Thursday, July 26, 2012

Kid Icarus Uprising power idea: Knight Charge

Recently, I decided to make a new club power set, one that would be for dealing with kite pests, but still having Counter to keep claw users from turning me into an easy target. I inevitably dumped Super Armor because it provided no mobility boosts on its own, didn't protect me from range abuse as well as it should, and ended up being too expensive. Seriously, Counter 2 costs only 5 spaces for THREE charges, as opposed to Super Armor 1's 6 spaces for only 1 charge, when Super Armor does nothing efficiently enough to make up for it. Counter can be punished by range abuse, but SA+Lightweight is laughable at punishing THAT.

I searched through the power list for ways to counter range combat, and could find only Mega Laser, Black Hole, Reflect Barrier, and Lightweight, the latter two of which I already had on my original power set. It's insulting that I could fit ALL FOUR POWERS, along with Counter and Effect Recovery, into the grid. Seriously, it's that easy to hit the anti-range potential of clubs.

But I do like the dynamic of Mega Laser, Black Hole, and Reflect Barrier:
*Mega Laser - expand (hit a guy with Energy Charge, chip damage KO, hit somebody behind a Reflect Barrier, force opponents' behavior)
*Black Hole - attack (catch anybody within 30 meters, punish clumping)
*Reflect Barrier - defend (throw off projectiles, mess up people's momentum)

And that's where it hits me: how about a third power that provides knockback immunity, one that would be designed for long range.

This is where Knight Charge comes in.

Knight Charge's stats

Before I can talk about what Knight Charge does, I'll have to provide the basic stats:

*Name: Knight Charge
*Icon: knight piece from Chess
*Spaces: 3+2L
*Charges: 1L
*Category: Buff
*Effects:
-KB immunity
-DEF and mobility increased
-ATK reduced by percentage
-Can't use projectiles by standard method

I am thinking the following exact stats:
-DEF boost: Overall DEF +4 (stacks with weapon's stats)
-Mobility boost: speed multiplied by 2.5x
-ATK loss: deal 1/2 damage
-Projectile restriction: can't use projectiles outside of something like Counter's free projectile

Why the attack neutering?

This power is designed with clubs in mind. Clubs are supposed to try to close the distance on foes under a hefty speed restriction. This power would make it easy to do that. Left unchecked, it will make the Ogre Club, the strongest weapon in the game, more or less dominant. Since the power is designed to be for simply providing an option to combat kiting, that is not desirable. Something would have to be done.

Attack power reduction is to make sure that clubs can't benefit as much from suddenly being able to get near the opponent easily. Halved attack is surprisingly powerful, as it results in dealing only equivalent damage to Orbitars' melee in general with the added problem of throwing only 2 hits in the combo, but it's still better than nothing, which is exactly what Super Armor + Lightweight still provides against strong kiting.

However, this isn't the only problem. Just having projectiles with all the defensive boosting is a blatant advantage. Trap clubs would be able to make sure that you can't hope to escape, and the Skyscraper Club in particular has its forward and side shots actually outpace the Ogre Club's melee combo in dealing damage, with the added bonus that the considerably reduced attack power AND the considerably increased defense power makes Reflect Barrier countering sting much less. Kiting weapons could also escape easily to inflict even more abuse. In order to stop these issues, projectiles would have to be restricted. Preventing normal usage should suffice. This especially helps prevents snipers from just going between sniper positions and suddenly abuse them without using 3 other buffs to milk the 3 buff rule.

Addendum (7/29): Now one might ask why I don't find simply reducing the charge rate of the charge shots by a considerable amount. After all, there should be valid reason for non-club guys to use the higher levels of KC, aside from the 3-4 charges. But the 3-4 charges, in and of themselves, means that rapid fire at least is going to need to STAY banned. I did the math: assuming 15 seconds per charge, that's 45-60 seconds of strong safety, which the rapid fire would easily abuse without question, because they suffer less from percentage reductions. (The charge shot restriction MIGHT be buffed. Depends.)

What's the deal with the recommended space and charges?

For all that defensive power, you'd think I'd recommend a minimum of maybe 14 spaces, since it'd be as strong as Aries Armor while providing a mobility advantage. Why only 5 spaces for level 1? Here's the short answer: because it has potentially crippling weaknesses. It's similar to why Counter is only 4 spaces despite being incredibly efficient when used right. Counter, in fact, simply rewards good tactics, as it lets you turn extra durability into a weapon, as long as you don't get caught in a bad position to use it. Knight Charge would be doing something similar: you get what amounts to bolstered defense and mobility, but while your net power would be better, your simple offense power will suffer, leaving you unable to KO even lower defense foes in any short timeframe and allowing Glass Cannon weapon users to harass you safely. What you want to try doing instead is use it to bolster particular tactics or get out of bad situations.

As for why there aren't more charges per level, it's because it's intended to be included in a KB immunity basic set. Counter has 2 charges base, and Super Armor has 1, both being at level 1. The three powers together would have FOUR charges, resulting in 60-80 seconds of KB immunity, split into four timeframes with controllable starting points, and that's without recharges. As the standard match is only about 90 seconds, it actually becomes quite possible to spend an entire match never getting knocked back at all. As a result, multiple charges for L1 is rather unnecessary. This also has some welcome side effects: 1L charges also prevents KC from being abusive on people who don't use armor powers, because KC already lets you just hit them for easy momentum, and nothing hurts the game balance worse than an equalizer gone wrong. It also keeps KC from being usable for just power countering, see below.


Why is this necessary?

So here's the big stumper: what purpose does this serve? I already came up with a power set for my Tankscraper to combat range abuse, and it's not too bad all things considered. But here's the problem: there are no alternatives to the set that can hope to work because, oh right, there are no other powers that can combat kiting, so shallowness is sure to follow. And I had even dumped Super Armor because it fails at being better than Counter at anything useful. Surviving 1-2 extra hits when you still can't close the distance even with Lightweight is worthless.

Knight Charge would fix this. By providing strong defense and mobility to have an easy way to get near opponents, it is no longer necessary to hold attack powers, and the attack penalties mean that Super Armor is not rendered obsolete. In fact, here's the dynamic that develops with the three powers:
*Knight Charge - use against long range
*Super Armor - use against mid range*Counter - use against close range

Knight Charge would actually be awful for dueling claws and arms with because you will lose attack power needed for silencing them if they come near. While the claws and arms will be easier to catch, you won't be able to hurt them efficiently when you can already combat them well due to how they need to get close to you in general. It's not useless against them, but KC for dueling them wouldn't be a good idea.

Let's get to the potential uses for Knight Charge.

Knight Charge uses

Distance control

This is the big one. With all the defense and speed, the Knight Charge user can get as close to or as far from the opponent as they want. Heavy weapons can use this to their advantage. The loss of projectiles and attack power, though, may pose some problems. But it's likely you'll survive until the buff is gone and you regain your attack options.

In addition, you can place yourself in terrain cover more easily, and even if they have Slip Shot, you still won't get hurt efficiently, while the opponent will have exposed themselves as a range threat.

Defensive position destruction

Range abuse teams like to stay in one area and smash you if you ever get close, all the while probably making sure that one of them gets a Daybreak part to prevent you from making a comeback that way. If you try to approach, you're guaranteed to have your team dismantled by being attacked one member at a time. Whoever gets targeted WILL die in a matter of seconds, and the process repeats until all 3 team members are dead. Your entire team must get close before the first person dies or they will have NO way to overwhelm the range team's anti-melee powers, but the range team can just mass-target whoever is easiest to hit and end that problem.

High defensive power is actually a working tool for combating such a nasty position. If you are anywhere near it, the opponents have to take care of you or deal with easy melee harassment. But when they can't kill you or even stun you easily, it's a matter of time before their position falls apart because you are able to keep attacking them safely. If they try to silence you, you can easily get away or plain force them to waste resources.

The net result? Range attack people will be forced to try to contest the center. If they don't, they become easier to attack. It's like in a strategy game: if you play defense, the opponent can expand and abuse that extra space.

Teammate support

I get aggravated when my teammates prove absolutely useless, either because they're bad, they're being harassed by somebody they just can't deal with, or because they're up against some stupid defensive position. Naturally, when I try to help, I just make myself a target providing the opposition with free damage to the Team Life Gauge, or I am simply gimped by my weapon making me too slow to try to help.

Knight Charge answers all these problems. Teammates very far away? The mobility boost gets me there in a flash. Dumb defensive position being abused to death? The defensive boost makes me basically invincible. My death affecting the TLG? Hah, I'm not dying any time soon to begin with.

And it can be argued that the offense loss does hurt, but at that point, KC is akin to the Battalion Wars tactic of taking just the manual unit to frontline: you can easily fight off the enemy forces' attacks, you effectively lose only some space if they punches through, and they still take free damage, the drawback being that the free damage is badly hampered, which doesn't stop the tactic's validity. Now crowding the battlefield does make Knight Charge useless, but that's because the opponent's are easy to hit at that point, so it ends up making KC flatly unnecessary in general too, except as a defensive power.

Naturally, these are reasons to justify its usage against a team of triple claws/arms.


Surviving in open maps

Oh God, open maps. These are the bane of club users' existence. There is simply no defense against long range harassment. That is, until Knight Charge comes into play.

With a well timed Knight Charge use, the long range headache can be hit and their momentum ruined. This allows the KC user to actually be okay staying in unpreferred range, as they can go for setting up a timing attack knowing the opponent can be hit whenever they want.

Countering certain powers

There are, of course, certain obnoxious powers that Knight Charge will give some definite trouble. It's not quite recommended to use Knight Charge exclusively to counter them unless necessary, but here's some:
*Energy Charge - easily hit the opponent, their offense goes bye-bye.
*Bumblebee - hit the opponent to waste their dodge charges, offense loss only comes into play when Bumblebee is already used up
*Slip Shot - KC is designed to close the distance when you want, and the reduced damage makes Slip Shot unable to do anything useful in its duration.
*Trade-Off - this annoying power suffers A LOT against KC. The defense boosts keep the KC user alive, the far superior mobility boost lets them get away, the offense penalties are rendered POINTLESS by the invincibility, and if Trade-Off wears off first, the KC user can easily get their needed attack in to kill them. Face karma, Trade-Off.
*Brief Invincibility - KC user won't even die at all if BI was even paired with a Glass Cannon weapon, when they just focus on defensive behavior.
*Play Dead - hooray for an easier time pulling the counter tactic to this
*Reflect Barrier - nulled KB, no risk of throwing a projectile (except when Counter is active, your choice), no damage it deals that's worth speaking of, though the attack power loss may actually be a problem

There are in fact FEW powers that can counter Knight Charge, for how it counters plenty, especially the more obnoxious ones. But Knight Charge, used poorly, can end up being punished on its own anyway. The attack loss means the opponent can still fight back trying to survive keeping their focus on not losing momentum, and as soon as it's gone, the can start a focus on getting away if need be.

