Author Topic: A thought on exponential mark scaling  (Read 1573 times)

Offline RocketAssistedPuffin

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A thought on exponential mark scaling
« on: December 27, 2018, 11:09:07 AM »
In Classic, hull bonuses would remain the same no matter what mark the unit was. A Missile Frigate would be 6x all the time.

In AIW2, they increase with mark. A Concussion Corvette would start at 6x, then increase to 7x, then 8x, etc. I wonder if this scaling should stay or not, as it means units with bonuses get better exponentially compared to those without.

First, a mention of the generic damage multiplier each unit gets with Mark, not the bonus damage ones. Only going up to Mark 5 here, but it gets worse at 6 and 7.

Mark 1: 1x
Mark 2: 2.1x
Mark 3: 3.2x
Mark 4: 4.3x
Mark 5: 6x

Now, a unit with a stat based damage bonus to armour (Autocannon Minipod) versus a unit (Vanguard) without.

Minipod:

Mark 1: Base 100 Damage, 2x Bonus Multiplier = 200 damage a shot.
Mark 2: Base 210 Damage, 2.5x Bonus Multiplier = 525 damage a shot.
Mark 3: Base 320 Damage, 3x Bonus Multiplier = 960 damage a shot.
Mark 4: Base 430 Damage, 3.5x Bonus Multiplier = 1505 damage a shot.
Mark 5: Base 600 Damage, 4x Bonus Multiplier = 2400 damage a shot.

Vanguard:

Mark 1: Base 240 Damage, 1x Bonus Multiplier = 240 damage a shot.
Mark 2: Base 504 Damage, 1x Bonus Multiplier = 504 damage a shot.
Mark 3: Base 768 Damage, 1x Bonus Multiplier = 768 damage a shot.
Mark 4: Base 1032 Damage, 1x Bonus Multiplier = 1032 damage a shot.
Mark 5: Base 1440 Damage, 1x Bonus Multiplier = 1440 damage a shot.

So at Mark 5, the Minipod has 12x the damage, while the Vanguard only has 6x.

Of course the Minipod only gets that much because it's shooting at a preferred target. With the stat system however, you could simply take Concussion and Pike Corvettes, units which get a bonus against low and high armour respectively, tech them up and somewhat stomp everything, as has...happened, a lot before.

In addition, being able to research Mark 5, 6 and 7 normally combines with the above exponential scaling to make monsters of a unit. It also means you don't need much unit diversity: If I already have Pike Corvettes, why would I get Minipods? It's better to just keep upgrading what I already have. Why get those Raiders or Vanguards, if they give less return on the science I pay, because they have no damage bonus scaling?

(It's incidentally weird that you can get better tech units than the AI, and have a single unit type powerful enough to stomp super units. I have no idea how Fallen Spire would work with this, or the units unlocked from controlling Fabricators).

I will note that Classic did have some units that did this. Paralyzers would have longer durations, Spiders would do more engine damage, etc. However, these might be excused, as they were not really meant for damage, and thus wouldn't gain much from the normal scaling, so they must gain it elsewhere, in their effects. They currently do this in AIW2 as well, mostly.

This is just a curiosity right now, something I've thought about a few times. Won't be doing anything on it.

Hope I've explained it okay. Please poke the necessary holes in the logic, thanks!
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Offline zeusalmighty

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Re: A thought on exponential mark scaling
« Reply #1 on: December 27, 2018, 05:21:43 PM »
In addition, being able to research Mark 5, 6 and 7 normally combines with the above exponential scaling to make monsters of a unit.

(It's incidentally weird that you can get better tech units than the AI, and have a single unit type powerful enough to stomp super units. I have no idea how Fallen Spire would work with this, or the units unlocked from controlling Fabricators).

