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A discussion of issues concerning fairness and balance in gaming

MarkNewMarkNew Registered User new member
edited March 2009 in Games and Technology
Hey guys,

I've recently had an article published discussing balance issues and the idea of fairness in competitive gaming. I think of fairness as the idea that a game both rewards you for effort, and allows you to win every once in a while. (although fairness in those two senses can be opposing goals)

Obviously this is the kind of thing that gamers talk about a lot in casual as well as academic circles, and I'm a big fan of Penny Arcade as being the equivalent of a political cartoon for gamers, so I thought I'd run over some of my main points in an outline with examples of comics on these subjects. Naturally I'd prefer that you read the article, but online attention spans being what they are, this might be a reason to look into it more deeply.
  1. Gamers tend to differ in whether they prefer games to be based around skill or luck

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  2. When playing games of skill, you can try to set up fair match-making so inexperienced players have a chance but it often doesn't work out that way

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  3. Ideally in a fair game everyone feels like they have an equal chance with any of the gameplay options, the alternative is that everyone is forced to play the same way or lose

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  4. As a corollary, any game that has a single dominant strategy is basically a dead-end for tactical innovation

  5. A number of factors external to the game, like your own gaming rig, can affect the balance of a match

  6. Games prefer to reward offensive tactics over defensive ones to avoid games that turn into camping stalemates of inactivity

  7. Some games have "rich get richer" effects that benefit players in the lead

  8. Some games have "mario kart" effects that boost players who fell behind

  9. Some games base your ability to play not just on the skills you bring with you but with the time already invested...

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  10. and the money invested, as far back as customizable card games

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  11. The community surrounding a game determines a lot of aspects about how it's played

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  12. Some tournaments set up house rules to try to "patch" an unbalanced game

  13. And some games like RPGs or storytelling games depend upon the charity of the players in not abusing the system, in a way that's difficult to enforce in games relying on anonymous match-making.

I'd appreciate it if you guys wanted to read the article and offer your thoughts, I've done a lot of writing related to video games with more on the way, so far I've talked about the evolution of adventure games and their interfaces, the use of abstract puzzles in adventure games and other genres, and video game music and its potential for adaptiveness.

I mostly get the chance to interact with a fairly academic crowd on these topics, I'd love to get as much feedback as I could from you guys. Like a lot of you I'm sure, I find games interesting and well worth talking about.

MarkNew on

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    MarkNewMarkNew Registered User new member
    edited March 2009
    Don't worry my poor wall of text, I'm sure I haven't erected you for naught.

    MarkNew on
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    psyck0psyck0 Registered User regular
    edited March 2009
    Honestly, it doesn't look like there's any discussion to be had. It looks like you have some theory and you want people to comment on it, which generally isn't any fun. I'm also not really sure what your theory is. Finally, people who post theories and look for commentaries generally (and I'm not saying you are like this) are crackpots and don't actually listen to any of the criticism anyone has, which may be turning people off.

    If there's some way you could turn this into a discussion that's not purely based around a bunch of stuff you've written, maybe people would be interested.

    psyck0 on
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    troublebrewingtroublebrewing Registered User regular
    edited March 2009
    I will comment to say that I quoted the mario party comic to my wife tonight. (She made me play)

    troublebrewing on
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    SheepSheep Registered User, __BANNED USERS regular
    edited March 2009
    Never had a problem with Mario Kart. It's not meant to be competitive, it's meant to be fun. Me and all my friends had a blast on Double Dash for years.

    Not that I wouldn't mind a competitive based Mario Kart...

    Sheep on
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    krapst78krapst78 Registered User regular
    edited March 2009
    I really enjoyed your article about balance in competitive games. It offered a lot of insight to balance decisions that have to be considered by game designers when developing games for competitive play.

    As an online game developer I struggle daily with many of the points you made in your article. When it comes to balancing out skill and luck, it really does come down to finding that right mix in order to fit the correct audience. If we overly-emphasize skill-based performance we're left with a very niche but hardcore following. If we move too far towards luck-based outcomes, we can ease more new players into the game but suffer with lower retention rates due to the lack of strategic depth.

    I also appreciated how you addressed the issue of 'time investment' as it pertains to fairness. I believe balancing 'time investment' will become one of the biggest challenges to future game designers due to the greater importance of the emerging MMO field. In our team we actually have a separate term for this dichotomy that we refer to as the Skill vs. Stat problem. In many aspects for our project, the Skill vs Stat problems overshadow the Skill vs. Luck issues in that our main source of revenue is dependent on having users stay for the long haul.

    It was also very refreshing to see you mention the effect of player perception of balance on fairness. Sometimes the best way to balance an online multiplayer game is to give the users the perception of balance even when the exact opposite applies. One amusing anecdote I can offer was when we modified a damage handicap modifier on an old game I used to work on. We had made the mistake of making a big deal of telling users that lower level users would receive a damage modifier based on their level in order to make them competitive with higher level users on the battlefield. When the feature went into the game we had a huge outcry from veteran users. We had to lower the effects of the features in order to appease their anger. In the process of reverting the feature, we accidentally reversed one of the operators so we ended up actually increasing the effects of the handicap. We didn't realize the bug and made a big announcement telling users that the effects had been reduced. For several weeks after our announcement, we received tons of compliments from the users thanking us for our responsiveness and telling us that the game felt better than before even though the effects they were complaining about had been exacerbated. It wasn't until a few months later that we noticed some strange numbers in our battle logs that we found out about the bug. We decided to leave it in and that's how sometimes a 'bug' becomes a 'feature'.

    krapst78 on
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    Page-Page- Registered User regular
    edited March 2009
    In before Sirlin.

    There is no real "fair" in competitive games, though, whether I like and agree with Sirlin or not. In semi-competitive or coop games "fairness" is something that developers often strive for, but they mostly fail, and it's completely dependant on the players to get along without their help.

    There is such a thing as balance, though. That being said, there are very, very few games (I think I could count them on less than 2 hands) that are actually balanced well enough for high level competitive play. Keep in mind that this should only be a problem for people who are actually playing the games competitively, even though most games I wouldn't list are not just a few notches below where they should be, but are more often completely broken in some way.

    The discussion is mostly pointless now anyways. Games are for casual play, I get that, but competitive games are trying to tap into the same markets as non-competitive games, and they're making a lot of sacrifices to do so. The death of 1v1 competition is, I think, a direct result of that.

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    MongerMonger I got the ham stink. Dallas, TXRegistered User regular
    edited March 2009
    Immediate reaction to finishing this article:

    "And?"

    There are a lot of words there, but surprisingly little is said. It reads like a term paper. Casually informative, I guess, but around here you'll find people that play games. All the time. We know this shit. Spawn camping is annoying? You're fucking kidding me.

    I don't mean to sound like an asshole, but if you want a basis for discourse, you need to present some point of contention upon which we may discuss. How does a developer introduce mechanics to inhibit disruptive play? How does the psychology of the playerbase affect how much disruptive play occurs in the first place? Is it rational to hold developers accountable for expecting and avoiding mechanical abuse or is patching the most reliable way to deal with it? How complex can a game's mechanics get before a significant audience becomes alienated? How big of an audience would be considered "significant" in this case? How simple can a game's mechanics get before it's lasting appeal disappears? Where does the line fall that separates "simple" mechanics from "elegant" mechanics? The line that separates "deep" mechanics from "convoluted" mechanics? How much consideration should be given to niche/competitive audiences when building a game's mechanics? Should the industry as a whole be shifting further towards a few, well-known, widely played, high-budget mass market titles or scads of niche titles for separate audiences? Is it possible to create a game that can fill both casual and competitive roles? Should anyone try? Ninja Gaiden: Black - perfect game, or the perfectest game?

    If we're going to have a thread on game balance, let's have a thread on game balance.

    edit: Upon re-reading most of that article, I have the vague urge to hijack the thread out of disappointment in its partially wasted potential, and maybe a little resulting spite. Uh, no offense. I bet you're a cool dude.

    Monger on
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    ZombiemamboZombiemambo Registered User regular
    edited March 2009
    Gamers tend to differ in whether they prefer games to be based around skill or luck

    Nothing can appeal to everyone. Not an issue in my book.
    The community surrounding a game determines a lot of aspects about how it's played

    That's simply how it works. You can't force people to play a certain way, and in certain cases the community has brought the game to a whole new level because of how they play it. I dare say games would be worse off if the players didn't influnece the game and how it's played.

    Zombiemambo on
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    Hockey JohnstonHockey Johnston Registered User regular
    edited March 2009
    Here's my theory about Mario Kart, since it gets mentioned so often:

    The item system is actually a brilliant solution to the problem inherent in every racing game built around playing with your friends. If you imagine playing the game without the items, the average multiplayer match would be decided for 90% of the players in the first 20 seconds of the round. They'll bump a wall or run into a dirt patch and then it's essentially over.

    Anyway, if you look at the average wifi match on Mario Kart Wii, it'll be a couple of excellent racers up front dueling with difficult to use weapons and then a mess of everyone else making mistakes and then rocketing back into position. The longer you don't make driving mistakes, the more likely it is that you'll be in the lead.

    So it's a way of allowing people with wildly different skill sets and map knowledge to all interact with each other -- which I think is impressive from a design standpoint. It manages to be tough on people who are good and gentle to people who are bad all at the same time.

