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The Patcher's Perspective on 2.4 and 2.5

By Forlong - 29th May 2010 - 23:17 PM

It's been three months since my last blog, The Future of 2.02. In that blog, I promised to keep updating the 2.02 patch, but with the goal of keeping patches small and infrequent:
...large updates are disruptive and eliminate continuity in the community. Players may play less often if they know a large update is on the way, since there's not much point in mastering strategies if they're about to change. Future updates must be much much smaller than they are now, so as not to seriously affect the game. Besides, the game is already very well balanced, so things should stay pretty much as they are right now. Soon, our patches should be about the size of a BT2:DC update. Also, they should be less frequent than they are at the moment. Small patches should have about three months in between them, and somewhat larger patches should follow even longer periods of stability.
Source: The Future of 2.02

Though this is still the ultimate goal, I'm afraid it may have been a bit too ambitious too soon. The longer between patch releases, the more time there is for more changes to get added to the patch, making it a bigger patch. It's been three months since 2.3, resulting in the changelog for 2.4 being quite large, certainly many times larger than BT2DC 2.5, and far larger than my goal was for it to be. Being realistic, the best way to keep patch size down is to release more more frequently. The downside is that breaks replay compatibility, so we can't be too frequent. It's a tradeoff: do we want smaller patches, or do we want fewer patches? What's the right balance?

For 2.5, the choice is "smaller." I'm aiming to get 2.5 out within the next month or two. Probably, two months between small (for real) patches is a realistic goal for the future. But, what will change in 2.5? Fortunately, we are starting to run out of stuff to change, as the patch is getting so good, which will help us with our goal of keeping updates smaller and fewer. I've got a couple things planned, like changing Isengard and Mordor Lumber Mills so that they don't reduce the resources of your main resource buildings as if they were one (to match Goblins Lumber Mills), but the focus of 2.5 is primarily going to be on polishing up 2.4 changes. Why? Because 2.4 has made some rather large, risky changes to the game. At this stage of the patch's maturity that's pretty odd, since everything is so well-balanced that there shouldn't be need for large changes anymore. But in some cases, the potential gameplay benefit was too great not to risk a large change. The benefit of being a community patch is that if something goes wrong, we can just revert the change down the road. That's what we can use 2.5 for.

I'm going to use the rest of this blog to highlight the biggest changes in 2.4. Be on the lookout for these changes when you're playing 2.4. Provide feedback in the soon-to-be-created 2.5 Balance Suggestions thread and let me know what changes worked, what didn't, and what mostly worked but just needs tweaked a little. Of course, these are by no means the only important changes in 2.4, there are lots more: read the changelog to see them all.

Siege Weapons

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Ranged siege weapons are getting perhaps the most important change in 2.4. Siege has probably been the most messed up element of the game through the history of RotWK. Even in 2.3, some siege weapons are totally useless unupgraded: Men Trebuchets, Dwarven Catapults, and Angmar Stone Throwers do virtually no damage at all to structures without their damage upgrades. Mordor Catapults share the same problem, but are more useful since their low cost makes them almost spammable against enemy infantry. On the other hand, when upgraded, the three aforementioned catapults become Ruthless Killing Machines, taking down even Fortresses in seconds. Something is not right here.

The siege engines were fine in BFME II, even before 1.05. What went wrong in the transition to RotWK to make these units useless? In BFME II, the siege weapons did damage in radius 100 around where they landed. This is a pretty big radius and looked rather silly against enemy units, so the RotWK team reduced the radius to 50. Since RotWK was created by an outside studio, not EA themselves (which, believe it or not, did a good job on the original BFME II), mistakes were made, and this was one of them. The damage that ranged siege units deal to structures is actually tied into the radius of the weapon, and is variable based on where the weapon hits the structure. The smaller the radius, the smaller the hit, the smaller the damage. It just so happens that 50 radius is just small enough to reduce the damage to basically nothing. Presumably the RotWK devs that made the radius change weren't aware of this, or underestimated its effects. Either way, if they noticed that their weapons that were supposed to be "strong vs. structures" no longer actually damaged structures, they didn't do anything about it. So to fix this, 2.4 reverts their radius back to 100, like in BFME II, although only against structures. This materializes as a huge increase in damage output against structures. If you buy some unupgraded siege weapons and throw them at the enemy base in 2.4, they'll actually be noticed.

There are some other changes too, like the reintroduction of friendly fire (which was also removed in BFME II), though your own units won't take quite as much damage as enemy units would. There are other unit-specific changes as well, like the addition to the upgraded Men and Angmar catapults of the property of their unupgraded weapons that causes the radius of the attack to affect the damage, resulting in the decrease of the effectiveness of the upgraded ammunition (which is still probably very overpowered nevertheless, please post opinions in the 2.5 Balance Suggestions Topic). The Men Workshop will cost a bit more, as will Mordor Catapults (which will also fire slower) and Stone Throwers. Ent damage has been hugely reduced to offset the radius increase, though I personally think it could go even lower than it is now as Ents are very powerful.

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Ballistae are a bit different, as are Mountain Giants. Since the original Unofficial 2.02, Ballistae have always done full damage to structures on impact, so increasing their damage radius won't change anything. In 2.4, Ballistae do fire 11% faster and do cost more (400 resources, from 300), however. Ballistae were pretty powerful already, though; I'm not sure why nobody complained that they were too cheap for 300 resources, as they most certainly were.

Mountain Giants, on the other hand, already had 100 radius against structures. (In 2.0, they had only 70 radius vs. structures, which is why they did much less damage.) Giants are changing a bit in 2.4 too, though: an older patch change that reduced their ranged damage against nonstructures by 66.6% has been reverted, brining them in line with all other siege weapons once again. Perhaps this will encourage the purchase of Giants from the Fissure?