Archive for October, 2014

Item Driven Gametypes in Arena FPS

Arena FPS is the moniker given to games like unreal, quake, etc. There are many ways to describe them and many factors that make a game more arena FPS than another.

One key ingredient are the gametypes. FFA, Duel and TDM. These gametypes are driven by their items. The items are the game. This factor is quite often not mentioned when discussing arena FPS. Typically people will talk about movement, weapons (types/styles and the ability to carry more than 2), lack of classes, game speed, the fact you pick things up (but nothing beyond that) and time to kill. Gametypes may get an honorable mention but how the gametypes play beyond “deathmatch”, “team deathmatch” or “duel” is rarely, if ever, bought up.

Arena FPS History

FPS game types grew from single player. Free for all was single player items with respawn times (or not for weapons) attached to them. There were different places players could spawn after dying – spawn points. There was a scoreboard to keep track of who killed more people.

Duel and TDM is the obvious extension from FFA. One for going head to head, one for teams. Neither needed much tweaking, duel typically removed damage modifier style items like quad damage and amp.

This was the dawn of FPS, the original game types and to this day the best. Players and developers have created others, in large part due to lack of understanding of these gametypes. They lack objectives players said. They were just about killing. They take no teamwork. Its just aim. Teamwork is minimal.

Flags were added to custom designed maps and CTF was born. Players were given specific roles like attacking and defending. Items were still there but they played different roles, buffing defenders or enabling attackers to push against lower odds. Quad allowed breaking of defences.

And then items were relegated to a menu. Teams purchased them or selected them based on classes. Some FPS became rock/paper/scissor class based affairs and most added heavier emphasis on aim. The latter was unintended but is the result of shifting focus away from strategy and other aspects due to the removal of the game mechanics that allow greater depth.

Finally spray, “realistic” weapons, recoil control, aim down sights and similar mechanics were implemented. Player movement was slowed, strafespeed was slowed, time to kill (ttk) was shortened and we ended up with COD/CS/BF. Players now think that these modern FPS require more strategy, tactics and thinking. They think that BF is a brain game, and becomes an even bigger brain game when played on hardcore mode (less health, faster ttk). While this is a side argument and not really within the scope of the current articles on this site I believe that modern FPS require more aim, reward better reflexes in general and less brain. This mainly stems from ttk, lack of items and the gametypes played. A slow game does not equate to greater tactical or strategic depth which is often cited as a reason why arena FPS are shallow. But maybe that is an article for another time…

Items have all but evaporated from the FPS landscape and with them gametypes that have arguably more objectives, more challenging positional play and greater depth than anything on the market today. Gametypes that are more challenging and push players due to their dynamic nature. Gametypes that drive conflict better than flags. bombs or hostages. Gametypes that work because the players have to overcome a problem to gain an advantage rather than because the time is ticking. Gametypes that at the time they were first implemented were dismissed by the majority as shallow and objectiveless. “TDM is about killing, the most kills win. This is the objective”.

This is a long way from the truth.

This sort of statement is probably one of the more naive FPS related comments ever made. There are issues involved with item driven gametypes, for sure, but they are not what most players thought when CTF was innovated or when modern gamers make comments like the above. There are issues involved with all gametypes but some less than others, and in some game types balance does not matter much at all. The example here would be CS bomb style objective gametypes. Both teams play both sides, map balance or even weapon balance does not matter overly much. A map could be designed so you only have a 10% chance of winning a round on defence, but over 20 rounds total this becomes acceptable and the map is just considered difficult for the attacking team. In fact this sort of imbalance could make for what could be considered close and exciting games. Maybe this is an exaggeration..

Item driven gametypes and made by their items as well as maps. They are highly dynamic, which is quite challenging for most players. In 1999 there was a basic understanding of how to play, since the break between gamers and these game types in mainstream games even more of this understanding will have been lost. Going forward part of the challenge of an arena FPS

The two main factors of items and how the effect the flow of the game is their strength and how frequent they spawn. This could be a difficult to balance – do you want powerful items that spawn infrequently and as such are very important? Do you want them spawning more often so that one pickup difference does not skew balance too much? Do you want infrequently spawning items that do not really add a great deal to a team or players stack, they are beneficial and will be fought over but could they be ignored? How do they related to each other? Is there a cycle that involves a set of items within a given duration and then some others that sit outside it in order to “break” that cycle periodically?

There are a number of games that do this well. Quake is one and Unreal is the other. There are quake and cpm spinoffs like warsow.

The armor system includes health – and rests heavily on values as well as spawn times and how the armors work together.

This may all sound obvious but discussions about spawn times and relative power of items/health are very rare. In fact I cannot remember reading anything in depth over the past 10 years. In part this may be because the arena shooter and this style of gametype is dead so there is little discussion. When these games were popular it was not discussed. It is an important conversation to have because all of this determines how the game plays. People can say that “I just want to run around and kill stuff” and that is fine – the challenge is to balance the game so players that want to do that can^, while others have an option of playing a more structured game. This balance does not need to be in a way that will give the player who chooses not to partake in item control an advantage, but at the very least having a game that is accessible for all levels is good. Obviously this scales differently. In a 8 player FFA game one participant timing will not be as evident to other players as in a 1v1 situation.

Discussions of weapons are very common but are generally related to damage values or weapon mechanics like rate of fire or projectile speed. For instance I think ammo on pickup is an excellent way to balance a weapon , even if it is a little more overpowered than it should be. If it can only shoot four times per spawn its not likely to cause large problems and players will have to consider its use. Just an example. Discussions of movement and very minor issues like air control* in ut go on for pages.

^or players can do that if they do not know any better.