I concur that this is a strange departure from classic, but it seems to me that this can be remedied by returning to classic (albeit with qualifications)

One of the fun quests in classic, imo, was capturing an advanced factory to unlock mark IV tech. I think some variation of this concept could be adapted here to make it very rare (but very rewarding) to get access to mark VI and VII (maybe V as well). Having a side-quest to unlock an ultra-powerful tech (I would think max 1 tech per player) would be open up more interesting decision-making in the mid-late game. I can easily come up with some concrete applications of this but rather just put out the idea in general for now

Offline Lord Of Nothing

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Re: A thought on exponential mark scaling
« Reply #2 on: December 27, 2018, 09:12:02 PM »
I've thought about this before, and while I still don't feel I've played enough games to really understand all the tradeoffs involved, I feel that I quite like the exponential scaling itself, and the way you can either spend your research widely and have a varied toolbox, or one REALLY good tool.

However, I think the current exponential scaling might be a bit too strong. HP, Damage, Cap size, Bonus damage and/or special features are all scaling linearly in mark, so the actual power of a cap is at worst cubic and often quartic in mark. Meanwhile, the total research cost to get to a given mark is quadratic(ish) in mark, and since IIRC destruction and ark points are unlimited and the current game has a limited number of hard time pressures, research is the only thing that really matters. So spreading your research over two ships rather than one gives you about a quarter of the power, which is already competitive with the magnitude of counter-ship bonuses. Spreading your research over three ships is a ninth of the total power, and so on. Even accounting for these being rough numbers, you can see how strongly spreading your research is discouraged. This is without even considering things like the ion immunities and such that higher mark ships get. The extra metal cost doesn't even come close to balancing it out, for the time reason mentioned earlier.

So at the moment, there is almost no good reason to spread your research, since the scaling is so strong it actually breaks the counter system that the game's combat is built around, and regardless of what we feel about the rest of the system, that has to change. While my first thought was to support further gating access to high marks, it's unlikely to solve the fundamental problem, since getting anything to high mark is better than having the perfect counters to the AI at a lower mark. Not to mention, it might also further encourage focusing on the single thing you have unlocked the high tier on. It's not just the bonus scaling either- the power scaling is still pretty nasty even if the power of a cap were just cubic in mark.

Now, Classic had a close to cubic cap power scaling and quadratic research cost scaling as well. I think it got away with it due to a) the MkV cap, and b) the much lower constant on the cubic caused by the way the older marks were not upgraded and kept their own cap. But implementing either of those into II would be a great shame.
« Last Edit: December 27, 2018, 09:20:07 PM by Lord Of Nothing »

Offline AnnoyingOrange

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Re: A thought on exponential mark scaling
« Reply #3 on: December 28, 2018, 06:11:59 AM »
At the moment, I feel like new tech upgrades too few things rather than too many: IMO it's more interesting to have high marks gain new capabilities (raid starships in Classic gaining missile immunity then cloaking or engis gaining cloaking and teleport, for example) rather than simply getting bigger caps and bigger health/damage numbers.
The current system manages to both make certain units overpowered rather quickly (assault starships in particular) and to keep others disappointing even at high marks (engineers with their tiny cap, tachyon posts and tractors always having the same target limits), and the inability to see in advance what a unit will look like after a few upgrades doesn't help.
On top of that some units that would really benefit from upgrades, such as the mobile space docks, are completely unupgradeable.

I think having multiple upgrade curves instead of a single one and locking the highest level techs behind special structures/quests could both help.

Offline RocketAssistedPuffin

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Re: A thought on exponential mark scaling
« Reply #4 on: December 28, 2018, 07:21:48 AM »
This seems it'll be a fair bit more difficult to sort out than originally thought. It'd be very simple to change units like the Minipod to not have their bonus scale, at least, if that's desired (though it'd affect the AI as well).

Now, Classic had a close to cubic cap power scaling and quadratic research cost scaling as well. I think it got away with it due to a) the MkV cap, and b) the much lower constant on the cubic caused by the way the older marks were not upgraded and kept their own cap. But implementing either of those into II would be a great shame.

