck out. No one was safe from your reign of terror.

So, balance issues:
  • wtf sniper damage destroys me

How do you solve?

This is one where the obvious answer is probably the right choice – fix the interaction where flipping makes the Banshee bomb a guaranteed kill. Yes, you'll make many a Banshee pilot angry by nerfing their guaranteed damage and greatly exposing them to increased risk for much more difficult to acquire reward.

This is an instance where compensatory buffs are necessary. Because when the Banshee wasn't flipgodding their way to instakills and flipgodding back out... it really wasn't an effective combat vehicle.

The Banshee definitely needed improved front armor, to better encourage the use of its nose cannons (which were a death trap to actually use – using them instead of the Banshee Bomb meant you weren't flipping. Which meant you were dying to DMR fire from every angle on the map. And if the enemy had a Sniper Rifle, you were dead (5 shots from the Sniper meant a dead Banshee. Period.)

I would also personally increase the damage from the nose cannons as well as their targeting reliability – leave the Banshee bombs for cleaning up targets in cover. Tighten up the ability to utilize the nose cannons when entering or exiting a flip so target acquisition can come sooner as you roleplay AcroBatman across the sky over Gotham. Any tweak that can encourage the Banshee user to use the actual guns of the Banshee over the Banshee Bombs is a step closer to a balanced flipgod machine.

Now, you've finally nerfed Gamesager. Sort of. The survivability is still there (flipgod for days) but the damage is not. You've now made the hardest vehicle to master in Halo even harder to master...

OH WELL, on to the next subject!

The Gauss Warthog.

This one, I'm going to keep short and sweet. In fact, we'll balance it without actually touching the vehicle.

Halo 2 is the strongest incarnation of the Gauss Warthog we ever saw. It was an instant kill, somewhat rapid fire vehicle turret that ensured the demise of anyone on a level playing field with it. Halo 3 nerfed the rate of fire, but the vehicle dominated even harder than the previous iteration. Halo Reach...well, we never saw it because it was bugged and literally fired through Forge objects. In Halo 4, we saw the Gauss on Exile completely dominate games even when players could spawn with Plasma pistols and Plasma grenades to take it down. It saw longer sprees than the Mantis could ever dream of. Its rate of fire and aim assist were nerfed, but it continued to dominate.

In Halo 2 Anniversary, 343 took a heavy hand to the Gauss and turned its firing mechanism from an instant kill upon trigger pull into a charged up shot much like the Halo 4 Railgun, which made it a bit unwieldy for the user.

Ironically, the strongest iteration of the Gauss Warthog (Halo 2's) was the least dominant. (Unless you directly compare H2A Stonetown versus H2 Zanzibar, in which case Stonetown Gauss is weaker. Over the whole of H2, however, the Gauss was less dominant than a Gauss on Stonetown in H2A can be.)

With the new incarnations of Halo, the developers failed to properly assess what made the Gauss acceptable in Halo 2.

The vehicle existed on maps such as Zanzibar, Headlong, and Terminal in Halo 2. Each of these maps featured either extreme verticality, heavily segmented map design, or both in conjunction with one another. There were plenty of paths along the map that were free from the gun's reign of terror. Its turret's range of motion wasn't steep enough to pick off targets overhead.

The Gauss Warthog saw repeated nerfs in subsequent games because it wasn't viewed contextually, nor was it allowed to be placed on maps that let it take control of low impact areas of the map (low field on Headlong, the fields on Terminal) – it could easily control those areas, but could not reach the portions of the map which were necessary for scoring an objective. (I mean, the Gauss COULD drive there if you were determined, but... not really the best place to be.)


Okay, enough about Halo vehicles... lets talk about something from another game...

This is the Flail, from PlanetSide. If you've driven the Wraith in Halo, you have a mild idea of what the Flail is like. But now take that Wraith range (base to base on Blood Gulch maps)...and multiply it by about ten. The Flail could fire from base to base on the expansive PlanetSide continents.

But there's a problem... the Flail pilot can't see anything he's doing. In order to utilize the Flail, you need a second person in your Squad with a weapon called a Laze Pointer. The Flail was never self-sufficient. It wasn't uncommon to see a column of Flails all in the same squad with a single person painting targets to unleash a cataclysm of plasma mortars raining from the sky.

Unfortunately, this is at odds with the PlanetSide 2 design goals which insisted every non-transport vehicle was given some degree of self-sufficiency (all tanks gave control of the main cannon to the pilot, rather than locking the guns away to additional passengers.)

So my favorite PlanetSide vehicle was not allowed to play in the sandbox with its other friends when they made the switch to the new playground.

How can we fix it?

The first option is to include a camera in the shots – each time you fire you're given a fly-by-wire camera to spot where your shots are actually going. (This functionality definitely exists in the game, as it is the NC's Empire Specific Rocket Launcher, the Phoenix's method of operation.) The issue for this idea, of course, is that the travel time of the shot is often longer than the time it takes to recharge shots, so you'd be forcing a player to sacrifice potential damage output / suppression time in order to line up their shot. A second issue is that this doesn't help prevent the trial-and-error shots from ending up landing among your own army and betraying everyone.

An alternate route is to have the vehicle automatically place a personal waypoint where its shots will land – this helps you better understand what you're going to hit and where to aim to get your desired result. While this one doesn't carry the drawbacks of the previous option, it's perhaps a bit TOO user friendly and may make the vehicle too easy to use.

The third route combines the first two: have the vehicle include a deploy option before it may begin firing (which I'm fairly sure the original already had) – once deployed, the vehicle first releases a drone, piloted by the player. This drone may be flown wherever, and then the drone must also be deployed. Once the drone is deployed, a waypoint is placed in order to target the drone (which is immune to Flail fire, but susceptible to being killed by other weaponry.) If killed by other weaponry, the Flail must release another drone in order to continue firing. This keeps the vehicle user-friendly and capable as a fantastic mortar vehicle, but also grants counterplay to those who are under siege from the mortar (an option not present in the original PlanetSide, where all it took was a stealthed player with a laser pointer to declare your base Plasma Crater Number 722A.

And now the Flail is free to exist in the context of PlanetSide 2.

I wanted to cover a vehicle from Unreal Tournament as well, but I couldn't honestly think of one other than the Leviathan that felt like it wasn't well-balanced in the context of the game. And the Leviathan was meant to feel the way it did. (5 player vehicle, of COURSE it's going to be OP).

So instead I'm just going to say: Unreal Tournament's Manta and Scorpion are fucking fantastic examples of how to handle self-sufficient vehicles with trade-offs and noticeable weaknesses.

And with that, I'm wrapping up this trip to Audley's Workshop. Hope you enjoyed!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Competitively, Halo and League of Legends are basically the same game.

Competitively, Halo and League of Legends are basically the same game.

"Okay Audley, you've gone off the fucking deep end. How can a first person shooter with equal starts and a top-down MOBA with 100+ champions be the same game?"

I'm going to start off with extremely generic descriptions, but transition into more complex facets of play that exist in both titles that players may be completely unaware are parallel.

The team is more important than the individual. In both games, it's extremely unlikely one player will single-handedly carry the game. Furthermore, a team of 4/5 players that work together well are more likely to win than a team of 4/5 players that have superior skills, so long as the individual skill gap isn't enough to outweigh the teamwork team's ability to execute at all.

