Name: Daniel Kapadia
Location: UK
Posts: 2153
Introduction
Quakeworld and Starcraft are two games which have many things in common. They are both old games, the start of a dynasties, that perhaps unknown at their creation would span decades.

Starcraft itself has been patched to what some would claim to be perfection. It grips the concepts of real time strategy in a relentless manner. From its economy, its ability to create localised imbalance, unit power (dark templar anyone?), utilisation of geographical advantages - the list goes on but the gist is that the game has too many things going on at once, for any human to be near perfection. As such it is diverse and creates excitement as it evolves with time and constant discovery.

Quakeworld itself, is not as complicated but it does possess some similar qualities. The weapon and armour system is extremely unorthodox when compared with other FPS games in the last 6 years; with the exception of CPMA CPM which tried to replicate its success. Due to the extremely powerful weapons Shaft and RL, elements of control become extremely important - some would call this imbalance. So to me the perspective of "balance" could be somewhat subjective.

Given that I am playing QL TDM it would only make sense that this post is going to be about how QL, and perhaps almost every game in the FPS and RTS genre since the QW and SC has taken this spiraling journey downwards;with notable exceptions along the way such as q3 duel.

How xerp impacted the meta-game
As meta-game is a more famliar term to SC players; it is, factors that affect the game, be it a rule set or the psychology between players.

Since the xerp controversy - what some would say was an ill-considered mod switch forced by CPL from OSP to CPMA. We see the problem with xerp is that, it alters the weapon balance which has a negative knock on effect on the Q3 dynamics. Now, if you were to ask me why this alteration could be a bad thing, as many people did, using the argument "this is how it was supposed to be". We begin to see that the change was indeed a negative one, having drastic consequences on the meta game in vq3 Duel and TDM.

[note: the point of this article is largely to assess the current state of team death match. duel is not my concern in this write up, although I will mention it to give the reader a more overall picture of my points.]

It changed the weapon balance which had a massive knock on effect to the dynamics in general. For example, if you were to imagine a see-saw with a fat guy on one end wearing a shirt that says "aim" and a guy half the weight of the fat guy on the other end wearing a shirt saying "brain", this was the immediate affect that xerp had.

The meta game in TDM shifted enormously, it no longer became an economic use of time to play for items and areas to give you the advantage to grab the Quad. As previously, controlling items and weapons was actually important. I will try to avoid a large amount of detail, we can always delve into TDM mechanics in the comments. Although, do not misunderstand me here, I am not saying that 100% mg cess was the proven tactic for every map post-xerp. But because it was now so easy to hit MG, it became feasible for players to all use their new 40-45% MG statistic to overwhelm teams. This in the long-term did gain them control of items and areas but it was not as influential to the overall game outcome as it was pre-xerp.

Aim vs Brain and an initial SC comparison
It is like that initial comparison with aim vs brain. If aim is 75%, and brain is 25%; all areas of the TDM meta game associated with brain, (timing items, coordinating the team towards area control for item control, positional advantages, quad setups, general awareness) become 25% LESS effective or efficient than it was previously, assuming we start at an ideal position which is a balance of 50% 50%. This is a very simple break down, it is of course more complex but this helps to illustrate just how the fundamental shift has a massive effect on diminishing the tactical depth of the game mode.

Now, it becomes interesting because, it is down to the map itself, to dictate what skills are biased. This is one reason why Starcraft is so far ahead of every other competitive game according to United States of America Nick “Tasteless” Plott (GOM.tv English SC commentator in Seoul), “Starcraft has had over 250 maps used in competitive play”. Well, in Starcraft, something they have done to help evolve this meta-game is to add things like: stacked temples which need splash damage to take out, minerals to mine out to gain access to another area, or minerals that can have units glitched through to access areas of strategic importance etc. These are just some of the ways maps in Starcraft have evolved.

Can we create a direct comparison between Starcraft and Quake 3? Let us break it down once again.

Starcraft has THREE races, which are all essentially unique in their own way, having their own particular strengths and weaknesses. Whether these weaknesses are mobility, or whether these strengths are air superiority as a couple examples, the map is what allows those strengths to be strong, or those strengths to be more ineffective. This serves to continually develop the meta game. Although Starcraft is strategically more complicated than Quake 3, the same shifts in meta game apply to make a good map pool where the goal is to showcase the most skilled player in all fields. DM14 proposes a bias towards teamplay and area control – as we have discussed these are areas of Brain. Where-as, DM6 because it is an open map where areas are hard to form solid control due to the railgun and many other factors, has more bias on the Aim.