I personally liked the Mk5 cap. That felt like the AIs proper tech level, that you could only partially get to. I could see Mk6 or Mk7 appearing in something like Fallen Spire, but I dislike it being reachable in general. Might just be nostalgia, but it still contributes to this situation. I also did like the older marks not upgrading, but understand why that was tossed (and wouldn't ask for it back - it'd also require more UI work). Though that would've made things like setting a specific Marks tech cost pretty simple, which would've been nice at times.

At the moment, I feel like new tech upgrades too few things rather than too many: IMO it's more interesting to have high marks gain new capabilities (raid starships in Classic gaining missile immunity then cloaking or engis gaining cloaking and teleport, for example) rather than simply getting bigger caps and bigger health/damage numbers.
The current system manages to both make certain units overpowered rather quickly (assault starships in particular) and to keep others disappointing even at high marks (engineers with their tiny cap, tachyon posts and tractors always having the same target limits), and the inability to see in advance what a unit will look like after a few upgrades doesn't help.
On top of that some units that would really benefit from upgrades, such as the mobile space docks, are completely unupgradeable.

It is possible right now for units to gain things at higher Marks, such as Engineers with cloaking, or the Thanatos Ark. There just isn't really a lot to gain right now, and certainly nothing like missile immunity (as the whole concept of ammo types is gone). As you mentioned though, you can't see what it looks like after a few upgrades, so it has to be put in the description which is horrifically messy (and I've since reverted both V-Wings and Ambush Turrets which did that, as I ended up regretting how awkward it was).

Agreed on the Assault Starships, they can make an utter mockery of  things like Guard Posts and Dire Guardians in short order, which is...annoying. Tractors will get that target increase in time I think, I did bring it up to Chris before current events.
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Offline Lord Of Nothing

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Re: A thought on exponential mark scaling
« Reply #5 on: December 28, 2018, 07:33:01 AM »
This seems it'll be a fair bit more difficult to sort out than originally thought. It'd be very simple to change units like the Minipod to not have their bonus scale, at least, if that's desired (though it'd affect the AI as well).

Now, Classic had a close to cubic cap power scaling and quadratic research cost scaling as well. I think it got away with it due to a) the MkV cap, and b) the much lower constant on the cubic caused by the way the older marks were not upgraded and kept their own cap. But implementing either of those into II would be a great shame.

I personally liked the Mk5 cap. That felt like the AIs proper tech level, that you could only partially get to. I could see Mk6 or Mk7 appearing in something like Fallen Spire, but I dislike it being reachable in general. Might just be nostalgia, but it still contributes to this situation. I also did like the older marks not upgrading, but understand why that was tossed (and wouldn't ask for it back - it'd also require more UI work). Though that would've made things like setting a specific Marks tech cost pretty simple, which would've been nice at times.

Oh, I should say that I liked the way the MkV limit works in classic as well, and that's an interesting point about Fallen Spire etc.
I just wanted to say that the current system in II is an interesting change, and it would be good to try and find a way of keeping it as an interesting evolution from classic, and to emphasise that while I'm saying that it's one of the ways classic dealt with the problem, I'm not necessarily advocating it here. :)
« Last Edit: December 28, 2018, 07:37:49 AM by Lord Of Nothing »

Offline RocketAssistedPuffin

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Re: A thought on exponential mark scaling
« Reply #6 on: December 28, 2018, 07:48:48 AM »
Ah, okay!

It is an interesting change. I think it'd be best perhaps to wait for Chris to read this, as he decided how the current system was done, and I don't know of the logic used. Outside of possibly removing the bonus damage scaling, this is too big and important to poke with a stick alone I think.

Not that it stops further discussion on it.
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Offline AnnoyingOrange

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Re: A thought on exponential mark scaling
« Reply #7 on: December 28, 2018, 09:17:03 AM »
There just isn't really a lot to gain right now

I'm aware, and I'm afraid that might be the underlying issue: it's a better starting point than sticking with Classic's counter-counter-immunity systems, at least.
Depending on how the tech UI changes, simply adding weapon/defense/support systems with smaller numerical upgrades might be a possibility, but that souds like a nightmare to balance.
For now, things like AoE radius, max target count, and range look like the most promising candidates for incremental upgrades with each mark.