Still, KC IS designed to reward good play just like with Counter.

Supporting certain powers

KC also helps particular powers be useful.

*Super Armor is no longer rendered useless because it provides defensive power without sacrificing offense. Mid range weapons would be more useful because they could manage enough power to combat Knight Charge, but SA allows for punching through the lower range without issue.
*Reflect Barrier, when not getting munched by KC itself, can be set up by the KC user to provide support cover. It doesn't help the user directly because the point of KC is to attack safely


What about other weapon types?

While clubs are the obvious candidate for Knight Charge, there are other weapon types to consider.

Pure long range weapons

The power being designed to combat THEM, bows, orbitars, and staves are going to have trouble, because not only can they have problems hitting for good enough damage, but they will simply have the distance closed on them whenever the opponent wants. They must use melee skills to survive the power. It's only fair when I'm expected to dodge with weapons designed to take advantage of being hit.

The LR weapons can't use KC offensively either, because they need their projectiles to manage any form of working offense. It can be used to get out of a bad situation easily though, but you can expect the first sniper position you think of to be harassed, as you won't be able to projectile until KC wears off.

Free tip: the game allows only 3 buffs at a time, with a 4th buff overriding the oldest one. Of course, that's expecting that you have 3 other buff powers simply to remove KC.

Cannons

Here's where Knight Charge gets interesting. On both sides, it gets really strategic.

For using KC, cannons want to be careful. If they aren't, they lose their projectile edge, but Cannons can still be range-kited anyway, so they may want to get up close to the opponent to begin with. There are also some weapons that easily close the distance on them in unwanted scenarios, and having that massive mobility boost to get away would be a boon for that. Overall, KC helps Cannons in any worthwhile matchup, which is to say any where they can't easily dictate the terms of a skirmish as best they can to minimize the damage they take, ironically enough, but generally it shouldn't be used poorly at all.

Against cannons, losing attack options can really hurt. Having no projectiles means the cannons can still wear you down with rapid fire, and losing attack power means you can't hurt them very well either. But it's still useful on clubs because they can actually get close. Still, used poorly, it will be scoffed off by the cannons' still good power.


Blades

Being the middle of the road weapons, Blades can easily go either way with the power. But they can use it in a variety of already listed ways. Even clubs may have some trouble, although they would still benefit from not being range abused for the time being.

Clubs, of course, want to be careful using Knight Charge against blades. Blades retain enough attack power to pose a threat while simultaneously having range advantage, so they can actually counter Knight Charge. If clubbies want to close the distance, Super Armor is guaranteed to prove to be the better option, by retaining offensive power and options while still having improved defenses. Knight Charge can still be used as an emergency power. Just don't expect results.

Speed weapons

Neither side will really care about offense Knight Charge usage, because it boils down to misplaying.

The basic point of Knight Charge is to be able to close the distance on foes without so much trouble. Arms, claws, and palms can already do so at will, and if they can't, they're screwing up. The only worthwhile thing about KC is the defensive boosts, but that's only useful if they get hit, which requires blundering on their part or simply being outgunned. And meanwhile, they lose their projectiles and their attack power. To say the least, this only gives club guys an even bigger advantage, while range guys have more time to use anti-melee measures.

The speedsters are safe from careless Knight Charge attacks though. The attack power loss makes them much harder to get rid of, so they'll be able to harass effectively, and they already want to attack from nearby to do any useful damage. Of course, Knight Charge can still be used to get away if need be and provide protection from hyper accuracy.

Conclusion

All in all, I'm proud of how Knight Charge would turn out. What was intended to give clubs a much needed oomph in their sense of strategizing turns out to have plenty of uses, including countering some of the more obnoxious powers. And yet it gets balanced by having weaknesses that punish misuse. That only adds to the interest, and the offense issues are ones that go along with the power's theme.

Now if only developers would catch this. (And while they're at it, nerf claws' attack power, because their mobility should suffice for killing range people.)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Cardinal Sins of Game Balance

I just needed to write this. Read these please, so as to know how to balance your games better. These are listed from least awful to worst.


#8 - rewarding excessively aggressive behavior
-If everybody is forced to be aggressive, the game will inevitably boil down to ONE skill, in the best case scenario. And usually, it's a dumb body advantage that would be needed.

#7 - rewarding excessively passive behavior
-While aggressive behavior shouldn't be too strong, it is at least possible to fight back against it in general. Passive behavior, however, has the problem that it discourages players from ever attacking. As a result, matches can easily NEVER END (outside an imposed time limit) because both sides refused to attack.

#6 - thinking off-balance weaknesses counterbalance on-balance strengths
-Here's a big hint: NO THEY DON'T! The only time the off-balance weaknesses can be exploited is if the player is ALREADY OFF BALANCE. That means you have to punch through their on-balance strengths, which they will already gladly exploit to death. If you are not more skilled, and even if you are by a considerable amount, you will simply lose as a result of being unable to punch through.

#5 - not keeping intuitive behavior in mind
-Players will do their best to find the most abusive thing to work with. All it takes to manage such abuse is the simplest mistake not being punishable whatsoever. Forgetting about intuitive behavior also is begging for not bothering to develop the creative process as a result of being lazy.

#4 - allowing Mighty Glaciers to be rushed
-Mighty Glaciers are supposed to be able to control one position at a time well, as a counterbalance to having bad control over multiple positions. To make them stupidly easy to beat at their own game is asking for speed favoritism and maybe slippery slope.


#3 - balancing around bad pacing in the first place
-Bad pacing makes the game have bad interaction, which can get really annoying really fast. Bad general mobility is the very reason why fighting games in general turn me off, and they have the nerve to balance around the awful mobility, which allows for the totally sensible scenario of a muscle man getting uppercutted by a middleweight he had just POWER HIT.

#2 - punishing intuitive behavior/rewarding counterintuitive behavior
-This is truthfully a VERY easy way to turn me off from a game. However, it deserves to be very high all the same. If I'll like a game, I'll like it, but do NOT expect players to memorize formulas and whatnot just to have ANY understanding of how the game plays out. If I need to overthink just to stand a chance against other players, you have done something VERY wrong.


#1 - rewarding players for abandoning teammates
-Oh GOD. This deserves to be at the very top, and it doesn't even come into play in duels. No, it comes into play in team battles. Now I tend to be a lone wolf player, but it gets annoying when there's NO way to destroy the organization of an opposing team if I can't rely on teammates. And guess what? Sometimes, the teammates I get are HORRIBLE. They will simply rush and get themselves killed. And if I try to support, I'd have to skew my tactics to keep their pathetic hides alive. The game can easily make THAT fatal too. So I would have to abandon them to keep momentum. That is absolutely dumb. Just let me fight back against organized teams if I have bad luck that gives me bad teammates. Not this "teammates suck, you need to abandon them" garbage. It's a bad lesson for the kids.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Days of Ruin's poor aging

The turn-based strategy game series Advance Wars has had a Broken Base for years, but Days of Ruin had managed to aggravate the issue. Some believe that They Changed It, Now It Sucks, others believe that it's a godsend for balance. I can see the latter being believed after the disaster that was Dual Strike. But really, DoR still has balance problems that PUNISH map creativity. My custom map, Mutiny Mountains, makes DoR's more blatant flaws crystal clear.

Before I talk about said flaws, I have to elaborate on what Mutiny Mountains is about:
*There's a lot of properties--about 35 per side, though don't think you'll have ridiculous income.
*There are 2 production areas for each player:
-One in the south, holding the player's HQ, 3 Factories, and 2 Airports
-The other on the opposite corner of the map, in the north, with 1 Factory and 1 Airport as well as some AA units that are trapped by Mountains to keep them from being free units, but ultimately serve to prevent harassment on this front.
*None of the deployment properties are preowned by the player, so they have to be captured by the predeployed Infantry--3 on the main deployment front, 1 on the back attack front.
*3 of 1P's deployment properties are controlled by 2P, which is the position FTA counter.
*The 6 center-most Cities on the center front are controlled by the player opposite the respective sides, providing an additional 3000G of income per side. The enemy side properties, as you can gather, are the main gimmick of the map, and combined with the delayed deployment makes it plausible to build value units early enough. (Free advice: be careful about what you build early on, so that you don't have to deal with hard counter shenanigans.)
*There are 4 paths: the one from the back attack build area (attack), the north path which is wide open (direct fire), the diagonal path which provides difficulty with terrain (range fire), and the south path where you can try for an HQ raid (defense); the latter 3 all from the main deployment area
*They lead to 3 areas where you can expect combat: the north, where you can see if you get to flank well (first path); the center, where strong control will earn you higher property control; and the south, where overwhelming control provides you the opponent's HQ.
*To prevent center camping with tanks--by the way, I think it happens because they have 55% mirror matchups (resulting in decent self-countering) and an easy time surviving hard counters, there are Forests in the paths from any and all Factories that slow them down regardless of which Factory they use. All of the proximity Forests merely slow down units, since they are nowhere near where any relevant combat could take place. This allows air units to fight back against center camping, and then AA units to be useful because they are primarily defensive enough to not care too much. Indirects, meanwhile, actually suffer because they're slowed down even more, but they still have their uses for defense. Infantry benefit from slower vehicles, but still have to contend with diagonal movement.

Okay, all that out of the way, you can guess that the map has its merit, and indeed with decent play (assuming no overbuilding on either side, obviously), it's not hard to have several value units while the Day counter is still within single digits. And there's decent variety, that's good. But want to know what ruins the whole thing? What ruins it is that it's incredibly unlikely to have a SINGLE value unit come out of the back attack properties, and just as unlikely to have value units hanging around the south at all. Okay, what gives?

Well, there are several things that annoy me about Days of Ruin's so-called-balance, just on their own. But individually, they turn out to be NOTHING to when you put quite a few of them (if not all of them) together. As it turns out, the game is overly reliant on the CO unit system's handling to try to balance the game.

Yes, that's right. To begin with, I have complaints about the CO unit system's handling. In a more attrition-based map, it's virtually effortless to give up one value unit to strengthen multiple units considerably, with NO other drawback in general. But here, money is so easily spent on just managing a defense that you probably will not have enough to be able to CO.

Here's why: 1500G Infantry. This does have the basis that it becomes impossible to send an Infantry out every turn. But the problem wasn't them being inexpensive enough to be spammable, it was the excessive difficulty in KOing them with impunity. Oh, but wait, you can do that more easily anyway? With what? The units that require the extra funds I have to spend on CORE UNITS? And COing itself is hard to do on the map. But when I think about it, the reason why COing would require effectively only half a value unit's price, not even spent on the building turn but the following turn so you can at least use COing as a threat (all the credit I'll give the otherwise effortless junk), is because of the 1500G Infantry junk. Which is an incredibly stupid reason for incredibly stupid execution.

