Monday, March 22, 2010

Global Agenda 1.3: Lopsided Timesinks

Global Agenda’s much anticipated 1.3 patch will release within the next couple of weeks. This patch continues the general trend towards timesink gameplay, while potentially damaging the balance of a game which is well-balanced already.

Below I will give impressions on some of the changes as posted in this thread by HiRezErez. (I’ve improved the formatting to make it somewhat more readable. I have not altered the text, though.)

Character levels and specializations:

  • Leveling from 30-50 will now have a lot more meaning.
  • At level 30+ players will be able to choose a specialization path for the character. Each class has two specializations (that match the current Skill Trees)
  • You can only choose one specialization which allows you additional skill points in the specialization tree and allows you to use new weapons/devices that are being introduced.
  • If you want to specialize in both areas and change between them frequently you will need to create and level up another character for that class.

Very negative reaction from the community forced HiRez into reconsidering the sudden inflexibility here that would cause players to have to level up two characters of the same class to have the same flexibility they have in one character now.

Vertical advancement, a problem in this game that is passable at the moment due to its limited nature, will be emphasized and elongated in the patch. I’ve been frustrated with power differences between level 10 and 30 characters up to this point as I’ve leveled alts through PvP—now it’s going to get almost doubly annoying.

New weapons/Devices:

  • For each class specialization new weapons and devices are being introduced. We are trying for at least one weapon/device per slot type per class
    Some examples: The Laser Sniper Rifle, The Barrage Grenade Launcher, The Claw,The Perfect Rifle, The Beacon Tracker, The Impact Hammer, The Multi-Heal Gun, The Oathbreaker Boost. There are over 50 that we are currently evaluating for introduction.
  • These weapons/devices will be earned in a special way using Conquest Tokens
  • These weapons have a minimum player level requirement ranging from 30-50

Conquest and Mercenary Tokens:

  • Conquest Tokens are earned by playing/winning different parts of the game with a maximum tokens that can be earned each day. (Subscribers will get them faster since they will be able to participate in more parts of the game, but everyone can earn enough over time to get the various rewards)
  • Mercenary Tokens are earned by playing/winning various matches with a maximum tokens that can be earned each day. (All players earn these at the same rate)

Rewards, Loot and Crafting:

  • We plan on having full Armor drops as loot in PvE missions which are character bound when you get them (both Co-Op and Open Zones)
  • We also plan on allowing Armor crafters create upgrade kits to these Armor drops to improve their stats.
  • Weapon upgrades will be replaced with Upgrade Kits that allow players to improve the stat on the actual weapons (instead of overall stats)
  • Weapons will also drop as loot in PvE with improved stats over current weapons (which can be then upgraded with Weapon Upgrade kits from crafters)
  • Weapons and Armor can also be purchased with Conquest Tokens and Mercenary Tokens.

Timesinks! Now you have to grind to attain weapons and other equipment to be competitive in PvP, further increasing power differentials in a game already made a bit more annoying by existing vertical advancement.

Balance will also be tossed aside in favor of adding some new weapons and devices which almost definitely will ruin existing class balance. Before this patch, many devices are absolutely useless. After the patch, I’m sure many more will be. Instead of adding more potentially game-breaking devices, HiRez should focus on making more existing equipment viable. HiRez sees that their coffee table is unsteady, but instead of evening the legs, they instead have Aunt Bertha sit on it.

Store openings:

  • More stores will be open.
  • The Jetpack store will have two new jetpacks available that are purchased using Conquest Tokens

A new hightech UI is being introduced although not all screens may be changed to it in time for the 1.3 release

Opening all the stores that were in the game at release but closed? Sounds good to me. The conquest token bit is going to encourage grinding, though, which is counter to the skill-based philosophy of this game’s core design as a third-person tactical shooter.

It’s great that they’re fixing up the UI. It is quite buggy if not downright bad now. I bet, though, that the interface will be half-converted after this patch and will not be polished and finished for a while yet.

Open Zone (Warzones)

  • We are currently testing these zone which are large open spaces that players will join to do various missions. For the 1.3 release we plan on having open PvE zone with several different mission types as well as a PvPvE zone with several mission types and a zone win condition.
  • We are currently rewriting some of the Unreal 3 server to allow more players to interact in the zone. We don't know what the final number will look like yet but we hope for a minimum of 30 players in a PvE zone and 50 in a PvP zone.

Oh! Now maybe this game can justify labeling itself as an MMORPG/FPS—though it’s still neither an RPG nor an FPS, and it’s barely an MMO.

These new open world areas will further fracture the population, exacerbating the existing PvP and 4v4 queuing problems (not enough people in the queues for the games to be much fun).

What Should They Have Done?