    And by showing persistent scores, it underlines that the good drivers still move up in the rankings and place well more often than not.

    Hockey Johnston on
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    MarkNewMarkNew Registered User new member
    edited March 2009
    psyck0 wrote: »
    Honestly, it doesn't look like there's any discussion to be had. It looks like you have some theory and you want people to comment on it, which generally isn't any fun. I'm also not really sure what your theory is. Finally, people who post theories and look for commentaries generally (and I'm not saying you are like this) are crackpots and don't actually listen to any of the criticism anyone has, which may be turning people off.

    If there's some way you could turn this into a discussion that's not purely based around a bunch of stuff you've written, maybe people would be interested.

    That's a legitimate criticism. What I'm kind of hoping is to learn more from people about what I might have missed or what else is worth saying in these areas. I do feel like in order to talk about balance I need to define all my terms and the different aspects of it, but this might have worked better as an invitation for people to comment on an aspect of game balance/fairness that annoys them or think could be improved.
    krapst78 wrote: »
    It was also very refreshing to see you mention the effect of player perception of balance on fairness. Sometimes the best way to balance an online multiplayer game is to give the users the perception of balance even when the exact opposite applies. One amusing anecdote I can offer was when we modified a damage handicap modifier on an old game I used to work on. We had made the mistake of making a big deal of telling users that lower level users would receive a damage modifier based on their level in order to make them competitive with higher level users on the battlefield. When the feature went into the game we had a huge outcry from veteran users. We had to lower the effects of the features in order to appease their anger. In the process of reverting the feature, we accidentally reversed one of the operators so we ended up actually increasing the effects of the handicap. We didn't realize the bug and made a big announcement telling users that the effects had been reduced. For several weeks after our announcement, we received tons of compliments from the users thanking us for our responsiveness and telling us that the game felt better than before even though the effects they were complaining about had been exacerbated. It wasn't until a few months later that we noticed some strange numbers in our battle logs that we found out about the bug. We decided to leave it in and that's how sometimes a 'bug' becomes a 'feature'.

    That's hilarious, you've got a placebo effect for a patch you applied. :lol: Video games can be so much of a black box sometimes, people's perceptions of whether a game is fair or broken may depend completely upon what happened to them in their last few rounds. I'd be very interested in hearing more about your experiences if there's anything more you can relate. Your experience also makes me wonder if games could get away with flat out cheating. If the player loses too often, throw him a bone and almost force him to win. That eliminates one of the aspects to my conception of fairness in tying your success to your efforts, but it satisfies the other part in making sure people don't feel like they can never win.
    edit: Upon re-reading most of that article, I have the vague urge to hijack the thread out of disappointment in its partially wasted potential, and maybe a little resulting spite. Uh, no offense. I bet you're a cool dude.

    I get where you're coming from and I appreciate that you don't hold all of this thread's weaknesses against me personally! I feel like to have a conversation on a topic like this it's important to define a lot of the important areas for discussion and make some distinctions, which is what I was trying to do in the article. But I realize that simply throwing some analysis at you may not inspire a lot of back and forth. I'd like to hear your thoughts on these issues and what else there is that's worth saying, and if what I've already written isn't enough to get things started then I'd like to continue the discussion however is possible.

    Looking at your list of points, the one on disruptive players caught my eye. It's interesting to think about the different ways in which players interact online and how that might affect things like griefing, it makes me wonder whether anonymous match-making, ranked vs unranked games, games with voice chat, or recurring groups of players in clans would be more or less conducive to disruptive play.

    MarkNew on
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    LBD_NytetraynLBD_Nytetrayn TorontoRegistered User regular
    edited March 2009
    Here's my theory about Mario Kart, since it gets mentioned so often:

    The item system is actually a brilliant solution to the problem inherent in every racing game built around playing with your friends. If you imagine playing the game without the items, the average multiplayer match would be decided for 90% of the players in the first 20 seconds of the round. They'll bump a wall or run into a dirt patch and then it's essentially over.

    Anyway, if you look at the average wifi match on Mario Kart Wii, it'll be a couple of excellent racers up front dueling with difficult to use weapons and then a mess of everyone else making mistakes and then rocketing back into position. The longer you don't make driving mistakes, the more likely it is that you'll be in the lead.

    So it's a way of allowing people with wildly different skill sets and map knowledge to all interact with each other -- which I think is impressive from a design standpoint. It manages to be tough on people who are good and gentle to people who are bad all at the same time.

    And by showing persistent scores, it underlines that the good drivers still move up in the rankings and place well more often than not.

    While I love the items in Mario Kart, I believe their implementation has gotten worse. Stuff like the Flying Blue Shell, which doesn't even hold any benefit to the person who uses it, and the now constant problem of having items you've picked up knocked out of you. So instead of saving it for when you can use it, the name of the item game has become "use it or lose it."

    I love the anarchy of Mario Kart and it's items, that's what makes it fun, but I think it's gotten out of control. Some items seem overpowering, while others are nerfed... I'm pretty sure the Red Shell used to be more efficient than it is now...

    On a related note, I was just telling some people earlier that I had found out that Funky Kong is apparently the fastest character in Mario Kart Wii. Just my luck, a character I like is given super stats and a means by which a player such as myself has no means to unlock him. It happened with ROB in DS, too, and it's rather disappointing.

    I'm thinking it might be better if there was a way all characters could be unlocked at the outset, maybe each with some of their little quirks like usual, but instead of using a certain racer as a status symbol (I can't even just play as ROB for fun, because if I do, everyone else picks him, too), it would be nice if there were a system implemented which allowed better racers to perhaps adjust or improve their stats in some way.

    My wife is in a similar rut, though I think some of her faves, like Boo or Dry Bones or Dry Bowser, are a little easier to unlock, but still trying when you have a handful of racers Blue Shelling the hell out of you or knocking items out of your hands at every turn.

    I just want to have fun with characters I like on a wide variety of courses. I'm not asking to be world champion.

    LBD_Nytetrayn on
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    MongerMonger I got the ham stink. Dallas, TXRegistered User regular
    edited March 2009
    MarkNew wrote: »
    edit: Upon re-reading most of that article, I have the vague urge to hijack the thread out of disappointment in its partially wasted potential, and maybe a little resulting spite. Uh, no offense. I bet you're a cool dude.

    I get where you're coming from and I appreciate that you don't hold all of this thread's weaknesses against me personally! I feel like to have a conversation on a topic like this it's important to define a lot of the important areas for discussion and make some distinctions, which is what I was trying to do in the article. But I realize that simply throwing some analysis at you may not inspire a lot of back and forth. I'd like to hear your thoughts on these issues and what else there is that's worth saying, and if what I've already written isn't enough to get things started then I'd like to continue the discussion however is possible.
    You went too broad. You went way too broad, and probably a bit shallow, lengthy, and meandering for a lot of posters around here. Discussions like this need relative specificity to begin, then they'll evolve as they will as people start inputting new ideas. People generally will reply to one or two points at a time, so walls of text that cover a number of subjects are actually rather hard to respond to with any direction for the thread. It's for that reason that I, personally, can't really give any insights into anything in the article. I have a lot of thoughts that may or may not be completely relevant or interesting, and it'd be a complete mess to read through. Hell, it's enough of a mess when I respond to simple questions.
    MarkNew wrote: »
    Looking at your list of points, the one on disruptive players caught my eye. It's interesting to think about the different ways in which players interact online and how that might affect things like griefing, it makes me wonder whether anonymous match-making, ranked vs unranked games, games with voice chat, or recurring groups of players in clans would be more or less conducive to disruptive play.
    In my experience, the largest influence on general disruptive play is the aggregate psychology of the playerbase, which, in turn, is a direct product of the mechanical direction of the game. Certain gameplay styles attract people with specific personality traits. Something heavily teamplay oriented (Dystopia, Red Orchestra) tends to have a playerbase that is unusually helpful. A short-burst DM-type game (UT, Halo, CS) will usually have a base of players that is easily agitated. Anything with complex mechanics will attract people that are more analytical, which is a blessing and a curse (on the off-chance that they do grief, it's going to be bad, but probably hilarious). It's all pretty predictable, like chess players and football fans. Or people that post here, for that matter.

    As for some of the things you mentioned, I haven't really noticed differences in any of them in particular. Voice chat can be a brilliant tool to aid a sportsman, or the most annoying fucking thing in existance, so it's pretty conducive to both types of players. I haven't played any ranked games in a long time, but I remember them usually being clean. The twist is that a griefer in a ranked game knows he can potentially ruin someone's day. Or week. Clan play is often the most pure kind of play, but keep in mind that there are clans (notorious ones, at that) that form for the sole purpose of griefing. Communities that organize clan matches are griefer-free, but it's just like any other closed community where everyone is recognizable and accountable for their actions. Anonymous match-making is, as you'd expect, completely random. Basically, you're more or less just as likely to run into someone that wants to destroy your fun in any of those situations. Again, in my experience.

    Monger on
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    programjunkieprogramjunkie Registered User regular
    edited March 2009
    krapst78 wrote: »
    As an online game developer I struggle daily with many of the points you made in your article. When it comes to balancing out skill and luck, it really does come down to finding that right mix in order to fit the correct audience. If we overly-emphasize skill-based performance we're left with a very niche but hardcore following. If we move too far towards luck-based outcomes, we can ease more new players into the game but suffer with lower retention rates due to the lack of strategic depth.

