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Gaarawarr Gabs with Nate Levy – Part 1

August 3, 2009

The Mythic interviews continue with a conversation with Nate Levy, the Combat & Careers Strike Team Lead.  Once again, there was so much information that I had to break it up into multiple posts.  Join us as we discuss things like crowd control, “mirrors”, “balance” and more!

Enjoy!

~Gaar

I started my MMO career with a little game called Star Wars Galaxies.  As an MMONoob at the time, all the career adjustments made no sense to me as I had fun playing the game with my character as it was.  I was a Wookiee and I think it was because I chose to gimp myself from the Character Select Screen that I didn’t understand other peoples’ complaints about combat.

I was still playing the game when the Combat Revamp hit Live and droves of people /ragequit while my friends and I spent a couple days re-learning the system, mastering it, then changing how others played the game on our server because of it.  Shortly thereafter, the New Game Enhancements (NGE) hit Live.  For those that don’t know, it was a fundamental, foundational change to how the game was played and how combat worked.  I’m not making it seem worse than it was when I say that it was a completely new game system.  It literally could have been its own game separately, that’s how much it changed.

Players left en masse.  Players threatened lawsuits.  SOE was practically forced to refund people’s money for the most recent expansion that released weeks before the NGE announcement.  It was easily the single largest mistake a game studio had ever made, or has made to date, and it was done partly as a way to make balancing combat and careers easier.

They had always had issues because there were so many options available to you that it would have taken them a lifetime to achieve balance.  The NGE allowed them to tone the choices down to only a small handful that both sides had access to (ie: true mirrors).  Ironically, combat and career balance still continues to this day in SWG, albeit with a much smaller game population.

So when people complain about combat and career balance in games now, and it’s always done with such fervor and vitriol, I still don’t understand them.  I’ve seen firsthand what happens when a studio does big, sweeping changes to combat and have watched people complain about it.  I’ve seen studios do small, incremental changes and have watched people complain about it.  I have yet to see, ever, the gamer audience of a game NOT complain about combat and career changes, whether they were for the good of the game or not.

Hence, I tend to stay away from those conversations.  People also tend to get mad at me and my opinions in regards to combat and career balance.  Of course, people tend to always get mad at an opinion that’s not their own with this topic, so I don’t mind, hehe.  So when I play MMOs, whether I play what’s seen as a gimped profession, or what’s seen as overpowered at the time, I just play my character.  It truly doesn’t matter to me if I’m not as strong as someone else or that I don’t always win.  It’s a game.  Winning isn’t everything.

With that being said, there are obviously a lot of things on the minds of WAR players when it comes to combat and careers, so I did my best to address as many of the issues as I could in this interview.  If I didn’t ask your particular hot-button question, oh well.  I could have spent an entire afternoon discussing C&C with Nate and not hit every topic people want answers to.  Such is life.

So without any more rambling, here we go…

GG:  The big, painful issues right now with combat are things like AoE and Crowd Control, and I know things have been proposed there.  Specifically for Crowd Control, we’ve seen things talked about like lengthening some timers and combining them but a lot of people respond to that with “Can we make sure they’re all going off right in the first place?”  Is all of that going to be combined/looked at/tweaked at once?  What are we going to see with those kinds of adjustments in the future?  (This interview took place almost simultaneously with the announcement of the recent AoE/CC changes.)

Nate:  Well, so the stuff in particular that we are doing in the next patch, that we already talked about, is we’ve increased the timers and duration up to 10 times the CC duration.  We are going to be introducing the new ability, as a Renown purchase, that will make you preemptively immune to CC.

GG:  Yay!  Ramp charges!!

Nate:  Yeah, well, that is what a lot of what our goal for it is.  A lot of the CC starts flying around as soon as the battle lines touch.  You know, you see the enemy and the first thing you do is fire the CC.  We want people to have the opportunity in thinking either… on one side is “Here come the enemies so let me put up my CC shield.”  On the other side is “I’m assuming that they’re all going to put up their CC shield, maybe I’ll hold my CC and wait.”

Make it a little more tactical, a little more back and forth.  So it’s kind of a preemptive thing of “When do I think they are going to use their shield?” and try to put a little more fun in the system and a little more interactivity.  The other thing you are going to be seeing that we talked about is the rolling knockback, pull and root all into one just generic movement immunity.