It'd be very simple to change units like the Minipod to not have their bonus scale, at least, if that's desired (though it'd affect the AI as well).

Toning down the bonus scaling would certainly be welcome.
On the other hand, having any scaling bonuses is the one thing keeping specialist ships relevant: upgrading only pike and concussion is boring, sure, but upgrading only fighter is worse.


Agreed on the Assault Starships, they can make an utter mockery of  things like Guard Posts and Dire Guardians in short order, which is...annoying.

I've had them steamroll artillery golems without losses, it's a bit silly for sure.

Offline RocketAssistedPuffin

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Re: A thought on exponential mark scaling
« Reply #8 on: December 28, 2018, 11:18:02 AM »
I'm aware, and I'm afraid that might be the underlying issue: it's a better starting point than sticking with Classic's counter-counter-immunity systems, at least.
Depending on how the tech UI changes, simply adding weapon/defense/support systems with smaller numerical upgrades might be a possibility, but that souds like a nightmare to balance.
For now, things like AoE radius, max target count, and range look like the most promising candidates for incremental upgrades with each mark.

https://forums.arcengames.com/ai-war-ii-gameplay-ideas/ship-trait-ideas/

A bunch of these were selected to be put in. Likely some potential there for things like that.

Toning down the bonus scaling would certainly be welcome.
On the other hand, having any scaling bonuses is the one thing keeping specialist ships relevant: upgrading only pike and concussion is boring, sure, but upgrading only fighter is worse.

They could simply scale a bit less and that'd still help a tad (instead of going 3x > 4x, it'd go 3x  > 3.3x as an example). Things like Spiders and V-Wings would likely still scale, because they're not really meant as damage dealers (and wouldn't gain much from that scaling anyway, so they should gain it in their effect).
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Offline Draco18s

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Re: A thought on exponential mark scaling
« Reply #9 on: December 30, 2018, 12:11:05 PM »
(I'm still not sure why I should ever upgrade the fighter unit, it doesn't have a damage bonus, its only "bonus" is doing engine damage to things with weak engines...)

Offline RocketAssistedPuffin

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Re: A thought on exponential mark scaling
« Reply #10 on: December 30, 2018, 01:06:38 PM »
*Shrug*

Chris made them have the slow, and I've kept with that decision since. There's not really anything right now to give them, other than swapping to being a combat paralyzer instead of engine slow.
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Offline Draco18s

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Re: A thought on exponential mark scaling
« Reply #11 on: December 31, 2018, 11:02:00 AM »
I doubt that there aren't bonus types that aren't covered already.

Every time I've gone into a planet I've gone "that thing is scary, let me see what damage bonuses I have. It doesn't have light armor or heavy armor, it doesn't consume a frigging 7 terawatts of power, and it doesn't have a boat load of personal shields. Hmm..."

Offline RocketAssistedPuffin

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Re: A thought on exponential mark scaling
« Reply #12 on: December 31, 2018, 04:47:52 PM »
From all the options I have, something uses it or it doesn't work properly (i.e bonus to slow targets - if it stops moving, no effect). Could start duplicating them but then there's not much to differentiate the units...

*Sigh*

Starting to strongly think I suck at balance, so I'm...going to just stop trying it. Too stupid for it in the end, and it's depressing. At least it's semi playable, apparently.

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Offline Lord Of Nothing

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Re: A thought on exponential mark scaling
« Reply #13 on: December 31, 2018, 05:05:02 PM »
Now, don't be disheartened. How long did it take to get classic mostly balanced?
Hint: The answer is measured in years, not months.

Offline AnnoyingOrange

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Re: A thought on exponential mark scaling
« Reply #14 on: December 31, 2018, 06:57:24 PM »
Seconding what Lord of Nothing said, balance is very hard even for typical games following their genre strictly and learning from many previous games in the same series, and given how much AIW2 changed compared to Classic understanding what to change won't be any easier.