Expansion is dead

Discussion in 'Balance Discussions' started by Quitch, October 11, 2014.

  1. Quitch

    Quitch Post Master General

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    This is going to be a long post and I may confuse my timelines a little. Apologies for the wall of text, but I want to ensure I'm clear in my reasoning and outlining the multiple changes that have led us to the meta we have today.

    Introduction

    Transport your mind back to March 2014. @matizpl was king of the game, the meta favoured rushing T2 as quickly as possible and then rolling over your opponent. No one used T1 because it was worthless.

    @cola_colin came along and changed all that. He pioneered the expansion gameplay that became favoured during this T2 era. You expanded hard, you proxied, you hit people from every side. T1 saw a limited use in attempting to shut down an opponent's expansion while you carried out your own. The opening was slow, but we saw a game of parry and thrust as you attempted to find a weakness in your opponent's line. Vehicles acted as your sledgehammer, but their speed meant proxying was essential, meanwhile the speed of bots compared to vehicles meant they filled very different yet equally viable role.

    [​IMG]
    King of the Planet 4 - Matiz proxies in the SW

    The balance between T2 factories was excellent. Whether to go vehicles, bots or air as your first T2 was a choice that came down to a player's style, and that choice had large ramifications for how the late game developed. Of course air had the same problem it has today, you had to have some or you lost.

    Not everyone liked it, but I must admit I was a fan of the style and with just a few tweaks to things like turrets I saw it becoming an excellent balance. I think there was an assumption among the community at the time that this is what would happen.

    A New Balance

    As we know, that's not what happened. There were a series of major overhauls to the balance completely changing how the game played (leading to yet another "toys out of the pram" community moment). The PA of today has little resemblance to that time. It could be argued that many of the changes made during that time have led to a lot of the performance issues we see today, favouring huge numbers of T1 units.

    Expansion has died. Current builds favour almost constant production; you spam Dox and the first person to stop spamming Dox loses the game. Your Commander will do nothing but pump out factories, and you'll open with one fabber, potentially growing to three later. Expansion is frowned upon because it demands energy, and that means building energy plants instead of more factories and thus you lose the Dox spam war. @elodea is now our king.

    If you want to see the evolution of the meta I think King of the Planet is a great way to track it. Except for number 7 :)

    I want to examine the factors that have led us to this rather one-dimensional meta.

    The Death of Expansion

    T1 Tanks Get a Boost

    One of the things to change during the balance overhaul was that T1 tanks got a speed boost. Previously they had been very slow, and this fit into the rough setup that existed of vehicles being the sledgehammer frontal assault mechanism. They also got a DPS and HP bump around the time turrets were being simultaneously nerfed.

    Immediately every map in the game became smaller. Expansion was a lot riskier now because turrets were less viable to hold territory, but more importantly the unit your opponent would use to assault your base was now also the best unit to raid you. Shutting down your expansion not only limited your economy, it also grew the army that would win them the game. It became in effect what the Dox is now, though not quite as powerful as it still had its original LOS and no means to attack air fabbers.

    [​IMG]
    King of the Planet 5 - expanding is hard but not impossible

    King of the Planet 5 was fought about a week after these changes were made. Compare it to King of the Planet 4 which was fought under the T2 rush balance.

    Dox Get A Boost

    In what might be the most radical change to the balance ever, Dox recently received a huge series of buffs. better LOS, better range, ability to go underwater, and a cost decrease. This was all in addition to the speed increase they'd received not long before. It changed the meta overnight, we went from tank battles with inferno and air support with some limited expansion to all Dox all day with virtually no expansion. At the same time the bot factory was changed to become as energy efficient as its vehicle counterpart, using 11 less energy per metal which is an efficiency improvement of 20%.

    It felt like a change made too quickly (the T2 rush meta was allowed to develop for almost two months), perhaps because release was quickly approaching, or perhaps due to the way balance was tested smashing units together. There was a feeling in the community that Dox were underpowered, but a lot of this seemed to be back of a napkin math. The streams were showing players starting to work Dox into their game as a means to shut down an opponent's expansion (as you would back in the T2 rush days). They were proving to be more useful than people gave them credit for. I recall Elodea arguing that they were a viable unit. Had the balance been allowed to breathe for a bit longer I suspect Dox would have had a place.

