Saturday, July 13, 2013

CPM Activity Report #4 - July 12, 2013


We're now a little over a week past the launch of Uprising 1.2, a release that I now believe to be a pretty clear indicator of what we can expect in the coming months for Dust514. Iterative, smaller updates (in terms content - certainly not download size) that contain a mixture of gameplay and performance adjustments, along with a smattering of new gear here and there. As of the publishing of this report, the CPM has also seen what will be coming in the next two releases – and they're very much in the same vein, with 1.3 being a bit smaller than 1.2, and 1.4 potentially loaded with even more game-changing features than 1.2.

The good news is that there's little debate that the 1.2 patch hit most of the targets it was swinging for – a noticeable framerate increase, a sealed up memory leak, and a complete revision of weapon ranges to include falloff damage. In fact, the performance of the game was so noticeably improved that its created a host of "phantom" buffs / nerfs from everything to movement speed to splash damage that has everyone thinking CCP messed with mechanics they didn't even touch code-wise. Like peeling an onion another layer, speeding up Dust514's responsiveness made some weapons shine, others become obnoxious, and launched heated debates about strafe speed and hit detection. The lesson here is that during this iteration on the game's core – expect the unexpected. I seriously doubt this will be the last time we see unintended side effects of fixing many of the game's most glaring flaws.

Improvements to the core aside, the new content released in 1.2 left a lot to be desired. In my own playtime, I've been extensively testing out the new Commando heavy suit, with about every combination of dual light weapon and high/low slot module (Yes, module – I can only fit one of each with my current skill). Of all the gear additions, the Commando suit has the most promise. The ability to switch between the Assault Scrambler Rifle and the Mass Driver to pinpoint shields and armor respectively works better than fitting a complex damage modifier with either weapon individually, and mitigates the lack of fitting on the suit itself. But despite its versatility in weapon carry – its still a heavy suit, and even with the increased speed the sluggish movement fails to compensate for the lack of tank and it just can't stand toe-to-toe with an assault. If the Commando could simply run, turn, and aim as efficiently as every other light weapon class, and keep pace with your logistics partner – it would be a viable alternative frontline suit as well as an excellent flanker. Thankfully, CCP Remnant has remained active in Skype the last couple of weeks and been receptive to feedback, and I hope he continues to iterate on this suit in future releases.

Armor tanking, on the other hand, continues to suffer badly in the greater combat meta – and player predictions that the Ferroscale and Reactive plates wouldn't improve the situation were overwhelmingly confirmed. More than anywhere else, fixing the balance between shield and armor tanking is an area where CCP needs to engage the community and listen closely to feedback, and actually respond when warned that forthcoming content isn't going to work as intended. Shield energizers were added without community warning or input, and without there being any expressed need for such a module to begin with. Players (including the CPM) first discovered the stats on Ferroscale plates and Reactive armor plates from a trailer at E3, not from the developers directly, and CCP's assurance that numbers in trailers were only works-in-progress only made things more awkward when it turned out that yes, the final stats were indeed the ones in the trailer. None of the criticism in the thread posted after the trailer was taken into consideration before 1.2's release.

The fact of the matter is that situations like this are completely preventable – and reliant on every Dust designer, especially those touching game balance, having absolutely transparent public conversations about their intent well in advance of code freeze. I don't expect a dev blog for every change, but stickied forum posts with stat changes, design intent, and most importantly: follow-up discussion simply need to be a standardized part of the Shanghai studio's operations, regardless of whether it involves more man-hours or takes designers out of their comfort zones. And really, this problem isn't going to change unless it is reinforced by management from the top down – a message the CPM has continued to hammer at every opportunity. There's too much work to be done in the coming months, and CCP can't afford to waste more time editing content that would have landed in a healthy place to begin with if there had there been even a minimum level of community input.

Speaking of code freeze, the deadline for Uprising 1.3 has come and gone – and on Wednesday of this week CPM was finally shown the completed patch notes for the release, which will drop in the next couple of weeks before the end of the month. We were disappointed to have been asked about only one component of the release's content in advance of the code freeze, and than shown the patch almost two weeks later, but thankfully what we have seen, we like a lot. Uprising 1.3 will contain what I consider to be a well-executed balancing pass on not only a couple of weapons that have been driving players completely bonkers, but also to a full class of dropsuits that have been a lightning rod for debate since the revamp of the skill tree. The dropsuit adjustments were the component discussed on our internal forums in advance of code freeze, and its been very promising to see CCP Remnant listening closely to our feedback and wielding the scalpel here as opposed to a sledgehammer – despite the amount of tears on the forums about this particular class of suits.



