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.