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多人游戏平衡理论编辑本段回目录

平衡多人竞赛游戏绝非易事。本文主要先定义若干术语,让读者把握此系列文章的主要内容。

首先就是术语。下面就来看看游戏平衡性和深度的相关定义:

若游戏向玩家呈现的众多选择都具有可行性,那么其就具有平衡性——尤其是在资深玩家的高级别体验中。

——Sirlin,2001年12月

若资深玩家已研究、练习游戏几年、几十年或几百年,游戏对其而言依然具有策略趣味性,那么此多人游戏就颇具深度。

——Sirlin,2002年1月

此平衡性的定义非常到位,但可行选择背后依然隐藏2个概念。一方面,我的意思是游戏不会退化到只有一个策略,另一方面,我的意思是说战斗游戏具有众多人物选择,或即时战略游戏具有众多竞赛选择,且其中的多数人物/竞赛都具有可行性。我们姑且将第一、二个概念分别称作可行选择和初始选择的公平性(游戏邦注:简称公平性)。

可行性选择:向玩家呈现众多富有意义的选择。出于深度考虑,他们通常基于特定背景,令玩家能够运用策略做出这些决策。

公平性:技能相同的玩家具有相同的获胜机会,即便他们可能基于系列不同选择/动作/人物/资源等开始游戏。

可行性选择

我们需要在玩法中向玩家呈现系列可行选择,这就是Sid Meier所说的游戏由系列有趣决策构成。

Dinner chocies from sirlin.net

Dinner chocies from sirlin.net

若某熟练玩家能够持续通过某操作或策略打败其他资深玩家,那么这款游戏就缺乏平衡性,因为其中缺乏足够可行选择。这类游戏也许具有众多选择,但我们只关心那些富有趣味的内容。若众多选择只达到同个目的,或无所收获,或输给上述主导操作,那么它们就不是有意义的选择。它们阻碍内容,给游戏带来糟糕复杂性:令游戏难以掌握,失去趣味复杂性。

出于深度考虑,我们希望玩家能够基于某些原则决定这些富有意义的选择。若手边游戏是单回合剪刀石头布游戏,玩家就没有理由优先选择某种出法,所以我们很难在此融入策略。但《街头霸王》类的游戏能够基于瞬间决策:你决定阻塞、投掷或升龙拳,或者《Magic: the Gathering》类的游戏能够基于单一决策:是否采用反制法术。这些例子乍看之下同剪刀石头布模式类似,但基于比赛情境的决策存在众多细微差别,其中各玩家面对众多关乎未来举措的线索。在《街头霸王》和《Magic》中,玩家能够基于某原则优先进行某操作,我们希望游戏包含不止一个的可行选择。

关于深度,我们希望富有意义的决策能够基于对手的操作。不妨想象下《星际争霸》做出这样的调整:玩家无法进行互相攻击。他们所能进行的操作就是花5分钟创建自己的基地,然后基于所创建内容计算分数。这款游戏包含众多决策,存在系列获胜路线,但由于这些决策纯粹关乎优化问题(游戏邦注:更像是解决谜题,而非体验游戏),因此造就的是款肤浅的竞争性游戏。幸运的是,在实际的《星际争霸》中:玩家决定创建内容时需考虑对手会建造什么。

虽然我们认为游戏应融入大量可行选择方能算具有平衡性,但需创造玩家决策情境及决策要涉及对手操作的要求主要同深度相关。但这些内容颇值得特别说明,因为在我们平衡游戏的同时应试着提高游戏深度,而非降低此标准。

公平性

这里的公平性指的是所有玩家都具有相同获胜机会,虽然他们可能会基于不同选择开始游戏。在《街头霸王》中,各角色具有不同运动方式,在《星际争霸》中各竞赛具有不同单元,在《魔兽世界》中,各角逐团队具有不同级别、技能和工具。所有这些不同选择组合应存在公平性。

我要特别指出的是,我只是谈论游戏开始时玩家所面临的选择。这是不容忽视的差异。在游戏开始后呈现的选择无需具有公平性。不妨想象下这样的第一人称射击游戏:8种武器在地图上的各位置生成,其中2种非常杰出,3种还行但算不上一流,剩余3种非常糟糕,但比2款一流武器中的某款强大。

这是否就是理论角度的游戏平衡性?也许就是如此,其符合目前所述的所有标准。游戏设计师需确保所有武器具有相同威力,但只要各武器在正确情境中依然属于可行选择,他就无需考虑这点。此构思不错:设置2个玩家争相角逐的武器,若干还不错的中等武器,以及某些主要让玩家对抗强大武器的薄弱武器。决定控制地图哪部分位置涉及众多策略元素,而何时转变武器则取决于对手的操作。

small egg among eggs from sirlin.net

small egg among eggs from sirlin.net

相反,基于此方案设计的8角色战斗游戏就缺乏平衡性,因为无法满足公平性标准。玩家在游戏开始前决定战斗游戏的角色,但他们在玩法中选择第一人称射击游戏模式的武器。玩家所处角色劣于对手角色属于不公平情况。

让玩家基于不同选择开始的游戏很难获得平衡,因为他们需要让那些选择存在公平性,同时在玩法中呈现众多可行选择。

对称&非对称游戏

所谓的对称游戏是指所有玩家基于系列相同选择开始游戏。所谓的非对称游戏是指玩家基于系列不同选择开始游戏。不妨将此术语看作某区间,而非两个端点。

在区间左侧,具有代表性的游戏包括国际象棋。在国际象棋中,双方都基于16颗棋子开始游戏,唯一的差别是白棋优先。由于存在不同起始条件,我们很难说国际象棋具有100%对称性,但其非常接近此标准。若国际象棋是你看过的唯一一款游戏,你也许会觉得黑白双方的体验方式完全不同;白棋控制节奏,而黑棋做出相应反应。有许多书籍专门介绍黑棋一方如何进行体验。若将范围锁定全球范围的众多游戏,我们会发现国际象棋的双方同《星际争霸》的两种竞赛,《街头霸王》的两种角色或《Magic: The Gathering》的两种牌组相比则相似度很高,很难进行区分。

monopoly pieces from sirlin.net

monopoly pieces from sirlin.net

游戏的初始条件越丰富,其就越接近区间的右边。所以这里的非对称性是用于衡量游戏初始条件的多样性。这并非什么严密科学,所以我们就无法通过什么特定公式确定游戏在此区间所处的位置,但这是非常通俗易懂的概念。

下面就来看看几个例子。《星际争霸》包含3种不同竞赛,所以它靠近区间的右侧。也就是说,虽然3种竞赛各不相同,但其数量不算多,我们不应将其放至非常左边。战斗游戏能够融入众多体验方式各异的角色,倾向融入比其他多人竞赛游戏更多的非对称元素。

也就是说,单人战斗游戏的非对称性变化幅度很大。例如,《VR战士》是款非常杰出和深刻的战斗游戏,但其角色的丰富性相比其他战斗游戏就低很多。相比《街头争霸》(游戏邦注:其中某些角色具有能够延伸至整个屏幕的导弹或武器,或者能够飞行环绕整个球场),《VR战士》的角色模版都非常相似。再来就是《罪恶装备》,你也许从未听过这款战斗游戏,其丰富性胜过我所知晓的所有同类作品。某角色能够创造复杂形式的台球,另一角色能够同时控制两个角色,而另一角色则具有有限数量的硬币,这能够强化角色的其他操作,同时解锁强化操作的奇怪漂浮薄雾。仿佛所有角色都来自不同游戏,但它们却能够公平地进行竞争。《罪恶装备》始终处在区间的右侧,因为它包含不同起始选择(角色),而且选择量非常大(超过20)。

《Magic: The Gathering》在构造格式(其中玩家将预先制作好的牌组带入比赛中)上也相当不对称。适合牌组的丰富性非常惊人,比赛通常包含各种威力相当的不同牌组,虽然其玩法各不相同。

第一人称射击游戏倾向朝对称一侧靠拢,通常在开始时向玩家提供相同选择,除生成地点外。记住在《军团要塞 2》的玩法中,玩家可选择不同武器,甚至改变级别,这算不上非对称的体现。此外,双方具有非对称目标的第一人称射击游戏通常会转换玩家位置,让他们在其他回合中角色互换,这样整体比赛才具有对称性。

我们已描述若干游戏在上述区间的粗略位置,记住这并非衡量游戏质量的方式。若你最喜欢的游戏出现在左边(对称一侧),这并不意味着这些游戏不好。若你喜欢《星际争霸》胜过《罪恶装备》,你无需因《罪恶装备》“更不对称”而感到沮丧。此区间旨在让我们获悉游戏起始选择的差异性,而非游戏深度或趣味。

无论游戏出现在此区间的哪个位置,其依然需要提供众多在玩法中起到平衡作用的可行选择。除此之外,游戏越靠近区间图的左侧,就越需要平衡不同起始选择的公平性。

游戏邦注:原文发布于2010年10月17日,文章叙述以当时为背景。(本文为游戏邦/gamerboom.com编译,作者:Sirlin)

我将平衡想法分解为两个概念——可行性选择和公平性。我还阐述了对称和非对称游戏的概念,需要平衡的不同初始选择种类越多,游戏的非对称性越强。(请点击此处阅读本文第3部分

那么,我们要如何确保游戏玩法中有足够的可行性选择呢?

