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Dev Update, September 15

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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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