At the start of the game, both games have a generic win condition. Whether it be "Destroy the Nexus" in LoL or whatever the game type in Halo it is you're playing, there is a condition for victory.

On your way to the ultimate victory, there are smaller conditions that must be executed to accrue an advantage to set you up for that victory. In Halo, this is generally related to map control and power weapons. In LoL, it can range from taking towers and Dragons to item powerspikes, to certain level breakpoints that give you a certain skill powerspike.

Depending on your current circumstance, your actual "win condition" may vary wildly. In LoL, some team compositions simply reach a point that they can no longer be fought. Others rely on pressuring advantages early to get a large enough lead to overcome later troughs. Some rely on team fighting, while others rely on avoiding team fighting at all costs. In Halo, your win condition is not always "reach the max score" -- but simply to have a high score than your opponent. Near the end of Oddball games, you may simply try to keep the Oddball in a neutral location to keep the opponents from racking up score while you sit on a lead, rather than try to hold the ball yourself.

Information wins games. Both are imperfect information games, where you know for certain where you are at any given time. LoL gives you a minimap with other areas of revealed vision (allied towers, allied champions, allied wards). Halo gives you icons that show whether your teammate is in combat or not. But neither of these are enough.

You still need to know where your enemies are, whether through warding, pinging or calling out their location. You need to know what weapons or major cooldowns players have available to use, both on your own team and on the enemy team. These bits of information get fed into you through communication in games and empower you to make better decisions on where to go or what sort of plays you can potentially get away with attempting. Aggressive plays while the enemy outnumbers you in an area get punished, but knowing the enemy are concentrated on one side may let you know you can jump out and out-BR the fellow in the rocks (or all-in the enemy top laner and take his tower.)

Each game has lanes, and a blown lane assignment must be compensated elsewhere. Halo's lanes aren't as pronounced as League of Legends, but if you examine the successful competitive maps carefully, there is a general trend of aisles of play with segmented sightlines that force map areas to operate in a nearly linear fashion. On certain maps (Sanc, Pit) if a team takes map control from one “lane”, the best way to offset that is to press your advantage in another lane and “flip” the map to neutralize the bleed caused in one lane. In LoL, you'll often find successful solo queue junglers abandon losing lanes and attempt to snowball lanes that are doing well. Or in competitive LoL, you'll see teams that lose an objective on one side of the map often attempt to mirror the objective on the other side whenever possible.

When you're leading, you want to get further ahead. In LoL, this can mean continuously beating down on your lane opponent, taking objectives, or simply getting wards in the enemy jungle to track his movements so you can continue to execute. It could mean forcing a team fight, or overloading another lane while your opponent tries to catch up in your lane. Snowballs are common and easy to spot in LoL.

In Halo, snowballs come from two things: power weapon control and spawn killing. If you've got a numerical advantage, you push, you take over map control (or grab a power weapon). If you've reached the enemy base, you take their flag (and run it wherever their numbers are going to be weakest once they spawn.) Whenever possible, you kill the people as they respawn to avoid letting them influence whatever play is currently happening. You never drop an empty enemy Sniper in H2A, to keep them from ever seeing their rifle again. You always try to position in a way that will influence enemy spawns in a way that make killing them like fish in a barrel.

Sitting on a lead leads to comeback opportunities. Pressing an advantage leads to frantic decisions, forced mistakes, and steeper advantages.

When you're trailing, it's better to stall out than to try to force plays against the team with the advantage. In LoL, attempting to team fight at Dragon while down a few thousand gold in the mid game can turn into a dire situation of being aced and hemorrhaging towers. You can often offset leads by getting small areas of vision control and making a pick-off to slowly ease the gold lead into your favor, while champions with waveclear keep your towers safe. The longer the game goes on in LoL when you are trailing but avoiding giving up larger advantages, the less that flat gold advantage means as the percent advantage decreases.

In Halo, if your opponents have map control or power weapon control lorded over you, it's often best to play passively until your opponents overextend, and retake map control while you've gotten a numerical advantage. Map and weapon control are fluid, and avoiding hemorrhaging kills will allow your team to either take over new focal points on the map as weapons respawn / hills move or to take over the strong areas of the map to set up to slay your opponents and close the gap.

Team compositions are important. In LoL, it's pretty obvious that you don't want to run a team with 5 Marksmen. Such a composition relies on nearly perfect play to be able to execute a win, and the susceptibility to enemy burst or crowd control can leave you in big trouble. You generally want someone to tank, someone to support, a mage/assassin with damage from spells, and an ADC to deal damage with clicking (and probably double down on the tankiness).

In Halo, it's less obvious, and although many pros deny the existence of roles, time has shown again and again, rosters with a player dedicated to Sniping (ADC!), one generally dedicated to “selfless” plays (support) (flanking, objective-running), one player balls-out aggressive with a dominant BR (tank/bruiser), and another dedicated to controlling certain areas of the map (control mage) tend to have the most consistent high placings. Teams made of players of similar styles often struggle, and teams made of lesser skilled players with a decent composition often out-perform expectations.

Speaking of controlling certain areas of the map, Zoning is an important aspect in both games. In LoL, zoning usually refers to a player with high burst potential or CC / Engage potential standing in a position and using their presence as threat enough to keep a damage dealer from moving forward (or in some cases, like Alistar W, using the ability to keep them from coming near Baron while you finish off your smite.) Zoning can also accrue you advantages in minion kills or experience during the laning phase by keeping the enemy away from the minion wave.

In Halo, zoning is what makes Ogre 2 great. Whether he's controlling an actual power position or a portal on Warlord and watching cross-map sightlines, he's often in a position to keep other players from threatening his team, while staying relatively safe himself. Players also often use grenades to cut off a route or impede an enemy's advance moreso than to actually attempt damage. In H2A's King of the Hill on Warlord, controlling the base counter-clockwise from the hill often meant the best sightlines to assault the hill, while also great amounts of safety from the players spawning directly opposite of the hill's base – able to force those players into a less optimal path in order to advance for the objective.

Both games also emphasize Spacing quite heavily. Again, Spacing is something more prominent / known in LoL than in Halo. It generally refers to the distance between you/your teammates compared to the distance between you/your enemies. This mostly comes into play during laning phase and team fights. In bot lane, you usually don't want to attempt to trade when you are in range of both enemy laners – you want to trade while you+your ally are in range of the enemy ADC, but not in range of the support. This ensures you have more damage potential on a single target than you would with improper spacing. Qiao Gu demonstrate the power of teamfight spacing with the synergy between their mid laner and ADC, who are almost always in position to focus the same target in a teamfight.

In Halo, you'll find the more successful teams often talk to each other on positioning, and communicate whether they have another's help or not. Less successful teams focus on enemy positioning entirely, and don't focus on whether or not they have the ability to cover each other's sightlines. This also ties back into the aforementioned “lanes” of Halo – you can see OpTic Maniac often shift to the opposite side of Shrine off spawn to cover an uncovered lane while also guaranteeing he has additional angles on players his teammates may be fighting. Coach Towey of Evil Geniuses does a great job coordinating EG's ability to cover one another and ensure they are spaced well.

