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RA balance change for December 2018 #15907
Orb has headed up the balance testing this time around. I posted his thoughts on the balance changes on this forum thread. Here is the summary for this PR:
Edit: As discussed on Discord, I've reduced this PR to just the pillbox experience change. The other changes will be tested in custom maps when the playtest comes out.
So AO arrived. Why is Orb not authoring, do you take responsibility? What is your opinion about the new artillery and why do we need to change its role? I personally can't follow the reasoning in the forum thread because there are no problems with imba artillery in team games. I also highly doubt that many 1v1 games last more than an hour. There is room for improvements in the Allied mirror match-up, but I find it hard to support this PR if these changes are exclusively aimed at competetive 1v1. Yes, big team games are a mess but they work quite well currently and the strong defense provided by current artillery allows less-skilled players to have a chance.
Who says that one artillery should efficiently kill base defenses? In team games, people build them in ridiculous numbers. This will be a nightmare without inaccuracy. Increased accuracy for artillery combined with the changes from #15866 will get interesting, too, and make the aforementioned nightmare even worse.
Implies that the Allied Hind would not be an issue.
Maybe in competitive 1v1 meta, doesn't apply to team games at all.
Who says that and why does this mean that they have to move slower? Tanks should be in the front lines but are slower, too.
I don't, I like to use them to tank enemy fire while healing. Micro them if it is a problem for you.
Ah, well then. -
I won't speak for Orb's changes themselves but I'll say this: I've seen Orb put plenty of work into testing his ideas, and I've seen him make multiple edits and compromises to get to this last set of changes. I also trust his insight as a player; he's been at this game as long as I have.
In the two balance patches I've done myself, I heard the wider community feedback from the official playtests and made reversions as necessary. That's what I expect to happen here.
If that's not acceptable I'm okay with reverting things before a playtest but I'd like to give Orb a chance to weigh in on this discussion first.
Hey, Orb here. In games, asymmetry and unit diversity are certainly desirable, but shouldn't be the end all be all. Asymmetry for asymmetry sake can create bad game play.
For example, in the CnC Generals competitive community, the USA faction exclusively builds only 3 units out of their roster. Humvees, rocket soldiers to fill those humvees, and ambulances to heal them. Tanks, artillery, commandos, and so on, are generally left unbuilt in the vast majority of matches. And yet, with this lack of unit diversity, there is still a rich and exciting tactical playing field for these players, both to play against and to use. In fact, I'd wager buffing other units (such as tanks), would make gameplay less interesting.
For Asymmetry, I point you to Grey Goo. Three distinct factions with fairly unique economic and base construction mechanics, and yet an extremely bland game. While they are different, for the most part, it doesn't actually impact the game. You do not consider your opponent's asymmetry in your plans.
But then you can look at Supreme Commander. The factions are extremely similar, with slight variations here and there. But because it has such a tight game design, these differences are extremely important. A UEF player with his 20% healthier commander unit will be more aggressive, while the Cybran player with 15% faster basic tank units will try to avoid direct confrontations and do raiding tactics (as does fit their faction flavors).
My point is, I don't think the Artillery/V2 asymmetry is good for game play. We can not have asymmetry for the sake of asymmetry. Allies lack a crucial defense cracking tool, both lacking a heavy tank and an artillery that can challenge defenses. In mirrors, this results in passive, boring, and sometimes frustrating game play if the games go long enough to stabilize. Most players have experienced this at least once, and I never hear positive things about it.
The problem of course, is how to go about remedying the situation. I've tried a a fair number of things, but the safest choice is to increase the accuracy on the artillery. This increases their effective DPS vs defenses high enough to be relevant. Yes, this makes them more like V2's. But, I think the inaccuracy is a fundamental problem that can not simply be kept for "asymmetry".
For Camo Pillboxes, being "balanced" or "good" isn't desirable. This would be a case for striving for unit diversity when it's not needed. Camo Pillboxes do not play a crucial role in current game play. Instead, they serve to stifle it.
I recently watched a 30 minute game turn into a 1 hour game simply due to the presence of Camo Pillboxes (these ones lacked the additional recloak time, but did have the price increase). This is because the usual counter to defenses, air + artillery, isn't possible against Camo's. You can't use infantry against them either. Their only counter is tanks, however Allies have a weak tank. Camo's combined with any sort of anti-tank complement (rocket soldiers, turrets) turns it into an unassailable position, which locks down gameplay and leaves no options for the aggressor.
The targeting change will help the problem, but still forces you to engage Camos with some kind of force to reveal them (and is also a bit awkward, since if the camo recloaks while in vision you will lose the ghost you want to target).
To give another example, sometimes players mention how weak minelayers are, and wish this unit to be "balanced". However, a game where minelayers are "balanced" is not a fun game to play. Mines are invisible, destructive blockers that prevent aggression (much like Camo's). You can't plan around mines. You simply send your forces somewhere and hope your opponent didn't place a minefield there. They are additionally tedious and uninteresting to clear.
