Wizard101
Developer Diary

Spell Balance Audit

 
 
 
 
Hello Wizards!


Ben "Ratbeard" Durbin
Lead Designer
We wanted to give you a bit more insight behind the changes to spells currently on Test Realm (as of July 2020), as well as to remind you of our wider rebalance plans moving forward.

The most important thing for our community to understand is that we are undertaking an audit of the game mechanics (systems) throughout the entire game. We understand that changes make players anxious, and this partly explains why we have put off these changes for as long as possible. When it was possible to make small changes, or delay them, we did so; but the time has come when we can’t put them off any longer.

The good news is that these changes are undertaken with the goal of positioning W101 for many more years of growth – including new content, increased level caps, cool new spells and gear.

Why Rebalance?


Let’s start by looking at how the game was designed at the start.

The original systems design for the game defined a “damage per pip” (dpp) for every school. Some schools had higher dpp (Storm) which was compensated with reductions in accuracy and health; and some schools had lower dpp (Ice) which was compensated with increased accuracy, health, or resist. Fire was right in the middle, having no inherent advantage in dpp or stats, nor any inherent disadvantages. Of course, over time, Storm is able to compensate with accuracy and health gear, and Ice is able to compensate with damage gear.

To some extent that is desirable, but over time, as the bonuses from gear get bigger and bigger, all the schools start to look and feel alike, and this leads to player dissatisfaction with their own school especially as they compare to other schools. It also means that we have to slow down the progression on your gear, lest we make the problem worse. Players complain when the new gear in a new world doesn’t seem like much of an improvement over what they had before (and especially so if we’re talking about gear that was too powerful in the first place – like Jade gear or Darkmoor gear!)

In a similar fashion, players understandably complain when new spells don’t look like much of an improvement over spells they had before. There’s nothing wrong, in our view, with players finding a favorite spell and a settling into a comfortable routine of annihilating their enemies with it. We understand and appreciate this “casual” feel to Wizard101. But it is a problem when new spells don’t look like an improvement over the ol’ standby spells. We realize that players seek out efficiency, but there should be a natural progression to encourage players to use different spells.

Now let’s review each of the steps that we took.

Regulate Shadow Pip Gain


Shadow pips in their prior incarnation were too swingy – some players got them too slowly, some players got them too quickly, or even back to back. There is still an element of randomness in the Shadow Gauge concept, but Shadow Pip gain is much more ‘regulated’ than before and deterministic: you WILL get a Shadow Pip.
  • Players in PvE should get a Shadow Pip somewhere between turn 3 (~50% of the time) and turn 5 (~95% of the time).
  • Shadow Pip gain in PvP is slightly slower – basically pushed out one more turn (turn 4-6).
  • Shadow Pip gain can be faster or slower depending on your Shadow Rating and how it compares to your opponents. Mobs in PvE will have ‘average’ Shadow Rating for the expected player level; Bosses may have more.

Fix the Value of a Shadow Pip


Shadow Pips were introduced to accelerate late-game combat, allowing players to cast more powerful spells, to end combats quickly, and progress through the game without getting bogged down.

Before our audit, Shadow-enhanced spells used values for Shadow Pips that ranged between 3 and 5 pips (and some were even higher). Players who follow our Dev accounts on Twitter will remember that we polled the community for the proper value of shadow pips: 3 pips or 5 pips? The poll was split 53/47 in favor of 5 pips, with over 1000 people voting on each side. Fortunately, the value of a Shadow Pip is not a binary choice.

By regulating the Shadow Pip generation with the gauge, we standardized the value of the Shadow Pip to 3.6 regular pips.

Overall, we want Shadow Pips to be a little less powerful, and to pop more often – again, tying back their original ‘accelerator’ purpose. Having more powerful pips that take longer to arrive is not an ideal solution because that would extend combat time (and, worse, turn it into an exercise in waiting around for a Shadow Pip).

Bend the Power Curve Down


As we mentioned earlier, spells are designed around the concept of “damage per pip” (dpp). The original dpp power curve was fairly smooth, but the most dramatic acceleration (the ‘blade’ of the hockey stick) was tucked away behind higher levels (rank 8 spells and Shadow Pips), mostly unseen by players in the first and second arc. As player level and spell rank increased, more of the hockey-stick shape was exposed to the players; and as player damage went up, mob health went up accordingly. The numbers were growing too large. This happens regularly in games; it’s a good problem to have: it means players are sticking with your game and want higher levels and more content. But it does eventually necessitate a fresh look at the power curve.

To address the spell power curve, we made two significant “nerfs:”
  • We removed a dpp accelerator from Rank 8 spells and above
  • We reduced the dpp for all Shadow Pips (across all schools)
These changes are most notable on R8+ spells that have no added utility. The ‘nerf’ is relatively small at Rank 8 but is more noticeable at R10 and R11. (Compare Storm Owl before and after.)

To get an idea of what the accelerator would have done at Rank 14: A R14 Storm spell (pre-audit) was on track to do 2950 damage; with the accelerator removed, 1970 damage. Storm will remain the best dpp school, well above average, and its spells will still carry you through the game; but we need to reduce the gap between Storm and other schools so that all schools feel like they are at least in the conversation when it comes to damage.

