Announcements - 1999/11 - Release

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November 1999 - Patch Page

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Release Notes

Original Link (now dead) - http://www.zone.com/asheronscall/news/ASHEnewsupdate1.asp

Click to return to Microsoft Zone Archive

DETAILS OF THE 11/23/1999 UPDATE


November 23rd

On the morning of November 23rd, Asheron's Call will undergo its first major update since its public debut. This update makes some changes to game balance -- the relative strengths of particular skills, monsters, and items. We realize that changes can be painful, and we have no intention of continually shifting the game balance. We are especially reluctant to make changes that weaken characters. However, we badly needed to curtail the effectiveness of a few skills for this update to put them on equal footing with most of the game's other skills. We do not change the character powers lightly, and we do not intend to make this a common practice.


Below are details on the changes, from Chris Foster, lead game designer for Asheron's Call at Turbine Entertainment Software.


CHANGES TO MONSTERS

  • Monsters now have more pronounced "soft spots" in their armor. Choosing the height of your missile and melee attacks will have a more pronounced effect on the damage you do.
  • Monsters now also have clearer "soft spots" in their magical resistances. Mages must choose spells more carefully; using a spell to which a monster has natural resistance can reduce its effectiveness by half or more! Mages who choose proper spellcasting tactics will do as much damage as they ever did.
  • Lugians, Armordilloes, and Gromnies are somewhat faster and better defended.
  • Lugians and some Monougas fit better through doorways.
  • The locations of many monsters have been tweaked to improve game balance.
  • Vats and braziers are now ethereal, so they cannot be used as safe "perches" for picking off monsters.
  • On the landscape, monsters will now be able to open doors.
  • Gromnies will no longer defend their brethren.
  • Shadow creatures and Olthoi have better defenses.
  • Many Monougas will navigate better around pits.
  • Banderling Captains and Tumerok Warriors were not casting spells; this now works as intended.
  • Ice golems no longer take double damage from fire.


CHANGES TO MAGIC

  • Portal spells are now harder to learn, and the spread in difficulty across portal spreads is also greater. (This restores portal magic as a goal to which mages aspire.)
  • The ranges of Harm and Drain spells have been reduced, as the ranges made these attack spells more powerful than anything a War Mage could cast. Beneficial Heal, Regenerate and Enchantment spells retain their high range. The duration of enchantment now increases substantially with the level of its spell.
  • Vendors no longer hold on to the magic scrolls they buy, and will only sell their standard supplies of them.
  • Minor tweaks: Health-to-Stamina Self II had the wrong scarab, and the Range for Exhaustion Other I was too short. Both will be fixed.
  • Health-to-Stamina Other spells did not display their range when examined. They will now.


QUEST ITEMS

Changes have been made to the requirements for using the following items:

  • Acid Axe
  • Blue Virindi Gem
  • Dagger of Tikola
  • Dull Gem
  • Fiery Shield
  • Fire Spear
  • Fire Staff
  • Gem of Black Fire
  • Green Mire Cuirass
  • Green Mire Yari
  • Ice Tachi
  • Lightning Hammer
  • Lou Ka's Yaoji
  • Obsidian Crown
  • Obsidian Ring
  • Orb of Black Fire
  • Red Virindi Gem
  • Superior Helm
  • Swamp Gem
  • Sword of Lost Light
  • Tibri's Flaming Spear


MISCELLANEOUS

  • Miscellaneous portals now have appropriate level restrictions.
  • A small number of traps, locks, and quest-related items have been tweaked.
  • Mattekar hides are now less commonplace.
  • The values of jewelry created by the treasure system have been made more consistent.
  • A number of locations where players can get stuck in or behind objects are fixed.
  • A number of minor tweaks have been made to spell effects and other graphics.
  • A number of rumors have been clarified and/or corrected.
  • A number of quest-related and collector-related behaviors have minor fixes.
  • Ale and green tea now work as intended.
  • "Healing cheese" is now labeled everywhere it appears.
  • Minor tweaks have been made to improve server performance.

Letter to the Players

Original Link (now dead) - http://www.zone.com/asheronscall/news/ASHEnewsspin3.asp

Click to return to Microsoft Zone Archive

The Spin from Turbine


December 1, 1999

A Question of Balance
I'll can the chatty banter for this update and get to the heart of the matter.

We've received many complaints regarding the changes to mages. People who had invested many hours (and countless XP) into certain professions have had their characters' power levels drop suddenly. Foes who had been easy kills had suddenly become a challenge. Players who ruled the landscape now find themselves less effective as solo players.

It seems worth taking some time to explain how these changes came about.

Goals Desired, Goals Not Achieved
When the magic system for the game was being designed, it had some clear intentions:

  • to provide a fair alternative for combat that required somewhat more thought and planning;
  • to provide schools of magic that worked well in concert with other skill sets or other characters;
  • to create areas of overlap between schools of magic, where each school had its strengths and weaknesses.


Those were some of our many goals for the magic system. Unfortunately, as our Beta cycle wrapped up, we realized that we had not accomplished these goals nearly as well as we'd hoped.