[note: this isn't black and white. Aim and Brain although they have separate characteristics are very intertwined, and that is what the next part is about]

Aim takes on much less of an importance, BUT this changes based upon the weapon balance. If we go back to our Aim and Brain percentages, xerp altered the aiming dynamic of the lightning gun, a tier 3 weapon. It changed from a predictive weapon where it was usable in distinct scenarios, to a weapon that was point and click. As such it then became the weapon of choice for a vast majority of scenarios as opposed to the limited amount before. Now, if you think about this from the brain perspective, if you as a player have a very good aim with the lightning gun (osp style lg), then your ability to deal damage which is a characteristic of the Aim category is high – BUT if you are not smart (this is typical to duel) then you are not able to maximise the potential of your aim. If the LG deals 100dps and you are hitting a guy for 1 second (fake figures to help my example remain simple), then with appropriate Brain use, the damage done is raised to 150 – Why? Maybe your positioning is so superior that you get an extra 0.5 seconds of hitting time. However, if you imagine the OSP LG again, the brain player will have to be even smarter to setup that extra damage as the shaft is only usable in more distinct situations. Okay, so now we see the intertwined nature of Aim and Brain categories as far as the meta game is concerned.

The first problem. Weapon balance and Maps.
So what really is the problem currently? The first problem is that, we lack decent maps which understand these fundamentals when they are in the designing process. The second problem which is of more importance is that, the weapon balance and aiming dynamics do not allow for as much brain usage as raw aim usage. As this is hard to explain, let me use this as an example:

Currently,
- The Lightning Gun in QL deals 5-6-7 damage and is a tier3 weapon.

- The Shotgun deals a lot more damage than it used to because of its fixed spread (but they didn't consider lowering the damage for some reason when making this change) – this is also a tier 3 weapon.

- The Plasma gun, with the juicy netcode has the highest dps of any weapon and as such, is a tier 3 weapon despite being hard to use.

- The Railgun, instant hit long range, sometimes unpunishable 80dmg weapon – tier 3.

- The Rocket Launcher has a faster projectile speed so its much easier to hit, and then easier to hit again with the netcode. Not to mention that the splash damage is broken, and can completely eliminate positional advantages (dm6 bridge/RA battle). Although, this could be an interesting game play mechanic in the future, right now with everything else as it is, it is just a messy dynamic.

So we have the LG, SG, RL, RG, all tier3 weapons. None of them stand out as particularly devastating, so what does this mean? Tactically, weapons play less of a role UNLESS the map designers make large open rooms and exploit the strength of a particular weapon. But, with the railgun and machine gun, large open rooms are generally terrible ideas in Quake 3 like games.

My second thought here is, let us say that you are duelling in Quake Live, and you are fighting a mid-range battle against a guy with a Shaft in hand (for an example of what mid range is, let us say the distance is from the bottom of the DM6 jumpad to the LG doorway entering the MH room). Okay, now that is in your mind, on mid-range, the railgun, shotgun, rocket launcher and lightning gun all do essentially the EXACT same thing – with the exception of the LG which pushes you, but if the weapon respawn was 15 on dm6 then LG-less battles could occur more frequently (by shaftless I mean one player without one). This means that the tactical possibilities are narrowed because you are able to fight with 3-4 weapons there on equal terms. In OSP that situation only has a couple options, you pull out the railgun and get lucky as they bounce you around with rockets or lock shaft onto you, or you use shaft if you have one or DO NOT fight there – but they have probably denied it from you unless you picked it up earlier. This eliminates a Brain element of the meta game known as control – OK I have just stolen control and picked up RA, missed you with the first rocket, but you can near instantly fight me again and kill me because you have a selection of 4 weapons to get lucky with.

So this is where the column gets to the point where I get to talk about what I really need to talk about. Weapon balance.

Weapon balance is a fundamental part of the game play, it is something that is absolutely essential for a mapper to know, to create a good map. As we discussed previously, it is the maps which drive a constantly evolving meta game as seen in Starcraft. It is new maps which enable teams which are smart, to defeat teams which just know the map through a ridiculous amount of repetition and raw aim. Aim is a skill learned with repetition, that anyone can achieve just through playing. Where-as, to improve your brain game, you truly have to be goal orientated and constantly thinking to become better in that area. So we can see there is a massive bias here for sheer repetition, and not for goal orientated, or innovative thinking. Is this what we want our game to be? Because this truly does lower the skill ceiling and skill diversity that makes different players interesting and enjoyable to follow as well as teams.

