Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Audley's Workshop: Carvin' Niches for Killin' Bitches

Back to Audley's Workshop we go! In today's blog, I'm going to be talking about some various Halo weapons as well as PlanetSide 2's incarnation of the Vanu Rocket Launcher, the Lancer, and finally, my favorite FPS weapon design of all time. The general focus will be weapons with very distinct niches, whether they underperformed or overperformed in those niches.

First, the gun labeled the Type-25 Carbine...but more commonly known as the Spiker. This gun looks badass. Like other Brute weapons, blades are a big part of its visual design.

I was one of the top 10 players in Spiker kills in Halo 3 according to HaloCharts back when the website was active and tracking stats through Bungie's API. So, if you're reading this and wondering, “Why does this MLG kid think he can talk about a social weapon?”...first off: I'm a BTB kid, not an MLG one. I only got into competitive 4s because there was a more established scene. I will always feel BTB is the more “pure” Halo experience and the better representation of the game's beautiful sandbox. Hell, I even took down Disco (top Social pilot) in his Banshee with Spikers once. Hitting a Banshee with short-range projectiles is not an easy task. I knew my way around the Brute equivalent to the SMG.

But wait, equivalent to an SMG? ...the Spiker is supposed to be a Carbine. Or a Spike Rifle. Why is Master Chief able to dual-wield a rifle from a species of creature more than double his size? Why is it treated like a submachine gun instead of a RIFLE OR CARBINE as the weapon name says?

Some quick notes about the Spiker:
  • Higher damage output than the SMG, and more damage to shields
  • Projectile, harder to aim
  • Spikes affected by gravity (and inertia, they move more slowly as they go)
  • Larger spread than any other weapon in UNSC/Covenant sandbox
  • Deals 2 more points of damage (TWO. REALLY?!) than default melee.

So the Spiker suffers not only from an identity problem (SMG RIFLE WHAT ARE YOU DAMN IT), but also suffers from its gameplay not matching its visual.

There are two routes we can take to make the gun feel better to the player. We can embrace the Covenant/Brute SMG identity, or we can turn the gun into a true Spike Rifle. Given the Covenant already have the Plasma Rifle to rival the SMG, but don't have an equivalent to the Assault Rifle in the context of Halo 3... let's take the Spike Rifle along the latter route. No more dual wielding.

Since the Spiker is meant to be a Brute weapon, this definitely means we need it to be fearsome up close. Brute combat was very much about rushing. Besides, the weapon has GIANT FUCKING DOUBLE BLADES attached to it. Halo 2 took the right approach to the Brute Shot's melee identity during the big patch that reworked damage, allowing a momentum Brute Shot melee to kill a target in one hit. This made the Brute Shot a fearsome close range weapon (even though the weapon itself was intended to be wielded at range.)

So step 1: Greatly increase the Spiker's melee damage. None of this 2 damage shit. Make it a one hit kill. Because you should never be in range of a Brute.

Step 2: Since we're making it live up to the Rifle moniker, rather than working as a dual-wielded SMG, we need to increase the effective range. To do this, we need to reduce the effects of gravity (projectile drop) on the spikes and reduce the enormous bullet spread of the gun. Just to make it fire a bit straighter in general, so medium range becomes a reasonable distance to try to deal some damage.

Okay, so now it's a rifle. And it's a scary rifle in melee range. But what about that old “Audley gives everything unique identity or a niche to fill” bit? Don't worry, I'm getting to that.

The Spiker fires super-heated spikes. It's not unreasonable to think they would cool off as they traveled. Plus, we've already mentioned the bullet velocity decreases as they go.

So because of this, we can take the route PlanetSide 2 takes with nearly all of its weapons – have the damage fall off at longer ranges. Up close, the Spikers spikes will deal enormous amounts of damage per bolt. Further away, the damage falls off slightly, decaying a small amount below the AR's damage output. In short, the weapon becomes stronger than the AR in closer quarters, but weaker as the range increases.

And now we've made the Spiker live up to its name as the Type-25 Carbine / Spike Rifle. And made it live up to its visual of the blades.

(Of course, if you wanted to turn it into a Tier 2 Power Weapon rather than just “the Brute AR” could go a step further and have the super heated visual of the glowing weapon also transfer to the weapons to where its damage increases at higher RoF / the damage carries longer range before the falloff occurs, but this would probably be a bit much / borderline superfluous.)

Since we're on the subject of Pseudo Assault on the anvil...

The Halo 4 Suppressor.

Even down to the bolts, this gun was basically a re-skinned Spiker. But we've already adjusted the Spiker. Let's not give the Suppressor the same treatment. In the context of Halo 4, we have the Assault Rifle... humanity's relatively low shield damage, high health damage automatic weapon...and the Storm Rifle, the Covenant projectile high shield, low health damage automatic weapon. It's fairly boring and doesn't create any interesting decisions or improved niche to make the Suppressor a “neutral” version of this where the damage is in the middle. I believe (might be mistaken) the Suppressor had the highest RoF and the highest bullet spread of Halo 4 Automatic weapons.

