Game Balance

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					Game Balance
Douglas Wilson
Introduction to Computer Game Design
Fall 2009
Today’s Gameplan

1. Balance
  • What is it?
  • Why do I care?
  • How do I get it?

2. (Short) break
3. Afternoon Exercise
  • It’s a secret!
    Let’s start with some
intentionally vague questions!
Is tic-tac-toe “balanced”?
How about chess?
Or Mario Kart?
What is game “balance”?

David Sirlin splits balance
into two components:

1. “Fairness”
Players of equal skill have an equal
chance at winning

2. “Viable options” (depth)
Lots of meaningful choices presented to
the player
soooooo imba

Not fair: Super Smash Bros 64, Pikachu vs. Mario
Fair, but not deep: Tic-tac-toe
Fair(?), but not deep:
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Types of Balance

Symmetric vs. Asymmetric

• Measure of a game’s “diversity
in starting conditions”
• Players’ strategies are influenced
before the game even begins
• Various sides “play” differently
(e.g. Protoss and Zerg)
• Meta-game
Types of Balance

Symmetric games:
Tennis, Warcraft II

Asymmetric games:
StarCraft, Guilty Gear series

Problematic cases:
Team Fortress 2, Virtua Fighter series

What about Virtua Tennis??
So how about Chess? It’s fair and symmetrical, right?
Chess is a “solvable” game

In theory, possible to write out
all possible states of the game

Always an optimal move,
regardless of how your
opponent responds
Played by infinitely intelligent
beings, Chess has a pre-destined
ending (win, loss, or draw) –
without ever needing to play!
(becomes glorified tic-tac-toe)

So, Chess isn’t always “deep”…
and taken to the limit, it might
not be “fair” either…?

Of course, human beings may
not ever solve Chess…
Still, Chess is partially solved –
and people/computers take
advantage of this!

In Chess960, back pieces are
(mostly) randomly distributed

Invented by Bobby Fischer to
eliminate memorization in favor
of creativity and talent

Randomization can actually make
a game deeper

Go is also a “solvable” game

… but play is tabulated in
points (# pieces captured)

… and the records show
that, more so than in Chess,
going first does matter
Komi: number of points
added to white’s score

Komi values vary from culture
to culture!
(e.g. Korea: 6.5; China: 7.5)

Values will probably continue
to fluctuate as Go gets
progressively more solved
“Objective” balance does not exist.

  Balance can only ever be defined
in terms of specific groups of players!
OK, so then who should we balance for?
 Balance for everyone, right?
Eat your cake and have it too!
Not so fast…
Focus on experts?
Rob Pardo, Blizzard:
“Balance for all skill levels -- though
balance is most important at the
upper skill levels, you need to
consider it for players of all levels.”

“A multiplayer game is balanced if a
reasonably large number of options
available to the player are viable--
especially, but not limited to, during
high-level play by expert players.”
Focus on experts?
Bateman & Boon:
“Ignoring the needs of the Hardcore
market to reach the larger mass market
is a risky prospect, since the Hardcore
gamers are the initial point from which
awareness of a game in the market as a
whole originates.”

Top-down, “trickle-down” view
on game balance?
Another perspective:

                       The infamous blue turtle shell…
                                        Support the beginners?
                                        Mark Rosewater:
                                        “We make cards for the first level of
                                        difficulty because many players exist at
                                        that level. Remember that the average
                                        Magic player is 13 years old. The future
                                        health of the game rests on there being a
                                        good entry point for beginners. If new
                                        players stop joining, there will be no
                                        Magic for the advanced players to play.”

                                        “Bottom-up” view on balance?
At least the artwork is kind of nice?   Or just profit-based view?
Ethics of balance?

“A competitive type 2 deck costs
around $300. Imagine if playing
Zangief (and no other characters)
cost $300. It’s absurd.”

