Restoring Vision to A.V.A in 2016

An opinion piece from Justin 'Ink' Quinn on the status and ailments of A.V.A as the community transitions to new publisher En Masse.

The F2P FPS games from Asia are all re-hashed disfigurements of CS:S. They each take a different route in morphing features to become selling points while shedding the minor details that made CS:S (and its predecessor) so popular. This is where A.V.A stands out and gains its traction in today's market across Asia, Europe, and North America. It is this uniqueness that keeps the appeal of A.V.A high and what should be refined for any suggested improvements.

It is an understood concept that any type of change needs to pass through the sole developer (Redduck) while being efficient to produce. The following suggestions are an aggregate list that has been gathered since the game's release, and my own personal wishlist. A.V.A offers a unique game play experience that can not be found in games like CS:GO, Overwatch, Crossfire, or Combat Arms.

Main Balance Vision

Upon release in 2009 audiences in North America were met with a new F2P FPS that offered a distinct flavour. This taste stemmed from its unusual 'hard to control' weapons as players expressed. Despite the game being difficult, it was enjoyable to be rewarded for good play related to your skill.

The game also made it easier on the players by offering three types of classes to meet the demands of differently skilled players. If you would prefer to take up arms as the typical scope, you had a class that could improve your scoping abilities to achieve success. If you wanted to go for that slow, cathartic, pick-style of play, the Rifleman was right up your alley. Then there was the Pointman class that aimed to spread map dominance, offer support, and be that mobile devastation up close.

Whether you had incredible aim and could get those picks or control high recoil guns for high damage as a Rifleman, or found your sweet spot as a scope, your skill was easily transferred into the world of A.V.A. You didn't need just sick aim like in CS:GO, or spray your crosshair randomly at targets like in Combat Arms or Crossfire - you had a subtle strategy element that augmented a portion of your skill to enable fun and enjoying experiences throughout the game. A highly competitive game was just a by-product.

Over the years, this vision has been horribly mismanaged. There is no overarching design or vision within the current ecosystem of the game's weaponry and game play. It is hard for new players to become attached to a game that offers the same boring game play that other F2P FPS titles offer. It is no surprise they jump for games like CS:GO or Overwatch, over A.V.A which focuses on no particular flavour anymore.

How did this happen? Poor choices were made in how to monetize A.V.A, and a misconception that an easier game has a larger draw.

The Death of the Vision

A.V.A's business model is to sell gun skins and other in-game items. Thus, initially we saw pre-release capsules highlighting one super new weapon (ex: FR-F2), which then were made available. But this wasn't enough, we started to receive regular weaponry with skins to also buy into. At some point, a decision was made to make these newer skins more powerful than the stock weaponry accessible to the non-paying player base. This turning point appeared in late 2012 and has been blown out of control.

Players used to play a public match without having to worry about being out-matched by someone who spent money on the game. That the game was entirely player-vs-player, and not less money vs more money. This is no longer true for more than just weapon skins or items, but also for the armour that exists in the game.These compounding factors are a real drag on anyone simply looking to have fun.

Back in 2011, the Korean publisher (Pmang) released a statement that the direction of the game had changed to address the current player concerns. Players were already aware of this as they had been massively protesting the weapon and item changes that Redduck had patched into the game. A lot of veteran players from 2007 were quitting, and never came back. Popular competitive players moved from A.V.A to Sudden Attack or to other games of hype like SCII. These players had noticed that the weapons being released were not only slightly more powerful than the previous batch of weapons but were also easier to use. The publisher stated in Korean, "the game is being made to appeal to a larger audience", by proxy of easier weapons. The backlash from this statement was insane, and they deleted their statement. No comment has been made on this since.

So we had weapons incrementally getting more powerful while also becoming easier to use. On its own, this path will just spiral out of control. There is no way out of this either. You can't just go back to the main vision with a weapon and release it. It won't be useful or anywhere up to par with current items. So the main vision no longer applies, and a P2W two tier meta comes into effect.

