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I'll be brief this week because I'm in crunch-mode!

The hurricane came and went, and our neighborhood is now covered in leaves and fallen branches from the wind but we're otherwise unharmed. We lost some time from all the drama (power outages and such), but nothing too big.

But I did run into a more serious delay in getting this update out the door: basically, treasure sucks too much and has to be improved. This will take time.

Well, let me step back. I got the new combat systems up and running, and they work pretty well. Abilities are a little slower, solo monsters have a bit less health, Power costs and regeneration rates are revised (for instance, combat is now balanced around the idea that you have eaten a level-appropriate Meal, which now gives significant in-combat regeneration), armor stats are higher, Combat Refresh is more potent, and base ability damage is much higher. That last one is a big help in the early levels when you don't have a lot of treasure, and in general makes it more plausible to use abilities without a ton of specialized treasure for them.

It works great, time to ship it! Except... as soon as I tried to broaden the scope to apply to all skills, I had to face the fact that most treasure effects suck. We knew that already, and I've discussed it, but I was hoping to put off rewriting all the treasure until a later update just to get this one out the door. But I don't think I can postpone it, because the changes I've made actually make already-sucky treasure suckier.

As an example, there are a lot of treasure effects that give, say, a 66% chance to do something. Those effects aren’t very fun (and were scheduled for eventual replacement), but they worked okay if you had two copies of them -- odds are very good that at least one of them will activate each time. But with two-skill builds, you're much less likely to be able to fit two of each effect into your build. And a single percentage-chance effect by itself is just frustrating, especially if it does anything important (like stun or heal), or if it's on a slow reuse timer.

Another problem that was made worse by my changes is that treasure effects aren't distributed across equipment slots well. Hammer has 16 main-hand treasure effects, and only 8 effects for most other slots. This makes it pretty hard to build good two-skill gear sets with Hammer.

And a lot of treasure is just not very useful. The older skills like Sword and Fire Magic suffer the most from this, because they have effects that were added as prototypes while I was fleshing out all the things that treasure can do. Taking a good honest look at them, many are unsalvageable. Nobody wants a fire-magic buff that deals extra damage to "creatures that are inherently on fire" because there's only three or four monsters like that in the whole game, and I'm not really planning on adding tons more. So that's good tech to have, but a bad treasure effect. And when you have split-skill treasure, a single really shitty treasure effect feels more damning to the item's overall quality.

The bottom line is that I need to overhaul the treasure effects themselves in order for this plan to work well. I wanted to postpone that, but it ain't happenin', so fine... I'll do that too! So the bad news is that it will be a while yet. I'm not yet sure how long it'll take. Let's say "before Halloween".

The good news is that this is the most fun that treasure has ever been, by a LARGE margin. I've finished revising the treasure for sword, fire magic, and mentalism so far, and they are a blast. If the others follow suit, this will really be a lot of fun to build gear suits with.

So what sorts of changes am I making? Well, I've added a lot of ways for the skills to interact. I used the existing "ability categories" (like Epic Attacks) and added some new ones, like Core Attacks and Nice Attacks. Most attack-centric skills have several of these categorized abilities, and there are lots of new treasure effects that do things like: "Debilitating Blow deals +32 damage and causes your Core Attacks to deal +50 damage for 10 seconds". This effect is useful by itself -- it boosts the Core Attack in Sword, which is Many Cuts. But it also boosts the Core Attack in, say, Shield, which is Disrupting Bash. So there's some synergy to find depending on what skills you're using. There's also more effects that boost damage by type, or enhance entire classes of abilities (such as all Burst attacks) for a few seconds.

I'm also adding more treasure that applies to several abilities in the skill. This is really important for helping players make broad gear sets that aren't too specialized on one or two buttons. There's lots of new treasure effects like: "Scintillating Flame and Fire Bolts boost your Core Attack Damage and Epic Attack Damage +33 for 15 seconds". That one's a mouthful, but it has broad applicability, and while +33 doesn't sound very great, it's actually pretty potent because it stacks with itself -- Scintillating Flame has a short enough timer that you can get two uses in, let alone adding in Fire Bolts, and possibly doubling the stacks by having a second copy of the treasure effect.

I've been mostly tossing out the classic "combo" treasure effects, instead creating sort of "organic combos", like the one above. The above effect means that you should use Scintillating Flame and/or Fire Bolts before you use your Core and Epic attacks. The game doesn't have to hold your hand and give you a little GUI -- you can figure it out based on which abilities you're using.

I'm also being much more liberal with effects that significantly alter how an ability works -- changing Power costs, reuse timers, even damage types. This works in both directions -- some of the most overpowered treasure now has negative effects on the ability (such as slowing down the reuse timer). Do you want your Fire Breath to hit everybody within 5 meters? Yes, of course you do -- that's a no-brainer, it's a treasure effect that's so good you'd be dumb not to have it... but now, it also raises the Power cost and reuse time by 20%. Still a good deal? Yes -- on paper it's still a phenomenal trade-off in the player's favor -- but the down sides mean that for certain builds or playstyles, the effect isn't necessarily a no-brainer.

Using negative effects in a few places lets me fit in treasure that I was having a hard time justifying before. Stuff like the Fire Breath AoE effect is really cool and I want the game to have it, but without some down side, it's just too potent.

But most treasure effects don't have any drawbacks, of course. Instead, I've used things like cheaper Power costs and faster reuse times to give new ways to improve your abilities. Do you want your attack to do 25% more damage or have a 1-second faster reuse timer? That's going to depend on a lot of specific details. Which is good -- it means there are choices, interesting choices, and at higher level, those choices are what treasure is supposed to be about.