    Now they can do everything too well. Their LOS means they can avoid tanks when they need to, they can scout in place of Skitters and Fireflies, their speed means they pick the place of engagement, it also means expansion is virtually impossible because Dox are everywhere and it only takes one to kill a fabber.

    [​IMG]
    King of the Planet 9 - the NW expansion hasn't even been contested

    For a while it looked like a balance would be found between Dox and Tanks, with Bumblebee's getting a change to the way they dropped bombs and being less vulnerable following a reduction in Dox weapon velocity. Unfortunately the meta has once more settled into all Dox, in what can be described as the most tedious meta since the T2 air rushes of January/February.

    Expansion was already dying as a means of play, but the Dox boost killed it off. King of the Planet 9 will show you this meta in action, and it's only gotten worse since then.

    Commanders Get a Boost

    Factory first was something I was big on. Virtually every game opened with either 2 MEX, 1 energy, 1 MEX, 1 factory or 1 MEX, 1 energy, 2 MEX, 1 factory. You could take a nap during the first minute of play, a minute where no decisions were made.

    There was a lot of discussion about how to enable factory first and in the end Uber went with tripling the commander's income. This led to not only factory first, but factory second too (maybe with a MEX in between).

    [​IMG]
    A modern opening (with second fabber misclick)

    The commander provides such an excellent opening income that play has become all about rushing, it is the only way to play. It is this change which has combined with the other T1 boosts to effectively remove expansion from the game. You can get so many fast units out so quickly that a fabber never has a chance, and your only response is to spam hard right back at your opponent. With the vision and speed of Dox right now there's virtually no chance of sneaking out some MEX that won't be discovered.

    Fixing the Problem

    I hope I've convinced you that this problem is real, that we're stuck in a one-dimensional meta which it doesn't seem like we're going to break out of any time soon. I've focused on expansion as it seems like the first issue that needs solving. There are issues with the viability of T2 as well, but I don't want to side-track this discussion into that.

    All three changes listed above have led to an increase in rush play, your T1 units are faster, your Dox see further, your Commander can support your war machine. Meanwhile fabbers haven't changed at all, they're the same speed and efficiency as ever, which means they've been left behind in the arms race that has occurred over the past few months to make T1 increasingly effective.

    I believe that the current state of the meta indicates that the balance by extremes approach failed, and I strongly believe that tweaks to the March/April meta would have led to a much stronger balance, therefore I'd like to see a more cautious and incremental approach taken to balance in the future.

    My view is that the Commander's income should be reduced to a third of what it is now (effectively restoring what it used to be), but the amount of storage it provides increased. This would allow for an early factory, but wouldn't provide the economy necessary to power your entire war machine. It is my hope that this would lead to an increased importance of fabbers, then from there further adjustments could be made as we see whether this is the case.

    I hope this will spark some debate.
    Last edited: October 11, 2014
  2. igncom1

    igncom1 Post Master General

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    Would mix up the games start certainly.

    Personally id love to some more differentiation between the single and double turrets too.

    Make the single laser a little cheaper, and have the turret turn faster, but possibly only do enough damage per shot to deal with dox....possibly a accuracy upgrade?

    Essentially a cheap anti- raid turret, that falls over fairly quickly against tanks, but with time for walls, can deal with tank raids too.


    Then take the double turret, and make it a little slower, but hit much harder, make it really dig into enemy infernos, if only one at a time.
  3. zihuatanejo

    zihuatanejo Well-Known Member

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    I don't play that much, but I have been playing since late alpha, and I wholeheartedly agree that the game has become very 'stale' right now for competitive, single-planet 1v1 games. The Dox rush is boring as hell. I mentioned earlier today in the t2 timing viability thread that I feel like I barely scratch the surface of the game because most of it is redundant for this gameplay.