And it did. But that is not all of what happened. To make matters worse the issue of P2W two tier game play was compounded by armour. See, not only did weapons get more powerful, but so did armour. And both of these item types required cash to acquire them. So not even low level spenders could compete on the same level as the highest spending players. A true P2W meta surfaced from 2014 onwards. This is why pubs died out. Why so many people complain about the CCS. Why 'tryhards' is utilized to criticize these full SH-14 wearing, MegaCap/FS weapon users.

It is no surprise interest in the game faded. No surprise that the servers were borderline empty. But wait, isn't Asia super popular? Why yes it is, let us look closer.

For starters, certain weapons are categorized as Red Ticket which are not over here. Additionally, under IJJI and Aeria, weapon and armour or 'AP/G-coin' costs are anywhere from 40% to 80% more than they are in any of the Asian editions. This is a ridiculous pricing amount. Especially when you consider that at one point, you had to spend over $40/week to play A.V.A on a level playing field (2013, timed guns).

Yet the most overlooked issue is that A.V.A had quadruple the player base from 2007 to 2011. The reduced player count isn't just effecting UAVA, but every version. We could say that this is just because the game hit its peak life cycle and is on the way out - but that doesn't jibe well with any of the Neowiz PR, the AWC and AIC scene, and the renewed interest Redduck has in keeping AVA as a success (since MC failed miserably). And we're in the age of online games, there are games that exist stronger now than they did before in their golden years.

Restoring Vision

P2W items, armour, and easier weapons weren't just the only strays from the original vision that brought such a wide draw of players. There were other issues like the headshot multiplier, illogical gun spectrum design choices, grenade limitations, ignorance of the specific abilities, and disregard for all of this information when designing new maps and content.

Here are few suggestions to restore the vision:

  • Any instance where monetary items have the advantage over non-paid items needs to be nulled
  • There needs to be just two types of armour, one you grind for to acquire without paying, and one you can just simply buy
  • These armours need to be equal to each other

Class Specifics:

  • Pointman shouldn't have guns that fulfill the role of Rifleman
  • Rifleman shouldn't have guns that undermine the role of Pointman
  • Separate these two classes to be distinct (PM needs to be touched on more than RM)
  • Scopes need another metric to balance scope weapons around as they could have too much impact under the original vision of the game. TPG-1 should be the base scope to balance for. FR-F2-like scopes are okay, but they need something to keep them in check versus the rest of the changes
  • The 2013-era class ability changes were ok, but they could go one step further with them for Pointman

Weapon Specifics:

  • Renew the old design spectrum of damage to range to rate of fire to mag size to accuracy to bloom to recoil
  • Adhere to some ratio between these set stats and do not ever go over it for any reason
  • Napkin Ex: SA58 Para could be the highest damage gun, with 90% accuracy, with 70% recoil and bloom, and high RoF. Scales terribly with movement. On the contrary, AK-47 could have moderate damage and RoF (50-70% of the SA58), scales better but not the greatest with movement, has 95% starting accuracy, low bloom, moderate recoil. Then have an M4A1 gun with high RoF, 99% starting accuracy, best movement scaling, and 30-40% of the damage of the SA58, and maybe 20% of the recoil of the AK-47, and very low bloom.
  • Obviously keep the same effects that running, jumping or shift-walking have on weapon modifiers

Weapon Mods:

  • Mod system is pretty good in letting people use their weapons differently, to a point. However, this adds a crazy level of balance to prepare for. Better to move the Euro draining element of these mods onto the repair costs
  • If they are kept, they need to be overhauled, as the mods seem to have been generically placed on any gun released since 2012. Horribly imbalanced all around.
  • Scope, stock, and trigger mods I think will always have a place. Barrel mods are super insane to balance for.