I'm still trying to figure out how long this work will take, but I really don't know. Each skill I've done so far has needed some new unique tricks and code tweaks to give it the distinctive flavor I want it to have. When I revised Mentalism, I ended up throwing out an ability and replacing it with an entirely new one. When I did Sword, I had to throw out almost half of the treasure, replacing it with some interesting new tricks. These older skills are probably in the worst shape, so I'm hoping that skills like Knife and Druid are going to be faster to revise, but I won't know 'til I get there.

But I'm excited about it. The changes seem to make treasure much more interesting to me. Not all of these new ideas are going to pan out, but I'm confident that enough of them will work that treasure will feel a lot more interesting.

There are lots of other fixes in this update, and Halloween is coming, so I do feel a lot of pressure to get the update out the door. But in this particular instance, I feel like treasure quality has to come first, or the other changes just won't make any sense. And I mean, it's alpha. We missed Halloween last year and did the event in November instead... and it's not really the end of the world. But I'm still optimistic that it'll be done before Halloween... I know there's Bat players waiting to reach level 60 so they can make fun of the battle chemists, who still can't level up. Don't worry bats, I've got your back. Soon. Ish.

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Well, this week flew by! I'm still working on the update. Aside from a one-day detour, the whole week has been me changing spreadsheets, playing with the changes for an hour or two, trying again, rinse and repeat. All day every day. It's not boring exactly... but it's also not interesting to talk about. So instead, let me talk about some questions and concerns players have had, both in the forum thread and via other channels. (And I'll talk about that one-day detour, too.)


Changing Gear on the fly: one concern players brought up is that it will be harder to switch to different skill layouts on the fly. Because gear is always focused on two skills, you can't just change skills -- you'll have to change gear, too. Those little buttons next to the ability bars are going to be impractical to use because you'll need different equipment when you switch skills. This is a good point, but I have a solution that will help.

By the way, those little buttons next to the ability bars were an experiment for newbies. Most new players seemed to stick with Sword+Unarmed (the default skills) for a very long time -- many hours -- even after they'd unlocked several more skills. As an experiment, I added those little buttons to see if newbies tried out more skills. And those little buttons definitely helped, so they were left in. (We'll try something a little more nuanced and useful in the next GUI, I think.)

Those little buttons on the side let you switch skills, but don't make it easy to switch gear or abilities.


Those little buttons are convenient but they were never the "main" way I envisioned people switching skills on the fly. Instead, there's a new feature called load-outs. Load-outs save the configuration of all three of your ability bars, and also save what equipment you're wearing.

Load-outs unlock when you get your first skill to level 25.


Load-outs work like this: once you get your first combat skill to level 25, you unlock two load-out slots. Thereafter, each combat skill you get to level 50 unlocks another slot, up to a maximum of 9. You can switch load-outs whenever you're not in combat. You can use the Load buttons in the GUI pictured above, or you can configure hotkeys to switch load-outs with a keypress.

The equipment used by load-outs is marked with a special icon in your inventory so that you can easily tell which ones are in use. And these items don't show up in the vendor GUI -- they are effectively "locked" from being sold.

I've talked about adding load-outs before, but it was postponed until the new GUI arrived. But funny story there: the other day, I decided to add them as text-commands so that advanced players could use something like "/layout 1" to switch layouts. That meant no GUI was involved -- just server-side work. I hoped that it would alleviate some player concerns. I gave myself one work day to finish those chat commands, but they ended up only taking a few hours. So then, since I was already working on the system, I added more features, and then the little GUI window you see above, and now it's a fully functional load-out system. All in one day. Ugly, yes, but fully functional.

I'm still tweaking and improving load-outs a little bit here and there as I play with them, but they are insanely helpful for my testing, and I'm sure you'll find many interesting uses for them. I really should have added them a long time ago. I just figured it would take a lot more work than it did!


Base Damage: we've talked about this in earlier blogs, and I'm still on the fence about the base-damage mods. For the moment, I've just made the drop-rate on base-damage mods very high, so if you're using Sword+Mentalism (for example), pretty much every sword will have +Sword Base Damage, every helmet will have both Sword and Mentalism base damage, and chests will have Mentalism base damage. This solves the problem of "I need these mods and I can't get them easily enough", but the opposite problem is also a thing: "I use psychology for healing and I don't want +Psychology Base Damage if it means I have less healing!" So ... it's a work in progress. I've experimented with a few replacement ideas but nothing has clicked here yet.


Combos: combos have always been a balance problem because they are either too annoying to use or too powerful. In other words, they're too much trouble to keep track of, so unless the effect is REALLY good, players don't use them. I've been iterating on this problem each time I have a chance to revise treasure, and I'll continue to do so. There was a suggestion to broaden more combos to use "wildcard" steps, and I think that's worth trying, so I'll change a bunch of the combos to have more generic steps in between, such as "Fireball + * + * + * + Fire Breath = combo", where * could be any kind of ability. We'll see how it feels, and iterate more from there.


Combat Refresh: several players wanted to avoid having to use basic attacks to trigger combat refreshes, instead adding the combat-refresh power to their favored ability. But that goes against the goal of making you use more abilities in combat! I want you to use a lot of abilities, and my metrics suggest that very few players -- like, almost no players -- use all twelve abilities on a regular basis. So you have slots you aren't using already. I'm adding basic attacks to each skill, so you'll always be able to put the basic attack on either bar -- wherever it fits. Since you weren't using all your ability slots anyway (statistically speaking), this shouldn't cause too much hassle.

And the big upside of pushing players to use a Basic Attack is that it adds some much-needed consistency between skills. And that lets me add more interesting treasure effects. I'll show you what I mean in the next blog post, if some of these ideas pan out, but the point is that when everybody has something consistent, like a basic attack, I can add interesting things that tie into it and let your two skills interact.