In both titles, if you were to make a sort of imaginary venn diagram of your potential damage / engage ranges over the course of an entire game, you'd likely find the most successful teams have the highest concentrated / most occurrences of overlap whenever they're in combat.

Mobility is survivability.

This aspect of both games is both accepted and entirely overlooked simultaneously. Sure, people acknowledge Flash is almost 100% must-take on most champions in LoL. They acknowledge that the amount of champions with dashes or hastes in their kits has been gradually increasing over time. Halo players acknowledge Sprint gets used defensively more often than offensively. And that often, attempting to chase is more dangerous than attempting to flee. But what they don't seem to acknowledge is the amount of damage you can avoid simply by being mobile.

Dodging engages in LoL with a blink, staying just-out-of-range of those melees through the Captain's aura from your Janna as you flee toward her with 18% increased movespeed...every missed skillshot or second you stay out of range simply by moving, you've given yourself additional survivability that can't be directly quantified. Is 20 movespeed worth more than 200 health? If it gets you out of the way of that Morgana binding, it absolutely is. If it helps keep you 50 extra range out of the way of Annie's ultimate as she activates Talisman and starts booking it straight for you, it is.

In the upcoming Halo 5, the Thruster Pack and Sprint combine to add so much additional survivability (even with the cost of delaying your shield respawn, it gives more than it takes). Grenades lose relevance as player mobility increases (limiting them almost solely to zoning potential or spot-checking). Close range combat becomes a battle of who can out-maneuver the other, with several areas of low ledges offering potential to parkour your way out of there with a combination of clamber and thrusters. Hell, even being able to get from one location to another more quickly can mean you snagging the power weapon before your opponent, or getting clear of a line of sight before an opponent has a chance to set up a shot with their sniping pick-off tool. Projectile weapons like the Plasma Caster are not much different than a LoL skillshot, and with the leaps granted by the Thruster, this means your best tool to survive isn't whether or not you have shields, but whether or not you can dance.

I truly believe that, at their core, almost all of these aspects of gameplay can be applied to any competitive title (and actually, to any team sport in existence) – LoL and Halo are just the two I have the most experience with and can generate the most examples of overlap from.

While I don't feel I am THAT mechanically skilled at either game (I honestly can't aim for shit in Halo), I take an analytical, measured approach to playing both and focus on playing smart over playing well. I am currently Diamond 4 in League of Legends and have coached a few pro and amateur Halo teams. I also never lose a matchmaking game of Warlord King, by applying the LoL concept of Zoning to every game I play.

Thinking about games in terms of overlapping concepts can help you improve your individual and team-based play and help you see a marked improvement in your ranking.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Audley's Workshop: Balancing an FPS Sandbox

A while back, I did a blog on having certain weapons appeal to multiple playstyles, referring to the horribly vague MtG archetypes Timmy/Johnny/Spike to label the players to whom those weapons would appeal.  It focused on having weapons in Halo be both fun and competitively viable.  I mentioned the Halo Reach Grenade Launcher as the pinnacle of success for designing weapons for all players, then pointed out three examples of weapons that appealed to two archetypes and failed to meet the standards for the third.

Today, I'm revisiting Audley's Workshop with a focus on tweaking some weapons from the Halo series to make them more viable competitively or more appealing to the broader player base.  There won't be any focus on Timmy/Johnny/Spike here, just strictly on some weapons that get overlooked in Halo for either being shoved too far into a niche, being too unreliable, or simply not having enough identity on their own to be embraced by the players.

The Needler.  Everyone knows the pink mist.  Or, in a strafe battle, the pink missed.

Halo 3 and Halo 4 had decent incarnations of the weapon, but even then its niche was very difficult to abuse and relied heavily on flanking and catching players by surprise in order to get kills with.  By the time a player had time to turn and react to the first needle connecting in H3, the others were already locked on and tracking to set up the super combine.

But as we move into Halo 5, where the Thruster is readily available, and players are going to be able to quickly break those lock-ons, how does one make the Needler more useful?  Hell, the weapon already had trouble keeping up with any side-to-side motion, whether strafing or simply running in a straight line perpendicular to the wielder... so where is the Needler missing power?

While you may think, "Hey, the Needler's tracking could just be improved to make it harder to dodge!" -- reducing counterplay isn't a wise decision for a weapon that is theoretically a very fast kill weapon between time-of-engagement to time-of-death.  While the actual travel time of the needles makes the kill time long, the actual time to react from being shot is substantially smaller.  Reducing post-reaction counterplay is not the way to go.

"Well then Audley, I guess you have an idea?"  I do, and I've mentioned it on forums in the past.  You know what weapon the Covenant never had a true successor to in Halo, despite having plenty of CQB weapons?  The shotgun.  What if, instead of a standard melee, using the melee with the Needler unleashed all of your needles in a uniform cone ahead of you?  If seven, or eight, or whatever the arbitrarily chosen supercombine number happens to be managed to lodge themselves in the target, you get the insta-kill as usual.  Suddenly the Needler is a much better weapon in CQB, which immediately improves its definition in the sandbox.

This also improves the Needler's options versus a player running perpendicular to you; instead of simply praying the tracking decides to work at your range, you lead your shot and unleash.  If they aren't terribly far away, and you angle your shot (melee) correctly, enough needles will land in their side to score a medium range kill with the Needler.  (Audio cues will be necessary for this "MULTIPLE NEEDLES INBOUND" situation though.)

Voila, the Needler is now the best weapon in Halo history.  You're welcome, Bung343.

Oh, nice, the Plasma Rifle.  A weapon that gets praised in Halo: CE for fitting well into the sandbox with its hitstun and quick camo uses.  Hardy LeBel did a wonderful job with this gun and making it useful in Hal-oh, wait, you're telling me outside of HCE no one uses the Plasma Rifle?  Because it's a shit generic automatic weapon with no niche or role at all?

Well, we need to fix that!  No weapon should be useless.  Let's talk about how to make it better, without treading down roads been walked before, such as the hitstun method which limits counterplay potential.

As a visible projectile-based automatic weapon, the Plasma Rifle is a weird beast.  Players can literally dodge the shots (unlike the hitscan incarnations of the Assault Rifle) and see where they need to move in order to stay ahead of their opponent's reticule.  This is good, it offers counterplay.  The slower projectile speed compared to most weapons in the game makes it difficult to use.  It leaves us with an unreliable weapon, especially at longer ranges.

In non-Combat Evolved Halo games where the Plasma Rifle is available to be used, its most common role is for a quick couple of shots followed by a melee.  A pretty shitty niche as other CQB/melee weapons outshine it in that role, and other automatics (SMG/AR) outshine it in gun roles.  As a gun, the Plasma Rifle is pretty shit.  Its other common use, in H2A's case, is to put a couple of shots in, back down into cover while you switch to your BR, and finish with a headshot.  A role where it is outshined by a Plasma Pistol (outside of Warlord, where there is no PP).  Uh oh, looks like we have a weapon that isn't very useful in its intended niche.

