I've thoroughly enjoyed the armored core series since the first game for PSX. I still have the copy.
I also enjoyed Chromehounds.
In AC, I tended to make medium weight class builds until I got a lot more parts, and then would prefer heavy.
On to the problems inherent in the new AC developments, as well as touching on Chromehounds, to point out whats going wrong and why I fear for AC5.
First, the net-code is awful for armored core, and its additionally too fast of a game with the QB and OB, which makes it very warpy in multiplayer. although technically this fault is due to two things. First, there are arbitrary "behind the scenes" numbers that dictate the speed of the entire build, which comes mostly from the core in terms of some inertia multiplier. Secondly, there is no upper limitation to specifications and the parts keep getting reworked until everyone goes too fast. The same thing happened in Chromehounds.
In the beginning, Armored core and Chromehounds were great games. There was a large number of parts, and everything had their place. Eventually, the collaboration of minds via internet and multiplayer bring to light which parts are clearly superior, and then combat consists only of sameling builds every single effing match.
I don't find it surprising or coincidental that in Armored Core as well as Chromehounds heavy builds have eventually been edged out and are near worthless. Really, both games share the same Parts Change Progression, its scary. its like the exact same people work on both games, and they're extremely biased towards philosophies of "faster, lighter, more damage, near invincible". Thats why I feel its hard if not impossible to speak of Armored Core game balance without including Chromehounds.
Armored Core, as Chromehounds first attempted to model, was balanced around the ideas that you have a core or cockpit of specific weight, and that based on the build you're attempting to make, you require a light, medium, or heavy generator, and subsequently need a light, medium, or heavy support structure (legs or treads) in order to allow more weaponry and not just a generator without weaponry or weaponry without space for a necessary generator. Heavy upper body parts correlated with high armor (AP, shell def, en def, etc), which meant that you needed to either hit them with a higher percentage of success or with heavier weapons designed to punch through. This is why blades existed in the first place. it was a way for light ACs to have an unlimited ammo way to punch through heavy armor. I suppose what I need to do is simply list this stuff.
Heavy parts. heavy denotes slower moving but higher armor. The philosophy is soak up massive damage while returning fire. This became obsolete with all the game breaking speed balancing.
Heavy weapons. These are designed to cause a lot of damage, balanced by a low capacity, and a high weight and low to high energy drain. This two latter facts dictate the requirements of high load bearing capacity. Obsolete due to speed designs outrunning the weaponry, moving faster than the netcode can update and causing "warping" which further destroys the accuracy of said weaponry, and generally making them useless.
Heavy Generator. Needed for the energy cost of heavier parts. Made superfluous via the fact that capacities of all generators compared to outputs are very low, and thus not nearly as important as output. Output being king, and additionally having a very narrow working range, where on either side you're either too EN efficient and can perma fly, or you're to EN inefficient and are a sitting duck, coupled with the embarrassingly low increase to output compared to the high increase in weight, and HW generators are worthless.
Boosters of all shapes and sizes. The real issue, flaw and ultimately ****** rodeo of Armored Core. They broke with their formula of single booster selection, and drastically increased the amount of en cost as well. We'll come back to this.
Stability. This was supposed to be the weakness of ACs, and for slower types it still is, but Stunlock breaking with QB for instantaneous 1600-2500 km/h speed on light mechs makes this stat near meaningless. If you get hit in the first place, you're not a very good LW speed AC user. In the second place, you can get out of this deadly stun position with a simple click of a button.
Armor, AP, shell def, en def, and the energy bubble. AP is the best generic stat for soaking up any damage. By design, it works against energy or shell, and shell or en def are merely multipliers of AP's effectiveness. The energy bubble which is supposed to be based on KPO of generators and protect you moderately seems only to be effective against shell weaponry, and not energy. Notice that GA parts which have high shell defense have a low PA and PA durability. They also have a correspondingly heavier weight and higher AP, but moderately less EN def.
Tuning. I appreciated the tuning capabilities of ninebreaker and last raven, and then they got lumped together with a loss of tuning defensive stats for AC4 and FA, other than PA (which is practically useless to tune). The problem is, what needs to occur is that parts need to have areas where they excel and areas where they lack, and game balance would dictate that these parts would tune substantially better in areas they lack rather than areas they excel in. That would mean that to be ultimate in speed, you'd have to sacrifice efficiency by tuning all into thrust with Virtue boosters and such. This would leave you with less tunes overall, and less efficient use of tune per gain. This, however, is not the case. Tuning effectiveness on parts is more or less arbitrary, instead of logically applied in this manner.