What they should have done is increase the general damage of 1HK units. But as is, above-105% base matchups are overly conditional. In fact, you can organize the above-105% base matchups into only 4 categories, one of which is extremely stupid. (Submarine's 110% against the Aircraft Carrier.) Only 2 of those categories even affect non-naval battles. In them, it's either the Bomber against infantry, which is NOT cost-effective at all, not even close; or attacking a helicopter, which ANYBODY, even Ubel, being shocked or confused by would show stupidity that would amaze Kaiser Vlad, who was Dangerously Genre Savvy enough to expect Ubel failing, not to mention having attempted at least 24 of the 36 Strategems.

Anyway, limited above-105% base matchups is a problem because it's easy to gimp them. There isn't a single factor that provides offense and never provides defense. And with just Plains defense, 105% falls to sub-100%. That's right: offense has to avoid being outpaced by more than an immensely marginal amount to be able to manage 1HKs with 105%, but this is simply impossible to do in general if the enemy units are off of Roads, not exactly a common scenario. This is a problem because the one unit that deals above-105% base damage to infantry units at all is tied for the most expensive non-sea unit.

Also, the damage formula change sucks. It may result in weaker unit defenses, but last I checked, Geo Effects is supposed to keep you safe from hyper accurate enemy units. Terrain being even weaker than it was in previous AWs only serves to bolster them, and Artillery weren't exactly friendly to deal with in earlier AWs.

Of course, Artillery do have problems on the map, because they still do have mobility and net range problems. They're lucky if they're around without position sacrifice by the time the value unit forces collide, which happens by Day 10. This isn't a bad thing, except for one thing: the tech units.

Let me clarify what had happened in the past: infantry swarming was so rampant in the old games, because tech units couldn't even do anything useful in general. They were still only one unit each, which means that even if they could 1HK, which doing so itself was questionable because the AWs think it's a bright idea to have base damage values exceeding 105% be overly conditional, they still had to deal with the nasty swarm storm due to their high costs. You couldn't use them effectively at all until too late unless there was blatant front imbalance. Don't get the memo? Here's the short version: KOing units had been balanced around Roads, not more important terrain like Cities.

But alas, IS's solution was not stronger tech units, but overly efficient semi-tech units. Actually, they're not even balanced with each other, AA Missile Launchers and Anti-Tanks having obscene problems. But the Medium Tank (the actual one, which costs only 12000G) and the Duster are the no contest ones.

Let's elaborate on why the Medium Tank is too strong: to start with, it's a tank, so it shares the Light Tank's problem that it is a primary unit that self-counters decently. But that's not the only problem, oh no. It has 5 Movement Power, but that's more than enough to make it a pain to deal with. Because it's stronger, it deals with value units better, but what really is aggravating is that the one below-15K unit that works well at countering it, the Battle Helicopter, deals only 45%. The way the map is, it is not hard to make sure any Battle Helicopter that tries this gets butchered by an AA Tank. That's right: the Medium Tank abuses support like nothing else. I don't mind if it can throw off bazooka toting soldiers, but when it throws off value units too, that's a problem.

But it's nothing compared to the Duster. The Duster is simply ridiculous. Sure it can't hurt armored units very well, but it's not going to care. It's a below-15K unit that has 8 Movement Power unhindered by terrain. What's worse is that only two units below its cost can even HIT it, and in comparison, BOTH of them have enough problems with the terrain, and the cheaper one is still above half the Duster's cost. And while you're busy getting the funds needed to fend off the bloody thing, it's definitely hitting everything it can itself. Either that or it center camps, which is certainly efficient enough. And seeing as it can be built to respond to a Battle Helicopter, this means that tanks are even more nasty to deal with, because you can't build air units or you will just get countered.

At this point, you're probably begging to be able to 1HK the bloody thing or potshot it with other units. Nope, not happening. AA Tank deals only 75% base, meaning 120 Net Attack requires INSANE luck to 1HK it. And only a few units can attack planes to begin with. The Fighter itself has problems that has it underpowered, but the Duster would deserve to have more defense problems, seeing as it's not even hard for what amounts to a ~70% ATK Fighter, when Fighters don't care enough about attack multiplier, to use other traits to make up for that problem. And they have the added advantage of being able to harass the back attack front before they can reasonably set up because the 1500G Infantry make it implausible to set up a halfway reasonable defense there without compromising center front position.

So because you're spending God knows how much money to even survive, you can't build units on the back attack front, which leaves your already fewer infantry there vulnerable. Now you can argue to make sure attack is delayed, but this brings up another problem: Bikes. They do exist to make sure you can capture properties faster. But here's what happens: Bikes do their job too well. Sure they practically need the open path Factory, but if they save even one turn of movement compared to an Infantry, they make up for their additional cost, only now you have a better version of an Infantry unit. Why can't they have less defense? It would stop them from being able to meatshield, and overzealous usage of them would end up actually being punished. Instead, what we get is front properties getting contested TOO quickly, resulting in having to attack the center mercilessly.

TLDR version: COing only requires effort because of 1500G Infantry, 1500G Infantry's problems add up quickly, Bikes are more OP than Infantry ever were, semi-tech units need to be not so efficient at holding ground, and Geo Effects should affect hyper-accurate units more.

Granted, as it turns out, the map ends up overcentralizing Transport Helicopters. Here's what happens: the Transport Helicopter uses an Airport instead of a Factory, meaning that its 5000G cost is painfully low because 2 of them are effectively only a little more than a single combat value unit, and it can be used not only to rush Infantry more easily, but it works as a meatshield because you can't even 2HK it without an AA unit or an overly expensive unit for the job, and as to options involving the former, you don't want to expose your AA units or you end up with considerably reduced air cover from them getting killed back. They don't see use on "standard" maps because 5000G for a unit that can't attack is rather much in the early game on them, and by midgame, infantry are around the center anyway. On Mutiny Mountains, properties aren't easy to obtain quickly but the center ones are preowned by the opponent. Of course, placing more than 30% blame on the map itself is questionable at best because the Transport Helicopters can also deliver Mechs to the frontlines without trouble.

Since I'm complaining about helicopters, I ought to make another complaint: the Battle Helicopter, believed to be the sought after hard-counter to Light Tank spam and Medium Tank abuse. Now don't get me wrong, I do agree that the damage buff toward Light Tanks was useful, if because Battle Helicopters themselves are more expensive and ought to deal decent damage before AA Tanks can zip in and ground them. Although it's overrated, but first, I also need to mention that they take more damage from potshots, which is actually a good idea to prevent the same sort of flak that its Battalion Wars' equivalent, the Gunship, deserves, but problems occur when you consider that means it's supposed to be a Glass Cannon as a result. A Glass Cannon that deals only 65% base to Mechs and Artillery? If you're even hitting Mechs in the first place, even a 1HK isn't cost effective. And in the cases where it would help, 65% requires ~140 Net Attack for 1HKing, WITH incredible luck--otherwise, it would be ~155. Good luck with that. 65% to Artillery, meanwhile, is inconsistent with the 70% to Light Tanks, but that's not the only problem. Oh no, Artillery cost only 6000G in the expectancy that indirects being unable to move and fire on the same turn (except the Battleship) would really hurt them, much to the game programmers underestimating them. Of course, it's most likely in a defended position to begin with, so you would need to make sure you're capable of a mass attack or the AA Tank that is guarding it WILL massacre your Battle Helicopter.

Another complaint I have is relating to the fact that in a sense it IS a Glass Cannon: it deals 35% base to the War Tank. In the older AWs, the MD Tank took 25% base, which makes the MD Tank good at punishing front imbalance because you can't hard counter it without a tech unit or indirect. Here's the problem, though: the War Tank has only 4 Movement Power hindered by terrain, which means it can't center camp very well to begin with. Keep in mind that 7/10 of 35% is barely even above 25%--and I'm using the math of the old formula and City defense, not the math involved with the changes. Though the damage increase is not necessarily a bad idea, just plagued with the bad execution that is the formula's problem that lower damage values are almost unaffected. The very reason why I think Artillery dealing 35% to the War Tank is an insufficient nerf when 72 Net Attack, such an achievement in this game, thank you again weaker terrain defense, still lets it 4HK it, never mind that it doesn't even need to KO the War Tank, which doesn't even have any damage values above 105%, which means no partial HP 1HKing without attack boosts outpacing defense boosts.

I'll continue about NW in another post. I might have had more complaints about DoR's problems, but the chief ones should be covered here.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

15 Minute Melee

So I have managed to end up talking too much about Meta Knight. I mention that effective player tanking and character synergy are key to defeating him. But how to train up such skills?

Look no further than 15 Minute Melee. Now before I talk about how 15MM works out quite nicely, I need to talk about it.

*ahem* 15 Minute Melee is a mode in Super Smash Bros. Melee, where you need to survive for 15 minutes against 5 infinitely respawning wireframes, which while they do get 1HKed in general and are big targets with no B moves, they nevertheless do have high melee range thanks to their size. I think their priority is ridiculous too, but I'm not sure because considering I would find trying to clank SUCH a wise idea in general.

Ridiculous range and priority, though? Why does that sound familiar? Oh wait, that sounds like Meta Knight. Now you can argue that Meta Knight is a small target, but he also has only moderate melee range. Meanwhile, as I'll explain below, you need accuracy, which minimizes the influence of evasion, to deal with the Wireframes in the endurance match, but let me get the whole thing out of the way, good God.

Now people have innate problems with 15 Minute Melee. I will address those problems one by one at the end of this post. Right now, I just want to talk about other things. Like how 15 Minute Melee is actually a balanced idea. Yes, you hear right. When you compare to 100 Man Melee or Endless Melee, you see that in comparison, 100 Man Melee makes defense near unimportant at higher levels because it's too short, and Endless Melee provides virtually NO incentive for offense, begging for abuse from safe characters like Link. 15 Minute Melee provides incentive for both offense and defense, as you need offense to rack up KOs, and defense to simply survive the whole way through. And for the record, Cruel Melee sucks. It's just planking abuse, because anything else is begging to get you outright massacred without so much as a single KO.

By the way, before I continue on, keep in mind that I'm writing this having played through only 15 Minute Melee in SSBM, not 15 Minute Brawl in SSBB. But I wouldn't be surprised if 15 Minute Brawl works similar enough. Also, if you think I have no clue what I'm talking about, tell that to my 18000+ KOs.

Now as I said, the Wireframes have high range. In order to deal with this, you have to hit them fast and properly, so that they can't even throw you off with their higher priority. If you mess up in ANY manner, there is plenty to make sure that you can easily end up getting hit, and with how long you need to last to win, taking too many hits is going to add up in only a matter of time. You must figure out the best attack in a given situation as fast as you can, because if you don't do so frequently enough, you're not going to make the 15 minutes with a decent KO count.

