Developer Journal: Update 3 and the Skill System Changes
One of the most difficult aspects of creating an MMO is keeping the vision in line with the reality. As developers, we spend countless hours talking about and documenting what we intend to put into a game and how those features will be used by the playerbase; the reality is people will always come up with ways to play the game that you never thought of. This means that we have to be able to adapt quickly and be continually evaluating what is in the game, what needs to be in the game, and what needs to be adjusted or changed. Update 3 is a large part of this process.
In Auto Assault, skills play a major factor in PVE and in PVP combat; a single skill cast might change a battle in your favor. The system itself is very large and complex, involving over 500 total skills that are available to the players. Balancing a system this large for playability and fun provides a unique challenge. In Update 3 we have started revisiting this aspect of the game and tweaking it for more playability and fun. We have been systematically going through and changing how certain skills work, the amount of damage they do, re-fire rates, and point costs to acquire and balance between the different races and classes. The end result of this effort is to make a system geared more towards player skill as opposed to mashing the same buttons over and over or in a specific sequence. We don't want every encounter to be the same, or every map to be a rehash of the previous with just higher level creatures. We want the players to be able to adjust their characters' build depending on their goals, what they hope to accomplish and what aspect of the game they enjoy the most.
One of the larger obstacles when revisiting a skill system is attempting to identify all the areas that will be affected by a single change. Even something as simple as adding 100 points to a health stat buff can have a large impact on both PVP and PVE. Recognizing the areas where problems may occur and avoiding them while balancing the skills is extremely important...and extremely difficult, considering the complex systems involved in an MMO. If an error makes it live then there is no telling how quickly it can be fixed. Also, when changing a skill in a positive way for one class it has be recognized that the skill will be used against another player. So a buff of one skill is in a way a nerf to the people that fight against that skill. The changes generally need to be done in a small, incremental fashion, and in a way that allows others that come against the skill to be able to counter it or master an alternative way to deal with it.
Another one of the overall goals with the skill pass was to maintain the ability of a solo player to do well in the game and have fun, but also have skills that complement a group. We have added a lot of new content geared toward both high and low level players in this update. We have also added solo and group encounters that, along with the changes to skills, will help the players experience the game in a new way. The shift towards adding group content is an ongoing evaluation that will take us past Update 3 and into future updates as well. If determining how a single skill change will affect a single player in PVE and PVP is difficult, determining all of the effects that a skill change will have on a convoy of players can seem insurmountable. Skills that complement each other have to conform to certain boundaries and "norms" that are defined by the designers. Anytime a skill or a group of skills together goes outside of that set boundary, then players will experience the game's content in a way that conflicts with the design intention. The main risk of this is that characters aren't truly developed according to the player's goals and the game is no longer fun.
Overall, Update 3 is taking Auto Assault down a new road - a road where player skill is more important than player luck, where players can fine tune their character to fit their play style, and where different tactics are needed to approach different obstacles. Human, mutant, and biomek, are only the first of your choices. Through game play, quests, encounters, interactions with other players, and skill choices your character will become unique. The final result is a post-apocalyptic world of challenges and opportunities to prove yourself against all foes.
-Matt Shaffer, Co-Project Lead NetDevil