Yomi Layer 3

在竞争性多人游戏中,最糟糕的情况是出现主导操作(游戏邦注:或者主导武器、角色、单位等内容)。我所指的这种主导操作并非仅仅算是优秀,而是那些必定优于其他操作选择的操作,因而其存在会降低游戏的战略性。主导操作也很可能没有任何应对方法,因而即便对手知晓你将采取何种行动,他们依然无可奈何。

要防止此类主导操作的产生,我们应当要知道Yomi Layer 3概念。“Yomi”在日语中是“阅读”的意思,比如读出对手的思维(游戏邦注:有款出自作者之手的策略卡牌游戏的名称也是这个词)。如果你的操作很强大,并用此来击败技术较差的对手,我将此称为“Yomi Layer 0”,也就是说双方玩家根本都不用去尝试猜测对手的做法。Layer 1指对手在察觉到你的操作后作出对抗。Layer 2指你反抗他的对抗。Layer 3指他反抗你的对抗。

以上内容似乎听起来让人很难理解,但是这在真正的游戏玩法中显得极为直观易懂。其意思就是,你和你的对手双方都有两个选择:

你:优秀的操作和Layer 2对抗

对手:针对你优秀操作的对抗和针对你Layer 2对抗的对抗

通常情况下,设计师无需设计Yomi Layer 4,因为到这个时候,你可以回到循环起点,展开最初始阶段的优秀操作。举个我在《街头霸王HD混合版》中创造出的Yomi Layer 3为例。

Street Fighter HD Remix(from sirlin)

Street Fighter HD Remix(from sirlin)

本田想要通过他的冲击操作靠近肯,但是肯扔个火球来对抗这种情况。我设计本田有能力用冲击来抵抗这些火球,但是只使用冲刺并不能使之移动很长距离。如果本田能够用招数抵消火球并且还能靠近对手,这对他来说很有好处。对于这种情况,肯的应对方法是不首先抛出火球,放任本田做出冲刺。在本田向前飞行的过程中,肯可以向前移动,在冲刺冷却时用扫腿击中他。

本田–移动较长距离的冲击和抵消火球的冲刺

肯–火球和向前移动并扫腿

我不需要再添加任何内容来构建Yomi Layer 4,因为本田可以用原先的全屏冲击来对抗本田的向前移动和扫腿。在竞争游戏中,Yomi Layer 4可以通过这种方式来实现。

这个概念提醒我们,操作需要存在对抗方式。如果你知道对手即将采取何种动作,通常情况下你应当有某些应对方法。在你的游戏开发过程中,应当不断询问自己,各种游戏玩法情境是否能够支持Yomi Layer 3想法。如果答案是否定的,那么肯定存在某些主导操作,这会影响到游戏的质量。

局部平衡与整体平衡

游戏中的所有情境是否都需要支持Yomi Layer 3呢?答案是否定的。

游戏中的所有情境是否都需要公平对待玩家双方呢?答案也是否定的。

应当记住的是,我所定义的公平性指的是获胜的总体机会相同,但是会存在不同的初始选择。公平性是个整体性术语,它的使用对象是从游戏开始到某个玩家胜利的整个游戏过程。但是局部层面不需要完全公平,也就是指游戏中的某个特定情境。即便是像象棋这样的对称游戏也有不公平的情境。当你只剩下3个棋子,而对方还剩下9个,这中情境对你来说就是不公平的。或者在《星际争霸》中,我们发现2个Zealot会击败或输给8个Zergling,这些情况都有可能发生,也是正常的,即便二者的制造消耗完全相同的资源。我们关心的并非诸如此类的情境是否公平,我们关心的只是神族与虫族的对抗是否公平。

将军(游戏邦注:指象棋术语“将军”)情境

将军情境意味着一方玩家几乎已经获得胜利,即便游戏还未结束。比如在《超级街头霸王2》中,如果本田向位于角落的古烈施放能够致人死地的Ochio Throw,随后他可以连上一系列操作(游戏邦注:包括用上更多的Ochio Throw),事实上他的前一个操作已经确保自己能够获得胜利。玩家操作失误可能会改变结果,但是只要你见到了首个操作,就能意识到可能会进入将军情境。

将军情境的存在是否合理呢?它明显违背了我们提出的多种可行操作的需求(游戏邦注:此时本田只有1个选择,而古烈根本没有选择)。它显然违背了Yomi Layer 3概念。然而,将军情境的存在是合理的。在这种比赛中,本田要靠近古烈非常困难。如果实现了目标,都应当获得此等奖励。在将军情境发生之前的所有游戏过程都是很公平的,即便本田在靠近对手之后可以施放此等必杀招数,但是从整体上来说比赛优势还是更倾向于古烈。

但是,我还想指出这个争论另一个方面的内容。有些玩家认为即便古烈在这场比赛中占有优势,但是本田能够重复施放Ochio Throw的能力实在过于不合理。他们表示本田的确需要这个招数来获得胜利,但是游戏整体还应当设计得更好些,不应如此极端。只要设计本田能够更加容易地靠近古烈,那么就可以取消这种将军情境。

我想起暴雪游戏设计副总裁Rob Pardo曾在游戏开发者大会多人游戏平衡演讲中回应过这个观点。他表示,即时战略游戏中设置“超级武器”往往是个糟糕的想法。它们让受害者认为他们已经无法挽回局面(游戏邦注:也就是进入将军情境)。他解释称,尽管《星际争霸》中人族的原子弹看似超级武器,但是其有许多内在的缺陷:幽灵单位必须靠近受害者的基地,受害者的基地上会出现红色的目标点,受害者会被提前10秒告知,使他有足够的时间摧毁幽灵来防止受原子弹袭击。

Pardo提出了个较好的观点,这足以应对那些抱怨本田的玩家。虽然我认为将军情境是合理的,但是换我来做决定时,我移除了《街头霸王HD混合版》中的本田将军情境。在这款游戏中,我设置其能够更容易地靠近古烈,将他的将军情境替换为Yomi Layer 3情境,这样整个比赛过程中就会有更多的可行决定。

无用情境

无用情境很像将军情境,但是有个不同之处,那就是时间。本田的将军情境需要大概3秒钟的时间就可以结束。但是,让我们考虑战斗游戏《Marvel vs. Capcom 2》中的类似情境。在这款游戏中,每个玩家都可以组建拥有3个角色的队伍,一个角色上场战斗,另外两个角色待命。玩家可以在任意时刻呼叫待命角色来援助战斗角色,让他们与自己的主角色并肩作战。或者更好的做法时,两个角色的攻击错开,这样每次攻击都会在另一个角色攻击的冷却时间进行。

当某个玩家只剩下最后一个角色时,他就无法再寻求援助。他必须用仅剩的这个角色与对手的两或三个角色战斗,这似乎也算是将军情境。问题在于,这种比赛的结束需要耗费相当长的时间,所以我们将游戏的最后部分称为无用部分。其他战斗游戏的高潮会持续到比赛最后一刻,但是无用部分的存在意味着游戏的真正高潮点出现在比赛中期的某个时间,随后输家会被迫去完成这个毫无意义的比赛,旁观者也会对接下来的比赛失去兴趣。确实,在极少的情况下可能会出现翻盘,但是没有无用结局的游戏中也会出现翻盘的情况,所以这并非有说服力的论据。

虽然将军情境的存在是合理的,但是你在游戏设计中应当避免时间过长的无用结局。象棋和《星际争霸》中都有令人不悦的资产,玩家往往会在游戏结束之前就投降。这些游戏显示出,含有无用结局并非很可怕的事情(游戏邦注:象棋和《星际争霸》都是很受玩家欢迎的游戏),但是作为设计师,你还是应当全力避免这种情况的产生。

探索设计空间

设计空间指你可以在游戏中做出的所有设计决定。无论你的游戏是对称的还是非对称的,让游戏尽可能地触及设计空间的各个角落总是个不错的想法。这可以让游戏更有深度,也可以避免主导操作的出现。