  • 10 new PvP maps: two for each game mode.
  • A new, innovative PvP mode that doesn’t involve standing on a point.
  • Three new kinds of PvE missions that auto-adjust the difficulty level of enemies depending on the team’s character and skill levels. Each of these missions should have a couple of maps.
  • A huge bug-fixing pass on the existing interface. All mouse-overs are unified in a new, clearer style of writing that makes it clear what everything does.
  • 5 new AvA maps.
  • Bugfixing and enhancement of existing AvA platforms, vehicles, and gameplay in general.

This would expand the game significantly for existing players without introducing new timesinks or balance issues. 1.4 would then be spent on rebalancing a large chunk of the non-viable devices and weapons currently littering the game.

Instead of making Global Agenda a strictly better game, HiRez has specialized the game more in the MMORPG direction. At this point, HiRez needs to draw players back and attract new players. They can’t readily afford to further fracture their playerbase and dither on what kind of game they’re making. Unfortunately, they have chosen to try to make the game more like a themepark MMORPG—something which is incompatible with the micro-level gameplay.

I don’t know how this will turn out for the game in the long run. The game may lose a lot of the skill-interested players and gain some MMORPG players who are then turned off by the game’s skill-focus at the micro-level and later quit. On the other hand, the new features may draw enough players back to the game and hook them again. As the game is now, with roughly 1k players online at peak hours, I doubt it can survive by further breaking apart the population into even more queues and introducing increasingly demanding timesinks.

Global Agenda is a game caught between two design philosophies. So far it seems that they either don’t realize this, or they’re simply trying to cash-in on “easy” MMO money through the impossible path of trying to make everyone happy.


Logan said...

i know in the past i've defended GA against a lot of the criticism leveled at it on this blog... but this time i totally agree with you.

the vertical advancement was just fine as it was... any more is going to make it almost unplayable for lowbies... and i especially don't like the idea that i'd be locked into a spec and have to lvl up another character of the same class to try out a different spec... i would be very, very surprised if that change makes it into the final build.

all i really want are more maps and more variety... the gameplay is great, just give me more ways to explore and use that gameplay and i'll be a happy camper.

i know you've been harping on the vertical advancement thing all along, i guess i just didn't think that the current implementation was all that bad... but if all these changes go through, then GA will cross the line and i think a lot of people will leave... maybe if all these changes are accompanied by a significant xp gain boost... or if they split the playerbase up at lvl 30... them maybe it could work... but i dunno...

Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

ONe of the big problems with MMOs (and PvP games in particular) is that it's hard to get the balance right when you're changing things all the time. You have to balance a lot of different issues, and in PvP you have to also balance player perceptions and ability to play the game.

All in all, not the easiest thing to do. :)

Endraal said...

There's a pretty recent interview with Todd Harris here :

by Ferrel and Karen - if you're interested in some background on some of their design decisions.

Toivoton said...

Ok I'm a bit late to the party, but anyways..:

The vertical advancement is horrible already. I'm playing assault that is the worst hit by it. It was (now at lvl 22 it isnt that bad anymore) stupid to run into a damaged opposing assault and have both stop to use the alt fire on minigun just to find that in the time it took him to kill you, you got like 1/5 of his health off. Now I know my aim sucks, but I'm not bad enough to miss an opposing assault when he's standing still...

Having another set of "talent points" and some just plain better weapons (naturally as "epics") is going to make the new player experience just pointless.

Robo and medic gameplays are not THAT depended on having the talent points and equipment so the effect is lessened on them.

What I want instead of the current stupid system is to have everything have a drawback. Instead of having the assault have a talent that gives +10% minigun damage, have it give +10% minigun damage and +50% spinup duration. Instead of having a robo talent that gives +10% drone damage, have it give 10% drone damage and -20% turret damage. Preferrably so that the penalties are aimed to make specific playstyles.

That way the character the newbie gets to play with is a nicely balanced average. Yeah the veterans with their lvl 50 character with the best implants and epics would still be stronger, but thats ok. What isn't ok is that it would be just plain better at everything.

Or another way of putting it - there should be good builds that don't use all their talent points and the hardest to get epics.

I don't agree that making more stuff to do (the outside areas) is a bad thing. Yeah it's going to split the player place and I agree that the ques are going to suck because of it, but you can't just rely on having those missions. You might be correct in saying that instead adding game types and maps would be the best, but they REALLY need to add something more to do that really FEELS diffrent. I am not sure they can do that with some extra maps and perhaps a new gamemode.

What I would like is to expand AvA gametypes. I havent really played it that much yet, but from what I've seen they just seem to be normal pvp games with some toys.. and naturally more organisation.

Anonymous said...

I total agree with this post.The only reason that made me tolerate global agenda and made me consider it an inovative game with great potential is that it let me spec when ever I want and the gridning factor of the game was not like WOW is.I was still bitching about spending too much time leveling up till lvl 30 and now there is lvl 50 plus epic gear and class specialisation.That just simply killed the game for me.Oh well it was a fun short ride and I will be waiting for the next game that does it right and creat and actually skill-based game for people who actually have lives and cant sink most of there day in a video game