Lastly, to quickly touch on the medic change, since this is already an essay, it's simply to reduce the chance of your medics running forward to die. The longer it takes them to reach the front line, the more likely one of your infantry will take damage and they'll begin healing. Players have been pretty positive about this change and I see no issue with it.
Overall, I'd like to get the chance for these changes to go into the playtest. I don't expect them to go into release as is, and would like a serious round of testing to tweak them (or discard them). A 2vs2 tournament is planned with this in mind.
I'm concerned that the justification for the artillery and camo pillbox changes so far don't live up to what we expect for PRs. #13790 (mainly the "Comments" bullet points) and #14471 are two reasonable examples: they focus on how they try to address specific shortcomings, without resorting to "trust me" or discussions on fundamental balance philosophy.
When I read the post above I interpret three key points:
I hope this interpretation came from imprecise wording, because they run counter to the way that we have always tried to balance the games: asymmetry can be good, and minimize useless units by giving everything we can a role.
My main concern is that the comments above, on the forum, and on discord so far suggest that the artillery change rivals #13520 in terms of splitting opinion and generating toxic attitudes. The vitriol and harassment that followed the structure targeting change overshadowed all the other awesome changes in release-20171014, and did serious damage to the development momentum and moral. I'm not sure the project would survive a repeat of that, so I would only knowingly risk it if I were convinced and confident that the changes were important to the long-term viability of the project.
You're right. I was a little too excited to talk about game design ideas I had been thinking about, and should have responded in a more professional manner. Let me do this a little more properly.
There is currently a problem in both team games and Allies mirrors where players are unable to break through defensive lines. This results in stagnation. Stagnation being, an inability to make a play that increases your chances of winning. Passivity is rewarded due to any attacks being deflected cost effectively. The problem arises from Allied defenses being more effective than Soviet ones, and Allies lacking the tools to break them.
Allied Artillery misses defenses quite frequently with its inaccuracy, lowering it's effective DPS vs defenses only. This makes it tricky to balance, as any damage increase will have unintended effects. However, by increasing the accuracy, the unit is able to bring to bear it's full DPS on defenses. This change alone is sufficient from my testing to break the stagnation.
Additional changes have been made to it's damage profile vs Infantry. The main reason is to balance out the buff to it's accuracy. The other reason is to reduce the extreme difficulty in breaking fortified positions guarded by Artillery.
The damage to light armor change isn't essential, and if controversial, could be dropped without sacrificing my goal. In stagnant games, attacking Artillery can be efficiently countered by defending artillery, being able to one shot enemy artillery. By reducing the damage so it can no longer 1-shot artillery, it should reduce the passivity in these types of situations.
The Camo Pillbox's role in current game play is as an Artillery counter and to hold Tanya to surprise attacking enemy armies. What I'd like to do with these changes is to reduce it's role in the former. Camo Pillboxes unfortunately promote stagnant game play, and are typically built exclusively in these kinds of situations. By increasing it's cost, my goal was to increase the opportunity cost of building a Camo Pillbox over a normal Pillbox. This would increase the incentive for a player to fully take advantage of the cloaking ability during placement, rather than simply treating it as an upgraded Pillbox.
I've additionally increased the Cloak Delay to ease frustration for attacking players. I'll admit this change was hastily added in, and before I knew of #15866. As it has been pointed out it is unclear what kind of impact the FrozenActor change will have, I agree that it'd be wise to remove the Cloak Delay edit for now.
Potential Community Backlash
I think any significant change will involve backlash. As far as I can tell, there is negativity surrounding #15661 as well, if not more. However, I don't believe it will be nearly as bad as #13520. Most people I've talked to believe there is a problem with Artillery. There may be some disagreement on how to solve it, but I think folks understand that these sorts of issues can be ironed out during play test.
I also have an idea that the current implementation of Artillery drives potential new players away, though I don't have any particularly strong evidence to support it. My only data is I get new players in the academy asking how to counter Artillery, and talking about their frustration in dealing with it. I don't think I've ever been asked for the counter to any other unit.
One of the points I remembered regarding the inaccuracy.
High inaccuracy of anything has two core problems.
So, for the sake of proper tight-knit balance of the game, less inaccuracy is better as it's more manageable.
Btw point No2 implies that there will definitely be a need to update damage value and vs-armor modifiers further, because it might change a lot of stuff.
For me, the following questions arise from the discussion regarding the artillery and pillbox changes:
If there are issues, I'm sure there is a way to deal with them by refining the damage model without changing the unit's role and maintaining known gameplay in situations, that are not addressed by these changes, but affected.
If artillery underperforms vs base defences, why not give base defences an own armor type and increase the damage vs this type? This would not affect other situations and we could work on the potential OPness vs infantry separately and leave everything else untouched.
It will already be hard to measure the effects of any artillery balance changes because of the changes to frozen actor targeting and it does not seem reasonable to me to redesign a unit in the middle of this.
On a sidenote, I'd like to say that my previous comment was not meant as harsh as it might read and I appreciate Orb's effort and that he's put so much time into this.