比如,在我设计的虚拟卡牌游戏《Kongai》中,每个角色有4个操作。当操作进行时,有一定的几率触发效果。我们为角色的4种不同操作设定了不同的伤害、速度和能量消耗。如果我们止步于此的话,游戏可能就失去变得更为多样化的机会,而且也有可能出现某些主导操作,减少了可行选择的数量。因而,我尝试尽可能地探索设计空间。有个操作可以将战斗范围由近变远,这通常适宜在攻击阶段前使用。有个操作造成的伤害足以杀死游戏中的每个角色,但是你用此操作攻击某个角色后4个回合才能产生效果。有个操作可以攻击到那些脱离战斗的角色,虽然脱离战斗可以抵挡住几乎所有的攻击。

要点在于,我们对设计空间探索得越深,玩家就越难以权衡操作的相对价值。玩家可能会产生如下疑问:是要选择有90%的几率在战斗期间改变攻击范围的操作,还是要选择有95%的几率攻击到隐身角色的操作呢?这种选择很难,需要根据众多因素来做出决定。这算是种优秀的设计,因为它意味着在某些情境下,每种操作都可能会发挥作用,而玩家的技能就在于发现做出操作的合适时机。我将此称为技能评估。

玩家也希望你能够探索设计空间。如果游戏中的所有内容都过于简单,游戏看上去就不够丰富精彩。你呈现出的微妙之处和不同选择越多,玩家就越有可能展现出自己独特的玩法风格。

分清良莠

以下是Strunk & White的《The Elements of Style》中我最喜欢的内容:

删除无用的内容

强大的作品往往是简明扼要的。句子中不应当包含有多余的字词,段落中不应当包含有多余的句子,绘图中同样不应当包含有多余的线条,机器中也不应当包含有多余的零件。这并非要求作者写出的全是短句子,或者说省略所有的细节并以提纲的方式列举出所有的主题内容,而是要求每个字词都能够发挥作用。

你应当以同样的方式来对待游戏设计。探索设计空间是应当的,但是需要避开无用的字词、机制、角色和选择。可行选择的首要目标是确保能够给予玩家足够数量的选择,其次要目标是要消除所有的无用选择。

《Marvel vs. Capcom 2》中有54个角色,多得显得有点可笑。多少数量的角色合适呢?我的意见是10个。如果战斗游戏中的10个角色能够实现平衡,这无疑算是成功,因为这是很困难的事情。将上述情况与《超级街头霸王2》的16个角色和《罪恶装备》的23个角色相比,你就可以发现何为真正的紧凑设计。

有种游戏题材以故意创造出大量无用选择而闻名,那就是卡片收集游戏。虽然我认为《魔法风云会》(游戏邦注:下文简称“MTG”)是世界上设计最棒的游戏之一,但是我的评判标准是竞标赛环境所能够支持的优秀卡片的数量,而并非可用选择与无用选择的比率。如果以后者来看,这款游戏完全可以算作是失败的作品。

MTG的Mark Rosewater辩解称他们是出于设计原因而故意设计出较差的卡片,但他的说法源于被营销部门的观点所误导。Rosewater声称游戏中可以存在较差卡片,因为:

1、它们承载了某些有趣的实验性机制

2、它们测试了玩家的价值评判技能,如果所有的卡片效用都是平衡的,会降低游戏的战略性

3、它们让新玩家体验到发现较差卡片的乐趣,这算是进一步研究游戏和学习游戏的垫脚石

4、它们是必要的,因为即便它们与老牌组中的已知优秀卡片出现在相同的牌组中,但竞标赛上只有8个可用的牌位,它们很可能并不会被用到

第2和第3个理由完全没有道理。声称移除较差卡片会降级游戏的战略性完全是自辱游戏。声称需要让新玩家去发现故意添加其中的较差卡片显得更为可笑,因为这使得卡牌组对新玩家显得更为复杂,而对专家级玩家来说由显得冗余。我们都知道,如此设计的真正原因是要让玩家购买更多的随机卡包来获得其中屈指可数的优秀卡片。

最后,第4个理由是在公然承认游戏应该有较少的卡片。令人感到讽刺的是,我甚至不能确定第4个理由是正确的。印制大批量优秀卡片或许确实会导致竞标赛牌位增加。如果不是的话,他们完全可以不继续印制这种效果有好坏之分的卡片。

你可能会说,MTG证明了这样的设计也能够获得成功。对他们销售卡包来说,或许将少数可行选择放置在大量较差选择中是个良好的业务手段。但是我们在其他题材的游戏中并未看到这种情况。然而,我们确实也还未看到有人勇敢地站出来面对MTG的这个问题,向玩家提供设计类似但消除了所有无用卡片的竞争卡片游戏。

双盲猜测

我在自己的《Yomi》卡片游戏和《Kongai》虚拟卡片游戏(游戏邦注:看似卡片游戏的回合制战略游戏)中都使用了双盲猜测技术。这个想法是,让所有玩家在知晓其他玩家的选择之前做出自己的选择。

我从战斗游戏中学到这个概念。虽然它们看上去似乎是完全信息游戏,因为你可以看到对手看到的所有内容,但是战斗游戏事实上是双盲游戏。玩家在游戏中需要精确地把握时机,在你跳跃的时候往往不知道对手是否会施放火球。你知道的只是0.3或0.5秒之前他没有这么做。你意识到对手的操作只需要很短的时间,尽管这段时间看似毫无价值,但事实上它对战斗游戏来说至关重要,正是它使得战斗游戏像是战略游戏。

《星际争霸》之类的即时战略游戏有着同样的资产,但是时间相对而言较长。在你决定建造何种建筑物之时,往往并不能精确地了解对手在他的基地中建造何种建筑物。即便你可以侦查他的基地,你收集到的也是数秒之前的信息,所以对于他此刻的行动你只能猜测。

如果从我的两款卡片游戏中移除双盲性,或者从战斗和即时战略游戏中移除双盲性,我想这些游戏都将崩溃。这些游戏需要双盲决策才显得有趣。这种设计样式是增加游戏中可行操作数量的方法,因为从本质上来说,它强迫玩家进入我上文中提到的Yomi Layer 3概念。在双盲游戏中,较弱的操作反而变得较好,因为做出这些操作后可以更容易地避免被对手施以对抗招数。我甚至曾调侃称,世界顶级《Virtua Fighter》玩家间的比赛是“第三最佳操作的战斗”。有时,玩家担心他们做出的“最佳”选择会被对手反攻,所以他们更寄希望与对手无法反攻的第三最佳选择。如果游戏中完全不含有猜测元素,那么玩家也就不会使用最佳第三操作。

游戏测试

最后,游戏测试是你找到问题所在的方法,尤其是在能够找到行家进行测试的情况下。游戏行家是否忽略了很大部分的游戏操作?他们是否发现了某些你不知晓的将军情境?你是否发现他们在游戏中使用了各种不同的战略?

playtesting(from sirlin)

playtesting(from sirlin)

如何进行游戏测试是个内容覆盖极广的话题,但是我在这里可以提供某些值得考虑的做法。第一,质疑测试者的看法。玩家对会游戏的改变有过火的反应,声称某些战略根本没有对抗方法,但事实上这种对抗方法是存在的。解析出游戏中真正有效的战略往往需要数年时间,而游戏测试只是这个漫长旅程的开始。如果他们发现某些看似游戏最佳战略的东西,这些东西或许只是局部最佳战略,或许是因为他们还未发现某些更为强大的不同玩法。这种情况在战斗游戏中同样存在。

游戏测试是校验游戏平衡的唯一工具,理论根本无法完全替代它。我想所有人都知道他们需要游戏测试,但是最困难的问题是,当测试者的意见存在分歧时,你要听从何人的意见?你要如何得知测试者误解了游戏中的设计?这个问题很困难,我将随后的文章中进行阐述。

总结

如若需要确保我们有众多可行选择,使用Yomi Layer 3系统构建对抗是个不错的开始。但是,并非所有的情境都需要上述方法,将军情境也是可以接受的,但是你应当尽力避免出现持续时间较长的无用情境。通过提供各种不同的操作来探索游戏的设计空间,因为这项技术很有可能让所有的操作在某些游戏时刻均可用,从而让最佳操作的决定变得困难。这可以考验玩家的技能。删除所有没有价值的选择,因为它们只会让玩家感到困惑,但是某些题材游戏中的无用内容可以让你赚到大笔金钱。双盲猜测机制能够保持更多的操作可行性。

最后,世界上所有的游戏理论都不能够完全替代游戏测试。

游戏邦注:本文发稿于2008年10月17日,所涉时间、事件和数据均以此为准。(本文为游戏邦/gamerboom.com编译

在不对称游戏中,为了确保在游戏过程中提供给玩家足够可行的选择,我们必须确保所有不同的初始选择足够公平。这便意味着一款战斗游戏和一款即时策略游戏中的每个角色都应该拥有在玩家的掌控下获取比赛胜利的机会。对于像《激战》和《魔兽世界》这样的纸牌收集游戏与团队游戏,我们至少应该提供一些可行的桥牌和类别组合帮助玩家赢得比赛。