Which, as an Ironbreaker, I am a little bummed about… but I understand.  Rooting and punting is my thing. 😉

Nate:  So at that point, the two types of immunities are going to be… basically, you’ll have a disable-type immunity which is your stuns, silences, knockdowns, disarms… things that stop you from doing something.  Once you are stopped from doing something, you are immune.  And once you are moved around or stopped from moving, you are immune to that.

Just putting things in two broad categories should help a lot with people kind of rolling through the categories from one to the other then the other and the other and then back to the first.  Worst case:  Sure, you can still be CC’d once and then CC’d again, but it’s not going to be a lot of back and forth, back and forth.  And the disable that completely locks you out is only going to be once and then you are going to have a pretty long immunity.

We are also making the immunities persist through death, which is kind of a /facepalm moment on our end of “Wow, that is really obvious.”  So that will get rid of the “You are stunned, then dead, rez’d, stunned, then dead.”  That’s kind of crappy as gameplay and it just doesn’t feel fun.  So we are just going to make it last through death to completely cut that out as a factor.

GG:  Morale CCs compared to ability CCs:  Will they be pretty much all grouped up into the same box considering the rules for CC?  Or will CC from Morales fall differently?

Nate:  Nope, it will all fall into the same rules.  As you recall, originally at launch, Morales were special.  [They were] kind of above and beyond, didn’t go into the combat system, and didn’t respect immunities.  It was its own special meta-game factor.  Especially with the CCs, that didn’t really work out too well and pretty shortly thereafter we rolled the normal immunity rules and respect back into the Morales.  All the new changes are going to apply equally to abilities and Morales across the board.

GG:  So are we gonna ever see (obviously there was an adjustment with how you wanted to see Morales work and then how it was adjusted in regards to CC) that in regards to just the damage Morales?  Obviously they blow right through any kind of defenses and make squishies and tanks completely equal to the amount of damage done.  Are we ever going to see that kind of stuff get mitigated?

Nate:  For the Morales in particular, we are still pretty happy with the way the damage works out because it’s something of an equalizing factor.  The Morales are a bit of a touchy seesaw.  The idea behind the Morales is that we want them to be big and impressive things that you have to wait and build up to… and build up to… and decide “When is the best point to pop this?”  And if you go through the whole fight and you see them just about to [fall], you know, a little bit of health left, and you pop your Morale damage and they block it… you are going to sit there and go “Wow, that was really a waste.”  And the other guy might be like “Cool!  I blocked his Morale.  That’s awesome!”  But on your end, you’re like “What did I bother for?”

And so it is a bit of an equalizing factor.  Everybody takes the same damage, and everybody has the same chance to be hit by them.  And we are happy that it brings a little bit of a leveling to the playing field.  We do recognize that, especially for tanks in particular, they can go from taking, you know, defend…defend…little hit…little hit…defend… to all of a sudden BAM!  A Morale takes away a big chunk of their health, but we don’t want anybody to live forever.  Everybody has got to go down eventually.

GG:  Even if we don’t want to die…

Nate:  Well, no one wants to die.

GG:  There are certain career-specific abilities that are more of a generic AoE that currently only tend to hit players and nothing else.  So when you’re fighting around or near, say, a Keep door or certain interactable objects, you fire those off and it never hits the door even though the door is technically an object.  Are we ever going to see that, so that when you are throwing damage around, you are really throwing damage around?

Nate:  There is an issue right now, generically, where AoEs don’t hit objects, just simply speaking game-wise.  We are looking at that specifically for the case of Keep doors.  So, for example, someone who has spec’d down a full AoE path goes to take down a door and sits there thinking “Well, there is not a whole lot I can do here.”  We are working on a way to get that fixed so that AoEs can hit objects.

A lot of the problems with that is there are several objects throughout the game that we don’t want AoEs to hit.  There may be objects that are key to the pacing of an encounter that are not necessarily things we want to be attackable as splash… things that people have to deliberately break off and focus on individually.  Differentiating what we do and don’t want to be falling into [those categories] is making it take a little bit longer, but it is certainly something we are aware of.  We’re definitely trying to move towards a point where we can let the AoEs hit Keep doors without a problem.

