Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Alderaan is a peaceful planet

So I never update, which sucks. Blame me, because I have stuff to write about, and have for a while. Sorry, I suck. I'll do better!

Bang bang goes burst damage. It's the 'least imba' of the big four game breaking tactics. The reason for this should be fairly obvious. Most game designers are aware of how much damage things in their game do, and they know how much durability (measured in both damage resistance, avoidance, and actual health) their characters have. It's only in 'combo fighters' like Marvel vs. Capcom or BlazBlue where the amount of damage a character can do isn't clearly known when the game launches. It's pretty easy for a dev team to put character health high enough that burst damage is impractical, or at least less useful.

In fact, overpowered burst damage really only takes place when the harder to balance entities like hard control and mobility aren't super dominant factors. In some games, burst damage is the only balancing factor when these elements are overpowered. For instance, in Guild Wars, hard control is kept heavily in check, and is often a merely circumstantial advantage. Mobility advantages in GW are valuable, but one takes an opportunity cost for selecting skills that add to mobility. Burst damage, especially when your entire team focuses burst skills all on a single target, remain as the primary overpowered strategy.

Burst damage is large amounts of damage dealt all in as short a timeframe as possible. Compared to high sustained damage over time, burst damage deals generally less damage over time but much more over a smaller time interval. The idea behind burst damage is to take the enemy by surprise and bypass their ability to use normally effective healing or protective skills to save their teammate. By comparison, sustained damage seeks to overwhelm healers by dealing enough damage to the enemy that it cannot all be effectively countered.

The secondary advantage of a spike is that it quickly removes a single foe from the battle, skewing the field position in favor of the attackers. Since most games allow a player at any amount of health the same fighting capability as a player at full health, taking an opponent out of the battle quickly leaves less time they can support allies or attack your team.

Burst damage is often coupled by other tactics. For instance, hard or soft control is often used to keep the enemy from trying to escape or protect themselves, or perhaps used against healer foes so that the target can't be protected. Inside the small window of a hard control, burst damage is particularly effective, since it can take even a small moment of advantage and turn it into a kill.

It is also fairly easy to disrupt a spike in the same way. By applying a hard or soft control to one or more attackers, the amount of incoming damage can be spread over a longer period of time or negated altogether, leaving more time or less damage that needs to be healed or prevented. This factor is one of the hidden balancers of burst damage.

Another strong balancing factor for burst damage is the need for a condensed team. Oftentimes a team must put several strong attackers together in order to deal enough damage to defeat a single foe quickly. In an objective-based game, it may be problematic to concentrate your team enough to deal an effective spike. If objectives are spaced far apart, a burst team might be able to take down one foe at a single objective quickly and likely take that single objective. However, if they give up the opportunity to capture other objectives on the map, a split team will control more of the map than a concentrated burst team. And unlike a pressure team that relies on sustained damage over time, the burst team is all or nothing - a spike tends to use up a lot of resources for the attacking characters, and if the damage is insufficient, it tends to put the attackers in an unfavorable situation.

How do you exploit burst damage? Well, that answer is pretty simple. Group as many high single target damage characters as you can together and have them all target the same foe. Sometimes spike teams need a catalyst too - Guild Wars is particularly fond of spikes that require one or more status effects to be in place on the enemy.

Preventing spikes is dependent on the game. Some games, like Guild Wars, have protective skills that limit the amount of damage a foe can take in a single hit. Most other games have a much harder time. You must predict the ally most likely to get hit by a spike (often the healer) and apply preventative measures, such as protective buffs, regeneration/heal over time buffs, and similar effects that will soften the blow a little. Each player will have to be ready to act if they see a spike go into effect. For instance, if the enemy all begins to hit one target with movement debuffs or hard controls, it's a clue that a spike is coming. If possible, that character should attempt to escape or otherwise hamper the spike. If it isn't possible, allies should be ready to move and interrupt the spike enough that the target survives.

Another less obvious prediction for a spike is buff removal. If one of your allies starts getting hit by skills that remove their buffs, it is highly likely that the enemy is trying to remove protections in order to open up a big truckload of pain. In general, if the enemy uses weakening effects and doesn't spread them all over your team in order to slow you down, they are probably trying to prep a spike on someone.

Defending against a spike is extremely difficult, and much harder than pulling one off. If you expect the enemy team to employ them, everyone has to be fully awake and ready to stop it.

If you can't survive a spike and you know it, the next best thing you can do is to counter by dealing heavy damage to the enemy. If your team is a sustained damage team, you may still be able to get a lot of damage in and put one or more foes in a bad state or perhaps even kill them. This is particularly useful in games like Perfect World where the healers are also powerful damage dealers - their healers may be focusing on spiking, leaving your team the possibility of unloading powerful attacks on their team as well.

In both the offensive spiking and defensive spiking scenario, one thing remains a big help. Voice communication allows a burst damage team to all coordinate attacks at the same time. Likewise, it also allows a target to notify teammates quickly that they are being targeted. Most spikes have some sort of lead-in, such as debuffs, hard controls, etc. If the victim can announce that they are hit by a debuff ahead of time, they may be able to get it removed or just have preventative buffs applied in advance.

Of course, if you're playing MvC2 and one of your characters is getting rocked by an infinite, there's not much you can do. The biggest thing you can do in a fighter if the enemy is performing an infinite is to make them do the infinite 100% perfectly and break out if they do not. If you are aware of any point in their combo where they can attempt a reset, be doubly aware when it comes around and attempt to block it. When you are getting hit by a huge combo, you just have to get hit, but your enemy has to focus and do it perfectly. If you can drain his mental energy by forcing him to concentrate more on the infinite, you will have some measure of advantage when the match goes to round 2 (or whatever). And if he slips up, you get a shot at turning things around. Most infinite combos deal really low damage, so the best thing you can do is to not panic or throw away the controller.

But really, this article is about burst damage in a MMO or even in a 'unrealistic shooter' like Halo where characters can take lots of bullets. In a fighter, if you know your opponent can do huge damage if they hit you, your best solution is to deny them opportunities to go on offense, either by controlling space (zoning them out) or controlling tempo (keeping pressure on them).

To be fair though, offensive pressure on a burst damage team in a MMO can really disrupt their ability to attack you. If you harass them with soft controls, hard controls, and other annoyances, it can be really hard for them to set up a 1-2-3 kill even if you are not focused on defending it.