    I miss proxy bases and trying to find a tactical weakpoint, instead of just overwhelming with Dox. Turrets aren't very useful, except in a few specific situations.

    I don't know enough about the game and RTS genres etc, to know how to change the balance for the better - balance is clearly very hard to achieve - but I do feel that it is quite boring right now.
    Knub23, philoscience and elodea like this.
  4. orangerinapay

    orangerinapay Active Member

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    The problem is obviously the dox speed (as elodea has said before) is just too much (20 speed?!?) that wolf packs of dox would assemble at every expansion point ready to snipe the fabber.

    A good way to fix this is too reduce the spam and speed of dox, there other stats are already top notch.

    However, since dox were so fast Uber decided to make bumblebee targeting more accurate at crushing packs of Usain Bolts sprinting around your outskirts without realizing that now fabricators can't dodge their payload anymore (in the KOTP match of clopse vs matiz, clopse spammed and microed bumblebees to harass matizs expansion and came in with a tank force as matiz tried to recover leading to his utter demise)

    So simply reverting dox speed and bumblebee accuracy would help fabbers a lot.
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  5. Quitch

    Quitch Post Master General

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    Note that Dox speed was increased several patches before any other stats. People complained they were under-powered, meanwhile elodea was doing things like combining Skitters with them. I'm not sure speed is the first value I'd want to reduce on Dox, things like LOS seem to serve only to reduce the value of other units. On the other hand perhaps speed is what makes fabbers so doomed.

    That King of the Planet was long prior to Bumblebee accuracy being changed. The Bumblebee bombing changes hasn't been present for any KotP.
  6. stuart98

    stuart98 Post Master General

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    I too feel like the T2 rush balance was the most compelling one we ever had. The amount of options it presented to the player and the lack of snowballing meant that the games were exciting from start to finish and rarely did it feel like a player was out of options. Vanguard drops, kestrel snipes, sniper bots, shellers, very few units were non-viable and the ways to end a game were legion. When I designed Statera a large portion of my early changes were intended to bring us back to the old era, but tweaked so that teching to T2 could be delayed for a time and losing a T2 fac wasn't as major of a blow. I reduced speed of everything back to how it was before and made the units feel very similar to how they felt at the time.

    Uber plz bring us back to the glory days of PA. It's no coincidence that we haven't had two major tournaments in a month since this meta, where it happened twice (although by the second tourney of the second time was after the grenadier-combat fab patch had gone live). The game back then never felt dull and a couple minor tweaks (Biggest being fixing peregrines) the game balance could have been nearly perfect aside from T2 rush; a few more would have fixed even that.
    philoscience and elodea like this.
  7. orangerinapay

    orangerinapay Active Member

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    Sorry, what I meant to say is that in that KOTP on Tanis, matiz was able to micro his engineers and dodge the bumblebees. However now it is even harder since their accuracy has been increased. Then again I believe only top players were able to dodge bumble payloads at that time.
    Quitch likes this.
  8. stuart98

    stuart98 Post Master General

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    Bumblebees now drop bombs a certain way. Go the opposite way and bomb dodging is easy.
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  9. Quitch

    Quitch Post Master General

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    It's harder for sure, though elodea was telling me just the other day that he's now able to dodge 100% of the time. You just have to be tighter with your timing, dodge too early and the bombs will be tracking you.
  10. orangerinapay

    orangerinapay Active Member

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    Well he is the King...
  11. stuart98

    stuart98 Post Master General

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    Speaking of which, what's with the lack of KotPs as of late? Are you waiting for the meta to improve? Has no one dared to challenge the king?
  12. orangerinapay

    orangerinapay Active Member

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    Still in the smoking room waiting for bets I believe
  13. mjshorty

    mjshorty Well-Known Member

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    (i shall use excellent feedback and well thought out suggestions to your post)

    Turrets and pelters need buff
  14. cola_colin

    cola_colin Moderator Alumni

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    I'd argue like this:

    To expand you need to build structures with engineers. Those eat energy. A LOT. Energy limits player economy all the time, so players rather spam dox, which is cheaper on energy.

