General Critiques

Optimal Range

It’s an interesting, strange concept. I’d wanted to write about Daemon X Machina but before I could really sit down and do that properly, I had to go through and try out all the different weapons. In doing so, I immediately found myself disappointed the more I experimented with certain common weapon types, which essentially leaves Daemon X Machina featuring the classic Armored Core trait: the numbers are poorly balanced.

This is more the fault of the titular optimal range: as a mechanic in Daemon X Machina, it serves to control the amount of damage your weapon does, specifically, classic hard-ammo ballistic guns. Stuff that shoots bullets – or, more precisely shells – and damages the target with kinetic energy.

Other types of guns don’t necessarily have an optimal range. They might have effective range or other projectile properties, but in Daemon X Machina only classic ballistic weapons have this particular property, and it’s a major hindrance to essentially every weapon in this category that isn’t an assault rifle or a machine gun. The example to best look at is the sniper rifle type.

The primary issue here is the drop off damage the closer we get to the target. The optimal range of the sniper rifle is shown in the above image, it is five hundred thirty meters plus or minus a hundred and forty meters – that is, assuming those units are meters for everyone’s sanity. So below ranges of three hundred and ninety meters, the sniper rifle will do less damage than within its sweet spot.

In the vacuum in which that quick demonstration was done, our only real factors were the arsenal’s weapons, its position while firing, the static position of our targets, and the environment of the testing grounds in which this was done. It’s useful to look at in an “on paper” sort of way and shows the idea as being something, perhaps a little interesting.

But in practice…

A regular fight with an arsenal leaves the player with little control over their spacing in such an exacting way. “But (almost) three hundred meters is a huge sweetspot!” you might say, which is correct! But three hundred and ninety meters, the place where our example rifle’s sweet spot starts, is a huge chunk of the usual game space.

There are most definitely areas more open than the one in the above, but as I mentioned a factor for consideration is this environment, and a player does not necessarily have complete control over that: missions are arranged in a linear fashion for the most part and see the player completing one after the other, taking them from place to place less at their own whims and without any real opportunity to replay anything more than a small part of the experience until the playthrough has already ended.

So where did this concept go wrong? Well, it’s worth mentioning that there’s a consideration I’ve left out of the above explanation with the reason being that I didn’t want to over complicate the description. There’s a whole other factor of this optimal sweet spot is also affected by armor which can essentially reduce a weapon’s effective range. As far as a solid, simplistic (and not in a bad sense!) way to simulate an advanced concept like armor versus ballistic weaponry, that’s quite excellent, but I have no idea where it even plugs into the mechanic of optimal range myself. It illustrates the over-complicated nature of this sweet spot.

The concept of an optimal range isn’t that alien, but outside of a few specific circumstances, usually it is applied to the idea of hitting the target, or hitting the target in a certain way. In terms of damage, usually it’s the latter – hitting an enemy with an explosive affect associated with a projectile. Our example, however, is again a simple, ballistic weapon. So why does it have to be over-complicated?

Instead of optimal range contributing majorly to the damage of a ballistic weapon, the mechanic should primarily affect where the weapon is typically most accurate. A good example of a different layer of abstractions would be a mod for XCOM 2 featuring the Halo Reach DMR. The rifle is less accurate point-blank and doesn’t receive the normal accuracy boosts for closing in, instead, it’s most accurate zone is in the mid-to-long range, a little greater than the standard assault rifle.

The damage doesn’t change, but the opportunity for critical hits does, so I suppose on a technical level you could argue that there’s still a function of damage to consider, but the overall feel of the weapon is still conveyed through the abstractions of XCOM’s turn-based systems.

Now, this probably isn’t the only issue holding back different weapons and I’m sure there’s a number of issues contributing to why assault rifles and machine guns feel the best out of the ballistic weapon set, but at the very least the idea tremendously over-complicates an already heavily complicated system that has a number of layers to abstract what, exactly, is going on.

That whole armor/effective range thing is probably worth talking about on its own at some point, though.

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