*air control in ut is not like air control conversations in quake. This is more limited to allowing players slightly more “aim” when falling whereas quake revolves around letting players turn sharp corners in the air.

To demonstrate item driven game types working at all levels we need only look at how a player progresses from when they start playing the game. If a player starts FFA they will undoubtedly pick up whatever weapon they can find for the first few games, and continue to do so. However as time passes and they learn maps and weapon locations they will end up seeking out a specific weapon, either because they are more efficient at using it, enjoy using it above others or because they see the potential of using it more. The new player may also opt to play maps they have seen before rather than branching out to other levels, because they will know where the guns they need are located.

For weapons there are two examples in ut99 – the first would be rockets and flak. Both are easy to use and in the past typically satisfied newer players with kills. The latter is the sniper rifle as the new player probably thinks they can use it to engage at long range out of harms way, its fun to snipe. Headshots are fun. One is easy and the other has appeal. The last weapon type, high rate of fire hitscan is probably not that appealing for a completely new arenafps player, however others with some FPS experience, might gravitate towards these as they may already “know” how to aim and something like the minigun is the closest the ut franchise has to an m16 or ak.

So the new player starts to seek out a weapon of choice, and picks up the others along the way while traversing the map. They learn to become more efficient with their chosen weapon while at the same time are forced to use weapons outside their comfort zone due to not having the weapon they want available after every death. Sometimes these other weapons may surprise them and from here they can add other guns to their repertoire. At the same time they also learn the maps, or at least routes from where they spawn to the weapon they want.

This applies to every item driven FPS ever. The beauty of it is the lack of game specificness. It simply works and teaches the player how to play. Telling a new player that the jacket spawn is 27 seconds is not really useful. This can be extrapolated out from simple weapons. The player learns that they can kill more if they look for health. To begin with this could be to preserve their “stack” (in this case the gun of their choice) but as time goes by they will realise they can improve their KDR by not dying. They will realise they can get armor and start taking mental notes of where it spawns. They might like the idea of quad damage and try to take this.

The player starts to “play” the gametype correctly, without instruction. There is a built in learning curve and teach the player to improve. There comes a point where they might get interested and go looking for information on spawn times and whatnot, however for many players this never occurs.

As a side note the main item driven gametypes (FFA, TDM, Duel) are also the greatest for public play. The objectives improve player net/kdr and overall this is what a large proportion of pub players are going for. These players also ruin games of CTF.

This in turn gives players different options for playing and different areas of their game they can work on. Do they want to play aim +forward heavy game? Do they want to control armors and play pac man. Do they want to concentrate on weapons and optimise their various strengths? Even if they are bad aim wise they can contribute by timing for their better mechanically skilled team mates. ut99 was well balanced at release for non-aim heavy play and I would like to think this is going to make a comeback.

Items tie back to time. Items cost time. In FFA, TDM or Duel time is the general currency. For example, a player could spend 5-10 seconds getting a better weapon in FFA or they can go straight into combat with their spawn gun. If they happen to kill someone they can take that weapon and continue, a kill gained faster than if they

Items are control.

Note: Flow and what items are for. Quad is not for killing, it is for securing armor spawns. Rockets are not for killing they are for securing spawns, etc. Disconnection of items from killing is paramount to understanding how to play. Taking this further – disconnection of everything from killing is key to winning. Item driven gametypes are about control.

Items drive conflict and player interaction since players need to obtain items – it sounds obvious, but without a solid system it falls apart. This is why discussion of the armor/health system beyond posters wanting a belt or jacket or furry coat is important. Items are why the game works on a deeper level than “get gun and shoot stuff”. They have always worked this way, this is what FFA, Duel and TDM are.

At a duel level players should be contesting items regularly. The player who is taking the better items should be constrained in movement and ability to pressure the down player because of them. On the other side of the coin the lesser player can plan their moves around the predictability of the “in control” player – they can try to deal efficient damage (where they take none as their stack is lesser) or they can just opt to avoid the locations altogether.

Weapons do not drive conflict or shape the course of a game in the way armor and health do, at least not in the context of ut99 duel. Or ut4 duel for that matter. For a gametype driven by weapons I strongly suggest you check out DDKs quakeworld TDM videos. In ut99 they do not drive conflict for a number of reasons, the brief version is:

Weapon (or firemode) use is doubled (or tripled) in ut. There are two of each main “attack”. High ROF/low damage hitscan (pulse/mini). Low ROF/high damage hitscan (rifle/shock). Projectile with area of effect (rockets/flak/combos). Most maps had every weapon, often weapons multiple times. In order to drive conflict an item needs to be sought for a reason – they make players predictable and force them to show up at the same place around the same time. With the abundance of weapons they will not drive players together. Sure you can deny weapons (this adds depth, which is good) but from a conflict creation standpoint they do not work well because there are so many of them. Also denying weapons in 2014 is very different to 1999. Quite often players back then would have a favorite weapon. This was quite often due to connection (dialup using shock/rockets/flak). Now players tend to be decent with everything. Also, even in a three weapon game like quakelive weapons do not truely drive conflict. They shape fights when one player is lacking specific weapons, but rarely would you see a fight pop up because of a weapon.

As such you can deny weapons in ut99 but the weapons themselves don’t really drive player interaction in a meaningful way. They do dictate player movement because players want specific guns, but because they are not really timed or controlled in the same way as armor or health conflict does not come about because of them often.

Again this is not to say that sweeping weapons to stop your opponent taking them is not a legitimate thing to do, far from it. However it would be rare for the player not taking a weapon to bother timing it and come back to find their opponent turning up at the same time.

This is an important difference to understand.