So how do we make the Plasma Rifle more reliable at range, or stronger as an automatic?  How about we do both at once -- by removing the limitation that each shot fired only has one particle, instead splitting it into two?  To make the weapon more effective at range, the plasma could feature a dissipation effect -- where the plasma spreads out, becoming able to hit a wider area at range.  This would still have significant damage versus shields, but be relatively useless versus player health.  The damage would still degrade at range based off how much of the spreading disc of plasma hit the player, but the focus here is to soften shields.  The second part of the damage would remain in the center of the disc, increasing focus on hitting your shots accurately as a player gets low on health (in line with Halo's core combat philosophy across the series where you body shot until a player is low/out of shields), then headshot.  The central portion of the Plasma Rifle's bolt could convey headshot bonuses, as well as pack a substantial punch to health any time it connects to an unshielded player.

Suddenly you've got a weapon with nuance for use (do I focus on aiming accurately or just try to drop shields as best as I can, do I have teammate help?) while it still has potential to stand on its own as an automatic, due to having a centralized point of increased damage for penetrating health and finishing off players that have had their shields dropped by the high energy plasma.

But let's not stop there; I've only been talking in 4v4 so far, there's another niche the Plasma Rifle was absolutely overshadowed by its UNSC BTB, versus vehicle health.

It makes zero sense to me that UNSC vehicles are so resistant to plasma damage.  That shit should shred the fuck out of vehicle health.  C'mon now.  Bump up the UNSC vehicle health damage from Plasma-based weaponry.  UNSC vehicles are built to withstand other UNSC vehicles' weaponry, not Covenant weaponry.  UNSC ARs/Magnums/Rifles should not be stronger against vehicles (outside of rifles versus weak points) than Plasma Rifles.

Okay, now we've buffed the Plasma Rifle to viability.  Who are we looking at now?

I'm afraid I don't recognize that weapon.  I don't think I've ever seen anyone use it.  What is it?

Oh, that's the Carbine?  I thought that thing was just a myth made up by those bastards that played playlists as Dinos and ran around shouting "wort wort wort" to be funny.

Here we have an example of a weapon that is perfectly capable in its own right (usually, I think in H3/H4 they intentionally made it weaker than the other options just so they'd never have to bother worrying about it.) but which rarely gets used apart from a pick-up to hold as a sidearm in case you run out of ammo in a power position you don't want to leave.

The Carbine has no role of its own, it's simply the "harder to use Covenant BR"; I say harder to use because it's single shot, versus the BR's burst.  Mistakes are punished more, and it's high shots-to-kill leave plenty of room for mistakes.

So how do we give this thing a role?  Sage Merrill had a pretty good idea once.

But if this blog is to jerk myself off--err, challenge my own design mind, I need to explore a different avenue.  One that doesn't involve "oh just aim for the body if you can't aim and you'll get a flashy kill; it'll be sweet I swear."

First let's examine the canonical design of the Type-51 Carbine.  By design, it is meant to be a riflesque version of the Type-33 Light Anti Armor Weapon...also known as the Fuel Rod Gun.  The Carbine literally fires supersonic radioactive projectiles at the target.  It's most often wielded in campaign by Jackals, the "snipers" of the Covenant military.

So using this knowledge, what can we do to the weapon to give it some identity?  Looking at its Big Sister counterpart, the Fuel Rod Gun, we know that the fuel rod "deploys" after being fired a certain range -- making it move much slower and explode upon the next target it hits.  Thinking about this, Carbines could do the same after a certain range.  Within their intended range (max red reticule range or whatever) they could still fire the standard method that ultimately operate like any other rifle in the game, but as you extend beyond that range, the fuel rod "decays" turning the bolt into an explosive projectile.  This could make it useful for pinging targets behind cover in long range skirmishes, damaging light vehicles as they attempt to flee, or packing an extra punch against smug DMR wielders who think their superior range gives them safety.

Ultimately, this change gives the Carbine a unique role as a dual-threat weapon; a rifle in standard ranges with some potential for splash damage or anti-armor potential in extreme ranges (hello BTB crowd!).  Suddenly the weapon has flavor that allows it to stand out from the other weapons of its niche, and you may actually remember it exists!  (And hey, making the Covenant Rifle explosive isn't that farfetched, we DID have a Supercombining Needle Rifle.)  And for those of you who can't visualize how I imagine the longer-ranged Carbine bolts to work...just imagine the Phoenix from Perfect Dark.

One last Halo weapon before I delve into my "bonus" topics...

"Audley, I didn't play Halo 4.  What the fuck is that?"

Don't worry, it's not a morning star.  It's the Pulse Grenade.

I encountered a poll on GameFAQs asking what the most useless weapon in Halo 4 was, and the #1 answer, with 40% of the vote (passing the Suppressor, Storm Rifle, and the Gravity Hammer) was the Pulse Grenade.

In my experience, this wasn't true.  Melee+Grenade throw was an instant kill with Pulse Grenades active...sharing this knowledge even convinced Eric "Gh057Ayame" Hewitt to include Pulse Grenades on-map in his Team Throwdown settings which were used for competitive tournaments during H4's lifespan.

So, if I'm so convinced Pulse Grenades were one of the strongest CQB weapons in all of Halo 4...why do I feel the need to talk about them?  It's all about player perception.

When you see the Pulse Grenade's animation, and its name, you expect it to be a sort of delayed-explosion that deals a ton of damage.  In reality, the Pulse Grenade's damage is front-loaded.  It takes place instantly in the giant circle of doom you create.  Add in Halo 3's Power Drain animation to a player's knowledge base, and you expect the Pulse Grenade's giant orange doomglobe do also deal significant damage over time.  Nope, not the case.

Literally the only good uses for the Pulse Grenade were to finish off players who were severely weakened -- the delayed effects were negligible at best and completely avoidable at worst.  But the instant burst of a well-thrown pulse grenade (or, in the primary usecase, a pulse grenade thrown at your feet immediately after a melee) was unavoidable, and made the pulse grenade a potent option as a finishing tool.

So, to reiterate clearly after all that jumbled rambling...

The Pulse Grenade needed nothing more than an animation fix to better clarify it's purpose to the users.  It was an instant burst tool, not a delayed-damage like most grenades, nor an AoE drain like the Halo series' past tool, the Power Drain, which carried a similar animation.  Clarity of design is just as important as unique flavor and potency, otherwise your users simply won't grasp how good it actually is.

That's all for my Halo weapons to rework...Now for two bonus guns.

Perfect Dark - Reaper.

OH DEAR GOD THIS THING WAS A MONSTER.  Viscerally, it was one of the most fun weapons to use in the history of FPS.  But in terms of viability...dear god, the weapon was ass.  It wasn't really intended to be a serious use weapon from what I can gather; hell, in game canon terms, humans aren't even supposed to be able to wield it, only the Skedar are.

If you didn't play Perfect Dark and are wondering what the fuck a Reaper is...  Imagine you took the bottom of a blender or food processor and made it the size of a chainsaw.  So you have a giant rotating fan-o-death that can shred people to death.  Got that in your mind?  Okay, that's just the SECONDARY fire mode of the Reaper.

Now imagine, for the primary mode...  That each of the tips of the "fan blades" can fire bullets, and as the fan spins faster, your rotating death fan of doom and despair fires faster as well, and is essentially the fastest firing machine gun in the history of anything ever.

Got it?  That's the Reaper.  Don't got it?  Here's a video.

With great fire rate comes great inaccuracy.  Dear lord the thing was inaccurate.  Unwieldy.  The melee secondary fire mode was fun, but mostly useless unless you had a really good corner to hide in for ambushes.