GG:  Renown Rank and the grind…  A lot of players seem to follow this pattern:  The player gets to RR80 and rolls another character.  They then try to get that character to RR80 as well.  However, while they keep moving forward, the opposite faction is denied some of the bigger kills.  They won’t be able to get Royal Crests or things like that because there is no purpose for a player currently, unless they just really want to, to keep playing a RR80 toon.  Are there any plans for some type of benefit once you do hit RR80 to make it a little bit more appealing to players to keep playing their character?  So you’ve really invested in your character and not just necessarily in the grind.

Nate:  In general, you are probably going to want to talk to the RvR guys more about that.  Since they own that entire system and that is a lot of their sandbox to play in.  I can tell you that we are working with them on the rewards, particularly for the Renown system and how that system affects your character and makes your character better.  And we are looking at the entire structure of Renown rewards and trying to figure out how to make it more appealing and more fun.  More something you really look at a point ahead of you in Renown and say “Man, I can’t wait until I hit this point because I’m going to get something really awesome.”  That thing we are looking at doing is the entire reward structure.  We want to make it more grabbing that way.

GG:  So, kind of like… I was just at an amusement park, so to me, I kind of look at the RR80 and trying to get there as like, I want that to be the ride I am waiting in line for.  When I get there, I want it to be a blast even though it took me forever to get there.  So, yeah, it’s one of those questions that was kind of… obviously it touches on a lot of different groups, but…

Nate:  You can see, for example, the new CC immunity buff we are putting in is going to be a higher RR purchase.  So on the trainer where you normally buy abilities, this is going to be one of the abilities you can buy and it’s going to be fairly deep in the tree.  So people look at that and go “Damn it!  I hate that every time I see the enemy, the first thing that happens is that I’m stunned.  I can’t wait ’til I hit this point and can buy that ability.”  And then, obviously, once you have it, you’re not going to want to give that up.

GG:  Yeah, I know what you’re saying.

Nate:  That’s kind of the first step along that line of making it inherently more valuable to be at that Rank.  And hopefully we will be able to get more of that stuff in the future.

GG:  The player-base as a general whole enjoys tossing out the word “mirror.”  Witch Elf/Witch Hunter — they’re mirrors.  A lot of players seem to toss that around and try to understand it as “They should be exactly the same.”  But then, people say that the Marauder is the mirror to the White Lion, but the White Lion has a pet and the Squig Herder has a pet but is supposed to be the mirror to the Shadow Warrior.  What are we really supposed to be talking about when we say “mirror”?

Nate:  A lot of the careers are mirrors, generally in theme and role.  So the Witch Hunter and the Witch Elf, sure they have some different abilities, and they play out a little differently, but they’re both lightly-armored, heavy-output melee DPS careers.  They both work on a similar mechanic.  They both have a similar playstyle.  They do diverge a bit, but a lot of the divergences… our general intent in the divergences and what certainly make it a little more difficult to balance is that we wanted them to be a little more flavorful.

If you look at an Orc tank and an Elf tank – the Swordmaster and the Black Orc – they are mirrors.  They have a similar mechanic, similar abilities, and a similar play-style and career setup.  But should an Orc, when you sit down and play it, feel the exact same as an Elf when you sit down and play it?  It would be kind of weird if they did, in a way, because a lot of the game…  Remember, we are working in Games Workshop’s world.  We are trying to bring their world to life and we did want to get a feel of differentiation and flavor and uniqueness to those careers, which is where a lot of the divergences go.

For things that you mentioned with the Shadow Warrior and Squig Herder, they are kind of mirrors in the sense that they are both range DPS careers.  But really, the mirror of the Shadow Warrior is closer to the Marauder because both of them have a similar mechanic, a similar play-style:  You choose the stance you want to be in and that determines your ability set.  Changing that is a notable drawback to you in the heat of combat, so you have to do some pre-planning, your tactic sets more heavily rely on that, etc.

So the mirrors aren’t always the exact same role back and forth and sometimes, like that, there are three-way crossovers.  The bigger importance is that one Realm as a whole, against the other Realm as a whole, gets the same type of capabilities and balance.

GG:  So there is always someone… the focus is going to be on “There is always going to be someone in the other Realm that is going to have a counterbalance.”

Nate:  Right.