Multi-Skill Gear Effects: one suggestion that came up a few times was to do multi-skill treasure effects. And I definitely want to do a LOT more of these! (See the discussion of basic attacks above.) The most obvious way to implement it, though, has already been tried and doesn't work. For instance, a treasure effect that says "<ability from skill X> and <ability from skill Y> deal +50% damage" is only satisfying for people who happen to use both of those abilities. Players know that the ability's potency is a little watered-down because it can apply to both abilities, and they hate the feeling of "wasting" their potential. Even if the damage isn't watered down at all (which is only possible in certain circumstances), players don't seem to like them anyway, presumably because it still seems like it would probably be weaker.

And anyway, treasure effects that apply to only one other ability aren't broad enough, given how few treasure effects there are. I want treasure effects that can be used by a large number of builds. That's the reason I recently added the ability descriptors like "Epic Attack" and "Signature Debuff": to add treasure effects that apply to all the abilities in that category. And I'll also try some other ideas, like treasure that says "<ability from skill X> grants <bonus Base Damage to skill Y> for 5 seconds". It'll only be useful to people who happen to use both of those skills, but at least it doesn't lock you into two specific abilities -- only one, like normal.

In short, yes, making treasure synergize between multiple skills is definitely a goal. But it's a long-term goal. It will take more iterations to find the most successful ways to do it. In the next update I'll just change a few treasure effects to work this way so you can give feedback on how it feels and we can evolve it further.


Transmutation permanently locking in two skills: In an earlier blog post, I explained that the transmutation table will start to "enforce" the two-skill breakdown on gear, and it was asked if that was permanent or just transitional. In case it wasn't clear, yes: it's permanent. Otherwise, players would just use Transmutation to make single-skill gear again, undermining the whole point of this change. However, there will be a separate table that can help you cheaply adjust your existing Legacy gear, and THAT table is probably temporary.


On lowering the number of total treasure effects: I think the number is good where it is. For most skills there's really only about ten treasure effects per gear slot. That means that two-skill gear is only pulling from a pool of twenty or so effects. And if you're transmuting, you're pulling from a pool of only ten effects! (On average.) So the odds are already pretty great for transmuting a specific effect you want. Now, lots of the current treasure effects would never be desired by power-players, and I want to improve those. But throwing them out isn't improving them.


Iterating vs. Starting Over

And that brings me to a really important point about game design. It's always tempting to throw out stuff that doesn't work. It's boring to tweak and revise stuff, and it's so much more FUN to try all new designs! But no design works well the first time. Unless the design is being stolen straight from some other game, it's going to need iteration. *Lots* of iteration. Iteration is boring and time-consuming and it can be tedious, both for the designer and the play-testers. "Ugh, this system still doesn't work, why not try <brand new idea>?" And I do periodically throw away designs and start over... but I have to give ideas a fair shake first.

So that's my answer to a lot of questions: "Why not throw out Combat Refresh and do <X>", "Why not abandon the two-skill design and do <Y>", "How about if <Z> became the focus of Necromancy instead of the pets, since the pets suck?" Those ideas are sexy and exciting but they will need just as much iterative revising as what's in the game now. I'm iterating on these existing systems because I think I can make them work well with more iteration. If something just REALLY doesn't work, then of course I'll abandon it. But right now, this is the part of the game's development where I have to just grind out iterative improvements.

That's not to say I don't like reading new design suggestions! I can often take parts of those and apply them to existing designs, or use them when I make the next new skill or ability. (There are several more entire combat skills to add, along with a bunch of variant skills... but I'd like to get the existing ones working better before adding even more data to my gigantic spreadsheets.)


Playstyle choices: The idea behind this complaint seems to be that players liked focusing on just one skill, and by removing that option, I'm removing choices. But that's not true. The number of choices is exactly the same, actually. Right now, you could say "I want to focus all my gear on Archery", OR you can say "I'll focus on both Sword and Archery". That's two choices... but one is dramatically weaker than the other. After this update, both options are still open to you. If you want to focus only on Archery, go right ahead. Use only Archery and Generic treasure effects. You will probably be weaker than somebody who focuses on two skills and does a good job synergizing their gear... but so what? One of the two possibilities was already weaker. I just changed which is which. And I did that because I know that two-skill builds will hold players' attention a lot longer than single-skill builds.

Most players will gravitate to gameplay styles that are easiest. (That's just human nature: smart people find the path of least resistance to getting what they want, whether it be in a game or in real life.) In fact, in an MMO, this is often a very big problem because even players that want to try weird ideas often feel "obligated" to follow the easiest path due to peer pressure. If your friends are all using a build that's vastly better than your build, you'll feel pressure to change toward their builds, even if you were having fun with your slower build. And there's no way to avoid that pressure -- I can't make all play styles equally easy and equally powerful. Instead, my job as a game designer is to make sure that the "easy" path is the one I think is most fun, in the long term. Speaking of which...


On making the game "less fun": This concern is sort of similar to the last one, but it's a little meatier. The idea here is that it's fun to be able to kill monsters with just a few button presses, so my push for longer combats with more combat-actions makes the game less fun. And that is ... true. For a little while. But not for thousands of hours of gameplay.

This is a problem that ARPGs run into all the time. It's their Achilles' heel, actually... they start out incredibly fun, but they get boring too quickly. Hmm, how can I talk about this without badmouthing a fellow MMO team? Ah, I know. Did you ever play Kingdoms of Amalur? It's a really fun single-player game, but if they'd managed to turn that combat into an MMO, it would have been a flop. I was bored after "just" 70 or 80 hours. I'd seen all the iterations they could come up with, and there wasn't a lot more they could do with the combat except make the numbers get higher. There was nothing left to think about after I'd mastered the action parts, so I got bored.

I didn't feel ripped off... eighty hours of gameplay is a lot of fun for a single-player game. But MMO play-time is often measured in four-digit numbers... or five-digit numbers for long-running games! The core gameplay has to stand the test of time. It's my job as a designer to get this right, or my game simply will not survive for years to come.

So yes, for a short game, short combats are more fun. But that gets less true the longer the game is supposed to last.