And of course there is an exception to this rule and it is a very interesting exception because it shares many similarities with ut but at the same time is completely different. That game is Quakeworld TDM.

The problem of gamers

Beyond the rose tinted glasses issue previously mentioned gamers have a habit of discussing ways to improve FPS games that are very specific. Players generally get hung up on specifics that involve weapon or movement mechanics. cpm has the best movement. The rocket in qw is overpowered but good. UT movement is clunky. The shock rifle is awesome. To an even finer level “I cannot combo myself”. Sometimes maps are a discussion point but rarely does the gametype come up beyond “quakelive duel is the best” or similar.

The gametypes and in item driven gametype, the supporting items*, tend to just.. be. Noone really talks about them. Noone. Weapon specifics are important, super important. But the amount of ammo in a weapon pickup? Unimportant, or rather if you read the forums it is an unimportant question.

*This applies to health, armor, weapons, powerups, miscellaneous pickups and their respective respawn times.

In truth the gametype and how it plays is a large part of why a game is good. In the case of item driven gametypes the items and how they interact is key to the game being good.

Quakeworld is the standout in this department, with comments like “the weapons, items and armors are all overpowered, its awesome!” but generally little discussion about WHY this makes it an awesome team game.. Since the items in item driven game types are essentially the gametype it pays to have a good setup. This is similar to saying that “we need good maps for a good FPS*” but not being able to put ones finger on why a map is good.

*der, this is the downfall of most FPS over the past 15 years.

Discussion revolves around very specific aspects of various games. Comparing quakelive to cpm in a movement. Comparing ut99 to 2kx. Comparing a lightning gun to a sniper rifle.

The problem is the underlying framework changes between games, and while not as fun to talk about as weapon or movement specifics actually give more insight into why a game is good or not.

On changing item driven gametypes in arena fps

Obviously I am a fan of this style of gametype. Who would have a site dedicated to the idea of a gametype rather than a specific spin of a gametype in a specific game?

Items are the gametype, there is no way around this. Suggesting to remove armor or health is not conductive to a discussion about how to improve and balance duel or TDM or this type of gametype in general. Statements like “remove pickups” is akin to saying “remove flags” when discussing CTF. Love it or hate it, the items are the game. Not always the items themselves but how they drive the game. They cause one part of the map to be more important than another. Now this is not to say that other game types cannot exist, I can think of many spins on classic TDM that would make it more accessible while teaching players how to play “real” TDM.

And in the same way holding mid on a CTF map may be more important on some maps while on others heavy base defence or offence becomes important. Camping in the armor room might not be the best route to take, for example dm3 in quakeworld – the Red Armor is best handled by staying in the ajoining area.

In fact if you dislike duel, TDM or FFA and have suggestions on how to improve them that include things like adding loadouts for spawners, free armor to help comeback on spawners please, the door is that way.

If on the other hand you want to partake in a discussion that involves balancing and changing what already exists to give a better game, please speak up!

The slippery slope

Firstly one needs to accept that an item driven game has a particular flavor. It has uneven situations where a player with no weapon or armor is killed by another player with a gun, armor and quad damage. It has situations where a stacked player is smashed by a less than stacked player because of excellent execution and timing.

One needs to look past the fact that respawn frags are simply points, and your team will receive them as well. Think of them as conversions if it helps. A map should not allow one team to farm heavily because of spawn points but at the same time the spawn system should not be constructed in a way that forces teams to spawn on oposite sides of the map at all times as other problems can arise from this.

Once one accepts these things are part of the game and that the underlying structure is acceptable we can stop looking at changing or adding things. The game works at a decent level, adding strange abilities or mechanics to try to cover up one aspect that may be considered a problem is not really needed. Spawn killing in this example.

Why I like UT

I have always enjoyed ut99.

The different ways you could play appealed to me, especially at its release two players could approach the game from very different ways. You could play rocket or flak heavy. You could play with shock. You could play with sniper or mini/pulse. Aggressive and defensive play was catered to. You could play an item heavy game or basically ignore them and go for damage. It was decently balanced so players with high ping could still have fun.

IDS Education

Even with the nice story about the new player, IDS has problems. After a certain point the mechanics become vague and non-intuitive. The main points are: respawn times and how to time. I think in part this is easily addressed in FFA early in a players career. The item timers that Epic are planning on implementing and ID have implemented do not really teach item spawn duration or how to time from a traditional point of view due to adding a mechanic that does not previously exist. Once this is removed the player is left hanging.
The player may have been made aware of the item due to the pie-chart hanging above it and they may have paid a little more attention, but overall they will not have learnt much beyond “this is important enough to attach a pie chart to”.
The goal of this article is to look at how we can educate players better, not change how the game plays.

Hang up on timing

Because item driven gametypes revolve around items and spawns there can be an unreasonable amount of importance attached to timing. Arena FPS in general place a lot of importance on positioning, and while timing is large part it is a very obvious aspect of the game. This actually causes a problem that places too much emphasis on timing at lower levels. Quite often at lower levels timing loosely is sufficient. Reading some comments one would think that the entire game is timing, when it is simply one aspect.

UT4 Duel and UT99, Unreal Tournament – where to now?

UT4 Duel and UT99, Unreal Tournament – where to now?

This article started as a post as a result of the below comment that was basically ignored. I thought it was interesting and worth a look at with ut4 duel in mind.


The armor system in ut needs an overhaul for duel, both to drive player interaction in a more meaningful way as well as limit landslide games. The problems go deeper than belt being “too strong”. Spawn times and item overlap as well play a very important role.

Please do not be too put off by the breakdown starting with quake live – the main reason it is structured like this is because the post started as a reply to another post that heavily mentioned ql.