In terms of fun factor, the Reaper was fantastic.  It was a weapon you'd pick up just to watch it spin as you were hypnotized by murderous glee.  Unfortunately, there was just no way to reconcile its RoF with its accuracy to make it work for players...or was there?

The Reaper's kill time was surprisingly fast, when bullets actually hit.  Myself, I'm not a fan of randomly making bullets miss because you arbitrarily want to limit a gun's power.  Drastically reducing the damage per bullet and increasing the accuracy could've gone a long way to making the Reaper a bit less farfetched as a tool -- and as a cost for the increase in accuracy, tuning the recoil to actually RECOIL (rather than again, just being a random spread of bullet trajectories).  Alternately, taking the Halo "ripped-off-turret" approach of reducing the player's movement speed could also curb some of the power given back to the player by more consistency in the weapon itself.  A final route, though probably too ahead of the technology curve for Perfect Dark's day could've been to greatly increase the magazine size (from 200 to 1000) and add the potential for the gun to overheat as it approached its faster RPMs, leading a player to want to micromanage the heat and avoid spinning too fast.

And the final gun... Quite possibly the most hated gun in FPS history...

The Klobb.

How could this have been fixed?

Just delete the goddamn useless piece of shit.

That's all for my random blog on FPS sandbox design, hope you enjoyed.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Why I support AR/Pistol Starts over BR Starts as the Competitive Option in Halo 5

Over on the TeamBeyond forums, there's been a debate raging for weeks now over what we believe the starting weapons should be for competitive settings in the upcoming game, Halo 5 Guardians. If you've been following the thread, you can skip to the section with bullets, because I'm starting off be reiterating some of my points made in the thread.

For a decade now, it has been whatever the game's best-suited headshot rifle was labeled (usually the BR). This has caused a schism in playlists, where “casual” gametypes (and some ranked, in TS playlists) would start with the game's standard automatic weapon and “hardcore” gametypes would start with a headshot rifle. We've heard counter-arguments during Halo 4 that in order to return to Halo's past glory we need to “keep it vanilla” – and while moving toward a more standardized weapon set across the whole of the game would help, it ignores the reasons we moved away in past games.

In Halo 2, there were three starting weapon options for UNSC weapons: SMG, Magnum, and Battle Rifle. Let's take Lockout for example. Say everyone starts with SMG/Magnum. One team gets control of Sniper tower and BR tower. The SMG can't really fight at a range from building to building capably in Halo 2. Nor can the Magnum (a shame it wasn't the HCE Pistol). And a BR spawns on TOP of the BR tower. In the high ground.

Let's move to Warlock. 4 BRs on the map. All on high ground, that can only be reached from two methods: Lifting up a slow lift and then jumping out into the open onto the platform, or walking up a ramp from one direction onto the platform. Very predictable methods where, if you don't ALREADY have a BR, but your opponents do, it's damned near impossible to grab one.

In Halo 2, the range discrepancy between the BR and the not-BRs was high. To exacerbate that problem, the BRs were often in places of optimal use case already, so once you grabbed them, you had little reason to move. Design-wise, this makes starting with not-BRs incredibly snowbally. But it's illogical to say “We did BR starts because the SMG can't fight the BR.” – the placement of BRs on map were equally at fault. (Let's skip the irony that Bungie intentionally stripped the Magnum of power from CE to 2 in an effort to gut skill gaps to force closer games and then set up maps in an absurdly snowbally manner.)

In Halo 3 we returned to BR starts again, although the range discrepancy of the weapons and their placement were much more sensible. (Granted, that range discrepancy was fixed by nerfing the everliving fuck out of the BR to the point that it was essentially useless on large maps, making BTB a nightmare.) The pistol was still useless. A desire to stay away from Spray and Pray anything fueled the decision to keep the BR as the starting weapon, and rightfully so.

In Reach, the Beta pistol showed promise, but at launch it was clear we had no option but the DMRNG. In Halo 4, an enormous debate arose over whether the BR or DMR should be the starting weapon (disregarding #TeamOrange who all believed the Light Rifle to be the superior skill gap weapon to use). Ultimately, the BR was chosen despite having random spread and being burstfire, when the mostly-cosmetic bloom and single shot of the DMR made more sense for a competitive rifle. Why? The DMR shot too far. It was too oppressive in the game, and would assist players in aiming over literally entire arena-sized maps. Despite very correct and well-articulated articles opposing the BR, the BR was healthier for the game and simply felt better. The Pistol was a lot better in this game, but it was still ultimately a lottery cannon.

With Halo 5, however, things have changed. Automatics now have headshot multipliers (they're more skill-oriented, and less spray-and-pray). They have the definitely-not-ADS-nope-not-one-bit Smart Scope to encourage using them at range. The Pistol is the fastest killing headshot weapon in the game, and had what we were told were bugs (flinch, recoil) that made it unwieldy. Additionally, the Pistol could fight at a range beyond two feet in front of you, already making it superior to the H2/H3 incarnations that we had to avoid like the plague.

So let me repeat that. THE PISTOL IS USEFUL AGAIN. And less importantly, the AR isn't a “let me camp around a corner and just shoot+melee you” weapon. It is also useful at range.

The reasons we avoided ARs and Pistols in previous titles are gone/heavily mitigated in Halo 5. We have good reason to try them out as the starting weapons from the get-go, and avoid separating the entire community into our we-don't-like-your-gametypes-we're-going-to-make-our-own...with-blackjack...and-hookers “hardcore” settings.

But before you rattle off all your reasons why you think the BR is more skillful or use reasons like “we've used the BR for a decade, why should we change now?” or “hodor hodor hodor” to try to dissuade me from continuing my support of the AR/Pistol... let me return to a rubric I've used in past Audley Enough blogs.

Riot Games' six core gameplay tenets they use for League of Legends. You know, literally the most popular PC game in the world, and the esport with the greatest success world wide in terms of viewership. I wrote about this six gameplay tenets as they relate to twelve of my favorite vehicles from Halo history in some blogs last summer, but now it's time to relate them to guns!

As a refresher, those six gameplay tenets are:
  • Mastery – Mastery is essentially a constant ability to improve. In Halo, that can range anywhere from improving your shot, to route-taking, to map positioning; basically, any way you can get better at the game, there's always room to get better. In short: Mastery is your Skill Ceiling.
  • Meaningful Choices – Meaningful Choices are where there are tradeoffs to your decisions made in game. Whether that means you have to mitigate weaknesses or simply take less risky plays, it means you're constantly making a choice that isn't already made for you.
  • Counterplay – Counterplay means there is room for your opponent to outplay you with what they are provided. In League of Legends, this commonly gets confused with building certain items to counter things, when in reality it is focused on moment to moment gameplay and the ability to fight back regardless of build.
  • Teamplay – Teamplay is where a team comes together to bolster their strengths, cover weaknesses, or simply work together toward winning the game. In League of Legends, this is focused around having team compositions need to provide certain roles to the game. Despite denial from pro players, this also exists in competitive Halo, where players' playstyles provide roles similar to a MOBA's “tank” “carry” or “support” roles.
  • Clarity – Clarity is simply the presentation of information in a clear and precise way. Any important/relevant information should be communicated to the player. This won't actually be relevant for this discussion.
  • Evolution – In Riot's definition, evolution more refers to their constant addition of new mechanics or rebalancing of old ones. For the sake of this argument, it will focus on how the weapons affect an evolution of a metagame.
So first, let's start with Mastery. It will be quick to go over. Regardless of the starting weapon, there's a clear skill set related to accuracy with a gun. I'm not going to argue either choice has an outright greater skill ceiling, but I will point out that, assuming the Pistol has a shorter red reticule range than the BR – then pistol fights at medium range (for example, health pack/BR to Carbine on Shrine) or longer become more about the player's dexterity rather than the game's assistance. Based off the H5 beta, the Pistol was capable at Medium range. Less so at longer. The BR, on the other hand, had aim assist across the entirety of Truth, leading to much easier time killing players who exposed themselves. While battles directly between the weapons in their intended range don't have much discrepancy, encouraging more skill rather than surefire kills in ranged battles is a good thing (see: Halo 3.)

