Sunday, 6 April 2014

Design 514: Balancing Cloaks

As a quick note, I have only 4 or so hours of laptop battery to last the next 3 days while I'm visiting family. Boots on the Ground was meant to happen before I left, but ended up not due to DST shenanigans and me needing to be up early the next day. I'll be writing a couple of blogs while I'm gone, including this one.

So anyway, Uprising 1.8 was released recently and while not perfect from a balance standpoint, it seems much better when looking at the overall design. Classes now feel like they have actual roles. Sentinels are kings of point defence, Logistics are no longer just better assaults with more equipment, Commandos actually have a role as long range damage dealers and Scouts are fast, sneaky little buggers. There's still balancing to be done (Assaults are close to being good), but picking a dropsuit gives you a purpose on the battlefield.

One of the biggest additions with this update was the cloaking device. This was seen as controversial from the moment it was announced, but has actually turned out pretty well. Moving around while cloaked makes you visible to the keen eye, allowing good players to kill bad cloaked players. Cloaking in and of itself has been designed well and has allowed for new play styles to arise.

What has become problematic however is not cloaking itself, but rather the other benefit of the cloaking device. Not only do these provide the cloaking effect, but also a (stacking penalty free) 25% reduction to dropsuit profile. This means that scouts can be invisible to most types of detection based purely on using a cloaking device. The player Haerr has provided a handy spreadsheet that shows how this all plays out. There's a few key points I want to touch on based on this info.

Gallente can get under all detection with skills, a cloak and an enhanced profile dampener. This means that I can (and do) run a basic suit that costs barely anything but cannot be found by people spending more on a single Gallente bonused scanner or a Caldari Scout with a full stack of precision mods. The fact that my cheap suit that isn't even dedicated to avoiding it's counters can do this is a balance problem.

Outside of Gallente, other suits can get under most detection with a single complex profile dampener and under the rest with a single enhanced. So not only are they part of the same problem, but have made the benefit of being Gallente a moot point. Why specialize into Gallente when you can pick another race and get more out of it? The only advantage left to Gallente would be if you didn't care that much about avoiding the specialized counters. Unless you don't care about being a Scout.

Which brings me to the armour stacking. At the current time of posting this, the Gallente Scout that simply stacks armour is a much better than the Assault that does the same. Sure you might lose when purely comparing health, but the increased speed, the reduced dropsuit profile, the extra equipment slot and the easily fit cloak means you're just better where it matters. Throw on an enhanced dampener instead of the 4th plate and you're basically an invisible Assault. The other races are having similar issues, but the Gallente is really where the problem is most apparent.

The final problem is that there's no reason not to use the cloak when it's available. I can't think of a single instance where being cloaked isn't advantageous. Cloaking just seems so mindless when compared to other actions in the game. When I fire my weapon, I sacrifice ammo and risk the enemy knowing my position in exchange for damaging my opponent. When I drop a nanohive, I exchange an equipment slot for my team gaining additional ammo and the risk of losing said gains to the enemy destroying it. When I cloak, my only risk is when I can't find a position within 30 seconds to decloak, at which point I get my cloak back after a short period of waiting. There is no risk when it comes to cloaking. It's essentially an anti-risk device that has no drawbacks other than short, manageable periods of time where you don't use it.

While I can see what CCP were going for when they gave the cloaking device it's profile dampening, it just dumbs down the gameplay of those who use it. It allows players to be great at avoiding detection without the need to invest into anti-detection modules. It makes racial parity somewhat pointless and gives Scouts the capability to do other roles better than those who should do them best. It enables a 1 dimensional play style that has no drawbacks.

So what's the solution to this? Give it a drawback.

When CCP announced the cloaking device, my initial thoughts were that the scanner would be it's hard counter. If they reversed the dropsuit profile bonus on the cloaks, that could very well be a reality. Switching it from a 25% reduction to a 20% increase would force people to think more about when they should use their cloak. It would also force people who want reduced detection to use modules for it. It would keep Scouts from being able to do both their own role and the Assault's role at the same time. Running some quick numbers, new detection would work out like this.

Moderately dampened uncloaked Gallente Scout
Heavily dampened uncloaked non-Gallente Scout
Heavily dampened cloaked Gallente Scout
Gallente Logi focused scanner/Heavily precise Caldari Scout
Moderately dampened cloaked Gallente Scout
Lightly dampened uncloaked Gallente Scout
Moderately precise Caldari Scout
Moderately dampened uncloaked non-Gallente Scout
Focused scanner
Heavily dampened cloaked non-Gallente Scout
Gallente Logi proto scanner/Lightly precise Caldari Scout/Heavily precise non-Caldari Scout
Lightly dampened cloaked Gallente Scout
Lightly dampened uncloaked non-Gallente Scout/Regular dampened uncloaked Gallente Scout
Regular Caldari Scout
Lightly dampened cloaked non-Gallente Scout
Regular uncloaked non-Gallente Scout/Regular cloaked Gallente Scout

There's more to that list of course, but in terms of balancing it's much better than it is now. There's a sense of progression for both sides of the detection war. The best detection can only be trumped by a large investment into dampening. Being cloaked opens you to being vulnerable against certain targets while being safer against everyone else.

Does this fix everything? No. There will need to be more numbers tweaked and fine tuning. But this provides a first step in a more balanced direction.

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