Archive for February 4th, 2011

If perfect balance is accurately represented by the Taoist notion of Yin and Yang (ignoring three-faction design, Rock-Paper-Scissors and pretty much any class or skill based system)…

It seems to me that most games wind up with a balance more reminiscent of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, complete with an overabundance of Yang, as Longasc so rightly noted…

Next time, more pictures, Street Fighter, Druids and *gasp*…



Edited to add the following, to be a bit more informative.  As I noted over at BBB’s place, brevity is overrated, and this really does deserve a bit more:

I’m using art to represent game design balance.  That’s an occupational hazard with me, I suppose; I’ve taken plenty of art history classes and tend to draw things out to explain ideas at work.  As a monochrome piece that can be compared (very) roughly to the Yin-Yang, Guernica in particular is one I’m looking at to represent a few things:

First, the visual mess that Picasso makes sometimes by trying to use abstract art to represent concrete ideas.  That’s just Cubism, in a nutshell, but game design is itself an exercise in abstraction, for better or worse.  Sometimes we push the abstraction too far, and we lose the function or narrative.  Picasso refused to explain Guernica, but that hasn’t stopped art critics from trying to derive meaning from it, sometimes several layers deep.  Sometimes, that sort of analysis just isn’t warranted, and can actually detract from the artist’s intent.  To paraphrase Freud, sometimes a horse is just a horse, and sometimes a game design element really doesn’t have a deep implication for balance.  It really might just be as simple as it appears, and looking for deeper meaning (or deeper imbalances) isn’t useful.

Second, that balance is what the viewer wants to make of it, as it’s almost always heavily abstracted.  How exactly does one balance a Dragon Punch against a Sonic Boom, or Heroic Strike against Polymorph against Aquatic Form against Flash Heal?  One’s perception of balance relies heavily on what metrics one is using.  One’s appreciation of Guernica depends heavily on what metrics one is using.  Your frame of reference and quantification methodology can make huge differences in calculating “balance”.

Third, that a bit of education about the history and intent of a work of art can tease out new meaning.  Context is king.  Yes, a work should usually stand on its own, but sometimes those layers of information can lend narrative heft to a piece.  Similarly, understanding exactly what the game designers were intending to do with a particular piece of the game design might help illustrate how it’s supposed to be balanced.  Sometimes players don’t get that “background information” or “designer intent”, so their perception of balance can be considerably skewed.  If they never get that information from the gameplay itself, how much extracurricular study are we demanding of players to actually understand what we’re trying to do with the game?  Should we ask players to master the wiki to comprehend the masterpiece that is “balance” in our game?

And, perhaps most importantly, balance is an art.  It’s not easily quantified in anything beyond the most rudimentary games.  As the art world has seen an incredible amount of diversity, so too will games.  Some basic principles and elements of art can be seen in most pieces, despite the diversity, as many games will have some elements that they share in one form or another, whether across the whole spectrum of games (however that’s defined) or within a genre, and how exactly things wind up “genre-bending”.  Some of those will be purely mechanical bits of form, some will be philosophical ruminations on the nature of the art form of games.  Some may be obvious, some may be merely implications, some may be gross while others are subtle.  Again, this is very similiar to the art world.

As for the yang-heavy nature of Guernica, well, that’s an allusion to the story of the war in the painting’s subject… and the significant amounts of angst and even outright contention involved in the balancing of something like WoW and the player acceptance or rejection thereof.  There’s no real comparison between the magnitude of the city’s destruction and the pithy troubles of game design or game playing, but I think it’s fair to look at art to try to understand other art.

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