Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Server Side Perks - The Good, the Bad, and the Unbalanced Part Two

 Balance? What balance?

I'd like to say that I don't even know where to begin in terms of the most overpowered, utterly unbalanced and completely broken server side premium perks, but when it comes to Team Fortress 2 one particular server group springs to mind as the most infamous example: NighTeam.

A clan with multiple United States and European servers, NighTeam has premium implemented across their entire roster of servers, which is hardly a small amount. For the cost of 3.99 EUR a month you become a premium user, and at the moment TF2 premium perks are the only ones present. Since I don't want to take half this column just dumping the entire thing I'll be cherry picking some of the 'best' options but for your convenience, the entire ludicrous rundown can be found here.

Included is the basic stuff like autobalance immunity and reserved slots, but it doesn't take long for it to start becoming an exercise in madness. For example, here's the general (I stress this, general) bonuses, not even getting class specific:

  • Increased a 25% the fire rate with all weapons.
  • Increased a 30% the walk speed of all classes.
  • Unlimited ammo with most of the weapons.
  • 50HP Bonus for each kill.
  • 25HP Bonus for each kill assist.
  • Detection of spy fake kills.
  • Super jumps with all classes.
  • Fall damage immunity.
  • Self damage immunity.
Shooting faster, moving faster, unlimited ammo, on kill bonuses, all sorts of damage immunity; these are game changing additions in and of themselves, but these only scratch the surface of what NighTeam offers. Scouts for example instead of getting two jumps instead get -- wait for it -- as many as they want. So, an infinitely jumping Scout essentially can fly for all intents and purposes. Add to this things like infinite Mad Milk, a new Sandman ball every three seconds, and you have an incredibly broken superclass ... and that's one of nine. From Soldiers getting no blast radius penalty with the Direct Hit (as well as the rockets moving 20% faster and getting a six rocket clip instead of four), Engineers with four sentries and the option to remotely detach sappers with a console command, Medics that always start with 50% uber, infinite cloak time for Spies, and other lovely additions and you forget about throwing balance out the window. You just shot balance, out of a cannon, into the sun.

Now, I can understand if you've tried the game, even played for months and you've come to the conclusion that you want to mostly just goof around and play with incredibly broken odds that are always in your favour or at least even, but when it comes to changes this drastic I cannot fathom what happens when people new to the game inadvertently join a NighTeam server and see things going on that they cannot know are not a part of normal gameplay on the whole? Many European players might find most of NighTeams servers as an attractive option due to the sheer volume of the ones they've hosted there. So this is far from a theoretical issue.

This is my major problem with such unbalanced premium perks. If you're going to change the game so much that it's basically a mocking version of its former self, then what's the point of even playing? I know that single player titles can and have been modded to great degrees (a recent case that springs to mind is the literal metric shitload of mods for Skyrim, including such gems as the Macho Man mod), but in cases like those it's only your experience being altered. Team Fortress 2 and other popular games like Counter Strike are by their very definition team based games, and when one player is rocketed heads and shoulders above the others by an unfair set of advantages everyone suffers.

Think about it, playing against one of these players must be ridiculous and a huge exercise in frustration. To add to this though is the fact that if you lean heavily on the premium bonuses, then you're honestly never going to get better. In fact odds are that any player would get markedly worse over time; being able to do things like just ignore certain types of damage and completely negate the drawbacks of certain weapons doesn't encourage a person to improve their game, it's a straight up case of "when all you have is a hammer".

I know that the counter arguments to this are ones like "well, simply don't pay for premium if you don't like it" and "don't play on their servers if you don't like what they implement" but honestly, with a lot of large clans like NighTeam, Saigan, and others all offering such packages it becomes hard to find vanilla servers. Also, turning people away is the last thing that anyone running servers wants to do. Premium is meant to be a perk, but when it turns into one that draws some in at the cost of alienating others it turns into more of a double edged sword than anyone might really intend it to.

There's nothing inherently wrong with premium, either dev side or server side, but it makes sense to know when to draw the line, to keep the game from spiralling out of control into something that doesn't even seem indicative of the core product.

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