Monday, June 13, 2011

A little bit for column "A," a little bit for column "B"

Game balance is a fun issue, and because I often take the lead for these blog articles from featured articles at Gamasutra, this article on "Understanding Balance in Video Games" was a fun and easy target for further breakdown.

I should explain why balance is a fun issue for me to tackle. I am, by all accounts, a neophyte in the world of game development. I have training in production, but my background is in psychology (which is as clearly related to game development as farming ability is to political aptitude). What this means is that often I can be the child peering over the balcony to see the masters in the orchestra play whenever topics of game design come up.

However, I do have some informal training in game design, and a large portion of that comes in past production of mods for arcade shooters, which is one of those genres affected so heavily by the concept of "balance." As such, I've spent a lot of man-hours working, in my own sophomoric way, at working out issues of balance. It's nice, then, to read a conversation about something in which I would feel a tiny bit more comfortable offering my voice.

Now, the article at hand is really more of a broad overview of the concept and prevalence of issues of balance, but there is an interesting point there at the end - addressing the issue of balance by looking not at the advantages of certain classes or pieces of the game, but rather by looking at their weaknesses. I think that it's certainly a useful way of introducing game balance - by using specific weaknesses the same way one would tack on special (positive) abilities to a class.

There's a larger issue of game balance, though, that I feel the article does not address. There's almost a degree of serendipity involved when a game ends up being balanced, simply because of this: the issue of duplication of testing effort. It's an often-cited figure that the entire testing effort of a game production is duplicated shortly after launch, and this presents a huge problem for balance, because for a large part, character "tiers" (or whatever title you want to tack on to it) are generated post-release from the unpredictable interactions of players with your system. Balance is a bit of a crapshoot, then, and it's with that thought that I'm almost willing to say - maybe we shouldn't worry quite as much about balance. An enjoyable game may be able to be made more by providing equal opportunity than by equal ability.

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