This isn't the first time I've had to reduce short-term fun for long-term viability. For instance, there used to be no global cooldown timer and animations could be interrupted, so you could spam all your abilities instantly, interrupting the combat animations to just blast out all your attacks within a few seconds. That was actually really fun at first, but it couldn't stand the test of time. Since monsters only lived for a few seconds, they had to hit VERY hard in order to pose any danger. That meant combat was very lethal. A surprise addition was very hard to deal with. Combat was either very easy or very frustrating, and I couldn't get a middle ground. After iterating a while, I declared it a dead-end and added a traditional global cooldown timer, like most MMOs have. (It's 1.3 seconds if you're wondering. That's a little faster than the average MMO, but in the same ballpark.)

Another example of "removing fun" is that I'm eventually going to remove the ability to run really fast during combat. It's a lot of fun to outmaneuver monsters, racing past them, shooting them in the ass as they desperately try to regroup, then doing the same thing again and again. But it's not sustainable for thousands of hours of gameplay. I can add trick monsters, like ones that stun at long range, but a trick monster is a special case. Special cases can't be the core of gameplay.


Play-tester burnout: In the past, a few play-testers have quit each time I make big changes like this, because they're nerfs. That's always a danger when you nerf something: players feel personally slighted, like you just shat on their ice cream cone. They are now having less fun, and they don't have to take that kinda shit from a game, so they go play something else. Nerfing something after a game launches is a very hard call. Sometimes you really need to do it, but you agonize over it, because who wants to lose players?

But this is alpha. You are not players. (No offense!) You are play-testers. I can't afford to lock down my alpha choices in order to keep the tiny audience of alpha gamers happy. I'm iterating on all kinds of design elements, and sometimes a fun thing isn't sustainable. I have to do what's right for the final game. Alpha-testing is a lot of fun if you approach it from the right viewpoint. You guys get to experience a lot of things that won't be feasible in the final game, when there's 1000 people logged in. If you've ever gotten your Sprint Speed up to 20, that's a run-speed of 45 mph! It's hilarious and fun... when there's a few dozen people online. Not as viable when there's a thousand people blurring around everywhere, causing the monster path-finding service to explode trying to keep up. The fact is that some kinds of fun can't last... but that doesn’t mean you shouldn't enjoy them while they're here. Just understand that change has to happen eventually. Stay fluid... that's the key to avoiding alpha burnout.

Anyway, based on some of the feedback I've received this week, I can't say I'll be surprised if some players quit over this change. I hope you find fun elsewhere, and can come back and try out the final game. But I do hope that most of you will stick with it to get past any disappointing first impression of "nerf", and can help me make this design work!


Lots More to Do

I'm still working very hard on the next update. By my best guess, I have something like 50 more hours of data-crunching to do to convert all the skills and treasure (and make sure it's vaguely playable), so I should get that wrapped up this week... but then I need a week to polish everything. So we're at least two weeks out. The scope has broadened in various places, but it remains focused on the same core mechanics issues -- there are just a lot of facets involved. This is a big update, and it improves how the game feels in a lot of ways.

Please have patience, and please keep communicating!


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This week has been a side-track week. As I tested the gear changes, it became very clear that it's much too hard to compare equipment. Part of that is intentional, of course -- each piece of gear can affect lots of different abilities in very different ways, because I *want* gear choices to be difficult! But I want them to be difficult because you can't decide which item you like better, not because you're doing lots of math in your head.

The game needs to automatically tell you how your gear affects your abilities. So I've spent most of the week working on that. This feature was planned for beta, as part of the "polishing phase", but... well, I've come to realize that it's not polish, it's necessary for basic gameplay.

However, it's not easy to implement. I have to break all the treasure effects down in new ways, add a bunch of data to abilities, and then route all this new data through new systems. It's a lot of work, but the results are pretty elegant:

This ability is augmented by several gear effects that raise Sword Base Damage, Wind Strike Damage, and Slashing Damage, and it's all been compiled into one stat. When equipment adds new functionality to the ability, like the +50% projectile evasion mod shown here, that's listed at the bottom.

This info is shown when you hover over abilities on the ability bar AND when you view abilities in the Persona window. That's important, so that you can put on a piece of gear and then see how it affects all your abilities.

These numbers also take into account every buff you have, not just your gear buffs. In the example above, Wind Strike 4 makes your next attack deal +20 damage. So after you use Wind Strike, all your abilities' damage will be displayed as being 20 higher until your next attack. This behavior can be a little surprising sometimes, but once you understand how it works, it really helps you see how buffs and debuffs are affecting you.

This effort is still underway, and I'm working nonstop to try to get it done fast, but it's basically delayed the update by a week. However, I don't think I made a bad call here: this changes how I play in a very positive way, and I think you'll like it also.


Combat Refreshes

Combat Refreshes are a bigger deal after the next update because armor restores more stuff when you use a refresh. So it's more important than ever to be able to tell if your Combat Refresh timer is up! I reimplemented it so that the client can tell when the refresh is ready. Your basic attacks will now flash with an icon (and play a sound) when your refresh is ready, and a little icon in the top-right will also show up in case you missed the blinking. Oh, and combat refreshes no longer activate if you're fully healed up and they wouldn't restore anything.


(In this screenshot, the wing icon is blinking overtop the Fireball and Mindreave basic attacks.)



Loot Profile Changes

I've also tweaked loot so that you find more of the weapons (and off-hand items) you need, and less that you don't. If you're using Unarmed skill, you'll have a much higher chance of finding unarmed weapons, and much lower chance of finding, say, fire orbs.

This wasn't done earlier because the loot system just couldn't do it. But I added the necessary code features in the last update, so this just involved a lot of data-entry. I'm sure the ratios and percentages will need further tweaking, but it feels less frustrating now, especially at low level when you desperately need a damned sword but keep finding other weapons instead.



