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Game balance - the importance of defensive power
by David Harlow on 09/14/12 04:43:00 pm

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


When a multiplayer game is made, players will try to beat their opponents down while not getting killed themselves. Inevitably, anything that is a one-hit-kill, effective or otherwise, becomes popular for the sole reason that it means that the opponents can never make any mistakes. Now I can point out why this is hypocritical because of their annoyance about single player Demonic Spiders, but I won't because that would be too cheesy.

That is appropriate, because defensive power is designed to stop cheesing. By being able to survive attacks well enough, you can fight back and punish the opponent. This is useful for some good tactics.

First is being able to attack strong defensive positions. Being able to survive hits allows you to get gradually closer to where you want to get, and being able to boot out anybody who can't rival you in power well enough means that staying in one place for too long will get punished. This alone is useful for making defensive power useful, as it stops camping from working as well, allowing for more offense tactics to work and ultimately give the game a better sense of fun as a welcome side effect.

That's not even the only useful tactic. Being more sturdy also means that you can counterattack better, and potentially force the opponent to think better, if not outright scare them off. And if they can meta-counter you, you can actually live through it and adapt. Also, some abilities can get triggered by getting hit, and having more room for choosing when you get hit can easily make them VERY useful.

In addition, as a welcome indirect result, some other traits become useful and therefore easier to balance. Range would be less polarizing by providing an acceptable weakness, so Frail Snipers can be made more accessible to newbie players without making them too powerful to deal with rather than making them simply Mighty Glaciers that end up with hit-or-miss balance; attack power characters are actually useful because they'd punch through the Stone Wall's defenses; and even The Mario benefits, as he can use both of those traits AND his own defensive power to his advantage.

The only character type that would suffer would be the Fragile Speedster, but a character type like that tends to be overpowered enough, due to the inherent versatility of their speed advantage. They need to be plausible to trap, not too easily but definitely make sure that they have to actually work in order to win.

Now what would result when defensive power actually works? First off, individual strokes of luck will not be as brutal, as more working traits allow for fending them off, and more skirmishing reduces their impact too. Second, the heightened amount of skirmishing in a given match means that a victory results from being consistently better, rather than from managing a lucky strike, but at the same time it's easier to identify mistakes, which results in better metagame evolution, or at the very least better identification of balance issues.

Even if the game doesn't manage to be perfectly balanced, I can be sure that useful defensive power, handled correctly, would be a step in the right direction.

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Robert Simple
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The rules of balancing games differ by genre, but the simplest form of balance always falls to the paper/rock/scissors system. It is tried and true and never fails. Only a few genres, specifically RT (real time) style genres have to consider speed as a statistic used by players to be scaled appropriately. What happens in RT style games is that when the game moves too fast the game loses its main basis and becomes purely a reflex style game, and too slow destroys the concept of RT. handling speed in a non-RT style game, or as I like to call them ST(static type) genres like turn based strategy, allows for the idea of scouting, or low attack/defense for quick hits for some slight to moderate reduction for a later strike or as clean up on a retreating army. No matter what style of genre you make the offensive and defensive power of units/characters is determined by the simple rule of high attack melee and low attack ranged. A tier system of these units/characters helps determine how fast the appropriate stat increases so that the level one melee and range unit are not overpowered. what tends to occur with balancing melee to ranged is the creator will favor one type of unit and players will either brute force one another with all melee and the level design determines tactical positioning that players will ultimately learn to exploit, and unless you can make a level with delicacy to understand a full round of tactics the game will become “here are the tricks you use” or they will make all ranged units and the game will always result in a stalemate of “cat and mouse” trying to gain ground but ultimately will be discovered by players to just hold key locations and no matter how hard an opponent tries they can never break through. Another balancing issue is teching, one must consider the overall cost of the unit/character relative to the total combat of the stage, I prefer a food based system, where low tech is low food and many can be deployed and high tech cost more food so less can be deployed, furthermore you factor that all low tech cannot completely obliterate all high tech, but high tech cannot just trample all low tech, providing some sense of balance between using low tech for shielding/skirmishing while high tech is used to break a wall or punch a camp while low tech pillages. Although I use a lot of words here, the true efforts of balancing is not found in simplistic rules as I laid out here, but are found through mathematical precision and one can map out any confrontation in a game by analyzing the mathematics of the units/characters and the levels to which they will battle one another and take the averages/aggregates of these battles to help you determine the actual values used for statistics.

David Harlow
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There is working comment format here, for future reference. I don't even need HTML to write what I write here.

*Rock-Paper-Scissors systems, I do welcome as long as they're not out of control, which is actually more reason to strengthen defense power. In fact, one might say that RPS is the reason why attack power benefits from useful defense power: Attack Power beats Defense Power (net attack value), Defense Power beats Speed (working trapping), Speed beats Attack Power (impunity abuse).
*Real time games can easily suffer from body advantage shenanigans, I'll give them that. But they do have their definite value in that they easily see how well the player can act under pressure. Static type games, though, are more flexible, just make sure that players can avoid being too predictable.
*It might help to balance characters by a power/range/speed triangle. Melee guys shouldn't have both power AND speed without balancing between both. That would be ridiculous. Range guys should have to work for their kills too. If they can survive reasonably, that's fine, but definitely don't make them able to do so AND kill anything on the map easily.
*Teching...hrm. The important thing would be to balance the high tech stuff against equalizers so that they require effort to beat the low tech stuff, but not so much that it becomes useless. But remember that not every other game has teching available. Hmm....