Now, the tenet where I feel AR/Pistol greatly supercedes the BR: Meaningful Choices. If you spawn with a BR, you almost never have a reason to drop the BR. Your BR is love. Your BR is life. You almost never have a reason to swap to the Pistol, even if it kills faster. (Because why should I go into the range where Pistol is better?) The situations where a Pistol is better than a BR are outshined by situations where other weapons in the sandbox are better than the Pistol (why get a Pistol secondary for my BR when I could get an SMG?).

On the other hand, if you start with a Pistol, you have a much larger array of choices. Do I want to be more effective at range and sit back with long range support fire? Let me drop my AR or Pistol for a BR or DMR. Do I want to push harder? Let me drop my AR for an SMG. I can't push now, should I drop my SMG for something else? Because of the more limited range of engagement with your Pistol start (but again, still more than capable in most regards, especially once the recoil/flinch are removed), you have more room to shape your ability in combat. You have clear tradeoffs of effectiveness at long range versus effectiveness at close range based off which weapon you choose to pursue. The pistol is strong, and a very capable Utility weapon. But maybe you just like to play passive. You can bet players like Roy or APG are going to be in your face with their Pistol, though. Fuck your slow-killing BR!

Counterplay. Now, this is where all the pro-BR supporters will chime in “HEY IF YOU SPAWN WITH BRS YOU CAN FIGHT ANY RANGE OFF SPAWN BUT IF YOU SPAWN WITH PISTOL YOU CAN'T HAHA, BR IS BETTER RIGHT?” But again, this is where you're overlooking the fact that... oh, hey, the pistol's actually decent at medium range. You CAN fight back off spawn. Even on big, open maps like Truth. I do have issue with the BR spawning P2 and DMRs in the bubbles, rather than being closer to the safe spawning areas to readily equip a player to fight back off spawn, but in general, the weapons are in positions where players can reach them without dying, and use the amount of maneuverability tools available in H5 to fight back. Granted, yes, BR starts are marginally better with regards to counterplay than AR/Pistol starts would be, assuming a situation like H2/H3 where one team has secured BR/DMRs and the other are all dead. This discrepancy is more mitigated by map design and weapon placement, however. Keep rifles out of power positions and the players in them have reason to move – whether it be that they ran out of ammo, or that they didn't already have a rifle. Imagine back to my Halo 2 example of Lockout's BRs spawned BR1, Elbow, and Top Blue instead, or Warlocks spawned at the bottoms of the ramps, rather than on the Plats. You've instantly better equipped the “losing” side to fight back. Combine that with the fact the non-BR weapons are already comparatively stronger than they were in H2, and you've brought the gap to a manageable ratio.

As I said in the bullets, Clarity doesn't really relate to this argument. The only relation to clarity would be for casual viewers who tune into a competitive stream and wonder “why are they spawning with different weapons than I spawn with in matchmaking?” but given Halo's tiny viewership currently, I don't believe this to be a relevant issue worth worrying about at the current time.

Now regarding the Evolution of the game. I've written in the past about how I believe movement to be the most important aspect of a competitive game. (That even applies to competive card games, where the only things moving are resources.) Longer range weapons promote more stale gameplay. We'll probably never see DMR starts ever again, but DMR starts on large maps in Halo Reach provided absurdly stale games, because players simply couldn't push anywhere without being melted. (Note, competitive people, I'm referring to BTB here, not MLG). Hemorrhage was a joke that relied entirely on Wraith and Sniper usage to get anything done, because they were the only things that could fight from outside the range of a DMR or without dying instantly.

How does that relate to the BR / AR+Pistol argument? Tangentially. Maps with more open sightlines (see: Truth) lead to slower gameplay when the player is more equipped to fight at range. If you can't poke out without being chunked, you don't want to move. If you don't want to move, the game becomes a stalemate. Stalemate games, while they highlight a different skillset than the faster paced variety, also give an advantage to the underdog. Take Pit TS for example in Halo 3. More upsets happened on that gametype than any other. Not because “oh, this team was actually better all along” but because stalemates make it easier to keep an advantage. If no one's able to manage a pick-off, the stalemate keeps going until a viable power weapon or power-up breaks it (Prophet's Bane not really good vs BRs, btw.) If you got a lead in Pit TS, you kept that lead until Rockets respawned unless you just fed kills to the enemy Sniper. If you got the next set of Rockets, you probably kept the lead and won. No one was going to push you while they didn't have rockets unless their Sniper got a pick-off.

With AR+Pistol, although the Pistol's kill time is faster, it requires more care and precision to get those all-the-way-across-map kills. (But in terms of base-to-tower, it's much more reasonable.) If you have the Prophet's Bane you can sprint and thrust and actually move from cover to cover without being melted from multiple angles. You're encouraged to move and push! With more movement, there's more room for in-the-moment decision making (more meaningful choices?!) and much more excitement factor spread through the course of the game.

Additionally, with regards to Evolution (off the topic of movement now), there's more room for player identity, tying back into the choices a player makes. Aggressive slayers like APG, Roy, or Ninja who like to rush constantly will likely prefer the fast kill times of a Pistol over the sit-and-wait approach of a BR. On the other hand, zone control-focused players like Ogre 2 will likely prefer weapons more equipped to fight at range. They find their comfortable corner of the map and position in a place where they can put shots on anyone anywhere they feel like. They'll go hunting for BRs or DMRs. Sniper players on maps without the Sniper may hunt for a DMR for the “next best thing” in marksmanship, disregarding their pistol entirely. This ties into the tenet I realize I skipped in my ranting... Teamplay. Individual playstyles have more room for “role” identification, and teammates may cover gaps created by a player's choice in equipment. The more open the sandbox is, the more the kids will get to play in it.

That pretty much covers all I wanted to say. AR/Pistol offers more meaningful choices and room for evolution as a whole and as an individual, with a comparatively small sacrifice to available counterplay (the main area that forced BR starts in past titles in the first place).

AR/Pistol Starts for Competitive Halo 5, Audley for Color Commentator 2015. Jet fuel can't melt dank memes.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

HCS Season 1 Finals Bracket Preview/Breakdown/Predictions

If you're reading this blog you probably know the PAX East HCS Season 1 championship is this weekend, starting tomorrow. I've posted my predictions on forums, but I wanted to give an in-depth preview of the bracket and my predictions throughout the bracket with explanations on a gametype-by-gametype basis.

