Game Balancing Notes

What is Game Balance?

  • Single-Player Games: Balancing challenge levels appropriate for the audience.
  • Asymmetric Multi-Player Games: Ensuring no starting position offers an unfair advantage.
  • Multiple Strategies within a Game: Balancing various paths to victory.
  • Game Objects Balance: Ensuring similar cost/benefit ratios for objects like cards in a trading-card game.

The Role of Balance

  • Balance is important but should not overshadow the ultimate design goals of a game. Flexibility in approach is advised.

Detailed Breakdown of Game Balance

  • Single-Player Games: Focus on pacing and appropriate challenge levels. Playtesting is vital. Aim for MIDDLE of the bell curve!
  • Asymmetric Games: Balancing requires careful playtesting, especially when direct comparisons are challenging.  Adjusting resource distribution or game mechanics to ensure fairness.
  • Strategies in Games: Avoid dominant strategies that make others irrelevant. Playtesting helps identify strategy balance.
  • Game Objects: Aim for equal cost/benefit ratios. Too powerful or weak objects can disrupt balance.
  • Playtest playtest playtest

Methods of Balancing Game Objects

  • Transitive Relationships:
    • Definition: A direct cost-benefit comparison where objects with higher costs offer higher benefits.
    • Application: Commonly used in trading-card games. For instance, a card with more abilities or better stats would have a higher cost.
    • Example: In “Magic: the Gathering,” a creature card’s cost is determined by its abilities, color, power, etc. Adding abilities increases the cost.
    • Design Approach: It involves establishing a cost curve (linear or curved) and equating all costs and benefits to a single numerical value for comparison.
    • Difficulty: Everything relies on the designer finding the correct cost curve. If your math is wrong, it will be wrong for every object in the game; if you find one thing that is unbalanced, you’ll probably have to change everything.
  • Intransitive Relationships:
    • Definition: A rock-paper-scissors model where no single object is universally dominant or weak but has specific strengths and weaknesses against others.
    • Application: Seen in strategy games where different units have strengths and weaknesses against other types (e.g., infantry vs. archers vs. fliers).
    • Example: In many real-time strategy games, certain unit types are designed to be strong against some and weak against others, fostering a dynamic gameplay where no single unit type is always the best choice.
    • Balancing Method: Often involves mathematical solutions, like matrices and linear algebra, to ensure that no single option is overly dominant.
    • Difficulty: Intransitive relationships, as noted above, take some tricky math to solve. Another drawback is that, unless done very carefully, their presence can make the entire game feel like glorified rock-paper-scissors.
  • “Fruity” – Unique Balancing:
    • Definition: Making objects so different that direct comparison is impossible, requiring extensive playtesting. This is “fruity” in the sense that the designer, and later the players, can only compare apples to oranges.
    • Difficulty: “Fruity” relationships are really hard to balance, because one of the most important tools in doing so – mathematics – is no longer available.

General Game Balance Techniques

  • Use Math: Create transitive or intransitive relationships.
  • Instincts as a Designer: Adjust game balance based on what feels right.
  • Use Playtesting: Modify the game based on playtest results.

Additional Game Balance Techniques

  • Be Aware of Systems and Objects Interrelationship: Understand and adjust based on core aesthetics and interconnected systems.
  • Make One Change at a Time: For clarity in identifying what impacts the game.
  • Learn to Love Excel: For organization, task tracking, and statistical simulation.
  • Rule of 2: Drastic changes (doubling or halving values) to expedite balance discovery.
  • Balancing First-Turn Advantage: Strategies like rotating the first player, adjusting resources, or turn effectiveness.
  • Write Down Your Rules and Lessons: as you learn them to pass on experience and avoid repeating mistakes.

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