So a lot of people have been wondering about the thought process that went into the DEF decay change, and it's been interesting to see several of the explorations, proposals, and descriptions in recent pages mirror some of the various steps we went through in the design process. In light of that, and in the spirit of transparency, I'd like to share a bit more detail on what we started from, where we went, and things that were discarded or tweaked along the way. In addition to providing some context, hopefully it will also give some direction toward feedback and suggestions that align with the core goals.
First, some expansion on the problem statement: High DEF as a game mechanic is over-centralizing to the point of hamstringing our ability to implement any reasonable future PvM content.
To expand on that, exhibit A:
This is the key metric to keep in mind when it comes to game balance of DEF. It's not how much single/burst damage you're taking, it's not what your effective DEF number is. Even expressions of other reduction sources pale in comparison to the expressiveness of this particular graph -- it's the defensive side of the "damage per second" graph. Specifically, how long you survive without needing to pay attention to other damage sources (like heavy burst damage). Steel Body sits at the "knee" of this curve, right before you start to hit a runaway condition. After that, the survivability curve goes asymptotic; that's a problem. It's a problem because as long as it's achievable, you cannot effectively do anything to enhance gameplay and add new and interesting content without making the problem progressively worse:
You can't add interesting new monsters or encounters (crafted instances, etc.) -- they'll either be trivial for the super-DEF folks to steamroll, or will be too absolutely terrifying for anything that *doesn't* have a super-DEF build incorporated
You can't add new items that do anything with DEF, plus or minus -- "plus" is just too good, and it doesn't solve the problem, only lowers the zeny barrier to clear that absurd difficulty eliminator
No amount of expansive new dungeons or cute new monster sprites can account for the fact that the difficulty curve is just a binary choice: either impossibly hard or atrociously trivial
Gravity knew this, and saw it coming -- their answer to it was renewal. Not new content, just completely rewriting the way the game works. Curves like this existed with ASPD, with cast time and cooldown, and with DEF, among other things.
We opted not to go Gravity's route for renewal. We didn't believe it fit with the vision of the RO server we wanted to build, and a lot of the RO community seemed to share the sentiment, to the point of official servers offering "classic" servers.
But that doesn't mean that the upper margins of the original RO game design do not have growth and expansion problems. And we're still stuck with them. So when we're looking ahead to what we want the server to be in the future, we have to ask some very tough questions: do we make a huge break from the classic RO mentality, changing the way the game works so fundamentally that players feel like they can't port over any of their RO knowledge from other servers? Do we add new content, knowing full well that it contributes toward a more and more centralized, highly-optimized endgame? Do we try to make an incremental break rather than a huge one, even if it doesn't fully solve the problem we see?
Extreme DEF builds have been possible since the days of episode 10.4 (read: since before TalonRO was called TalonRO, some 10 years ago), but PvM was so easy (and honestly, ignored) that it wasn't quite worth it as anything more than a novelty. And the requirements were so onerous that it wasn't really feasible, either. But that slowly changed, and we've been aware of its benefits and drawbacks. RO itself is a complex system, though -- the point where we pull the trigger on "we need to do something" is going to be unpalatable when it happens, but the fact remains that it needs to happen if we want to continue to evolve.
So, what do we do about it? We went through a lot of options, many of which have been suggested in here already. The first thing was detailing what the contributing factors were:
A flawed mechanic that has asymptotic benefits
A need to add game-freshening features that improve benefits
We first looked at the second set of things. It's usually easiest to walk back an item change or two from a technical perspective. But ultimately, there are just too many sources -- "regular" items, zeny/resource creep (overupping), hidden enchants, customized major targets like Kris, Garm, Bris, etc. etc. "Compensation" is also a very dicey can of worms to open, and should be used as sparingly as possible -- because people who have derived advantages from things serious enough to merit change have so many intangible things related to their experience, and trying to compensate that fairly is much harder than making the numbers work out.
At the end of the day, there was no combination of gear/benefit adjustments that we could agree to as a staff. And it also simply kicked the problem down the road -- the giant leaps beyond the knee were still there. So we had to look at the first bullet.