Now you can argue that something like planking can be abused to survive. But really, if you want to be campy, just do Endless Melee, end of discussion. Now let me talk about KO count: in order to get a good KO score, you have to actively KO Wireframes. The timer prevents you from being able to just sit by and let them come to you unless your character allows for that, so you have to apply offense here, making something like planking a bad idea. But just surviving may be a problem, and it would only get harder if you try for KOs. So the whole thing is not going to be simple.

Here are some general tips:
*Be aware of KO speed. Even if you do KO a Wireframe,  the time where it survives at all slows down further spawns. Ganondorf's Forward Tilt is a perfect example, as the Wireframe still dies, but doesn't do so at as fast a pace pretty much anything else of Ganondorf's, which is to say anything else. You can still use such moves, but use them with care. They tend to be moves to get your opponent away from you.
*Naturally, Stale Move Negation will guarantee that spamming a single move only hurts your KO count because your knockback goes down. So be sure to use different moves.
*Be careful about letting the Wireframes clump. You can easily get KOs from a clumped area, but at the same time, the Wireframes can use the crowding to bite easily.
*Anti-air moves are your friend. Be it poolsharking (hitting an enemy with a thrown one), Up Smash, Up Tilt, or any of the aerials, you definitely want to vaporize enemies as they spawn while staying near a location where you would want to be ready to escape from if needed.
*Most characters' jabs can't KO. Even in the case of the jabs that can, there are very likely more desirable KO moves. But they can be used to drive the Wireframes back if things get REALLY out of hand.
*Link your moves well. For example, Smashes have poor startup but they do hit hard, and their good cooldown means you can follow them up with either Tilts or a grab if plausible, since both have good startup, though you do have to worry about poor cooldown in the Tilts, and the delay in throws.
*Ultimately, try to make sense of the character. You'd be surprised how well that works.

Stick to these tips and who knows, you might get 18K+ KOs without broken move abuse. It's at least good practice for being able to tank well as a given character, which would be a VERY useful skill against characters like Meta Knight.

So all that out of the way, here's the problems that plague 15MM's execution, your criticisms about it most likely among them:
*It's simply too long - most people prefer not having to be extremely patient. Even though I DON'T HAVE PATIENCE TO BEGIN WITH. But I do agree with this criticism. Not because of personal reasons, mind, but because the target audience of the SSB series is kids who simply will not want to play something like Multi-Man Melee for too long. 10 minutes would be far better. Even 12 would be a considerable improvement. As long as lasting for a considerable given amount of time is needed for getting a counted KO count, the mode being a balanced idea should be unaffected.
*EXPLOSIVE SPAWNS - this is actually a general problem in the series itself in general, not restricted to 15MM, but it really hurts 15MM because whether or not a single run gets ruined wasting 12+ minutes boils down to luck. The problem of an explosive spawning into your melee attack is thankfully infrequent enough that a determined player isn't going to be stopped, but it's nevertheless obnoxious. I don't even know why hitting an explosive needs to cause it to blow up immediately. Maybe a 2 second delay, but even in Super Mario Bros. 2, Bob-Ombs didn't explode immediately upon throw, and they made their first appearance there and were Demonic Spiders that deserved their toning down in later Mario games.
*Watered down AI - I do admit that the AI is weaker than in 100 Man or Endless, but it may be to counterbalance 15 Minute's ridiculous length at least. There's also the possibility that 15 Minute's balance as the idea that it is results in a higher amount of strategy and tactics being required than in 100 Man or Endless to deal with balancing out multiple objectives at once. So this is a YMMV.
*Screw Attack abuse - abuse of a specific item. HAL got wise and nerfed/revamped the SA in Brawl to prevent you from holding onto a Screw Attack item indefinitely.
*B move abuse - abuse of specific moves. Now B moves do make up part of the character's moveset, I'll be fair in that regard. However, I have proven that 15 Minute Melee is quite possible with every single character without B move abuse. No Fake Skill abuse either. So don't go trying to claim to be better than me if you can't prove yourself halfway legitimately good at this mode.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

How I discovered Meta Knight's general handling

I think it's high time I talked about the story of how I discovered that Meta Knight is really designed to be a Wake Up Call Character who is vulnerable to good character play.

Well, it started when I was talking to MarioMastar on (I believe) YIM, I think about Brawl and how he had won a match with Mario and got respect for it, then he got into mentioning about how he had more trouble with Meta Knights who Tornado spam than the ones who don't. Now while I do currently believe that Mach Tornado is a bit OP, it's still only one move. With a common weakness that I'll mention when I get to it. But anyway, I decided to see if I could arrange some Brawl matches with another friend, one on AIM. He would be Meta Knight, I would be a character I would want to try out against Tornado shenanigans.

Now I started with Ice Climbers. Why? Because they're a reverse main I'd be up for proving as good without that stupid deathgrab. Because I'd rather never do the deathgrab, it's just disrespectful and cowardly to turn an opponent into a joke like that. Oh, but I should care only about money? First off, tournaments should give some money to all participants, not just the ones in the top 3; and second, caring only for money? Great idea. Hey, while we're at it, let's care only about girl pleasures when it comes to the opposite sex. Seriously, THAT is at least understandable, and if I as a 14YO teen knew THAT has problems, what makes you think I don't find caring only about money a problem now? I have a sense of pride to be sure, but you can't deny that proving you're consistently better with question is better than winning just because you either hit only once, which can be a lucky hit or via a lucky factor; or have a better overfavored state of body.

Anyway, as I play through with Icies, I manage to counter the tornado with the down-air, which actually can be done with anybody, although the difficulty ranges between characters. Of course, Icies end up having a blatant power advantage from the fact that there's two of them that it cancels out their status as a reverse main of mine. Short range? Meta Knight doesn't even have incredible melee range so he can't push on that very well either.

So I switch to Pikachu, who is another reverse main, and this time I feel sure that Pika's power advantage wouldn't be as strong. However, it doesn't need to be, because Pikachu is also fast. Certainly fast enough to keep Meta Knight from pushing on any stat advantage against Pikachu. While I find out the hard way that Pika's neutral B is too slow to possibly be of much help against the Dream Land paragon, I still win the match because Pika can still wait for Meta Knight to attack knowing he can't projectile and he'd be right there for my net attack advantage to hit him hard in a counterattack if he approaches.

At this point, I felt I ought to demonstrate the effectiveness of one character people generally underestimate: Link. The victory wasn't as strong as I had hoped, since projectiles don't keep Meta Knight away forever, but it turns out that Link can do things like punish Meta Knight's high priority jab with his range grab. Now I forget exactly what I did, but there was plenty of lag (actually, this applies to all of the matches, but doesn't stop me from making a point with any of them), which you'd think would hurt LINK more because apparently Link's moves are "too slow" allowing Meta Knight to push on a blatant speed advantage. But nope, Link does quite fine against Meta Knight. In a game where speedsters are stupidly overfavored. Probably Link rewards behavior that for me happens to be intuitive to a fault. At the very least, though, I find him able to manage hyper-accuracy, that might have something to do with it.

At this point, I go with Kirby, who while I have him as my #3 I feel has subpar performance for that. And it turns out the whole matchup is a freaking maneuver war. This hurts Meta Knight's priority just as much as Kirby's net attack advantage. But what catches my thinking is that when I knocked Meta Knight back, I did a chase attack once, but I avoided continuing so that he couldn't nail me with a counterattack, which would have exploited Kirby's shoddy defense power. It occured to me that that's the problem with a Glass Cannon metagame: it's too easy for a faster player to just maintain balance against the slower player and keep them unable to do anything. Speed is a state of body, don't pretend otherwise.

Regardless, when I was knocked away at one point, I was recovering, Meta Knight tried to juggle me and I used Stone to get through. Not only did I break through, I ended up hitting him and thus gaining a Star KO. So the next time I was doing a similar recovery start, he DIDN'T try to attack, because he did not want to have a second meeting with the incredible punishment I had (inadvertently) dealt to him for the juggling attempt before. But as he did not try to juggle me, I could just hang around high in the air looking for an opening where I could get back onto the ground safely before losing my air time, just keeping Stone ready but only using it cautiously.

And to think the tourneytrash sees fit to say this matchup is BRUTAL for Kirby. Honestly, I can't see anything too bad. Kirby can actually resist Meta Knight's accuracy. He's not going to get gimped so easily, simply because he has 5 midair jumps, and juggling is not going to happen, Kirby comes as close to laughing at that as he can with Stone. Oh, but apparently Kirby has worse approach. WHY WOULD YOU APPROACH FREQUENTLY AGAINST A MELEE TORNADO? Hey, I'm going to approach this group of Flame Vets with nothing but infantry. zomg mai gaiz r brnd falme vetz r borken. Seriously, Kirby has NO incentive to even approach without good reason. These people misplay characters.

Which is exactly my point: if you try to fight Meta Knight by just combating him personally, at best, you're just overthinking. And considering that this post or even my own thought process can come across as such, that is saying something. Just be creative with your characters' basic fighting skills. If you even need dumb stuff like chaingrabs, then it only shows that YOU can't adapt. And before you call players like me the pot calling the kettle black, I will point out that there is a reason why one-hit-kill shenanigans get frowned upon even in games like Disgaea.

Again, play your characters properly and learn to tank. None of this Fake Skill nonsense.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Rant about Stop Having Fun Guys

In order to get any understand the post, I'm going to have to say what SHFGs are. As the link tells you, they're basically guys who, although MAYBE backed by genuine skill, arrogantly tell other people they suck, even when they don't.

And that's what I'm going to rant about in this post. Because I am completely fed up with people giving me the "you suck" message. The last straw was some comment by a punk calling me and a friend BOTTOM tier players....on a video put up in the later half of 2009, at which point while I'm improved from back then I certainly wasn't bottom tier material whatsoever.

That's what the Stop Having Fun Guys simply don't get: even if you're legitimately skilled, it doesn't give you the right to say so-and-so sucks unless they REALLY, REALLY deserve it. What makes you think you didn't make dumb mistakes before? I'm excessively bugged by microing mistakes, but I certainly don't go around telling Battalion Wars LPers to expand stack units like Flame Vets or Artillery. Heck, here is one of my Perfect S-Ranks in Battalion Wars 2, and the fact that I spent most of that part manually controlling an AA Vet (which has the basis of air units being dangerous) and not even expand stacking Flame Vets only highlights why I'm even doing an LP of the game to begin with.