CC- Says: QL/Q3 is a bit harder to control because of spawn times are staggered. For example, in UT2004, pretty much everything other than 100a in duel has a spawn time of 27 seconds. This creates more simple and patterned ways to control the maps. I think staggered spawn times would be great for real duel gameplay.

You are looking at it the wrong way and this is the problem with duel in ut from a traditional sense. You are partially right with the comment about control being too easy, but it stems from a more complicated problem than simply times being the same. Times are the same in ql.. so a similar problem should exist there right? Armor times in quakeworld* are the same so the problem should exist there as well? Players should be able to run all the armors in ql (because they are on the same timer) easily and lock everything on the map down?

*it is not an issue in quakeworld because better armor carriers cannot pickup ones that offer less protection. If they opt to damage themselves to take YA the health differential is less.

At least, if the only or major contributing factor here was spawn time this might be the case. Respawn times are an important factor, but not the way you mean.

Quakelive armor system

In ql the armors (red 100 (RA), yellow 50 (YA), green 25 (GA)) all have the same spawn time : 25 seconds. The mega is 35 seconds. These are the main items that drive conflict in quakelive duel. This example will lean heavily on ql, not because I think we should copy it (far from that) but because it works in duel for a reason and it helps prevent snowballing and give a way back into the game. There is plenty of room to improve what we have based on some ideas. As a side note I would not use ql as an example for TDM.

For reference the health bubbles (5, 25, 50) are 35 seconds. The armor shards (5) are 25 seconds. Then weapons have 5 second (or something) spawn so these are not really controlled. None would typically cause player interaction in the same way as armors/mega or amp/quad in TDM. Occasionally an opportunity might present itself where you damage a player and know they will be headed for a health pickup or know they lack a weapon – rail on t7 comes to mind and can ambush them. Even with weaponstay off weapons in ut do not drive player interaction like armor or health.

ql maps typically have (1RA 1 mega) + (2YA) or (1YA 2GA). Along with a stack of shards, 5 health bubbles and whatnot. Newer maps tend to be more item rich than older ones which have dropped out of map pools. T4 is an example of a light item map that is rarely played today.

From this we can ascertain that the issue is not that items are on the same spawn and thus players can run patterns easily, as the same problem would occur in ql if this was what was happening. Yet it does not.

If we look at the quantity/volume of items and stacking in ql vs ut we get a better understand of what the root cause is. Specifically items in duel that drive conflict and player interaction: The armors and the big health (mega/keg). Most of the examples I will use are in control / out of control. However a balanced state exists in ql. For example off spawn players typically split pickups and end up with roughly the same stack. Because this is more concerned with comeback and change of control that aspect is not overly important to analyse, however I will say that when pickups are split and combat occurs the game is really good.

This balanced gamestate does not really exist in ut99 due to the belt/jacket dynamic. One player is automatically at a disadvantage stack wise. It would be interesting to try and achieve a balanced state as this is when the best games occur.

If we use the ql mega as the frame of reference for an item “cycle” the in control player has 2-3 items to be concerned with in a 35 second time period. With travel time and delays this consumes the majority of the in control players time while at the same time making them highly predictable. Playing in control means not having time to hunt your opponent. It means the out of control player will have a very good idea of where you are and what you are getting soon. On top of that the out of control player generally receives items away from the in control players sphere of influence.

At least that is how it works in quakelive.

In a 10 minute game there are ~35 pickups of red + mega. 3.5 per minute.

In addition with stacking the player taking RA/mega is not fully stacked until the second cycle. Even if the out of control player deals modest damage at one of the two pickups the in control player will not reach critical mass.

This restriction of movement, predictability and lack of time to pressure the out of control player should be the downsides to playing in control. Being able to see when to be aggressive in gaps between items without giving large pickups to the out of control player is important.

Armor/health tick down plays no role in ql duel, even though it is often raised on the dev forums as a contributor to players hunting items more. Pickups are required because players take damage or they want to deny items. Originally implemented to stop heavy +back, tickdown fails even in this as 100/100 is plenty of stack to play defensive if one desires.

On the flip side the out of control play can get the non-major items. On a map like ztn this usually equates to a YA (50) plus shards (25 to 55). Each ~30 seconds. If the in control player is sloppier they may be able to take a second YA. The out of control player is still timing their own pickups – they need to in order to leave whichever YA they are using in order to get weapons, shards or possibly pressure the in control player. They need to make good use of their time and not simply sit in the YA room. If possible they need to leave when they can and try to deal some efficient (unreturned) damage on the in control player, keeping his stack under control. Even utilising a single YA the out of control player is 100/100 in a short time.

And this works in the inverse too – if the in control player is too passive when pressing the other player, out of control can accumulate a stack and then challenge for items on an almost even footing. Even mega can be nullified with good timing and attacking with health to retreat onto. When stack difference is a single good rocket apart it becomes much easier to level the playing field.

Stack in ql is not binary. It is a sliding scale that takes a while to build up from multiple sources. Your stack in relation to your opponent’s stack is important as well – stack for aggressive play differs between maps – ztn or dm13 players might opt to wait for more stack where as aero/tox might go after a single red pickup. In the lead up to an in control/out of control situation players may be splitting RA/mega and in this way both have significant stacks

If it was simply a case of times being the same the problem originally quoted would exist in ql too, and it does not.

Will the Ut4 duel armor system resemble ut99?

Then we have ut99 which all predecessors have followed in one way or another, the underlying dynamics that are important are close enough that they can be bundled together for the purpose of this conversation. UT3 might have an additional armor item and 2kx changed the stacking rules slightly, but overall the games are close enough for our purposes here to roll them into one, at the very least ut99 and ut3. And it looks like ut4 is following.