    Fix the energy balance and you'll fix the issue. Unless players forget to build energy players should be limited by metal on normal maps. Like limited by metal even after they took as much as possible. Look at how FA economy works. It's perfect.
    philoscience and zihuatanejo like this.
  15. elodea

    elodea Post Master General

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    First of all, great post quitch!!

    I've tried dox/tank, I've tried air/tank, I've tried 1 fabber tank builds, I've tried turret/tank, I've tried air heavy, I've tried infernodier, I've tried tank/commander all in's, I've tried orbital. All of them had initial success and looked promising, some more so than others, but in the end the dox spam meta would adapt in some way with it's superior versatility like some kind of mutant virus.

    Well played dox spam imho is favoured over all other strategies and build orders. Where you might face slightly more difficult challenges from game to game, you have the resource flexibility over your opponent to switch it up slightly to an easier road to victory. Or just take the map and spam overwhelming amounts of 'usain bolts' =D.

    Absolutely there is a problem of stale gameplay right now. Whatever solution one might want to implement will always have multiple opinions, but there is less and less room every day to deny that dox spam is the only viable general strategy. Yes, you can get maps that force disadvantage to dox fighting, or provide + advantage to defensive turtling, but they arn't the norm. Also, the air fighting is just the thing that players use to try get air control = bombers to tip the dox numbers in their favour, which brings us back once again to doxdoxdox.

    Anyway, dox unit power is only one part of the problem when it comes to the general issue of expansion (by that i mean using more than 3 fabbers). It's also acting as a symptom of other pacing issues. For example, during the tank spam meta days, people were still struggling to justify going for t2 though not as much as now. Taking this problem and breaking it down further, I'm just going to assert a bunch of problem areas and then list some explanation and support.

    1) T1 fabbers are too relatively inefficient to everything else.
    This might have you wondering why the community only started to realise this now instead of many many months ago, since t1 fabbers havn't actually seen changes. A few reasons from highest to lowest

    a. The difficulty in scaling up mobile build power and thus expansion. Let's get rid of assymetrical unit interaction for a moment to simplify out the fluff and work on a more underlying layer.

    To win a game, you need units, to get units you need factories. So the overarching question is always "what is the most optimal amount of build power i can throw into the production of factory buildings?". To support a certain growth rate of factories you need both the resources to support those factories as they come online, and the commander + any fabbers who are using up build power to build said factories, as well as the fabbers who are creating metal and power to support the whole thing.

    The high cascading cost of adding just one additional fabber to the task of building factories is kinda like launching rockets into space. You need energy to power each additional fabber, which means you need +fabbers to build those pgens, and that fabber in turn needs pgens built with your commander. You also need additional metal expansion in order to power not only the above additional fabbers, but the additional rate of factories that are being build. This can only be done with another fabber expanding metal, and to power that fabber you need to once again pay an upfront cost of ~1.5 pgens. The cost of additional fabbers is very high.

    b. See point 5.

    c. There is low lag time between unit production and unit pressure. High speed of units results in ability to quickly capitalize unit count or factory count advantage into real world map and metal control advantage. Again, the time cost of building all the additional pgen structures to support additional fabbers is very high compared to factory prioritisation because of this.

    d.
    People have started learning how to play incredibly efficiently - how to maximise unit count, how to maximise factory count because the punishment for not doing so has become greater. You try to build as many factories as possible with your commander, which means not building pgens with him if you can avoid it. Or putting off the pgens till later so you have more overall 'factory uptime'. Each pgen is about one factory worth of opportunity cost.

    2) Dox have too much vision for their speed, or vice versa.
    This one comes down to dev preference given some accessibility goal and some intended unit role goal ofcourse, but there will always need to be a tradeoff here.

    I am personally biased towards standardised vision ranges that do not vary too much from unit to unit unless it is an explicit purpose. With dox vs tank, we have 50% difference, which is huge. The ability to avoid fighting battles you cannot win and then manuevering to fight ones that you can is huge, especially when the majority of maps don't have chokepoints.