(Now you can argue that I did TWO n00b bash videos both related to Battalion Wars, but the mistakes involved are unbelievably bad. One of them was about somebody getting their AA units blown up by crowding around a clearly explosive objective that needed to be blown up, which happened because the n00b FRONTLINED the units in the first place when I was using a freaking Battlestation. Keep in mind that the alternative of being the player with the AA units can easily lead to the other player doing incredibly passive Battlestation usage, even to the point of BACKLINING it. The thing has a lot of armor and any range power in combination with practically no evasion ability for God's sake. So yes, I kept meeting up with n00bs who had no sense of shielding. As for the other video, the n00b chose to go ground over sea when they had Battleships for clearing coastal defenses which most of the map is and I had Gunships for mopping up everything that wasn't covered by AA. Me taking the Battleships has the problem of giving the other player the AA units that are to be used against BOMBERS but sometimes the other player will not give the necessary orders anyway, not to mention the rank is at their mercy anyway.)

Anyway, I will grant that I myself don't like when I don't get praise for things like my Majora's Mask 6 Day 17 Mask Run (yes, you can get the maximum possible of 18 non-transformation masks and still kill Majora on the second cycle, I got 17 with imperfect play and probably could have obtained 18, even if I would have to save scum on the Goron race to make sure that Luck Based Mission cooperates), but what really gets aggravating is when people will be so negative to jump to whatever they don't like instead of, oh I don't know, maybe a freaking accomplishment? But oh no, I need to have better recording equipment, never mind that finding out which is ideal would be a royal pain. There is a reason why I don't like others being so negative like that. Not that being overly positive is a good thing either when things like Code Geass's Esoteric Happy Ending has inherent problems, but I'll take Code Geass's ending over Mother 3's ANY day. And you know something? I also prefer positive females over negative females.

Now again, I get bugged by microing mistakes to no end. It doesn't mean I'll push on people to "improve" their games. But the Stop Having Fun Guys think that beyond broken stuff SHOULD BE STANDARD. Like the Fire Emblem 10 SHFGs. If a character is not Haar or a Laguz Royal, they're nothing special. That logic is sickeningly stupid. BOTH have minimized weaknesses for their ridiculous strengths, with the added bonus that certain units inevitably get compared to them. Haar gets fliers compared to him, and then you realize that Marcia, Sigrun, and Tanith will get sniped out of the sky while simultaneously not having that much Strength. Haar is not vulnerable to arrows and he also Hand Axes mages into oblivion, while enjoying plenty of attack power and Speed with which to destroy baddies. The Laguz Royals are even worse, because they get a whole set of characters meant to bring more variety (a good point of Monster Allies in general) inevitably compared to them. All 4 of them already double everything that isn't the last boss, with very good attack and defense values to add to it, to the point where most enemies get 2HKed while having laughable chances of killing them. And the counterbalance that's supposed to stop such stat abuse from the set of characters? Nullified by a skill that they have. Also, because they get their ridiculous stats from base doubling, stat boosters are also more effective on them. Although they'd benefit more from weakness covering because their strengths are so absurd. Watch Naesala with an Energy Drop suddenly 2HK nearly everything on his maps and still 3HK the L16 Generals (on 4-F-1), and giving him a Dragon Shield quickly turns his chances of dying from Redemption=Death from maybe to yeah bloody right. Caineghis, meanwhile, can simply be given an Amulet if you still have one so that he can deal with magic attacks better, which doesn't seem like a big deal until you realize that he 2HKs the L16 Generals with base stats while simultaneously mocking their attacks and thus you don't want him asleep on the job because of Hetzel being so painfully weak-willed. Of course, Nailah and Tibarn are rather well rounded in general, but they're still stupid powerful.

So yes, of course Elincia with her 65% Strength growth, Amiti, and flying mount don't compare, WHO DOES? Oh, but wait, the standard is low turning the maps. Guess what? If pure speed is such a good standard, then why does Kirby's Return to Dreamland, a game that does SO MUCH right, have the Platinum medals basically require you to get all of the coins and not get hit as well? But wait. Having high standards is stupid to begin with. High standards means that almost nobody is able to keep up; the only way they can keep up is through ridiculous effort expecting unhealthy devotion to the game. And those who would argue that I would have just that toward Battalion Wars would only drive the point home: I don't call out other BW LPers on their microing mistakes unless the mistakes are stupid beyond belief.

And also, "arbitrary restrictions"? Watch this bearing in mind that Kirby's Return to Dream Land had been released a few days before and tell me you aren't impressed. I was able to do that because I did "arbitrary restrictions" and was ultimately able to learn the bosses' behavior, not to mention about Super Inhale's useful increased range, rather than massacre them with King Dedede and only learn his brokenness. Yes, King Dedede is SICK in Arena. You can argue that Meta Knight would be more broken, but Meta Knight relies on two moves for any heavy damage input, just like his moveset imbalance in Brawl, so he actually has trouble fast-KOing aerial bosses. (Now that I think about it, the moveset imbalance may be deliberate, but toning it down a bit would help in future games.)

The point is, if you make broken stuff standard, you only set yourself up for being less able to discover stuff. Now it'd be an understandable aggravation when every player in the world would make sickeningly stupid mistakes in general, but if you expect that people should understand overcomplicated stuff before saying ANYTHING, you're just elitists asking for complaints.

Also, let me talk about Glass Cannon metagames. The problem with stuff like chain-grabs and infinites is that they make the first strike EXCESSIVELY important. Want to know what happens when something that is the case? THIS happens. If you don't notice, long story short, only the first minute or so, containing one round of combat, is important. The remaining 5 minutes, before the guy ragequit DCs (can't say I blame him), IS AN ABSOLUTE FARCE. IN A STRATEGY GAME. And keep in mind that the game actually tried to balance against the ridiculous reward you get for immediate center control. SSB doesn't do that very well, unfortunately. So no, you can't make tanking and adapting unimportant because you'll just create boring farces you somehow call matches. But the SHFGs of SSB do so, and Meta Knight is such a curveball to this behavior that they can't handle him. And while I'm on the subject of SSB, don't notice something? All 3 games have problems with virtually unconditional flinching and shoddy Mercy Invincibility. 64 and Melee's offense was low risk with stupidly high reward. There's a reason why Brawl's physics are the way they are, but Brawl stupidly decided to make offense HIGH RISK, which ruins the point of playing a game in the first place: fun. What should have been done would be to fix offense's reward. SSB has this little problem I will call stock advantage camping, where you avoid clean hits because non-KO attacks merely try to mess up your position if you're already within kill percentages, while simultaneously building up the opponent's own percentage to the point where you can KO them, thus effectively getting a full stock lead.

Because the problem with making clean hits TOO important is that you'd have to make up for the speed loss....actually, the idea of clean hit importance itself isn't bad, but it REALLY suffers because of the unconditional flinching. Clean hits already need precision to do their job, but the unconditional flinching alone messes it up, so the only way you're killing somebody is if you catch them REALLY off guard, but good luck catching them off guard if they're faster than you. And if you think I should JUST adapt, then explain why for example Bowser Bomb, a move which in Super Mario Bros. 3 you beat by DODGING, can be outprioritized outright by standard attacks.

But anyway, it's a problem when the general advice is "don't get hit/grabbed." If you are slower, you *WILL* get hit, end of story. The point of tanking is to be able to withstand individual blows to the point where you can actually GAIN from doing something that gets you hit, like repositioning. And if you take away tanking, you take away an important part of strategy that keeps long range attacks from being too strong, to the point where you have to nerf them so much that they basically can't do anything well, and if you do that, the game becomes just a bland close range attack fest, with the added problem that lack of defense validity only makes sure that you HAVE to be faster or lose. Tanking does at least let you break close range combat if need be. Chain-grabs and infinites don't let you do that.

Yes, tanking is versatile and allows for variety in the first place.

But all the Stop Having Fun Guys care about is speed, no real quality. And they try to force others to do the same thing. No wonder "Link sucks."

(*sigh* This post has gone on too long.)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Meta Knight in Brawl

(I'm saying this to those who came from a certain page I'm seeing on my stats: you have no doubt seen my Link in action, they have certainly beaten your Meta Knights, BEFORE I even got shorthopping down when I ironically wanted to prove the excessive difficulty and failure punishment for it by showing that I am quite able to shorthop in Kirby's Dream Land 3, ANOTHER game made by HAL and it actually happens to have MIDHOPPING. I only became able to shorthop in SSB around the time I made the video, it would have been sooner if not for the stupid handling. Seriously, stop pretending Link's projectiles are somehow worthless when you don't know how to use them. And if you honestly believe you can just get cute, close the distance on my Link, and proceed to laugh, you are clearly thinking of me as a one trick pony with no close range combat skills, which would make recording even ONE of my 15 Minute Melee videos, let alone all 26, impossible to do. If you think my word is not valid somehow, get your heads out of your rears right this minute or stop wasting my time. Really, if anything is responsible for the Meta Knight frequency, it's chaingrabbing, either directly (by him being a character who is resistant to being grabbed) or indirectly (because chaingrabbing makes skills vital to fighting him invalid).)

Yeah, I'm making a game-specific post again. This time, it's about everybody's favorite controversial Kirby-bat. Because, yes, even though his moves are actually imbalanced with each other, I feel that he's actually balanced in a VERY likeable way.

Before I talk about Meta Knight as a fighter in Brawl, I have to talk about Meta Knight as a general character in his own games, because while Brawl canon isn't anything to stand by as far as the fighters' respective games go, that doesn't mean an understanding of the characters and their games can't help. Yes, Meta Knight as a general character will prove important to the points I am going to make.

Now who is Meta Knight? That's the question that tends to bite everybody's lips, but let's start with what we do know. First and most importantly, in Kirby's Adventure, Meta Knight has seemingly inconsistent behavior, throwing invincibility candy at Kirby to allow him to charge through enemies, but then he throws his mooks at Kirby apparently to have them kick his butt. After the last time he does the latter, he challenges Kirby to a sword duel. Notice how you're supposed to grab the sword? He left it there intentionally, and won't attack until you grab it. This makes it clear that he is an honorable fighter, who when defeated turns out to look like Kirby when his mask breaks apart. But what is his purpose? Not to stop Kirby, or else he wouldn't be giving Kirby invincibility candy. Not to give Kirby an easy time, or he wouldn't have Kirby fight him OR his mooks.

As it turns out, Kirby, turning out to be guilty of a Nice Job Breaking It Hero job--the first of many he manages to do throughout the series--ends up fighting an Eldritch Abomination called Nightmare, whom King Dedede had sealed with the only way to break him free via several MacGuffins that were naturally spread out, even if the method of sealing was ultimately inconvenient, which is why Kirby was trying to undo it in the first place, not realizing what had really happened. As it turns out, Kirby uses the Star Rod like a sword, albeit one that can fire projectiles, to beat Nightmare.