In ut we have the shield belt (150 points @ 100% ) on a 55second spawn time. Both epic and third party mappers have been very strict with its use in DM maps over the course of the games life. When belt is included on a DM map there will be one instance only. None of the ut99 duel (or DM) maps ever had more than one belt and I have never seen a third party DM map that had more than one. The belt stacks only with itself (ignoring bugs) but a single pickup gives the maximum stack. Maybe a better way to state this is the belt refreshes itself.

The next main item of interest is the jacket (100 points @ 75%) on a 27 second spawn (27.5, everything rounded from this point out). Finally we have the thigh pads (50 points) also on a 27 second spawn. At this point you might be wondering why the quakelive armors are rolled into one sentence and ut99 ones split into multiple. The jacket and pads stack with each other but not with themselves.

ut99 health is available in 25 packs and 5 vials, on an 18second spawn. Vials stack beyond base 100. ut99 also had a keg (100 health, 90second spawn) but it was not on any duel maps that were played.

ut99 duel maps were varied. Some had belt/jacket/pads. Some had belt/jacket. One had jacket/pads. One had belt/pads.

This should all be obvious to the ut veterans on this forum, but laying it down as people seem to forget. Or because ut99 is quite old and a lot of posters played newer versions which are similar in the important ways we are going to look at.

Over a 15 minute game there are ~43 pickups of belt + jacket. 2.89 per minute. On the surface this appears close enough to ql when it comes to number of items a player needs to be concerned about. Taking other things like boots and weapon stay off into account surely they are close enough?

To get a better feel of how ut99 works in duel we will look at the venerable map: Deck. This illustrates ut99 duel very well. I will preface this with a caution – yes people will post that there are ways around the problem, and I kind of agree. However the problems that are bought up in threads about snowballing and comebacks being difficult should be addressed, and by doing so we will end up with a better game all around. This is achieved by looking at the armor and health system rather than offering specific work around like denying sniper rifles and boots (or similar strategies). The existing options will still be there.

Again if we look at the volume of items and stacking – Specifically items in duel that drive conflict and player interaction: The belt and jacket are the main items that cause player interaction in ut99, and this is even more pronounced on deck.

Deck has a belt, a jacket and thigh pads. Also it has some vials. It also has boots. It has lots of weapons.

Using the same methodology as the previous example one player is in control and has belt – in this example the “cycle” is 55 seconds for the belt. Belt pickup fills the in control players armor completely. At this point they do not need to worry about the belt again for 55 seconds. They are free to go and do whatever they like. Get weapons. Pressure the other player. Pressure the jacket. None of these are predictable to the jacket player – the belt player can essentially do what they like.

The only reason they need to revisit the belt is for top up or denial. One pickup is a full stack of belt armor.

The jacket player is in a similar situation, but they can add to their armor stack with the thigh pads. This is already a problem. The player with the superior item and superior stack has a single item to obtain it. The underdog by virtue of the stacking mechanic in ut99 becomes more predictable if they opt to pursue armor as an option. There is only one other source due to the stacking mechanics.

Deck further exacerbates this particular point by placing the thigh pads at the top of the ramp out in the open area of a large room. Not particularly inviting for the weaker player – if you were trying to make safe plays this would rarely be one. This is a map specific problem and while it could easily be addressed it has never been. Deck is still played today in its original form.

Also because of the long belt spawn there are few reasons for players to interact. Meeting at belt will not occur for almost a minute. Meeting at jacket? Is not required unless a player takes damage. Meeting at weapons is more luck due to the sheer number of guns available and double up of fire modes – and thus less reasons to seek a specific weapon. Even though this is a side issue to what the main point is I want to highlight it because it is interesting. Nothing really drives player interaction in ut because items are not structured in a way that creates conflict unless players take damage.

Other ut armor things

A somewhat side problem that exists and could be up for debate is the length of the spawn on the belt. Besides the freedom it gives the belt player to pressure the other player, it also lends itself to more defensive play due to the length of time between spawns. “Wasting” the belt 15 seconds after picking it up is not ideal. Being overly cautious and waiting till the next spawn could be considered a problem if player interaction is a key driver in building the game. With the other considerations in this document you can see how it might be seen as n issue. This could also be seen as a reason why it is not quite as powerful for the in control player.

One thing that comes up in timing/item threads on the dev forum is delaying belt pickups in unreal tournament 4 duel. The idea is simple. When there is a conflict near the belt the player that “wins” and either kills or drives off his opponent will wait until they think/know the other player is out of pickup sound range. Then they wait a bit longer and take it. This apparently screws up the player that died timing and is very unfair. Not to comment on this particular point but delaying causes more problems than this. By delaying items the in control player can give themselves both the belt and the jacket indefinitely. This is not really a problem either, its just how the game work, however the posters latching onto the delaying “problem” with belt should also highlight this point.

Wait, where are we up to?

In my mind the biggest problems (besides the maps, or more specifically their item load outs and balance for out of control play) in ut99 is the item offset time combined with pathetically weak out of control armor and lack of reason to revisit pickups. These problems are exacerbated by the maps that were played, however even with maps that are setup correctly I feel that belt vs thighpads (in the situation above where the in control player has belt+jacket) is rather lopsided and does not allow a great deal of options for the out of control player.

Thought Process, how we got here?

