General War Robots

Crossing the Streams: The Summer Update

Did Pixonic take a tip from Gepard Diary? Who knows, Jay's excited to just enjoy the anticipation!

Six weeks ago, I asked what Pixonic could learn from the information release strategy of Wizards of the Coast (WotC), the company behind Magic: the Gathering. With over twenty years of experience getting players excited about their upcoming releases, WotC has turned art into science. Each quarterly releases sees a steady drip, drip, drip of hints, teasers, and spoilers, giving fans plenty to talk about- and salivate over- before the release is available to buy.

In short, the object is to strum fan anticipation into a fever pitch, so that when it comes time to open their wallets the excitement is not only palpable, but visible on the balance sheet. 

Pixonic, on the other hand, has had a lot of room for improvement based on the WotC model given just how much information they have at their disposal. Rather than a simple “update dump” on Facebook, I’d noted, why not use that information in a manner similar to WotC and get fans excited ahead of time?

So imagine my delighted surprise, then, when the War Robots blog dropped this little gem today. This is exactly the sort of thing I had in mind six weeks ago, and now I’m feeling a Magic-level of excitement over the things that wait in store in the months ahead rather than just waiting for soon™.

So what does the future have in store?

HEDR

They’re (almost) here! I’ve played some on the test server, and I like them well enough. The “Mark I” has the most interest for me, since it hits the right notes of speed and agility, but the real question I have is how we’re going to be able to get our hands on them.

Workshop Points: Don’t bet on it. I’ve contended for awhile that the Workshop was a dead route for veteran players. On my iOS account, the only things I need from it are a Rhino and a Raijin, not because I particularly want them, but because they’re the only bots I don’t have. That said, Pixonic has confirmed that there are long-term plans to completely overhaul the Workshop altogether, so the future may hold some utility for this much-stockpiled currency.

Gold: Now we’re talking. The last two expansions have shown Pixonic that players are willing to pay- and pay well- for new mechs. With players accustomed to spending money for expansions or “downloadable content” for their existing games, it’s smart business that all successive expansions will be used as money-spinners. The Lancelot, Galahad, and Gareth all cost Gold, which is an easy source of revenue.

Event: Longtime readers will know that this is the model I’ve anticipated, now that we’ve seen how the Wild West bots were released. Make each new wave of bots Event-only, kick the previous expansion down to Gold, and from Pixonic’s perspective this makes a lot of sense (and money).

DreamBucks: The “Dream Squad” feature is in the patch notes of Android, and will be on iOS in the coming week. This is essentially a “get your friends to play” feature, giving you “some currency” to spend as a reward. These “DreamBucks” (my term, not Pixo’s) can be redeemed for “certain things,” which for the moment will be Wild Bunch bots.

HEDR

In this new game mode, respawning players can choose to spawn near a captured beacon instead of at the default spawning location. This is an idea that makes so much sense, it would stun me if this didn’t get made permanent (the current plan calls for a two-week pilot). And if I have to play three times as much during that fortnight to help nudge it in that direction, it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.

After all, haven’t we all been there, especially on the larger maps? We die, only to jump into the bot we need at the time, say a Lancelot or even a Griffin. Then we have to trudge halfway across the battlefield before we get to where the action is, and by then we might be too late to the party to make any difference.  This happens all the time for those of us who rely on Heavy bots to get a lot of the lifting done.

Spawn in the Lancelot. Rush to the edge of the spawn platform. Drop off into the snow. Rush again to get to the center beacon ramp. And so on… Now, we’ll have a great deal more flexibility in how we respond to battlefield situations. The depth of benefit here is surprisingly deep. Who benefits?

Slower bots. This one’s obvious. The sluggish mechs can save a lot of travel time by jumping in at a beacon rather than at the starting spawn area.

Coordinated squads. I remember someone said in a conversation about top-tier strategy that some Japanese clans were notorious for coordinating their respawns. In other words, rather than just respawning into a new bot when they were destroyed, they’d hang out in limbo for a few moments. Then, when two or three of them were ready, they’d respawn together and return to the battlefield in a wave.

Now, I have no way to verify if that was apocrypha or accuracy, but imagine this scenario. You’re in a six-man squad on voice comms, which allows the highest level of battlefield coordination. You’re getting hammered at Yamantau by a pack of Reds that have bunkered on spawn and center beacon. You and a couple of your mates get meched, but instead of immediately respawning you exercise the “Japanese Pause.”