It is clear from this that Meta Knight was being a Stealth Mentor. And not only that, there's the likelihood that he KNEW Kirby would inadvertently free Nightmare. By making himself a guard for one of the MacGuffins, Kirby either couldn't do so, or he would first have proven himself competent enough to hope to take on the monster. In one move, Meta Knight makes IMMENSE progress in a Xanatos Gambit designed to dismantle the real bad guy, and one even designed with hopes of a best case scenario. Further moves, either by keeping Kirby alive or testing him, only serve to bolster it. There are people who like Meta Knight in general, but Kirby's Adventure is his CMOA, an impressive feat for an NES game AND the first game where he appears in.

But what about other games? Well, whether he is hero or villain depends on the game, but his location on the morality scale is always in the same area. The only game where he's an outright bad guy is Revenge of Meta Knight in Kirby Super Star, where he definitely wants Kirby dead once things get really out of hand as well as wanting to take over Dream Land, but even then, he turns out to be the same Worthy Opponent that you see in KA, as well as a Father to His Men. And his motive for the Dream Land takeover is because he finds the denizen overly lazy. Killing Kirby? Actually, I don't think he wanted to at first, just when Kirby doomed the Halberd. Whatever, it's not like RoMK is necessarily canon anyway.

As for the anime, I haven't paid much attention to it, but from what I have heard, Meta Knight is a more blatant Stealth Mentor to Kirby there. And the bad guy is Nightmare from KA. So there are parallels to KA, but none of the MacGuffin business, so Meta Knight doesn't get to send Nightmare's threat value to bearable levels in a single move. Of course, I believe that's fine by the Dream Land paragon, who still has loyal followers, high skill, ability to strategize, and Stealth Mentor faith in Kirby to work with.

But if he is such a paragon, why doesn't he just curbstomp the bad guys himself rather than just train up Kirby? Well, somebody like Meta Knight would likely understand one thing clearly: Power at a Price. Meta Knight, from what I'm guessing, realizes that he's a Fragile Speedster and figures that the bad guys will abuse hyper accuracy on him to prove themselves outside his weight class, so he would need to train up Kirby to be able to combat them. Proof that he's a Fragile Speedster? Kirby can outlast him in RoMK, and doing so in KA, albeit by being smart, is the main key to defeating him there too. Kirby's Epic Yarn? I haven't played that, but from what little I saw, apparently Meta Knight was controlled, so the bad guys ultimately prove powerful if that is anything to go by. And let me talk about something: I played Kirby Wii at Comic-Con. Some kid came on and chose Meta Knight, and proceeded to corner camp Whispy Woods using a completely safe location to keep attacking. Now this might be an oversight on the programmers' part, but we're talking about Whispy Woods. I would not be surprised if later bosses turn out to have good enough AA attacks to force the Meta Knight player to be diligent, considering they were good enough to punish me in KDL2 when I was a flying-crazy kid who had seen that Kirby was able to fly. Meanwhile, the Meta Knight kid's DPS was proving to be not so impressive. Bear in mind that IIRC I was playing as Kirby himself, probably trying one of my solo runs, not King Dedede, who I generally kept picking when other players were on the system.

Well, I think that's enough talk about Meta Knight's character. To sum it up, he's the Dream Land paragon, a Worthy Opponent, and occasionally a Stealth Mentor. How does this fit into how he fights in Brawl?

Well, as we know, Meta Knight is a combination of Fragile Speedster and Melee Tornado. We can compare him to Marth and Sonic. Marth has range, and makes such nasty use of it that the mere existence of Counter makes him powerful against anybody who can't grab well enough. Sonic has immense movement speed, though his good KB moves are ironically slow. Meta Knight? Well, he gets high priority to break through most attacks, as well as all of his B moves providing high approach potential to compliment his Melee Tornado status. And he's somewhat of a Glass Cannon in that he has a very strong recovery that allows him to try to kill opponents early but he's light enough that he can be killed outright. This makes him seem broken, but is he really broken?

Well, his moves are actually imbalanced with each other (excessively slow Down B VS somewhat fast Neutral B (AND YES I SAID FAST), painfully slow Forward Smash VS annoyingly fast Down Smash), but aside from that bit of Fake Balance, Meta Knight ultimately has no outstanding strengths against tanking players at the end of the day. The only thing the high priority does is make sure you can't mindlessly clash him, which makes such perfect sense against somebody like Meta Knight. Really, he doesn't have enough range or general power to make anybody generally helpless. So why is he considered broken?

Well, take a good, close look at what is not only allowed but encouraged in tournaments. Chain-grabs, infinites as a whole (must stop at 300%, like that makes a big difference), Falco's laser lock, edgehogging, planking and scrooging, C-sticking, you get the idea. Notice something? All of these make the first strike and/or speed overly important. Chain-grabs and infinites render the whole idea of the percentage moot. So does Falco's laser lock. Edgehogging makes sure that you can't recover. Planking and scrooging can be done to time out a match with a ridiculously safe tactic which by the way you're expected to do in order to handle Cruel Brawl. And C-sticking is done to make sure you get the first hit. Both players do it and the Difficult but Awesome moves suddenly become an effortless joke to do, for the fact that they're supposed to be not so easy to prevent evasion wars.

Naturally, Meta Knight's small size and maneuverability means that the first 3 don't do much to him simply because hitting him first isn't plausible. Edgehogging is also moot because of his recovery. Planking and scrooging are things he himself can do to higher efficiency. And C-Sticking means he can do stupid stuff like effortless forward airs more easily while throwing off the opponent's, spiking the value of his priority.

Clearly, Meta Knight laughs at the cheap stuff. Seems broken, right? Well, guess what? Tournament players are ultimately not creative enough, making them a clear-cut antithesis to SSB in general. Don't believe me? I have heard from a reliable source that Ice Climbers rely PURELY ON THE DEATHGRAB. Yes, that's right, they try to force a freaking grab. They rely so much on a stupid gimmick that they even ignore any possibilities that could come up from the fact that Icies is a 2-in-1 character capable of doing things like shutting down grab attempts on them, and when they can't work with the gimmick, they are defenseless like any old Unskilled but Strong person when their strengths can't be abused.

Yes, the tournament players do not care about trying out creative ideas and instead jump to trying to do one thing and one thing alone. Infinites are cringeworthy because they tend to start with ONE move connecting, when other moves can instead be used to make said move impossible to predict. Yet people try to use them as if the other moves don't exist. Never mind that Icies are supposed to work with versatility to begin with. Seriously, there's two of them, make use of the mere fact that there is, not try to grab the opponent.

Which brings me to how you're supposed to deal with Meta Knight: PLAY TO YOUR CHARACTER'S STRENGTHS. At the end of the day, tanking is a critical skill to dealing with Meta Knight because of his high ability to hit you, and thus you would want to be able to counterattack. An ability which I did not know was advanced....wait, what? But the key to making Meta Knight bow before you would be to push on critical advantages and keep Meta Knight from doing the same to you. Need some examples?

Well, Icies can just use their numbers advantage to keep Meta Knight from doing any effective grabs, and they can outrange him with the Down B as well as punish the Tornado with the down-air. Pikachu (and Sonic by extension) just plain outspeeds Meta Knight while making use of their net attack advantage. Link not only has his projectiles but several ways to knock Meta Knight away and even counterattack. If Meta Knight wants to use the Jab to keep Link from using his grounded Up B, Link will just Hookshot and laugh. And Kirby....good heavens Kirby. He can use Meta Knight's own tactics against him. Oh the irony. Down tilt gets past the jab, Stone is an option that easly protects him from juggling with the added bonus that Meta Knight trying to juggle Kirby could just as easily suffer an early Star KO, and Kirby can easily hit-and-run Meta Knight.

All in all, Meta Knight may very well be intended to be a failsafe to make sure players have a proper understanding of their characters. None of this infinites garbage, but actually knowing how to play the characters themselves and showing some actual effort. Just like in Kirby's Adventure, this screams CMOA on his part in the manner that if you beat him soundly enough, you prove yourself worthy.

(A shame that's debatable at best with characters like Wario, Falco, and Marth, who manage to be at least overpowered all the same.)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Zelda 2 imbalances

Remember a time when practically every series had involved a weird sequel? That's what happened with series in general in the NES era, although Super Mario Bros. 2 in Japan was really what became known as Lost Levels here in America, practically an expansion pack of SMB1, just having new levels, a few things like the infamous Poison Mushroom, and new enemy behavior such as the Chase Brothers, AKA the Hammer Brothers who would try to chase Mario.

Zelda 2 is among the weird sequels. The thing about this game is, rather than move around in the overhead view fighting enemies, you move around on an overworld map, and when you run into a monster encounter or enter a location, you switch to a side-scrolling scene where any and all combat takes place. Besides enemies, you have to deal with hazards, such as bubbles trying to bounce you around as well as water and lava pits that deal instant death to you on contact. To counterbalance the latter, you're given multiple lives. You lose a life if you die, whether by running out of health or simply falling into a death pit. Run out and it's Game Over, Return of Ganon.

Now weird games aren't inherently bad. They're different, but that's the worst you can say about them in general to be honest. Problems only truly arise if the used ideas are either genuinely bad as a whole or simply have lackluster execution. Zelda 2? As it turns out, most of the difficulty it's known for stems from the latter.

The first thing I need to talk about is the leveling up system. Yes, there's a leveling up system. Beat up baddies and get stronger. Get enough EXP and you can choose to either level up a given stat or wait to get enough EXP to boost another one. You can boost Attack, Defense, or Magic. Attack is Exactly What It Says on the Tin. The same goes for defense. Magic provides lower magic costs. As it turns out, Attack is The One Stat to Rule Them All, because Defense, while not useless, doesn't do nearly enough to mitigate the damage taken from blows as dodging is not going to be easy, and Magic boosts are only really useful mid-game aside from a few necessary points. Now Attack requires the most EXP of the stats and Defense the least, but this doesn't stop it from being easy enough to boost to stupid high levels early on. Assume the Attack values are as follows for each level: 2, 3, 4, 6, 9, 12, 18, 24. Yep, with only 1700 EXP, you can have triple your starting Attack, and reduce all of the mooks on Death Mountain, including the red Dairas, to a much more bearable 4HK. Speaking of the Dairas, they do not have much trouble hitting you, and the only thing Health does is make your survival inbetween Bot milling only a little easier. I'll get to Bot milling, but right now, I need to finish talking about how Attack is infinitely better than Health in terms of leveling it up. Namely that further Attack boosts further wreck the enemies. At Attack Level 7, you will have successfully turned every non-Antifairy mook in West Hyrule except the one sadistically placed Blue Iron Knuckle (right in front of the Raft, what) into 2HK target practice, and even non-Antifairy mooks in East Hyrule outside the Great Palace is a meager 4HK at most now. Again, Health boosts should only be done as necessary because they barely do anything more than allow your survival through long journeys.