My original thoughts for armor in ut99 (and by extension ut4 with its current setup) was fairly simple. The belt is overpowered and creates an unbalanced game. It is significantly more protection in one pickup – this is typically cited as the reason it is too powerful. In addition the belt player can pressure every second jacket spawn – every spawn if they are careful and make sure to offset them correctly. Even without paying attention getting things to not clash is trivial, with travel time and the spawns it just tends to happen. This is rarely mentioned but is a larger problem than the straight up better belt stats. Being able to do this might not seem like a problem and simply the dynamics of the game, however in my opinion there should always be options and this situation removes many as the out of control player loses access to the jacket and belt.

This is only part of the story but was where I got to when initially planning to write these pieces and jotted down an outline. This dynamic has come to the front of my thoughts whenever ut99 duel popped into my head for over ten years. To me it seemed enough at the time. However because of the stacking mechanic, revisiting the jacket for the jacket player is unproductive unless they have taken damage. Likewise the belt player only needs to deny jacket when the other player has taken damage or died. There is less reason to visit it or deny the pickup if the player already has it – you become predictable* doing so and possibly give up position on other more interesting items. True the jacket could be denied for the next 30 seconds, thus removing a fall back point for the out of control player if they do take damage, but overall it is not needed.

However watching streams/youtube of good players recently, time and time again they go to jacket to deny it when their opponent already has it and has not taken any damage. Quite often they take damage on their belt doing so.

*both traveling to the jacket as well as traveling back to the belt.

Sorry this is so long but we are getting to the final piece of the puzzle that is the broken ut99 (and future ut4 duel) armor system. The final piece is total out of control play. To this point there has been a belt player and a jacket player. In ut99 there is no option to play like my quakelive ztn example. Once you are dead as the jacket player and the belt player can sweep the jacket and belt you are essentially left with nothing to work with. Vials and on some maps thigh pads vs belt. The problem is not so much that the belt is strong, the armor/item dynamic in ut99 lacks options for the out of control player. This in part is due to the maps played in ut99. Deck for instance. Thighpads should probably be the last item the in control player goes for and they should be available for the out of control player, right? Unfortunately they reside at the top of the main room, impossible to get without taking damage. On Codex there are no thigh pads, only belt and jacket.

At this point it becomes beneficial for the in control player to deny the jacket as the dead, out of control player has no armor. Control switches heavily in favor of the in control player. The in control player can now run two items – easy, especially given the spawn times in ut99 – and lock out the down player. The belt is only once per minute.

Maybe the argument is that the down player should not have let the game spiral to this degree and I agree to a point. However I think there should always be options that do not rely on execution for comebacks. Slow stacking should be a viable alternative and the way ut plays both being an option add diversity to the game. To me ut has always been about giving players many different options for play, and an armor system that works and allows out of control stacking should be one option.

For example, allowing a player to stack to 150 on thigh pads does not break the game. Forcing the in control player to do more for control via stacking, more items or similar would also not break the game.

I think a large part of the problems that duel in ut4 faces, at least the snowballing and difficult to come back complaints could be addressed by working on the armor and health system. I hope the examples above highlight the games flaws. Even ignoring these complaints a better version of duel* and TDM could easily be fashioned, one that stays true to what I feel are UTs original core values but builds on them to allow a better experience all round without adding contrived mechanics like spawning with belt or as someone else suggested, redeemer in duel.

*Solely by looking at item values, stacking rules and respawn times.

Damage Amp, a side issue to further illustrate duel balance

One final.. interesting change that 2k3 brought to the table was the damage amp in duel. To this point 2kx health/armor has not been discussed because it is not really relevant to ut99 and ut4 duel – Epic seem to be going down the ut99/ut3 route. We can think about how amp changes unreal tournament duel in relation to what has been outlined to this point. While many people think you need to actually play with settings in order to ascertain how something will affect the game I am of the opinion that spawn times and how everything lines up tells enough of a story to get a good idea. This is not to say that amp would never work, but within the parameters outlined above we will dissect what we have.

Personally I liked amp in 2k3, this does not mean it was a good addition however. I liked it for the same reason adding the belt + vials back to ut99 duel was good – it added more pickups and as a result made the game play better. It gave more options to the out of control play and at the time that was good. At this basic level it “works”, but just adding more stuff really fix things.

The amp is a temporary, time limited buff. This is important to remember and from the perspective of how it affects the game plays during its duration. In the current alpha the amp lasts 10 seconds.

One common defence of amp is its ability for an out of control player to get back into the game, the out of control player can make use of the amp to remove the in control players stack. This might be the case, however due to the spawn times on the belt and jacket, slotting in another single item every minute or two should pose no problem. Also because of how item driven FPS work this can be swapped and the in control player can get the amp too..

On top of this we have another interesting problem. Because the amp is time limited, allowing a pickup does not really impact the important aspect of the game – the in control players stack.

There are a few ways to go about things here:

The in control player takes the belt, jacket and amp. This is likely to happen because of the aforementioned spawn times and plenty of free time for the in control player. In this scenario the out of control player gets a little extra breathing room, however unless the amp is a frequent spawn (~30 seconds) it will not add much stress to the in control player. I could not imagine the amp being a short duration spawn.

The in control player takes the belt and jacket, ignoring the amp. The amp is time limited (currently 10 seconds) and the in control player then plays keep away for the duration. In an ideal situation the out of control player delays pickup of the amp until close to the belt or jacket spawn so he can pressure the pickup, hopefully stealing it thanks to additional damage. In quakelive players to a medium/high level have problems with mega/red overlapping – I don’t think introducing a mechanic that requires this level of timing ability for comebacks is a good way to proceed. Think about it this way, in order to be able to leverage the amp effectively you need to :

While this might sound similar to the belt/jacket scenario that has been hammered on so heavily over the course of this document. However in practice it is the opposite. Aligning times like this is hard. Deliberately doing it is difficult for most players.

