Apex Legends developers caused a massive controversy this week by announcing that Apex Legends is removing the tap-strafing mobility tech. The announcement garnered impassioned responses from the biggest pros in the game like Timmy, Aceu, Faide, and many more in a matter of only a few hours.
Now balance developer John Larson is hitting back.
Larson released a Twitlonger on Wednesday, in which he defended Apex Legends' decision to remove tap strafing in a lengthy 1,400-word argument that expounded upon the initial reasoning given for the removal of the tech. He also discussed the ongoing civil war between Mouse and Keyboard and Controller players in his argument and explained why he believes that Tap Strafing should be removed even if it was available on both input devices.
Apex developers defends removal of tap strafing, calling it the forbidden fruit
"Tap-strafing is something I’ve thought about nearly every day since seeing it for the first time," Larson said in the introduction to his argument. "The player in me loves the idea of it for skill expression. A monkey would be a better MnK player than me, but I took some time to experiment with scroll-wheel strafing in particular. I felt the dopamine rush, I thought about the outplay opportunities, and I love tuning into streams to see flashy plays."
He continued, "However, my designer brain started to churn, and the more I saw, the more I felt this mechanic seemed like forbidden fruit."
Larson went into further detail than the original announcement, but ultimately stuck to the same three major talking points:
- Tap strafing is inaccessible
- Tap strafing lacks counterplay
- Tap strafing is supercharged by Path Finder and Octane's mobility abilities
In regards to inaccessibility, Larson explained "[by inaccessible], we mean that it’s an opaque technique that’s practically impossible to learn organically (and the most egregious examples require a strange keybind)."
He argued that the fact that it is such an esoteric skill is an argument against it, since most players won't be able to use it, giving a huge advantage to those 'in the know'.
Next, Larson answered the notion of "democratizing" it. Many players have suggested that we should just make everyone on controller and MkB have the ability to tap-strafe, instead of taking it away from MkB players. Larson argued this wouldn't solve the problem, because the issue is not only that it is inaccessible to many players, the issue is also that it is bad game design that lacks of counter play.
"That brings us to the second point: tap-strafes are being used in engagements, but they have terrible readability and limited counter play," Larson asserted. "Path graps and Octane pads aside, I’ve seen clips of players breaking ankles with victims (including high-skill players) at a loss for what to do. While it’s not terribly prevalent, I’m concerned how this could continue to evolve as more players adapt and further develop their tap-strafe mechanics."
In his third and final point, Larson made his case that mobility abilities make tap-strafing impossible to balance, from a game design perspective, putting the last nail in the coffin.
"Mobility creep is something to be very mindful of in this game," Larson explained. "While many love the freedom that Apex’s movement system affords, constraints are just as important. It’s not surprising that mobility legends are highly popular. Why don’t we just do more of that? Well, over time (and I’d say we are already seeing it) mobility creep opens a pandoras box. How is third party rate affected by mobility? Within a fight, how are frontlines defined? How quickly can I close the gap on an enemy? The game is designed to work well with a finite number of movement possibilities."
According to Larson, things like tap strafing combine with mobility abilities to destroy that finite number of movement possibilities, making it difficult for him and his team of designers to fairly balance the game, or even consider all of the options for game balance. While this might not be a problem now, according to Larson the problem will get worse in the future.
He concluded with, " I know it’s a contentious topic, and because of that it’s hard for me to feel great about the decision. I do think it’s the right one though."
So it appears that the developer will be sticking to their guns and removing tap-strafing, despite the backlash.
Apex developers talk aim-assist, accessibility, and balance
Larson also addressed the animosity between controller players and PC players, which has been on full display this week in the wake of this decision.
Among the points he made about aim assist, he pointed out that both input methods have their pros and cons, but that based on the data he has seen, the disparity between the two is "not nearly as great as some would believe."
With that out of the way, Larson explained the basic design philosophy around aim-assist. According to his explanation, aim assist is not a balance technique it is an accessibility question. In other words, they don't use aim assist to balance the game.
He explained, "when people say, “Gee dang it, Respawn’s balancing decisions cater to controller players,” the best answer I have is, “When it comes to accessibility, we often must consider controller players given the constraints compared to MnK. But, accessibility does not equal balance design, and it’s a strawman argument to treat it as such.”
With that being said, he did admit that it is easy to make aim assist 'too good' and that this is where the debate would lie. Accordingly, Larson confirmed that the developers continue to evaluate if aim assist is overtuned or not, even suggesting that we could see some adjustments to aim assist in the near future.
"When I see top-level controller players saying they would be alright with nerfing aim assist, I definitely take note," Larson said. "Players should not feel forced to use a specific input type, and if I see players converting out of what they think is necessity, I would 100% be concerned. In fact, I’m meeting with CGE, weapons, and analytics teams this week to take a temperature reading on the situation."
Given Larson's philosophy of game design, he doesn't see tap-strafing as MkB versus controller issue. He argued that even if both had tap-strafing, his arguments against the unbounded freedom that comes with tap-strafing still apply.
Aaron is an esports reporter with a background in media, technology, and communication education.