    There is something to be said for matchmaking mitigating the effects of a skill-based performance game. I'm pretty bad at fighters, but as long as I'm playing against other bad people
    I also appreciated how you addressed the issue of 'time investment' as it pertains to fairness. I believe balancing 'time investment' will become one of the biggest challenges to future game designers due to the greater importance of the emerging MMO field. In our team we actually have a separate term for this dichotomy that we refer to as the Skill vs. Stat problem. In many aspects for our project, the Skill vs Stat problems overshadow the Skill vs. Luck issues in that our main source of revenue is dependent on having users stay for the long haul.

    This is a gigantic problem, especially in communities where the players and developers are both hostile to those who do not make the game a second job and downplay this effect. WOW PVP is a good example of such, as the gear is incredibly important, and a lot of it is gated by how well you play, making it even more difficult to break in if you do not start out well.

    I'd honestly rather be punched in the gut than play WOW arenas severely under geared for an afternoon, because at least the former would be over faster. I actually rerolled at the end of BC (Season 4), and myself and my friend played arenas together. He is a previously ranked 2300+ player with that same class (which is incredibly high for anyone who does not know), I was about 1850 or so (better than average, but not the best of the best) and it wasn't even fun trying to play at 1400 ratings (embarrassingly low for anything but the most casual players) with a fairly fresh 70 in PVP blues and PVE epics. We lost to people who were several magnitudes of order worse than us (think a dream fantasy baseball team losing to a local Little League) just because their numbers were so much bigger.

    I definitely agree this will be a major problem in the future, even though it has actually already been solved. Call of Duty 4 is an excellent example of how to do a time investment system. As you play, you gain access to more weapons and also attachments for those weapons. You gain access to new stuff fairly frequently, the ways to increase how fast you gain experience points are fun, and the new stuff is not always objectively better than the starting stuff. The most difficult challenges would not be fun for someone of average skill (to get 1050 headshots with the various assault rifles, for example), but unlock purely cosmetic rewards that are very cool.

    In terms of MMORPGs, there is also Guild Wars, which allows you to make a PVP only character at max level with max stat equipment. It doesn't start off enchanted, and you can unlock enchantments for PVP characters through either PVP or PVE, and they are an important, but not overwhelming difference. You also unlock new skills through both PVP and PVE, and you get to choose the order, and there are hundreds. These unlocks happen pretty frequently.

    The net result of these Guild War systems is that you start off competitive in PVP within a limited fashion, and you expand on your play options the further you play. A new player can be good and effective at a couple different things, and a veteran player can be good and effective at dozens of different things. This is in stark difference with most MMOs, who force PVP players to spend dozens or even hundreds of hours before they are even allowed to participate in the "real" PVP at the level cap.
    It was also very refreshing to see you mention the effect of player perception of balance on fairness. Sometimes the best way to balance an online multiplayer game is to give the users the perception of balance even when the exact opposite applies. One amusing anecdote I can offer was when we modified a damage handicap modifier on an old game I used to work on. We had made the mistake of making a big deal of telling users that lower level users would receive a damage modifier based on their level in order to make them competitive with higher level users on the battlefield. When the feature went into the game we had a huge outcry from veteran users. We had to lower the effects of the features in order to appease their anger. In the process of reverting the feature, we accidentally reversed one of the operators so we ended up actually increasing the effects of the handicap. We didn't realize the bug and made a big announcement telling users that the effects had been reduced. For several weeks after our announcement, we received tons of compliments from the users thanking us for our responsiveness and telling us that the game felt better than before even though the effects they were complaining about had been exacerbated. It wasn't until a few months later that we noticed some strange numbers in our battle logs that we found out about the bug. We decided to leave it in and that's how sometimes a 'bug' becomes a 'feature'.

    I'm not terribly surprised. The OP is right in saying games are often a black box to players, who have to take the word of other players or the developers for how it works. I'm actually against this sort of thing, as I like to see full openness in game play mechanics as much as possible. If the Attack Damage formula for a game was available and twenty variables long, I'd absolutely want to see it.

    If you look at some of the best designed and most competitive games in all of human history, like Chess or Go, you will notice they rely on skill, all the rules are known to even the most novice of players, and they are designed with full information for all players. I think it is certainly possible to deviate from these parameters a fair bit, but it's worth using them as case studies.
    MarkNew wrote: »
    That's hilarious, you've got a placebo effect for a patch you applied. :lol: Video games can be so much of a black box sometimes, people's perceptions of whether a game is fair or broken may depend completely upon what happened to them in their last few rounds. I'd be very interested in hearing more about your experiences if there's anything more you can relate. Your experience also makes me wonder if games could get away with flat out cheating. If the player loses too often, throw him a bone and almost force him to win. That eliminates one of the aspects to my conception of fairness in tying your success to your efforts, but it satisfies the other part in making sure people don't feel like they can never win.

    This goes back to your point one, however. I would never be interested in any game that had such a mechanism.

    That said, I do support games which offer mechanisms that fight against death spirals, so that doing poorly in the first 30 seconds does not mean you have already lost a 10 minute match. An example of this would be upkeep and popcap systems in RTS games which help mitigate early losses (very slightly in practice) but also never throws a match. Anti-death spiral game design should allow a player to win after starting to lose if they take their game up several notches, and not allow mediocrity to win because of luck or overtuned mechanics.

    programjunkie on
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    GlalGlal AiredaleRegistered User regular
    edited March 2009
    So it's a way of allowing people with wildly different skill sets and map knowledge to all interact with each other -- which I think is impressive from a design standpoint. It manages to be tough on people who are good and gentle to people who are bad all at the same time.
    I never knew flipping a coin was so impressive from a design point of view. Truly, a concept ahead of its time.

    Glal on
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    acidlacedpenguinacidlacedpenguin Institutionalized Safe in jail.Registered User regular
    edited March 2009
    I just wanted to point out that Call of Duty 4's weapon reward system has very little effect on the game balance since none of the unlockable weapons are better than the ones you start out with. They all offer different strengths and weaknesses in such a way that no one gun in each class automatically "wins" against any of the default guns. A player who is good at COD4 can be just as good at level 1 as they are at level 40.

    With that said, I'm not entirely sold on Treyarch's attention to balance in Call of Duty: World at War being as good as Infinity Ward's was in Call of Duty 4. Don't get me wrong, Treyarch has come leaps and bounds since Call of Duty 3 but I think their relative inexperience in Call of Duty games compared to IF's really shows. The two biggest balance issues in my opinion are that many of the default weapons simply don't compare to unlockable ones, and that actual spawn placement seems to place you directly in the line of enemy fire much more often than in COD4. . .

    also, for the record, bumping your own thread the same day you post it is kind of lame. . .
    There is something to be said for matchmaking mitigating the effects of a skill-based performance game. I'm pretty bad at fighters, but as long as I'm playing against other bad people

    No! Bad! Fighting games are a special case since part of the skill is learning the mechanics of the game. Bad players are bad because they don't fully understand the gameplay, so if all you ever play against is other bad players then you will never learn the game mechanics and so you will be doomed to being bad for as long as you play the game against other bad players. Imagine being a new player at chess playing against another new player at chess, except that neither one of you knows the whole set of rules and neither one of you has an instruction guide which clearly states the whole set of rules. This game of "chess" would not play like a real chess game, and any experience you gain from it would not be applicable to a chess match against someone who does know the rules. Even if you were to play a billion matches and become the world's premier NUchess grandmaster you would still be just as good at chess as you were on the first day.

    acidlacedpenguin on
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    krapst78krapst78 Registered User regular
    edited March 2009
    This is a gigantic problem, especially in communities where the players and developers are both hostile to those who do not make the game a second job and downplay this effect. WOW PVP is a good example of such, as the gear is incredibly important, and a lot of it is gated by how well you play, making it even more difficult to break in if you do not start out well.

    I think 'hostile' might be a little strong there. Although I can't say for certain the intentions of the WOW Arena designers, I very much doubt they intentionally instilled hostility into their decisions for making gear so important in Arena combat. They probably realized that they could maximize enjoyment for the most amount of people by skewing winning towards players that have spent the time (or money) rather than the much smaller pool of players that have the skills. Again it all comes down to the right mixture between the two. They probably have good reasons (probably from data mined metrics tied to revenue and retention rates) that led them to skew more heavily towards stats. The motivations for making that content is significantly different from the motivations behind creating the Starcraft 2 multiplayer content. I'd be seriously surprised if they add any major time-based bonuses for Starcraft 2's multiplayer because it seems to be targeting a different market.

    Another thing to consider is the business model behind the games. WOW is a subscription-based MMORPG where 'invested' assets are the primary indicator of progress and essentially the main method in conveying power. There is great incentive for the designers of WOW to maintain that disparity of power in order to give users a reason to continually renew their subscriptions. COD4 and Guildwars on the other hand are retail packaged products with free online multiplayer components. The unnlockables can be seen more as icing on the cake rather than the full meat of the product. Imagine the uproar from the community if Activision suddenly decided to charge a monthly fee for access to the COD4 multiplayer content. The funny thing is that Activision would probably have a better chance of monetizing COD4's multiplayer content IF they started introducing imbalances to the unlockable content.
    I'm not terribly surprised. The OP is right in saying games are often a black box to players, who have to take the word of other players or the developers for how it works. I'm actually against this sort of thing, as I like to see full openness in game play mechanics as much as possible. If the Attack Damage formula for a game was available and twenty variables long, I'd absolutely want to see it.