There were several things that we looked at for said bullet:
Redesign the offending system itself -- AKA "renewal for DEF"
This is somewhat implicitly rejected by our rejection of renewal itself
Plus, touching DEF itself would be a HUGE departure from RO
This was pretty much a nonstarter
Hard-cap the flawed part of the system
This would very explicitly render gears and buildouts entirely useless
Much like the item discussion, this doesn't provide much in the way of a vision for growth -- it's already no longer just one esoteric build that hits more-than-steel-body DEF, it's a growing plethora of progressively more palatable build options
This left a pretty bad taste in our mouths, so off it went to the wastebin
Adjust an aspect of the offending system to make it less offensive
Again, there are too many sources for the raw DEF number itself
VIT DEF is relatively negligible, thus not worth considering
No other reduction gear provides that much of an impact (at the risk of spawning a GTB discussion, strictly physical damage sources here)
But DEF does eventually decay...which flattens that asymptotic curve quite nicely
And so DEF decay became the mechanic that attracted our attention. Why?
It's something familiar that sits in the classic RO dynamic
It is a clear foil for the identified issue
The effects of adjusting it do not target a specific item or build -- but they do target overall strategies & structure, which is what we wanted
Adjustments to it are parameterizable -- we can tweak the numbers based on simulations & feedback
It gives us breathing room for introducing things that give rise to new builds & equipment loadouts
Those last two features were what sold us on the concept. So, we set about parameterizing it. From here, we set our baselines:
Steel Body has been the classical RO choice for an MVP tank and is already quite good (so anything greater than 90 DEF in these situations was undesirable, to answer one of azur's main questions)
Pallies and LKs have typically been crowd control, secondary tanks, or "bloodbags" in these situations (to use azur's terminology)
The great tankability of well-geared MVP parties in general has led to these being long-forgotten arts, incidentally also somewhat because of inflated DEF/HP/MDEF with our custom gears, but that's a bit of a tangent
LKs & Pallies also tend to be mobbers & crowd managers in leveling parties, too; their movement plus Endure reduced the "number of mobs attacking" count pretty significantly, too
So we wanted something that emphasized all 3 bullets. Simply making DEF decay start immediately still gave the 99 DEF build a lot of leverage over steel body, especially if you pull the slaves off (something many don't bother with these days, but is still a tactic that exists and something we may at some point be considering designing new monsters/encounters around). So we gave boss types & MVPs a stronger contribution in terms of the "number" of monsters they count as.
But this was incredibly punitive, and also just meant that mobbing/crowd control would be even rougher than before. We wanted to add emphasis to that as well, so we damped the curve slightly in order to provide a sweetener to normal-monster mobbing, especially in light of all the other farming nerfs going around. It was not an unintended side effect -- it was a companion change that fit with the general thinking we were doing at the time.
What that left us with was a system that works like the following graph (start from count of 1, add +1/2/3 per monster accordingly):
With bosses & MVPs shifting the lines more aggressively accordingly. The ultimate impact on most of the survivability curve is negligible, even for the 80 DEF case, because remember: you're well behind the knee of that curve.
Most importantly, this also gives us room to grow in terms of new items & monsters, without hitting a huge difficulty spike. It's a smoothing operation that flattens the benefit curve while neither chopping it off nor awkwardly jerking it around. It gives us room to tweak if we find serious problems with it, without repeatedly overhauling the game entirely. While it was designed explicitly to readjust MVP tanking to the Steel Body status-quo at the moment, it gives us the flexibility to adjust that balance in the future if we so desire. While we understand the attachment to heavy investments with very high guaranteed returns, we also cannot afford to fall into the rut of continually quantifying those if we hope to continue evolving this game. And make no mistake -- if the near 10 years of running here are not indication enough, we are committed to continuing to push the game further. There will be some roller coaster rides along the way -- especially if you're riding in the front seat! -- but we are not acting from a point of malice when we make changes.
Please take that into account when making suggestions -- we spent a lot of time finding a framework that works here, so arguing to change, ditch, or compensate for that entire framework will be a much harder conversation to have than one that looks to improve the framework by better addressing the concerns that spawned it.
We already have some of that here; please try to keep it on that path!