Part differentiation. As I stated before, some parts have a very low increase in power compared to the high increase in cost via weight and EN use. This is actually the proper formula for gameplay balance, where in order to get a light to moderate amount of more power in an area, you have a corresondingly high cost compared to something which would be more efficient. However, this as well appears arbitrarily applied, to the effect that light and medium generators are nearly as useful as heavy generators.
There's a stat called Energy supply, which is the "volume" of energy a generator supplies. Now it states that if this EN supply value is exceeded by the total EN cost, energy regeneration is greatly reduced. This is either not true or worded poorly or a total "duh" factor. Yes, when you overcome it you get into low 14,000 EN regrowth, but having reduced EN bar regen is a given at that low of a EN regrowth level. Also, Energy supply seems like its own stat completely, in that Energy regrowth is based off that stat plus the total consumption rate. It ranges from 19600 to 21100 for all generators, from light to heavy, and the GAN-SS-G has a worse En supply than the Linstant-G, even though the linstant has far inferior EN Cap and 1000 less points of En Out. From that its easy to assume that the volume is arbitrarily based. Anyway, for the wording of En supply's helpinfo, I'd assume that it would take forever to regen if you exceed the volume of EN the generator puts out, but no, it still follows the linear progression of EN regen speed that is normal anyway. It doesn't have a sharp drop off when you exceed the volume, therefor I'd say the helpinfo is a "duh" statement instead of an actual warning.
I'd think that heavy generators should have very high En Supply, because EN regrowth bases itself off the EN Supply value combined with the Total EN Cost value, or so it claims. If the En Supply value was higher for the heavy generators, the small difference in EN Output compared to light and heavy Gens wouldn't be a deal breaking factor.
So I just went and tested it now to be sure. En supply vs En Out and so on. the two first GA generators are perfect for this. They have the same Out but largely different (on scale terms with all the gens) En supply, being around an 8000 point difference. I added enough to be just under the En Supply point. 10 second OB with 10 second recharge. switch gens and the En Recovery doesn't change, even though it says En Recovery is based off of En Supply vs Total En Drain, and changing gens changed the En Supply +8000 points. Results? 10 second OB and 10 second recharge. I changed back to the lower En Supply GAN gen and then overstepped the En Supply by 2 points, putting the Energy line Orange. Result: 10 second OB and 10 second recharge.
The conclusions are this: 1. En Supply's wording that Recovery is drastically reduced through going over the limit = bull. 2. En Supply does not affect anything. 3. En recovery is not affected by what it says affects it. 4. Balance is clearly lost because that proves a lightweight gen compared to any other gen is solely based on the factor of En Out comparison.
So, back to boosters. Do I like QB and OB? Yes. They're fun. Do I like the idea of multiple booster placement to customize my design further? Yes. Did FROM do it right, from my point of view? No. Just look at them. Who uses anything but the boosters with the most massive QB and Duration and horizontal boost? The reasons: Booster power does not inversely relate to En Use. Therefor low power boosters usually are not more efficient unless they specifically say so. GAN boosters do have decent horizontal boost to En Use, but again the mindset is that if you can't perma boost you're doing it wrong, and not only that, but QB dictates the ability to both cause your opponent to lose their lock and to get behind them and shoot them.
Leg En Drain. Quads are supposed to be ground bound, RJs are supposed to be flying, and bipeds and tanks are inbetween. Just looking at the series previous appointments of En Drain based on leg type, even with the RJs you still had to land sometime in order to get energy back, because there was no such thing as infinite flying.
Just look at the way the ACs in the Arena have always fought throughout the series. They never perma flied. They always either had a ground game or had some air game but inevitably came back down. That's not because the enemy AI is stupid or limited. Thats because FROM built the AI with the mindset of what they thought their game was to be like. All of the sudden due to the internet, players combine their knowledge and you have a rush to the most powerful setups, proving that parts are unbalanced, and noone plays with anything but the Flavor Of The Month.
ACFA followed the same "rebalancing" progression as Chromehounds.
1. The game is built around concepts and all parts have a purpose or function.
2. A couple players figure out the most powerful build that can succeed 90% of the time regardless of opponent skill or build.
3. all players follow suit and then the game is reduced to that single type of play.