The other good news here is that there is also an upcoming dev blog containing a much more in-depth look at the direction with which CCP wants to balance all the dropsuits – work on the rest of the existing line-up is by no means complete and you'll know more about this soon. There is also an additional dev blog under construction that contains a discussion of the overhaul on aiming that is currently underway, which appears to be going quite well judging by the excitement we've seen in CCP Wolfman, who's been play testing the changes while chatting with the CPM in Skype.

Besides the balancing pass on the dropsuits and weapons – 1.3 won't be containing much else other than some bug squashing (including a now-infamous exploit that has cropped up recently) and performance tweaks. It's a small but meaningful patch, and technically the first that was created using CCP's new internal development model by the reshuffled teams. It's also a test of the new changes in Sony's QA process as well. Uprising 1.2 on the other hand consisted more of the content they had completed to date at the time they announced their new focus and roadmap.

One really pleasant surprise this week for many players was team True Grit's pre-1.3 update to the Planetary Conquest system – a package of balancing adjustments vetted through extensive conversation with the CPM internally over the last month. Despite the debate over PC mechanics continues becoming as heated and controversial as any we've seen surrounding adjustments to Faction Warfare or 0.0 Sovereignty in EVE, True Grit has put an enormous amount of effort into engaging and listening to the community – and I continue to point to them as a model for how we'd like to interact with all the teams working on Dust514. Last but not least, while the CPM has collectively engaged and discussed PC with True Grit across our different timezones (and from our varying vantage points regarding how the mechanics have affected our corporations), I'm happy to give credit here to Kane Spero for taking the lead on this project and making sure that CCP Foxfour and CCP Nullarbor had as many community suggestions in their hands as possible, several of which are directly part of this final package.

Looking ahead, the focus of the CPM will continue to be process and procedure, attempting to drive our stake into this new development model at a time when we can be the most useful to CCP. A new internal process to adjust to and ninja 1.3 patch aside – we've been adamant that we need to see the contents of 1.4 and all future patches enough in advance for our input to be heard and responded to. There's little sense in repeating preventable community disappointment like we saw with the new armor modules.

I brought this up earlier this week during a conversation I was having with CCP Dolan, explaining that we were still in the dark about what teams existed over in Shanghai, and what each team was working on. I asked if there was any kind of internal sprint newsletter for Dust514 as there is for EVE Online, and within the hour Dolan had a copy of the latest newsletter published that day, in the CPM inboxes.

The sprint newsletter contained what we'd been craving - a breakdown of every team working on Dust514, and exactly what project each team was working on and how far along they'd progressed. Like the CMR I've discussed in my previous reports, this newsletter was another massive signal flare shedding a lot of light on the inner workings of the Shanghai studio. It's unfortunate that it didn't occur to anyone in Shanghai to share this information with us themselves, but at least the CPM now has a very strong idea of the content lined up for 1.4. CCP will share the details of 1.4 when they're ready, but I can tell you that I'm even more excited for the additions coming in August than I am either for 1.2 or 1.3.

Lastly, I've asked or another meeting with CCP Praetorian, who is currently on vacation but should arrive back in Shanghai on Monday. We have a lot of items to discuss, though the CPM's primary interest will be once again following up on issues surrounding information sharing – both in how CCP engages us internally as well as how we can address the inconsistency that is still present across the various Dust514 teams in terms of transparency and communication. There are still too many areas (like vehicle balancing) where previously communicative developers seem to disappear into the ether for periods of time, leaving players confused, upset, and resorting to unfocused complaint in the absence of a productive discussion to engage with. While the situation is undoubtedly improving, its still far too early for the CPM let the pressure off those in management that can reverse this trend once and for all.

14 comments:

  1. Blah Blah Blah :)

    Good release dude... keep picking at them dev's... FOR API KEYS DAMNIT!

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  2. Thank You Han's ,I would like to hear you on a podcast sometime.
    S8 Radio podside maybe?
    From Luther PXRXO

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    1. I used to go on Podside, haven't been in a long time...but I'll poke the guys and see if they've been talking about Dust lately. Want to come on with me and fire away if there's something you wanted to chat about?

