Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Balance and Imbalance: Basics

Disclaimer: Ok so this is a topic I actually want to have a nice and lengthy article on at some point but here are some bullet points to start.

Let's begin, recently I have been getting back into Starcraft. If you didn't know Starcraft is my favorite game and franchise, I am a huge fan of the RTS and I think this is a great example of how one should be (to be honest what really sets this apart from others is the storyline but thats a different article). Anyway back into this world I'm rediscovering what the meta is in SC2. It's core is basically the same as the original but obviously with new units and varying ways to use them. Now this brings us to balance, you see this game is usually heavily debated about, one side people claim it to be perfectly balanced and on the other side is obviously the contrast that it is out of wack. Every game has this debate but SC is at the heart of it and tends to come out as an example. I will come out and say that this came is not perfectly balanced but also unless you are playing rock paper scissors its gonna be pretty hard to perfectly fine tune a game of that complexity there is no way to account for the way every person thinks and acts when handed this many tools. Now saying that I'm willing to say that are pretty damn close. I'm going to delve a little deeper into this franchise to make a point then we will apply it to other games.

The idea behind Starcraft has always been simple, 3 different races with the 3 main styles of play. The Zerg: cheap and efficient creatures you can churn of a lot of in a little time and rush in and win an early offensive or just out number but are very weak and can die very easily; The Terran: these were the earthlings and they were made as the perfect middle ground, highly versatile, mid range cost, decent armor...they storm the mid game field as a force to be reckoned with; finally we have The Protoss: high cost high damage high armor monsters, if you let them get to late game they we virtually unstoppable. The idea between these generalized race was to make it simple, Zerg beat Protoss, Protoss beat Terran, Terran beat Zerg, at least at the core. It was the way you reacted and played your race that would determine if you won...allowing it to be more of a battle of wits than tech. Now in the long run there were issues, mathematically in the original the Zerg would win out, they were just really that being said the number one player in the world for a while played Terran, therefore showing my point. Anyway I'm digressing a bit they way I see this system breaking down was each race excelled at a certain point in the game to almost brokeness, your job as a player was to keep your opponent from reaching that stage while furthering your own path to which ever was the stage you were most lethal. Now this is exactly how I think games should be balanced, balance through imbalance. The phase I always say to Sefah is if everything is OP then nothing is. Now this system obviously has its flaws, this is clearly why Zerg is the hardest to keep in balance because their time is before the other two races but this time around it looks like they are much more kept at bay without losing their edge.

The reason why I like this some much is the reward the player gets out of this. A lot of companies I feel tend to jump straight to the nerf hammer once something gets out of hand, with out actually looking at why its so broken. When your doing things just right in an RTS or a MOBA or a FPS or any game you should feel like you are broken as shit... that's the point... that's the reward. If I starve off a Zerg rush with some well timed Reapers at their minerals, when it hits mid game I want to absolutely wreck them. I deserve it in that scenario I out played them, Zerg have a clear advantage and thought tactics I out did them now let me roll out my golden victory. This can be said about LoL too, if I'm playing a champion and I'm 7 and 0 I better damn well have to be focused down. I don't want to have out played my opponents in lane for 20 minuets to have a mild lead, I want a victory. There is a fine line between strong and out of line, and that is where we need to be aiming not at some safe point where things are bland and vanilla.

Now yes this causes issues the 3 main ones being power creep, noob friendliness, and bat shit broken.

Power creep is a common problem, you just keep buffing and buffing and things just keep getting out dated, the biggest offended is WoW. Now this is something you have to work on and unfortunately takes time. There will be nerf's it has to happen, but you need to listen to the community and watch to see what is making it over powered, is it numbers or is it just that you have added an unexplored aspect to your game that you should now strive to add counter play with on existing elements. I hate to see a champion in league get nerf'd because they are high skill high reward or because they have a tool no one else does. Its way more satisfying to see some champs get mild buffs to help them keep in line.

Bat shit broken as I said is just a new element to your game that sends everything out crazy, a good example of this was again in League, release week Xin Zhao. The first week he was out it was disgusting...his numbers were off the chart. The maini reason for this is also the solution. the week or two before he came out the testing realms were down...Riot figured they could just release him with out enough time for the players to feel him out...they haven't made that mistake again. The best person to tell you if your shit is broken is the player base, make sure to open test things before final release.

Finally you get to noob friendliness, this is a tough one. You see this high reward of stomping someone is only really taken as ok when its against someone of equal skill level, where the blame is really being out played and nothing else. When you have a good match and just lose out even when its a stomp towards the end, most people aren't angry. But when you lose and its because you are some teammate was just violently out classed you walk away angry and upset.  Having a I'm balanced balance will only aggravate that with out a solid matchmaking system. The sad truth is matchmaking will also never be perfect but if you are gonna have a PvP heavy game you damn well better have a good one. A solid system shoud give most matches a good feel to them and the power will give a solid victory to the winner and the loser will strive to get into that position.

Phew...this turned out longer than planned.
These are just my feelings and I plan on continuing this later on with more details and suggestions but for now I figured you would enjoy some food for thought from my head.

Anyway see you guys friday! Thanks for reading

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