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Tuning Up: Targeting, Crafting Times, Resource Replenishment, Ranged Attacks, Monster Hit Points

Players we want to touch briefly on a number of issues that we are working on to give you a status update on our process and how we're addressing concerns that we've heard from the community.

Each of these topics is really complex and is not something that can be brought to a perfect resolution via a "magic bullet". They'll all require multiple iterations over many releases of Early Enrollment to move closer to an ideal state. The purpose of this blog is to give you a sense of the issue and our general sense of how to confront it.

Targeting

By far the most important core game system that we need to work on is the Targeting system. We have heard your feedback clearly and we agree with it totally.

Up to and including Early Enrollment v6 there is an issue with how we process input from the mouse. We are detecting a "click" when the button-up state is transmitted to the application. In other words, when you "click" on something, we record your mouse position when you lift your finger off the mouse button, not when you press it down. Since the speed of the game is quite fast it is likely that between the time you click down, and release the button, your intended target will have moved. The result is frustration in trying to "click target" your opponents.

We're going to fix that and have the click register when you press the mouse button.

The system also has to interpret what you are doing when you're click-targeting by comparing a sample of all the objects in the scene from the point of your mouse to the skybox. Since character models are fairly "narrow", the further away from you your target is, the less likely it is that your target will be directly under your mouse pointer when you click. We therefore are going to create an additional volume around the character models that we can detect when we try to determine what you are clicking on. Practically speaking this will make it easier to click-target a character. The downside is that if two characters are close to each other visually from your client's perspective, the character that is closer to you may have a click-target volume large enough to occlude the target that is further away meaning that you may not be able to click-target the more distant character even if, from your perspective, you are "clicking right on them".

Goal: We are going to try and have these two changes ready for deployment in Early Enrollment v7, which is due to go on the Live Server on Thursday 16 April.

Additional Work: We have a lengthy list of additional iterations we plan for the targeting system that relate to the tab-targeting process. We will continue to add those iterations to ongoing work as quickly as possible. We expect to be able to add a few of them to every Release for the next several update cycles but we won't know exactly what work can and will be done until each new sprint is planned.

We may also be able to get more Targeting improvements into Early Enrollment v7 as well. We'll highlight all the updates we're able to make when we publish the Release Notes for the Test Server build later this week.

Crafting Times

The current calculation for the length of time required to craft and item does not match our design intent. The crafting times that we planned for the game are much shorter than the current times.

We had intended to "fix this bug" in a previous Early Enrollment release, but when we announced the change, we got substantial feedback from the community that the crafting times should not be reduced.

We still think that the crafting times are much too long and we want to reduce them. We want to thoroughly explain why so that we can engage with the community and see if we can come to a consensus on the proper parameters of the design.

Tier 2 is the Standard

Our overall design anticipates that most characters, most of the time, will equip and use Tier 2 gear.  They will use Tier 1 gear when they're new or when they're engaged in very risky activities with a high chance of multiple deaths, and they will use Tier 3 gear when they absolutely, positively need every bit of mechanical advantage they can muster regardless of the cost.

If Tier 2 gear is the standard, then a lot of it needs to be produced. The cost to fully equip in Tier 2 needs to be something that is reasonable fairly early in a character's life cycle. And it needs to be plentiful enough that it's easy to find for sale in most areas of the game. If the gear is too expensive, or access is gated by having to be a member of a wealthy and large Company or Settlement, then the design intent will break for a majority of players and they'll have an unsatisfactory experience.

The length of time it takes to craft Tier 2 gear also affects the time required to earn Crafting Achievements which unlock access to various recipes. The longer those times are the fewer characters will progress through them which will further reduce the availability and raise the price of Tier 2 equipment for every character.