    If you look at some of the best designed and most competitive games in all of human history, like Chess or Go, you will notice they rely on skill, all the rules are known to even the most novice of players, and they are designed with full information for all players. I think it is certainly possible to deviate from these parameters a fair bit, but it's worth using them as case studies.

    It's a bit unfair to compare a modern video game to established games such as Chess or GO that are played in a different medium. The enjoyment that comes from many video games aren't derived solely from the competitive aspects (where in Chess and GO, the essence of the game is the competition). What many good video games do is to combine a multitude of systems (sounds, visuals, instantaneous feedback, etc...) to engage the user in novel ways. It's more about the experience than simply who's the best. This is why you can't always say it's better to have an open system rather than a black box. It's similar to watching a game of Poker on ESPN rather than actually being at the table. Although it can be exciting as a viewer to know who has which cards, it's a wholly different experience when you're actually at the table and trying to figure out what is going on. Many times, figuring out the system is part of the fun. I think this is why you meet so many game designers who tell you they can't enjoy their own game on a visceral level because they can see the inner workings of the game. I guess it's the same reason why a magician never tells his secrets.

    The secondary reason for not opening up a system is much less glamorous. Sometimes it's just a matter of controlling sensory overload. The most elegant solution sometimes is to simply hide the seams and let players just enjoy the system as a whole. I know this answer probably won't fully satisfy your desire to know everything about a game system, but again it comes to compromises. Can a designer get his point across to the broadest range of users in a quick and easily digestible manner? I promise you, it would make my job infinitely easier if all i needed to do was simply shove my excel tables and formulas up on a website and tell everyone, here, this is how the game runs. Unfortunately, for me, and probably for some of the more hardcore players, that's generally not the best way to present a game.

    Finally, here's another tidbit from my experiences while working on an competitive online game. When it comes to eSports in Korea, making sure the games are fair is a really big deal. Many games have to be sanctioned by a third party and this is why you see actual referees during televised matches. I guess they have to be pretty anal when you have fairly significant cash prizes. Basically, the sanctioning board will tell you what needs to be done to ensure your game meets the eSports standards. I worked as a developer on a football (soccer) game that was broadcast for 3 seasons here. We had to make a completely separate version of the client and server for the TV broadcast in order to meet the demands of the board.

    One of our biggest worry during the first season was the instability of the client. We had basically developed the game in 8 months before opening to the public (typical online game generally took 1.5 years to develop) and there were still some kinks that needed to be ironed out. Unfortunately for us, the contract for the TV broadcast was already signed, and World Cup fever was already at a frenzy. The thing about our game was that the TV broadcasts were done live. For the first month, none of the developers wanted to go to the TV broadcast because we thought the client would crash on live TV. The first month went off without a hitch and so I decided to go the next week. Lo and behold, the game desynced in the middle of a heated match. There was a scramble on live TV as the commentators incredulously tried to make out why the two players' screens showed different actions. Luckily for me, they had no idea half the dev team was in the audience, but nevertheless it was a humbling experience. Another funny thing to note was although different users would play as different teams such as ManU, Barcelona, and the Korean National Team, all the table information was pre-set so all the players had maxed out stats. This was only for the broadcast server so if actual users tried to replicate some of the moves seen on TV they probably wouldn't be able to do it.

    krapst78 on
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    OcculusOcculus Registered User regular
    edited March 2009
    Since I don't play Guild Wars all that often anymore (and really never got into those sort of games in the first place- this will change with the release of Diablo III), I have to relate this discussion to two games I'm currently playing: Puzzle Quest Galactrix and Left 4 Dead.

    Galactrix claims- CLAIMS- to have gotten rid of the extra-lucky combo chains that occasionally (!) occurred with the original Puzzle Quest, but here's what I've been experiencing:

    ME: Three white
    PC: FIVE OF A KIND! Extra turn awarded!
    PC: Item-that-gives-the-PC-three-consecutive-turns
    PC: NOVA, three red, four blue (NOMNOM MOAR SHEELDS PLEESE), three green, SUPERNOVA, extra turn awarded!
    PC: BOOMBOOMBOOM (OH NOES! Shields critical!)
    PC: Laser! (Shields destroyed!)
    PC: CHANGE ALL BOMBS INTO BUNNIES
    ME: Fuck. Three green.

    Something is just not right at all with this scenario. And it's not that I'm a bad player- I'm noticing that the computer is actually getting extremely lucky over and over again, moreso even than in the first game. It's like it's laughing at me or something.

    Left 4 Dead, by contrast, seems to me to be nearly perfectly balanced. There has never been one moment in that game when I'm saying "oh come on, that's just not fair." Granted, there are some cheap things you can do in L4D. The corner in the sewers with the ladder to the top comes to mind- you can hide around the corner, wait for everyone to get on the ladder, and- since I almost always seem to manage to have a Boomer here- puke on them over and over. Another example would be running in circles around the tank, but you only have to know how to respond to that, so I'm not certain if that tactic counts as "cheap".

    Still, L4D seems balanced to a fare-thee-well.

    I do have one other major quibble with certain other games (Sins and Civ, I'm looking at you!): length of time for a multiplayer game. It is nearly impossible to play a multiplayer game of Sins, Civ, and other games like them in a single sitting. It's just too much. What's the point of playing such a game with other people when they can easily take days or weeks? I understand these are not exactly gameplay issues per se, but come on- when a game takes days to play, eventually people lose interest in it, and it's not as if you can pause Sins and such. GalCiv2 might be a bit better in that regard, but the multiplayer in that one has the same issues with gameplay length (I don't think I've ever played any of the above with more than one opponent for that very reason, in fact). With all that in mind, a multiplayer SimCity would waste my life. The military City of Catfood attacking the bungalo-ridden mountain City of Fancy Feast? Yes, please.

    And I'm not in any sense a casual gamer, either- I own an embarrassingly large collection, going back to the DOS days.

    Occulus on
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    JurgJurg In a TeacupRegistered User regular
    edited March 2009
    I think the best multiplayer games are ones that allow customization and reward creativity. Phantom Dust, for example.

    I also think that games should allow you to understand the inner workings of a game system. This is the primary reason why games such as the SaGa series are met with poor reception: the systems are unique, but the developers fail to explain how to use these mechanics, so the player ends up frustrated. Unlimited SaGa is the biggest offender in this regard. An example in multiplayer would be Pokemon- to play at the most competitive levels, you have to spend a ton of time rolling dice (breeding for stats AND skills takes forever) using systems that are NEVER explained in-game. Pokemon is the king of bullshit leveling systems. It's great fun for the story mode and casual play, but unless you hack, the hurdles to creating optimal Pokemon are too high. It's a shame, too, because there are so many customization options.

    Jurg on
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    MongerMonger I got the ham stink. Dallas, TXRegistered User regular
    edited March 2009
    MarkNew wrote: »
    That's hilarious, you've got a placebo effect for a patch you applied. :lol: Video games can be so much of a black box sometimes, people's perceptions of whether a game is fair or broken may depend completely upon what happened to them in their last few rounds. I'd be very interested in hearing more about your experiences if there's anything more you can relate. Your experience also makes me wonder if games could get away with flat out cheating. If the player loses too often, throw him a bone and almost force him to win. That eliminates one of the aspects to my conception of fairness in tying your success to your efforts, but it satisfies the other part in making sure people don't feel like they can never win.

    This goes back to your point one, however. I would never be interested in any game that had such a mechanism.
    Remember that DMC4 introduced this very thing and it was frowned upon by the type of person that likes DMC. On the other hand, Bioshock gets praise from a lot of people that likely would never have seen a certain scene had there been no VitaChambers. As always, what's best depends on what any individual player or group of players is looking to get out of their experience, and leaving the option up to them tends to be a good course of action.
    krapst78 wrote: »
    I'm not terribly surprised. The OP is right in saying games are often a black box to players, who have to take the word of other players or the developers for how it works. I'm actually against this sort of thing, as I like to see full openness in game play mechanics as much as possible. If the Attack Damage formula for a game was available and twenty variables long, I'd absolutely want to see it.

    If you look at some of the best designed and most competitive games in all of human history, like Chess or Go, you will notice they rely on skill, all the rules are known to even the most novice of players, and they are designed with full information for all players. I think it is certainly possible to deviate from these parameters a fair bit, but it's worth using them as case studies.

    It's a bit unfair to compare a modern video game to established games such as Chess or GO that are played in a different medium. The enjoyment that comes from many video games aren't derived solely from the competitive aspects (where in Chess and GO, the essence of the game is the competition). What many good video games do is to combine a multitude of systems (sounds, visuals, instantaneous feedback, etc...) to engage the user in novel ways. It's more about the experience than simply who's the best. This is why you can't always say it's better to have an open system rather than a black box. It's similar to watching a game of Poker on ESPN rather than actually being at the table. Although it can be exciting as a viewer to know who has which cards, it's a wholly different experience when you're actually at the table and trying to figure out what is going on. Many times, figuring out the system is part of the fun. I think this is why you meet so many game designers who tell you they can't enjoy their own game on a visceral level because they can see the inner workings of the game. I guess it's the same reason why a magician never tells his secrets.

