[I wrote this years ago and never released it, upon the rebirth of my site, I felt like it may as well go up for those interested!]
With this piece I wanted to address the fallacy of balanced items and game mechanics, how it is imbalance that creates interesting game-play through a structure that is created through synergy of game mechanics and map design.
To understand what structure is and how it is created, we can look at QuakeWorld 4v4 which has very structured game-play despite it’s chaotic nature. It achieves structure by having items and areas which create an almost overwhelming advantage when obtained by a team. Teams will naturally gravitate to these areas and items, and with good co-ordination be rewarded with item and map control. There is an inherent problem with control however, we must make sure it is not too easy to obtain and that it has multiple stages which grant less or more frags depending on the stage. This makes the game very tense and interesting for players because you can recover big frag deficits with a great series of plays that emphasise team and individual strength. It is interesting for spectators as it is much easier to follow important players when the game takes on such a structure.
We need to consider map design to create mitigating factors to control to allow the team which is in the worse position to have options. In the interest of creating diverse game-play the options must allow for individual actions as well as team actions to be viable in helping to reverse control. Taking QuakeWorld’s dm3 as example, the mitigating factors are created by game mechanics as well as map design. On dm3 the RL and LG are in a room full of water, where a fully stacked player can be instantly killed by an LG discharge – giving the out of control team a chance to at least get the very powerful weapons. This means that whilst a team can get a lot of control, if they become too greedy, the potential for them to be instantly killed and to lose control is there. The Pentagram is a power-up that grants health invulnerability for 30 seconds, it spawns in a location that is accessible and positionally difficult to protect, giving the down team a chance to steal it and turn around control or equalise things.
One of the interesting contrasts is in the difference between QuakeLive’s MG against QuakeWorld’s Boomstick as starting weapons. The boomstick helps to create structured game-play because it is extremely weak against a player with a weapon as it cannot be used to deal damage reliably at range as well as the main weapons being much stronger against spawners. But due to the large splash damage of the RL, the movement in QuakeWorld and the close-range damage potential of the boomstick, flooding as a team off of the spawn is a strong situational option – and because of the impact of killing one enemy weapon it emphasises individual vs team game-play. When we look at the MG and how it functions in QL TDM it becomes apparent that it serves to detract from structure and remove options instead of adding them. It does this by being as strong at mid-range/stronger than the majority of weapons except the LG. It also means that the already weak armours have less value as well as the weapon pick-ups having less value, effectively removing options from players who control items through good team play and co-ordination. The damage the MG does can be mitigated by map-design by making areas less open, but it is an undesirable concept to do this as it removes options from the game. The only thing I can think of to lessen the undesirable effects without removing it, is to put spawning health down to 100.
Based on what we’ve established so far, we look at modern TDM in QL and find a lack of structure that causes gameplay that is “team FFA” and less interesting as the emphasis shifts away from team co-ordination, team-play and objective based strategy. There are no items in QuakeLive that give one team an overwhelming advantage, shifting the game-play towards a more individual style that’s based on timing items and moving on. Good mapping will help to fix some of these issues, but the game-play will still lack diversity and interest compared to a game that has more structure due to item strength and game-mechanics such as QuakeWorld 4v4.