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Archive for February 12th, 2011

Continued from Part 1, of course…

The left and right sides of this diagram are balanced.

The left and right sides of this diagram are also balanced.

These, too.

…but what of these?

Or these?

So, that in mind, how about I change a couple of labels up there?  Here’s where Street Fighter 2 comes in.

A is T. Hawk

B is Zangief

C is Ryu

D is Dhalsim

I know I grossly oversimplify here, but there’s minor method to the madness.  T. Hawk and Zangief are both mostly one-trick ponies; their strength lies primarily in grabbing the opponent and squashing them.  Ryu is fairly well-rounded, with a decent air and ground game, as well as a few basic throw options.  Dhalsim is also well rounded, albeit in different, tricky ways.

Every single one of those diagrams uses the exact same base, the same “piece of the pie”, I just sliced them up differently and pushed pieces around a bit.  It’s largely an asymmetrical balance, but the variety is generally a good thing.  Strictly speaking, if balance is only a measure of how much black each character gets, they are very precisely balanced.

…but then, that’s the key.  The metrics I’m using for balance let me state that the balance is precise.  This is critical.  Balance functions best when the measurements and means of measurement are very clear.  (Tangentially, this is why so many science experiments flat out ignore tangential data and assume things like a lack of friction.  It’s a way to clean up the signal and set the terms of measurement.)

Y’see, if we want to get picky, the letters also contain black.  The right side of the figure also contains a measure of black in the slight grey background.  Those are just noise, though, because I deem them such.  That inverse image mirror Zangief match actually does the Yin-Yang sort of balance, white vs. black.  These corner cases exist, surely, but they aren’t part of the finely crafted balance I care about.  Oh, sure, someone will nitpick about them, but since I’m the one crafting and defining the balance, those arguments don’t matter.

While we’re talking Street Fighter, though, look at the following comparisons between Ryu and Zangief:

The ground game:

The throw game:

The air game:

If you isolate the part of the game you’re seeing to a particular slice of the overall design, it’s easily argued that these two characters are imbalanced.  Zangief is the clear favorite in the throw game (though it should be noted that a solid block of color like that looks more impressive than it actually is), but Ryu dominates the air and has a small edge on the ground.  Overall, we can argue that they are balanced, but in particular situations, they most definitely are not.  When considering balance, then it must be asked:  “what is the big picture?”  Or, more precisely, “what metrics are these systems using for the overall picture that this design’s balance exists in?”

Speaking of slicing up perceptions, though, there’s another way to do it.  I’m calling it role slicing, but it’s really just a subset of situational slicing.  Compare World of Warcraft’s Druid to the Warrior.  Overall, the Druid looks like it has a significant edge over the Warrior, after all, it has a bigger piece of the action in the big picture:

And yet, if you look at the role slices, (noting that there are indeed overlaps, just by the nature of the game), Warrior and Druid tanking are remarkably similar and nicely balanced:

…and their melee DPS options are reasonably balanced:

Yes, I know, Druid melee DPS is more akin to a Rogue, but for the sake of this (oversimplified) argument, it might also be suggested that all classes that specialize in melee DPS are balanced, just with some tweaks and different approaches.  You get up in the bad guy’s personal space and bring the hurt.  Similarly, a Mage and Druid could be compared in the ranged DPS (when the Druid is in Balance spec, anywho), blasting baddies from the peanut gallery.

These role slices are balanced as opposed to the “big picture” being balanced, and I believe that’s the way it should be for something like WoW with its relatively inflexible roles.  (You cannot switch from offense to defense in a flash like you do with Street Fighter 2’s gameplay.)  This produces some quirks in game design when compared to SF2.

For one, there are more ways to interpret things, so naturally, more excuses to nitpick.  Two, even the designers can slip into thinking that the overall sense of balance matters more than the role, and wind up hobbling the multifaceted Druid in an effort to balance the big picture.  For WoW’s design, the role is key, since that’s what gameplay is designed around.  Tanks tank, healers heal, and DPS…ers kill stuff.  You just can’t generalize and shift roles effectively at any moment.  Three, the “metagame” and “class identity” really do matter to players, but mechanically, when it comes to balance, the function of moment to moment play (the roles) are more important.  Those can clash sometimes, especially since so much of the gameplay is decided by the initial choice of class… and that’s a remarkably unchangeable choice made early in the game with little good feedback.

So, lots of words to say “balance kinda sorta really, well… depends on how you look at it” with a subtext of “each game does it differently, for good reason”.

Oh, and I’d be terribly remiss not to point out the following:

Sirlin on balancing Street Fighter 2 and multiplayer games in general (since it was his job, he knows far more of the particulars than I do; it’s a great series of articles on a great site)

Just to throw some gum in the works, BBB reminds us that:

“Class balance is not a fundamental RPG trait”

Because sometimes, throwing “balance” out the window is actually a smart design choice.  Shunting it off of center stage makes room for different sorts of play.  Or different types of balance.

…and then there’s oddments like crowd control, buffing, out of combat utility like teleporting, crafting suites, cosmetics, racial traits, location modifiers, dice rolls and the hairy topic of randomization and its sometimes deleterious effect on balance…

Oi.

Follow the link tied to that picture to find a fun LEGO spin on Escher’s work.  I love Escher’s art.  Remember… balance depends on how you look at it.  It’s all… relative.

Edited to add, because I forgot it but really shouldn’t have, as I meant to work it in…

6 Inch Move’s take on the Myth of Balance

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