LAFS Game Design 9 - Balancing


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Level 9 of the Los Angeles Film School's Game Design 1 class.

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LAFS Game Design 9 - Balancing

  1. 1. Level 9 David Mullich Game Design 1 The Los Angeles Film School
  2. 2. Internally Incomplete A game is internally complete when there is no obvious missing elements in any possible permutation of the game under any condition. In board games, gaps in the rules can lead to arguments among players. In a digital game, incompleteness leads to a loophole that players can exploit, a dead end in the player experience, or a complete breakdown of the system.
  3. 3. Internally Complete If you identify an incomplete part of the game:  Go back to the rules and see where you need to fill in the gaps. Be warned that any time you modify the rules, it can affect other parts of the game. It may take several revisions and playtesting sessions to fix the problem.
  4. 4. Loopholes A loophole is a flaw in the system that a player can exploit to gain an unfair or unintended advantage that ruins the experience for the other players. As long as loopholes exist, your game isn’t complete. Your goal is to close all loopholes without shutting down all potential for emergent play. Asteroids high score exploit
  5. 5. Loopholes Sometimes it is debatable whether an issue is a loophole or a feature that is actually a benefit in the game. An example is the ability to kill other players in an MMORPG – is it a loophole that needs to be fixed, or a valid feature of the game?
  6. 6. Find some solutions to this FPS problem: When more than two people play the game, it is possible for players to camp near both of the spawn points on the arena map. When a recently killed opponent appears at either spawning point, the campers can promptly attack the opponent. Players struck in the position of being shot are furious at this seemingly unfair tactic.
  7. 7. Pro Tips  Use control situations to test aspects of the system in isolation  Do a series of playtests where you instruct testers to attempt to disrupt the system  Find testers who enjoy figuring out alternative or subversive solutions
  8. 8. Dead Ends A dead end occurs when a player gets stranded in the game and cannot continue toward the game objectives no matter what they do. Most titles have ironed out dead ends before they are released, but now and then, one slips in through the cracks.
  9. 9. Completing Completeness In reality, no game is every truly complete. Your job as a designer is to enforce a high enough standard and lay out rigorous enough tests so that you can be certain beyond a reasonable doubt that there are no critical deficiencies in your game.
  10. 10. Game Balancing Balancing a game is the process of making sure the game meets the goal you have set for the player experience: that the system is of the scope and complexity you envisioned and that the elements of the system are working together without undesired results. In single-player games, it means that the skill level is properly adjusted for the target audience.
  11. 11. Balancing For Skill Balancing for skill involves matching the level of challenge provided by the game system to the skill level of the player. The trick here is that every player has a different skill level. One way of handling this is to offer multiple difficulty levels. Another way is to balance for a median skill level between hard-core players and novices.
  12. 12. Balancing For Skill In some games, it is possible to program the system to adjust to the ability level of the players as they play. A problem with computer-controlled characters is that they must seem to be human and make mistakes. Designers solve this problem by designing a character to act within a range of possibilities.
  13. 13. Balancing For Skill Extra Credits: Balancing for Skill
  14. 14. Pro Tips  Have challenges accommodate a wide variety of skill levels  Increase the level of challenge as the player succeeds  Provide variety in the challenges
  15. 15. Balancing Variables The variables of your system are a set of numbers that define the attributes of your game objects. Changing game variables affects the game experience. A game with only one player life is a very different experience than a game with 10 lives. As a game designer, you need to manipulate the game variables to create the game experience you want for your player.
  16. 16. Balancing Dynamics The game dynamics are the forces at play when your game is in action. Sometimes a combination of rules creates an imbalance. Sometimes it is a “super” object or combination of objects. Other times it can be a combination of actions. You need to identify the imbalances that can ruin gameplay and either:  Fix the rules that create the problem  Change the attributes of the objects  Create new rules that mitigate unbalancing strategies
  17. 17. Multiplayer Game Balancing In multiplayer games, a balanced game means that the starting positions and play are fair, and that no single strategy dominates the others.
  18. 18. Reinforcing Relationships A reinforcing relationship occurs when a change in one part of a system causes a change in the same direction to another part of the system. For example, rewarding a stronger player over and over until he becomes so strong it is impossible for another player to win.
  19. 19. Reinforcing Relationships There are a number of ways to add balance to such relationships:  Have balances be small and temporary  Introduce an element of randomness  Allow weaker players to group together  Allow a third party to intervene The goal is to keep the scales balanced without causing the game to stagnate – until the end stages of the game, when the scales can tip dramatically.
  20. 20. Dominant Objects A good rule of thumb is to keep similar game objects proportional in terms of strength. One of the best ways to keep every object in proportion but still provide a range of choices is to think in terms of strengths and weaknesses. Units can be balanced by giving each a special advantage and a corresponding weakness.
  21. 21. Dominant Strategies If one or two strategies effectively dominate the game, no one will choose the other strategies once the dominant ones become known. As game designers, you should always be on the lookout for dominant strategies so that you can find a way to get rid of it or obscure it.
  22. 22. Balancing Positions In balancing the starting positions for your game, the goal is to make the system fair so that all the players have an equal opportunity to win. This does not always mean giving each player the exact same resources and set up.
  23. 23. Symmetrical Games These are games in which each player has the exact same starting conditions and access to the same resources and setup. The one asymmetrical element in turn- based games is who goes first. Methods to mitigate that advantage:  Allow only weak units to move first  Have the game take many moves to resolve  Incorporate chance elements
  24. 24. Asymmetrical Games If you give opponents different abilities, resources, rules or objectives, your game will be asymmetrical. As a designer, your goal is to tweak the variables so that the game balances out. Examples of asymmetrical objectives:  Ticking Clock: Defend against a stronger attacker for a period of time  Protection: One side protects something while the other side tries to capture it
  25. 25. Balancing Techniques  Think Modular: Isolate your subsystems so that when you tweak one element of your game, you know exactly what effect it will have on the other parts.  Purity of Purpose: Make sure that every element of your game has a clearly defined purpose, so that when you tweak an element, only one aspect of the game will be changed.  One Change at a Time: If you make more than one change, it is difficult to tell what effect each one has on the overall system.  Spreadsheets: Keep all of your game data in a spreadsheet and have them mirror the game’s structure.
  26. 26. Knowing When Your Game Is Balanced How will you “know” when your game is balanced? When it comes to balancing a game, much of what you do will depend on your instincts. The more you design, the better your instincts will become.
  27. 27. Perfect Imbalance Extra Credits - Perfect Imbalance - Why Unbalanced Design Creates Balanced Play
  28. 28. 1. Playtest 3 of your fellow students’ games. 2. Fill out playtesting form.
  29. 29. Prototyping Aesthetics Aesthetics are the visual and aural dramatic elements of your game. Sometimes you will have a question about your aesthetics that you will need to test early on.  How will the character animation work with the combat system?  How will a new interface solution work with the environments?
  30. 30. Prototyping Aesthetics  Storyboards  Concept Art  Animatics  Interface Prototype  Audio Sketches
  31. 31. Designer Perspective: Richard Garriott G4 Icons Episode #14: Richard Garriott