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Saturday, October 12, 2013

How to Fix GTA Online's Free Roam

A core portion of the 5 Huge Problems previously discussed center around one large problem: GTA Online's Free Roam is effectively broken.  Not broken in the sense that it's glitched beyond repair (any more) - but broken in the sense that the game punishes people for running around, shooting each other, and having fun.

Let's take a case in point:  I finished a mission with a fellow criminal.  That mission netted us $5K.  After the mission, we got dropped next to each other.  He shot me, stole my ride.  I spawned around the corner and shot him.  He then proceeded to chase me around Blaine County where I killed him two more times and he kill me one more time.

Thankfully, he had a $5K bounty on his head, so I still ended up ahead.  But he probably didn't.  In a matter of minutes, he probably wiped out all of the money he made during the mission.

Interestingly, the fact that free roam is nothing but a money sink doesn't keep people from playing like it is the new wild west.  This is probably the most telling fact that illustrates the players want GTA Online Free Roam, they want to run around and steal cars and shoot at other players ... even if it means it could be costing them thousands of dollars.

So instead of Free Roam being a huge pain in the ass and drain on the bank account, why not reward players for running around, shooting each other and having fun?

Way back when, I wrote a mod for Unreal Tournament called Bounty War.  The whole idea was to re-balance deathmatch scoring.  Better players got higher bounties associated with them and the goal of the game was to end with the most money in your account.  This meant that lower level players had a chance of catching up by fragging higher level players - which in many ways is more fair, since fragging someone who is better at the game is harder than fragging someone who is not good at the game.  

It effectively solved the noobie vs. veteran problem while keeping it fun for both.  And it could totally work for GTA Online.  Here's how:

Fix Passive Mode

Passive mode should be the real deal - not some odd Venn Diagram of how you might possibly get killed. Instead of making you semi-invulnerable but not really, passive mode should:
  1. Remove the player from the map
  2. Remove other players from the players' map
  3. Remove the name float above players
  4. Make the player bulletproof from other players (always, not just out of cars)
The entire "remove players" mechanic could be also be configurable, similar to how you can lock your car now - so you could remain visible to your friends and crew if you wanted.  This would let players roam around without other players stalking them and basically keep them safe from anything but getting run over and falling.

Change the Free Roam Death Penalty

Update: In the 1.04 patch, the death penalty is getting capped at $500.  Which is a good compromise, though some of the below is still plausible.

The worst part about the current penalty is that it is often not associated with skill, but circumstance.  For instance, if you quit out of a session before it starts, you could get dropped right next to a complete stranger who just did the same thing.  The last time I had this happen the guy instantly pistol whipped me.  Bam, I lose over a $1K.  For literally doing nothing.

And for some reason Free Roam really likes to spawn you next to your killer (not to mention the whole "1 on 1 Deatchmatch").  So now the whole thing might happen again.  This makes death so common in free roam, and potentially costly.

Instead, let's give players options.  On death, a player could:
  1. Wait for ambulance.  If the ambulance is destroyed, or medics shot, player goes to hospital. Medium to Long spawn delay.  Risky.  Free.
  2. Go to Hospital.  Short spawn delay.  Not risky.  $500.
  3. Instant Revive.  No spawn delay.  Risky. $1,000.
This would penalize (more heavily) players who are distinctly trying to stay in the fight, while giving a middle ground to players who just want to either get back in the game or not spend any money.  It also reduces the previous cap from $2K down to 1.  Early players or players low on cash would have an incentive to go the low cash route.

OK, so now we've made Free Roam less of a hassle and less of a penalty in general.  Now let's make it fun.