Armour Specifics:

  • SH-14 could be the paid version, while SH-16 could be a permanent armour
  • SH-16 would be cheap to buy and would be permanent
  • SH-16 would degrade over time, and would be something like 20% less effective at most when not repaired
  • Euros need to be used to repair SH-16 to keep it on par with SH-14
  • Less than 35-40 'grind' games should be required to keep the SH-16 repaired fully a week

Skin Specifics:

  • Make skins attach to the base version of a gun. No need to have 20 AK-47s in your inventory when you can just swap the skins around. It is confusing to new players to have 5 different AK-47s, and then each one has its own skin variants, which each all have subtle differences in damage, accuracy, or whatever else. Compounded when you have over 40+ stock guns and nearly 300 skins nowadays

Grenade Specifics:

  • M67 and MK3A2 work well
  • Flash grenades need to be balanced for general annoyance. It is fine to be flashed for whatever period of time. It is not fine to enable anyone with no skillset to flash another person by accident for the maximum time. There needs to be a skill factor in utilizing flash nades. Don't just need to copy CS:GO here, creativeness is great.

If all of the old guns have to be made useless do it. Start fresh with new armour and new weapons. Good way to make money!

Small Tangent

A.V.A has gone through several generations of artificial metas.

Gen 1 (2009): AK-47 MK.2, M4A1 MK.2, FAMAS, Tar-21; P90, MP5; TPG-1, SV-98
Gen 2 (2010): Sako, M4A1 MK.2, HK416; PM was dead; TPG-1
Gen 3 (2011): SA58 Para, M4A1, AK-47; Desmodus, Veresk, MP7; TPG-1, FR-F2 *Grenade limits patch 1
Gen 4 (2014): SA58 Para, AK-12; Desmodus, Veresk, MP7; FR-F2, DSR-1, ASW *Grenade limits patch 2
Gen 5 (2016): Hard to tell with the lack of decent competition recently. ;)

These generations were augmented by 3 headshot multiplier patches, different armour tiers being released to coincide with stronger weapons. The P2W weapons were few for Gen 1 and 2, alarming at Gen 3, and completely overblown by Gen 4. We went from guns that could easily 1 shot HS, to no guns that could kill in 3 HS's at all, to only the P2W items being 1 shot HSs...etc. Very toxic!

This is merely just one vision, there are definitely others out there that are probably better. However, anything is better than how the game is currently balanced. It is offputting to new players, makes public games very irritating and unrewarding, and offers no sense of satisfaction from kills. Providing a solution here would be ideal to fix the casual side of the game, and would have far reaching effects for the competitive side. These changes aren't for the competitive player base, but for the entire player base.

Item Availability

Aeria Games promoted items from 2010, which had never been released since. A grading system would be nice to have to know where all of the weapons stand. To know which are limited, which ones will be re-release...etc. To have an archive of 400+ weapons and no sense of them is confusing to players. We should at least be able to scroll through them in a database.

Technical Suggestions

Within a year A.V.A will be competing against F2P games utilizing Source2, Frostbite, and UE4 engines. A.V.A used to be several years ahead of its rivals like Crossfire, Combat Arms, or Soldier Front. Now that these games are dying out, A.V.A needs to look towards the future. A game lacking in technical features is not going to transition into 2017 or 2018 successfully.

These technical issues were ignored in the past but with each month they become an increasingly large priority to resolve. If not, players will simply pick the better game to play.

Sound

The fidelity of sound is sub-par. There is no equalization across gun fire, footsteps, or grenades. It isn't just volume that is not equalized, but fade distance and dampening levels. These are all out of wack for the audio source files and for the audio processing effects module in UE. An audio engineer could resolve some of the issues with the source audio files artificially, instead of recording new high quality source material.

Software engineers could upgrade the audio processing modules currently used. Though this would be time consuming and who knows what has been done to the stock UE audio engine. A developer may be able to tune the specific numbers to make the audio fidelity better but it would never be perfect. Lowering volume or amplitude would just cause other undesirable issues elsewhere.

Aside from audio on the ears and casual play the issue also lies with game play too. Footsteps are not consistent across different audio hardware. My onboard audio tracks footsteps differently than my soundcard, or my DAC - which is an amazing technical featur...bug. I believe the game gets confused on which audio processes to use for 5.1/2.1/2.0 channels, despite the channels not changing just the hardware. This also effects the volume of footsteps and other audio sources.