Monster Changes

After this rebalance update, I want to meet the design goal of you being able to fight two solo monsters at once. In the current game, fighting two monsters at once at level 50+ is unrealistic unless your gear is REALLY good. (Or you have a mesmerize effect or other crowd-control tools.)

But fortunately for players, monster AI has been buggy for a long time now -- monsters that are called for help have a very silly tendency to give up and go home when they're winning! I've intentionally left the AI alone until I could work on monster stats. But since I'm making it more plausible to solo two monsters at once, it's time to make monsters smarter too.

So I've fixed AI bugs, nerfed monsters, buffed ability damage, and increased survivability features, all with the goal of making this fight-two-monsters-at-once thing a reality. I'm also taking into account that players will have a more diverse set of gear after the update because of the enforced two-skill split. And I'm also taking into account that monsters above level 45 or so were just too tough -- they'd gotten too far out of whack. It required way too much gear grinding to even fight solo monsters your level. Which is stupid. So I'll fix it.

(I'm not focusing on group monsters right now... I'll probably make some broad changes to tone them down a bit, but I'm not planning to do much with them in this update. That also means things like taunt management and rage control will probably continue to be out of whack for a while longer... but we'll get there.)



This Involves a LOT of Changes!

If the changes I've described sound self-contained and easy to test, then I haven't done a good job of describing them. I'm even more inundated with spreadsheets than I was last week. But I'm liking where it's headed. I've delayed this humungous rebalancing for a long time for various technical reasons, but now is the time.

I need to set some expectations, though. After this update, the game should be easier for mid- and high-level players to solo, NOT harder, as some forum commenters seem to expect. But due to time constraints, I'm not able to test every ability and treasure effect. I'm making formulaic changes to just about everything, and playtesting several skills at several level ranges, and the rest will be untested.

There will probably be skills that are unplayably weak at certain level ranges, and some treasure will probably be insanely overpowered, and so on. But I've been planning for this update for a long time, and the "hotfix" tech that was added a while back is specifically designed with this problem in mind. I can change just about every ability, treasure, and monster stat without requiring you to download a new client every time, and the server downtime to apply the hotfixes is less than 5 minutes.

So I'll need your help in finding problem areas, but then I'll be able to fix things (or at least, band-aid things) very quickly. I expect there will be several hotfixes the first week or two after the update.



More To Come

I know this dev-post hasn't gone into too many technical details or answered too many questions, but that's sort of a reflection of where my mind is this week: most of the week has been spent feverishly adapting game data so that it displays right in the client. And I'm still working on that right now! I'll have another update for you soon with some more specifics of how these changes work.


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This week's update is even more nuts-and-bolts than last week's update! This is a status report about how I'm implementing the upcoming combat changes I talked about last week. You can safely skip this one, especially if you're a new player or just not interested in the gritty details. (And if you are interested and you haven’t read last week’s blog post yet, you should do that first!)

Implementation of these changes is going well so far, but there's still a lot to do, and a lot still needs to be figured out. Please remember that everything in this post is subject to change, and in fact some of it will probably have changed by next week's blog post. In other words, this is a status update, not a finished design!


Changes to Combat Refresh

Last week I talked a little about Power management. One of the ways that I'm giving players more Power after the update is by increasing the potency of Combat Refreshes, which are triggered by using any basic attack. But I'm also slowing down how often you can get combat refreshes from every 10 seconds to every 15 seconds. The main reason for this is so that you have fewer "mandatory" times when you need to use your basic attack. Since I'm trying to promote using both ability bars in combat, I want it to be "un-optimal" to use the basic attack too often, so there's more time to fit in other abilities. So the basic Combat Refresh has been buffed so that it gives back more Power.

But the biggest boost to Combat Refresh actually comes from your armor type. Every piece of armor fits into one of four categories: cloth, leather, metal, and organic. Cloth armor gives you bonus Power when you use a Combat Refresh. Leather gives bonus Health and Power. Metal gives bonus Armor, and Organic gives some of everything. (These are the same as what's live now, except that I swapped cloth and leather.)

In the next update, the potency of these effects are MUCH more dramatic, so your choice of armor type has a lot more meaning. If you wear a full suit of metal armor at level 60, your combat refresh will give +150 Armor. If you wear a full suit of cloth armor, your combat refresh will give +72 Power. If you mix and match armor types, you get results somewhere in the middle. (Those numbers are placeholders to give you an idea of how it works ... I'm sure they'll change dramatically as I play-test.)


Making 'High-Power-Cost Skill' a Meaningful Thing

The changes to armor can help answer a tricky design question: how can a skill have high Power costs? The Hammer and Fire Magic skills are the best examples here: they're supposed to deal more damage while costing significantly more Power. But if everybody gets basically the same amount of Power, then these skills are either overpowered or unusable, because you either have enough Power or you don't.

By giving cloth and leather armor significantly more Power-recovery than metal and organic armor, players have a way to adapt to the higher costs of these skills -- without being forced into wearing specific armor types.

In the next update, Power recovery will be a bit over-high to make transitioning easier, so I don't expect people to see this as a pressing issue immediately. But as we tamp down the Power costs in future updates, armor types should become more relevant.


... And Related Armor Changes

In order to make these numbers work out in any semblance of balance, I also had to adjust the amount of Max Armor given by different armor types. Metal armor gives more Max Armor than before. Cloth gives less Max Armor than before. Leather is about the same. Organic gives slightly more.

Right now there aren't too many types of armor at each level range, but that's just an alpha content issue -- as we add more armor suits, this choice will become another avenue of customization.

These changes to armor are a big increase to survivability, which is good if I want combat to last longer. But in fact the changes are so large right now that it's hard for me to playtest, because monsters haven't been adjusted to compensate yet. Even though I nerfed a ton of ability reset timers and added new gear-splitting requirements, the armor buffs vastly overshadow those changes, leaving me feeling far more powerful than before. Which wasn't the intention! So there's still lots of adjustments to make this week.