自动平衡

为了更轻松地实现这半不可能的任务,我们应该使用自动平衡力量。如此我们将在面对多种选择的同时待在自动防故障装置中,从而避免一些玩家可能在未来所创造出的未知战术。我将列举两款游戏进行说明:《万智牌:旅法师对决》和《罪恶装备XX》。

在《万智牌》中,各种游戏机制,如反制法术,直接伤害,治疗等等都被分为5种颜色。玩家可以根据自己的喜好利用这5种颜色去创造桥牌,但是当他们选择了更多颜色,他们便越难获得一个正确的魔法去使出各种颜色的咒语。

magic(from-sirlin)

关于5种魔法颜色的图解(from-sirlin)

结果便是桥牌将趋于专门化,并明确了其内在的劣势。例如红色不能够伤害魔法纸牌,所以即使红色桥牌最为强大,它也具有内在的劣势。同样地,每个颜色拥有2种颜色的敌人,这些敌人的颜色通常包含比敌人颜色强大的纸牌。再一次,如果红色桥牌变得非常强大,那么蓝色和白色纸牌便能将其遏制住。

最后,当Wizards of the Coast推出了带有新机制的新序列时,他们还包含了1或2张较弱的纸牌,但是足以对抗新机制了。我认为他们希望这些特定的反击是不必要的,但是如果元游戏因为新机制变得难以战胜,它们至少还可以使用一些工具去抗击这些新机制。

举个例子来说吧,《万智牌》的Odessey专注于包含弃牌区(在游戏中也叫做“墓地”)的新机制,纸牌Morningtide能够将所有纸牌从墓地中删除。如果玩家开始不知道如何面对墓地时,Morningtide便是反击手。尽管这种反击并非真正需要。之后,Mirrodin砖块将专注于工件纸牌。纸牌Annul可以只是用一个魔法便击败工件(和魔法),而纸牌Damping Matrix将阻止工件能力发挥作用。在Mirrodin的例子中,工件机制最终被遏制了。Annul和Damping Matrix是非常棒的理念,但是在Mirrodin机制中需要更强大的机制。

这与我在第二部分中提到的《Yomi Layer 3》的理念相同。该理念是为了对游戏做出反击,即当某些内容变得过于强大时,游戏有足够的弹性能够推动玩家去面对它们。

《罪恶装备》便是故障自动防护系统的重要例子。

防护仪表

每当你击中对手时,他们的“防护仪表”便会下降。下降越低,他们的射击范围便越短。这便意味着即使一连串的移动是一个“无限组合”,当你进行第一次射击时,你便能够不断保持向其发射,而随着对手的射击范围不断缩短,最终他们便很难逃离这种组合了。

进程引力

当你在组合中被耍了时,引力也将让你的角色随着时间的发展变得越来越棒。所以即使组合可能会将你耍得团团转,被害者的身体也将随着时间的发展更快速下降,这将最终摧毁无限游戏机制。

绿色阻块

想象一个关于阻块的攻击序列,即敌人连续发动攻击而导致你不断后退,退得太远而难以继续。但是当你面对最后的攻击时,你可以通过一个特别的移动取消它并让角色能够继续向前。之后,你可以重复该序列并阻止敌人的进攻。在这种情况下存在戒备陷阱,而在《罪恶装备》中,角色可以使用我所谓的“绿色阻块”阻止该陷阱。在阻止敌人进攻的同时,你也可以使用一些超级仪表去创造绿色力场而将敌人与自己远远地隔开,并最终摧毁他的陷阱。

guilty gear(from sirlin)

guilty gear(from sirlin)

这些功能是用于解决连设计师都不知道的问题。他们只知道如果游戏在无限组合或锁定状态下结束,一些自动故障装置便能够解救它们。同时他们也可以因此去设计一些不同的角色。不管角色多疯狂,这种战术多可怕,设计师都知道所有角色所共享的自动故障装置至少能够控制所有内容。

游戏测试和过程修正

不管你的游戏是否具有自动故障装置系统,在某些情况下你都需要设计一个多样化的角色/种族等设置,确保它们彼此连贯有趣,然后通过游戏测试自信地捡出平衡问题。这个世界上的所有理论都不会让你脱离游戏测试。

你需要开始调整游戏,做出反应并不断学习。别让制作人将调整放到你所负责的一个固定项目列表中。这是一个持续的过程,持续到你最终发行游戏。游戏测试能够让你发现你之前未曾预测到的情况,你也应该坦诚地面对这些发现。其目标并不是创造出你最初设想的游戏,因为你最初的理念并未考虑到自己从开发和测试中所学到的内容。当你或测试者发现细微差别或不可预见的属性时,你便能够围绕着这些属性进行创造,并将其整合到游戏的平衡中。

层级列表

在平衡《街头霸王》,《Kongai》以及纸牌游戏《Yomi》时,我使用的是与游戏测试者类似的方法。我认为这种方法滨不能真正依赖于类型,关键还在于管理层级列表。

“层级列表”这一次是来自打斗游戏类型。它表示每个角色的能量级别,从最高到最低,但它同时也接受了这一列表并不准确。比起将20个角色设定从1到20的排名,该理念更倾向于将他们归到能量“层级”中。要记住,即使你面对的是一款100%平衡的游戏,玩家也仍需要一个层级列表。你应该接受这样的玩家列表,而你的工作就是好好管理它们。

在《Kongai》和《Yomi》中,我甚至给予了玩家有关这种层级列表的模版(这对于作为设计师的我来说非常有用)。首先我让他们去思考3个层级:最高,中等和最低。然后我告诉他们我希望空着的两个“秘密层级”。

0)上帝层(没有一个角色应该出现在这一层,如果他们真的做到了,你就需要赋予其挑战性)

1)最高层(不要害怕将自己最喜欢的角色带到这里)

2)中层(很棒,但是不像最高层那么厉害)

3)最底层(我仍然能够战胜它们,但有点困难)

4)垃圾层(没人应该出现在这一层。操控这样的角色就没意义了)

关于平衡我的第一个目标便是确保上帝层每人。当然有些角色最终也会变得足够强大,或并列强大,这也没关系。但是“上帝层”的角色因为太过强大将会导致剩下的游戏变得无聊。我们必须解决这种问题,因为这会破坏整体的游戏玩法(乃至游戏)。同样地,上帝曾的任何能量级别都非常高,我们甚至不敢奢望去平衡围绕在它身边的游戏内容。

我的下一个目标是摆脱垃圾层角色。他们太糟糕了以至于没人愿意变成这样,但是他们也可以通过提高能量而攀升到最高,中间和最底层某一阶段。如果他们到了这三个阶层中,他们便可以继续游戏了。

akuma(from sirlin)

akuma(from sirlin)

公共层列表

如果测试者可以看到彼此的层列表就再好不过了。我有必要去阅读有关这些内容的争论,而测试者也该以此去划分他们的理念。有时候当某些人将一个角色一反常规地放置在列表中较高或较低的位置上时,我便会进一步挖掘玩家是否真的知道一些我们并不知道的内容。其它时候,玩家只是感到抓狂,而其他测试者则会很高兴地指出这些内容。我们同样也能看到测试者得出了怎样的一致性,就像他们是否会将特定角色归在最糟糕的位置上。

我认为在每一款游戏中最重要的一点便是测试社区能够始终提供上帝层或垃圾层不包含任何角色的层列表。当你做到这点时,你的下一个目标便是压缩层。这便意味着你需要确保最佳和最糟糕角色间的区别保持最小。需要注意的是这便意味着即使底层的角色仍与一个月前一样,你也有可能很大程度地完善了游戏。

调整层

在我平衡过的所有游戏中,我使用了相同的方法,即让高层去设定基础能量层。在《街头霸王》中,我便拥有一个已建立的高层作为最初游戏的起点,但是在《Kongai》和《Yomi》中,角色在高层结束游戏则参杂着意外元素。但是在早期,当忽略上帝层时,我们很清楚哪些角色/桥牌在上层,我将其设为目标能量级别。换句话说,那一层的角色是关于“人们对游戏的想法”。再一次,我也未计划谁应该出现在那里,但是我接受最终结果。所以如果高层是目标,你就应该尽力去调整底层。如果高层是预期能量级别,你肯定不希望陷入一些好的内容中。相反地,推动底层角色往上走并尽可能压缩层与层间的差距,最终结果便是最糟糕的角色与最厉害的角色间不会有太大的差别。

