World of Warships

The problem with continuous AA (it’s math)

WorldOfWarships6 - The problem with continuous AA (it's math)
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In some CV threads lately, I've seen people saying that the new AA system is the same or better than the old system, and the only difference is that WG nerfed the damage values. Surely it's better now that planes have hitpoints, instead of AA being pure RNG?

But I don't think it is, and the new continuous damage rules are part of the problem.

In the old system, planes didn't really have hitpoints and AA guns didn't really do damage. The game used the AA guns' damage value and the planes' durability value to calculate a probability of killing a plane. As far as I know, this probability was simply durability/dps – it did not depend on the number of planes in the squadron. Every second (or so), there was an RNG roll, and if it succeeded the CV lost a plane. Unless the CV loses planes, there's no cost for flying over a ship.

Since the CV rework, the hitpoints are real. Every second, the AA guns choose a plane and deal their dps value in damage to that plane. This is modified by the ship's hit chance, but in practice the difference between something like 300 damage/66% hit chance and 250 damage/80% hit chance isn't important – both of them just do 200 dps. Except for heals, the damage is persistent, so even if AA doesn't shoot anything down it reduces the health pools for allied ships.

So far it doesn't sound like too much of a difference.

But if you pay attention, the RNG is still there. The AA guns randomly choose which plane to shoot. And it turns out that this is very different from the old system.

In a world with no RNG at all, you'd expect that a ship with 100 dps AA would take 10 seconds to kill a 1000 hp plane. The old AA more or less followed that – the actual time it took to kill a plane was random, but 100 dps gave you (more or less) a 10% chance of killing a plane per second.

With the rework AA, the damage is applied to a random plane, so it's more or less evenly spread across the squadron. Very few planes will die early, until the damage gets high enough and all the planes die in quick succession.

JI83Qov - The problem with continuous AA (it's math)
Here's a graph of how it works out. In the old AA system, ships kill planes at a constant rate (the graph gets flatter as time goes by, but that's because there's a chance that all the planes are already dead by then). In the new system, it takes the same amount of time to do the same amount of damage, but most of the planes die at the very end.

What does this mean in practice? It takes a CV the same amount of time to bomb a low AA ship as a high AA ship, so generally if the ship has half as much AA it'll do half as much plane damage. But unlike the old system, in the new system half as much plane damage doesn't translate into half as many kills. If a ship has enough dps to do half the squadron's hp in damage, it can only expect to kill maybe one plane.

And this is compounded because plane damage is irrelevant unless the plane dies before returning to the CV, and plane kills are irrelevant unless the planes die faster than the regeneration rate. Having 50% of the AA required to kill the whole squadron isn't 50% as effective, it's very nearly useless.

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It's not any better from the CV's point of view. In order to have effective AA against tier 10 CVs, a ship needs to do almost enough damage to wipe the squadron. Tier 8 CVs have lower plane hp because of tier progression, and the right half of that damage versus plane kills curve is steep enough that that reduction in plane hp can mean the difference between losing a few planes and having the whole squadron wiped before it can drop.

This isn't just an issue of 'feeling irrelevant'. With the pre rework AA mechanics, adding 10% AA dps led to killing 10% more aircraft, unless the AA was already good enough to kill all the aircraft before they finished the attack. Now, adding AA dps does basically nothing until it reaches the 'critical mass' where there's enough AA to kill all the planes, and then after that the effect is much bigger.

(but in general against same tier CVs, the only way to reach that critical mass is by stacking AA from multiple ships)

It's hard to see how you'd make a balanced tier progression of both planes and AA with this mechanic. Just tweaking the numbers doesn't work, because the plane kill rate is a result of how AA damage is applied. If higher tier planes have noticeably more health than lower tier, and higher tier ships have enough AA to matter against those planes, then undertiered planes will have a very hard time against AA and vice versa.

Planes dying slowly early on and faster after being in AA for some time does arguably introduce an element of skill for the CV player, but I think it would be much easier to do that that by making the AA damage itself ramp up with time. The continuous AA damage mechanic doesn't actually punish staying in AA, rather it punishes using heavily damaged planes.

A few possible ways to mitigate this:

  • Make AA damage and plane squadron health almost constant across tiers. But then you need a different way of making higher tier CVs an improvement over the lower tiers.
  • Make AA do enough damage that all planes die in just a couple hits. This is how games like Navyfield and Steel Ocean did it, and also how the flak burst mechanic is balanced. But the WoWS flak bursts just serve as a skill wall for CV players and are ineffective against reasonably skilled CVs, and in Navyfield and Steel Ocean most of the AA damage came from manually aimed guns that were sort of a skill contest between the CV and ship players.
  • Make damaged planes matter. Doing half a squadron worth of damage might not mean killing any planes, but if taking 50% damage on your squadron were as bad as losing a few planes that wouldn't be an issue. The tier progression in AA damage and plane health also wouldn't have to be as drastic if damaged planes mattered.
  • Make continuous AA prioritize damaged planes. It doesn't need to shoot the most damaged plane every time, but the less evenly damage is spread across the squadron the more linear the damage/kills curve is and the more uniform the value of a 10% AA boost is.

tl;dr: I think the CV rework continuous AA mechanics were poorly thought out and they make it really hard to have a sensible tier progression of CVs versus AA.

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