MOVEMENT TECH AND MOBILITY IN APEX
Tap-strafing is a term associated with different sorts of movement, depending on who you ask. Internally, we generally use it to describe what many associate with scroll-wheel strafing. “Remove tap-strafing” comes across pretty aggressively for movement enthusiasts. To be more explicit, this change targets multiple rapid directional commands after jumping. Movement should feel unchanged for controllers and for MnK players who hadn’t heard of the term “tap-strafe” until yesterday. Thanks to the work of a couple of our engineers, this is now easily tunable on the fly, and we have the ability to iterate on or even revert it completely without a client update.
The goal is to remove some of the sharpness in momentum conservation around 90°+ angles. That’s what I’m thinking of when I use the term “tap-strafe” throughout this post. Things like wall-bounce redirect back onto that same wall should feel unchanged, but movement afforded by scroll-wheel strafing will be removed.
Tap-strafing is something I’ve thought about nearly every day since seeing it for the first time. 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. However, my designer brain started to churn, and the more I saw, the more I felt this mechanic seemed like forbidden fruit.
Let’s table that for a sec and dive right in to one of the spiciest topics in Apex: The MnK vs. Controller Debate. I can’t speak to one’s superiority over the other; they have their pros and cons. For the record though, across MMR levels, rank, you name it, the difference in weapon performance is not nearly as great as some would believe. Pred level controllers are not beating out pred level MnK with Prowlers in close range at any sort of crazy rate.
Data aside, we can assume pro players with thousands of hours of playtime have legitimate concerns. I’m not writing these off. To quote the designer behind Apex’s aim assist, Rayme Vinson, “Conceptually; aim assist sits at the input layer, above balance design. Using it as a difficulty lever is bad. Aim assist is for accessibility. And, yes, it's easy for us to accidentally make it ‘too good,’ and where that line is can be up for debate.”
As Apex and its players evolve, it’s only prudent for us to continue to evaluate whether or not aim assist is “too good.” When I see top-level controller players saying they would be alright with nerfing aim assist, I definitely take note. 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.
I think about some of the input layer differences between MnK and controller (looting speed/strafing, range performance, movement capabilities) and think that it’s a bummer we can’t have perfect gameplay parity. That’s impossible as long as both input types exist. It’s also the reason we’re hesitant when people ask for a separate Valk jetpack keybind so they can wall-bounce, for example. What may seem like a simple QoL change can give a controller player a bit of FOMO.
Unfortunately, the asks of increasing aim assist at range or improving the looting flow on controller are not as easy as changing a couple numbers. Some things are deeply engrained in muscle memory where it’s not worth touching. Others require a lot more resources to make sure we get it right. We always have our eyes peeled for opportunities for improvement, and try to jump on them when we time to do our due diligence.
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.”
This is why I believe tap-strafing exists solely as a design problem. Even in a MnK only Apex world, or a scenario where controller and MnK could tap-strafe just the same, I don’t believe it would be a healthy change with the freedom it currently allows. As someone who prides myself in my movement (albeit limited on controller), I gotta say no to the forbidden fruit. This is a much more interesting debate, and I welcome other opinions.
The first issue: it’s highly inaccessible. 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). Okay, let’s democratize it. Now most decent players can start incorporating tap-strafe mechanics into their gameplay. That brings us to the second point: tap-strafes are being used in engagements, but they have terrible readability and limited counter play. 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.
To those clinging to the “no counter play” or “readability” points; the teams working on improving the wallhack meta or busy vfx are different than the devs monitoring movement mechanics. Fortunately, in my role, I get to give my two cents in most of these areas (they all fall under the purview of “live balance” in some degree). QoL changes come in waves, and we generally don’t like holding something up if we have a fix ready to go, regardless of optics (it’s something I think about, but don’t lose sleep over).
The third point, which is the most problematic, is how it’s exacerbated by movement abilities. I can buy that a tap-strafe at normal velocity in a gunfight occurs infrequently and is relatively mild enough to not immediately kill with fire. But, Path grappling past and tap-strafing back into your face with a Mastiff, or Octane cranking 90s while maintaining ridiculous speed, bring up greater gameplay concerns.
Mobility creep is something to be very mindful of in this game. 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.
I feel it’s important to note that limitations don’t always equate to lowering skill-gaps; there are skill-gaps in working within constraints. One could argue that b-hop healing lowered the skill-ceiling; players could make up for misplays with less constraints on their ability to safely heal. Different types of skill expression are changed when we touch something like perfect air control, for better or for worse.
Players aren’t consciously thinking about these things most of the time, but it’s the summation of all the little things that help define the unique feel of Apex. If this was Octane legends (more so than it already is), can you imagine how much we’d have to buff defensive character abilities to stand a fighting chance? And a genuine question that I’d love to hear answers for: why do you think a backpack isn’t included in starter kits? It wasn’t an arbitrary decision to leave it out ;)
I've thought about tap-strafing a lot, and I’m well aware this decision would be met with adversity. I’m not a tap-strafe specialist in any way; we discussed it quite a bit internally and consulted our best MnK players as well as some pros. We’re bringing in a handful in to play around with the changes to make sure other movement tech isn’t caught in the cross-fire. 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.
Hopefully this provided some context, and as always, I’m happy to hear your thoughts.