在做出这些调整时我不断注意到一些心理元素。第一个便是每当我做出糟糕的移动或让角色掉落到较底层时,玩家便会反应过度。有时候高层会掌握较高的能量,或者一般玩家最终面对一些意想不到的好结果,又或者某一角色的移动减少了游戏的策略性,并需要通过失败去获取其它内容。关于消弱能量也存在许多原因。

我将使用一些假设数字去传达总体思路。想象移动是在10个能量级别中的第9级,这对于角色来说太高了。我不只一次发现当我将能量级别设置在10级中第8级时,测试者便会抱怨该移动没有价值,并将角色下放(至少)1层。这种情况经常发生。出于某种原因,每一款游戏中的玩家似乎都不能掌握高层角色即使做得不好也仍然能够待在高层的这一理念。

这是其中一个你不会听从游戏测试者的理念。忽视他们对于消弱的第一反应,让他们慢慢去适应它,让他们看看基于新移动版本是否还能获取成功,然后重视他们关于移动或角色的反馈。

我们需要了解的其它心理效应是,当你提高移动的能量时会怎样。我在游戏开发者大会中听取了Rob Pardo有关平衡多人游戏的演讲,并尝试着将其用于自己平衡的所有游戏中,我想Rob的观点是正确的。他说如果你采取某一行动并且是自己还不确定如何做到平衡的,你就需要确保它足够强大。如果它过于虚弱,你便会冒着没人去使用它的危险。在此之后,当你提高它的能量时,也就没有测试者会注意或关注它了。因为他们的心里已经认定该移动是虚弱的。甚至当你提升它的能量而到达某一合理的能量级别时,你也很难吸引到人们的注意。

相反地,Pardo认为应该一开始就赋予该移动足够的能量。如此所有人便会在乎它。我在《街头霸王HD Remix》中的T.Hawk,Fei Long和Akuma上便都这么做,因为我不知道如何设定他们的能量级别。这些角色在游戏开发的某个点上都是最棒的角色,这便意味着我会获得来自测试者的大量反馈。有时候“太过强大”的角色版本的结果也是好的,但是有时候也没那么好。如果能够明确上限,我便能够快速选取最适当的能量级别。

错觉

Rob Pardo在有关多人游戏的演讲中提到的另一点并不是将乐趣置身于外。我也认可这点。不要只是将游戏当成一些需要排列的抽象数集。你也需要思考人们是如何理解它,以及这是否真的有趣。Pardo表示他希望玩家认为自己拥有的工具非常强大,尽管事实上不一定如此。

Tafari便是来自我的游戏中的一个例子(游戏邦注:他是《Kongai》中的捕兽者)。Tafari的主要能力便是,敌人在与他打斗时不能转换角色。转换角色是这款游戏的主要机制,所以与他打斗就像不能出石头而玩石头剪刀布。但是在一开始我便为Tafari设置了一些弱势,如果他在行进过程中遭遇战斗时便会不断遭遇失败。而当你带着他去抗击一个虚弱的角色时,他就会瞬间强大起来。

我知道Tafari并不是很强大。我让一些专家对其进行测试,他们更倾向于将其放置在中层。但是当我再添加新的测试者时,几乎所有人都认为Tafari过于强大。我拒绝改变他,在一年的测试后,最佳玩家仍然将其定位在中层,而菜鸟级玩家也仍将其归为高层。Tafari是错觉般的存在。

我之所以这么说是希望当你想要看到某些内容比实际上看来更强大时最好能够谨慎地审视相关反馈。如果你能做到这点的话便有可能取得成功,因为Tafari不仅让游戏变得更加有趣,也创造了许多争议,最后它也获得了平衡。

比赛

除了层列表,你还应该思考所有特殊的比赛。例如《街头霸王HD Remix》拥有17个角色和153种可能的比赛。对于HD Remix之前版本的《街头霸王》,专家更倾向于将角色分为4层(游戏邦注:没有角色是在上帝层或垃圾层),他们将Guile放置在第2层。尽管这意味着Guile的能量级别是可接受的,但是在2个特殊比赛:Vega和Dhalsim中却是处于不利地位。一个整体还不错的角色在遭遇两个特殊角色时是否还能占据优势?这并不见得。

如果这是FPS中的武器,RTS中的单位或基于团队的打斗游戏中的角色,这便是可行的。你可以在游戏开始时在FPS中选取武器,所以它们的平衡就无需满足一款不对称游戏的严格要求。RTS中的单位和基于团队的打斗游戏中的角色则是局部失衡的典例。但是在Guile的例子中,你在游戏一开始便锁定了自己有关Guile的选择,所以你在整款游戏中都无法摆脱他,如果他遭遇了一些糟糕的比赛,那么即使玩家将其设定在更高层也没有用了。

我们总是很难在不对称游戏中做出任何调整。我们该如何在不影响其它比赛的前提下帮助Guile战胜Dhalsim。这里并不存在简单的答案,但是我建议你能够真正去解决该问题,而不是选择逃避。

关于该问题我的解决方法是双重的。首先,因为与这一特殊匹配无关,所以我改变了Guile闪踢的轨迹。这能帮助他避开Dhalsim的火球。其次,Guile所面对的一个问题便是Dhalsim的低拳将摧毁Guile的音爆弹并穿过屏幕撞击Guile。我改变了Dhalsim的有效射击区,从而让Dhalsim在这种情况下发动攻击。这一改变不会对其它比赛产生任何影响,所以是这一问题的真正解决方法。

欺骗式解决方法是这种比赛的特例,将给予Guile更多生命值。虽然这听起来很诱人,因为你不需要担心会搞乱其它比赛,但是这种非解决方法却很假。它会混淆玩家的期望与对于Guile拥有多少生命值的直觉看法。

还有一种类似的方法,即在一款每个单位间相互对抗的RTS中创造一个巨大的表格,并创造一个特殊情况,即关于它们会给彼此造成多大伤害。这也混淆了玩家对于每个单位所造成的破坏的直觉看法,并创造了无形且不可靠的系统。我知道在平衡不对称游戏时你总是会受到引诱去使用这种特殊情况式解决方法,但我也想提醒你们一定要努力去抵制诱惑。

结论

如果可以的话你英国先基于一些自动平衡和自动防故障装置系统开始设计。然后致力于创造所有游戏的多样性,并开始进行长期的游戏测试。当你从游戏测试中学到更多时,你可以相对应地改变方向。开始追踪不同层,即先固定上帝层,然后固定垃圾层。并压缩层与层间的距离从而让糟糕的角色也不会比优秀的角色差多少。最后完善所有的比赛,解决所有问题,并避免逃避式解决方法。

本文为游戏邦/gamerboom.com编译

Balancing Multiplayer Games, Part 3: Fairness

By Sirlin

In asymmetric games, we have to care about making all our different starting options fair against each other in addition to making sure the game in general has enough viable options during gameplay. That means each character in a fighting game and each race in a real-time strategy game should have a reasonable chance of winning a tournament in the hands of the right player. For collectable card games and team games like Guild Wars and World of Warcraft’s arenas, we should instead say that at least “several” possible decks and class combinations should be able to win tournaments.

Self-Balancing Forces

To make this semi-impossible task easier, we should use self-balancing forces if possible. This will let us go nuts with diverse options while building in some fail-safes to protect us from unknown tactics that players might develop in the future. I’ll give examples of this from two games: Magic: The Gathering and Guilty Gear XX.

In Magic, the various game mechanics such as counterspells, direct damage, healing, and so on, are divided amongst five colors. Players can build decks with as many of these five colors as they want, but the more colors they include, the harder it is to have the right mana to actually play the various colors of spells.

A simple diagram of the 5 colors of magic.

Consequently, decks are forced to specialize, which gives them inherent weaknesses. The color red, for example, has no way to destroy enchantment cards, so even if a red deck ended up being strong, it has a built-in weakness (it must either accept that it can’t destroy enchantments, or weaken its consistency by trying to incorporate another color that can). Also, each color has two enemy colors, and those enemy colors often include cards that are specifically powerful against their enemy colors. Again, if a red deck became too powerful, there will be blue and white cards that keep red in check, at least somewhat.

Finally, when Wizards of the Coast prints a new set with new mechanics, they usually include a card or two that are tuned to be fairly weak, but that specifically counter the new mechanic. I think they hope that these specific counters are not needed, but if the metagame becomes completely overwhelmed by the new mechanics, then there are at least some fail-safes the metagame can use to fight the new mechanic.

For example, Magic’s Odessey block focused on new mechanics involving the discard pile (called the “graveyard” in Magic), and the card Morningtide could remove all cards from all graveyards. If players started getting too tricky with their graveyards, Morningtide was a counter. It practice, this counter wasn’t really needed though. Later on, Magic’s Mirrodin block focused on artifact cards. The card Annul could counter artifacts (and enchantments) for only one mana, and the card Damping Matrix prevented artifact abilities from working. In Mirrodin’s case, the artifact mechanics really did get pretty out of hand. Annul and Damping Matrix were good ideas, but even stronger failsafes were needed during Mirrodin.

