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Tennis 2018 Blue: Balance

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Sep 23rd, 2018
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  1. One of our major goals in this tennis is to fix the problem that plagued the previous entries: the very big inconsistency between the levels, making it feel more like a mashup of random custom maps, forced to somehow work together, rather than an actual, unified and streamlined campaign, where all the levels feel like they belong with each other.
  2.  
  3. Because of this, major changes and redesigns are going to have to be applied in order to achieve this goal - as the way it is right now, Tennis Blue is suffering from the very same dillema.
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  5. Seeing the campaign grow and change throughout the year of development, and having the opportunity to replay it countless times, as well as witness many other people's reactions and feedback to it, I've decided to also do one last playthrough of the current alpha in SP, where I can observe every aspect of the campaign even deeper, and draw out conclusions to what we have to do.
  6. I've prepared a mini-review of each level, where I express what I feel has to be done in order to balance it and better connect it with the rest of the levels.
  7. I'd like to open up a discussion about this and let others also express themselves - whether you agree or not, or have something new to bring to the table, please share it!
  8. Once we're all in agreement, we can lock down these goals of ours and start working on them.
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  10.  
  11. Before we jump to the levels themselves, some more global note:
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  13. Weapon consistency: One of the problems in the campaign is that weapons are randomly taken away or added in the beginning of each level, in complete disregard to your former collection of weapons. The collection of weapons throughout a campaign is an important aspect as it provides a sense of progression, as your arsenal grows bigger with every level, and when that arsenal keeps getting shuffled every time, it loses its meaning.
  14. Other than that, there's also the problem where a very big chunk of weapons are thrown out in the earliest levels, and then a smaller chunk of weapons in the later ones - for example, in the third map, by the end of it you already have the entire arsenal at your disposal, in what is supposed to be an early level of the campaign. Said arsenal disappears completely the next level.
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  16. My suggestion would be: to start maintaining a consistent and balanced arsenal throughout the campaign. That means no more "Lose Weapons" tick on chapter infos (except for the second map where I feel it's excuseable, as the context for losing the weapons makes sense, and you do regain them later on in the level), and making sure the given weapons in each level makes sense.
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  21. Fortress of Dreams (Biomechanoid):
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  23. Bio's map serves as a really great introduction to the world of Tennis Blue. It does things very much right when it comes to proper introduction to the new enemies, weapons, world and plot.
  24. The balance in the map is also just the right amount.
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  26. The only downsides I could note are the map feels a little overlong thanks to having to backtrack quite big distances, and the map in general feels pretty oversized and the sense of scale feels very much off.
  27. There isn't anything major I believe that needs to be done in Bio's map, aside from maybe some small suggestions which are in the bug document.
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  29. Prison of the Skull (Neo_minigan)
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  31. Neo's map takes a very drastic turn in the tone of the theme, nearly changing it entirely, going from the magical and fantasy world Bio previously made, into a military outpost.
  32. I've noticed that drastic turn being very unfavorable for most people, who have already settled in for the specific theme Bio set up.
  33. The new faction introduced, The Nightmare Coalition, have a very, very strange design that doesn't really make sense. Their new sounds also haven't been very favorable in most people.
  34. And lastly, the biggest flaw of the map, would be the very maze-y level design, with corridors who all look the same, it's nearly impossible to realize where you are at and can very easily get lost in the level.
  35.  
  36. To confront those problems, here's a few suggestions:
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  38. Soulmyr suggested it would be a good idea to have corridors who lead to different destinations, have different colors and more unique designs so they are better disgtinguishable and make it possible to understand where you are located.
  39. More signs to point where you are at and where to go for each destination could also help a lot.
  40.  
  41. Another great suggestion by Mauritsio is a live mini-map in your inventory, where you can see a map of the level and your position in it in real-time. This can also very greatly help battle the confusing level design.
  42.  