Sure it takes skill to execute but I feel it is too niche to do so.

It would be rare for a player to ignore the belt in favour of the amp, a short duration buff.

*insert stack differences here

Contesting the amp as the out of control player is probably not a great idea – the main problem here is that the down player should be trying to deal safe or efficient damage. Because they have less to work with they have more to loose when taking smaller amounts of damage.

Swings heavily to aim.

Discussion on the dev forum seem to think than amp is “ok on deck but not suitable for maps like compressed”. To me this reads “its ok on deck because you can run away for the duration” rather than giving the player with amp a chance to utilise it. In addition to this the comments (and indication that this seems to be the existing attitude) of “it adds an extra thing so helps even out control” is wrong as already demonstrated.

It should not be added until a more robust armor/health system is in place – maybe it would work then, who knows. The whole time limited thing strikes me as the largest problem. Make it “double damage for the next 3 seconds after shooting” or something. This way it is easier to utlise on a belt, mega or jacket pickup.

Ok. Kinda ran out of steam on this point, I don’t find it that interesting because I strongly suspect that amp will not make it into duel, however.. its worth thinking about anyway.

A Few Final thoughts

One final thing that needs saying and should have been said by now is this : the thighpads are useless. By themselves they are not a way back into the game for the out of control player. 250 health vs 150 health is highly imbalanced.

In addition to this, simply adding thigh pads to a map does not solve the problem. This is similar to adding amp. Sure there is an extra item to suck up the in control players time, and in the pads case more time than an amp due to faster respawn, however a big part that is lacking from out of control play in ut is the ability to generate a meaningful stack if the player wanted to play this way. Once a player has pads they are basically out of options when it comes to larger value uncontested items.

Vials have also been glossed over as a way back into the game for the out of control player for a number of reasons. Firstly they are there for both players due to the lack of a megahealth style item the in control player can take them. Secondly they were never really well positioned for out of control stacking in the popular ut99 maps. For example the vials on deck are in the main room and in a dead end that can be heard from the main room, not exactly out of control territory. The vials on codex are right next to the belt and the jacket, both areas the in control player will be. Thirdly vials in ut4 are unlikely to be on an 18 second spawn like ut99. This alone buffed them a little more than vials in other games, but putting them back to 25-35 seconds is a nerf. Incorrect, health packs are on 20 seconds in ut99 but not vials. Finally this has concentrated more on items that drive the game and player interaction, which is rare for +5 health/armor to do in any previous FPS.

I think stacking speed is important in item driven game types. For duel this is armor/health and for TDM this is weapons. More to come on stacking speed.

Mappers seem to love putting vials in locations to use as audio queues, which is cool but there comes a point where out of control needs a way to safely stack up a little. Due to the belt/jacket dynamic the in control player is not tied up for long periods of time like in quakelive and thus can pressure vial pickups.

Armor Changes

As of late 2015 I do not agree with these suggested changes. However it can stay as it outlines the thought process needed to analyse armor and health changes. If you are interested in possible changes this post might be good to look at.

Preface. Armor refers to armor items (Jacket/pads/helmet). Belt refers to belt armor. Essentially there are two armor “types”.

All these changes are intended for duel. The goal is to reshuffle so the in control player has more on their plate and a harder time locking things down while at the same time giving the out of control player more options for stacking.

Broad changes:
Remove different absorption values from armor. If thighpads@50(50%) is too much drop them 35(75%) which gives roughly the same additional health as 50. Personally I don’t think this is needed and part of the reason they are less than ideal in ut99 is because of the high damage weapons. Stacking with different absorption amounts makes things overly complicated especially when combined with one of the changes below.

Allow items of the same type (armor/jacket) to stack. eg pads stack with pads to give 2* pad armor pickup to the maximum armor amount. Two jacket pickups stack.

Helmet offers no armor and simply converts a headshot into a bodyshot. This makes it a separate to belt or armor and removes confusion as to how much armor you really have. It also streamlines use with belt.

Optional: Change belt to be 95% absorption. It stops belt diving with two health. Also makes more sense once mega is added to the game.

Item specific – Pick one:

These are just three options, change them or more suggestions are needed. Simple is better.

Map specific changes in conjunction with one of the above.

Add keg to maps and have it on a much shorter than 90second respawn. This is another item to tie up the in control players time as well as have a longer “balanced” section of the game where both players are somewhat even. Rather than belt vs jacket we could have belt vs jacket+keg.

Offer more variety in pickups and less dangerous pickup style for the out of control player. Out of control play is a problem on maps like deck. ut mappers seem to go out of their way to make pickups dangerous to get. For some items, some of the time this is fine, but all items do not need to be suspended above lava with rabid dogs spawning on pickup – a slight exaggeration but you get the idea.

If old maps are going to be rehashed can we please fix them? Maps like curse might have ok layouts but belt vs pads is super lame even with the changes I am suggesting. Change them! Make them better! They were only ok to start with, improving them is good, and improvement is more than just taking new movement into account. If the armor system is not changed make a map with two belts and two jackets. Make a map with a belt, two jackets.

Break out of the mold that is “one of each item” – it has been going since ut99, it is outdated and boring.

Cosmetic problems may arise from this. While I can deal with picking up four sets of thigh pads for 200 armor, some player may find this a little odd. Where would you put them? To rectify this the thigh pads could be changed to armor pads – players wear suits where pads can be attached. Thighs, upper arms, forearms and shins. Jacket could become torso plates – can attach to chest/back mounts. Alternatively change armor to a lower damage absorption version of belt and have “power” pickups to charge it. I’m not very good at this part of the game because I just don’t care. I could be picking up carrots for armor and it would not matter. I hope epic go the “pay for customisation” route and have a whole slew of different armor graphic styles I can buy. I would get red/yellow pack for sure. Or maybe plate and mail vs leather jerkin. Likewise the railgun graphic for the sniper rifle – yum.