This is really a similar concept to Yomi Layer 3 that I mentioned in part 2. The idea is to build in counters to the game so that even if some things end up more powerful than you expected, the game is resilient enough that players can deal with it.

Guilty Gear is a very important example for its fail-safe systems. I described that game’s system in detail in this article, but here’s a quick refresher.

Guard Meter

Every time you hit the opponent, their “guard meter” goes down. The lower it is, the shorter their hitstun is. That means that even if a string of moves is an “infinite combo”, meaning that once you land the first hit, you could keep hitting them forever, their shorter hitstun eventually lets them block to escape the combo.

Progressive Gravity

When you are juggled in the air during a combo, the gravity applied to your character gets greater and greater over time. So even if a combo could juggle forever somehow, the victim’s body falls faster and faster over time, which would eventually ruin the infinite juggle.

Green Blocking

Imagine an attack sequence against a blocking opponent where do a few hits in a row that leave you pushed back, too far away to continue. But when you get to the last hit, you cancel it with a special move that makes your character move forward. After that, you repeat the sequence and force the opponent to block forever. In case this type of lock-down trap exists, Guilty Gear heads it off at the pass with a feature I call “green blocking.” While blocking, you can use some of your super meter to create a green force field that pushes the opponent pretty far away from you, letting you ruin the spacing of his trap.

Here’s that green blocking thing in Guilty Gear.

Each of these features is designed to solve a problem that the designers didn’t even know they had. They just know that if the game ever ended up in a state of infinite combos or juggles or lockdowns, that some fail-safe features need to save them. Also, these fail-safe features freed them to design incredibly varied and extreme characters. No matter how crazy a character is, or how scary this rushdown tactics ended up, the designers knew that this defensive system of fail-safes shared by all characters would keep things at least somewhat in check.

Playtesting and Course-correcting

Whether or not your game has fail-safe systems, at some point you have to design a diverse set of characters / races / whatever, make each one coherent and interesting, then have the confidence that you’ll sort out the balance problems in playtesting. All the theory in the world will not save you from playtests, of course.

You need to start tuning the game, and react and learn as you go. Do not let a producer turn tuning into a fixed list of items that you are accountable for checking off, one by one. It’s an organic, continuous process that keeps going until you need the ship the game. Playtesting lets you discover things you couldn’t have predicted ahead of time, and you should be open to those discoveries. The goal isn’t to make the exact game you originally envisioned, because your original vision did not take into account all the things you learned from development and playtests. When you or the testers discover nuances or unexpected properties, you have the chance to build around those and incorporate them into the game’s balance.

The Tier List

During the balancing of Street Fighter, Kongai, and my card game called Yomi, I used a similar approach with playtesters. I think this approach doesn’t really depend on the genre, and the key idea is managing the tier list.

The term “tier list” is, I think, a term from the fighting game genre. It means a ranking of how powerful each character is from highest to lowest, but it also accepts that such a list cannot be exact. Instead of ranking 20 characters from 1 to 20, the idea is to group them together into “tiers” of power. Remember that if a divine being handed you a 100% perfectly balanced game, that players would still make tier lists. You should accept the existence of these lists from players as a given, and its your job to manage this list.

In Kongai and Yomi, I even gave the players a template for the tier list that is most useful for me as a designer. First, I tell them to think of three tiers: top, middle, and bottom. Then I tell them about the two “secret tiers” that I hope are empty.

0) God tier (no character should be in this tier, if they are, you are forced to play them to be competitive)

1) Top tier (don’t be afraid to put your favorite characters here. Being top tier does not necessarily mean any nerfs are needed)

2) Middle tier (pretty good, not quite as good as top)

3) Bottom tier (I can still win with them, but it’s hard)

4) Garbage tier (no one should be in this. Not reasonable to play this character at all.)

My first goal of balancing is to get the god tier empty. Of course some character will end up strongest, or tied for strongest, and that is ok. But a “god tier” character is so strong as to make the rest of the game obsolete. We have to fix that immediately because it ruins the whole playtest (and the game). Also, the power level of anything in the god tier is so high, that we can’t even hope to balance the rest of the game around it.

My next goal is get rid of the garbage tier characters. They are so bad that no one touches them, and it’s usually pretty easy to increase their power enough to get them somewhere between top, middle, and bottom. If they are somewhere in those three tiers (which gives you a lot of latitude actually), at least they are playable.

Public Tier Lists

I really like it when playtesters all see each other’s tier lists. The debate this spawns is very useful for me to read (or overhear in person) and for the playtesters to sort out their ideas. Sometimes when someone put a character unusually high or low on the list, I dug deeper to find out that player really did know something most of the rest of us didn’t. Other times, that player is just crazy and the rest of the testers are happy to point that out. It’s also good to see what kind of consensus the testers come up with, like if they all rank a certain character as the worst, for example.

The biggest landmark moments in each of the games I balanced was when the tester communities consistently gave tier lists with no characters in the god tier or garbage tier. Once you’ve achieved that, the next goal is to compress the tiers. That means that you want the difference between the best and worst characters to be as small as possible. Notice that that means even if you have the same characters in the bottom tier that you did a month ago, you might have dramatically improved the game if all those “bad” characters are really only a hair worse than the tier above, rather than way worse.

Adjusting the Tiers

In all the games I balanced, I used the same approach of letting the top tier set the benchmark power-level. In Street Fighter, I already had an established top tier as a starting point from the previous game, but in Kongai and Yomi, it was somewhat accidental who ended up in the top tier. But early on, after the god tier was removed and it was pretty clear which characters / decks were top, I allowed that to be the target power level. In other words, the characters in that tier are “how the game is supposed to be.” Again, I didn’t plan exactly who would be here, but I accepted how it ended up and worked with it. So if the top tier is the target, it’s the bottom tier you should adjust the most. If the top tier is the intended power level, you don’t really want to mess up the good things you have going there. Instead, boost the bottom characters up and compress the tiers as much as you can, so you get the worst characters just barely below or equal to the best characters.

There are some psychological factors that I saw over and over again while making these adjustments. The first is that whenever I make a move or character worse (aka “nerfing”), players overreact. Sometimes that top tier creeps a little too high in power, or an otherwise average character ends up having something unexpected that’s crazily good, or a character has a move that really reduces the strategy in the game and needs to lose that in exchange for gaining something else. There’s lots of reasons for nerfs.

I’ll use some made-up numbers to convey the general idea here. Imagine a move is at power level 9 out of 10, and that’s just too good for that character. Time and time again, I saw that if I made the power level an 8 out of 10, playtesters would complain that the move was worthless and put the character down at least one tier. This happened consistently, and even in the cases where 8 out of 10 was still too powerful and it really needed to be a 7. For some reason, players in every game seem unable to grasp the concept that a top tier character who is made slightly worse can still be a top tier character.

This is one of the cases where I think you just can’t listen to the playtesters. Ignore their first reactions to nerfs, let them play it more and get used to it, let them see if they can still be successful with the new version of the move, then take their feedback on that move or character more seriously.

The other psychological effect to know about is what happens when you increase a move’s power. I learned about this Rob Pardo’s lecture on balancing multiplayer games at the Game Developer’s Conference, and I tried it on all the games I balanced, and I think Rob is right. He said that if you have a move that you’re not really sure how to balance, make it too powerful. If you make it too weak, then you run the risk of no one using it at all. Then, when you slightly increase its power, none of the testers will notice or care. They already decided that move is weak. Then if you make it slightly more powerful still, they still won’t care. Even when you inch it up past the reasonable level of power, it’s hard to get it on people’s radar and that makes it really hard to know how to tune the move.

Instead, Pardo said to start with the move too powerful. Then everyone will know about it and care about it. I did exactly this with T.Hawk, Fei Long, and Akuma in Street Fighter HD Remix, because I had trouble figuring out their power levels. Each one of those characters was the best character in the game at some point in development, and that meant I got lots of feedback from testers about these characters. It also gave me a sense of where the top of the scale even was. Sometimes my “too powerful” versions of a character would end up waaaaay too good, or sometimes just barely too good. By knowing where the upper limit was, it helped me pick appropriate power levels more quickly. That said, I did have to deal with the inevitable cries that follow all nerfs, but that just goes with territory here.

Illusions in Tiers

Another point from Rob Pardo’s speech on multiplayer games was not to balance the fun out of things. I’m very conscious of this as well. Don’t just think about the game as some abstract set of numbers that has to line up. You also have to think about how people will perceive it and whether it’s actually fun. Pardo said that he likes the player to feel like the tools they have are extremely powerful, even though they are actually fair.

