I reinstalled SFC2 last night in a fit of utter boredom and insanity caused by about 30 straight hours of writing and manual probability math. (Don’t ask.) I had forgotten how fun it was to play even in single skirmish, how clean it looks, and how difficult it can be. Then I remembered how boring it is to wait for minutes to get to the objective, how bizarrely unbalanced the story missions in the campaign game are, and how much of a memory leaker it is.

Then I read the Taldren forums, and I remembered how dull people can be. Here are two responses to what’s happening now in that Mecca of mindlessness.

DRONE DRONE DRONE DRONE DRONE DRONE DRONE

What’s the reason the Gorn have so many problems? Or the unfortunate Feds who think maybe a CA or a BCE (or even an NCM) might be cool to fly? Take a look at this incredibly soporific argument, some of which is excerpted here, on the "merits" of the Miranda class: If you are still awake, you can check out various other threads in the general and D2 forums about modifying shiplists for CW5, people screaming for balance, and others screaming for sticking with SFB canon. You know what I have never yet heard any of the SFB canon people yet scream about?

DRONES ARE ABOUT TWICE AS FAST AS THEY WERE IN SFB!

Really. Drones were slow as hell in SFB. They were a way to make your enemy waste phasers or tractor power. Hitting with a drone was really difficult. Nobody liked to play the Kzinti because drones just sucked. The SFB version of the Kzinti was really just pulled out of a designer’s ass, according to Amarillo; a real Kzinti vessel from Man-Kzin Wars would be too boring for people who think Star Trek is somehow based on science (or more frightening yet no less likely, the converse of that supposition).

Fighters as well. First generation fighters were basically glorified admin shuttles that could do speed 8 instead of 6. Neither fighters nor drones ever got super fast, and it’s understandable: why would you want to waste high quality warp engines on little POS disposable ordnance? A fun way to get rid of fighters, missiles, shuttles, or similar distractions was to tractor them and move faster than their maximum speed, which would destroy them.

Why then are drones (especially drones) so damn fast? Because in many ways, SFC2 is a big fat space shooter game. Super complex, to be sure, but it’s still really more akin to "action" than it is to "strategy," despite game store and mindless review magazine categories. Speed 8 drones just aren’t as much fun to look at as speed 16 drones. The bizarre drone buffs in SFB’s myriad of often ill-considered supplements (drones with phasers mounted on them, drones with EW systems, drones with a guy in a spacesuit in a saddle flying it through the ADD fire) are just too numerous and complex within the context of an action game. This is also why ships in general have bigger power plants (even a couple points makes a big difference), fighters are faster to compensate for faster ships, etc. etc. The fact that ships have more power generally means that people just fly faster, which seems to justify faster ordnance: shield reinforcement is nigh-useless in SFC2 until you get to very large power excesses, and speed requires a lot less micromanagement on the fly as compared to tossing power into 12 different systems through the clunky UI.

Now add to this whole shooter mentality the fact that drones are incredibly easy to use. Group drone racks, fire, rinse and repeat. Adding a tiny bit of skill in maneuvering (at your increased speed) and they’re even better. Get 3 bombardment ships and fill the air with 24 drones on your first salvo, moving faster than any ship in late era. Super easy, and the AI is nigh-hopeless against drone waves. Small wonder that drone variants are the most popular ship choices for Fed, Klingon, and the Mirak (the NCD+, the D6D, and the DF+/MDC+ in the cheaper hulls). Small wonder that any Fed ship with no AMD is considered hopeless in Dynaverse 2. Maybe you don’t need it if all you fight are Romulans, ISC, Gorn, and Lyrans… except that because of these races’ weaknesses in point defense, drone ships (the ones most likely to pack AMD) are your best choice against them. That or sped up fighters on crack. Preferably sped up fighters with sped up drone racks.

You might be thinking that this is just a big drone nerfing rant. Well, sort of, but it’s more about how sped up drones are both a symptom and a cause of other imbalance issues. Doing somethnig as drastic as doubling drone speed is guaranteed to have far-reaching effects, based on holistic design principles. Speed now becomes the most important thing for a ship hoping to duck drone waves, especially in early to mid eras. Plasma chuckers complain due to drones having potentially the speed of plasma but with no distance attenuation, so plasma gets faster. Antimissile kits become more important on a hull than phasers. (Phasers already have problems because of shield regeneration; no more pecking at long range to bring down a facing one point at a time.) And players, always finding the shortest path to the cheese, discover the wonders of using specialty bombardment ships and/or specialty escort ships as flag hulls, and shortly thereafter, the wonders of 3 bombardment ships. Drones have gone from being a support weapon for the Klingons and the Federation, and being the albatross of the Kzinti off-the-cuff hull designs, to being the primary weapon of all three kingdoms and the source of much griping about the awesome power of the Mirak in PvP.

