“Nerf”

Time to temporarily cut through the thick, murky gloom left behind in Kaiju’s wake with some videya game talk.

Online gaming is a big thing now, and balance is a constant struggle for developers. I’ve played my fair share of MMO’s and MOBA’s and probably a number of other acronyms.

The original DOTA AllStars, back when it was just a WCIII mod, was infamous for a number of reasons – its long (by today’s standards) queue times, the ease and prevalence of game leaving and rage-quitting, the vile racist taunts one would regularly encounter, and the heavy imbalance of certain characters. I mean, there was a dude whose ultimate ability was a friggin DOT with a silence that lasted like 30 seconds and would take away at least half of your max HP. He was literally Satan. There was no recalling back to the healing fountain; you had to hoof it, and the map was really big. And “healer” or “support” wasn’t even a regular class back then, so good luck with that.

There was a not-so-secret “secret shop” in the middle of the map that sold some of the best items, and there was another dude who could stack invisible landmines at said shop. His ultimate laid down invisible remote mines, which he could detonate to wipe out entire teams from full health. This little poopstain also could blow himself up, denying enemies the gold and experience from killing him and dealing a buttload of damage.

“Imba!” we would cry out to the heavens, pleading for changes to me made. Often the gods were cruel and all we got was a new imba character. Sometimes they would attempt to grant our prayers, but balancing was a clumsy affair. There were no test realms and sometimes changes went horribly awry. That’s what gaming was back then. We loved and hated it, as we loved and hated ourselves.

Young_smeagol

It was Ultima Online that got me started with real online, social gaming. I was the #2 in a guild; we had a nerdy in-game lore, and we would run around exploring and actually roleplaying. We had houses and shit. It was kind of weird to have suburbs surrounding dungeons, and liches and ettins spawning on your doorstep, but that’s what you get when you let players build dwelling places in your world. Players will do lots of weird and interesting things when given the freedom. It’s kind of a shit show, but that makes it fun.

UO0032

Incidentally, it was also apparently Ultima Online that originated the term “nerf,” which has become the preferred tool of game developers in their balancing efforts.

For whatever reason, the term always evoked images of weird alien Star Wars rat-cows for me.

NerfNEGAS
A nerf herder, apparently.

But no, “nerf” actually refers to the famed producer of squishy foam projectiles. Ultima Online players, after a nerf to swords, reportedly complained to devs that the weapons were subsequently little more effective than Nerf implements. Ah, the beauty of (nerd) language.

These days generally nerfs are seen as far more effective than buffs in balancing, as they reduce the occurrence of “power creep” (see Magic the Gathering and World of Warcraft). Individual “OP” characters or classes can undergo surgical nerfs for fine-tuning. Alternatively, nerfs can be spread out among a broad number of targets to effectively boost everyone else.

When you really dig in, it’s amazing how many numbers are involved in these games, especially with the ever-increasing rosters of heroes and classes that have become the norm. These certainly aren’t your grandfather’s MMO’s anymore.

-Bushi

bushi

 

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