I have to spend quite a lot of time to get consistent audio that is usable. I have to use third party programs to provide in-game sound that is usable at a competitive level. Previously to 2011, the audio seemed perfect for positional audio. Nowadays it is very flat with no stage.

An audio engineer should be consulted to see if there are any easy solutions to be had.

Graphics

512mb textures should look gorgeous - and they do if you rip them from the game files. They look abysmal in-game however. The post-processing effects are downgrading the game, even at max settings. This is awkward as performance is already pretty poor. Perhaps these downgrading efforts are impacting performance to an extent.

We used to have 1024mb textures, and they looked great, but again, they could have looked even better with the correct post-processing effects.

I understand there is a post-processing patch on the way but it still needs to be stated that the graphical fidelity of A.V.A is poor and will not stand up to future F2P titles released from native NA/EU developers.

Additionally, weapon skins look atrocious compared to CS:GO. These skins need to be made cooler and less amateurish. Bad colour designs, poor adjoining images on the textures, misalignment with the model...etc. Interns could do a better job!

Performance

To have players with GTX 980s and i7 4700Ks complaining about FPS drops is insane for a game released in 2007 with none of the advanced or incredibly hindering features of modern day engines. 400-500 FPS should be easily obtainable for those with high-end hardware, with small FPS dips to the low 300s in specific situations.

Instead we are capped at 200 FPS (and a method to get more FPS was removed) and suffer from 50-90 FPS drops on random points of maps, lighting conditions, or from grenades. Those with low-end CPUs also struggle with smoke - when this should be done entirely on the GPU these days.

I am also confused what the game is doing with the RAM it utilizes during a session. Tracking memory stats indicates the game completely wipes all of its memory at times, and then at other times makes a ton of additional but small memory requests which add up to 1.8GB-2GB of RAM. This is really weird but very taxing on even mid-end CPUs.

There is a lot of room for improvement even if the engine is old. It makes no sense to completely rewrite parts of an engine but that isn't the point of this list. There is simply room for small incremental improvements that will add to heavy performance gains that are not being reviewed or implemented.

Networking

Stuff like this should not occur in a game. I played A.V.A competitively, and I am aware of how to test for network issues.

These issues of players 'skipping' (not updating correctly from the server), not being present (server dropping packets), and general registry issues are way too common and are easily reproduced on different hardware, locations, ISPs, and servers.

Ottawa, Rogers ISP
EU Server, 100 ping
NA Server, 20 ping

Toronto, Cogeco ISP
EU Server, 110 ping
NA Server, 10 ping

California, Comcast ISP
EU Server, 170 ping
NA Server, 90 ping

i7 4790K, GTX 970
Q6600, GTX 660

I have been to each of these locations with the two hardware sets listed. Every network issue is still present.

The best network bug is to have two computers, on the same network, load into the same A.V.A match. Have 1 player leave and re-join. At some point the player leaving and re-joining will be 1-3 seconds behind the player that stayed in the game. The in-game clock will remain accurate, however the player will not see another player move for 1-3 seconds - despite being on the same network connecting to the same server from the same location. A bit of delay is fine, but up to 3 seconds is mind boggling.

Standard tests with hops and ping from netstat also show terrible packet loss and routing throughout Europe. Routing on the north eastern area of NA is fine to the NA server, but anywhere else has way too many hops in the routing paths to the NA server. The EU routing seems to be awful outside of Germany when compared to games like CS:GO, LoL, or Overwatch.

