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Overload has truth; next it needs balance

Posted Thursday, March 25th, 2021 11:31:00 pm
Overload multiplayer was put together in around a month, went through another month of testing, and ended up being rather underwhelming to play. Ranked multiplayer queues died out after the first couple weeks, those that remained were either gaming the system or late to the party. Mercifully, ranked multiplayer did not survive very long.

However, multiplayer soon began to thrive in the form of the Overload Teams League. I founded the OTL in 2019 for pilots who wanted to play team games. It caught on pretty quick with 6 teams by its second month. At first, we dealt with the frustrating limitations of poor server choices, shoddy networking, and always demanding to Bammer "RESTART YOUR SERVERS!!!". But shortly after Revival Productions folded in February of 2019, a glimmer of hope appeared in the form of olproxy, a piece of software that allowed Overload LAN servers to act as Internet servers. For the first time, Internet games were playable without official servers.

Over time, this expanded to olproxy being incorporated into olmod, a collection of mods for Overload with the aim to improve multiplayer game play. A large number of improvements have been included in olmod since then, including larger game sizes, reporting to a tracker, sniper packets, lag compensation, and more. What hasn't been addressed is weapon balance.

Multiplayer weapon balance has not been great since Overload launched. Ammo weapons have been shown to dominate, and the energy weapons are a mixed bag with cyclone being dominant and reflex being weak. Hunters used to be super strong until an early nerf was added to olmod. Creepers and time bombs used to be excessively out of sync between client and server. Despite this, people still played, but bigger issues existed because people couldn't understand what they were seeing. Ship positions were not consistent. People were saying that 50ms in Overload felt worse than 100ms in Descent 3. (While seemingly unbelievable, this was learned to be a true statement since Overload intentally adds a minimum of 83ms of lag to game play; 33ms for processing controls smoothly and 50ms to be able to interpolate ships smoothly.) Slowly over time, the net code was deciphered and unravelled, and we learned some shocking things about how the net code was implemented. In addition to the intentionally added lag, your entire controls are sent to the server every frame for processing server-side. Every button press, mouse movement, or swing of the joystick would be part of that send. But because client and server frames don't match up one to one, this would cause errors in position and rotation, and weapon firing that was often out of phase, meaning what you saw on your screen wasn't what was happening on the server.

First, we fixed the weapons. Sniper packets made it so that every time you fire something client-side, that is what was seen server-side. This also eliminated some super bad parts of the game, such as disagreements as to how many missiles you have, what weapon you're using, what side of the ship you're firing a missile out of, and more.

Second, we fixed most of the intentional lag and made it so that it would try to compensate for lag, predicting where ships will be in the future, making them easy to hit. Then we revisited weapons, also compensating them for lag so that they'd be easier to dodge.

I say "we" because this is a team of developers doing this. Arne de Brujin created olproxy and olmod and showed us what is possible. I've contributed a bunch of code, and Tobias, Whollycow, and derhass have been instrumental in keeping things on track. We even have occasional contributors like terminal, luponix, and D.Cent provide extra quality of life for both players and developers.

And now we're ready to tackle balance.

Players are now seeing the game closer to the truth than ever before, and as a result they have honed in their skills better than ever, showing us that, yeah, there are serious balance problems with the game. It's not like we didn't already know this. However, now that we are seeing closer to the truth, we can begin to understand exactly what these balance problems are, and hopefully start finding common ground in regards to what needs to be balanced.

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