So...let's change that. Let's give the Suppressor its own unique niche among Automatics that no other Halo automatic has attempted. After all, the thing is called the Suppressor. Let's go all out on its capabilities for suppressing fire (extinguisher).

Call it plagiarism, but there's actually a weapon from another game I think would fit perfectly for the Suppressor's intended niche.

If you know this weapon, congratulations, you've played one of the most fun arena game series of all time, Armored Core. This is the “Finger” – it had various different prefixes over the franchise's different games.

But this gun was AMAZING at close ranges.


Because it was a MACHINE GUN SHOTGUN. It had an absurd rate of fire but also fired multiple bullets at once.

Now put that in Halo.

Turn the Suppressor into a gun that fires a METRIC FUCKTON of bullets, all at the same time. A barrage of bullets, blazing across the sky. It becomes a complete melter at close quarters. Give it a large enough magazine and it can become a weapon that, although inefficient for killing at range, could at least sustain enough swarm of bullets to scare off those who fear bees.

(Shotgunified Automatic weapons in Tower of Guns are also pretty fucking badass. Or automatic version of the Shrapnel Trumpet. You know, whatever.)

Speaking of shotguns in Halo 4...

The Boltshot!

Because who doesn't want to SPAWN WITH A SHOTGUN, right?

Someone at 343, in the creation of the Halo 4 sandbox, thought to themselves, “Creating a gun that can deal instant kill damage, and being able to use that gun off spawn is definitely a healthy thing for this game.”

Granted, functionally its instant kill was similar to the Plasma Pistol – gated by a charge-up that was required before the gun fired. In theory it wasn't too oppressive. Unfortunately, when you arm potentially everyone in a game with a weapon that can instant kill, the problem is that everyone in the game will take the weapon that can instant kill. When that weapon is range gated, it leads to gameplay issues.

The Boltshot was a unique pistol. And a cool design. But it was unquestionably too powerful.

So, what can you do to the Boltshot to keep its identity of “Shotgun Pistol” without turning it into the Halo 3 Mauler but also keeping it from being a one-hit kill weapon?

  • Nerf the damage. Make its charged up damage deal full shield damage, but make the body damage fairly weak, such as taking 3 charged shots to kill a foe. With this change, you can make it so the effective range of the charged shot isn't forced to be immediate vicinity.
    • This will encourage using the pistol form's headshots to finish off a foe, turning the gun into a self-sustained noob combo.
  • Increase the charge-up time slightly. Since it's not killing foes with the Charge now, it doesn't need a slow charge.
  • Decrease the amount of ammo consumed by a charge-up to 3. This will further encourage charge shots + follow-up pistol bullets.

With these changes, you turn the gun from an outright shotgun pistol into a gun that's balanced for skill. It's got the pseudo-shotgun identity of having a ton of burst damage at close range, but you still need to be able to land the pistol headshots in order to reliably finish a kill. Unlike a true Noob Combo though (the Plasma Pistol + Battle Rifle combo from Halo 2, if you're for some reason unfamiliar), this one-weapon version is limited in range. So there's still room for swapping out your weapon for a better version.

I've done a good job with my segues so far this blog... but now I'm all out of good segues. A good one for this next weapon is a bit out of Reach.

The Plasma Launcher. Also known in the BTB community as Blueberries. This gun was actually pretty useless in the vehicle killing niche. Where it should have theoretically been strong.

It could take down a Warthog, but what couldn't? The Warthog's armor was paper thin and shredded easily by a team's worth of DMRs. Which, coincidentally, had a stronger scope than the Plasma Launcher.

The true terror vehicles of BTB were tanks, the pseudo-tank Revenant, and the Banshee. Tanks could nearly shrug off the damage. The Revenant was agile enough to escape the extremely slow engagement time. And the Banshee only needed to do a single roll to break any lock-on that was attained.

So basically, you have a useless power weapon on your hands. Because again, the DMR out-ranges the Plasma Launcher, so even against foot soldiers, the weapon with the potential to one-hit kill is outclassed.

The draw of the Plasma Launcher was supposed to be it's ability to fire multiple sticky grenades at once, in addition to its lock-on functionality.

I will give credit where credit is due, the slow projectile speed means there's plenty of room for counterplay to the power weapon. Unfortunately, combining a necessity to lock on to truly be effective with a slow projectile speed means you're really hurting for effectiveness. So what can we do to make the Plasma Launcher more useful without making it overpowered?

For dealing with infantry, giving it the ability to lock onto multiple targets with a single charge could help a lot, turning the weapon into a “crowd control” weapon, rather than a “Okay I pick you.” “Now you.” one by one weapon. Allowing each of the four grenades to seek out a different target with up to four potential locks puts more power in the hands of the wielder in situations where he is outnumbered, with opportunity to take everyone down with him, if he's fast enough on the draw.