An example of this in one of my games is Tafari, the Trapper in Kongai. Tafari’s main ability is that the enemy cannot switch characters while fighting him. Switching characters is one of the game’s main mechanics, so fighting him is like playing rock, paper, scissors with no rock. It seems, at first glance, ludicrously powerful. But from the start, I gave Tafari several weaknesses and he loses many fights if he ends up having to fight on even footing. He’s best when you bring him in against an already-weak character to finish them off.

I knew Tafari was not too powerful. I tested him with many experts and they tended to rank him as middle tier once they got the hang of him. As we added new testers over time, probably nearly 100% of them claimed that Tafari was too strong. I refused to change him though and after a year of testing, the best players still ranked him as middle tier, while inexperienced players still ranked him as top. Tafari is an illusion.

I’m telling you this because you have to be very careful with feedback in cases where you intentionally made something feel more powerful than it actually is. It’s a success if you can pull that off though, because Tafari makes the game more interesting, creates lots of debates, and at the end of the day, he is balanced.

Counter Matches

In addition to the tier list, you should also be thinking about all the specific matchups. Street Fighter HD Remix, for example, has 17 characters and 153 possible matchups. For the version of Street Fighter before HD Remix, experts tend separate the characters into four tiers (none of them are god tier or garbage tier), and they place Guile in the respectable second tier. Even though that means Guile’s power level is acceptable, he is severely disadvantaged in two specific matches: Vega and Dhalsim. Is it ok that an overall good character gets countered by two specific characters? Not really.

If these were weapons in an FPS or units in an RTS or characters in team-based fighting game, then it might be acceptable. You pick up weapons in an FPS after the game starts, so their balance doesn’t need to meet the hard requirements of an asymmetric game. And units in an RTS and characters in team-based fighting game are examples of local imbalances, which are fine (it’s the races and teams that need to be balanced). But in Guile’s case, you lock in your choice of Guile at the start of the game, then you are stuck with him the entire game, so it really is a problem if he has some bad counter matches, even though players rate him fairly highly overall.

It’s really tricky to adjust anything in an asymmetric game though. How can we help Guile in just the Dhalsim match without affecting all the other matches? There’s no easy answer here, but I advise you to really solve the problem, rather than copping out.

My real solution to this problem was two-fold. First, for reasons unrelated to this particular match, I changed the trajectory of Guile’s roundhouse flash kick. This happened to help a bit against Dhalsim’s fireballs, so we’ll count that as a lucky accident. Second, one of Guile’s problems is that Dhalsim’s low punches can go under Guile’s Sonic Boom projectiles and hit Guile from across the screen, with no repercussions. I changed Dhalsim’s hitboxes so that Dhalsim now trades hits in this situation, rather than cleanly hits. This change has virtually no affect on any other match, so it’s a real solution to the problem.

A cheating solution would have been to special case this match and give Guile more hit points. This sounds attractive because you don’t have to worry about messing up other matches, but this non-solution feels really artificial. It messes with players’ expectations and intuitions about how many hit points Guile has.

A similar cop out would be to create a giant table in an RTS of every unit versus every unit and special case how much damage they all do to each other. Again, it messes with player intuition about how damaging each unit is, and creates and invisible, wonky system. I know you’re going to be tempted to use these types of special case solutions when balancing asymmetric games, but try your hardest to avoid them.

Conclusion

Start your design with some self-balancing forces and fail-safes if you can. Then go wild and create all your game’s diversity, then start the long road of playtesting. As you learn more from playtesting, change your course as you go. Start keeping track of tiers, first by fixing the god tier, then by fixing the garbage tier. Then compress the tiers so that even the bad characters are only slightly worse than the best characters. Finally, fix all the counter-matches you can by actually solving the puzzle, and avoiding cop out solutions.(source:sirlin)

Balancing Multiplayer Games, Part 2: Viable Options

Sirlin

In the previous article I divided the idea of balance into the two sub-concepts of viable options and fairness. I also defined the concepts of symmetric and asymmetric games, where the more varied the different starting options are that must be fair against each other, the more asymmetric the game is.

How do we make sure we have enough viable options during gameplay?

Yomi Layer 3

The worst thing you can have in a competitive multiplayer game is a dominant move (or weapon, character, unit, whatever). I don’t mean a move that is merely good, I mean a move that is strictly better than any other you could do, so its very existence reduces the strategy of the game. A dominant move also probably has no real counter, so even if the opponent knows you will do it, there’s not a lot he can do.

To protect against dominant moves, we should be aware of the concept of Yomi Layer 3. I wrote a whole article on just that, but I’ll quickly summarize it here. “Yomi” is the Japanese word for “reading,” as in reading the mind of the opponent (and it’s also the name of my strategy card game). If you have a powerful move and use it against an unskilled opponent, I call that Yomi Layer 0, meaning neither player is even bothering with trying to know what the opponent will do. At Layer 1, your opponent does the counter to your move because he expects it. At Layer 2, you do the counter to his counter. At Layer 3, he does the counter to that.

That might sound confusing, but it’s very straight-forward in actual gameplay of real games. All it means is you and your opponent each have two options:

You: A good move and a 2nd level counter

Opponent: A counter to your good move and a counter to your counter

The designer generally does NOT need to design Yomi Layer 4 because at that point, you can go back to doing your original good move. Here’s an example Yomi Layer 3 situation that I created in Street Fighter HD Remix.

Honda wants to do his torpedo move get close to Ken, but Ken throws fireballs to prevent this. I gave Honda the ability to destroy these fireballs with his torpedo, but only with the jab version of the move that doesn’t travel very far. If Honda can destroy a fireball with it and end up closer, that’s good for him. Ken can counter this by not throwing the fireball in the first place and letting Honda do the jab torpedo. As Honda is flying forward, Ken can walk forward and sweep, hitting the recovery of the jab torpedo.

Honda: torpedo that goes far or jab torpedo that destroys fireballs

Ken: fireball or walk up and sweep

I did not need to add anything to allow for Yomi Layer 4 though because Honda can counter Ken’s walk-up-and-sweep option by simply doing the original, full-screen torpedo. Yomi Layer 4 tends to wrap around like this in competitive games.

This concept is a reminder that moves need to have counters. If you know what the opponent will do, you should generally have some way of dealing with that. As you go through development of a game, always be asking yourself if various gameplay situations you find yourself in support Yomi Layer 3 thinking. If they don’t there might be a dominant move in there somewhere, which is bad.

Local vs. Global Balance

Does every possible situation in a game need to support Yomi Layer 3?

Answer: no.

Does every possible situation in a game even need to be fair to both players?

Answer: definitely not.

Remember that I defined fairness by the overall chance of winning, given different starting options. Think of that as a global term, in that it applies to the game as a whole from the start of gameplay until someone wins. But the local level, meaning a particular situation in the middle of gameplay, does NOT need to be fair. Even symmetric games like Chess are supposed to have unfair situations. When you have 3 pieces left and the other guy has 9 pieces left, it’s supposed to be unfair to you. Or in StarCraft, if we find that two Zealots beat (or lose to) 8 Zerglings–even though they cost the same resources to make–that is perfectly fine. We don’t care if local situations like that are unfair or not, we only care if Protoss is fair against Zerg.

Checkmate Situations

I call a situation a checkmate situation if it means that one player has almost certainly won, even though the game isn’t actually over. For example in Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo, if Honda lands his deadly Ochio Throw against Guile in the corner, he can then follow up with a series of moves (involving more Ochio Throws) that virtually guarantee victory. Human error could change the outcome, but as soon as you see that first move, you know it should be a checkmate.

Are checkmate situations ok? They clearly violate our requirement that there be many viable moves (Honda really only has one option here and Guile has no good options). They clearly violate the concept of Yomi Layer 3. And yet, the answer is that checkmate situations can be ok. It’s sooooo hard for Honda to get close to Guile in this match, that if he does, he basically deserves to do 100% damage. All the gameplay that takes place before the checkmate is pretty good, and even though Honda can do this abusive thing up close, the match is still heavily in Guile’s favor overall.

I’d like to point out the other side of this argument though. Some players think that even though Guile has the advantage in this match, Honda’s ability to repeat that Ochio Throw is too degenerate. They say yes he needs it to win, but the game would be better overall if things weren’t so extreme. If only Honda could get close to Guile a little more easily, then he would not need a checkmate situation.

I think Rob Pardo, VP of Game Design at Blizzard, echoed this sentiment in a lecture he gave at the Game Developer’s Conference on multiplayer balance. He said that “super weapons” in real-time strategy games are generally a bad idea. They leave the victim feeling that there is nothing they could have done (checkmate!). He explained that even though the Terran nuclear missile in StarCraft looks like a super weapon, it has many built-in weaknesses: a ghost unit must be nearby the victim’s base, there is a red targeting dot on the victim’s base, and a 10 second countdown is announced to the victim, giving him time to destroy the ghost to prevent the nuclear missile.