To achieve this then, a better weapon balance is required to then enable the meta game to be much more expansive. So, I suggest we look at what makes QW TDM so advanced when compared with QL TDM.

Weapon balance with a QW perspective.
Firstly, they have properly tiered weapons. Unlike QL where there are four tier3 weapons, in QW there are not three tiers but, there are two weapons which dominate all others. This puts a much larger emphasis on weapon control. Also because the start weapon is a shotgun which does little damage, unless you are organised and cess with your team on one enemy player at one position – you can not randomly get a kill with it unless you are truly lucky. So unlike QL TDM there is almost no point ever seeking a fight with it unless it is for a team purpose. The armours are much more potent as the RA gives you 200 armour at 80% protection, making any weapon but the highest tiers, the shaft and the RL fairly useless. Where-as, in QL TDM, any weapon is going to hurt you pretty bad if enough shots hit you, notoriously the MG – and here is where some controversy lies. Should a spawn weapon in TDM be so powerful and multi-faceted as far as functionality goes like the MG? If QuakeLive were to adopt this spawn weapon SG idea ala, QW – in my opinion, damaging the standardisation or unspoken rule that the start weapon in every game mode should be the same does not matter AT ALL. As these invisible rules only serve to hurt gameplay. But it would improve the potential of the game so much. Also if we had different modes start you out with a different start weapon because it was more suited in that particular mode, why not? It makes more sense.

So due to QW's massively different tiered weapon system and armour system, tactical and strategical depth follows. We should learn from the successes of the past, instead of ignoring them completely. One argument you may be thinking about here is, what about the one minute quads and the movement differences? Well, essentially I would say that those are fairly trademark things to QW TDM and to copy it entirely would not actually fit. Essentially in TDM, although I do not claim to play QW TDM or understand it on an advanced level, but there is not a massive amount of bunnyhopping as that tends to make for easy kills. Especially when in QW you get the benefit of silent walking.

Food for thought - what we could try.
So we could have an EXPERIMENTAL weapon balance. But armour strength must be considered too.

- The armour system should be altered slightly, or just have the YA give 125 and the RA give 175 in TDM.

- LG should be 8-8-8, but with slightly shorter range. Or re-add the delay?

- SG should be the starting weapon with qw values OR, remain a pickup and have lessened damage. A value of 80-90.

- RL projectile should move slower, but the splash damage be fixed, and the proportional splash damage needs to be osp
style. At the moment if you do not hit them fully you can not do more than 85 or so damage.

- Rail could do with 5 ammo per pickup and 5 ammo per ammo box.

- MG if it remains the start weapon should have the same amount of bullets (50) at 4 damage each. Or another option, to preven the MG from breaking maps with its unlimited distance, is to have a dispersion rate so, afer mid-range it becomes completely inaccurate and you will end up wasting your bullets using it.

- Plasma is fine.

This proposal is by no means a good combination, it is just an example to show that with everything else considered in this article, how balances do need proper consideration to achieve a game that has an ever expanding meta game. No map breakers (like the rail or mg can be sometimes), no weapons like the SG where two spawn on a map and do more damage than a rocket launcher at mid-range as well as being available for pickup in the out of control areas – essentially that is fine, but when they are so strong it is debatable whether it is balanced they are freely availble when you should be struggling to control an area you can instead just run around and get a kill.

Weapon balance theory - we should replicate successful game mechanics where suitable.
The weapons do not have to be tiered like they are in QW to be successful, but the essential thing we must understand is that it is important that the weapon balance supports maps with diversity. So let us have 3-4 tier 3 weapons, but they must have distinct strengths over one another, so that a mapper can successfully incorporate this diversity. SC and QW show us that imbalance does not break a game, which is what people seem to think. One of the correct ways of looking at it is that we learn from SC and QW, is SITUATIONAL imbalance. We need weapon 1 to completely quash weapon 2 and 3 in scenario 1. But in Scenario 2, weapon 1 and 2 become useless and weapon 3 gains sovereignty.

But bearing these new experimental weapon dynamics which I have suggested above, if the railgun only had 5 ammo – then it would not necessarily be efficient to just sit there and fire all the rails. Reason being, the Shaft would be a very strong weapon which we need to control, so instead of a tool for killing and dealing damage randomly across the map, the rail becomes a tool to hold a specific area. So we should goto the RA room and drop the Railgun for our lesser stacked team mate, and drop the shaft for the guy who has all the armour and can take more damage. Where-as, currently in TDM you want to give the Rail to the guy with the most armour because it is usable in every situation, easy to hit and has great dps. If the armour is more potent, it is more important to have, and if people are running around with more armour then certain weapons which are particularly effective at dealing the damage on the map will be required. Now all of a sudden a guy with a rail is not so important because the guy with 175 80% RA can bulldog rush the railer with his shaft. By this I mean, each weapon possesses its own properties, strengths and weaknesses. The shotgun is strong at close range, but weak at far range for example. So why not design maps and have game play which exploits these qualities more? Only then will we start to see the meta-game become more interesting and in-depth.