Of course, slowing drones down even a little, not even to the point of SFB drones, would not be feasable. The Mirak would go back to being the chump race (except vs. the AI, which is of course the most important thing in the Dynaverse single player multiplayer experience). The player base of SFC2, lulled into a mysterious state of mind where "hitting the fire all drones + scatterpack buttons while zipping around at 31" has become equated to "high strategy," would be utterly lost. And, of course, faster drones are more fun to watch. This is just something to keep in mind when you wonder why people cry about some other kind of ship imbalance that’s actually rooted in drone speed problems, or when you notice that all the Klingons on your server turn off their disruptors and fire nothing but drones at your tail.

Of course, losing the playerbase might not be such a big deal to Interplay. Which leads us to…

INTERPLAY, (INSERT MATCHING SERVICE) AND YOU, THE UNHOLY TRINITY

http://216.203.248.212/ubb/Forum16/HTML/000062.html

Erik Bethke
Taldren posted 10-24-2001 12:26 PM

Hello All,
I was notified last night by Interplay that they will no longer be able to host the D2 and patch servers. They have told me that this is unavoidable and that they must make every possible effort to reduce their costs company wide.

They will shut the servers down on October 30th; we do not know what time of the day. I have an appointment on Monday to discuss with Interplay what other possible solutions are available to prevent the loss of service to the customers of SFC2: EAW and SFC: OP.

We will be making every effort we can make to prevent this loss of service. We have several possible solutions but we need time to implement them.

Please stay in touch through our message boards here for updates on this developing situation.

Sincerely,
-Erik Bethke
CEO Taldren, Inc.

I’m shocked. A game publisher dicking over its customer base and its code houses? Say it ain’t so!

On the surface, this smacks of a number of extremely bad decisions by several parties. How much expense can be saved by shutting down the D2 servers, which is a misnomer anyway? A patch server is a goddamn FTP. Your only significant cost is bandwidth, which you can do away with by throwing your patches on Fileplanet or some similar service. The "D2 servers" consist of two things essentially: the matchmaking service, linking players to homegrown servers (requiring a matchmaking service was a horrible idea), and the IPlay "official" servers, which nobody cares about. Matchmaking services are a nuisance, and generally unnecessary, and cheap to run even if they do suck. If you get to the point where you need to shut down a matchmaking/IRC box because you need to save the money, it’s probably because you’re about to file for bankruptcy and are going to sell all your assets. This may not be far from the truth, if rumors about Interplay’s viability are to be believed.

This would not be a problem for the D2 community except for this insane need to have a matchmaking service. Why do you need a matchmaking service? You’re just connecting to someone’s private server at their house or office. All the notable D2 servers (including but not limited to ArticFires, Canada West, Rook’s, etc.) are private, hosted at the owner’s expense. The only reason to have a matchmaker is to verify those damn CD keys in a futile effort to stem the tide of warezing your product. Of course, you have bigger problems when your matchmaking service is dependent on unbelievably flaky service providers like Gamespy and Flipside who back out on short notice after a legacy of connectivity issues and bad support, eroding your customer base through sheer inability to deal with your relatively simple requirements. Then you are in yet another situation where your "professional" associates screw up, thus screwing over your bigger and better talent pool, i.e. the "amateur" server hosts.

There’s a pretty simple solution to this, though. OPEN SOURCE THE D2 SERVER ENGINE. Really. It’s been admitted that D2 was largely a quick fix project without a lot of support or testing. It didn’t work on final anyway. Is it such a big step to think of D2 as a mod for SFC2 and just throw the code open? You may see improvements. You might even see SQL. Best of all, you can eliminate this retarded matching service requirement and just let players get to the server of their choice through TCP/IP. The matchmaking service is about to be lost anyway.

Oh, wait. The other reason to have a matchmaking service is to authenticate your CD key, to make sure you actually bought the game. You know, Dynaverse is probably the big selling point of SFC2. It’s about to disappear. Nobody will buy it after that anyway, except by accident. Wouldn’t it be nice to not screw over the customer who sees "Dynaverse" on the packaging a second time?

I might even want to play again.

 

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