  43. The Nightmare Coalition faction will need a new redesign that fits better with the theme and makes more sense, and they will also need new enemies for later maps, as the same enemies are constantly reused which causes problems later on (e.g. Asdolg's map)
  44. That only leaves the problem of the department from the dream world. Suggestions to how to make the place feel like it still belongs in the dream world (similiarly to how Asdolg made his complex) are welcome.
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  46. Shattered Dreams (IDGCaptainRussia)
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  48. This map is majorly flawed in two main aspects: in the gameplay aspect and the technical aspect.
  49.  
  50. The map starts out really well and balanced, but it doesn't take long until it devolves to dragged on fights and a very, very major difficulty spike with some very annoying enemy types.
  51. Firstly, the dragged on fights: a lot of the fights outstay their welcome and just force you to sit still in the same area fighting over and over. A big no-no is keeping players stuck in the same place for long periods of time, since it becomes boring very quickly and even frustrating, when all you want to do is finally progress through the level and explore what else is out there.
  52. The wave system is the particular section I'm talking about, where you will be spending a lot of time fighting in the very same area waiting for the waves to finally end. That section is the part where most people stopped playing because it became too frustrating - I don't believe anyone managed to actually beat all the 5 waves without cheats.
  53. What I'd like to do is get rid of the whole wave system and just turn it into a single fight there, one that lasts for just as much as it needs to and rewards you accordingly. After that fight, you can head for the second tomb, when you come back to the nexus area, put up another, slightly more difficult fight and then to the third tomb. Along with making some other fights more balanced, this will greatly help with the length problem of the map so it doesn't drag on for too long, and ensures the player is always able to continue through the level and not waste time.
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  55. Other than the level design, there's the enemy designs: while the new enemies posess some very creative ideas to shaken things up, they ultimately just turn out to be a chore to take out. The frozen dreams are the kind that makes you cringe your teeth just trying to finally kill the bastard, where when you finally spend all that ammo taking down its shield, it brings the shield right back up and regenerates back every single bit of damage you spent dealing to him. They're not a very satisfying enemy to fight at all and they're not even really all that difficult - they just refuse to die. The cold sweat is way too fast - which is a big problem when there's more than one of them. (EDIT: After playing Koda's map, I was surprised to see the cold sweat's speed is actually normal. It then made me realize that, quite a lot of the enemies in this map were a lot faster than they are supposed to be. I suppose some tinkering was maybe done with the tactic entity?) But the main problem with the cold sweats is that they turn right after a charge, leaving you no time to shoot them in the back. It's hard as to get a proper glance at their back before they turn it right back, and making them a big bother to deal with and again, just a really unsatisfying enemy to fight. In the room before the second tomb, a whole bunch of them spawned together and absolutely overwhelmed me - I don't believe I am exaggerating when I am saying that I had no way to fight them back as there was always one of them charging at me at high speed, and since they turn right after every charge - leaving no space to catch a breather, all I could do was run in circles for a few minutes until I got frustrated and turned on cheats.
  56. What I would suggest to do is: For the frozen dreams, make them closer to the SS2 Neanderthals, where one shot takes down their shield, and 2-3 more finishes them off. No regenerating or any other bullshit to undo your damage, because it's simply frustrating. For the cold sweats just simply have them sit for a bit after every charge, exposing their backs and giving you a chance to strike.
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  58. Sadly I can't give proper feedback on the boss since I couldn't make it to him, which leads to the next point-
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  60. The technical aspect:
  61.  
  62. The map is *very* buggy. And it's the kind of map-bricking buggy. We've recorded over the year a ton of instances where the map broke at random points, some which we understood why and some that we have no clue why. A quick glance at the code shows why it's no surprise: one single code holds the entire map together, so if a small thing in the script breaks, the whole map stops to function. Other than that though, the code is extremely unorganized and flawed, and poses many possibilties where a small thing done not in the correct order can brick it. The most we ever managed to make it through is after the rock golem boss, the code always breaks after that boss and the map stops to function, making it impossible to continue. After fighting with it for a really long time, and after Captain Russia himself couldn't figure out how to fix it, there was a point everyone just threw in the towel and gave up - we just couldn't get it fixed.
