The state of gameplay; Economy vs. unit tactics vs. expansion

The state of gameplay; Economy vs. unit tactics vs. expansion

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tzaeru
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The state of gameplay; Economy vs. unit tactics vs. expansion

Post by tzaeru » 07 Jun 2015, 13:14

Recently I've come to think of how much the gameplay has changed over the years. Compared today to 2008, I can see that maps that were traditional vehicle maps see a lot more kbots. Games ending to T1 are decently rare; As I started, I can recall Comet Catcher Redux as a quintessential T1 vehicle map. Now, seeing it go to T2 and T3 is hardly rare. Some maps that used to either be dominantly vehicles or feature roughly a fifty-fifty split of vehicles and kbots seem to be solely kbots.

I can recall a lot of matches ending to a succesful rush to T2 to produce ~5 bulldogs and taking down porc to drive into enemy base; This, too, seems rarer nowadays, with more focus being on using the cost of those 5 bulldogs to build even more of the ever-exponential economy.

This has two big questions occur to me; One, is this perceived change in the metagame real and if so, why has it occurred? Two, what is the actual ideal for Balanced Annihilation gameplay and should Balanced Annihilation make any changes to accommodate a different direction for gameplay?

For the question one, I do believe that there is actual, substantial change having taken place. However, I don't think the reasons are due to balance changes per-say, but rather an overall change in how players conduct their game.

I dug out SVN revisions from 4 years ago. The major energy and metal production buildings have not changed. The vast majority of units used today have not changed. Few things have changed; Pathfinding is different, but this isn't BA's beef really. Regardless, I do think that the actual change in gameplay is thus due to player behaviour. Overtly aggressive gameplay is deemed as both difficult and very risky; Losing 10 flash while taking out only one mex and a few LLT is not cost-effective. Hence, players use units predominantly to defend rather than to harass. The map choice does have a huge part in this, too, but in general, I feel that it's more the player behaviour that has changed than the choice of maps.

Additionally, the economy production strategies used nowadays are extremely optimal. In fact, they are so optimal, that it's not exactly impossible to gain such an economical advantage, that you can cost-effectively counter the 5 bulldogs built by your opponent during the economy boost you get while they drive across the map.

For the question two, then! What kind of gameplay should BA have? The difficulty of this question is of course the fact that maps change gameplay drastically, but lets try to consider maps with decently many open pathways of combat. Personally, my view is that there should be a little more room for unit tactics over economy based unit spam. Accurately microing combat loses effectiveness rapidly after the 20th minute mark; Often, even great players just focus on blind spam by 40th minute. I also feel that the prevelance of games ending to T2 or T3 should be slightly less; T2 endings should happen on around half or little over half of the games in medium-sized games on maps that have not been made predominantly for porc. T3 should also be rarer; Even in DSD, it really shouldn't be almost a norm.

Right, this came out as a pretty long post! Any thought on this? The question I am most interested in, is what do people actually feel to be ideal for BA? Should staple of BA be epic, hour-long T3 struggles? Or should the average match be a struggle of careful T1 unit kiting? Should only maps with a lot of metal in the middle be worthy of aggressive expansing in, or should even a few mexes be worth it to fight over? Is the current state of affairs exactly right, or should better economy be worth more than now, or less?
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tzaeru
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Re: The state of gameplay; Economy vs. unit tactics vs. expansion

Post by tzaeru » 07 Jun 2015, 13:20

To shed some light to motivations behind this; I'm very supportive of efforts to BA development and have no beef whatsoever with any BA developers or maintainers.

The main thing here is not to really discuss exact balance changes, but rather to map out the desired direction for BA. Right now, I have to say that I feel already a bit bored at how the gameplay is on most games, even though I had two years of a pause. Now, is this what BA should be like, or should it change?
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albator
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Re: The state of gameplay; Economy vs. unit tactics vs. expansion

Post by albator » 07 Jun 2015, 14:37

I think the first thing is to ask current (and if possible old) BA dev what they tried to acheive and why. So you will get a clearer picture.

More importantly, you should ask to next BA dev if they are open to constructive discussion on the forum. There is a reason why the number of argumented threads and posts about balance almost complelty desappeared with respect to 5 year ago. I am not saying that is good/bad thing, but that avoid waste of time.
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tzaeru
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Re: The state of gameplay; Economy vs. unit tactics vs. expansion

Post by tzaeru » 07 Jun 2015, 14:41

albator wrote:I think the first thing is to ask current (and if possible old) BA dev what they tried to acheive and why. So you will get a clearer picture.
This. ^^
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Silentwings
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Re: The state of gameplay; Economy vs. unit tactics vs. expansion

Post by Silentwings » 07 Jun 2015, 15:37

ask current (and if possible old) BA dev what they tried to acheive and why
It's maybe not what you want to hear...

