Tobold's Blog
Sunday, November 10, 2013
 
Tobold does PvP

I am currently playing Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign, which is a nice game if you like match-3 games and can overlook the Pay2Win aspects of this implementation. So I was playing and getting my superheroes to about level 24, when I ran into a problem: There weren't all that many PvE missions around level 25, and then it jumped directly to level 30+ missions marked as "impossible" (even if you can sometimes beat "impossible"). In Marvel Puzzle Quest that is a problem, because once you played a mission often enough to get the 4 rewards, you only get a tiny reward if you beat them again, making it basically impossible to grind your way towards higher levels.

So I was asking on the forums what to do, and was told to do PvP. Bleh! I don't like PvP in most games, with only a few exceptions like World of Tanks. My experience with PvP games is that matchmaking rarely works well, so get a rather unfun game of one side roflstomping the other. And then most people have a problem with the concept that in well-balanced PvP on average you MUST lose half of your games. So there are lots of problems with sore losers (not to mention bad winners). I hadn't even tried PvP in Marvel Puzzle Quest because it is a match-3 game, and thus by definition turn-based. I have long experience with trying to do turn-based games online against other players, and there are always problems with people moving slowly or even deliberately stalling, or disconnecting or throwing games when they are about to lose. For example in Card Hunter since release there have been several patches addressing that sort of problems in PvP with new timers introduced because people were trying to make their opponents concede by stalling.

But when I mentioned those concerns on the forums, I was informed in the usual polite forum form ("lol u suck") that PvP in Marvel Puzzle Quest doesn't work like that. While that did confirm my suspicion that I wouldn't have wanted to play against Mr. Lol-u-suck, I found out that I didn't have to. Because PvP in Marvel Puzzle Quest has a rather surprising feature: You don't actually play against other players. Instead there are so-called PvP tournaments in which you only ever play against the AI. The AI just uses the superheroes of some player and pretends you're playing against him. In reality it is just a story-free form of PvE.

Not only does that turn Mr. Lol-u-suck into a perfect gentleman when you play against "him". They also managed to set the whole thing up in a way where just like in PvE you nearly always win. If you lose a game, you get two more attempts; and while you can use fresh heroes, your "opponent" is playing with the heroes previously damaged by you. Okay, you get a bit less rewards for that, but it very much tilts chances in your favor. And as Mr. Lol-u-suck is never even informed that he lost a game against you, he won't react badly. [CORRECTION: If you are online, you *do* get an information that you were attacked and lost rank. And then you can take "revenge" by counter-attacking. Against the AI, still. And only once, unless your counter-attack is again counter-attacked by the other player.]

So this morning I tried a few PvP games in the current tournament, which lets you play "against" 199 random players. I have a sneaking suspicion that those groups of 200 are determined from the start, from the full player database, without even asking people to sign up for the tournament. So I played against people with level 1 heroes. Unsurprisingly I quickly won a lot of games, and suddenly found myself on rank #8 of the ladder. I've dropped down a few ranks due to other people playing and gaining points, but I will definitively "do well". And get rewards for every game I win, plus for my ranking at the end.

That brings me back to Pay2Win: For PvE I had spent money on Marvel Puzzle Quest, which enabled me to increase my "inventory" size and have more different heroes. That was done because different heroes have different powers, and it is fun to figure out good combinations. But it turns out that this also happens to be a winning strategy for the pseudo-PvP mode: Your main obstacle in PvP is that your heroes will be injured in each fight, and you'll have to wait for them to heal up or use healing kits (which slowly regenerate if you don't buy them). But with many different heroes I can play quite a number of games before all of them are injured. And the more games you play, the higher you rank. It is a game designed for casual players like me who don't mind dropping some money on a game to do well in PvP. I chuckle to think how angry that will make the typical PvP-fan.

Comments:
Sounds interesting. I wonder if there is any real strategy involved in designing teams that will be played well by the AI?
 
Actually you never even set up the team that will be played by the AI. Thus I'm not quite sure against what heroes of mine another player would play. The last team I used? A random team of my heroes? No idea.
 
I've had experience with this sort of "AI PVP" in Order & Chaos: Duels. You can choose to 'Pillage' other players which pits you against their deck, but it's controlled by the game. If you win then you get their unclaimed login reward bonus. It's interesting to see what other players are using in their deck.

The game DOES included a full player vs player mode though too. I'm not a huge fan of their match-making accuracy and I always find myself outclassed so generally I stay away from that mode.
 
I don't mind pseudo-PVP. NWO has this place called Gauntlgrym where guilds sign up to help one of the opposing forces: either the Delzoun Explorers or Luskan Corsairs.

When the event starts (every x hours) there's first a PVE phase in combating duergar and the like and controlling your half of the city (1 hr) followed by a "PVP" phase (1 hr) against the opposing faction - except you can just stay in the PVE side and build catapults, convince a giant to help you etc. while the "killers" go in to the true "PVP" zone to fight each other.

I imagine the actions of the PVE guys behind them actually help.

The winner of those phases then has 1 hr to enter the featured dungeon, or side dungeon where the losing team can only enter the side dungeon.

I think it's a pretty good system. :)
 
So you can keep fighting them until they win? And then they can fight you, what, once?

Seems like a bad deal to start a fight? Unless you get points even if you lose, so then it's just putting up with losing?
 
Sorry, I meant you can keep fighting them until YOU win?
 
You can fight them until you win, with a maximum of three attempts. They can then fight you until they win, with a maximum of three attempts. Points are based on how many attempts it took you to win.
 
I can see some merits to the model. But it sounds like a matter of who gives up retaliating first. Which could be treated as a merit, I grant. Possibly in the long term though, exhausting.

Possibly if doing slightly better than the opponent carried over some benefit, cumulatively over each fight, until one side just had no hope of winning a retaliation, that'd be more...climactic.
 
I am not so sure that AI can even recognize how properly utilize customly constructed deck. This may lead to extremely weak strategy.
 
Well the AI could recognise - about as much as its programmer recognised. Some devious player decks most likely could not be brought to full potential because the programmer just wasn't devious enough to see those combinations.
 
Oh, that was you asking on the forum!

Defensive strategy tip: conclude your PvP fighting with a scary looking combo. Because that is what other people will be retaliating against.

There are some heroes that are strong offensive / weak offence. (Classic Storm is the best example.) Drop them for your last battle in favor of high-level or annoying-to-fight heroes that heal or stunlock. That way people will "skip" fighting you and switch to easier targets.
 
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