Monday, October 28, 2013

Buff & Nerf: The Vicious Cycle

One of the core problems with Dust 514 is the constant flux and drastic change of weapons and equipment. Players are baffled and frustrated by it and its hurting the experience. Why? Because players are creatures of habit and even moreso seek consistency. Its important to understand how difficult it is to balance a game where the classes have real variety, and we respect that. At the same time, the simple fact is that its a generally bad idea to frustrate a small playerbase. The recon suit is a prime example of the push and pull we're talking about. Its initial iteration gave us a suit that was so fast it played havoc on the already subpar hit detection and so it had to be slowed down a bit. Next, came the loss of some slots and CPU & PG. Today its a dropsuit that is almost too easy to kill as a result of the unreal range, dispersion and newly added aim assistance on the most popular weapon in the game: The Assault Rifle. For it to have a basic level of survivability its speed and stealth need a slight boost, as its supposed to counter low health with both of these traits.

A recent post on the forums detailed the frustration of those that play the scout role. In it, a player requested to know what role CCP saw for the scout suit. This is a microcosm of the frustration that many players feel. Change is good, especially when we're seeing improvements but when a primary role keeps changing its goalposts it can cause players to leave. This isnt COD or BF3 where we can just switch to another class, the use of SP in Dust is a commitment. Consider the Logi role. For too long it has been the best assault suit in the game as a result of poor design. This cant happen as the priority should always be to limit classes by both strengths and weaknesses.

CCP recently mentioned that some weapons would be retuned when the other racial variants arrived. The current ranges are supposedly placeholders. Just last week we got the stats for the Caldari and Minmatar assault rifles. The problem with that is the constant redoing of the core aspects of weaponry isnt good. More players have left the game as a result of the constant push & pull of how weapons, vehicles and equipment operate than anything. Players are getting used to the way the GEK-38 operates right now. Many of them dont come to the forums or know anything about racial differences and  placeholders. All they'll know is that the weapon theyre comfortable with just had its range cut in half. Constant reworking of the basic attributes for weapons is a bad idea. Instead, give players weapons that operate as close as possible to how they are intended to work. Allow players to get used to them or continue to see people leave.

We looked at many of the aspects of other games and came up with a legend for how to approach tuning in Dust. We understand that the initial iteration of a weapon, suit or item may not always be perfect, but if it stays within certain parameters then changes wont upset players because something goes from functional to broken, or from doing one specialty to something completely different.

1. Is it operating as intended?
2. How is it in comparison to other assets?
3. Is it balanced with strengths and weaknesses?
4. Should this mechanic exist in a tactical shooter?
5. Support from users doesnt equal success.

#5 is especially important because its rare that players can see the weapons they favor as unbalanced. On 5.14 Flaylock users were delighted to have a sidearm that was useful, AR users are ecstatic to have over 100m of range with the recent changes. Users of the tactical AR supported its retuning after Uprising. Few Heavies complained about their role in the first build, but the simple fact is that all were probably unbalanced. Questions 1,2 and 3 would have resolved all of these. No designer in their right mind would have a sidearm that outperforms a primary [with a small CPU/PG cost] a weapon that excels at every range or 'tanks' that arent balanced with range and speed weaknesses. All of these decisions are made more puzzling by the fact that the shotgun [minus its hit detection issues] and sniper rifle are designed almost perfectly.

We recently read an article on overpowered weapons in gaming. We were ashamed to admit how many each of the worst ones perfectly resemble Dust 514s Mass Driver. We went into depth about how it needed retuning months ago as a result of CCPs poor representation of splash damage. The MD fails horribly when we apply it to our design questions. While its sight should show where its shells will land and its firing arc should be eliminated, should it exist in a tactical shooter in its current form? Let's see: An automatic firing grenade launcher that has explosions that suppress aim and does 60% of direct damage even when it misses? Aim is king in shooters and its unconscionable to reward any weapon for not hitting the target. Even the more casual BF3 understood limiting grenade launchers by slow fire rate and requiring a reload after each shot. What happened in Dust? Missile tanks, missile turrets and grenades should have large splash areas! Handheld weapons should be limited to 1m of splash and 30% of direct damage.

Simply put, the new player experience doesn't promote growth of the game. A friend recently logged into Dust and played for about 30 minutes. He complained the entire time about the range of ARs dwarfing his HMG. At one point players with ARs were able to dominate him at close range as a result of the HMG being left out of the aim assist party. This rationale fails horribly, while it cant have good range, no autofire weapon should be the equal of the HMG from 0-30 meters. My friend had played during the first beta and wondered what happened to the weapon he loved so much. Another friend started the game during the reign of the tactical AR. He got used to being able to put down enemies at 10m and at 100m and was pleased with the game enough to spend money on it. Then came re-tuning. Needless to say he was not happy and hasn't played the game since. This is the prime example of why suits, weapons and items must keep their same basic traits even in the initial design and more importantly, that design must be sound. The alternative can frustrate even the most highly invested players.


  1. Good post. It goes without saying but all your stated design objectives could be measured if there was a properly segregated and player driven staging environment, as there is in EVE. In most of the cases you describe, it would take about 20 minutes for the players to feed back any potential imbalances in weapons, that would have been corrected prior to implementation in a production environment. This strongly suggests there is a lack of a qualitative QA process within the CCP Shanghai studio.

    1. agree that QA needs a serious upgrade.

  2. Lol Dust is Garbage.

  3. Makes zero fucking sense to give gek 100m for a month as a placeholder. Wake up ccp!!!!

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