The first thing I did was to remove all balance discussions away from people who fed their own egos. Forum balance discussions at the time when I took over were typically toxic slagging wars with little factual content, and I had no interest in taking part in them. This is thankfully now consigned to the distant past and today people who influence BAs future are those who make material contributions and constructive comments, rather than those with loud mouths. Of all the changes, this is by far the one that I am happiest to have seen take place. I was lucky here in that I was greatly helped by improvements in the autohosts, which had the long term result of BA becoming a more friendly community than most online games.

In practice, the result was that essentially any major balance change commited by me, of which there haven't been many, were thought up via one on one pm discussions with a group of 5-10 very good players whom I could trust to have enjoyable discussions with. Future maintainers might choose to work in the same way, of course its up to them.

I always collected detailed statistics to see what material effect changes had, and preferred to change things very slowly, sometimes waiting 6 months for the effects to sink in. I don't much believe in making changes based on statistical analysis (discussing + testing turned out to be much more reliable) but collecting stats to see the effect of changes made was very useful.

I am too lazy to make a proper list, but examples of big things that I changed are:
1) Hugely toned down the slasher/samson wars, which once dominated all flat team maps, particularly DSD.
2) Tried to make sea more playable for non-experts (although TFC was really behind this), and have more integration between sea and land battles.
3) Made big team games last longer with more varied ways of ending, primarily by removing the "quick wins" that were once achieved by OP T2 air and lolcannons.
4) Made FFA games have better balanced startpoints.
5) Tied to lift various units out of uselessness and give them niche roles (mercury/screamer/commando/merl/diplomat/fido/maverick/etc).
In each case here, like essentially every change I made, it was a response to something current. I never had a grand design or a long term plan or any real desire to change the game. I acted in this way because BA is already hugely liked and enjoyed by many people, the vast majority of whom display no interest in seeing major changes except when a single strategy/outcome becomes boringly common. If I had to do it again, I'd do that again.

I won't take part in any future forum balance discussions and I'm afraid I didn't even read the long posts above, so I've got no response whatever was in them ;)
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tzaeru
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Re: The state of gameplay; Economy vs. unit tactics vs. expansion

Post by tzaeru » 07 Jun 2015, 15:46

Silentwings wrote:I won't take part in any future forum balance discussions and I'm afraid I didn't even read the long posts above, so I've got no response whatever was in them ;)
:P

Well, that was a very helpful post and showcased the kind of transparency I feel it often at lack in many gaming and open source communities. It's important that devs have an actual reason to do things (not necessarily a long-spanning one at all) and that devs are able to communicate this in clear, to-point wording. For that, you and your post are applaudable.

I echo that any hugely drastic changes would do a big misservice. Yet, even if no balance changes were made to BA itself at all, the gameplay still changes both due to changes to Spring as an engine and due to changes to player strategies and to the general metagame, hence prompting somekind of a response unless the direction was, in fact, better than the status quo.
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albator
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Re: The state of gameplay; Economy vs. unit tactics vs. expansion

Post by albator » 10 Jun 2015, 00:48

Silentwings wrote: 3) Made big team games last longer with more varied ways of ending, primarily by removing the "quick wins" that were once achieved by OP T2 air and lolcannons.
This was the biggest gameplay change from my point of view and for doing so the unit got less good at doing specific things they were designed for, making the game play less entertaining from my point of view.

There is a mod that pussed the concept further. I is called tech annihilation...

I like BA as it was before, but I think that poeple who love this kind of big game / big unit thing already play tech annhilation.

The danger pushing the concept futher is to lose the poeple who like the op unit and tactics (did it happen already ?) but not to achieve it as good as tech annihilation will drain poeple from BA to tech annihilaiton since BA player will get acqaintained with the eco mechanics then go for one of the two mod that fullfill the most the concept.

I guess that is just a matter of choice.
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TeBe
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Re: The state of gameplay; Economy vs. unit tactics vs. expansion

Post by TeBe » 15 Jun 2015, 02:57

There have been a few changes that have made eco management much easier:

- T1 mex used energy, stalling e would make it stop producing metal
- Metalmakers were harder to manage, they would also make you e stall if you didn't turn them off. There were widgets to turn them off/on automatically but you had to install them first
- Nano towers had to be set to patrol manually if you didn't install the widget, and even if you did it didn't work as well as the current one
- I'm not sure if the active/passive mode existed a few years back. I think at least by default nanos would make you stall so you didn't want to build too many of them.

In general nowadays you don't pretty much ever have to worry about stalling energy.
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