Shadow Pips – which were already more powerful by virtue of the “bonus pip power” they provided – also had higher dpp than normal spells. (You may have seen us discussing this on Twitter as the “shadow pip track.”) This bump was added to attempt to address the power disparity between Storm and other schools, giving other schools a bigger (relative) boost in dpp – pre-audit, Ice went from 83 dpp to 130 dpp; Storm went from 125 dpp to 150 dpp. This closed the gap between Ice and Storm but still increased the dpp too much. As a result, while Shadow spells do still have a higher dpp, they are not quite so high. Overall, we pushed the average dpp down by about 20%. Ice improves from 83 dpp to 100; Storm improves from 125 dpp to 130 dpp.

School Normal DPP Old Shadow DPP New Shadow DPP
Ice 83 130 100
Life 83 130 100
Balance 85 135 105
Death 85 135 105
Myth 90 140 115
Fire 100 145 120
Storm 125 150 130



The Rank 7 Spells


As we dove into our audit we discovered that Power Nova, Frost Giant, and Storm Lord were already dealing damage above what spell creation guidelines would suggest. AOE spells typically take a 25% penalty to damage compared to a single target spell; Storm Lord, Nova, and Frost Giant had no such reduction. We chose Storm Lord as our anchor point and brought other schools up to par, offering them the same “free AOE” perk that Storm Lord was getting. This made sense: The Rank 7 spells are a “capstone” achievement of sorts to Arc 1, and boosting them will give players a bit of “momentum” moving forward into the next Arc.

Enchanting Drain Spells


Prior to our audit, Drain spells received only a portion of the bonus from damage enchant spells. Although we understand the rationale behind this, it was not applied consistently – DOT spells and AOEs did not have any corresponding “accounting” vis-a-vis enchant effects as did the drains. Beginning with this update, Drains receive full value from damage enchants.

Establish, Document, and Enforce Spell Design Guidelines


One of the problems facing our designers was that guidelines for spell creation had become outdated, which lead to these rules being broken at times – and the side effect of that can be seen in the widely-disparate power levels of later-arc spells. As part of this audit, we took a look back to the original spells, broke them down to re-establish the fundamentals of their design as they apply both in retrospect over the last 12 years of spell progression and also thinking forward to the next decade, and then documented an updated series of guidelines – an updated “recipe” of sorts for building spells under our new methodologies. These updated guidelines allow us to ensure that all spells past, present, and – most importantly – future are fairly balanced against each other.

This was certainly the most challenging aspect of the audit as players’ desires for utility vary widely across different game experiences, across schools, and even within the same school. Generally speaking PvE players favor higher damage and less utility, so that their spells have the hitting power to end combat quickly and progress. This is in direct conflict with PvP players who tend to favor more “tempo-building” utility. But even these broad generalizations don’t hold true across all players everywhere. There are PvE players who lamented the loss of utility and there are PvP players who wanted damage to stay high.

Ultimately, we tried to reconcile these opposing desires by giving a big discount to the “cost” of utility for Rank 8 spells and above. This allowed us to keep more utility without sacrificing as much damage. Because our damage per pip values have already come down to a satisfactory point, we can be confident that total damage is not above the power curve. This discount allowed the R8 spells (which were already closest to the desired power curve) to come down just a bit, with correspondingly higher reductions as rank increases.

The Shadow spells, which we audited during the Shadow pip valuation pass, did not receive a 2nd pass for this utility discount. We have opted not to grant this utility discount to Shadow spells at this time – though they have more than 8 pips of power (in most cases) we want to preserve the discount for true Rank 8 spells. Should we create a Rank 8 Shadow spell in the future, the discount would apply. The status quo post-audit is that Shadow spells are properly balanced against each other using the correct spell design guidelines.

Mob Health


With the reduction in average spell damage comes a corresponding reduction in mob health.
  • Mob health (correlated to spell damage) is reduced by 20%
  • These changes apply to mobs in Celestia and beyond
  • Some “cheating boss” mechanics that relied on specific spell damage values have been reworked
  • Storm average damage is still well above average mob health (even on the low end of random damage results)
  • All schools should be able to progress as easily as before (if not easier)

We realize it was difficult for some players to properly assess the changes to the spells without comparing them against mob health. However, as mob health relies on spell damage calculations, and we needed to change thousands of mobs, we felt it was prudent to wait until our damage audit was complete before changing a large number of files.

We can continue to tweak individual spells, but we consider the damage curve audit complete, and have adjusted mob health accordingly.

Treasure Cards


What happens to all the Treasure Card variants of the spells we audited? Good question! There are over 20 variants of Efreet alone! Treasure Cards will be audited in a future update. Until that time, you can continue to use them in PvE and PvP as normal.

Moving Forward


We will continue our spell audit by expanding our scope to the remaining spells. Most early game spells appear to be correctly balanced, but they will be included in the next pass. (We’re happy to report that some early spells might even get a slight bump to fit them to our design standards.) After the school spells, we will move on to trainable/dropped spells.

Finally, we want to remind players that our game-wide audit will continue with a stat and gear audit in upcoming updates. Despite the sometimes messy, sometimes scary peek behind the scenes that came with this last update, we feel that having the community on board to assess changes and provide feedback in real time is the best path forward. The dedicated community members that have been with us every step of the way, providing invaluable constructive feedback with each revision, mean the world to us, and we can’t thank you enough! We will maintain this dialogue with you as we continue this process with future updates. We hope to preview stat rebalancing even farther in advance but remember – Test Realm is for Testing!

Please let us know what you think of this dev diary update in the Test Realm Forums!

Thanks,

Ben "Ratbeard" Durbin
Lead Designer

Matthew "Mattnetic" Fahey
Senior Systems Designer II

Leah "Professor Falmea" Ruben
Lead Producer


Dated: July 16, 2020