Add Wanted Rewards

I'd just call this a bounty, but the current bounty system would actually work well as something additional to a more fully fledged mechanic.  So let's add that mechanic and call it a Wanted Reward. It could work like this:
  1. An enemy is defined as someone not on your friends or crew list.
  2. Killing an enemy raises your wanted reward by $500.
  3. Killing an enemy gives you their wanted reward.
  4. Getting killed by an enemy resets your reward back to $0.
  5. Player icons go from white to red slowly (instead of just one or the other) to indicate how high their current reward is.
  6. After $5K (this is 10 kills in a row without being killed by an enemy) - the player becomes Most Wanted and the reward goes up automatically $500 every game hour.
  7. Wanted Rewards max out at $10K.
  8. Players killed by law enforcement have their reward reset to $0.
  9. Players can get their Reward removed by visiting a Police Station and paying a $2500 fine.

Now players who actively running around and causing chaos in Free Roam are slowly becoming more valuable targets.  Players can opt out of the system by dropping into Passive Mode.  More deadly players become more valuable, making it a higher reward to take them out.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Making Money in GTA Online

In my previous post, I noted how a lot of the big issues in GTA online amount to one thing: the economy works against.  The death penalty can add up quick, ammo isn't cheap, and some of the most common things to do in the game offer little payout for the amount of time you can spend completing them.

If you are trying to move on up to the next luxury condo - here are few tips to get you along:

#1: Play Solo

You can enter into a solo session by joining GTA Online via the Pause menu instead of the quick character select.  Solo is effectively the passive mode that Rockstar describes in the main mode, except it actually works - even if by brute force.  It might seem counter-productive to play by yourself in an online game - but the advantages are huge.  Firstly, you completely remove the possibility of getting involved in the vengeance-fueled killing frenzies which aren't uncommon when playing with others in free mode.  It also means that you have free reign over events in free mode like Simeon's high priority vehicle and convenience stores to knock over.

It also means that bounties can't be claimed against you, and the AI will occasionally set one on your head.  Since after a period of time you get the bounty against you, this translates into random free money for stealing random cars.

#2: Franklin's Early Years

Two of the fastest ways to score cash in GTA Online include what Franklin described as his early years: knocking over convenience shops and stealing cars.  

Each store will net you around $1100 on an average, with the occasional spike into $2K or so.  While this isn't a huge amount, if you only hit two in a row - you only have to fight a two star chase.  Once you get used to where the stores are and the easy escape route associated with them, this means you can punctuate your play with cash that takes about half the time of doing a mission or race, while giving you the same payback.

That said - there's some misinformation going around about knocking over stores.  One is that you'll bag more money for killing the store owner.  That hasn't been my experience and you'll get three stars instead of two right away - which will usually make the chase go far longer than you really want.

As for stealing cars: there are a few select brands that are found around the Vinewood Boulevard area which can net $6 - $9K.  You can sell a car every game day, which is roughly once an hour.  I recommend looking for Ubermacht cars - they're fairly common compared to other high end cars and always net more than $6K.

#3: Easy Missions

After your second store theft you'll need to cool the cops down a bit (or risk a three star chase off the bat), you can hop into a mission and try to do it by yourself.  Setting the mission to easy will make it simpler for the solo run and only seems to reduce the amount of respect you get from the mission, not the cash.  If you're handy with a gun, many of Gerald's missions can be done fairly quickly and will net a decent haul.

#4: Higher Level Missions = Higher Level Rewards

This one is a no brainer, but one of the factors that works for the player when it comes to the game economy is that as you level up, you'll get more access to missions which net higher cash rewards.  Keep an eye on which missions give you the most cash for the time you spend in it and make those a priority.

#5: Earn it, Spend it, then go online

My recommendation would be to spend a couple days in solo mode, and then buy one of the luxury condos with a 10 car garage.  After that, these tips become somewhat obsolete as you've purchased one of the more expensive items in the game - and once you spend your cash on something big, it can't be stolen away from you.  We netted about $180K over the weekend with the above, bought one of the better apartments and now have a lot less concerns when it comes to playing in the normal session.

Of course, now we just hope that Rockstar isn't going to randomly delete our character.