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  64. It's a very dire problem and the only solution at this point in my opinion would be to completely re-script the map, with a more simple, compact and reliable code, that can ensure that in the case of something going wrong, it won't take down the entire map with it.
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  66. Knee Deep (Pan)
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  68. Pan's map is simple, to the point and knows exactly what its purpose is. I adore it for the fact it didn't try to do anything crazy or flip the story on its head, but instead, it provides a good catch of breath after the last few, really long and intense levels. It also starts opening up a more in-depth personality in Murray, who previously haven't done much more than just provide the player with hints and jabs at the main plot. It's very nice to be able to have a filler moment like this.
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  70. Reception on the map has also been positive from most people so far, so I don't believe there is much to do in Pan's level other than small suggestions or details.
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  72. Necropolis (StealthToast)
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  74. Toast's map might be lacking in level design, but it makes up for it with a rich and much needed story clarification, as well as very interesting new additions to the plot, such as Stefan and Loyand.
  75. The map also doesn't go overboard with the enemy encounters, and in fact, is actually really well balanced, not overwhelming or dragging out fights. It's just the right amount.
  76. I adore the map for the story enhancement it provides and providing a backstory to which the player can better understand the world they are inside of.
  77.  
  78. There isn't much to really do in Toast's map either. Some people have expressed concern with the long dialogue, so part of it might be turned into a skippable cutscene.
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  80. Dark Secrets (kodatarule)
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  82. Koda's map takes a very sharp twist at the plot - and perhaps a little bit too sharp of a twist, going as far as to kill the two skulls, who the previous maps have been working so hard to create character for. Stefan didn't even get a chance for a spotlight, getting killed right after just meeting him, and denying him the chance to grow as a character. I remember the first time I played the map, I was a bit shocked to find out this revelation, which then turned into major disappointment, seeing my favorite characters just kind of.. unnecessarily killed?
  83.  
  84. I figured it doesn't make much sense to just kill both off, so I've came up with an alternate solution which still keeps Koda's intention with the plot, and also creates for an interesting turn point in the campaign. Instead of killing both skulls, it can turn into a choice - you have to pick only a single skull to sacrifice in order to initiate the process, and depending on which skull you pick, you will get permenant new perks to aid you on your journey to the nightmare lord. For example, sacrificing murray could
  85. grant you 20% extra damage on every hit dealt and 30% damage resistance from incoming hits, and sacrifcing stefan could give you 20% extra speed, and 30% chance to avoid any damage from incoming hits. Sacrificing both skulls could give you a mix of both, like 20% extra damage and 20% chance to avoid any damage from incoming hits. That sort of thing.
  86. In my opinion, it makes sense to grant these new abilities as the levels get harder from that point on, and giving the player a chance to interact with the world and influence the outcome is a great way of keeping the player invested.
  87.  
  88. Aside from the plot, the map itself was fairly balanced for its place and I don't believe there's anything to change in regards to that. I was a little disappointed by there being yet another map that is just fighting in one area, but we're not going to redesign the whole map of course, and since it's the last map to do that and doesn't drag on for *too* long, I think it's alright.
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  90. Gates of Heaven (Opticus)
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  92. Opticus' map came as a very pleasant surprise to me - it ended up being a lot better than what I initially expected. The map manages to follow the plot very well and creates a good objective to transfer the player into the nightmare realm - the final destination in the campaign. The map is just the right length and it serves as the point where things start getting more difficult - which is just right with the new arsenal and (soon to be) new perks. Although more difficult, it still does it in a balanced way where it doesn't feel like
  93. bullshit or frustrating.
  94.  
  95. All in all, Opticus did a great job on the map and I don't think there's much to change there besides small suggestions and details.
  96.  
  97. Nightmare Realm (Harbinger)
  98.  
  99. Harb's map is well.. another Harb map. Which means you can expect giant empty fields with the same repeating textures, floating models and design choices that feel like not a lot of thought went into them.
  100.  