  • Better routing
  • Better server host (downtimes were crazy with Aeria)
  • Better server hardware
  • Optimized netcode
  • Increased server tickrates for client side communications
  • At least put the CCS servers on something better than they are now


Clan System

The Clan Championship System on first release was a poor imitation of a matchmaking system. Fast forward to 2016 and it is one of the best features A.V.A has. There is not too much to complain about it, just minor details:

  • If someone solo queues, they should have a separate 'RP' amount to distinguish themselves
  • Those that queue with a team should also be labelled accordingly
  • RP doesn't mean much when it can be gained from so many different sources
  • There's a reason the top ranked players are grouped so close together with their team mates
  • Map choices need to be reviewed and match the localized version of the game (8 maps is good)
  • Website tracking of publicly view-able individual stats, clan stats, and overall rankings from each season

Having the clan system work on the website (creating, managing, roles) work would be nice to have as well. Aeria's implementation is barebones and ugly.

Public Games & Matchmaking

I believe 'Quickmatch' or auto-matchmaking services are the way to go for any game. The antiquated server browser should not be used for regular public games that utilize the basic game modes. Instead, the server browser should be promoted for custom games and/or very specific game modes.

Auto-matchmaking systems are everywhere now and A.V.A should have it be the main way to find public games. There is so much control the developer can have to ensure every player is getting what they want. It also helps new players experience the game correctly initially.

  • Quickmatch needs to be more 'default' to help finding a game you want to play faster
  • CCS is there for competitive players
  • Custom games can be in the server browser as usual

Custom Game Modes

Currently players need to create a room and put in the title the rules they have. This leads to some crazy acronyms and lingo not everyone understands and unintentionally breaks. This ruins the experience of those trying to play in these modes. It also creates a barrier of accessibility for these game modes to truly take off.

F3 Only India is a great example. Why has Redduck not embraced a scope-only game mode on India? Why would Sniper Gallery be made when clearly India is the map everyone wants to scope on? Why not develop maps that take elements from India for scope-only modes...instead of making an open concept designed map that has no design-related elements with India?

There is also the 1on1 and 2on2 competitions on ESL. These have been consistently popular for four years yet not a single 1on1/2on2 map exists. We have FFA but it is riddled with terrible spawning algorithms, poorly designed maps, and many other issues.

Why do these two custom game modes get ignored when they could be expanded on and potentially increase the appeal of playing A.V.A? Why not at least attempt to design these types of modes instead of creating entirely new modes like Domination or Airborn that flop on release. Let us not talk about regional differences as both of these game modes are the least popular choices in every version of A.V.A!

1on1/2on2 Dedicated Map(s)

Neowiz and Redduck employees both seemed supportive of specific 1on1/2on2 content when I met them in Tokyo. After their statements of new game modes being sub-par compared to new maps for established game modes, the discussion of 1on1/2on2 maps for UAVA took place. A Redduck developer stated it would be simple to address the game play concerns expressed by the EU players by taking an already made map and blocking sections off, like FFA maps.

Here is a request I made to Aeria but was never met with Redduck devs:

  • Random spawn points for each player, or team, that change every 10-20 seconds
  • Win Condition: 10, 20, 30, 50 Kills
  • 10 minute timer, Tourney Rules (8 minutes x2, side switch)
  • No dog tags
  • No spawn shield
  • Suggested maps to modify: Breakout, Chromite

Why:

  • 1on1/2on2 is a very popular game type across all FPS titles
    • CS:GO has more 1on1/FFA servers than classic servers
    • ESL 1on1 cups for CS:GO are incredibly popular, accounting for all regions they have 6k-8k 1on1 players a week
    • Quake, Tribes, and many more had full 1on1 support with large communities
  • ESL AVA has had consistent participation in 1on1 cups for two years with ranges from 130 to 190 players a week
  • There is no solid 1on1 focused map that meets the demands of a 1on1 game mode (big opportunity being missed out on)

Design Considerations

  • Fixed location, random spawns (similar to FFA Breakout)
    • Spawns need to be plenty to prevent predictable spawn killing
    • A map the size of Cold Case would need a minimum of 16 spawn locations to be tolerable
  • No spawn shield
  • One plane, no second stories/not too many drastic elevation changes
  • Circular angles, with few hard corners to ease the slowness of checking every corner (no current map in AVA is a good example of this)
  • Cold Case would be a recommended size, but there needs to be more of an 'arena' feel to the actual layout (more circle, less rectangle distinguished sides)

