Thursday 21 July 2011

You’ll not see nothing like the mighty Quincunx

I’m Mr Average in World of Tanks. Or pretty close to it, at least; by win/loss record slightly ahead (52% wins), by kills per match slightly behind (around 0.93). Actually, hang on, matches never end with 30 total kills (unless there’s one person left on each team and they knock each other out at the same time; not completely impossible, especially with artillery, but highly unlikely) so 1.0 won’t be the average there… Anyway, I reckon I’m pretty near the centre of the bell curve. Though as kills per match has a lower bound of zero and a theoretical upper bound of 15 that probably won’t have a symmetric distribution around the average, is that still a bell curve? Or a bell-that’s-been-hit-on-one-side-with-a-hammer-a-few-times curve? I should’ve paid more attention in maths.

Normal distribution presents an interesting way of looking at the usual random World of Tanks match. There’s a device, the “bean machine” or Quincunx, that visually demonstrates normal distribution by bouncing marbles off pins, a bit like Peggle without the talking unicorns and score boosters. Think of your tank as a marble that rolls into the top of the machine at the start of a battle, with each pin a contributing factor to the outcome; the first pin you hit is the balance, their side has better specced tanks you bounce to the left, your side is better you bounce to the right. Next pin is tactics, if your team covers all the defensive avenues and mounts one concentrated assault then you bounce to the right, if 13 tanks bugger off down one flank of the map leaving you and a lonely SPG defending the centre and the other flank then you bounce to the left. Someone on your side quits or loses connection so that tank bursts into flames: bounce to the left, it happens to one of their team bounce: to the right. An enemy shell glances off your armour, bounce to the right, it knocks out your track, bounce to the left. Down you go, eventually landing up in one of the collection bins at the bottom.

Label those bins “Complete disaster, no kills, knocked out in one shot, team lose 2 – 15” at the far left, “Glorious triumph, 7 kills, team win 15-3” on the far right, various intermediary results on the way, and I reckon that’s a pretty decent representation of my experiences, with most balls falling somewhere in the middle (close win or loss, 0 or 1 kills). Obviously not everything is random, you have control over your own tank at least, so maybe Peggle is a good comparison after all where you choose where the ball starts, but that’s not a massive factor in the overall result. Also like Peggle it’s easy to attribute a good result to your incredible skill and a poor result to bad luck (or the rest of your team being morons).

Probably the most frequent gripe about World of Tanks, mine included, is getting shoved into matches against much more powerful tanks where they can destroy you with a single shell, but you need a lucky shot to even cause slight damage to them. It’s the equivalent of that bit in a cartoon where the Comedy Sidekick furiously attacks some giant fiend or invulnerable robot, who doesn’t even notice for about five seconds then glances around and swats the irritant away with a backhanded slap. Mental note: make suggestion to World of Tanks devs to add comedy “wah wah waaaaah” sound effect when you get knocked out by a +3 tier tank, and add a slowly spinning circle of stars and tweeting birds over your burned-out hulk.

Tobold raised the subject in his recent interview that focused on matchmaking, with the reply:

“We know it can be frustrating to get thrown into a battle where you’re the lowest tank by several tiers, so matchmaking improvements are high on our radar. But we also know that players don’t just want to be killed once for each enemy tank they destroy, they want to dominate the battlefield. For true balance, this means that every time a player gets 5 kills, they should end five battles wrecked without having eliminated any enemy vehicles.”

So it’s a deliberate decision (obviously enough, with the matchmaking system going through various iterations), and more importantly, from the perspective of my stats at least, one that works. I have got a few Top Gun awards from finishing a battle with 6 or more kills (granted about half with a BT-2 when bullying poor new Tier I tanks, but some with the SU-85 as well), and those battles do feel great; I still treasure the crowning glory of one fight on the Steppes where I fired six shots in total and got six kills. You still need to randomly bounce off a few pegs the right way, but I had a decent head start in that battle with most of the opposition a tier or two below me (and a heavy tank of the same tier that was damaged enough by the time I got to him that he also only needed a single shot). Would I sacrifice the triumphs (and, indeed, huge successes) for a few less frustrating encounters? After three impotent deaths in a row when ready to punch the screen I probably would, but over time I find the bad and mediocre tend to blur into forgetfulness, but that time that four tanks drove straight into your sights, one after another, with just the right gap between them for your gun to reload, that sticks around.

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