  101. The main thing that bothers me is how so many new stuff are thrown into the map without really making any sense, and without introducing them in a proper manner. Harb ended up creating a ton of random new enemies and just throws them all at you from the moment you start the map. The enemy designs are missing the unique design patterns that Bio made and the unique design patterns that defined the dream creatures.
  102. They feel more like various models that were taken out of random games without much thought to how well do they actually fit in the campaign, and just painted with Bio's effects to excuse their existence.
  103. It's something that bothered me quite a bit, but there's not much that can be done about it at this point. They can only be polished (Devo has already done a fantastic job overhauling some of them, but some of them still have some really bad animations, or absolutely lazy ragdolls) and given more meaningful entrances during the map - instead of throwing everything together. Let the player meet the new foes.
  104.  
  105. Second thing in that topic, is the Tau Cannon, which is another thing I feel was thrown into the map without real consideration to what purpose does it actually serve.
  106. The Tau Cannon at that point of the campaign is nearly useless - it's just weak and you won't be using it for much at all. The Quantum Destabilizer would have made more sense.
  107.  
  108. Gameplay wise, it's all fairly balanced and well, despite the enemy encounters being rather boring - they always spawn in a piled up group which you have to take out, and then you move on to the next part where you take care of the next piled up group. The boss however felt like bullshit - gigantic projectiles which you can barely avoid (not to mention, one of those oversized projectiles was a demon fireball, those ludicrously fast projectiles that follow you around), and a whole horde of backup enemies that overwhelm you when you are trying to focus on the boss' gigantic projectiles. Backup enemies on a boss should be just that - backup enemies.
  109. They should keep you on your toes but not to a point where they start becoming the main focus other than the boss. The boss part needs some nerfing.
  110.  
  111. Other than that, visually, some little details could be in place, like taking care of those floating models and making the ground look not so repetitive.
  112.  
  113. Ancient Complex (Asdolg)
  114.  
  115. Asdolg's map solves the nightmare coalition conflict by turning their over to the dream wanderer's side - a little bit cliche maybe, but it works.
  116. The map is very much unique and beautiful in style, and it also plays well with fairly balanced fights (after the update) and moments that really stand out - the reactor room fight was quite a fun fight, it opens up a huge arena with a lot of enemies to fight, and yet at the same time it keeps everything in such a balance where it doesn't feel overwhelming and feels like you're still totally kicking ass. It was a really well-designed fight.
  117. Even so though, the map still requires more enemy variety, which is a task I have taken on myself to re-design the nightmare coalition and add more enemy variety in them.
  118.  
  119. The only thing I would complain about is that although the map is really unique and beautiful, it can also quickly get eye straining and not so pleasant to look at anymore, since nearly all the walls are textured with these very cluttered patterns, and the lighting can be quite sharp and too contrast at times. https://i.imgur.com/mdWIdoF.jpg
  120. Whether Asdolg wants to figure out a better way to paint the map, I'll leave it up to him, as I don't think it's too much of a dire issue.
  121.  
  122. Ruins of Tenebriaquies (Devostator)
  123.  
  124. Devo's map provides an excellent final level to the campaign. It features interesting level design, balanced enemy fights and wonderful atmosphere.
  125.  
  126. The map starts a little calm and not very action packed before preparing you for the final fight outside - the world Devo created is exactly in the same vein as the one Bio created, and Devo has done an excellent job in telling to the player that "this is your final destination now". The fights are all well balanced and fun to play. Similarly to the reactor room in Asdolg's map, Devo's final fight also features a large open area with many enemies swarming you from every side - and yet it still does it in such a way where everything feels balanced and not overwhelming. If I died, I felt like my death was justified. It will also make sure you will put all your weapons up to good use.
  127. The little details such as the weather change at that part are absolutely fantastic for setting up the tone.
  128. The boss is a ton of fun to fight, with many different and unique attacks (something very rare nowadays), and it provides a good final challenge.
  129.  
  130. All in all, the map is a great closure to the campaign and it was the most fun I've had during my playthrough.
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