4. FROM rebalances the game, and a new "ultimate setup" emerges soon after.
5. FROM attempts some more rebalancing, leading to some unusual and illogical stat distrobution decisions for parts.
6. Players are annoyed and FROM then puts out one more.
7. Players figure out the new FOTM, and FROM gives up any further balancing, leaving their game to decay.
I was in Chromehounds when Fuel Tanks were necessary, and their weight was the balancing act to keep you from having too many guns. I was there when you needed heavy Generators in Chromehounds to power your heavy designs, such as heavy gunners and defenders. I was there when "rocket carts" came into existence because the game was rebalanced. I was there when the last "balancing" was issued which subsequently made energy almost infinite and there was no longer any need for the heavy gens, and you could load up as many weapons as possible and never need fuel tanks. Then the world changed, for good, to people using Reverse Joints with 6 cannons or howitzers, a light generator, and shield plates all around the cockpit. they got maneuverability, huge firepower, low energy concern,and defense cause of the plating. Splash damage was most effective at taking them out, as regular bullets hit their armor plates. so how to beat one RJ with 6 howitzers and plates all over? bring your own. The game state was reduced to that because FROM strayed from their balancing formula to try to please the players immediately, overcompensated, and lost their game completely. They could've started a whole new balancing act from scratch and got it right the first patch, but they tried to fix something that was already broken. that doesn't work.
I was in Armored core when generator size mattered compared to what ou wanted to put on, and when weight capacity mattered because of the generator size requirements. I was there when arms mattered to the size of the weapon you wanted to put in their hands, requiring the use of heavy arms for heavy weapons, which cycles down to high load bearing requirement giving you the requirement of larger generator to compensate for the heavy legs, and so on. I was there when booster weight and static drain mattered almost as much as every other part, and weren't just some superfluous meaningless statistics (if FROM really wanted to balance their game, they would've have their boosters static draings be in the 3000-5000 range). I was there in the old game's days when the HEAVY boosters were the ones with the most power, so you'd sacrifice something on your light mech to go faster with the large boosters. I was there when from changed regs on ACFA 4 times, and ended up washing their hands of the game balance at a point where people can perma fly with the lightest stuff and still maintain EN for the most powerful blades and highest power boosters. The game subsequently ends at 1.4 reg where everyone uses the same lightweight AC body parts, the same boosters, and the same blades. I like to bring guns to my blade matches. it ****es people off. I die because the game cant handle or track people QBing at 2500 km/h, using their blades as aux boosters to move faster just by hitting their attack button, and generally warping all over, but I do it anyway because I don't care to play the game of "lets make all the same design and hit each other hurr durr" mentality.
Armored core, like Chromehounds, are great games in concept. They get ruined by FOTM and poor gameplay balance decisions.
Is it easy to balance a game? No. Is it hard? No. Its just time consuming and you have to start with some basic principles from the ground up. Maybe you can have a poorly balanced game from the start, and switch over to something supremely balanced (I in fact play a text based game where they did just that, and they do this coding for free), but you can't have a poorly balanced game from the start and try to rebalance a few things just to make it work out. What happens when you don't apply wallpaper right? You get bubbles that pop up elsewhere when you push them down somewhere else. Either do it right from the start, or be ready to tear down the wallpaper to put new stuff up. Dont just push all the bubbles to the corners and call it good enough.
To sum up, I won't be buying AC5 unless I know that its going to be well balanced that every part has its place, that I can play lightweight, or heavyweight, or medium weight, and sacrifice some areas to be a little lighter for an advantage, or sacrifice some to be a little heavier for other advantages, and each advantage is as good in skilled hands. Its just like Chromehounds. Seeing how they got both games to a state of "near limitless energy and only lightweights with the most powerful weapons in game prevail" made me sick of playing either ACFA or Chromehounds online again, despite both of them starting out as games I thuroughly enjoyed. If FROM wants me to buy another CH or AC again, they need to stop screwing around and be serious about gameplay balance, slowing the high ends of speed down so that any other weight class can stand a proper chance.
and this is why game balance fails. there cant be some "OMG BBQ UltIMATE WEAPON I STROKE MY EPEEN" 12 yr old mentality behind a good game unless failing to use the weapon properly results in them instantly blowing up. play the original AC for PSX and its amazing how poor the series has become in balancing.and there are new types of superweapons called OverWeapons and one of them is a giant six bladed weapon (FTW CANT WAIT )
One thing I'd like to point out.
Any game that is great and has staying power has had one thing in common. Good gameplay balance and design. Some people out there still play the oldest games online, because its balanced. Who here still plays ACFA or Chromehounds online? I remember when CH was huge for players, shortly before the imbalance fiasco. now barely anyone plays it but poor people that cant afford modern warfare 2. the same thing happened to ACFA. People used to play all the time. Eventually builds became standardized as a few sets, all lightweight, and the amount of online players hit rock bottom sharply.
I'd like nothing more than to see Armored Core come back hard and fly right. Im just not hopeful at all at this point.