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Mastermind Weekly #24a: Tales of a Mastermind (Part I)

Discussion in 'Balance Discussion' started by holepercent, Jun 13, 2018.

  1. holepercent

    holepercent Member

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    (This will probably this column's longest post in two parts, where I tell various stories mostly revolving around playing Mastermind, from the very first 'public' alpha of Legion TD 2 to the current iteration of the game. Some details are fuzzy and I might have misplaced some changes over the course of the game's development. I could look things up but i'd just let the story run. This isn't so much a review of the game)


    So i decided to pick up WarCraft III again, mostly for nostalgia while recording the previews for Element TD on Mobile. It was years since i last played but i did remember the classic TDs, mostly Gem, Burbenog and of course, Legion itself. Heard about Legion TD 2 being in the works, but the Kickstarter had already ended by then. Steam Preorders were still available, which i bought. I vaguely remember joining the Legion TD 2 discord, (blindly) discussing ideas about how the game would go and spamming #FeelsLegionMan.

    This game is not a direct port of any mod of Legion TD. The core concepts are largely similar, but the game plays out very differently. Comparisons are inevitable but give this version a chance to stand on its own. You almost certainly have to un-learn various things from any mod you played to appreciate this version.

    The Legion Calls

    So, I got a PM on discord from Jules overnight, asking for my email address. It came as much of a surprise, if i remember, there were thousands of players who had applied for alpha keys. Those who were around then would remember team #links. Soon after, i received an email containing the code to activate my copy of the Alpha.

    Pressing play brought you to a menu with 3 options: Normal, Practice and Custom. The first 2 were greyed out and unclickable. I created a custom game and saw the option to add bots. If memory serves me right, i created a 1v1 game with a bot on the opposing side. After the load screen, the game presents you a legion select screen. There were only 4 choices, Element, Forsaken, Grove and Mech. I picked Element, hoping it would be somewhat similar to the War3 Legion of the same name. Yep, there's aqua spirit in there. I started building 3 workers, before realising i only had 50 gold left to build one Aqua Spirit. (For the uninitiated, if you had aqua in your roll in War3, you could hard push workers while mostly holding on minimum value). Of course, i proceed to leak most of the wave and restarted the game. One "feature' was the game exiting itself completely every time you finished a game. I remember really spamming games and was top 10 in hours played at the start. (These days, i barely spam, playing just a couple of games to keep this column alive)

    The early balance was super wacky, some fighers were completely overpowered and some were really useless, like however hard you tried to make it work, it just under performed every time. The Aqua Combo dominated most of the early waves. Nightmare and Berserker were really weak as both died too fast and were prone to being AWOL from the engagement. At one point, protons were probably the strongest fighter in the game, which is an achievement for a fighter with no ability, dealing pure damage and having immaterial armour. Tier 6 fighters were simply overcosted for their damage output while building a mass of tier 1 fighters were simply more efficient, even after factoring in the supply costs. The game balance was adjusted, sometimes quite drastically, every few days.

    Masterminding Rolls

    We had probably 2-3 months of testing the 4 legions before the first iteration of Mastermind was introduced into the game. This builder gave you 6 randomised fighters, one of each tier. There was no reroll and you were stuck with whatever you were given. Few patches later, players were given one opportunity to reroll any number of them before wave 1 started by typing -reroll X. You could not get back the fighter you chose to reroll. With only 24 fighters in the game, most players were simply rerolling for the 'strong' fighters or what they were comfortable playing from regular legions.

    The next iteration of Mastermind was a refreshing change. The builder now gave the player a random selection of 9-10 fighters of any tier with a few guarantees, such as one t1, one t2-3, and one t4-5, from which the player chooses 6 to keep. A t1-3 arcane armour fighter was later added as an additional guarantee to provide options to hold key waves. Players could build around synergies of fighters in the same tier across legions.

    Ideally, you want a 'balanced' set of fighters that would give you reasonable options to hold every wave. Having played both systems, both have different advantages and issues but i personally prefer the current iteration, or maybe simply got used to it. As to how the system can be improved, i would propose that rather than having additional guarantees, the extreme rolls are simply removed from being possibilities. Removing 4x t1 or 4x t6 appearing in a roll is a start. The core idea of playing mastermind is to adapt to what you are given.

    Very few rolls can be considered truly 'unplayable', but some rolls will be lacking in certain aspects, the common one being a roll with no actual 'tank' for a front line. Some will allow for really aggressive play on workers, while a few will be forced to stay low on workers. This still has an impact on competitive play being 'balanced' where games are determined simply by which team has a roll that allows for more workers and/or fighters that dominate the meta too much. Adjustments can be made to nerf certain synergies, but the game probably gets too monotonous if fighters were mostly interchangable.

    Samantha sends are awesome

    It's going to be brutal! Probably one of my iconic lines, ever since brutes could end games on wave 2 in alpha. Early on, brutes had a %age stun ability before being changed, in an attempt to reduce RNG. Double or triple brutes on wave 4 or 6 were game winning (and probably still is, even in its current iteration, if players don't prepare for the send). There were a few patches where 4 eyes was simply too dominant, and most (high level) players made pre game 'agreements' to not send it. One of the other more memorable sends were mass dinos, Centaurs and/or Ghost Knighs, even Krakens on ranged waves, most notably 8 and 11. Mass lizards on 10 is another classic.

    The early alpha had fog of war enabled, and there were discussions on when fighers were revealed to the opposing team. At the beginning, all players had a 'cheat' command to reveal the entire map, which was frequently used when a team was all in on sending to win.

    The send system early on was all sends went into a common 'pool' arranged in decending mythium cost, a player is chosen at random to receive the highest mythium cost mercenary first, then the rest were distributed, poker style. Players had to pay attention to which player was sending what mercenaries and if any particular player wasn't sending anything but saving mythium. Players with more workers could help to cover missing auras of players who had less workers and therefore mythium. The team had to pay attention to the number of each mercenary in the send area, especially auras to make sure all opponents received one. There were a couple of players who frequenty 'forgot' to send, and saved for long periods of time to send a surprise Kraken and other similarly high cost mercenaries.

    At some point, the fog of war was removed during the day when each wave was sent. This made the game more about knowledge rather than intelligent guessing on what the oppoent had based on surviving fighters at the King area. There are still opportunities to hide fighters until the wave they were strong on.

    With fighters revealed during the day, the system was changed to each player sending directly to one opponent and receiving sends from a different player. The idea was such that it doesn't make the game a multiple of direct 1v1s, but your sends would have an impact on another player's ability to push workers and how much another player has to build to hold potential sends.

    By now, most experienced players have an idea of what waves regular legions are strong and weak on. Playing mastermind is one way to make the send decision more complicated as you can hide fighters until the wave they are really needed on.

    (to be continued)
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2018