(Pirates of the Caribbean: Isles of War) Combat Balancing – Light vs. Heavy

As part of the strategic depth to Pirates of the Caribbean: Isles of War, one aspect we pushed for was a soft Rock-Paper-Scissors (RPS) relationship between hull class types of the same tier strength. As part of that relationship, the primary classes were Light, Standard, and Heavy. The Light hull class was the typical fast, low-health, low-damage style of play, which could really utilize its speed to either kite or zero in on targets. On the other hand, we had the Heavy hull class, which had large amounts of armor, health, and firepower, but was incredibly slow and hard to maneuver quickly. The Standard class was the jack-of-all-trades style of hull, which had average stats across the board, but did not particularly excel in any one category. In our ideal RPS model, our goal was to make a relationship cycle that supported the following:


The initial assumption I made when attempting to create this relationship was that speed had the highest impact potential in a given combat scenario, as faster speed allowed for both maintaining a steady rate of damage, as well as surviving longer by dodging enemy fire range. Since Light class hulls were intended to be one of the fastest class of hull in the game, I accounted for a high speed stat by lowering the class’s general survivability and maximum firepower. In theory, this made sense, and initial playtesting demonstrated this to be a fair assumption. However, once the game went live, players were ultimately drawn to only the Heavy class hulls, and concluded that both Light and Standard class hulls were ineffective. I realized that this dominate strategy would turn into a long term problem, as it would become increasingly difficult to create desirable new content or prizes, and also reduced the overall strategic depth of the game.

At first I thought perhaps players were seeing the lower health numbers of the Light hull and had not come to terms with how to fully leverage the strength of speed. However, as I began testing with the same cannon load out and Heavy class hulls that players were using against Light ships, I began to realize that there were some additional factors that I had failed to take into account.

In Pirates of the Caribbean: Isles of War, firing range was not your traditional 360 degree coverage, but instead, a cone on either side of the hull, adding unique gameplay, as well as more accurately reflecting how ships battled during the 18th Century. While this was a core pillar to our combat system, it resulted in additional balancing challenges, including time on target. Even with the fastest firing cannons in the game, I found it to be incredibly difficult, with fast moving hulls, to get more than two shots fired per pass at an enemy without taking substantial damage. In other words, the drawback to having speed, as a direct result of our firing range system, was that it was actually more difficult to deal sufficient damage without being overly risky.

After taking time to consider all viable options, and discussing the issue with my team, I came to the conclusion that a new stat needed to be added to the game: Evasion. Evasion would reduce the accuracy of oncoming attacks by X%. By adding in evasion, it would not only add a new way to survive outside of health and armor, but also thematically created the survivability aspect of having speed and agility. In addition to evasion, I gave both Light and Standard more maximum potential firepower, specifically by allowing each of them to hold an additional cannon. This way, faster moving ships could have more shots per pass, and ultimately deal more damage during the course of the battle.


After adding evasion into the live game, I began to see a change in player perception towards non-Heavy hull classes. Players quickly became aware of the strength that evasion provided, especially as they began to have more difficulty winning with their Heavy ships against NPC Light ships. As a result, players debated over what the next best hull class was, and started to use not only Light and Standard classes, but all other secondary classes in the game as well. There was an increase in diversity of fleets, as they became less homogenous, and players began building fleets that were specialized for different aspects of the game. Additionally, new hulls that were introduced into the game, or prizes awarded from events, became highly desirable by all players, and ultimately created far more strategic depth and a richer experience for Pirates of the Caribbean: Isles of War.


~ by rhickman-design on August 1, 2014.