With the amount of armor abilities in Reach that catered to mobility or defense (read: basically all of them), there were plenty of ways to escape a Plasma Launcher bolt if it was coming your way. Because of this, speeding up either the grenades' travel time or the target acquisition speed is important for empowering the weapon. Players who complain about power weapons being powerful when given so many tools for counterplay BEYOND JUST DODGING, WHICH IS ALSO POSSIBLE will learn the power of the blueberries.

But how do we make it better against the Banshee?

If you improve the travel time, keeping the lock-on time the same, you can edit the Banshee to only be able to shed ATTEMPTED locks, rather than already-secured ones. The Banshee when piloted by ace pilots probably won't spend enough time without flipping to get a lock on in the first place, so this would generally solve that problem.

As for making the weapon more effective against tanks, that's simply a matter of the player wielding it getting in a position where they won't be killed attempting to get a lock on.

That's all for Halo on this blog, but it's time to talk about another “rocket launcher” that featured a charge-up time. The PlanetSide 2 Vanu Sovereignty Lancer.

In the original PlanetSide, the Vanu Lancer was essentially a 6-shot rifle that dealt significant damage to vehicles/armor. PlanetSide 2 mostly tried to keep that in tact, but turned the Lancer into a bitchified version of the Halo Spartan Laser, with three levels of charge up damage.

As with many of the weapons in PlanetSide 2's arsenal, the weapon had to be balanced for “What happens if a fuckton of people use it?”

As a result, the weapon felt almost useless for a single person to use. It didn't fill a niche of a “rocket launcher” at all for an individual. If you were by yourself, it was almost always more efficient to carry a dumbfire or a lock-on rocket launcher as a Vanu soldier, because it meant you could either kill infantry that approached or scare off vehicles with the threat of a lock on.

So how do you balance an anti-vehicle weapon for scale? How do you make a weapon that is potentially oppressive for squads of people to use feel satisfying for an individual to use? This is an important design question for every piece of the PlanetSide sandbox, as well as being important to ask in games like Battlefield or Halo in the case of BTB and upcoming Warzone. (Hell, in League of Legends we saw three instances where a summoner spell taken by an entire team ended up problematic because of how stacking them worked. Heal, Promote, and Fortify all had design problems regarding scalability.)

So now, what do you do to make a weapon such as an anti-vehicle laser interesting/useful for an
individual, but not overpowered for a squad?

The Lancer's identity was supposed to be a sort of “Anti-Vehicle Sniper” – it even required some degree of leading your shot despite being a laser beam.

Unfortunately an easy answer like “give vehicles weak points to aim for” was not an explorable option for PlanetSide 2 since that would mean additional sprites were necessary which would have destroyed game performance.

I do believe the Lancer was the longest range “Rocket Launcher” in the game. So wielding it, even as an individual, meant one could at least harass vehicles from far out of their engagement range. However, because of Engineers' potential to repair a vehicle more quickly than a Lancer could damage it, it wasn't really possible to do relevant chip damage to a vehicle.

Instead of buffing impact damage, giving the Lancer a damage-over-time effect which does not stack (but similar in power to the amount a single Engineer could repair, with a duration roughly equal to a charge time for another Lancer shot) would allow a single Lancer to feel impactful against a target – ensuring that each shot would be impactful, while the damager-over-time would offset the potential for the vehicle's driver to simply hop out and repair until the Lancer-wielder ran out of ammo. Additionally, since the damage-over-time effect does not stack (simply reapplies), having multiple Lancers firing would not make the weapons any more fearsome than usual in a group.

It would empower an individual, but keep the groups in check.

And so the PlanetSide 2 Lancer is more satisfying for an individual and still relevant in its niche as the Anti-Vehicle Sniper.

So finally, we come to my favorite weapon from any shooter ever.

It comes from Unreal Tournament (big surprise)

This is the Shock Rifle. A glorious projectile weapon with a hit-scan alternate fire method.

I'm not here to redesign the weapon or suggest any methods on how to improve it. I'm just here to share the gospel of a fantastic weapon.

The gun could fire either straight laser beams or “shock cores” which traveled significantly slower than the laser beams. The shock cores could then be hit by the laser beams and detonated from a range, dealing a massive amount of AoE damage that usually killed a target it one hit.

It's a brilliant skillful design with tons of nuance and mastery. Good counterplay due to the slower projectile speed of the instant kill. Tons of clarity of what's going on. Every gun should strive to be as awesome and satisfying as the Unreal Tournament Shock Rifle.

And if the Shock Rifle weren't cool enough, they took that gun concept and put it into a vehicle as well, known as the Hellraiser, which could rapid fire Shock Cores, and then detonate them in a chain of explosions. Just in case you needed to feel truly epic.

With that, this blog is donezo. Hope you enjoyed the read!

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