That’s when one of your teammates in a Stalker streaks up the flank and caps an enemy beacon. Previously, that was a distractionary gesture- if they couldn’t hold it, they could at best hope to see the enemy dedicate some resources to retake it. But now, that Stalker doesn’t need to hold it. Because the moment it flips Blue, you and your two mates in limbo spawn in with knifers, and go on a killing spree in the Red’s backline.

This one change will literally turn conventional War Robots group strategy on its axis.

Light bots. Not long ago, Pixonic said that in light of the new matchmaker reality, they wanted to transition from the progression model of bots (“Light,” “Medium,” “Heavy“) into a more role-based model. Welcome, Lights, your role as beacon runners just went from useful to tactical.

Your time. Somewhere in the depths of Pixonic Data Central, there’s a giant screen in a command center that reads, “Average Length per Match.” With the ability to “teleport” across the battlefield, that number will go down. Sometimes it will help you win. Sometimes it will cause you to lose. But if you’re on of those types who says, “I have an hour to play before bed,” instead of, “I’m going to play six games before I go to bed,” then this has the potential to squeeze in one more game.

Better players. Wizards of the Coast divides its playerbase into one of three “psychographics,” or player profiles. The “Timmy” is the player who loves the experience of playing the game, often stereotyped (not incorrectly) as someone playing large, fat creatures who smash up the battlefield.

“Johnny” plays to express creativity or cleverness. In Magic, that’s often through obscure or tricky interactions between cards. In War Robots, this describes Shaolin Rogue and I, who love to try and find effective “rogue” builds that have been overlooked.

Finally, “Spike” plays to prove something. That usually means dominance, excellence through competition. One of the things time and again that Spikes have been shown to appreciate are choices, cards that force decisions. Why? Simple. To a Spike, every decision a player is forced to make in a game is an opportunity to make either the right play, or the wrong one. And the more such moments there are in a game, the more that skill affects the outcome of a game.

With the ability to decide where to spawn (assuming you have one or more beacons capped), this is a very significant decision point that can help separate the wheat from the chaff and give the veteran pilot the edge. Those that have developed the skill not just to pilot their own bot effectively, but know the layout of the map and have developed the skill to read the tide of battle will have a distinct advantage over those who do not. “Beacon Rush” gives an opportunity for skill and experience to be even more of a factor for success. For that reason, I expect that higher-end players in particular will embrace this game mode (and, conversely, for weaker players to find it less comfortable than the single-spawn mode).

HEDR

It’s not just bots we get to be excited about. New weapons, teased now and released later, give us plenty to think about. What’s the best delivery vector for the Scourge? Will the Fury meta favor Zeuses, Tridents, or Tempests? So much to consider, so much to speculate over! The War Robots community already is starting to debate these questions and more. Buzz!

HEDR

Soon, projectile (“kinetic”) weapons will deliver up to double damage (estimated) against physical shields. I’ve already seen some concern that this feels like a metagame “band-aid,” but I’m not convinced. This seems to accomplish two useful objectives at the same time. First, it makes the game’s most neglected weapon type relevant again. Second, it begins to move the game more towards a rock-paper-scissors model, which- if done correctly- can provide a healthy structure to build a metagame on.

In Magic: the Gathering terms, fast decks (“aggro”) beat slow decks (“control”), but are weak against midrange. Midrange decks outpace aggro, but fall short against control. And control gets overrun by aggro, but can lock out midrange. It’s a useful triangle, and allows different types of decks to be viable.

Similarly, it will be nice to see kinetic weapons effective against physical shields (BritBots, Raijin, Dash Mk III, Rhino), plasma countering energy (Ancile shields, Carnage, Dash Mk II, Fujin), and rockets taking a more “generalist” approach. I’m reserving judgment until I see the execution, but this seems like a healthy nudge in an environment where many are frustrated by the ubiquity of physical shielding.

HEDR

And here it is, the Holy Grail. Custom game modes offer so many more reasons to get engaged with this game, which can only be good for Pixonic. Imagine the possibilities:

  • Duels between clans or individuals
  • Training skirmishes within the same clan (HALLELUJAH!)
  • Organized tournaments (potentially with an entry fee and prizes)
  • Best of all… yes, best of all… the ability for my 6-year-old son Liam and I to chase each other around a battlefield, just the two of us

This is- no pun intended, a game-changer for War Robots, and to see it as early as this Summer is outstanding.

So it would seem that the proof is in the pudding. I haven’t tended to do “news parsing” articles on the Diary, and yet here I am approaching two-thousand words on a press release. All because we crossed the streams, releasing Pixonic news in the WotC style.

WotC has now moved to a twice-a-year news update cycle. I’d love to see an article just like today’s, heading into each quarter.

Drip, drip drip. 

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