How QW TDM'rs roll.
In Quakeworld we see a TDM team trying to squash every single potential advantage the enemy team could have, they do this with expert communication through binds mostly. They will try to chase down every enemy player who attempts to run away with an RL to a safer place, so that he cannot establish this advantage. A large criticism was the blind cess that occurs in vq3 tdm that does not take any planning or brain to achieve. But in QW, good players will not blindly swarm an area because when they die and start again they have a weak weapon. But if they all do die and quickly need to re-gain control of an RL to give them something to work with, they will then plan a decisive swarm onto a weapon spawn to gain some advantage.

But what qualities do we want TDM to possess? I was talking to Ireland Stev about QW TDM and asked him about the role of adaptability, “Ability to adapt to any given situation is a good description. As a team you have to create opportunities and then capitalise on them. Good awareness will prevent people from creating them, and good communication will stop them from capitalising further, should they succeed. A good individual player might be able to get himself a weapon and armour, and win any single fight against any member of the opposition, but a good team will then shut him down before he can do anything meaninful afterwards.” I agree that this is what TDM should be about, but right now the maps and weapon balances do not fully facilitate this kind of play. Instead, an individual player can get a lot further than he can in QW TDM.

What skills do we want TDM to truly reflect?
As in my Aim vs Brain comparison, where each possesses certain characteristics, in TDM this Aim vs Brain then becomes, Individual vs Team play – where Aim is an individual players ability to effect the game and Brain ties the importance into the Team aspect of play. Right now I think that QWTDM possesses a MUCH better balance at about 75% Team and 25% Individual, which surely is what a TEAM mode should be about?

This is not to say that I am holding QW TDM as the perfect TDM game, but why should we not try to replicate some of the successes it has had for a strong meta game and a skill ceiling so high it is dizzying.
Then again, notable SC and QW did come out at the same time with similar amounts of players. But compare the player base now, SC has clearly achieved the longevity any competitive game would desire. I am sure there are elements of luck, such as Korea, but perhaps this is better left for another column.

Summary.
To summarise the areas of discussion that I have brought up with some questions:

Is the weapon balance as it is, allowing mappers to create diverse maps that allow the meta-game to evolve giving us question to current strategies and letting us use strategies never seen before?

Is the current TDM dynamic broken and favouring individual play more than team play?

Are id scared to deviate from “safe” options and newbie friendly options? Because despite the fact that many may read this and believe my views to be elitist, they could most certainly be made to work for newbies. All that is required is considered implementation. United Kingdom Tim "ecsplos1v" Scarfe, one of my friends who used to play many years ago at a low level says, “it was the spectator feature on q3 that really got me hooked, seeing the masters play, the social aspect. I liked “hanging around” on the servers doing cool shit.”

If id are to blame, what are they really doing wrong here? In an interview with Executive Vice President of Blizzard, Rob Pardo, he states the following, "One of the ways we do that is that we build for the depth first - for the hardcore first." [...] "Then, what we do gradually once we have that basic game - which is really fun to all of us, because a lot of the people here are pretty hardcore - then we really start trying to make the game more and more accessible." So are id doing it backwards?

Are we, the community, part of the problem – also scared to see change?

I would also like to bring your attention Clanbase promoting repetitive play – this was an article written by Sweden Paladia in 2003, 6 years ago, discussing the maps issue.


In conclusion, I think that the game is too biased upon aim. Whilst there is nothing inherently wrong with aim, it is the fact that weapons are too strong in too many scenarios; more situational imbalance is required. This damages the game play because it means that diversity is not achievable. Secondly, I believe the knock-on effect to be that team play is under-emphasised and that individual play in TDM is more important than it should be. All this together denies potential depth, which lowers the skill ceiling, and stops the ability for the game to evolve.


Thanks for reading, I hope that this helps you to think about the meta-game from a bigger picture.

Thanks to the following for input and proof-reading:

Sweden Paladia, Netherlands fern, Ireland Stev, United States of America hoens, Sweden fooKi,
United Kingdom ix, Sweden fazz, Australia zkyp and Austria noctis.