GG:  So that, maybe one person is a little stronger and maybe their mirror won’t be able to take them out, but there is going to be another class that will be able to come in and be the counter to that to keep everything in balance.  Is that more of what the goal is?

Nate:  Yeah.  With the example you have, you can build a whole little mirror web between the Marauder, the Squig Herder, the White Lion and the Shadow Warrior and do kind of sideways and across and then backwards and how they are all kind of mirrors of each other but kind of counteract each other as well.  And that gets a little more complicated than just the straight one-to-one comparison mirrors that some of the other careers have.

So sometimes: You are superior to your mirror in one aspect because they have this completely different facet that you don’t have, but your Realm has that over here and at the end of the day, when both sides are working together as a group, the capabilities work out.  Certainly in one-on-one you may run into cases where one person has an upper hand over the other, but that is always going to happen.

GG:  Group combat…who would have thought?  RvR-themed game not based on 1v1 combat!?!?!  I don’t get it…

Keep your eyes open for Part 2 of this interview where we discuss things like bomb groups, mastery paths, soft-caps and more!  Until then…

Have fun!

~Gaar

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. Rascal permalink
    August 4, 2009 1:26 am

    The problem with not balancing mirrors properly is on top of the obvious disbalanced, this will eventually lead to a population imbalance.

    Let’s take the WH and WE example. I’m new to Warhammer and I stumble onto warhammeralliance and want to play a stealth class. I find out that WH and WE are the respective stealth classes for each faction. I read up about them on the respective career forums.

    While the WH is usually constructive and positive the WE is very negative and keep complaining about how WH are the better class. This is coupled with the fact that WH’s are supporting the WE’s in their crusade for a buff.

    So as the new player which class would you role?

    Unfortunately this is the problem with many of the mirrors.

    Second let’s say the WE and WH were perfectly balanced, the illusion of imbalance will still be there because not all abilities are not the same. Some characters will want abilities that the other mirror has. For example WP/Dok, I believe are reasonable balanced, yet there will still be people that want each others abilities AOE detaunt/Morales (1001, and UC).

    • gaarawarr permalink
      August 4, 2009 5:19 am

      If you read my intro, you’ll see that the perception of balance never really comes to an MMO. It really doesn’t matter how perfectly balanced a studio makes their game, people will always complain.

      That doesn’t mean that some classes don’t need help in WAR, they do. However, Mythic has to balance complaints about “changing things too fast without proper testing” with ones about “taking too long and not caring about balance.” Currently, they’re sucking it up and dealing with complaints because they’re working on the long-term health of the game.

  2. August 4, 2009 9:42 am

    WCPI’d, another fantastic interview.

  3. August 4, 2009 9:43 am

    I agree that the long-term health of the game is the most important thing, and I also agree that classes should not be perfectly mirrored.

    However, I also believe that there are fundamental problems with class balance that, while not nearly as dramatically game-breaking as people like to pontificate, need to be addressed.

    When reading or watching interviews with Nate, he seems to be overly defensive about how things currently work, and seems to only want to work within the confines of the mindset that lead to the current issues. By that, I mean that instead of changing the way that CC is distributed by looking at individual classes’ CC, and how those classes CC works in tandem with their realm-mates’, they introduce immunity timers. This type of balancing has a much larger impact on a class like an Ironbreaker (I have a r40 IB too, Gaar 🙂 ), and a lesser impact on classes that have problematic CC to begin with, such as the AoE Morale Stun from a Bright Wizard, or the Magnet/Rift pull. The problematic CCs will still be used to neutralize a large group at the beginning of combat in order to AoE DPS them freely, but the ability of a tank to keep a DPS away from his/her squishies is reduced quite a bit.

    I think that a better solution would have been to simply reduce the duration and distribution of CCs across the board. A 5 second AoE stun has no place in a game where the time-to-live can be less than 10 seconds under heavy fire. One player taking 5 seconds of activity away from 10 people is removing 50 seconds of response from a group of less than 2 parties.

    The most recent nerf to defensive morale stacking with a guard is a nerf to the ability of a tank to guard a squishy, like a BW/Sorc. However, this was not a problem before immunities, when an opposing tank could simply boot the guardbot away from his/her guardee. This is a further nerf to the defensive role tank in RvR, which is a prime reason why most tanks are going heavy offense recently. This nerf is only necessary when the CC is heavily concentrated in the classes that need it the least to define their role in a group, namely the heavy-hitter DPS.