Changes to Food

Since my last blog post, I've come to feel that the "food issue" needs to be addressed now rather than later. If food is going to be an important part of every player's game experience, now is a great time to make that happen, since I'm looking for places to give players more Power! But just making food "work better" isn't enough, because players won't know to use it.

Right now the game does a poor job of managing food expectations. At low level you can pretty much get by without food, while at higher level it becomes more and more annoying to go without it ... but players don't necessarily even realize what's wrong, because they've been playing without food for a long time and it doesn't occur to them that it matters now.

Part of the fix is to make food feel more necessary, right from level 1. In the next update, players lose their innate out-of-combat Health and Power regeneration. You'll regain almost nothing unless you have food in your system. And we'll reinforce the importance of food with icons and warning messages, so players know they're "doing it wrong" if they go without food.

That's the "stick", but there needs to be a "carrot" too -- food isn't seen as an attractive tool for a lot of reasons, some of which I need to address (and some of which will work themselves out, I think, when more players are online).

First, I no longer expect you to have both a Food and a Drink active to get optimal benefits. Instead, both food and drink are considered "Meals", and all of them have beefed-up stats. They don't stack with each other, so you can just eat or drink one thing. The stats on food and drink are different, but they're all in the same ballpark.

All meals now restore both Health and Power. They restore very large amounts while out of combat, and smaller but meaningful amounts during combat (right now the best meal gives +20 Power every 5 seconds during combat ... I'm sure that will change as I play with it more, but that gives you an idea).

Snacks are being tweaked to have a more practical -- and understandable -- role. There are two kinds of snacks: instant ones like Bacon, which now just give you instant healing of Health and/or Power, and buffing ones that give very potent regeneration buffs, but only last for a few minutes. So snacks are things you might take into a dungeon with you, optional tools in your arsenal.

I'm also playing with the notion of a "food slot", an inventory slot that holds a stack of food. This lets the game auto-consume food from that slot whenever the previous food wears off. EQ2 has this, and it worked pretty well, but in Gorgon that design would make leveling up Gourmand kind of awkward if you can't just eat any food whenever you want ... so I dunno if I'm sold on the food slot yet.

Oh, and speaking of Gourmand...


Changes to Gourmand

The food changes are also the best time to revise the Gourmand skill, which hasn't been very successful so far. Currently, Gourmand gives out all kinds of bonuses, but they're hard to calculate, hard to tell when they apply, and most problematically, they sneak up on you. At level 1 you go, "Ha ha, a Gourmand skill? Whatever." And you may just keep ignoring the skill because it doesn't seem important ... but at high level, the bonuses are a big deal! I need to telegraph that better.

In the next update, Gourmand boosts the duration of Meals. That's it. Every level of Gourmand increases your meal buffs by 30 seconds. So at max level (125), food will last more than twice as long. That's a much easier-to-understand benefit, and now that food is much more necessary, it's easy to see why you want Gourmand levels!

I'm also adding a Gourmand level restriction to food. If a food is more than, say, 15 levels higher than your Gourmand skill, you lack the palette to be able to appreciate the meal, so the game won't let you eat it. There are two reasons for this: first, it makes Gourmand more noticeable and helps reinforce its importance. New players will find foods that have a Gourmand requirement and realize, "Hey, I need to eventually raise my Gourmand skill... how do I do that again?"

And secondly, this makes it a little more interesting (read: challenging) to raise the skill. Previously, a newbie could buy a few high-level foods and instantly reach the 30s in the skill. Now they will need to be a little more picky about finding new things to eat.

This plan might need other adjustments if players end up getting "stuck" leveling it because it gets too hard... we'll see how it goes.


Transitioning Existing Gear

Last week I talked about how the combat changes are going to affect gear and how I want to help players switch gear without too much pain. Here's the preliminary plan for how we're going to handle existing gear:

When you log in after the update, any equipment you have that doesn't meet the split-skill requirements described in the last update post will become Legacy, meaning it will keep working for 30 days.

There will be a new NPC who can help you adjust these Legacy items so they stop being Legacy. Basically, you'll be able to turn any non-generic treasure effects on your item into Generic effects, for free, until the skill numbers are even (or close enough).

Two important notes: when calculating whether an item becomes Legacy, the item's Augmentation (if any) will be ignored. And items with an odd number of effects will, of course, have to be imbalanced toward one skill or the other. Those two scenarios won't make existing items become Legacy.

Transmutation will also be adjusted so that if you turn a Generic effect into a skill-specific effect, it won't pick just any random skill. It will always pick one of the two skills on the item -- and if one skill has fewer effects than the other, that one will get picked, so the item will always continue to be "balanced". (Again, any Augmentations will be ignored for this calculation.)

The actual algorithm is much more complicated because there are a lot of special cases. And I haven't even begun implementing this yet, so I'm not sure how intuitive the whole thing will be. But that's the tentative plan right now.


Brainstorming Dark Geology

One of the ideas I tossed around in last week’s blog post was the idea of a new support skill – call it Warding Magic – that could make any pet tankier and might be a useful support skill for necromancy and Animal Handling. There have been some great suggestions in this direction on the forums and in game and more ideas here are very welcome!

However, it's tricky to get the right breadth for a skill. A skill needs to be broad enough to support a dozen different abilities and 40+ different treasure effects! And if those abilities are too different in effect, it's too hard to use the skill for any particular purpose. But if the abilities are too narrow, it's too dull (and often too easy to gear for). One useful technique is to think in terms of abilities: what specific abilities would the skill have? If I can brainstorm a dozen abilities for a skill without it ending up being a jack-of-all-trades skill, that's a good sign.