What about Magic? Well, turns out Magic also should be done only as necessary, and even then their urgency value is painfully low. For starters, magic spells tend to stay overly expensive even at higher levels, so it's far more reliable to beat down the enemies so as to not need spells as much. And sure you lower the cost of critical spells like Life, but at level 5, the only useful thing more Magic does is reduce the cost of Jump. Reflect's cost is reduced as well, but Reflect turns out to be situational. So okay, increase it to reduce the exhorbant costs of the more critical spells. That's the thing: you don't reduce the cost of Shield, Life, or Fire any more. Just Jump, when unavoidable death pit areas before late game aren't all that common to begin with, Reflect, which again is situational, and 2 spells that really do a total of only 1 thing each (one is even only good for doing an action in a town, WHERE YOU CAN GET YOUR MP RESTORED EASILY) and both only even become available, let alone do their thing, so late in the game. Fairy, which doesn't even get any post-L5 cost reductions either, also happens to be situational. If I'm high leveled, 40 MP is way too much to fly past a single screen that I can probably just fight through. I would feel better if at L8 at the very least, Shield and Fire each costed 12 MP, Life 44--even 48 would be a VAST improvement simply because there are some scenarios where you could use up 5 bars of magic exactly and fall a meager 2 MP short, Fairy probably 24, and Thunder also probably 24 at the cost of dealing heavy damage to onscreen enemies rather than killing every non-boss enemy outright--which is why it freaking costs 64 MP to begin with, more on that later.

But yes, because Magic is so expensive, and some times you can't just head back to a town to heal up, you need to find a way to get magic jars without too much trouble. Of course, there are some locations where you meet up with Bits/Bots (the slimes), Aches (the bats), or Myus (the small enemies you can only really hit with a down strike), which unlike most other mooks actually respawn without having to leave the area, and give you only minimal difficulty at most, so you can just keep killing them  This is the Bot milling I was talking about, and it's actually stupid. First off, having to do this in the first place only makes it clear how obnoxious this game can get about ridiculously expensive spells. But the problems don't end there, on no. See, it turns out that the magic jar drop rate isn't particularly high, which is dumb because Bots provide only 2 EXP each, so why bother killing them beyond getting them out of the way? Oh right, because we're trying to get magic jars from them to restore our MP. Except the problem is that they don't do that frequently enough. You have to keep killing them and hoping that they drop a magic jar, but they don't do that at a reasonable rate. So you have to keep milling for a while. AGH! Can't spells at least be not such a stupid pain to manage?

Unfortunately, you can't even do this in most of Palace 6, which also has the journey to it providing terrain that will prove most unfriendly, as well as tough enemies left and right. It's late in the game, but it might be a candidate for That One Level.

*sigh* So who are the Demonic Spider candidates anyway? Well, for starters, those Dairas. They cause no shortage of the aggravation that is Death Mountain. They hit easily while surviving easily enough to the point where L4 Attack barely makes them bearable. After Death Mountain, though, they're not too bad, but you have to fight through them or you can't get the Hammer. Not helping matters in Death Mountain are tunnels with Bago-Bagos, the skullfish Cheap-Cheap wannabes that will beat you around when they quickly spawn ad infinitum. And you're forced to go through one tunnel of them. At least they don't accomodate any enemies in that tunnel, nor are there any problems with ending up with a bottomless pit. But when you have to deal with either or even both (the bridge to Old Kasuto), that's when things get hairy. (By the way, the Bago-Bago bridge battle near the town of Saria isn't necessary; there's another bridge battle you would have to work with as the alternative, and it throws bubbles and a few Lowders at you, but that's much more bearable.)

Then there are Blue Iron Knuckles. What makes them annoying is how early you have to deal with them: there's one guarding the raft, and gets the honor of being the only non-AF mook in West Hyrule that doesn't get 2HKed by L7 Attack. Their durability heightens the fact that they shield off attack, and their survival makes their already rough behavior even worse. What is their behavior? Well, they throw daggers at you, and they even have a spam attack.

Of course, being durable isn't necessary to be a Demonic Spider. Case in point: the Moas. These annoying things fly around in erratic patterns. I avoided them in the Graveyard until my Defense was upped, but in the meantime, they can smack you around if you're careless. And there are armored ones that are vulnerable only when their eye is exposed within East Hyrule. At least by that point you have Fire to projectile them.

Speaking of armored foes, how about the Scorpions in East Hyrule? They can only be damaged by direct sword strikes when their eye is exposed, and wouldn't you know it, their tail throws fireballs you can't block without using Reflect. Oh, and guess what? L8 Attack doesn't 1HK them. Do not pick unnecessary fights with them or you will regret it.

Same with the wizards in general. The Ghost Wizards can only be killed by using Reflect to bounce their shots back at them. If you can't spare the MP on a Reflect spell, just run away because you won't be able to even hurt them. The Wizzrobes are also annoying, because they teleport whereever they dang well please while releasing a fireball that I don't think can be blocked, not like it would do any good because the Wizzrobe will teleport out as soon as they release the fireball, and not helping is that they deal decent damage, meaning they abuse crowded rooms. AND they can't be 1HKed with L8 Attack, upping their annoyance factor considerably.

Although Wizzrobe aren't bad for EXP. Heck, Palace 5, which by the way is outright accessible from a town without any combat inbetween, manages to provide enough EXP to scare Vegeta. Guess what that means?

Of course, Palace 5 also has the gall to throw Orange Iron Knuckles and Hammer Bros. (the Zelda 2 kind) at you. AT THIS POINT! MAKE UP YOUR MINDS, GAME DEVELOPERS!

Anyway, after you get the Flute from Palace 5 (if not outright beat it), you'll be able to access the southern part of East Hyrule, and dear God it's where things can get REALLY rough. You start with having to deal with 3 chokepoint monster encounters, all with high up unkillable monsters that throw tough to dodge balls at you to beat you silly. And if that wasn't enough, you also have to fight Lizardmen, MORE candidates for Demonic Spiders regardless of color, because they have a shield, they use it like the Iron Knuckles do, and they can just plain smack you around if you're not wary. Once you're past them, don't even think you're safe, because you have to go through the forest to a cave, and along the forest lies MORE Lizardmen to deal with. It's best to avoid them and save your MP for the cave, because seriously WHY ARE SPELLS STAYING EXPENSIVE?!?!?!? *sigh* So go through the cave, kill the Tektites with the Fire spell, just go past the lizardmen, and find the hidden New Kasuto. Rather than having to go to Old Kasuto first, which has the problem of having to fight through a bridge battle with broken segments allowing the enemies to knock you into instant death water if you're careless. And your reward would be having to go through a town with invisible enemies--PUMPED UP MOAS, no less--when the only thing of real interest is the old man in the first house, who does teach you Thunder, but won't do so if you haven't obtained the Magic Container in New Kasuto. (And by the way, finding New Kasuto is Fake Difficulty, considering you wouldn't suspect the Hammer can be used on forest tiles.)

*sigh* So Palace 6, and yep, like I say, not many magic regenerating points. AND there are quite a few enemies like Blue Iron Knuckles and Ghost Wizards. Avoid unnecessary fights and just save up your MP. You will very much need it. There's a Myu right before the second Mounted Iron Knuckle. Yes, second, the first is guarding the Cross. The second is in the way of the boss. (Hey, I unintentionally made a rhyme. But I shouldn't focus on such a chime.) Of course, it's after a pit requiring the Fairy spell. ARGH.

Well, it's time I got to talking about the bosses. Ironically, the bosses generally aren't too terribly hard if you manage to adjust to the game and keep your lives salvaged well. Okay, so they might give you a little difficulty, but safe to say that Zelda 2 has Mario-type Boss Dissonance. Just like pretty much every Zelda game not named Link to the Past. Hunh.

As to the individual bosses themselves? Horsehead might be a Wake Up Call Boss, although if you leave him for much later, he will die in only a few hits anyway. Helmet Head is pretty much gimmicky, down thrusting would smack him silly. Mounted Iron Knuckle really has a pathetic first phase, and his second phase is nothing more than being a Blue Iron Knuckle with reduced health. If it was increased health, it would work, but as is, he's weaker than a mook, although said mook is a Demonic Spider. Next is Carock, who actually seems to be tough, I'm not sure, I didn't start killing bosses before having maxed out stats. Although he's probably corner camped either way. Gooma is okay, having a ball and chain to punish you for fighting poorly, as well as a spiked helmet to keep you from down thrusting. Still not too bad. Of course, Barba is a JOKE. Okay, his arena has lava pits, but really, Barba is like Meta Knight in SSBB, in that once you adjust to him, he's just more scary than anything. Seriously, first time, Barba did kill me by knocking me into one of the pits, but when I rematched him, I casted Jump and he was never able to hit me, but I could hit him.

Once you mopped up the 6 palaces, it's high time to take things to the Great Palace. So I've been hearing that the Great Palace is this infamous nightmare that makes the rest of the game look TAME, which would be an accomplishment. But it can't be that bad, right? Well, guess what? I managed to have problems JUST GETTING THERE. And I don't mean simply preparing for the journey, a problem that involves the lack of nearby towns (discounting Old Kasuto, which doesn't have healing, but make sure you obtain Thunder from there anyway, you will need it) anywhere near the only path to it. No, that terrain you have to cross? It's LAVA. So the battle scenes have LAVA PITS. And the game is extra mean and throws a bunch of the formerly invisible Moas (not any more now that you have the Cross) at you, as well as armored ones. It's a headache because these encounters force you to use magic to avoid letting your lives basically become CANDY to these pests. And these are the EASY encounters. I don't know what the hard encounters are like, but I am sure I don't even want to know. And there's also 4 chokepoint monster encounters, ALL with lava pits and Lizardmen, and 2 caves with Scorpions and Lizardmen, including Blue ones AVOID FIGHTING THEM AT ALL COSTS, to go through. Oh, and guess what? The Great Palace doesn't provide magic at the start, just for the game to be even more mean if by some miracle you avoid losing any lives.

So now that we're at the Great Palace, it's a bloody big maze, but the correct order is left, then right, then right again, then don't stop the elevator on the lava floor--or do so to be able to get a stupidly easy 1-Up, oh, I'll get to that--then left and fall into a hidden pit, then right to another pit to fall into (fall into the pit, not the lava itself) and right to the final 2 bosses.

Anyway, the place starts off with throwing a new enemy type--out of a few the palace has in store--right at you. The Dreadhawk is a jerk, because he throws fireballs like a Hammer Brother, except the fireballs upon landing randomly either stop and keep burning or simply chase you a bit. This unpredictability combined with how much damage he can quickly deal makes him a headache. AND HE TAKES SIX HITS WITH L8 ATTACK TO KILL. (Seeing a pattern here?)