Should Wizards of the Coast
just open up all cards (or at
least all new cards) to
everyone (e.g. online) and just
charge a subscription fee?
Aesthetics of balance?

Sirlin, on re-balancing
Puzzle Fighter for XBLA:
1. Balance to a specific “flavor”
Maintained “feel” of old drop patterns
for nostalgia’s sake.

2. Make an “efficient” design
Strived to make all characters (except
Dan) equally competitive
Aesthetics of balance?

Should we value efficient design?

In Marvel vs. Capcom 2, only 10
of 50+ characters are “viable.”

“Bleh. It’s confusing mess and we should
just axe these 30 bad characters.”

But isn’t absolute number of
viable choices all that really
“Lazy” balance?
Per-matchup handicaps(?)
• “Ryu gets 10% more hit points
when fighting Zangief”
• “In Blanka vs. Ryu, Blanka only has
to win 2 times, but Ryu has to win 3”

“It’s so terrible that I would not even
consider it for Street Fighter. […] It’s
pure cheating, laziness…”
 Phew. Balance is a messy concept.

Remember, game balance only exists
  in respect to particular players.
Enough theory! How do I balance my game?
Maps vs. Rules
In WarCraft III, almost all pro
complains center around maps,
not the game system
   Ex. Lost Temple is thought to
   favor Human and Orc players

Still, might be easier to localize
changes to a map, rather than
tinker w/ the entire system.
Maps as the komi of RTS
Data Visualization

           Flower Garden, visualized
Probabilistic Analysis

Adam Carpenter, “Applying Risk Analysis To Play-Balance RPGs”
There’s no substitute for

• Results only as good as the
model that produced them
• The modeler must “know” their
players, be able to foresee how
they’ll act within a new system

“You have to live an authentic life in
your chosen area of interest to develop
true, deep knowledge of it.”

“In Street Fighter, there is no possible
way to create a ‘balancing algorithm’
that will tell you if Chun Li's walking
speed should be faster. […] You could
do a year of math on that and still be
more wrong about it than my guess in
two seconds.”
Intentional imbalance?!

I’ll cover that in my next
three lectures…

October 27:
Art, Art Games, Game Art

October 29:
Abusive Game Design

November 3:
Political Gameplay
Balance is a messy term

It only makes sense to talk
about balance in terms of
specific players

Balancing is a tool – not a
replacement – for good
game design

Playtest, playtest, playtest!
   And now for the
afternoon exercise…
“Balance” Mafia (aka Werewolf)

      Meet in the GameLab in
    10 minutes for more details!
Bateman, Chris & Boon, Richard. 21st Century Game Design. Hingham, Mass.: Charles River Media, Inc. 2006.
Carpenter, Adam. “Applying Risk Analysis To Play-Balance RPGs”. June, 2003.
Llopis, Noel. “Games from Within”. July, 2009.
Diamante, Vincent. “GDC: The Blizzard Approach to Multiplayer Design”. Gamasutra. February, 2008.
Rosewater, Mark. “When Cards Go Bad”. January, 2002.
Sirlin, David. “Balancing Multiplayer Games”. October, 2008.
Sirlin, David. “Balancing Puzzle Fighter”. August, 2007.
Sirlin, David. “The Most Balanced Games”. February, 2008.
(NOTE: Most of the comments – including some choice bits by Sirlin himself – are no longer available. However, I happen
to have a personal archive of the discussion. Contact me for a copy).
Smith, Michael. “The Lost Temple: A Lost Cause? Perspectives on Map Balance in WarCraft III: The Frozen Throne”.
Paper for Henry Lowood’s STS144 - Game Studies: Issues in Design, Technology and Player Creativity. Unpublished. June, 2008.
                                    Image Citations
Most of the images were scavenged from around the Internet, especially from deviantArt. Below is a partial listing of
sources. Please contact me (dewilson AT itu DOT net) if you are the author and would like me to remove something.
Penny Arcade. “Disincentives”. April, 2008.

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