I've been thinking about this on and off, and this may be the place to resurrect 'Dark Geology', a skill that got dropped from the game's design. Thematically, it's basically "earth magic" -- shielding, earthen walls, some rock-throwing, that sort of thing. When I tried it before, it just wasn't deep enough: there wasn't enough for the skill to do. (And then I stole some of its abilities when I was implementing Ice Magic later on.)

But if I pull the Battle Chemistry golem out of BC and give it to this new skill, things might synch up better. Dark Geology has wards and the programmable golem pet, while Battle Chemistry focuses on explosive burst effects and a more complex Mutation system.

This is just an idea I'm floating around in the back of the brain while I work on other things -- I mention it to get your feedback and ideas! Battle Chemistry is too broad right now, so narrowing its scope is something I need to do in one way or another. But again, these changes probably won't happen in the next update, as there's too much else to do.


Questions and Suggestions

The forum response to last week’s blog post was great -- so much discussion! I wanted to take the time in this blog post to answer a few questions and suggestions from the forums:

RE: Necromancy Pets -- I really like some of the ideas I saw regarding pet management. Some of the proposed ideas about directly helping your pets build aggro are interesting, and will probably find their way into the game in the form of treasure effects.

I'm playing with pets -- both necromancy and AH pets -- more as I playtest the other changes, and hope to make some quality-of-life improvements as I go. As well as a few bug fixes.

RE: Necromancy “No-Pet” Builds -- For the "non-pet" builds, I want to warn that the skill may feel fairly different after the update. Most importantly, Life Steal now has a 10 second cooldown instead of 5 seconds. Life Steal is still an impressive ability, but it needed toning down, and this is a good opportunity to adjust it.

I don't feel like a "pet-less tank" necromancy build necessarily needs to be viable. If it can fit in, cool, but the pets are really the core of the skill, and that needs to be the main way to use the skill.

RE: Getting Rid of Base Damage Boosts -- I have to admit that while playtesting dual-skill builds, it's pretty annoying trying to find gear that has both base-damage effects on it. But this kind of problem is exactly the sort of thing I intended Augmentation for: "fixing" items that are missing a crucial effect. So I don't think this is a deal-breaking issue. And when there's hundreds of players online, this design could finally create a bit of a market for commonly-needed Augments, too, so that players stop feeling like they have to level up all the Augment skills themselves.

But on the other hand... those base-damage boost effects are boring precisely because they feel mandatory. On the third hand, if they were removed they'd need to be replaced by something else -- I can't just remove them from every slot without making several skills' effects tables too thin. And I don't have any idea about what to replace them with.

I've been considering just lowering their stats so that they become less "mandatory". So at level 60 it would give, say, Base Damage +15% instead of +35%. But would that still be considered a "mandatory" effect? I kinda think it would, but I'd like your opinion there.

I'll be playing more with treasure effects this week, and I'll try a few ideas out. One idea is to have Base Damage only show up on one slot instead of two. That would be easier to replace than removing it from both slots. And that would also give me room to make some items' base-stats better, for instance, giving non-magical swords more inherent Sword Base Damage Boost.


Hip-Deep in Changes

As you can see from the all-over-the-place notes, I'm hip-deep in changes to all kinds of systems, and still trying different things out. I hope to get a lot of the more nebulous things figured out this week, then spend next week playtesting more, as well as coding up transition tools and other changes (like tweaking the tutorial to emphasize food more). But that's my optimistic schedule... we'll see how it goes, and I'll update you next week!




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It's almost time for another round of alpha chaos! The next update will focus on ability and treasure revisions. I have some big goals I want to achieve with these changes. They're broad changes that will affect how combat plays at every level, which means they'll cause a chain-reaction of other changes -- monster stats, XP curves, and more will have to be adjusted to compensate. So it's going to take a few more weeks before I'm ready to put the update up.

I know that there are some major imbalances between skills right now, but skill balance isn't my main goal with this update. My immediate goals are:

  • Making two-skill builds a reality by splitting treasure effects on gear between skills.
  • Slowing down the reset time of abilities to increase the number of abilities you use in combat.
  • Easing the problems with power management so you can actually afford to use more abilities in combat.
  • Helping players switch gear to get feedback and metrics on these changes sooner rather than later.


Making Two-Skill Builds a Reality

My biggest goal with these changes is to make players think in terms of BOTH of their combat skills. In other words, I don't want people to think of themselves as a sword fighter, but rather a sword + mentalism character. This duality needs to matter all the time, in basically every fight, and especially when choosing equipment.

When it comes to choosing gear, players tend to focus on just one of their skills. They do this for a very practical reason: it's way more powerful. By putting as many treasure effects on as few abilities as possible, you maximize both your damage-per-second and your damage-per-Power-spent. I've tried to push players toward two-skill builds in the past with various small incentives, but there's no incentive that can overcome the HUGE combat benefits of having 30+ treasure effects for only four or five abilities. As long as that's a possibility, players will want to do that – it just makes sense.

So it's time for a bit more direct approach: the effects on all looted and crafted gear will always be evenly split between your two skills. There will be no such thing as "single-skill gear" anymore. (Players can still use Augments to add any effect they want to their gear, which means that at high level you won't actually have a perfectly 50/50 split, but it'll be a lot closer than it is now.)

I've already implemented this change locally and it does definitely push you to think more strategically about your second skill. It makes you look for ways to synergize your skills that you would never have bothered with before. I like the result so far ... but there are some problems. Some of the problems will be pretty easy to fix. For instance, some skills have very different treasure-effect distributions than others. Mentalism has more top-quality head-slot effects than main-hand-slot effects, which ramps up the difficulty in finding an "ideal" mentalism helmet, since now only half the effects on a helmet will be for Mentalism. But those sorts of details are easy enough to address -- some immediately, and some in future iterations as we discover the problems.