  • Spell resistances were underutilized by monsters, making any projectile spell as useful as any other, and removing a tactical element from spellcasting.
  • Given the extreme ranges of Drain and Harm spells, Life Mages were nearly powerful enough to make War Mages obsolete. Life Magic was always intended to be best at giving life, not taking it. (While this makes life mages best suited for group play, this is balanced by making the Life Magic skill -- and other "enchanter" skills -- cheaper than War Magic during character creation.)
  • Enchanters were finding that higher-level spells added little benefit, making their schools of magic less appealing.
  • Complex Portal Spells were very easy to learn, devaluing something that should have a been a mark of distinction among powerful Enchanters.


The sum total of these concerns was that mages were less interesting to play than we'd wanted, and in some cases, much more powerful than other classes.

The Tough Decision
We've spent the past month or so figuring out how to address the situation -- and a good chunk of that time trying to decide if we should address it at all. We've been tempted to leave things be, but decided that we'd be risking a worst-case situation where every non-mage was frustrated by their disadvantages and every mage became bored with how easy the game was to them.

So we needed to take action. What to do? One thought was to leave mages the way they were, and give everyone else a commensurate power boost. The problem with that solution is that non-mages, in general, are balanced properly against the difficulties of monsters and encounters in the game, and against the levels of treasure and experience points in the game. If we boosted their abilities, then all of that other data would become unbalanced, and we'd end up having to revise everything in the game. And that's just not practical.

That left us with one option: lower the power of some mages. This is something we approached very, very carefully (as shown by the many long-winded paragraphs above), because we know how much it stinks to have your abilities knee-capped in the middle of the game.

Should these balance issues have been addressed sooner? In a perfect world, they would have been, but the discrepancies between professions only became crystal clear to us towards the end of Beta. We realized then that we had missed some vital game-balance information -- but by that time, we were in the middle of the game's “Release to Manufacturing” process, a long, multi-week process that could only be derailed for the most catastrophic of bugs.

(We know one way to catch these issues sooner in the future is to get more involved with the community. That's why this site was created, why we're showing up more on the fan sites and in chats, and why we're working to get even more involved.)

Careful Changes
The decision was made to alter game balance for mages in the following ways:

  • In the last update, Magic Resistances were added to monsters, making War Mages stop to choose the proper spells when attacking their foes. (With proper tactics, players do as much damage as they did before this change.)
  • In the last update, Drain and Harm spells had such great range that they let Life Mages strike at foes with impunity, leaving War Mages in the dust. Reducing their range returns these spells from the main benefit of Life Magic to a side benefit, and returns Life Magic to its original intent: a means of providing healing, regeneration, and protection.
  • In order to provide greater benefits to enchanters, we lengthened the durations of higher-level Enchantments.
  • Advanced portal spells were increased in difficulty, making it harder for low-level Enchanters to cast them.


We understand that in some cases -- particularly for Life Mages -- this has a significant effect on how you approach playing the game. We're sorry that we had to make these changes, but they were necessary to ensure that the game remain fun and balanced for everyone over the long haul.

Future Improvements
That said, we acknowledge that the balance between mages and other professions may still not be as good as we want it to be. Given the many elements that determine how effective a mage is, the way magic behaves differently at different levels, and the many different approaches players take to each school of magic, the perfect balance point is devilishly difficult to determine.

In the future, we will be looking at the results of these changes, and also at other issues that affect balance, such as availability of treasure, balance between different melee weapons, and ability to exploit AI in certain situations. However, there are two guidelines that will shape how we approach all of these concerns:

  • With our first update, we made a priority of addressing the most severe imbalances first -- particularly where the changes would end up lowering a player's power. Aside from resolving exploits, our priority going forward is to make changes that only add benefits to players, not take them away.
  • We are not going to rush these changes. It's much more damaging to have to make multiple changes to a system due to lack of understanding of the problem. We will look carefully at the issues at hand, test our solutions thoroughly, and try to do them once and only once. We will not allow a situation where your power levels fluctuate wildly over the course of the game.


On the Horizon: Our Next Update
I'll wrap this up with a brief overview of some of the changes being worked on for our next update. While we've focused our efforts on creating a compelling event, we've also made some improvements to the game. Highlights of this update are:

  • Monster AI will be getting a slight upgrade, to improve monsters' ability to plan tactics, use enchantments, and respond to attacks.
  • Miscellaneous tweaks have been made to improve monster balance. (Some monsters have even been learning from the mages that attack them . . .)
  • Vendors will be able to purchase cooking items, and will sell more alchemy and fletching items.
  • A rare case that could cause your client to crash or freeze has been fixed.
  • Our ongoing storyline is beginning. (Don't forget to bring your mittens!)


Finally, I want to ensure our commitment to improving Asheron's Call. It was a long, hard road bringing this game to fruition, and we're going to keep working to refine it. The best is yet to come.

--Chris Foster, a.k.a. "Slapp"
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