Insta-Balancing – Guild Wars 2 and Beyond

With two of the five crown jewels* in Guild Wars 2 presented thus far it seems that the community is having differing reactions to the two.  On one hand people seem pretty satisfied by the overview of the personal story because ArenaNet seemed to preemptively attack many of the possibly questions fans would have.  The follow up to the overview seemed to really round the whole thing off.  The event system, on the other hand, has been constantly been a topic of hard discussion around the Guild Wars 2 fanbase.  Of the event system, balancing the events for active players on the fly seems to get the most hits.

Over at the Guild Wars 2 Slovenija fansite, Tr0n managed to snag an interview with ArenaNet mostly covering what fans were already squabbling about, events.  ArenaNet quite bluntly disclosed the multiple routes that an event could be balanced.  New waves of enemies could have an increased number of mobs per wave or the mobs could have increased levels. 

However, I’ve often wondered about all the events that simply would not have “waves.”  When ArenaNet came to visit here, Eric Flannum told about a fisherman calling out for help to kill a drake.  It’s one mob.  It’s not an army attacking an outpost.  It’s not bandits coming out of the woods to attack a caravan.  It’s a drake that took stake on a lake.

ArenaNet’s answer is to unlock the mob’s abilities on the fly.  In my mind, if one person attacks the drake it could have a basic rundown of abilities.  If two or three people attack, then the drake might gain an ability that hardens its skin or gives it a blocking stance.  If more people come the drake gains an ability to call in some friends, or it might gain a powerful crowd-control ability. 

This is such an elegant, simple solution that I, and seemingly most of the community concerned with insta-balancing, overlooked.  We were all so entrenched in the current MMO culture of a static mob that something that looks so obvious went by most, if not all, of us during our conjecturing.

I hope that this one simple mechanic bleeds over in to the greater MMO space.  A mob could have an ability that unlocks based on the class it is fighting.  In Lord of the Rings Online, if a minstrel (healer) runs up to fight an orc defiler in the woods, the orc defiler might get an ability directed at making it a more challenging fight for the minstrel, whereas if a champion (melee dps) runs up, the orc defiler would get a completely different ability but the base ability would remain the same.  Or, in World of Warcraft a open area mob getting hit by a person in a party of two could gain some damage resistance, but then its loot table would increase.  This could even be applied to dungeon bosses.  Bring an overabundance of ranged DPS in the party, and the boss becomes a tad more resistant to arrows. 

Maybe my MMO experience is too limited and this was tried before.  I can’t believe it was not in some form.  Regardless, ArenaNet is definitely not shirking any hardball questions regarding its event system, and that shows a lot in my mind.

–Ravious
no charge for awesomeness

* (1) event system, (2) personal story, (3) dungeons with a twist, (4) World v. World, and(5) arena PvP.   YMMV.

13 thoughts on “Insta-Balancing – Guild Wars 2 and Beyond”

  1. Opening day is going to be rediculous. Could you imagine this scenario in other games… like Warcraft, for example… “I need you to kill x bears”, but because since its opening, everyone is newb, and there are 30 people doing the quest, suddenly these bears have abilities like the Lich King, or there will literally be an entire forest filled to the brim with bears.

    In the long run, as things stabalize, this system will be amazing, but on opening day every single battle and every starting quest is going to be epic battle after epic battle. Wait… thats not so bad either, is it? :)

  2. So does this mean every single monster or event will be a challenge? That could be a good thing. I don’t know exactly how they are handling levels but I actually wouldn’t mind if they did away with levels entirely, although if the monsters adjust to your level perhaps it doesn’t matter so much what your level is. One of the, many, things I like about GW1 is you hit level cap at 20 fairly quickly and from then on it is more a matter of getting and using the right mix of skills to progress through the content. So from that point you are only limited by what skills you’ve chosen (and the party mix, people or Hero/Hench) rather than what level you are at. I can pretty much go work on whatever quests, missions or daily item I feel like doing at the moment. In other games it is more I’ve got to gain 3 more levels to get skills X, Y and Z, so I have to grind/quest in area 7 and 9 before I can do anything else, oh wait, I need better armor before I can even do that, have to go grind or gather stuff to get the armor, etc.

    I’m also interested in how they’ll handle monster spawning. It has always bugged me that in most games the monsters just magically “pop” into existence, usually in the same spot, endlessly. That is why I actually liked GW1’s instances, you go into one and everything is pretty much already there (or at least spawns off screen as you approach) and once you clear the area they don’t re-spawn endlessly. I hope they’ve come up with something to address this, where players never actually see the monsters “appear” and once an area is clear it mostly stays that way until players wander off to somewhere else. Not so easy to do in a persistent world, but it would be nice. At the very least I hope GW2 doesn’t have set spawn points and camping of them.

  3. No, to the best of my knowledge it hasn’t been tried before. Seems to me it’d be just an invitation to be exploited unless you instance/phase/separate the content however you want.

  4. I see some issues. Some scenarios:

    1: Drake vs Fisherman. I’m there soloing it. Along comes a warrior who sees me doing so and thinks “man I better help him out.” He attacks my mob, it instantly unlocks more moves and toasts me, then him.

    2: Mob abilities unlocked per type of player: I have a party. The main tank is a warrior, and we are attacking orcs. Warrior has to go, so we get a paladin. The mob’s move changes…to a strong silence move, because paladins use cure spells to hold hate. Unfortunately we aren’t using a healer equipped for removing silence, so its either ditch the paladin or ditch the healer.

    3. Too many rangers: I’m a ranger looking for party. Unfortunately it seems that all it takes is two rangers before the “reduce ranged damage” effect makes it not a good idea to have two rangers instead of one ranger and one other dd. So rangers get very long LFP times.