    The secondary reason for not opening up a system is much less glamorous. Sometimes it's just a matter of controlling sensory overload. The most elegant solution sometimes is to simply hide the seams and let players just enjoy the system as a whole. I know this answer probably won't fully satisfy your desire to know everything about a game system, but again it comes to compromises. Can a designer get his point across to the broadest range of users in a quick and easily digestible manner? I promise you, it would make my job infinitely easier if all i needed to do was simply shove my excel tables and formulas up on a website and tell everyone, here, this is how the game runs. Unfortunately, for me, and probably for some of the more hardcore players, that's generally not the best way to present a game.

    I'm of the mind that no information should ever be inaccessible to the player. See: Too Human. If we're talking about the most elegant solution, we should be talking mind of the multitude of feedback mechanisms available to a developer. As far as modern games go, if a specific formula is of any consequence to a player, then the game as a whole is so heavily dependent upon its stat system that hiding the numbers is a direct and unnecessary impediment to the player's success. The kind of player that enjoys such a game is unlikely to be overwhelmed by that amount of information, given that it is presented in a competent, unimposing manner. The fun here comes from tinkering and experimenting with the rules of the system rather than digging for them. For these types of games, if there must be significant compromises between being honest with the player and being fun, there is likely a fundamental flaw in the mechanical design itself. For any other game, there are such endless methods for presenting concise representations of mechanics that choosing not to overtly present them to the player is pretty lazy. Assertion of mechanics is pretty integral in a medium that defines its own rulesets on a per-work basis. This is the part of the post where I pimp my own brain farts. From this very interesting thread filled with classy gentlemen like me and Page-.

    Monger on
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    Page-Page- Registered User regular
    edited March 2009
    Also, competitive games aren't Fox News, and fair =/= balanced. They're not even related.

    There is nothing fair about random elements that give new players a chance to compete with people who are already good at the game. I'm referring to skill based games, like RTS, FPS, and FGs, not time-investing games like MMOs (which are already beyond my understanding when it comes to people wanting to compete in them). If you're better at a game then you should win. Every time. By a wide margin, if possible. If you're new at a game then you shouldn't be competing, you should be learning. Besides that, match making systems are generally flawed to the degree that it is almost universally recognized by every strong competitive community that the strongest method for improvement is to play with players better than yourself, or at least observe them playing and try and pick things up. Playing other people at your own level will, at best, give you the chance to level out you style with a bunch of stuff that works against mediocre players only because they're mediocre.

    As for openness in game design, this is an absolute must. The fact is that if anyone takes your game at all seriously then every system will be picked apart and analyzed to death anyways, but then the knowledge will only be available to people who know where to look for it, which only hurts new players. You don't need to overwhelm or bombard newbies with pages of text and number crunching, but you do need to tell them that the info is available and should be learnt.

    For example, in fighting games there's frame data. This is speed calculations (measured in frames, since most games run at 60 frames per second, and most moves are faster than one second anyways) that will tell you the start up time and recovery time of every move in the game. This type of thing is hugely important for anyone who wants to play a fighting game competitively (and one of the major reasons why playing fighting games online is so often pointless). Knowing how safe your moves are against any given character does mean the difference between winning and losing. However, most companies don't release the frame data for their games (sometimes referred to as the "black book") which means that there are people who have to painstakingly work out methods to measure start up and recovery frames for every single move in the game. This process takes dozens of hours, and needs to be completely redone whenever there's a new patch or version of the game released. In fact, the Street Fighter 4 strategy guide includes the frame data for every character, and many people bought it for that alone. The VF4/5 frame data was available on release, as well, while the Soul Calibur frame data has to be worked out manually (the game is 7 months old and there are still characters being worked on). Knowing this sort of thing allows you to punish things that might not seem punishable, use safer attacks, apply frame traps (which absolutely destroy new players, who have no clue what frames are to begin with, let alone the concept of being at a frame advantage or disadvantage), and just make it all the more difficult for someone to get into the games competitively.

    As far as strategies and balance, that's a lot trickier. The most balanced competitive video games in history have been the results of a combination of blind luck, hard work, and a whole lot of actually listening to good players. There is not a single game that has been released without some sort of game-breaking bug, exploit, infinite, or imbalance. At the same time, true balance has only really been achieved a couple of times, and I'll use Starcraft as an example. What really sets that game apart at high levels is not just that every race has a chance to win, but that every race has a chance to win using more than one strategy. That's, to my mind, what has kept it alive as such a spectator-driven eSport, because different players actually play differently. I also think some of that has to do with it being an RTS, as well, and I think I'll address the other two competitive genres a actually care about once I've had a nap.

    Page- on
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    MongerMonger I got the ham stink. Dallas, TXRegistered User regular
    edited March 2009
    Page- wrote: »
    Also, competitive games aren't Fox News, and fair =/= balanced. They're not even related.

    There is nothing fair about random elements that give new players a chance to compete with people who are already good at the game. I'm referring to skill based games, like RTS, FPS, and FGs, not time-investing games like MMOs (which are already beyond my understanding when it comes to people wanting to compete in them). If you're better at a game then you should win. Every time. By a wide margin, if possible. If you're new at a game then you shouldn't be competing, you should be learning. Besides that, match making systems are generally flawed to the degree that it is almost universally recognized by every strong competitive community that the strongest method for improvement is to play with players better than yourself, or at least observe them playing and try and pick things up. Playing other people at your own level will, at best, give you the chance to level out you style with a bunch of stuff that works against mediocre players only because they're mediocre.
    This is a perspective thing. Think of it this way:

    -A fair game is one whose outcome is dependent upon who played it better.

    -A fair match is one where every player has an equal chance of winning.

    -Fair matches are fun. Unfair matches are horrid, awkward, and make you punch your friend's 8 year old sister in the face because that little bitch knows you haven't figured out how to wavedash and she'll do it all over the fucking place until someone teaches her a lesson and then their mom bans you from their house and calls your mom who locks you in my room for a week with no tv when the power rangers are getting new zords. I HAVEN'T FORGOTTEN ABOUT THAT BETTY!!!!!!

    -A fair match is traditionally between two people of equal skill.

    -Some developers will sacrifice a fair game for the ability to maximize the chances of having a fair match, even between players of highly disparate skill levels.

    -This is good when you have people at your house and someone's like "OH SHIT YOU HAVE GAMESTATION I HEAR THAT'S FUN CAN I PLAY?" and you have something to pull out that will generally be a bit of fun for everyone and not result in someone pissing in your coat closet or slathering your dog's food bowl with Ex-Lax.

    Monger on
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    FremFrem Registered User regular
    edited March 2009
    Noone has mentioned this Blizzard interview? Ah, good.
    Slashdot: Could you walk us through how you balance a particular class or ability — especially going into Wrath as you're adding all these new and extra skills, and trying to find a new balance?

    Jeff: Definitely. It's really an ongoing, iterative process. Every piece of content we add in terms of PvE — a new raid boss, new abilities that creatures are doing — and every other class ability are going to come into play in whatever original class ability we were trying to tune in the first place. So, as we add more things, we constantly have to go back and look at the things that were previously fine, but now might suddenly be overpowered or underpowered. We also have a lot of philosophy that comes into play. It's very easy to do what we call — it's kind of a Blizzard 'cardinal rule of never-do-this' — balancing to mediocrity, which means that you always notch everything down because you're scared of certain things feeling overpowered and are literally living by the numbers. I think numbers are a great guideline, and you should always understand the math behind what you're doing, but at the core, you need to follow the gut and ask "Hey, does this feel really great?" The best place classes can get, in our mind, is where everybody thinks everybody's overpowered. That's kind of the Starcraft balance at work — I think it's best illustrated in Starcraft — "Oh my god, all three races are wildly overpowered!" Yet, somehow, the matches seem to come out even most of the time. Something that we also try to communicate to players — it's difficult for them to understand, and it's not really their responsibility to even worry about it — if we never touched the classes — let's say we all agreed that the classes were perfectly balanced, and never touched them, and let them go for three months, they will eventually become unbalanced because of different strategies that evolve. The players are really driving how the game goes, and it's our job to play referee at a certain point. But not referee in the sense of "No, no, no, you're breaking the rules," but just asking, "Hey, are you still having fun?" And we have to make sure that you're having fun, but not at the expense of someone else.

    Three important things there.
    1. Ideal balance is when everyone thinks everyone else is overpowered.
    2. Game balance will change as new strategies and playstyles emerge.
    3. Really, the most important thing is that everyone is having fun.

    Frem on
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    programjunkieprogramjunkie Registered User regular
    edited March 2009
    krapst78 wrote: »
    This is a gigantic problem, especially in communities where the players and developers are both hostile to those who do not make the game a second job and downplay this effect. WOW PVP is a good example of such, as the gear is incredibly important, and a lot of it is gated by how well you play, making it even more difficult to break in if you do not start out well.

