Rock paper SwissArmyKnife.

LovePosted by Eskil Thu, January 10, 2013 23:42:31
When we think of game balance we often think of "Rock-paper-scissor". It has become short hand for a perfect balanced game where each move have a perfect counter. The problem with Rock-paper-scissor is not that it is a unbalanced game, but that it isn't fun. The more I develop games, I realize that this definition of balance breads a bad mindset that creates less fun games because its a form of balance that precludes strategy. If i select paper you dont have to think very long what you would do to counter me. All the strategy is embedded in the rules instead of letting the player be the one who provides them.

In chess the different pawns have radically different powers, yet any pawn can be the one that puts the opponent in check matte. In the chess community there is a ongoing debate how to rate the value of the different peaces, yet their true value in a game of chess is always in the end determined by how the player chooses to use their peaces. The power of a chess peace is chiefly decided by its position on the board. In the hands of the right player any pieces can take any pieces. This is a radically different view of balance where the game doesn't become unbalanced just because the queen can do more then a pawn.

In my opinion the goal of balance is to make everything overpowered occasionally, but make nothing overpowered all of the time. The goal for any player in any game should be to try to get in to a situation where the tools available to the player becomes overpowered. If nothing is ever overpowered the game becomes pointless because no strategy is better then any one else. Just like in Rock-paper-scissors.

The strategic element of game should always encourage the player to be creative and reward innovation and knowledge by empowering the player when he or she does something smart and creative. When designers create units, weapons, abilities or mechanics they too often have a play style in mind. A tank, medic, sniper or spy have by their very classification taken away freedom from the player by telling the player how the classes or units are meant to be played. Instead i advocate making units with an interesting collection of abilities and stats that do not point to a specific play style. If you give a unit a sniper rifle then put a big bayonet on it, to break up the assumption that the only way the unit can be effective is on a very long range. Often when designers find that new play styles emerges that don't fit their intentions, they nerf the away the creativity of their players in the name of balance instead of embracing it as a part of the game and balance it in order to keep the innovation.

When developing LOVE I was originally very concerned with the potential for any ability to break the game, but now I'm more concerned with things that aren't occasionally overpowered. The trick is to just make sure that each mechanic is only overpowered in a very limited time frame and situation. When i created the pod system with 20 different pods I gave the players a range of very overpowered tools, and to balance them I just made them scarce. As I have developed the character upgrade system I made it possible to to get any pod type the player wants instantly, encouraging a player to be able to see an opportunity and then instantly make use of it. Once the pod is used it has a cooldown period, forcing the player to find a creative use for another pod type. If the player has enough possibilities just thinking of using the right one at the right time can be enough of a challenge that you don't need to worry about any of them are overpowered.

Imagine all the numerous settings that goes in to designing a gun. A few obvious ones comes to mind, like damage, rate of fire, clip size and bullet spread. These are usually not very good if you are trying to make an interesting game that promote different play styles. If you put these in to a spreadsheet it quickly becomes clear what guns are best and players will naturally gravitate towards these guns. But then if you start to actually implement a weapon system you realize that there are huge amount of very different properties a gun can be given. Is it quiet? Does it have a mussel flash? Does it set things on fire? Can it nail things to a wall? Does it give off an electric shock? Is the shock delayed? These kinds of properties are much harder to compare and their usefulness depends much more on play style and opportunities. They are far more primed for player discovery and creativity. Damage per second and other under the hood numerical settings should only be used for fine tuning not to set options apart. This is especially true when you can combine elements. Making a near sighted artillery unit, may not be as asinine as you think if it means that players can experiment with using other units as spotters.

Another common problem is that game designers think that they need to give all options drawbacks in order to balance them. Team fortress is a great example of a game where rather then choosing what abilities I want, I feel like i have to decide what disability I can live with. Do I want to be slow? Not be able to turn while I shoot? Not be able so shoot without scoping? Only be able to shoot 3 shots before i need to reload? Ten people with different superpowers can be just as balanced as ten people with different disabilities, its just much more fun to play a super hero. If something is fun and overpowered, maybe you should make everything else as fun and overpowered too rather then try to nerf away the fun?

The reason we want to make games fair, is because unfair games aren't fun, but if our method making the game fair is to take away the fun then what is the point?

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Posted by buz Sat, September 27, 2014 00:01:38

Interesting post. As a designer, I often get asked to add more rock-paper-scissor to a mechanic by producers or top-management. Looks like it's design/balancing for people who don't know design/balancing. And yes, RPS is fundamentally not-fun. If you know your opponent's move it's a non-decision, and if you don't it's pure luck.

There's also a misunderstanding of the RPS game. You don't do a game of RPS by throwing your rock or whatever only once. You do it several times. And that's the core of the fun: the bluff and strategy. That's where RPS is useful: when each move has a counter and and each is available for everyone. So you need to know your opponent to know what to prepare for. Like in a RTS, where one could prepare to rush and raid really quickly - or slowly build a huge army.

Fighting games are good at that.

But putting everything equal, with just different flavoring, just for the sake of it? Meh.

Posted by MoCap Stuntman Thu, April 03, 2014 18:37:39

I think this is one of the main reasons modern shooters will have a rough time competing with other kinds of shooters very soon. Modern day shooters are still very popular but they lack the kind of fun weapons and strategic element that can be implemented if the game designer isn't so constricted by "realism". It would be a blast to have a FPS game set in the Ratchet and Clank universe. It will be very interesting to see what route DICE will take with the new Battlefront game. If they take your blog post to heart we may be in for a really fun ride in a couple of years. Instead of nerfing Jedis they should superpower them...but limit it time wise or make it very situational, as you suggest.

Posted by 0n37w0 Mon, September 23, 2013 06:48:20

I found this very insightful and enjoyed reading it. I will also be somewhat following this approach as I make my next game. Thank you very much.

Posted by z Fri, February 15, 2013 04:13:15

thanks for this educational article

Posted by ceebmoj Thu, January 31, 2013 17:34:10

I think its a matter of semantics, if you are making every one a supper hero. No one is a supper supper hero, any longer because the supper aspects are now the norm essentially you have nerfed the original super hero. The decision still comes back to deciding what ability you are prepared to sacrifice.

If you can change your supper ability with no cost. Then you will very rapidly find a sequence that suits your play style. A little like finding the best guns for your roll.

Personaly I think that it might be interesting to thinking about other ways to add cost cost to ability switching or use for example the faster you can switch ability’s the longer the cool down of the switched to ability, or other methods.

Posted by ceebmoj Thu, January 31, 2013 17:33:09


Posted by thp Fri, January 11, 2013 14:03:21

In the real world physics is a limiting factor, heavy armour that can stop any projectile would be too heavy to move around in, very powerful weapons require a lot of energy (chemically stored such as gunpowder, electricity &c.). In space where gravity is low where you can carry the armour it is difficult to aquire new energy.Off course this should not limit the creativity of developers, but i miss this balancing factor in many games (and cgi-movies).