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All the games we have done so far in Ronimo have stood out a lot in the competitive multiplayer mode. Designing, testing and iterating these games, especially our greatest success Awesomenauts, has taught us many things about balance. Today I would like to share some of the most important lessons we have learned along the way.
1. Mastering is much worse than having little power
At first glance, one might think that, in the balance of the game, having little power and having more power are equally bad: both mean that something is poorly balanced and needs to be improved. This is true, but in practice things with excess power turn out to have much more impact than low power ones.
The reason for this is that players tend to turn to the strongest and only use that. For example, Awesomenauts has 34 characters. If 3 of those would be belowfed, then most players would not play those, leaving 31 valid characters. That remains a lot of options and variations. On the other hand, if 3 characters were finishedfed, then players would play only those 3 and ignore the rest. That would make the game very repetitive and quickly become obsolete.
This knowledge can be used as a crude tool in cases where there is no better solution available. For example, if something is dominated but only under certain circumstances, then you can choose to nerfectar it until you are well alone under those circumstances and have little power in all other situations. In this way, at least the game no longer dominates.
2. Variety always adds imbalance
A game with only one weapon on a single symmetric map will balance almost automatically. If only because all players are in exactly the same situation. However, such a game is probably not only balanced, but also boring. So we need to add variety: more weapons, more maps, more articles, more constructions, more everything. Maybe even asymmetric maps. The key to realizing this is that as the game becomes more complex, the balance & # 39; perfect & # 39; It becomes increasingly difficult to achieve. This quickly reaches the point where the balance & # 39; perfect & # 39; It's impossible, and every variation you add makes the game a bit more unbalanced.
Let's look at a really simple example: walking speed. Let's say some characters are fast and others are slow. This gives slow characters a disadvantage that can be balanced by giving them more health and harm. However, now we also add maps of different sizes. On a larger map, the disadvantage for slow characters will be greater than on a small map. This is because if the sand is small, slow characters can get to the other side fast enough anyway. No amount of health or damage adjustments will solve this, as it differs according to the map.
A solution to this can be found in our game Swords & Soldiers 2. There, in online games, we only use certain maps: the ones we consider most balanced. On the other hand, when you invite a friend to play, you can choose between everybody Maps, including lots of very rare. They may be less balanced, but they add a lot of spice and fun. Depending on how much you want to attract players with a competitive mindset, you can choose to include those varied but unbalanced maps, or not.
3. Competitive players often do not like randomness and luck.
When Awesomenauts was released, the game had random critics, which caused much additional damage. This added surprise and suspense: every hit could be stronger! It also means that even if the opponent is better than you, from time to time you can win because you are lucky. This makes a game much more friendly for beginners. An extreme example of this can be found in Mario Kart: this game includes a lot of randomness. Combined with a lot of recovery mechanisms, Mario Kart is a game where occasionally a n00b can beat a pr0.
However, randomness also adds bad Luck: Sometimes you clearly outperform an opponent and still lose, because the enemy was lucky and landed several crimes in a row. In a sense, this might feel good: since the opponent was clearly lucky, you don't need to blame yourself for losing. However, many competitive players do not want this to take into account the equation. They want something very simple: the best player should win. "If I practice more and improve, then I should always win."In the years after the launch, many players in the Awesomenauts community improved and became more competitive, to the point that many players really wanted to eliminate random crits from the game. For this reason, we ended up changing the crits in one system. predictable where simply every third hit deals more damage.
4. Balance automatically worsens over time.
Even if you think the balance in your game is in a good place, simply leaving it as it is for a while, it will deteriorate. The reason for this is that as time goes by, players improve in the game, learn new tricks and talk to each other. This changes the way the game is played, and also changes the way the balance is experienced. Usually, not for the better: as time goes by and no balance adjustments are made, the balance usually worsens.
An example we have seen with Awesomenauts was that sometime after a few months of stable equilibrium, a specific team discovered a new tactic that was super strong. This tactic had been possible for months, but somehow no one had found it yet. This tactic was first used in a tournament, where that team gloriously beat everyone else and won. After the tournament, the news spread like wildfire and, suddenly, this tactic was used in almost every game. We had no choice but to quickly make a balance patch specifically to nerf this particular tactic. (The fact that our game is deep enough for players to discover new tactics in this way is one of the things I am most proud of in my entire career as a game developer.)
Another example that balance worsens over time may not be caused by something too strong. Maybe there is something that is slightly dominated, so softly that it really doesn't matter. As time passes, players write guides and talk about the best tactics. They will point out each other this subtle advantage, which will make more and more people use it. Even if the advantage is really small, or even more extreme, even if the advantage does not exist and the players are simply imagining it, this ruins the game for the simple reason that everyone starts doing the same. This makes the game predictable and boring.
Sometimes you are lucky and players start responding to that imbalance. Maybe a character with little power is really strong in that particular situation. Since that situation now occurs so often, that character with little power is suddenly super strong in most games, which makes many players choose it. This makes the dominant strategy change naturally from one thing to another, adding variation and fun. I have been told that some games in the Super Smash Brothers series have been excellently balanced for this: as soon as a character becomes dominant, his counter becomes more interesting and many players start playing the counter, then the counter counter It becomes useful, etc. This causes the balance to change slowly but steadily.
5. The balance & # 39; perfect & # 39; it is impossible
The last point I would like to share today is both calming and intensely frustrating: For any game that has significant complexity and variation, the perfect balance is impossible. This is a relaxing thought in the sense that it makes you realize that even if you were the best game designer in the world, your game still wouldn't have the perfect balance. It is also frustrating, because, of course, the goal of the game designer is to make the balance really good. Knowing that balance will never be truly fantastic makes balance a frustrating experience.
So why isn't the balance & # 39; perfect & # 39 ;? I have already mentioned earlier that as more variation is added, it becomes impossible to make all options equally strong in all circumstances. But there is more. What happens to players of different abilities? Some characters / weapons / maps will surely be more difficult to play than others. The result is that for beginners, the balance will be different from that of professionals. And what about simply different tastes? Some players prefer fun and variation, while other players prefer predictability and skill. The balance cannot make both groups perfectly happy. Combined, all these elements make it impossible to achieve a balance & # 39; perfect & # 39 ;.
This publication has shared some of the things we have learned over the years about balance. What are your most valuable or most surprising ideas about balance?
P.S. Some of the topics in this blog post have been discussed in more detail in previous blog posts. If you want to read more, take a look at the following publications: