Critical Play: Game Balance

One game that I find to be simple yet memorable in its excitement is NBA 2K Playgrounds 2. Created by Saber Interactive and published by 2K Sports, NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 (hereby NBA Playgrounds) is an arcade-style basketball game for console and desktop. 

Although my experience with the game is typically peer-to-peer (playing with my brother against random players online), single-player balance comes into effect when a user chooses to compete against the computer. Having multiple difficulty options with a broad range helps account for the range of player skill, and players are encouraged to start on a lower level yet offered challenges that reward them for taking on the higher difficulties over time. As far as multiplayer asymmetry, players start with equal positions (a jump ball to start the game) and resources (the score begins at 0-0), so there is no difference in starting conditions to account for. 

The balance between strategies in a game is perhaps where NBA Playgrounds excels the most. Being just a 2v2 basketball game, it’d be easy to let a dominant meta arise if the game had any stronger winning pathways—whether that be taking two guards and shooting 3s, two big men and playing physical, or one of each and mixing things up. Ultimately, any of these combinations (and anything in between, given the continuous range of player stats and sizes) can be viable; my brother and I have enjoyed using all sorts of different teams and competing against a whole host of unique approaches online, where players would flock to any clear “best” strategy if it existed. 

Balance between game objects is not applicable in NBA Playgrounds; although there are “lottery balls” that give special powerups to your team for a short duration, they are randomly chosen, rather than being something a player can specifically select among. These best resemble objects of a fruity style; even when both teams have a lottery ball at the same time, it’s unclear whether having the opponent’s shot clock move twice as fast is more valuable than unlimited turbo—for that matter, one lottery ball might be better than another if you’re winning, and worse if you’re losing, or vice versa. Given the vast array of potential game states and lottery balls, these game objects are simply an aspect of flair. Ultimately, given the game’s arcade nature, the goal is to have some variance inherent in the system—so “perfect” balance wouldn’t even be a desired format.  

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