There is another axis of variables that can control the price & availability of Tier 2 gear, and that is the number of characters who are crafting it. In the first phases of Early Enrollment we think there are a disproportionate number of crafting characters in the game because of the effect of Destiny's Twin.  Destiny's Twin allows people to have a dedicated crafter character attached to their accounts with no overhead cost, and crafting characters, unlike adventuring characters, are much easier to advance by simply sitting in a fixed location and managing crafting jobs with brief, intermittent logins. We therefore think that the current conditions of the game do not reflect how the game will evolve even in the upcoming months.  As the number of accounts with Destiny's Twin reduces as a percentage of total accounts, the number of "crafting alts" will also reduce as a percentage.  People will have to pay money to play a crafter, and we expect that the number of such characters will be much lower than the number of characters people are paying for that do other things.

Currently players may feel that there are plenty of crafters making plenty of Tier 2 gear and availability is reasonable. We actually don't think that's true - we think that there are already a lot of characters who are struggling to get Tier 2 gear at reasonable prices and with reasonable effort - but even if it is true today, it will not be true tomorrow.

There are additional factors that will further influence this system which are due to arrive in the game soon which also need to be considered.

Resource replenishment is a big one, and that's covered in the next topic. Another change that is upcoming is the requirement that characters pay a fee in Coin for training. That will immediately jump-start the Coin Economy and give people a sense of the value of those Coins.  We expect that will translate into more economic activity as opposed to barter activity which should have the effect of reducing concentrations of Tier 2 gear and moving it towards the periphery of the larger Tier 2 crafting Settlements. A third change is the plan to add Buy Orders to the Auction Houses, and to provide pricing information so that people can generate their own demand for Gear and see what the clearing prices are for gear.  Again, that will stimulate economic activity at the expense of barter activity.

What you can do:  Please consider these factors when you're advocating for or against positions in regard to altering the crafting times.

Resource Replenishment

One of the design objectives for the game is that player activity should have meaningful impacts on the game world. One of the ways that we intend to meet that objective is for harvesting of resource nodes to deplete the resources they provide.

Currently resource node depletion is effectively meaningless in all but the most extreme cases. The rate that resources automatically replenish themselves is so high that barring special events where players attempt to "strip mine" a Hex, the resources never deplete.

This has two negative effects. First it does not provide incentives for characters to spread out across the map seeking undepleted resources and instead allows them to stay close to Settlements and security forces while they harvest. Second it means that the absolute amount of resources being injected into the economy is much higher than the design anticipated.

This has a perverse negative feedback loop when coupled with the long crafting times discussed in the previous section. The ready availability of resources means that the input to crafting jobs is devalued which makes the effort to go into the wilderness and get them insufficient to offset the perceived value that the crafters attach to their labors. Since the crafters can get resources as inputs at a nominal "cost" (often zero cost), and they require a long time to craft Tier 2 items, the "market price" of the output of the crafting job doesn't correlate to the "market price" of the material components of that job.

If this condition were allowed to persist there would be a dysfunctional economy where wealth would continuously accumulate with the crafters and that would starve them of customers which would make the crafting they do meaningless and they'd eventually become disinterested in leave to find a game with a better functioning economy.

By design, there is supposed to be a game loop where value is added to material components by those players who accept the risk of going out and harvesting them while taking losses from monsters and PvP, and expending real human time to travel to and from harvesting locations.  That design is not currently working.

Our Plan: We are going to decrease the regeneration time of resource nodes over the next several releases, beginning with Early Enrollment v7. This will mean that you will increasingly find fewer nodes to harvest, and more nodes that you cannot harvest because the lower-level materials have been extracted leaving only higher-level (and thus more highly-trained harvesters required to extract) resources.

In the short term this may drive up prices as crafters start to see a reduction in the supply of materials. However if they start to have to pay out the coin they've been accumulating to buy those materials from harvesters, an economic incentive will be created to supply that need and we think that the amount of resources will rebound substantially, albeit in a new market context.

What you can do: Be prepared to operate harvesting teams at a substantial distance from Settlements. This is an excellent use of Smallholdings and Base Camps, and it will also be a consideration when placing Holdings and Outposts. Be prepared to keep moving from hex to hex while harvesting when the local area has exhausted its resources. If you are a crafter, be prepared for an increase in your input costs and be willing to trade value for materials with harvestors.