    I think 'hostile' might be a little strong there. Although I can't say for certain the intentions of the WOW Arena designers, I very much doubt they intentionally instilled hostility into their decisions for making gear so important in Arena combat. They probably realized that they could maximize enjoyment for the most amount of people by skewing winning towards players that have spent the time (or money) rather than the much smaller pool of players that have the skills. Again it all comes down to the right mixture between the two. They probably have good reasons (probably from data mined metrics tied to revenue and retention rates) that led them to skew more heavily towards stats. The motivations for making that content is significantly different from the motivations behind creating the Starcraft 2 multiplayer content. I'd be seriously surprised if they add any major time-based bonuses for Starcraft 2's multiplayer because it seems to be targeting a different market.

    Another thing to consider is the business model behind the games. WOW is a subscription-based MMORPG where 'invested' assets are the primary indicator of progress and essentially the main method in conveying power. There is great incentive for the designers of WOW to maintain that disparity of power in order to give users a reason to continually renew their subscriptions. COD4 and Guildwars on the other hand are retail packaged products with free online multiplayer components. The unnlockables can be seen more as icing on the cake rather than the full meat of the product. Imagine the uproar from the community if Activision suddenly decided to charge a monthly fee for access to the COD4 multiplayer content. The funny thing is that Activision would probably have a better chance of monetizing COD4's multiplayer content IF they started introducing imbalances to the unlockable content.

    I'd just quickly say that you do bring up an interesting point about making a good game vs. making a successful game, but I would say certain ways of monetizing, like your example of optional but clearly better weapons with monetary costs are unethical and do have a danger of backfiring*.

    *EA's Battlefield: Bad Company got crap for merely pay weapons, which aren't even clearly superior, and relented and made them free.
    I'm not terribly surprised. The OP is right in saying games are often a black box to players, who have to take the word of other players or the developers for how it works. I'm actually against this sort of thing, as I like to see full openness in game play mechanics as much as possible. If the Attack Damage formula for a game was available and twenty variables long, I'd absolutely want to see it.

    If you look at some of the best designed and most competitive games in all of human history, like Chess or Go, you will notice they rely on skill, all the rules are known to even the most novice of players, and they are designed with full information for all players. I think it is certainly possible to deviate from these parameters a fair bit, but it's worth using them as case studies.

    It's a bit unfair to compare a modern video game to established games such as Chess or GO that are played in a different medium. The enjoyment that comes from many video games aren't derived solely from the competitive aspects (where in Chess and GO, the essence of the game is the competition). What many good video games do is to combine a multitude of systems (sounds, visuals, instantaneous feedback, etc...) to engage the user in novel ways. It's more about the experience than simply who's the best. This is why you can't always say it's better to have an open system rather than a black box. It's similar to watching a game of Poker on ESPN rather than actually being at the table. Although it can be exciting as a viewer to know who has which cards, it's a wholly different experience when you're actually at the table and trying to figure out what is going on. Many times, figuring out the system is part of the fun. I think this is why you meet so many game designers who tell you they can't enjoy their own game on a visceral level because they can see the inner workings of the game. I guess it's the same reason why a magician never tells his secrets.

    (snip for brevity)

    I'd actually say developers ought to pay more attention to the gameplay part of their game if they are emphasizing competitive multiplayer. I love cool explosions as much as anyone else, but if I'm going to be playing a month from now (which also determines if I buy the sequel, so there is a dollar value on this customer goodwill), a game needs to have a deep balance that encourages fair and interesting matches*.

    * I think it's important to balance between players, but also balance in a meta fashion. A game in which one weapon is clearly better than every other one but everyone can pick it right away is balanced in terms of players against each other, but is boring as there is no variety.
    Monger wrote: »
    MarkNew wrote: »
    That's hilarious, you've got a placebo effect for a patch you applied. :lol: Video games can be so much of a black box sometimes, people's perceptions of whether a game is fair or broken may depend completely upon what happened to them in their last few rounds. I'd be very interested in hearing more about your experiences if there's anything more you can relate. Your experience also makes me wonder if games could get away with flat out cheating. If the player loses too often, throw him a bone and almost force him to win. That eliminates one of the aspects to my conception of fairness in tying your success to your efforts, but it satisfies the other part in making sure people don't feel like they can never win.

    This goes back to your point one, however. I would never be interested in any game that had such a mechanism.
    Remember that DMC4 introduced this very thing and it was frowned upon by the type of person that likes DMC. On the other hand, Bioshock gets praise from a lot of people that likely would never have seen a certain scene had there been no VitaChambers. As always, what's best depends on what any individual player or group of players is looking to get out of their experience, and leaving the option up to them tends to be a good course of action.

    I'm more talking about multiplayer, because balance doesn't play nearly as large a role in singleplayer games. Though some server side variables which change things wouldn't be such a bad idea.

    Unreal Tournament has an optional mutator (a minor modification, basically) where as you do better you become fatter, making you easy to hit, and thus encouraging less variability between skill in terms of outcome.
    Frem wrote: »
    Noone has mentioned this Blizzard interview? Ah, good.
    Slashdot: Could you walk us through how you balance a particular class or ability — especially going into Wrath as you're adding all these new and extra skills, and trying to find a new balance?

    Jeff: Definitely. It's really an ongoing, iterative process. Every piece of content we add in terms of PvE — a new raid boss, new abilities that creatures are doing — and every other class ability are going to come into play in whatever original class ability we were trying to tune in the first place. So, as we add more things, we constantly have to go back and look at the things that were previously fine, but now might suddenly be overpowered or underpowered. We also have a lot of philosophy that comes into play. It's very easy to do what we call — it's kind of a Blizzard 'cardinal rule of never-do-this' — balancing to mediocrity, which means that you always notch everything down because you're scared of certain things feeling overpowered and are literally living by the numbers. I think numbers are a great guideline, and you should always understand the math behind what you're doing, but at the core, you need to follow the gut and ask "Hey, does this feel really great?" The best place classes can get, in our mind, is where everybody thinks everybody's overpowered. That's kind of the Starcraft balance at work — I think it's best illustrated in Starcraft — "Oh my god, all three races are wildly overpowered!" Yet, somehow, the matches seem to come out even most of the time. Something that we also try to communicate to players — it's difficult for them to understand, and it's not really their responsibility to even worry about it — if we never touched the classes — let's say we all agreed that the classes were perfectly balanced, and never touched them, and let them go for three months, they will eventually become unbalanced because of different strategies that evolve. The players are really driving how the game goes, and it's our job to play referee at a certain point. But not referee in the sense of "No, no, no, you're breaking the rules," but just asking, "Hey, are you still having fun?" And we have to make sure that you're having fun, but not at the expense of someone else.

    Three important things there.
    1. Ideal balance is when everyone thinks everyone else is overpowered.
    2. Game balance will change as new strategies and playstyles emerge.
    3. Really, the most important thing is that everyone is having fun.

    I can't take anything the WOW Blizzard team says about balance seriously. It's one of the least balanced games I've ever played in multiplayer.

    To address the specific points:
    1. Not really. It's entirely possible for a community to reach a consensus on balance. I don't think WOW's community could do so, as it's too large and is quite immature, but it happens with other games. The problem is that some people are incapable

    Also, as much as player opinion matters, it's important to realize that the hard work with balancing has to be done with spreadsheets and statistics. Balance is as much a math problem to be solved as it is anything else.

    2. Entirely true. But this can be a dangerous sentiment if it leads to waiting too long to correct an issue.

    3. The best way to get people to have fun is to make a good game. I quit WOW because the gameplay was fatally flawed.

    programjunkie on
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    SaraLunaSaraLuna Registered User regular
    edited March 2009
    There is something to be said for matchmaking mitigating the effects of a skill-based performance game. I'm pretty bad at fighters, but as long as I'm playing against other bad people

    No! Bad! Fighting games are a special case since part of the skill is learning the mechanics of the game. Bad players are bad because they don't fully understand the gameplay, so if all you ever play against is other bad players then you will never learn the game mechanics and so you will be doomed to being bad for as long as you play the game against other bad players. Imagine being a new player at chess playing against another new player at chess, except that neither one of you knows the whole set of rules and neither one of you has an instruction guide which clearly states the whole set of rules. This game of "chess" would not play like a real chess game, and any experience you gain from it would not be applicable to a chess match against someone who does know the rules. Even if you were to play a billion matches and become the world's premier NUchess grandmaster you would still be just as good at chess as you were on the first day.

    I'm going to go ahead and call bullshit on this. People play games for fun, not to be the ubarest of all. (well, most people anyway)
    Playing Street Fighter or DoA poorly against my friends (or others online) that also play poorly is fun. Getting raped by some guy who plays the game 10 hours a day while being told "lol, lrn2play" is not fun.

    SaraLuna on
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    MongerMonger I got the ham stink. Dallas, TXRegistered User regular
    edited March 2009
    Monger wrote: »
    MarkNew wrote: »
    That's hilarious, you've got a placebo effect for a patch you applied. :lol: Video games can be so much of a black box sometimes, people's perceptions of whether a game is fair or broken may depend completely upon what happened to them in their last few rounds. I'd be very interested in hearing more about your experiences if there's anything more you can relate. Your experience also makes me wonder if games could get away with flat out cheating. If the player loses too often, throw him a bone and almost force him to win. That eliminates one of the aspects to my conception of fairness in tying your success to your efforts, but it satisfies the other part in making sure people don't feel like they can never win.

