Desert Oasis: Recapping Black Desert’s Heidel Ball, from backstage to balancing

Yep, it's gonna be a two-parter


One of the complications of playing playing Black Desert is that it operates on UTC. Since I live in California, aka the center of the universe (I’m kidding), I always assumed the world adjusted for Pacific time, not the other way around. But as this weekend’s event has revealed, the Pearl Abyss I know and love does things its own way. So imagine my surprise when I realized that this year’s Heidel Ball started at midnight-thirty in the morning for me. But it was worth it! And in today’s column, I’m going to recap just what we learned from the live but online event.

Some context: The Heidel Ball is Pearl Abyss’ way of sharing its Black Desert roadmap for the second half of the year with the community. The Calpheon Ball in the winter covers the first half of the second year. It’s usually a literal ball (the one where people dress up fancy and do ballroom dancing, not the one you throw at your computer after the 12th time PSO2 fails to install properly). But because of COVID-19, this year’s Heidel ball had to be celebrated remotely. This was to my advantage, though, because PA had the neat idea of inviting players (and press!) into a special online “ball” through an exclusive invitation. Something yours truly was lucky enough to get into.

Here was where the invitees went

Princess Jarrette’s Invitation

The players who got selected received an invitation in their mail. It was an interesting idea, and in the week leading up to it, I wasn’t exactly sure how PA was going to conduct it. Was the Heidel ball going to be done through that special in game area? Would there be a screen for the invited to watch the livestream from the game? Would the BDO devs’ avatars be on a stage and make the reveals that way? I wasn’t exactly sure. I came in with no expectations. I mean what was the worst that could happen? A karma bombing contest?

Nah. It wasn’t that. It was a more low-key affair. What actually happened was that the Heidel Ball was a livestreamed event from Korea. Those who received the invitation were teleported to an area where they could take pictures and hang out for a while. The expectation was players hung out in the spot and watched the livestream like everyone else. For me, it was kind of awkward. I kept switching between the stream and the game, making sure I didn’t miss any instructions.

After a bit, the livestream showcased a competition between the different regions (US, EU, RU, etc). That’s where me and the other invitees came in. We were to complete a jumping puzzle, and players that reach the top nets a point for their region. The region with the most players to complete the puzzle wins. The winners give their region a neat prize. A very bouncy tamer managed to get to the top, helping NA net the ultimate win. Sadly, EU couldn’t get a single person up there, and don’t even ask about those that were on the console. From what I hear, it was impossible. I almost made it, but a misstep sent me falling and I couldn’t recover from it. This game was not designed for jumping puzzles. I got pretty high up, but a miscalculation led to my fall. I’m sorry, my fellow maehwa.

Moments before disaster.

After the jumping puzzle, the guests were told to leave by talking to an NPC. We were warned that if we didn’t speak with the NPC soon, we’d be stranded at the virtual venue. So I stepped out and watched the stream. And that was it for that. I did get a neat pet, though: It’s a dog wearing a black spirit hood. I named him Teacup.

The stream itself was OK. PA started off with some infographics with little fun facts, but I missed them because it was either the hosts were talking too fast or the translators were too slow. I couldn’t tell. It was a rough start. They’d talk about how many PEN Blackstars that exist in the game and which classes were the most used. I think it was Dark Knight, it went by really fast. Like I said, it was interesting. But I really just wanted to know about the nitty gritty details. And I’m betting so you do. So after a while, they finally got into it. Let’s start with balance changes.

The balance changes

To be clear, they didn’t talk about specific balance changes. They talked about the process and the rationale behind their past changes. And my goodness was it baffling. Apparently, the devs play on the live servers, participating in node wars, guild wars, grinding, and pretty much doing everything players do on an even ground. The data they collect inform their decision making. That’s it. So maybe the criticism that the devs don’t know their game really wasn’t as far off as we originally thought.

That said, PA says the devs have come to the conclusion that despite playing the game while making it, they simply can’t keep up with the pace of the playerbase. Apparently they thought the developers would have all the time in the world to figure out everything on behalf of the players. I always thought this was basic MMO development 101, that the players will always know the game more than the developers.But hey, the PA I know and love does things its own way.

This was a pretty nice spot, and it looks like a few others had the good taste to hang out here too!

Oh and here’s another gem: Apparently, the way they’ve been balancing was by introducing bigger fish to balance out overtuned classes. They used the example of the Dark Knight. When she first came out, she was powerful. Nothing could stop her. But she got too powerful, so what did they do? Make two classes, the striker and mystic, with high magic resist to basically be a hard counter. That’s like introducing bears into an ecosystem to get rid of a wolf problem. And when the bears become a problem, bring in the gorillas. I’m pretty sure a Simpsons episode actually showed how impractical a solution that is, but maybe the balance team missed that episode. This was certainly a unique way of approaching balance theory, but hey. The PA I know and love does things its own way.

That’s like introducing bears into an ecosystem to get rid of a wolf problem. And when the bears become a problem, bring in the gorillas.
With this admission came a promise that the studio is going to start a program where the top players of a particular class can actually help with balancing the game. But actions speak louder than words. Could we be entering a new era of more well-informed balance changes with nuance? Maybe. It’s still up in the air.

Building good will

The vibe I really got from this ball was one of building goodwill with the playerbase. I sincerely think that even though they represent a big company with multiple investors, the developers of Pearl Abyss love their game. Expressing that has been difficult for the team, especially with its business model. More times than not, it almost always looks as if the decisions made eventually direct players to the cash shop.

A common theory has always been that new classes are one of PA’s greatest money makers. The devs release a new character overtuned, leading players to flock to the new class. The demand for more inventory slots, weight, and an easy way to switch mains through weapon exchange coupons pretty much ensured the company makes a killing with every class release.

I’ve never had to worry these things because I got it right the first time when I picked tamer.

But in an effort to show us that this is all a misunderstanding, the team gave attendees free stuff, including 1060 cron stones, 100 fail stacks, and a whole pile of +530% experience scrolls. But that’s not all: Then they announced that they’re removing the weapon exchange coupons in the shop. A weapon exchange coupon allowed players to convert their weapons into another class’ weapon for $30 per weapon. So if a berserker player with a TET Kzarka, TET Kutum, and TET Dandelion wants to switch to a tamer without building the weapons, a small (not small) fee of $90 can get that covered. It’s a really popular item.

Now, to be clear, the item itself won’t be going away; the plan is to add an exchange coupon that can be obtained through the game. I think this is a pretty good step in the right direction. I hope they choose to do this for more items. I’m pretty sure there are a few items in there that can make the transition as well.

I’m just scratching the surface and I haven’t even talked about the new class and some of the additions planned! I’ll be exploring those in my next piece, so stay tuned!

The Great Valencian Black Desert is a dangerous place, but thankfully there’s always a chance for respite. Join Massively OP’s Carlo Lacsina every other week for just that in Desert Oasis, our Black Desert column! And don’t worry; he promises he won’t PK you. Got questions or comments? Please don’t hesitate to send a message!
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