Continuing Balance Issues with Ranged Attacks

Since Alpha we have known that ranged attacks are superior in most cases to melee attacks. The reason is that ranged attacks were designed and balanced with consideration for several game systems that have not yet been implemented.

As a stopgap measure during Alpha we imposed a "root" effect on ranged attacks. We had to do that because otherwise PvP would have become completely pointless - you could have run away from a pursuer and continued to attack with ranged attacks until they either gave up or died, but as long as you could heal as much damage as they were able to deliver with their ranged attacks, you could not lose.

Ranged attacks were also so superior in PvE encounters that we would have been virtually unable to place the characters under any meaningful threat when fighting monsters.

Still, we remain convinced that ranged attacks are simply too powerful when compared to melee attacks and therefore a vast section of our game design is being substantially underutilized.

Ranged attacks are supposed to consume ammunition and ammunition is not supposed to replenish during combat. Without ammunition or the need to break off of combat to reload a magazine ranged attacks are generated at a rate much higher than the design anticipates. Effectively they're getting a huge DPS (Damage Per Second) buff.

Ranged attacks are supposed to be blocked by line of sight to the target. Without any restrictions on what ranged attackers can hit they are able to ignore terrain features like trees, hills, walls, or any other obstruction. Again, this increases their effective rate of fire which is a DPS buff.

The result is that most players quickly abandon melee attacks which means that melee attack weapons don't have the proper level of demand in the market, and people who have invested XP in melee attack actions feel they've "wasted" those XP.

Because we have not implemented ammo, a large crafting system is not being utilized either (and the resources placed in game in anticipation of those crafting jobs are not being consumed).

Our Plan: We discussed applying an across-the-bard debuff to DPS for ranged attacks but discarded that idea because it would basically impact virtually every player in a negative way and would not give much back in terms of positive value.  It might theoretically "balance" with melee attacks but everyone knows that it's no fun to nerf for "balance" reasons, and this problem is complexified because the DPS "buffs" the ranged attacks have are second-order effects.

We are instead going to start putting DPS buffs on melee attacks. We'll experiment with how much buff to apply, but we want it to be meaningful enough that people seriously consider melee attacks and melee weapons which means it may be a pretty big number.

It will be temporary. Like the "root" effect already applied to ranged attacks, this DPS buff will be removed from melee attacks when we get ammo and line of sight implemented. Yes, that means that folks who start using those melee attacks are going to get "nerfed" in the future. We're hoping that by being up front about the removal of the buff now we can head off some of the angst that will inevitably occur. We're willing to take some future pain for some immediate gain.

We don't have an eta for ammo, line of sight or arcane spell failure. They are all high-priority features but they are all very complex features and they'll each take a pretty substantial amount of work to implement. We're committed to getting them into the game but that work may happen after Holdings & Outposts have been through 2 or 3 additional release cycles.

Monster Hit Points

Finally we want to wrap up by talking about monsters. Currently they're not powerful enough and we are going to raise their hit points.

We could make their attacks more powerful but the problem with doing that is characters who die too quickly. More powerful attacks means that instead of getting to make the meaningful choice to run away characters that are overmatched just get squashed.

Due to limitations with our current monster AI, more complex attacks that exploit a wider portion of the combat system can't be used against players.

Increasing monster hit points means that they're harder to kill. They'll deliver more damage over time (because they'll live longer) but no more damage per second (which means you'll be able to react to a fight you can't win).

We are fine tuning our thoughts on this topic and are very interested in your feedback. Our objective is to give the monsters enough of a hit point buff that they survive longer against party-sized PC groups.

Oh, and one other thing: We're going to buff the heck out of the Win Bosses. Starting with Early Enrollment v7, you'll need to take down Win Bosses from Escalations to get the crafting components needed to make deeds for Holdings & Outposts. And we want to make that more challenging than the fights we've been observing where a party-sized group range-attacks the Win Boss and kills them before they ever get close to the characters.  Expect the Win Bosses to become much, much harder to kill with Early Enrollment v7.