    Lets make that even worse: lets combine it with #2 and make it so that when a ranger is in party the mob gets a long ranged aoe, because rangers stay a bit out of party range. So now the healers are bitching because you got a ranger and they are going to eat AOE spam when you could have gotten another meelee.

    All of these are hypothetical, but it’s in the nuts and bolts of play that we’ll see. Any solution may seem elegant when it’s not being put through the wringer.

    1. 1. Uh… yeah can we pretend the devs are more intelligent than plankton? If it were me, I would probably make such a mob about 1.5x as strong for two people… not 50x.

      2. Again, we can keep using worst case scenarios. This is kind of the opposite direction since the mobs reaction REQUIRES another class. I am not saying to castrate the player… small tweaks like I suggested.

      3. Yeah because we don’t have any class discrimination. In games like LOTRO and WoW balancing all boss challenges is near impossible. In SG, the lightning boss is a piece of cake with heavy ranged DPS and damn hard with melee DPS. A slight tweak to the bosses arrow resistance when it sees an overabundance of hunters would more closely align the difficulties for hetereogeneous party makeups.

      1. 1. Ravious, devs don’t play their own games. Believe me, some of the insane decisions I have seen make me wonder: Aion’s 12 million Kinah vanity coat, Champions Online making pets hit for less than energy builders in terms of damage, EVE and the bounty system as well as turning a blind eye to suicide ganks, Allod’s cash shop…it just goes on. Players constantly think and act in ways devs never forsee even with beta and focus testing.

        It doesn’t have to be 10x: 1.5 can kill you if you are soloing as a weaker class, or the new ability is a stun proc or unexpected. The point was more how changing a mobs abilities mid-battle can be a large problem.

        2. As for worst-case scenarios I think that’s not that much of one. By adding abilities you are changing the mob, and I don’t see that as modest. If it’s not requiring a change, maybe the new ability a rep causes may slow exp down enough to where people just disband because its not time-effective. I saw that in FFXI: replace a mage DD with a meelee one in a certain camp, or a ninja tank with a paladin and the dynamics change enough to hurt the party. This would add even more distortion to the mix.

        3. Your example though doesn’t really change the fact that it is still damn hard for meelee dps. I’ve fought those kinds of mobs. If people use arrowburns, nerfing them wont help because the point is the AOE spam damage. Fix the AOE spam, and people wont arrowburn.

        This is a really significant change to the way mobs act, to have them act dynamically. In those cases you have to really test the hell out of them because there are so many variables and problems in actual play. I don’t have faith in devs anymore to have those things tested enough before they release.

        Heck, something as simple as getting a mob down to 51% health solo, then inviting your alliance to kill a mob while its still a majority of its health and will proc alliance-level drops is an option: or disbanding an alliance when you have hate to kite a mob at its reduced solo level and capabilities. There’s never simple or elegant solutions: any change is thorny.

        1. “It doesn’t have to be 10x: 1.5 can kill you if you are soloing as a weaker class, or the new ability is a stun proc or unexpected.”

          OH NOES! You might not be able to always kill a quest mob on the first try! You might have to work a bit of strategy up! You might even have a run of bad luck!

          HTFU.

          We need more games that move away from the Diku-style static mob grind. We need to let go of the idea that these games have to be ‘fair’ for everyone all the time. ‘Fair’ is a four letter word, that has no meaning after you leave high school (and often long before that).

  5. Yeah it’s a nice way of balancing it. Taken all altogether they can change the number of mobs, the level of each mob, maybe the attribute level (if that’s making a return, or maybe just for mobs) and also the skills the mob has, surely they now have enough parameters to finely tune mob difficulty and with balancing there shouldn’t be many spikes in difficulty.

    They’ve said that the mob difficulty will only depend on number of players and not their levels, and you can infer from that it’s not going to penalise any particular class either.

  6. Wasn’t there an article about “good” and “bad” randomness here some time ago? This might be a case of the “good” variety: You kinda know what to expect from a given enemy depending on your group, but not quite. So there is an element of chance, but a manageable one. I like the idea of that.

  7. What do you want to do, though, if the mob manages to kill someone with it’s new upgraded powers? Do you say: “Oh that’s OK the mobs have to win sometimes or it wouldn’t be a challenge” in which case you leave the mob powers as is, or do you downscale the mob each time it kills someone? As a warrior in that kind of scenario, I reckon I’ll switch to sword and board, no reason to take any risks, I won’t bother to heal or res anyone (I want them to die so that the mob downscales), then after the mob kills a few people, It will probably be wounded, whilst I playing defensively will not, so when it downscales, I can quickly switch to a DPS weapon and polish it off.

  8. This reminds me a lot of wizards 101. That game has free grouping as well and if you join a fight in progress, the game adds another mob to the fight. Since the normal fight is 1 player for 2 mobs, this is usually a good thing (you get 2 players for 3 mobs, etc.).

    However sometimes a player joining the fight late is a real problem. If you are low on life and the new mob goes after you first, for example. I think these kind of scaling systems are a good idea, but I also think it will be tricky to get the balance right.

  9. I was just reading the thread and thinking “this reminds me a lot of W101 and some issues that would arise there form time to time”. Then I get to tthe end of the thread and Alex has neatly summarised what I would have waffled about for several paragraphs.

    Lots of people loved the way you could just jump into someone else’s fight in W101 and I never saw it used to “grief” anyone. But it DID make the fights last a LOT longer on occasion, and more than once I died in a fight that I would have won solo and lay there on the floor watching the latecomer finish off the foes and depart with all the xp and loot.

    I know it can be done better than this, though, and I’m pretty certain GW2 combat won’t be be nearly as hardcore as W101, and no, that’s not meant ironically! W101 has the longest non-boss fights as basic gameplay that I have ever experienced.

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