A fix that involves changing nothing and using existing mechanics
Finally the perceived problem of out of control could somewhat be relieved with a single mutator. Somewhat, this is the clunkiest “fix” and not ideal. In fact it would be better to simply add better items to existing maps.

If there is an amp, change it to a jacket
If there is no amp but there are pads, change pads to jacket
If there is no amp or pads, change Bio (or something) to jacket

The main problem is the ease / time requirements which belt on 55 and jacket on 27 is locked down, giving the in control player lots of time to pressure the out of control player who then has nothing to work with. By adding another jacket the in control player has something else to worry about getting, giving them less time to pressure and accidental overlap is more likely to occur. In addition a jacket rather than pads puts players on a more even footing.

Another idea that will surely polarise opinions is adding spawn points to both the belt and the jacket. This would probably be combined with the above item switch. Now while this may sound crazy, aerowalk, one of the most popular quake maps has a red armor spawn and it works relatively well (depending on your outlook). To me this setup would be better than giving players “wildcards” they can play like spawning with belt. Not only do you spawn with belt, you would also deny their pickup and mess with their timing. Of course the argument against this is that a player playing perfectly will never let you spawn on the belt, which might be the case. However I think this would be one of the last things to look at – better than giving players the option to spawn with belt twice a game, much worse than actually fixing the underlying problem. These are more ideas for people who do not find changing the armor system palatable, personally I am not a huge fan of either idea as I feel changing the base would yield a better 1v1 experience.

Even just changing the belt to the same respawn as the jacket would do much to alleviate the problems.

Why this is important
It is important because a game with structure leads to better games. A game with structure that allows comebacks and slows landslide games with natural gameplay mechanics rather than giving players “cards” to play on spawns and in turn leads to better games.

If the base game allows inroads to control it is better than relying on execution to bleed the in control player. It also gives more style options.

Finally I personally think that the belt+jacket dynamic in ut99 is broken. It may not have been as glaringly obvious 15 years ago but when it is laid out like the above it is. If the game was played to the level quakelive is played today it would be very obvious. If ut4 ends up being as successful as cs:go or one of the MOBAs then the huge player base and competitiveness will latch on and exploit this sort of thing into the ground. Yes the game is fun but it should not allow one player to be one 250 health while the other is relegated to a pickup that provides 1/5th the protection with no way for it to become more when they are locked out of jacket/belt. And thats if the map even allows it, it might be belt vs naked.

It is important because at the core the changes suggested do not break the game as it is, they simply give other options to the out of control player. The existing duel dynamic would still exist. You can still get a single set of pads and press aggressively if you choose to.

This was an intro. An intro to changes that should be made, at least in my opinion. In order to understand why something needs changing it needs to be analysed like above. If anyone would like to correct anything I have stated to this point please go ahead – In case you couldn’t tell I have an axe to grind on this particular subject so if there is a glaring mistake I need to know 🙂

The flavor of UT armor should be preserved as well. To me this means something like ut99 with its different armor pools: belt (100% absorption) and armor (not 100% absorption). This will be preserved in the following ideas because to me it is a key Unreal Tournament thing. Plus there is no reason to change it, work with it and make something unique.

A somewhat relevant post here.

The duel points are interesting. At the end of the day nothing has really ever been tried with duel, it simply uses whatever the rest of the game does and this is why it is has always been somewhat broken in ut. Players seem to accept armor/health sets/spawn times that ship with games and never try to change them. ut99 is essentially a two item game and the bigger item gets lots to pressure the lesser item due to the 55/27 second spawns as well as stacking dynamics. This is the short version as to why it is broken. The duel hard line players will argue otherwise of course but nothing else really drives player interaction. You can deny other pickups but players will generally not try contest a mini-gun or rocket launcher.

Also the maps, tempest for duel? Compressed for duel*? Curse for duel? Overall there were some acceptable maps but there were also some really bizarre options in map pools. Even deck barely worked with the item set ut99 had. This is not really a problem with the gametype as such, more an indication of the stubbornness of the community to accept third party content or drop, or at the minimum modify terrible maps. On top of this in 2kx epic decided to take the lead from the community mappers doing 1on1 maps for ut99, which resulted in a batch of maps designed for 1on1 that did not play well at all. I hardly blame them, the 1on1 third party maps for ut99 were polished looking and appeared good AND got excellent reviews. Unfortunately they played quite poorly in general.

In the unreal world the problem goes beyond the gametype.

*The fatality games were terrible but they highlight the problem that really exists – noone has really spent time trying to make duel work, especially in the ut world. Especially 2k3..

Before changing duel drastically (adding free belts to spawn or something..) it would be really nice if epic went down a path of look at spawn times, values, stacking and how this drives the gametype. These things can be changed and heavily effect how the game plays, how in/out of control works and help prevent snowballing, allow easier comebacks that are not overly reliant on execution and other things that people are concerned about.

And then look at the same values for TDM, FFA and probably CTF. One size of numbers (armor values/ spawn times/ stacking) here does not fit all anymore, as evidenced by existing games that are great for TDM but lack lustre for duel and vice versa in other cases.

Personally I am of the opinion that the mechanics in place and how duel works is perfectly fine, it just needs heavy tweaking and good maps to work.

The one other change that keeps most of what exists in duel is hoonymode. So, so awesome.