Speaking of things that don't die easily enough to L8 Attack, the Bots. Needing 2HK would have been fine with L7 Attack, this being the last dungeon and all, but needing it with L8 makes Bot milling even more annoying than it already is. And yes, you'll still be doing plenty of it or you will likely lose lives. The enemies ALL hit hard, though the Hawk Knights thankfully die more easily than the Blue Iron Knuckles because even though they take more hits they also jump around which reduces the effectiveness of their shield.

Oh, and that 1-Up I mentioned along the path I recommended? Well, along one of the elevator rides, there will be a floor where you can go one of two ways, both involving lava jumping. If you go left, you will find a Fairy placed RIGHT NEAR THE LAVA! And you'd have to break through some of the blocks that provide the only safe flooring in the area. Now go right, there's some jumps that have to be made or else you will die. Only, they're rather bearable. Upon clearing them, you manage to get into a room with...just the 1-Up, not even a booby trap guarding it. So let me get this straight: I have to really risk dying to get Fairy healing, but I get a 1-Up just for making bearable jumps? AND THIS IN THE SAME AREA? Even by NES game standards that's downright absurd!

*sigh* Well, so we finally reach Thunderbird--ignore the big Bot ambush, you can just rush toward the boss room upon passing the Point of No Return. Thunderbird, for those who don't know, require that you smash him with a Thunder spell. Yes, the one use you will get out of the bloody spell. But forget spell imbalance, you spend half your magic capacity on the Thunder spell alone, IF YOU ARE AT L8 MAGIC. And you have to make sure Thunderbird is on-screen or the casting will be pointless. Even if BOTH of these conditions are met, you still will want to cast Shield because Thunderbird naturally hits like a truck with his not easy to dodge projectiles while making his weak spot hard to touch. Oh look. I had spent exactly 5/8 of my magic bar just to be able to fight this guy. What does that mean? Oh, I remember: it means I FALL TWO MP SHORT OF BEING ABLE TO CAST LIFE! I EFFECTIVELY CAN'T USE IT WHATSOEVER! UNBELIEVEABLE!

Well, at least we're finally at Dark Link, and...you know what? Just cheap him out by corner camping. If you don't, you will have a miserable time hitting him the needed 8 times before he kills you, and not helping is the sudden background color making your life amount exceedingly transparent. At least cheaping out Dark Link you'll finally beat a hard game everybody knows.

Too bad some of the reasons to the game being hard amounts to Fake Difficulty.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Balance or variety? How about both?

As long as game balance has existed (probably), it has been believed that balance and variety are opposite of each other, as having more characters or whatnot makes it harder to find the overpowered stuff and balance out everything. However, saying this is practically forgetting the whole point of game balance in the first place: making sure people like Stop Having Fun Guys don't get away with picking the same characters again and again. Simply put, game imbalance virtually eliminates variety, because why use pet classes when the uber powerful Dragon Master Knight will just decimate them, quite possibly while avoiding banning territory? Now people like Hyperactive Girls most likely don't care what's the most powerful class or character or whatever, but no decent or even halfway decent person deserves a cheap defeat. (And by the way, you can argue that imbalance provides handicaps? I don't know, how about the game actually allow handicaps in a neon sign of some sort? It's unlikely the game needs to actively balance around that beyond avoiding things like Character Select Forcing.)

Of course, my argument isn't as simple as a reminder of the point of game balance. I have another thing to say: more variety means that the "balanced enough" area is bigger because of the higher number of threats to any character, so the requirements for solid balancing become less strict. When any character has only one threat to worry about (if that), they can just safeguard against that threat and be done with it. But against multiple threats, that's more effort required to throw them off. By no means is this a signal to get complacent, though. Game balance is still tricky business, so it's best to be diligent about it.

Now somebody requested that I answer whether I think characters should follow rock-paper-scissors or simply be different but without any advantages over each other. While the short answer is that I would find the latter ideal, I can use this post to talk about both because the balance/variety topic is related closely enough.

I'll talk about a rock-paper-scissors. This is used to provide deliberate imbalance in character matchups, which is sometimes a good thing, albeit not ideal. It's ideally used in army games, where there are so many units per side that the whole thing can get chaotic fast and finding actually broken stuff can easily become a chore because you can't judge easily what becomes too powerful without having bad matchups to keep them in check. There are two levels of countering: soft counters, where the matchup, while advantageous, can still be lost; and hard counters, where the matchup is a clear cut guaranteed victory. Hard counters particularly can be helpful if it means stopping units that can otherwise be readily abused, but be aware that if the numbers of decent units build up, suddenly Mighty Glaciers can become definite threats with nothing to either stop them from repeatedly hitting something, or kill them fast enough to stop considerable damage. Speed can only mean so much when the battlefield gets crowded, after all. Besides this, relying too much on hard counters is begging for creating a glorified version of simple rock-paper-scissors. But how do we even create the soft counters to begin with? Simple: provide each character/unit with traits. This allows them different behavior styles that can allow them to avoid suffering as much from losing a matchup.

There's a game that does a nice job with its ideas of balancing units with a rock-paper-scissors system: Battalion Wars. The only real problems is some execution flaws and variety issues, but here's the lowdown: even though rock-paper-scissors is in place, some matchups can be won despite disadvantage because each player controls an individual unit directly and commands their other units, per the mere concept of the game. AI units, having poor sense of survival (though it should be toned up a bit), can be continuously attacked and their numbers thinned to isolate the player's unit. This allows scenarios like Bazooka Vets obliterating or just plain lasting against Flame Vets due to being able to OHK them; vehicles including the Anti-Air Vehicle surviving Bazooka abuse while doing their job of grounding the air force; and even Fighters providing commands to hit distant ground targets they can't deal with themselves while throwing off any AA fire. The only real problems with the balance aside from map flaws such as underused units is lack of non-air speed units aside from the Recon (an underused unit to begin with, but also has a limited role), the underdeveloped navy, the excessive durability against MG fire that Recons and air units have, and just plain obvious flaws like (in BW2) the lack of distance penalties for Bazooka Vets humiliating emplacements, and the Battlestation's lack of Stone Wall status leading to excessively lopsided matchups. Of course, there are going to be SOME lopsided matchups, but a prime example of how they're not necessarily bad is the Flame Vets. They can't do anything to vehicles. Maybe do a little damage to Recons if they're lucky, but that's the best they can hope for. But as it turns out, infantry, the units they're effective against, cover at least 70% of the unit makeup. To stop them from becoming broken, Kuju limited their range so that they'd be Melee Tornadoes in a shooting game. Thus, outside of map flaws (Donatsu Island's slippery slope), they do not bend that 70% of the game to their will without effort, and the variety stays stable because they can be dealt with. In fact, it's improved with a reliable way to considerably reduce infantry numbers and punish them for attacking but gets countered by managing a thick defense.

So you might say that Tactical Rock Paper Scissors isn't bad, in fact more likely to make an army game more newbie friendly while avoiding being glorified by having subversions exist. But in games where dueling is the norm, you certainly don't want matches to have the winner determined by the character select screen. Rather, characters should have individual traits but not have blatant advantages over others, so that they have equal chance assuming good understanding of the individual characters. But how to do this?

Well, if there are only a few characters, one is more likely to stand out. Even if they don't flatly break the game, just being the best character is enough to make the game imbalanced. The problem is that the best character has fewer characters to worry about. Those few characters who manage to be a threat will get shortlisted, strategized around, and then the character can easily pick up the pieces as long as they don't get complacent. But with more characters, this becomes harder as more characters have working tools against the strong character(s)'(s) gimmick.

But naturally, this would actually prove stand-out characters more and more. If a low percentage of characters have the tools to deal with them, that would show how powerful those characters are. However, because it's harder to stand out, the characters that do can be hunted down just as easily. And it's not like game balance is an easy job. (Granted, it's also thankless in general, but if it wasn't necessary, this blog wouldn't exist.)

So what do we do to make sure of this? There are two things:
1) Check the mechanics
2) Check each character for potential excessive strength/weakness abuse

The first one, mechanics, would be checked to avoid having to give a character blatantly inflated stats just to make them a Skill Gate Character instead of a Joke Character. This actually happened with Ike, who has ridiculously high power and good melee range, but combine his low speed with his Melee Tornado status and you get a character who is easily hit if he tries any offense, then throw in SSB's unconditional flinching (aside from maybe TWO attacks TOTAL--out of about 22 per character and about 40 characters--and yes, 1/440 is such an awfully low ratio that any math errors on my part are irrelevant), excessive punishment for mistakes, and lack of effective equalizers when trailing by stock, and Ike suddenly looks like a terrible character. Yes, that's right, inflated power barely makes Ike even USEABLE.

This is a common pitfall: most of the time, the Game Breaker is guaranteed to be a Fragile Speedster, even if whoever it is isn't agreed on. Mighty Glaciers, meanwhile, have to get seemingly broken stats to be viable. This is likely a mechanics problem. It is therefore advised to watch how you handle the gameplay. Keep in mind that speedsters can be powerful easily by getting a high amount of zone quickly, so it's vital that the quantity of base zone control is *NOT* a critical factor. Of course, making Mighty Glaciers easily unkillable in any halfway reasonable time frame is not exactly inspiring either, but if mechanics provide them plenty of feasible options, they'd be able to do various things and thus keep up with the faster characters and devastate the weaker ones who don't access their other strengths. Anybody who has been relying on speed will simply get trapped and pounded. Slow and steady wins the race.

As for the second one, this one is actually in regards to matchups. Need an example? Let's go with something that most people should know:

In the red corner, weighing in at 146 pounds, the Bare Fisted Monk, a warrior who is so good at being a Melee Tornado that he can beat down pretty much ANYBODY as soon as he gets close up.

In the blue corner, weighing in at 128 pounds, the Squishy Wizard, a spellcaster who acts as a Frail Sniper by using spells to jackhammer his opponents unless he wants pretty much ANYBODY to get close up and beat him down as a result.

See where this is going? This matchup likes to have bothersome balance. If the SW has only distance attack spells to really defend themselves, either he rips apart the BFM by exploiting his inability to attack from a distance and likely low Magic Defense, or the BFM closes the distance and rips the SW apart. Here's what would be ideal: make sure the BFM can defend himself from distance attacks so that closing the distance isn't as urgent, and the SW has ways to deal with anybody who manages to close the distance on them so that they can survive their own mistakes.

Just be wary of potential aftereffects of reducing strengths or weaknesses too much, so that characters can stay unique, not to mention avoiding the possibility of somebody ending up broken. As long as you keep strengths and weaknesses at bearable levels, though, matchups can easily become less lopsided.

In closing, as they say, variety is the spice of life. It can also be the spice of balance.