Optional Room Settings

  • Instakill: 1 shot with any gun will instantly kill you (1HP/0Armour?)
  • Headshot Only: Headshots only count for damage, body damage does not
  • Nades: On/Off
  • Time: 5 minutes, 8 minutes, 12 minutes
  • Player #: 1on1, 2on2
  • Health Regen: On/Off (regenerates your entire HP + Ammo upon a kill)

I would design a map but I don't know if they are going to chop up a made like Breakout or CC, or if they would make an entirely new map. These settings and design choices can be expanded to a scope only game mode.

Better yet just make all of these options when creating a room so we can have any combination of a game mode we could imagine.

Player Stats, Medals & Badges

Medals are kind of a one-time achievement reward.
Badges are repeatable achievements by doing something in-game.

Each of these need to be expanded. There is a limitless amount of badges that could be given for doing something during a game. Medals have not been updated unless there is no a new game mode pushed. Why is there not 5k, 10k, or 20k defense/attack/leader scores? 2k/3k/5k victory medals? Why not new medals either?

Player stats, badge counts, and medals should also be searchable and viewable on the website or externally from the game itself. We should be able to compare our stats and info to our friends and to others. We should be rated on leaderboards for the varying stats as well.

Daily, Weekly, Monthly Dailies

Get 100 kills a day. Get 250 kills in demolition in a week. Play 300 games in a month.These should be repeatable dailies players can strive for or unlock as they casually play. They can have a variety as well ranging from friendly fire incidents, grenade kills, grenade damage, grenade damage in a single round, damage a round, maps played, a map played, and so many other combinations.

Rewards can be static, or static with a random box/random item. Incentive our game play!

Spectator Mode

Here are a few improvements I made before to Aeria:

  • The current spectator mode to be updated to the latest Korean/Japanese version
  • Improved usage by assigning 1-10 buttons for each of the ten players in the room (think CS:GO)
  • Scenic camera positioning to be permanent per client and last throughout map loads/sessions
  • Game to autopause on player crash, and not close the game for all players
  • Game to pause or switch host to another observer upon main host crash
  • Pause function to work correctly (pauses the game, doable by room host only)
  • Enable any number of players to access the channel long-term (6 months, a year, permanently)

  • Remove transparent background elements (bad for streaming, causes pixelation)
  • Names, kills, deaths, and other readable elements need a solid background to be viewable on stream
  • UI needs to be scalable and scalable for different parts of it
  • Host a community contest to design a new spectator UI :D
  • Allow anyone to utilize the spectate channel (eSports Channel) for any reason (good for movie making, no limit on # of players to start a game, works with any game mode, and allows more than just Ink and MythSky to stream/cast games)

Every top shelf game with multiplayer components has a spectate system that works wonders. A.V.A's is hard to use, causes action to be missed, and is in general lacklustre to develop a quality experience to viewers. Many reasons for a good spectate system can be found here.

eSports

Contact ESL and discuss a plan on how to bring A.V.A to a standard level of competition in the market. Cash prizes are a bare minimum these days and are a primal marketing source. A.V.A has a huge eSports scene in Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. UAVA should be a contender for these events!

A.V.A lost 20 teams to Soldier Front 2 because they offered cash prizes whilst A.V.A did not. 10 teams quit A.V.A when Aeria announced that no teams would be sent to AIC for 2016. The competitive community is there - they just need a publisher to heal the old wounds.


Thanks for taking the time to read this! Again, this is only my opinion on A.V.A, with limited technical insight. I have played since the first beta, enjoyed every competition thus far, and continue to take pleasure in what A.V.A offers. I seek only the best for the game and its community!

Written by Justin "Ink" Quinn on Saturday July 30, 2016
Permalink - Category: AVA News - Tags: ava, news, july, 2016, en, masse, opinion, suggestions, bad, game

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