Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Automatic balance

I've just started playing Left 4 Dead yesterday. Brilliant game etc, and I'll write a review when I've had more experience with it.

But I wanted to comment today on the ridiculously simple, perfect notion of game balance that they have achieved in PvP. For the record, my definition of balance is this: both teams having equal chances to win. As a rule, this is easy to do if both sides are the same (chess, mirror matches in many games) but difficult to do if you want to include variety in the game (aka fun).

So anyway, back to Left 4 Dead. One side is the survivors, the other side the zombies, and after the survivors make it to the finish or (more usually) are wiped out.... the teams switch sides. The human players switch to the zombies and vice versa.

Not only is this ridiculously fun, it completely removes any unfairness towards one team being able to score points more easily than the other team. The game seems not too unbalanced in that respect anyway, but that's beside the point. If the game were completely unbalanced so that one side were much better than the other, it really wouldn't matter. Both sides would get to compete equally over the course of the match.

Imagine this idea applied to other games. Take Magic: The Gathering for example. In constructed format, both players get to choose their decks before the game starts. This ensures an absolute ton of variety, however, there are often rock-paper-scissors match-ups where one fellow would have to be very lucky to pull off a win. If the players swapped decks after a game, this advantage/disadvantage disappears.

Now, some players might say - "if I'm a pro deck builder and the other guy is noob, I lose any advantage that my superior deck building gives me??" Well.... yes. If you're a better player though, you'll win anyway. But, if this is seen as a big problem regardless, a handy compromise could be made: In a game where 3 matches are played, you could play 2 games with your own deck and 1 game with the other person's deck. This would go a good way to evening up the balance while still providing a bonus to the guy with the better deck building skills (just not as big a bonus as previously).

The technique can be extracted to many other games. A notable example I can think of that suffers from Rock Paper Scissors is Guild Wars Guild vs Guild battles.

Now, extracting the idea to an open RvR game like WAR (was supposed to be) would be more difficult, and would require the game to be designed for it from the ground up... as a starting point, a proper LFG system would be required to *ensure* even numbers on both sides. People may or may not like swapping bodies with the other team, but I'm sure there's a good way to do it that would allow maximal balance with minimal fuss.

Any thoughts on these ideas?


Anonymous said...

For those interested in fair play and sportsmanship, this would be excellent. I also think of "team drop weight limit" for Battletech as a way to even these sorts of things out. The body swap is especially interesting, and has potential.

I'm not sure it would work in an MMO setting, though, at least not in current frameworks. The gear differential is one problem. Highly personalized and customized characters is another; it's hard to imagine a WoW player being happy with a semirandom respec between rounds, and that's assuming they even get the same class as they are used to.

You'd almost definitely need some sort of system built from the ground up. Some sort of "balanced but different", like Smash Brothers. It has promise, but I doubt that the current DIKU lineage of MMOs would work well.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the spirit of the article (I play L4D too) and that it could apply to an MMO. I agree with Tesh as well in the fact it would have to be ground up from the get go.

I mentioned it in an older article I wrote as pertaining to levelling that if you normalize the power curve of levels to be an equal integer you could do a Battletech "Drop Weight". IE: If a level 40 character is only twice as powerful as a level 20 character, than you could set a scenario at say, 400 levels per side. One side fills it with 10 level 40's, the other with 20 level 20's. Since the relative power curve is equal to level it is technically a fair match. The scenario wouldnt start until it had both sides "level" balanced with a +/- 10 (for example) so it could take close characters and keep it fair.

Of course, that would only work if a level 40 was twice as powerful as a level 20. Where right now, he is probably 10 times more powerful meaning it won't work - going back to Tesh's point.

On a side yet direct note with MMO and L4D - why not use the "Director" feature in L4D for PVE content? The Director feature makes it easier or harder depending on how well you are doing (for those who don't know) so it always provides challenging gameplay. I see no reason why PVE content in any MMO can't be tuned that way as well, giving fun to all gamers regardless of skill/rehearse/time to play levels.

Rich said...

random switching of sides has been thrown around for BGs forever, but never implemented. i'd personally rather have "the northern base / southern base" than "the horde camp / alliance keep" in AV. then the constant bitching about alliance having the bridge would be nullified, and every side would get a chance to completely skip the south base defenses like those dirty fucke-- sorry.

as for specs and gear, gee look what heppened on the tournament realm for arena. free T6 or Arena top loots, free gold for any enchants and gems, and free respecs. plus free level 70 toons of any class and any race.

while it doesn't lock anyone into "spec A" or "class B", it levels the playing field. is "undead rogue" undefeatable? well, you're free to roll one, too, if you like.

etc etc

Melf_Himself said...

The Battletech "drop weight limit" idea sounds like an interesting tool in terms of creating extra strategical depth... I must investigate this for use in my super never-going-to-be-created dream MMO :p

BUT, I'm not sure if it helps balance the game on its own.

Every skill/item would have to be allocated a point value which would probably be constantly tweaked etc, and there would probably be a bunch of rock/paper/scissors match-ups in most RPG style games.

In terms of levels Chris F, it could work if levels were linear like that. I think a still better solution would be to have everyone compete at max level though, since I have major issues with leveling providing a barrier to content in multiplayer games. Think Guild Wars.

However, introducing the idea in conjunction with this team swapping mechanic would completely balance things out by default. The team swapping mechanic is basically a way to have whatever crazy juicy goodies you want in your game, and not have to worry about balance at all.