Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mass Effect Bullets

So Mass Effect 3 is on its way and we're all excited about that (in theory- if you're not, you should be).

Anyways, according to BioWare they won't be doing much to combat- at the core it will remain the same- shoot the enemies, use cover to hide etc.... they are adding more combat mobility and increasing the default difficulty, but otherwise they're keeping the good recipe they found in ME2, as well as bringing back weapon modification from ME.

But I don't care too much about all that. What I want to talk about is bullets. Bullets and ammunition and the way that they should be part of  a game. This is me pretending to be a developer, so its probably gonna be a load of crap and it should be ignored. But who cares?

In the original Mass Effect there was no ammo. Infinite ammo for everyone! That's great, right? You never have to worry about not being able to do anything. Worse case you just pull out your guns and start shooting. The limiting factor on the guns was "heat". As you fired, the gun would heat up. If you stopped firing, heat would dissipate fairly quickly. However, if you maxed out the heat bar, your gun would overheat and you would not be able to fire until all of the heat dissipated. This made players fire in bursts, allowing for longer sustained fire. It also granted increased accuracy- as is natural when firing in bursts rather than full auto. In a single player RPG, you want the game to focus on a few things, primarily the action and the story. Having unlimited ammo doesn't significantly hurt either of those. You don't have to worry about scrounging for ammo right before a big fight. And if you don't know a big fight is coming and you walk into it and get auto saved with ten shots left. Then you have to micro your allies and make sure that they don't misuse their abilities, because otherwise you're screwed.

The downside to having this system is that there is less of a punishment for being bad. If you miss 95% of the time, you'll run out of ammo in a shootout before you take down all of your enemies, with a heat based weapon you can keep at it until you finally get them all. Now, while it is not particularly hard to aim, putting a restriction in can make the game much harder, or even close to impossible for some players. And because it is a single player game, on easier modes, it should not have a high skill threshold. To challenge players, they should not be limited by an artificial barrier, but by the difficulty of the enemy. Rather than giving them limited ammo, make the enemies move faster, duck behind walls more, advance to your position and bombard you with abilities. Even with infinite ammo, being slammed is gonna hurt.

Additionally, in the original Mass Effect there were weapon upgrades that played with the heat generated by your weapon in return for a change in accuracy or damage. There is one that increased damage by about 25% and increased heat generation by the same. If you stuck two of those onto a sniper rifle, it would only fire once, which didn't significantly negatively affect the weapon as under normal conditions it could fire 1.4 times before it overheated (meaning that you can't fire two times in a row without overheating) and with 50% more heat it can fire .7 times- which is rounded up to one shot (again meaning that you can't fire two times in a row without overheating). Combine that with the 225% from Master Assassination and you can get 5 points of damage per weapon point- and that's not including points from talents. It lets you one-shot anything (except bosses) for minimal cost.

On the other end of the spectrum regarding overheating weapons, you can apply one to an assault rifle that decreases heat generation by around 20-30% and decreases damage by about 10%. On the right rifles, this can lead to the weapon cooling down faster than it can overheat (if you use two) and almost at that point if you use only one. This leads to the player being able to never stop firing, which whittles down enemies fairly quickly, even if they do have reduced damage or accuracy.

From Mass Effect, came Mass Effect 2. They removed the heating factor of weapons as well as weapon upgrades. You had your gun and that was it. BioWare did reward skill in ME2 granting increased damage for critical hits- shots that landed on particular 'weak spots', often heads or mouths. The reason they give for having ammunition is that the magazines are heat sinks and will absorb any heat your weapon gives off. The good thing about heat sinks as compared to normal ammunition- in a game such as Call of Duty or Left for Dead is that it fits all weapons, so I wouldn't be getting shotgun-only ammo on my sniper or pistol rounds for my soldier.

The reverse of that is that Mass Effect very closely ties the player to their class' signature weapon. A Vanguard without a shotgun or an Infiltrator without an sniper rifle is probably four to five times harder to play- just because their talents push them in that direction, without much leeway. So if you suddenly find yourself out of ammo for your primary weapon, you're screwed. Its going to be very hard to take down enemies with a weapon you can't aim properly with if you're supposed to fight from a crows nest- and that is the primary way to get ammo back.

I also have some complaint story-wise about having the hard ammunition. If I'm in a weapon shop, why can't I buy some heat sinks? Being able to buy ammo would be a huge boon to the system- it makes it slightly easier, but it also creates a meaningful choice. I mean, I beat the game several times without buying ammo, but if I was low on ammo, I might buy that instead of buying an upgrade to pistols- which I don't use much. So the ammo would help me more than it helps my team, but hey- decisions. Also, if I have ammo, what about the rest of my squad. In ME, my squad-mates would cease fire occasionally, to let their weapons cool down. However, in ME2, they do the same- but where does their ammo come from? If they have spare ammo, why can't they toss me a clip when I run out? Finally, why would technology regress? Not having ammunition makes warfare that much easier- logistics is no longer a huge hassle because you don't need to worry at all about ammunition.

What I would like to see is an integration of the two systems. You have your weapons heat up. If they have a heat-sink in them, it will absorb that heat until it is fully heated up, at which point it is ejected. However, you won't automatically reload. If you wanted to take another shot, you could- your weapon would just begin to heat up, and if it overheated, it would be some time before you would be able to fire again. You could also just slap another magazine in and keep firing. Doing this would allow the developers to make heat-sinks rarer, making the use of them a meaningful choice. For some weapons- like a sniper rifle, in which you take long breaks between shots, you probably wouldn't spend much ammunition. For a weapon like an assault rifle, which you might just spray and pray with, having the heat sinks would be a great boon.

Anyways, that is a stupid amount of words for a fairly simple concept. But hey, Mass Effect. Bullets. Good times.

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