    This goes back to your point one, however. I would never be interested in any game that had such a mechanism.
    Remember that DMC4 introduced this very thing and it was frowned upon by the type of person that likes DMC. On the other hand, Bioshock gets praise from a lot of people that likely would never have seen a certain scene had there been no VitaChambers. As always, what's best depends on what any individual player or group of players is looking to get out of their experience, and leaving the option up to them tends to be a good course of action.

    I'm more talking about multiplayer, because balance doesn't play nearly as large a role in singleplayer games. Though some server side variables which change things wouldn't be such a bad idea.

    Unreal Tournament has an optional mutator (a minor modification, basically) where as you do better you become fatter, making you easy to hit, and thus encouraging less variability between skill in terms of outcome.

    This is a straight up dirty lie. Single player games are balanced for different ends, yes, but saying it's not as important is practically offensive. It's painfully obvious that so many single player games need better balancing.

    I realize you were talking about multiplayer (it applies there, as you said), I just couldn't think of a multiplayer example at the time. I'm not too well versed on UT's mutators on account of everyone just plays instagib. Take that for what you will.

    Frem wrote: »
    1. Ideal balance is when everyone thinks everyone else is overpowered.

    1. Not really. It's entirely possible for a community to reach a consensus on balance. I don't think WOW's community could do so, as it's too large and is quite immature, but it happens with other games. The problem is that some people are incapable

    Also, as much as player opinion matters, it's important to realize that the hard work with balancing has to be done with spreadsheets and statistics. Balance is as much a math problem to be solved as it is anything else.

    I think you're taking this a bit too literally. It's partially a joke. A ha-ha joke at which you are supposed to laugh. It's not about community consensus or message board whining, it's a descriptor of perceived effectiveness. It's common for a game to overbalance, where every faction/character/class feels equal. Sure it's balanced, but from the perspective of the player it can feel bland. Options can feel too similar despite their different uses or mechanics. It can be too predictable that X is this faction's unit that fills the role of Y. The balance is too transparent. In a "properly" balanced game, the options available to a player will not feel equally limited, but equally powerful. The strategies available by one choice will be undeniably effective, overtly unique, and completely absent from the others. They will also be perfectly matched by the strengths of the opposition. It's a matter of subtle semantics and subjective impression, and it will make or break the appeal of a game.

    I'd also like to point out that balance-by-numbers is a starting point, not an end point. Say you have a class that has a weapon that does 100 damage per hit, and fires once every 10 seconds. You have another class that has a weapon that does 5 damage per hit, and fires twice every second. Accuracy is also a factor, so for every, say, 60 damage done by the second class, the first has a single shot that may or may not result in any damage at all. On the other hand, if every shot lands, the two are completely equal. Damage output per shot needs to be compensated to account for this. No big, right? You can sample some players, measure their average accuracy and get your numbers from there. What if one of these classes has a quirk to it's movement that makes it easier or harder to aim in certain situations? How often is a player expected to be in such a situation? How many players are even going to be affected by something that subtle? Is it going to be more advantageous to balance that class towards their weak situation, the strong situation, or somewhere in between? Will the player respond to the changes by avoiding some of these situations? Players will gravitate towards playstyles that they find enjoyable or effective regardless of their impact on intended balance. There's a point in this process where the most effective balance will only become apparent by observing players and the range of unexpected niggles that come up in real play. The numbers will highlight when something's off, but can't necessarily be counted on to highlight what the root cause is, or what the most effective solution will be. They're a tool, not a crutch. People are clever, too. They'll find things that will completely warp the game. Case in point: rocket/conc jumping. How do you even quantify that?

    Games that are highly revered for their balance (like Starcraft or CS) got to that point through a process of observation, experimentation, and iteration. The hard part, as always, is the troubleshooting.

    Monger on
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    programjunkieprogramjunkie Registered User regular
    edited March 2009
    Monger wrote: »
    Monger wrote: »
    MarkNew wrote: »
    That's hilarious, you've got a placebo effect for a patch you applied. :lol: Video games can be so much of a black box sometimes, people's perceptions of whether a game is fair or broken may depend completely upon what happened to them in their last few rounds. I'd be very interested in hearing more about your experiences if there's anything more you can relate. Your experience also makes me wonder if games could get away with flat out cheating. If the player loses too often, throw him a bone and almost force him to win. That eliminates one of the aspects to my conception of fairness in tying your success to your efforts, but it satisfies the other part in making sure people don't feel like they can never win.

    This goes back to your point one, however. I would never be interested in any game that had such a mechanism.
    Remember that DMC4 introduced this very thing and it was frowned upon by the type of person that likes DMC. On the other hand, Bioshock gets praise from a lot of people that likely would never have seen a certain scene had there been no VitaChambers. As always, what's best depends on what any individual player or group of players is looking to get out of their experience, and leaving the option up to them tends to be a good course of action.

    I'm more talking about multiplayer, because balance doesn't play nearly as large a role in singleplayer games. Though some server side variables which change things wouldn't be such a bad idea.

    Unreal Tournament has an optional mutator (a minor modification, basically) where as you do better you become fatter, making you easy to hit, and thus encouraging less variability between skill in terms of outcome.

    This is a straight up dirty lie. Single player games are balanced for different ends, yes, but saying it's not as important is practically offensive. It's painfully obvious that so many single player games need better balancing.

    I realize you were talking about multiplayer (it applies there, as you said), I just couldn't think of a multiplayer example at the time. I'm not too well versed on UT's mutators on account of everyone just plays instagib. Take that for what you will.

    It's so radically different as to be a different thing entirely. In singleplayer one weapon can be objectively better than all the others, an enemy can have 50x your health, etc, and it can still be enjoyable. But those are both bad design in multiplayer.
    Frem wrote: »
    1. Ideal balance is when everyone thinks everyone else is overpowered.

    1. Not really. It's entirely possible for a community to reach a consensus on balance. I don't think WOW's community could do so, as it's too large and is quite immature, but it happens with other games. The problem is that some people are incapable

    Also, as much as player opinion matters, it's important to realize that the hard work with balancing has to be done with spreadsheets and statistics. Balance is as much a math problem to be solved as it is anything else.

    I think you're taking this a bit too literally. It's partially a joke. A ha-ha joke at which you are supposed to laugh. It's not about community consensus or message board whining, it's a descriptor of perceived effectiveness. It's common for a game to overbalance, where every faction/character/class feels equal. Sure it's balanced, but from the perspective of the player it can feel bland. Options can feel too similar despite their different uses or mechanics. It can be too predictable that X is this faction's unit that fills the role of Y. The balance is too transparent. In a "properly" balanced game, the options available to a player will not feel equally limited, but equally powerful. The strategies available by one choice will be undeniably effective, overtly unique, and completely absent from the others. They will also be perfectly matched by the strengths of the opposition. It's a matter of subtle semantics and subjective impression, and it will make or break the appeal of a game.

    I like your post, I just don't really find the joke funny.
    I'd also like to point out that balance-by-numbers is a starting point, not an end point. Say you have a class that has a weapon that does 100 damage per hit, and fires once every 10 seconds. You have another class that has a weapon that does 5 damage per hit, and fires twice every second. Accuracy is also a factor, so for every, say, 60 damage done by the second class, the first has a single shot that may or may not result in any damage at all. On the other hand, if every shot lands, the two are completely equal. Damage output per shot needs to be compensated to account for this. No big, right? You can sample some players, measure their average accuracy and get your numbers from there. What if one of these classes has a quirk to it's movement that makes it easier or harder to aim in certain situations? How often is a player expected to be in such a situation? How many players are even going to be affected by something that subtle? Is it going to be more advantageous to balance that class towards their weak situation, the strong situation, or somewhere in between? Will the player respond to the changes by avoiding some of these situations? Players will gravitate towards playstyles that they find enjoyable or effective regardless of their impact on intended balance. There's a point in this process where the most effective balance will only become apparent by observing players and the range of unexpected niggles that come up in real play. The numbers will highlight when something's off, but can't necessarily be counted on to highlight what the root cause is, or what the most effective solution will be. They're a tool, not a crutch. People are clever, too. They'll find things that will completely warp the game. Case in point: rocket/conc jumping. How do you even quantify that?

    Games that are highly revered for their balance (like Starcraft or CS) got to that point through a process of observation, experimentation, and iteration. The hard part, as always, is the troubleshooting.

    This is like any other research done in any field, basically. You detect a trend, and then you make use of further information to explain it correctly. There's a fairly strong correlation between ice cream sales and murder, but it's not ice cream that causes murder, but heat that causes both, to use an example.

    Observation would absolutely be part of the process, but there's a lot to be said for correlations and equations too.
    There is something to be said for matchmaking mitigating the effects of a skill-based performance game. I'm pretty bad at fighters, but as long as I'm playing against other bad people

    No! Bad! Fighting games are a special case since part of the skill is learning the mechanics of the game. Bad players are bad because they don't fully understand the gameplay, so if all you ever play against is other bad players then you will never learn the game mechanics and so you will be doomed to being bad for as long as you play the game against other bad players. Imagine being a new player at chess playing against another new player at chess, except that neither one of you knows the whole set of rules and neither one of you has an instruction guide which clearly states the whole set of rules. This game of "chess" would not play like a real chess game, and any experience you gain from it would not be applicable to a chess match against someone who does know the rules. Even if you were to play a billion matches and become the world's premier NUchess grandmaster you would still be just as good at chess as you were on the first day.

