Sunday, March 30, 2008

Guild Wars: I Choose Death

Alright, so I've established that, like 911, VoD is a joke. What I left unanswered was the question of how it might be fixed. That might have been because I'm trying to be more humble and less of an armchair designer. And the problem is a deep and complex one to which I don't have a good answer. That doesn't really sound like me so it's more likely that I ran out of time and/or burned up another keyboard with my lightning fast typing and decided to come back to it later with another post.

Like this one. Which is about how I'd fix VoD.

As I said, I think the problem with VoD is that it's too derivative. It focuses the long, complex, and downright beautiful chess match of a GvG match into the narrow corridor of that final scrum by the flagstand. The chaos and confusion when the normal rules are suspended and the game's mechanics take a sharp turn.

To me, a GvG match should be centered more on the time spent getting to VoD if not outright trying to avoid it entirely. It's the skirimishes and combat in the intervening 10~15 minutes that should determine the outcome. Not who's best at getting up Splinter to mow down hordes of NPCs.

I want, in other words, GvG to be much more tactical with players having to deal with threats and come up with proper responses on the fly - or risk losing the match well before the Lords come ambling down for a stroll and a little slaughter. A fluid, moving affair that's about gaining and losing momentary advantages. With VoD lurking in the background as incentive to hurry up and do something.

Now, how to do that?

I think the answer is to make the advantages gained in the middle of the game (As opposed to the beginning of the game that's setting up your team and strategy - slotting your skills and equipment. And the end of the game that is VoD.) more important. Longer lasting, more decisive, and better able to swing a game in your favor.

Which the Victory is Ours shout does (Or did. You know, I'm not playing and I'm probably talking about things that have already been dealt with in the community. Chewed and rehashed and abandoned as the game's moved on. I might as well give up and hit the backspace button now. But, screw it, this is my blog and I'll talk about what interests me.). It just does so in an incredibly stupid way. Not by making those advantages count in the middle game but by making a super advantage that comes into play in the endgame I'd want to de-emphasize.

Instead, I think the advantages you want to create to reward players for taking risks during the lead-up to VoD have to be relevant at that moment. You make a nice play, you get your team in an advantageous position, and you should be able to capitalize. To turn that momentary edge into another advantage and another and another in a cascade effect that leads to your opponent collapsing.

Just like a wipe should be the result not of random luck - the Monk miscasting or missing a save - but of a string of smaller victories that result in a team's backline collapsing with dire consequences for their morale. Whether that's because you've spiked until their energy engines are seizing up and they've run short of healing juice or because you've disabled and disrupted them at a key moment or simply because you've built better and they can't handle your pressure, it doesn't matter. What matters is that a backline failing is grown and nurtured from a dozen tiny, discrete decisions. Windows of opportunity for failure that are opening and shutting all the time as a battle rages. Good teams, skilled players, know how to find them, how to use them, how to crack them open, slip through, and start with the smash and grab. But instead of a stereo system or your mother's pearl necklace what they're grabbing is victory.

So, yes, I think if you play well you should be rewarded. Innovative, I know. What this means for a GvG match, though, is that we need to get a little more swingy.

This means games are going to seesaw back and forth a bit more, that there'll be lucky wins and improbable come-backs. Because we're going to have to create more stress points where teams can possibly fail in order to create more times when they can possibly succeed.

If I could totally redesign the experience, I'd redraw all the maps. Alter the playing field. Reposition the NPC guards around the base. Tweak their skills and AI until they were effective (And maybe not so lemming-like at VoD). But that's an extremely difficult (And no doubt costly) undertaking. So for starters what I'd do is make two or three simple changes with, I hope, wide-reaching implications.

First, I'd do away with the whole "added damage, lowered healing" of Victory of Death. Instead of it cranking up your team's lethality I'd make it so it helped you fulfil the victory condition. Normally, the Guild Lord has a ton of health and armor. That makes him hard to kill under the best of circumstances (And is necessary, along with his Medallion thingy, to prevent quick ganking from ending matches before they even start. Ah, for the days of Necrotic Traversal and Grenth's Balance. I think the devs might actually have been a bit quick to put the hammer down on that one. Quick-gank splits could have been the game's version of a Zerg Rush, forcing teams to think about defending their bases and punishing those who went heavy towards the stand. But the tricky bit is how you allow for that but dissuade teams from going for the all-out gank. You don't want it to turn into a DPS race at the Lords, in other words.) and means you need several uninterrupted seconds of pounding away before you can finish him off and check your new K-value. I'd keep that during normal play but when VoD hits, I'd dramatically lower the Lord's survivability. Cut his health and armor to something like what a player has, maybe a bit more.

What this should do is make it a lot easier to spike out the Lord. Makes splitting for your opponent's base when the NPCs leave much more attractive - especially if you've cleared the way by eliminating them from one gate or the other (This is part of why I'd want to look at the Footmen and Archers and, perhaps, change their behavior a bit.). But does so without up-ending the way your team works. You still do the same damage, you still have the same healing potential, the Lord is now a fat juicy target and you can either go for the insta-win with a spike or work down your opponents so they can't save him.

Second, I'd alter the way the rez shrines work. At the moment, someone dies and, as long as they don't have 60% DP, they come back at the shrine on every even minute mark. This puts them out of the fight and they have to run back to the fight but it's not a terrible drawback since it's about a :45~1minute transit time and they can push up a flag or defend the base. The morale penalty they'll take is more troubling as they'll be down a bit of resources and closer to being out of the match but it's not a terrible drawback. With kills as hard to score as they are and rez skills as powerful as they are, it's really hard to DP someone out.

What I'd like to see is kills turning into real powerplay situations. If a team is lucky or good enough to down one of their opponents, that gives them a numerical advantage they can use to press. But, at the moment, I think the autorez happens too quickly and the matches are too short to really take advantage once you've managed to burn off their sigs and knock out their hardrezzer. So, what I'd do is increase the autorez timer. Say, from two minutes to three. Creating more time to work with. If that wasn't enough then I'd switch the timer from being tied to the game's clock to being individual. In other words, if you died you wouldn't be resurrected on a three minute mark regardless of when that is relative to your demise but three minutes from when you died, period. Unless your team manages to rez you, of course.

Overall, the changes should normalize gameplay while still creating an overtime situation with an easy win condition. It might take a bit more but if I were given the reigns tomorrow (Which, you know, I shouldn't be), those are the first steps I'd take.

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