Support Skills for Two-Skill Builds

Some problems with this new system are easy to fix... and then there are harder problems. An example of a big problem area is tanking with Necromancy. Currently if you want to use Necromancy pets in a group-tanking role, it's not really that viable to split up your gear between two skills. If you want to be a top-notch necromancer tank, you need a LOT of necromancy gear. I did that on purpose. If it didn't take much gear for Necromancy to be a top-tier tank, then the two-skill tank combos like Staff+Shield would be dumb by comparison. So in the current game, being a tanky necro requires about as much gear as being a Staff+Shield tank. (Well, balance problems with individual abilities and treasure effects blur the lines a lot ... but you get the idea of the intent.)

Since I want players to think in terms of TWO skills, the obvious solution is that there needs to be a second skill that can make Necromancy pets more tanky. Typical tanking skills like Shield are not useful for Necromancy tanks. So maybe we need a new skill here, let's call it Warding Magic: a skill that can make any pet more tanky. (Making the skill work on all pets is convenient because Animal Handling tanks have the exact same problem ... I'm just using Necromancy as an example.) Or maybe I can add variant abilities or sub-skills to an existing skill.

I'm not sure what the best answer is there, but it's something I'm thinking about. The solutions for these harder problems will probably have to wait until a future update for a robust fix. I can't make every necessary change all at once or it'll take many months to get the update out the door, and I need feedback and bug-reporting to happen as quickly as possible. So I'll make what changes I can easily make for the next update, and then with your help and feedback we’ll iterate on skills that need more dramatic changes.


Longer Cooldowns

Another fundamental fix I need to make is to increase the reset time of abilities. This ties directly into making both of your combat skills important: if you can complete the fight by pressing just a few combat abilities – because they are off of cooldown and available to use over and over – it's always going to make more sense to have all your abilities come from the same skill. By slowing down the reset times, it becomes more likely that you can fit in some abilities from your other skill.

Long story short, I'm slowing down the reset timers on many abilities. 5-second abilities will mostly become 7-second or 8-second abilities; 7-second abilities become 10-second, and so on. This obviously will change combat a LOT, and the changes will cascade everywhere -- monsters, treasure, XP curves, treasure-effects. These will be some weird times, but after a few iterations, the eventual result will be more-fun combat.

This also helps address a boringness problem. It might be more powerful to make just a few abilities really strong, but it's more boring to play ... and that's a warning sign. In MMO design, ideally the "right" way to play shouldn't also be the "boring" way to play.


Power Management

Another issue on my radar is Power management. This is an area where I wish I had more time to play the game myself, because I don't feel like I fully understand where the problems are. With the skills I use most when testing, I don't really have major Power management problems at level 60. And when I do data analysis, I see that a slight majority of level 60 players also have no trouble with Power: they finish most combats with a lot of their Power remaining. In a few cases players basically have infinite Power and can fight forever without stopping.

But on the other hand, many players report having a LOT of trouble with Power management. And this is where it gets kind of nebulous for me. Some skills are just harder to manage Power for than others, and some abilities and treasure effects are out of whack ... but in other cases, I can only guess at what's wrong. More players complain of Power problems during the 40-50 level range than the 50-60 range, which might mean that level 40 players aren't finding gear that eases their power management problems ... or it might mean that the monsters are just too tough in that range. If players feel they have to focus entirely on DPS gear, they don't have room to include Power management gear. Or maybe it's something else. It's not really obvious what the problems are just by looking at metrics. So this is something I'd like more input on. Especially if you've come "out the other side", going from being Power-starved to having plenty of Power, I want to know: what happened to change your Power needs?

In the next update I'm planning to be more generous with Power pretty much across the board. That's because the changes mentioned above -- longer cooldowns, more diffusely-spread gear effects -- will require you to use more abilities to finish a fight, which means you need more Power than before. So I'll be boosting the variables I have handy -- Power costs of abilities, power restoration of treasure effects, the potency of consumables, the impact of Combat Refresh. In the very short term, I'd rather you have too much Power than too little Power, because the other changes in the next update will cause enough chaos on their own. But as we keep iterating, Power is a big thing I'm working on and worrying about.

The other Power-related thing I need to do is get players to use food and drink all the time. Power costs are based on the idea that you start each fight with most of your Power, and food and drink are how you recover your resources quickly between fights. But when I do data analysis, I can see that most players don't use food or drink routinely, even if they often run out of Power mid-fight. The reasons for this are numerous and complicated, and this isn't something I'll be able to "fix" with a magic wand, but it's something I want to work on in future iterations.


Helping Players Switch Gear

I'm still working on the best way to deal with existing gear. On the one hand, I need to get all existing single-skill equipment out of the game, and the easiest way to do that is to mark gear as Legacy if it has too many effects from a single skill. But that will be kinda stressful on alpha testers, because you'll need to replace all your loot within a month. On the other hand, due to the ability-timer changes, you'll probably want to revise your gear sooner than later anyway. And I need to get the gear change underway ASAP so that I can start getting useful metrics of how the new system works.

So I want to do some sort of event or special activity that can make it easier to replace or alter your existing gear. But the ideas off the top of my head are either too good (you get too much free loot) or are too targeted (a "trade in your gear" event really benefits long-term players with hoards of gear more than it does mid-level players). I'll be thinking about this carefully over the next couple of weeks, and your ideas are welcome too. Hopefully together we'll come up with something to make the transition a bit easier without devolving into "loot piñatas for everyone" ... although that isn't the worst thing to happen in alpha, anyway.


Other Stuff in The Next Update

Beyond the above "big picture" combat changes, I'm also trying to fit in as many medium-sized combat changes as I can. Since you'll want new gear anyway, I'd prefer you not to need yet ANOTHER set of new gear in the next couple of updates after this one. But it will depend on the complexity of each change. Some will be easy enough to add to this update, and some will have to wait.

I'll talk about more combat-related changes in the next blog post. I should also mention that the next update has more than just these combat changes in it ... and I'll cover some of that stuff soon too!