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  3. All these changes? Is CCP willing to reconsider their no more respecs agenda? They shouldn't have released the game otherwise if they are changing stuff now

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    1. I'm pretty sure they said the "no more respecs" thing like 2-3 respecs ago. :-P Or at least, it feels that way. Technically the policy is that there's no more GUARANTEED respecs, but that they may do this from time to time if things change enough. Totally up to them in the end.

      And during this time when the game's evolving rapidly, I'm much more open myself to CCP offering respecs - I don't think its something they should be afraid of. It's just good business when the functionality of the various classes and gear can change so drastically from build to build. In the long run though choice should matter, I don't want them giving them out indefinitely.

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    2. I completely agree with this, but I do think there is another respec in order when all the Racial dropsuits are implemented. Once the game is in a better state id be fine with no more respecs.

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  4. Won't be anyone left to play soon anyway.

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    1. Hopefully you're wrong - but I'm willing to take that chance regardless. :)

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  5. Kekklian NoobatronicJuly 14, 2013 at 3:21 PM

    Great information - This really should be seen by more people in the community! I know I'll be checking back for more.

    Keep hammering 'em, CPM!

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  6. Thank you for the update, Hans.

    "tears on the forums about this particular class of suits"

    Fingers crossed on a buff for my Scoutly brothers, who have shed a fair share of forum tears :).

    - Shotty GoBang

    PS: I've linked this post to the Forum Scout Registry.

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  7. The amount of stuff you obliquely reference as being under NDA is part of the problem.

    We have a very poorly communicating development group that then hides under NDA...

    Whatever virtues CCP thinks the NDA holds, it's a serious impediment to the Dust514 side of the house.

    My suggestion is that (unless there is a compelling case made by CCP for the NDA on an item) it not be used for development items in the next 3-6 months.

    If the devs won't share their work at the very least the CPM can.

    It would be better if the devs had this in their culture but until such time...

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    1. The NDA is squawked about all the time by EVE players as well, and it really has nothing to do with the communication problem. Its a boiler-plate sheet of paper that everyone signs for every company they work for or work with. Total red herring.

      The problem here is a mixture of designers that are not used to sharing every step of their work in progress (constant public flaming only exacerbates this) and a studio that in general, is stretched so thin that they're barely cranking out the work itself, let alone stopping to write dev blogs, chat with the community, and respond frequently to Skype and the forums.

      So, the solution here is twofold. First of all, the Shanghai studio needs to realize that the currently level of communication is patently unacceptable and sabotaging their efficiency by forcing their teams to work on gameplay systems (aiming, movement, damage application, gear balance) that shouldn't be necessary if they'd worked closer with the community to begin with, the first time they created these systems.

      Secondly, there simply needs to be more manpower working on Dust514, if CCP is going to continually cite "not enough time" as the reason the communication level has been so poor. At least this second issue is clearly being addressed, with the additional staff they're moving to Shanghai as well as the new hires.

      The first solution is the one that the CPM is zeroing in on. It's easy to say "If the devs won't share their work at the very least the CPM can." But really, you're talking about a suicide hero stunt that would work a grand total of -ONE- time, for -ONE- piece of leaked information. This isn't want the community needs.

      It needs instead an opportunity to hold the studio's management accountable and ask the question, "Which one of you is going to take responsibility for forcing the designers to engage the community as part of their process, if they are unwilling to do this themselves?"

      Prying a few precious bits of information from CCP's hands in the short term isn't going to save the game. The goal here is to convince them to be completely open with their community about their work, for the rest of the life of the game and its development.

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  8. Please say the flaylock is getting nerfed. That weapon is so bad that in the LoI vs EoN. war both sides agreed not to use it because it completely ruined the game experience, and is so bad if it was used that weapon would cause both sides to collapse in a week just because no one would want to play in matches like that.

    LAV murder taxi's aren't an issue in PC matches, but that's because the strategy might work ok for death matches it isn't effective at taking points. So in a world where winning matters the LAV murder taxi is irrelevant (but it is destroying the instant battle experience).

    I really believe CCP should follow the lead of Blizzard in the way they release patch notes a month to a month and a half ahead of their actual launch, all subject to change (which they do all the time due to testing and community feedback), this will minimize mistakes such as the flaylocks and the weak new armor modules they released (even though like you highlighted in your blog we where able to provide feedback and they ignored it).

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