The event starts off with a play-in match between European Wildcard qualifier Vibe and 8th seed Noble Black, a team that came together after UGC St. Louis, starting from scratch with 0 points and managing to qualify for the finals with only online cup results and a top 12 finish at Gamers for Giving. Some people think Noble Black is lucky to be at the event, but their consistent placements online definitely earned their spot.

So without further ado... Play-In Gametypes:
  • 3 Flag Shrine
  • Slayer Warlord
  • Oddball Lockdown
  • Bomb Warlord
  • Slayer Shrine

There are two possibilities for how this match will play out, depending upon just how good the European teams actually are. 3 Flag Shrine will go to Noble Black, period. Noble Black show up when it comes to Shrine gametypes, and Sanc has always been a map that Maniac thrives on. If Vibe are stronger than I'm giving them credit for, they can take Slayer Warlord and Lockdown Ball, but I'm hesitant to even give them those as a possibility. If the series manages to go to games 4 and 5, Warlord Bomb will go the way of Noble Black thanks to Arkanum's control of ramp portals during bomb pushes, and Slayer Shrine will once again go in Noble Black's favor. Because Shrine. I'm conservatively predicting a Noble Black 3-2, but I really think it will be a 3-0 in their favor. That team is better than their seed, despite the GFG choke.

That takes us to Winners Bracket Round 1.
  • Flag Warlord
  • Slayer Shrine
  • KotH Lockdown
  • Flag Shrine
  • Slayer Warlord

Evil Geniuses vs Noble Black
Roy and Snipedown on-host on Warlord? Noble Black has no chance taking game 1. Slayer Shrine is their best chance to prevent a 3-0, but I think Roy's aggression and willingness to challenge anything will throw APG off his game and overwhelm Noble Black. Evil Geniuses probably won't drop a Lockdown King game for the entire event. 3-0 EG. It's a long shot to predict the series going to a game 5, but even if it does, it's another Warlord gametype on EG's host. EG will not lose this series.

CLG vs eLevate
Ogre 2's penchant for portal control will be too big a thorn in eLevate's side for them to handle in game 1. Add on CLG's host for it being a Warlord gametype, and you've got a recipe for a 5-0 or 5-1 win for CLG in game 1. eLevate take host in game 2 on Shrine TS, one of their best maps/gametypes, so they have a good chance at victory in game 2. eLevate and CLG both struggle a bit on Lockdown King, but between Heinz and Ogre 2, CLG have much better objective players and will take game 3 for sure. If eLevate does get the upset in game 2, they'll have a good shot at pulling off a victory in game 4 which is their absolute best gametype, Shrine Flag. I don't see them winning either gametype, and even if they do, game 5 is a Warlord, CLG's best, on CLG's host. 3-0 CLG actual prediction, possibility for 3-2 in CLG's favor if eLevate plays their hearts out.

Denial vs Str8 Rippin
Ryanoob's grenades and portal shenanigans will be too much for Str8 on Warlord Flag. Their BRs are good enough to make this a fight for Denial, but it won't be enough. Game 2 I actually give Str8 the benefit of the doubt and think Naded will come up huge for a surprise win. Str8's key to victory will be to keep the game fast and chaotic – don't let stalemates evolve. The less structured the game is, the more it's in Str8's favor. However, games 3 and 4 on Lockdown King and Shrine Flag will secure the series for Denial.

OpTic vs C9
This is the series I am least confident in predicting. Cloud 9 are an enormous question mark that depend entirely on how hot their shot is and how cool Hysteria's head is. Flag Warlord favors Cloud 9 – their shots are stronger and they'll outslay OpTic regardless of the result. However, due to C9's questionable decision making on flag routes, I have OpTic taking game 1. Game 2 is Shrine Slayer. Everyone on C9 plays Shrine well...except for Ninja. Ninja's poor positioning and hyper-aggressive playstyle on the gametype leads him to 15+ deaths per game on the gametype. OpTic will win a close game 2, with Ninja probably in negative numbers. King of the Hill Lockdown is another gametype that could go either way. I have OpTic winning it, but no confidence in the pick. If the series DOES go to game 4 or 5, C9's chances of winning the series skyrocket, as Shrine Flag is much more suited to their playstyle, and a Warlord Slayer to close out the series is the perfect gametype for them to shut down OpTic.

EG 3-0 Noble Black (Confidence: 90%)
CLG 3-0 eLevate (Confidence: 80%)
Denial 3-1 Str8 Rippin (Confidence: 85%)
OpTic 3-0 C9 (Confidence: 10%)

Which brings us to Winners Bracket Round 2 / Losers Bracket Round 1. They both have the same gametypes.
  • Oddball Warlord
  • Slayer Lockdown
  • Bomb Shrine
  • KotH Warlord
  • Slayer Shrine

Evil Geniuses vs OpTic
Warlord on EG's host should favor them, but I have OpTic pulling off a game 1 victory here. Big performance out of Contra will fuel an OpTic set-up that will give them just enough of an edge to squeak the victory. Lockdown Slayer will be the Snipedown show, while Bomb Shrine will remind everyone just how strong Roy is...again. Back on Warlord off EG's host, EG will exact revenge with the momentum from the previous wins. 3-1 EG.

CLG vs Denial
Warlord Ball. CLG's best map vs Denial's grenades. I have Denial edging CLG out in this one, but it could go either way. Snakebite will determine who wins this game. Slayer Lockdown I give the edge to Ogre 2 and CLG's patience. Once again, Denial wants a structured slayer game where Ryanoob can out-think his opponents. If Royal 2 can misposition enough that it keeps spawns hectic, CLG can strong-arm their way to victory. Bomb Shrine I'm giving to CLG on the back of Royal 2's Sniper. Heinz MVP. Warlord King goes to Denial's host and Ryanoob's grenades. Game 5 on Slayer Shrine – some say CLG is weak on Shrine. However, I think they'll cling to an early lead and manage to trade kills evenly enough that they crawl to victory. 3-2 CLG.

eLevate vs Str8 Rippin
Oddball Warlord on Str8's host. Giving it to Str8. Lockdown Slayer. Assuming eLevate can shake off the game 1 loss, either Gabriel or Spartan will catch fire in game 2. That momentum will carry over into game 3 on Bomb Shrine and eLevate will push ahead to a 2-1 lead. Back on Warlord with eLevate's host, I give them a slight edge. Not completely confident they'll win game 4, but I do predict them to do so. If the game goes to Game 5, eLevate still hold the edge despite Str8's host, as Shrine is their most comfortable gametype. 3-1 eLevate.

C9 vs Noble Black
Oddball Warlord on Cloud 9's host favors Cloud 9 rather heavily. APG is the key for Noble Black to pull off an upset here. Game 1 could go either way, but I'm picking C9. Slayer Lockdown is nightmare fuel for Noble Black after GFG. If they couldn't manage to shut down the Suddoths on the gametype on their own host, why would I expect them to shut down C9? Fortunately Game 3 puts them on Shrine, Bomb. Noble Black will take game 3 with Maniac's Shrine play. Warlord King on Noble Black's host is a game that could also go either way – I'm still giving the slight edge to Cloud 9, and predicting them to take the game and close the series 3-1 here. HOWEVER, if Noble Black can take either game 1 or game 4, Noble Black will win the series 3-2 as game 5 will put them on C9's worst gametype and one of their personal bests, Shrine Slayer.