    Personally, I don’t care about classes being mirrored, I think that would detract from the wonderful complexity that keeps this game fun. I would, however, like to see the CC concentrated mostly in the tank class, the AoE CC reduced across the board, and the overall duration of full-CCs (stuns, knockdowns, disables) reduced to a more manageable level.

    My 2 brass.

    • gaarawarr permalink
      August 4, 2009 11:27 am

      I see your point Aerion, but I believe the adjustments made to CC, and AoE, were done to create a base-line that was “fair” in the larger view that would then allow them to adjust individual classes off of to create balance.

      The corollary is having a house with a tilted foundation. Fixing everything in the house comes after fixing the foundation. However, things are going to look really odd for a while, but you kind of want that. Huge imbalances on a solid foundation are much easier to notice than on a skewed one and it’s easier to see truly where they need to be adjusted to.

  4. August 4, 2009 1:32 pm

    I don’t mean to be a big jerk here, as I’m generally much happier than the average bear about the state of the game, and the class balance in general, than most other folk (I think).

    I just think that the issue was not one where all CC was too much, but simply that some of it was/is too much.

    You don’t want to adjust the whole foundation down a foot, because that’s not going to keep all the marbles from rolling into one corner of the kitchen. You need to simply adjust the corner of the foundation that’s raised too high. If you lower the whole thing, you’re just going to end up making the basement flood 🙂

    Overall, though, this is a great interview, and I’m very impressed with all of the work you’ve done here on your blog. Much thanks and much love.

    • gaarawarr permalink
      August 4, 2009 4:38 pm

      Well, I guess we’ll have to disagree. Quite frankly, if all the AoE and CC abilities had been equally as strong, everyone would be very happy with the adjustment. As it is, it points out that some classes truly do need some more “love” to bring them up to par. It’s much easier to adjust how CC and AoE works across the board and get it to where it should be, then adjust those classes that need help than it would have been to go thru and balance every single class one-by-one since it wasn’t necessarily the abilities that had issues, but the overall effect AoE and CC had on the game that was the issue.

      Now that it’s been adjusted, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of class adustments in the future that focus in on those particular classes that everyone agrees need some help.

    • August 4, 2009 5:38 pm

      One could somewhat argue that Bright Wizard’s and Sorc’s AoE still hasn’t been fully brought to a level of balance, but that’s just my opinion.

    • gaarawarr permalink
      August 4, 2009 6:24 pm

      Honestly, I think it’s more of an issue where everyone else just hasn’t been quite nudged up a bit in functionality like they need to be, but hey, I’m not the one in charge of it. lol So it’s kind of pointless to talk about it imo.

  5. Torak permalink
    August 7, 2009 12:08 am

    Although this is mostly about class/combat I wanted to hit on the RvR thing. (reaching cap then re-rolling)

    The entire problem with the WAR RvR system it the fact that is nothing more then point collection.
    The players have no stake in any sort of dynamic world impact. A successful siege is meaningless for the mostpart as most players just roll onto the next objective looking to collect…more points.
    The other side rolls in a bit later and mops up that keep.
    No side has any real stake in keep anything. The point collection promotes taking easier undefended targets because it’s faster (hence grind thinking)

    The whole system is more suited to a shooter type game then a virtual world at war.

    Keeps could provide some sort of territory control that gives a tangible benefit to holding onto it. Make it worth fighting to keep outside of just adding another point collection structure to it. It’s too bad you guys didn’t add in a proper crafting system, then you could have added resources tied to areas with castles/keeps on them.
    That’s why wars are fought, over needed resources. (and others but not in a sense that is applicable to my post here)

    The core problem with WAR is there is no real motivation to keep fighting. You have no real stake in the success or failure of your faction. Look at a game like Lineage 2 (oooo…such an unpopular game) But you have motivation to stay, you have massive motivation to hang onto that Castle, it brings you power, money, resources, exclusive access to things, and lastly prestige.

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  1. Gaarawarr Gabs with Nate Levy – Part 2 « Gaarawarr Gabs
  2. SNACtype* » Warhammer Dev Interviews Change Tone

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