    3) T2 is too expensive or too powerful
    Because in PA resources directly = time to build, the current implementation of t2 power puts us in a weird position. Where t2 should be timing expensive to allow t1 play, but not as resource expensive such that t2 becomes obsolete relative to prioritisation of t1 expenditure, but this isn't possible. Basically, the power gap is too big between t1 and t2, resulting in a huge cost gap that cannot be breached.

    4) Naval is too slow
    Both naval facstory roll off and naval unit move speed are too slow. It's not exactly a problem with naval vs naval obviously, but hardly any maps are water only.

    The lag time between naval infrastructure work and application of naval unit pressure is much higher than that of land or air pressure. This combined with commander torpedo, which creates a big 'cost wall' (you first need many ships to do anything), makes naval a subpar resource prioritisation.

    5) Commander starting resource income
    Combined with point 1, this fixed income allows players to bypass fabber building. Yes, i believe the game should allow you to '6 pool', but I also think it is too strong relative to the power of the macro option. There may be too much starting energy income in particular.

    6) Cost inefficiency of certain units like grenadiers
    Which means we have less aoe unit options that could possibly stem the dox waves.


    All of these issues are easy to tweak and resolve via a small number of single variables. But like quitch said, they are also very sensitive, and the historical balance paradigm of extremes to extremes has not done the game any favours.

    --------
    The dodging with fabbers is mechanically easy if you know how to do dox dancing. You juke one direction with the fabber 90 degrees to the incoming bomber, then at the last second move the other way so that the bomber shoots it's bombs at an angle towards where it predicts the fabber should have been. Kinda the same idea as the old sniperbot micro against shellers.
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  16. zihuatanejo

    zihuatanejo Well-Known Member

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  17. mot9001

    mot9001 Well-Known Member

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    I think the bomber is incredibly hard to micro and dodging bombs feels safer then trying to dodge them (1 misclick and your bombers wont drop a single bomb and die to dox)
  18. steambirds

    steambirds Member

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    I don't think expansion is dead. I expand enough in order to get enough units to destroy all opposition on my planet, then I expand like crazy, rushing out T2, nukes and orbital so that I can quickly snipe large chunks of units and invade a hostile planet. Repeat this process for every planet with an enemy presence.
  19. squishypon3

    squishypon3 Post Master General

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    Nah it really is easy, I instantly got into it, and that was after playing a balance mod for months.

    Then again I used to be a bit of a competitive player back in alpha, maybe early beta. *shrugs*
  20. daddydbrain

    daddydbrain New Member

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    I think quitch's opinion is totally right. Our meta today is too boring/there are way to less viable builds/strategies because of simple dox spam/t1 tank deathball.
    What I think could be done(Just an idea for balance, pls tell me what you think of it):

    1. Reduce starting ressources:
    Makes base building, choosing your starting buildings and expansion more important
    and reduces the power of early unit spams.(And other reasons mentioned above)

    2. Reduce dox dps:
    What I think it would do:
    Make dox unviable in fights against tanks/bombers/static defence
    Changes the use of the dox into pretty much only raiding
    Perhaps add an extra stat that increases dox dmg against buildings for better raiding.

    Because of the dox beeing reduced to only raiding purpose tanks would be to strong, thats why:

    3. Tanks should be a little bit slower
    Positioning your army would be more important
    and you would have to find weak points in the enemys base to be efficient

    4. Grenadiers should have more hp, perhaps decrease movement speed
    Grenadiers beeing viable against tanks because they could hit them and
    having more hp would make them the bot counter for tanks.
    Would be countered by dox/air because they cant hit them

    Everybody has a opinion about balance, thats my view of it.
    Or at least I think this would fit to the units purposes(dox for raiding, tanks for sieging, grenadiers tank counter)
    Don't know, the concept isn't perfect, I just thought about it the last few days.

    Also some of the ideas mentioned above which I totally agree with:

    Naval is blaah
    T2 need balance/needs to be more viable

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