EG 3-1 OpTic (95% Confidence)
CLG 3-2 Denial (75% Confidence)
eLevate 3-1 Str8 (70% Confidence)
C9 3-1 Noble Black (30% Confidence)

Winners Bracket Finals / Losers Round 2
  • Bomb Warlord
  • Slayer Shrine
  • KotH Lockdown
  • Flag Warlord
  • Slayer Lockdown

Evil Geniuses vs CLG
Warlord Bomb will be a tooth and nail fight between EG's host and CLG playing on their best map. I give CLG a slight edge, but this game will be hard to predict. Slayer Shrine will favor EG. Once again, Roy's aggression will lend them the advantage. Lockdown King again leans in favor of EG – their roster is just better equipped for King of the Hill gametypes in general. I'll never count out Lunchbox in a KotH gametype. Game 4 goes back to Warlord on CLG's host, which favors CLG. Series closes out on Lockdown TS, where I give the edge to Snipedown's route-taking and EG's host. 3-2 EG.

eLevate vs OpTic
Warlord Bomb will be on OpTic's host. eLevate have the skill to beat OpTic, but Flamesword and Assault's communication will be the difference maker in game 1. Slayer Shrine will depend on who has the hotter Sniper between the two teams, but I give the slight edge to eLevate. Game 3 goes to eLevate's weakest gametype, Lockdown King of the Hill. OpTic should have no trouble wresting that game from eLevate's hands and potentially putting eLevate on tilt going into game 4. Although Game 4 will be eLevate's host on Warlord Flag, I think OpTic will play with an annoying enough playstyle to keep eLevate off their gameplan and close the series. 3-1 OpTic. If the game goes to Game 5, it will be another game depending entirely on standoff Sniping, meaning the game will either be in the hands of Ace or Munoz, depending on which team holds the rifle.

Denial vs Cloud 9
Warlord Bomb will be a tough game to call between superior firepower and smarter play. I give Denial the edge in game 1. Shrine Slayer will be yet another everyone-does-well-but-Ninja-plays-too-fast-and-the-team-loses for Cloud 9. If he can let off the gas pedal they may be able to stop Denial, but his death count will be the nail in the coffin for game 2. Lockdown King favors Denial, though Mikwen's occasional tendency to overstay at past hills may give C9 some beneficial spawns. I still think Denial will take the victory in game 3, and close the series 3-0. However, if C9 take any of the first 3, they'll have the edge in Game 4 with host on Warlord and have the potential to push to a Game 5 Slayer on Lockdown, which could also go either way. Still, I don't think it will reach that point. Denial should have no problem making their way to Losers Round 3.

EG 3-2 CLG (80% Confidence)
OpTic 3-1 eLevate (95% Confidence)
Denial 3-0 Cloud 9 (70% Confidence)

Losers Round 3
  • Flag Warlord
  • Slayer Lockdown
  • Bomb Shrine
  • Oddball Lockdown
  • Slayer Warlord

OpTic vs Denial
Denial's host and grenades on Warlord face off against OpTic's superior communication and teamwork. It will be a close game that will probably go to time, with a low score. I predict a 3-2 flag victory for OpTic in game 1. Game 2 goes to Slayer Lockdown, where I think Flamesword will have a rough game and Denial will take advantage. Game 3 on Bomb Shrine I put in the hands of Ace's sniper to free up pushes to push OpTic ahead in the series 2-1. Oddball Lockdown will highlight Ryanoob's clever objective movement and awareness of his teammates' positioning as Denial makes set-ups out of nothing and tie the series, pushing it to a hype game 5 on Warlord Slayer. Denial's host, grenades, and Mikwen's BR will secure Denial's 3rd place finish with a wider margin of victory than would be expected for a game 5.

Denial 3-2 OpTic (Confidence: 75%)

Losers Bracket Finals
  • Oddball Lockdown
  • Slayer Warlord
  • Flag Shrine
  • Bomb Warlord
  • Slayer Shrine

CLG vs Denial
Oddball Lockdown could go either way. I give a slight edge to Denial, but I think big plays out of Heinz and Snakebite will lock the game up for CLG. Slayer Warlord on Denial's host will present a fairly even match-up, but Ogre 2's portal control versus Ryanoob's portal shenanigans will go the way of the veteran Ogre 2 and CLG countering logic. Game 3 on Shrine Flag will come down to whether or not Cloud and Mikwen can shut down Royal 2, but I think Heinz's tendency to always be there to help a teammate will push CLG past Denial with a series sweep in 3 close games. Should the series go to game 4, CLG still have the edge on their best map, but Denial can still put up a solid fight in Bomb Warlord. Slayer Shrine will come down to whoever can win the standoff Sniper duels. Still, my prediction...

CLG 3-0 Denial (Confidence: 40%)

Grand Finals
  • Flag Shrine
  • Slayer Lockdown
  • Bomb Warlord
  • Oddball Lockdown
  • Slayer Warlord

Evil Geniuses vs CLG
Game 1 will be a tooth and nail fight between the two teams and I'm expecting a 1-1 tie at the end of regulation. I think this game will be won by a counter-cap after CLG barely put together a flag stop to save themselves from losing. That momentum won't help going into Game 2, however. Snipedown on Lockdown will push CLG past their limits. Bomb on Warlord on EG's host will still lean in CLG's favor, but solid slaying out of both teams will make it close. I once again give CLG the victory on this gametype. Oddball Lockdown goes back into the hands of EG, with coordinating plays from Towey stopping any push CLG attempts to make to break a set-up. Game 5 is a recipe for a 50-49 finish – but I think CLG will pull out all the stops and manage to emerge victorious in the set and reset the bracket.

Predicting CLG 3-2 EG, with about 50% Confidence.

Grand Finals Set 2
  • Bomb Warlord
  • Slayer Shrine
  • KotH Lockdown
  • Flag Shrine
  • Slayer Lockdown

Evil Geniuses vs CLG
Bomb Warlord again? Okay, well it's EG's turn to win right? Nope, Warlord Bomb 3 straight victories for CLG this event. Shrine Slayer should favor EG, but with CLG on host and wearing on EG's nerves with the extended series and pressure of a grand finals, I think Ogre 2's experience wins out. Game 3 onto KotH Lockdown will be EG's chance to come back into the series, and I expect them to take the game due to Royal 2 flubbing with spawn control and Lunchbox's superior positioning to zone players off the hill. Game 4 on Shrine Flag will be either the game Snipedown catches fire or CLG puts the final nail in the coffin. EG will need to outslay CLG to come back into the series. I predict CLG to win this set 3-1, but should the series go to Game 5, the setting will be Lockdown Slayer where spawn control, host, and Snipedown's route-taking will favor EG.

Predicting CLG 3-1 EG, with about 25% Confidence.

Either way, I'm quite confident the Grand Finals will be a match between the two GoodGame Agency teams, and the real winners of the event will be Alex Garfield and Kelby May for the exposure they get out of the Halo audience. Regardless of who wins, this season finals stage is set to have some fantastic series with some wiggle room for upsets, and great positioning to prepare for what's to come in Season 2.

Thank you for reading!