Friday 8 June 2012

Designer addresses melee vs. ranged disparity

Reddit did a AMA with Wyatt Cheng, Andrew Chambers, and Jay Wilson - all Diablo 3 game designers the other day. If you didn't check it out, you can do so HERE. We will also post the full transcript when the reddit admins have finished it up. THE AMA was excellent, but one question didn't get much attention as it should: Why do ranged do more damage than melee, when melee have much less uptime and much more risk.

Luckily the developers thought it was a really relevant concern, so Wyatt Cheng took some time to write up the following response on the official forums:

06/06/2012 08:48 PMPosted by Adamant
Can you please explain/reconcile the disparity between melee and ranged in this game?

I'll state up front that I do think there's a disparity between melee and ranged, and I would like to see that closed. I feel like if I talk a lot about thought processes and design philosophy and don't state this up front people will lose the forest for the trees and conclude we think everything is fine. So I'll say it again: melee vs. ranged disparity is not fine, changes are being made, and even if you disagree with the approach outlined below we can hopefully have the common ground that the current situation needs improvement.

It may not look like it on the surface, but a large number of the changes in 1.0.3 are actually targeted at closing the melee/ranged gap. Let me go through some of them.

I'm going to use Hardcore as a starting point. In Hardcore, there's actually a reasonable distribution of classes, and I don't think the melee vs. ranged disparity is as large. There are a lot of Hardcore players of every class in Inferno without a huge disparity. Why is this important? It's because a significant portion of the melee/ranged disparity is related to a ranged character's ability to progress even while dying. A melee player can throw themselves at a monster and die, doing almost no damage to an elite enemy. A ranged player can do a huge amount of damage to an elite enemy, die, respawn, and basically attrition the enemy down with repeated deaths. In the Hardcore environment where a single bad Mortar, Vortex, Jailer, or Reflects Damage will kill a glass cannon-ranged character, the disparity between ranged and melee is an order of magnitude less.

Repair Costs
One of the more controversial changes in 1.0.3 is the increased repair costs. The design intent of these increased repair costs is to make death more meaningful. One of the top arguments we see against the increased repair costs is "I'm already dying dozens of times to make any progress in Inferno. Don't you see this is going to make this impossible?" This concern is most often brought up by ranged glass cannons. Many melee players respond "increased repair costs seem fine" because they haven't been using death-zerging as a tactic. Melee can't easily death-zerg an enemy down, but ranged can. I don't think the answer is to make death-zerging more attractive for melee; I'd rather make death-zerging a less profitable strategy for ranged.

Enemy Health and Damage
We're also looking to adjust the damage and health of enemies in Inferno Acts II, III, and IV. This is another change that is primarily for melee with secondary benefits for ranged. A lot of ranged are building glass cannon with the mentality "well, I'll just try not to get hit at all." So, reducing incoming damage when they weren't taking any before isn't significant for them, whereas reducing incoming damage for the melee is a big deal. For the ranged classes, I'm hoping that the incoming damage reduction will make some survival stats more appealing to ranged classes. While before the damage was so large it just felt pointless to try and mitigate any of it at all, after the change hopefully ranged classes will think "well, if I just put on a modest amount of survivability, I don't get 1-shot, so that's worth it." There are some ranged players who are already doing this -- stacking survivability so they don’t have to endlessly kite -- and it just feels like the minimum amount of survivability to avoid the 1-shot is so large it's unattainable. That's one of the things 1.0.3 seeks to address.

Damage Reduction in Co-op
Another change which is targeted at improving life for melee is the reduction in co-op damage. Again, since many ranged players just build glass cannon and avoid damage completely, they didn't really care if incoming damage went up as other players entered the game, but the melee characters really noticed. It was very easy for your life-on-hit to have you at a steady equilibrium, but as soon as another player entered the game your life-on-hit was no longer covering the incoming damage and death became imminent.

Additional Changes
And finally, there are always minor polish adjustments designed to help melee -- such as the AI on some monsters (BEES!!!) being tweaked to run away less often, which again helps melee more than ranged. I actually spent some extra time the other day to make sure if a Sand Wasp runs away from you, and you start chasing the wasp, it doesn't turn and shoot 4 bees in your face (hopefully that makes 1.0.3). I'm also working with one of our gameplay engineers to make it so if you sidestep the Dark Berserker’s power hit (where he brings his giant mace down), he doesn’t turn to track you as he swings (though that change probably won't make 1.0.3). These kind of AI adjustments are things ranged players don’t even notice, but are huge for melee.

Another adjustment being made is increasing both the maximum range and the dead zone of Mortar. Mortar was specifically designed to be an anti-range affix, but many ranged players would just stand even farther away, whereas melee would sometimes get caught in the cross-fire of two Mortars. Increasing the maximum range and the dead zone helps with both of these.

I really hate the disparity in what each class gets out of stats. It's almost completely pointless to build up armor and resists on a demon hunter because you can never get enough to be really tanky while a wizard can, with a single skill, get +65% armor and +40% resists. Barbarians have something similar and I have to assume monks do as well (never tried the class) but witch doctors don't have anything either. An item with defensive stats can be twice as good for one class as for another. A wizard might have 7000 armor and 900 in all resists but a DH in the same caliber of gear would have 3000 armor and 500 resists. Why even bother, then?

Enemy damage is obviously tuned to be a threat to the classes with gigantic defensive boosts, it has to be, so there's no realistic way for the classes without boosts to ever become capable of taking even a little bit of damage. This creates a really lopsided situation where DHs and WDs go glass cannon because there's really no other option, and a lot of items are underwhelming for them because they might as well have 1 hp so what good is a hat with +100 vit? It'll give you 20k hp instead of 18k, but you still get hit for 70k.

This in turn has forced the developers to give these classes skills that make them actually invulnerable in order to be playable at all, allowing them to go all DPS. The class has to be viable, and survivability is pointless, so they are viable with zero survivability. They are viable with 100% DPS, in fact it's the only way they're viable, so we're seeing 150k DPS DHs clearing the game and farming wherever they want because the game mechanics have to allow it. You die a lot that way and it's frankly rather annoying to play when literally any damage kills you, including largely unavoidable crap like fire grates and falling logs. I don't think it's overpowered, but it's awful game design and it has a terrible effect on everything because the whole game has to be shaped around these ridiculous factors.

It's as if the developers sat there going "Okay, wizards need a bunch of bonus armor and resists. But then demon hunters need a spammable skill that makes them invulnerable since we tuned monster damage with wizards and barbarians in mind. But this allows them to do insane damage by ignoring defense, so enemies need to have absurd amounts of health and crazy abilities that force you to run around constantly. But then the melee classes are nearly unplayable... but we have no solution to that, let's ship the game."