    I'm going to go ahead and call bullshit on this. People play games for fun, not to be the ubarest of all. (well, most people anyway)
    Playing Street Fighter or DoA poorly against my friends (or others online) that also play poorly is fun. Getting raped by some guy who plays the game 10 hours a day while being told "lol, lrn2play" is not fun.

    I agree with both of you, actually. Playing against good players is often a way to improve faster, but I'm fairly comfortable with not being great at the genre. My top 3 genres are Shooters (first and third), RPG, and RTS in that order, so while I enjoy a fighting game from time to time, as long as I can do well enough to have fun, I'm fine with it.

    programjunkie on
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    Page-Page- Registered User regular
    edited March 2009
    Monger wrote: »
    Page- wrote: »
    Also, competitive games aren't Fox News, and fair =/= balanced. They're not even related.

    There is nothing fair about random elements that give new players a chance to compete with people who are already good at the game. I'm referring to skill based games, like RTS, FPS, and FGs, not time-investing games like MMOs (which are already beyond my understanding when it comes to people wanting to compete in them). If you're better at a game then you should win. Every time. By a wide margin, if possible. If you're new at a game then you shouldn't be competing, you should be learning. Besides that, match making systems are generally flawed to the degree that it is almost universally recognized by every strong competitive community that the strongest method for improvement is to play with players better than yourself, or at least observe them playing and try and pick things up. Playing other people at your own level will, at best, give you the chance to level out you style with a bunch of stuff that works against mediocre players only because they're mediocre.
    This is a perspective thing. Think of it this way:

    -A fair game is one whose outcome is dependent upon who played it better.

    -A fair match is one where every player has an equal chance of winning.

    -Fair matches are fun. Unfair matches are horrid, awkward, and make you punch your friend's 8 year old sister in the face because that little bitch knows you haven't figured out how to wavedash and she'll do it all over the fucking place until someone teaches her a lesson and then their mom bans you from their house and calls your mom who locks you in my room for a week with no tv when the power rangers are getting new zords. I HAVEN'T FORGOTTEN ABOUT THAT BETTY!!!!!!

    -A fair match is traditionally between two people of equal skill.

    -Some developers will sacrifice a fair game for the ability to maximize the chances of having a fair match, even between players of highly disparate skill levels.

    -This is good when you have people at your house and someone's like "OH SHIT YOU HAVE GAMESTATION I HEAR THAT'S FUN CAN I PLAY?" and you have something to pull out that will generally be a bit of fun for everyone and not result in someone pissing in your coat closet or slathering your dog's food bowl with Ex-Lax.

    Well, fair is a completely subjective thing. Balance is real, even when people don't recognize that.

    There are many examples of things being perceived to be overpowered by bad players when objectively they clearly aren't. Most fighting games have this, I'll use Soul Calibur as an example. The Raphael character in that series is generally considered to be "cheap" by bad players. Factually, though, he has never been a strong character, levelling out at mid-tier on his best days. The reason he beats bad players so easily is that he has a playstyle that is easy to learn and very effective against players who don't sidestep properly. Now, should the developers go about nerfing him just because a bunch of people who have no idea how to play think he's cheap? He's been made progressively weaker in each version of Soul Calibur, yet the complaints never stopped, and now he's barely viable for high level play. On the other side, Gamecube fanboys are convinced that Link was a good character in Soul Calibur 2, even though he's objectively one of the worst in the game.

    Also, there's nothing wrong with dumbing your play down so you can screw around with your friends. I know I have to do it all the time, and I'm not even a competitive person by nature, so it's never been a big problem for me.

    If you want to say that a fair match is between people of equal skill, that's true, but it has nothing to do with the developers. If you want to challenge someone better then you should expect a beatdown. That's how competition works. However, you can learn a huge amount, and you can ask questions and seek advice. Most good players are not assholes and will gladly give a few pointers; it's hard enough keeping people interested when there are so many flashy new games being released all the time. In fact, there are more than a couple competitive communities that are trying to confront the problem of making their games (and communities) more accessible to new players without having to dumb down the gameplay or dampen the competitive drive.

    Also, as an extra note on balance: there has been a trend in fighting games to just nerf everything with each new release or version, which is almost always a problem because something slips through the cracks and becomes dominant. It's much better to make everything overpowered than it is to nerf. Strangely, damage output in general has been going down, too, which I can only imagine is to appease newer or casual players.

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    MongerMonger I got the ham stink. Dallas, TXRegistered User regular
    edited March 2009
    Monger wrote: »

    I'm more talking about multiplayer, because balance doesn't play nearly as large a role in singleplayer games. Though some server side variables which change things wouldn't be such a bad idea.

    Unreal Tournament has an optional mutator (a minor modification, basically) where as you do better you become fatter, making you easy to hit, and thus encouraging less variability between skill in terms of outcome.

    This is a straight up dirty lie. Single player games are balanced for different ends, yes, but saying it's not as important is practically offensive. It's painfully obvious that so many single player games need better balancing.

    I realize you were talking about multiplayer (it applies there, as you said), I just couldn't think of a multiplayer example at the time. I'm not too well versed on UT's mutators on account of everyone just plays instagib. Take that for what you will.

    It's so radically different as to be a different thing entirely. In singleplayer one weapon can be objectively better than all the others, an enemy can have 50x your health, etc, and it can still be enjoyable. But those are both bad design in multiplayer.

    You sound like someone who hasn't played The Hidden, or a comparable "uneven" multiplayer gametype (Mutant in UT, Pitch Black in the new Riddick game, whatever the multiplayer was called in Pandora Tomorrow). To a lesser extent, this even applies to hybrid games like Natural Selection. Uneven != unbalanced. Equal skill is required for everyone involved, but it is skill in separate skillsets. These types of games retain balance by way of controlling how broken or limited any given player's abilities are, and compensating with creativity or teamwork. They do this quite admirably, and can sometimes require even greater range and depth of skill than traditional matches as a result of the perceived threat to each side of the opposition. Necessity is the mother of invention, you know.

    This idea holds true in single player. The only difference is that a proper single player game should feature controlled imbalance. The scale needs to tip ever so slightly in the player's favor to remain playable. If it doesn't tip enough, the game becomes frustrating and the player becomes agitated. If it tips too much, it's challenge disappears and the player ceases to be engaged. On top of this, the correct pitch on that scale is dependent upon what type of experience is meant to be provided by the game, in combination with what type of player will be experiencing it. On top of that, the game must provide similar pitches of balance for players of wildly different skill levels (generally by difficulty level), and must retain a static pitch while concurrently increasing difficulty as the player gains and adapts to new abilities and mechanics. Finally, the game has to offer tension and release by way of variable difficulty to retain proper pacing and engagement of the player over extended periods of time, and do it without drawing attention to the fact.

    Keeping the balance flat in a multiplayer game is relatively straightforward because the player can be expected to find opponents of comparable skill level. In a single player game, the skill level of the opponent is defined by the game itself, and developers must anticipate what challenge should be provided to a player (and what level of mechanical abuse is acceptable) months or years before the game finds itself in that player's hands, in addition to retaining balance between the player and AI (given that the AI is incapable of creativity or adaptation). If you still hold doubts, grab a copy of Sin Episodes: Emergence from Steam. The lengths to which a dev will go to engage a player are staggering.

    I'd also like to point out that balance-by-numbers is a starting point, not an end point. Say you have a class that has a weapon that does 100 damage per hit, and fires once every 10 seconds. You have another class that has a weapon that does 5 damage per hit, and fires twice every second. Accuracy is also a factor, so for every, say, 60 damage done by the second class, the first has a single shot that may or may not result in any damage at all. On the other hand, if every shot lands, the two are completely equal. Damage output per shot needs to be compensated to account for this. No big, right? You can sample some players, measure their average accuracy and get your numbers from there. What if one of these classes has a quirk to it's movement that makes it easier or harder to aim in certain situations? How often is a player expected to be in such a situation? How many players are even going to be affected by something that subtle? Is it going to be more advantageous to balance that class towards their weak situation, the strong situation, or somewhere in between? Will the player respond to the changes by avoiding some of these situations? Players will gravitate towards playstyles that they find enjoyable or effective regardless of their impact on intended balance. There's a point in this process where the most effective balance will only become apparent by observing players and the range of unexpected niggles that come up in real play. The numbers will highlight when something's off, but can't necessarily be counted on to highlight what the root cause is, or what the most effective solution will be. They're a tool, not a crutch. People are clever, too. They'll find things that will completely warp the game. Case in point: rocket/conc jumping. How do you even quantify that?

    Games that are highly revered for their balance (like Starcraft or CS) got to that point through a process of observation, experimentation, and iteration. The hard part, as always, is the troubleshooting.

    This is like any other research done in any field, basically. You detect a trend, and then you make use of further information to explain it correctly. There's a fairly strong correlation between ice cream sales and murder, but it's not ice cream that causes murder, but heat that causes both, to use an example.

    Observation would absolutely be part of the process, but there's a lot to be said for correlations and equations too.
    :^:

    Monger on
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