Pardo has a good point and so did the players who complained about Honda. Even though I think checkmate situations can be ok, it’s telling that when it was my turn to make the decisions, I removed Honda’s checkmate situation in Street Fighter HD Remix. In that game, I gave him an easier time getting close to Guile, but replaced his checkmate situation with a Yomi Layer 3 situation so there’d be more viable decisions throughout the match.

Lame-duck Situations

Lame-duck situations are just like checkmate situations, but with one difference: time. Honda’s checkmate situation takes something like three seconds to get through. But consider a similar situation in the fighting game Marvel vs. Capcom 2. In that game, each player has a team of three characters: one on the playfield and two on the bench. Players can call in one of their benched characters for an assist move at any moment, letting them attack in parallel with their main character and assist character at the same time. Or better yet, they can stagger the attacks so that each attack covers the recovery period of the other.

When one player is down to his last character, he can no longer call assists. Fighting with just one character against an opponent with two or three characters might as well be checkmate, almost all the time. The problem is that it takes excruciatingly long for the match to actually end. It takes so long, that I call that last portion of the game the lame-duck portion. Other fighting games are exciting right up to the last moment, but a lame-duck portion of gameplay means the real climax is somewhere in the middle, and then players are forced to act out a mostly pointless endgame while spectators lose interest. Yes, on rare occasions someone pulls off an amazing comeback, comebacks also happen in games without lame-duck endings, so that’s not a good argument.

While a checkmate situation is maybe ok, you should try to avoid game designs that allow for long lame-duck endings. Both Chess and StarCraft have this undesirable property, and it just means that players often concede the game before the actual end. Those games also show that it’s not the worst thing in the world to have lame-duck endings (because Chess and StarCraft are good games), but you should still avoid them as a designer if at all possible.

Explore the Design Space

Design space is the set of all possible design decisions you could possibly make in your game. Whether your game is symmetric or asymmetric, it’s usually a good idea for your game to touch as many corners of the design space as possible. This helps give a game depth and nuance, but also tends to protect you from dominant moves.

For example, in the virtual card game I designed called Kongai, each character has four moves. When a move hits, it has a percentage chance to trigger an effect. For a given character, we could vary the damage, speed, and energy cost to come up with four different moves. If that’s all we did, though, we’d be missing out on a chance for more diversity in the game, and we’d get dangerously close to making some of those moves strictly better than others which would reduce the number of viable options. Instead, I tried to explore the design space as much as possible with different effects. One move can change the range of the fight from close to far, which is usually only possible before the attack phase. Another move deals enough damage to kill every character in the game, but only four turns after you hit with it. Another move can hit characters who switch out of combat, even though switching out usually beats all attacks.

The point is that by exploring the design space as much as possible, it’s a lot harder for players to judge the relative value of moves. How good is a 90% chance to change ranges during combat as opposed to a 95% chance to hit a switching opponent with a weak move? It’s hard to say and depends on a lot of factors, and that’s good because it means each move is likely to be useful in some situation and knowing when is an interesting skill to test. Incidentally, I call that skill valuation.

Players want you to explore the design space, too. When everything is too similar in a game, it feels like one-note design rather than a symphony. The more nuances and different choices you present, the more each player can express his own playstyle.

Wheat from the Chaff

Here’s my favorite quote from Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style:

Omit Needless Words

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

Treat your game design the same way. Yes you should explore the design space, but omit needless words, mechanics, characters, and choices. Although your primary goal regarding viable options is to make sure you’re giving the player enough options, your secondary goal should be to eliminate all the useless ones.

Marvel vs. Capcom 2 has 54 characters, which is ridiculously many. How many are viable in a tournament? I’ll say 10, and I’m being generous. I actually call that a success because coming up with 10 characters in fighting game that are fair against each other is really hard. That said, it does look pretty bad to have more than FOUR TIMES that many characters sitting around in the garbage pile of non-viable choices. Compare this to Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo’s 16 characters, almost all of which are tournament viable, or Guilty Gear’s 23 characters, almost all of which are viable, and you see what a compact design looks like.

One genre of game is notable for intentionally creating an enormous number of useless options: collectable card games. Even though I claim Magic: The Gathering is one of the best designed games in the world, I’m judging the balance on an absolute scale of how many good cards/decks the tournament environment supports, not the ratio of viable to worthless. On that scale, we’d have to rate the game as a complete failure.

MTG’s Mark Rosewater defends the intentional inclusion of bad cards for design reasons, but this is only because the marketing department has brainwashed him into going along with their admittedly very successful rip-off scheme. Rosewater claims that bad cards are ok because they:

a) allow for interesting experimental mechanics that might end up being bad

b) test valuation skills because if all cards were equally good, there’d be less strategy

c) give new players the joy of discovering that certain cards are bad, as a stepping stone to learning the game

d) are necessary because even if they came out with a set that consisted entirely of known good cards from old sets, there’d still be only 8 tournament viable decks and the rest of the cards would not be used.

The solution to this problem is clear if we only cared about design and not rip-off marketing: print fewer cards. Reason a) is a great one, experimental cards that end up accidentally bad are fine. Reasons b) and c) are just silly. Saying the game would not have enough strategy if bad cards were removed is an insult to Mark’s own (terrific) game. Saying that new players need to discover the intentionally bad cards is even more silly because this comes at the cost of making sets overwhelming to new players and needlessly unwieldy for expert players. We all know the real reasoning here is to make players buy more random packs of cards to get at the few good ones.

Finally, reason d) is a blatant admission that the game should have fewer cards. Ironically, I’m not even sure d) is true. Maybe printing a large set of all good cards really would lead to more viable tournament decks than the game currently supports. If not though, they should stop printing all that chaff.

You could say that MTG proves that it’s really all about chaff, though. Maybe giving a few viable options amidst a sea of bad ones is good business when you sell by the pack. But we don’t see this in other genres and really we just haven’t seen anyone crazy enough to stand up to MTG on this issue and offer a competing card game that’s just as well designed but that eliminates all chaff. (A future Sirlin project?)

Double-blind Guessing

I used the technique of double-blind guessing in both my Yomi card game and my Kongai virtual card game (that one’s actually a turn-based strategy game dressed up like a card game). Anyway, the idea is to make all players commit to a choice before they know what the others have committed to. This is the same setup as the prisoner’s dilemma.

I learned this concept from fighting games. Though they appear to be games of complete information because you can see everything the opponent can see, fighting games are actually double-blind games. They come down to very precise timing and the moment you jump, you often don’t know that the other guy threw a fireball. You only know that 0.3 or 0.5 seconds ago he didn’t. It takes a small amount of time for the opponent’s move to register in your brain, and though it might seem insignificant, it’s actually critical to fighting games even working as strategy games at all.

Real-time strategy games like StarCraft have the same property, but on a much slower time-scale. You often do not know exactly what the opponent is building in his base at the moment you must decide what you should build. Even if you were able to scout his base, you might be working on information that’s several seconds old, so you have to guess what he did during that time.

If we were to remove the double-blind nature from my two card games Yomi and Kongai, and from fighting games and real-time strategy games, I think all of them would be broken. All those games need double-blind decision-making to be interesting. This design pattern is a way to increase the chances that you have many viable moves in your game because it naturally forces players into the Yomi Layer 3 concept I talked about earlier. Weaker moves become inherently better in a double-blind game because it’s easier to get away with doing them without being countered. I’ve even joked that some matches between the world’s best Virtua Fighter players are “a battle of the third-best moves.” Sometimes the players are so paranoid about doing their “best” option for fear of being countered, they fall back on a third best option that no one would ever counter (though it’s quite a sight when the opponent counters even that!). If no guessing was involved at all, players would not use third-best moves.

Playtesting

Finally, playtesting, especially with experts, is how you figure out where your problems really are. Do the experts ignore some vast portion of you game’s moves? Have they discovered a bunch of checkmate situations that you didn’t know about? Do you see them using a variety of strategies?

How to use playtests is really a whole topic of its own, but here’s a few points to keep in mind. First, be skeptical of them. Gamers tend to overreact to changes and claim that no counters exist to some strategies when counters do, in fact, exist. It can take years to sort out what is really effective in a game, and playtesters during your beta are only on the first few steps of that long journey. If they find what looks like the best strategy in the game, it might just be that they have found a local-maximum. Maybe some radically different way of playing that they have not yet discovered ends up being more powerful. This is actually par for the course in fighting games.

That said, playtests are really all you have. Theory is not a substitute for experts playing against each other and trying their hardest to win. I think everyone knows they need playtests, but the hardest question is who do you listen to when all your playtesters disagree, and how do you know when playtesters are wrong about how powerful something is? That question is so hard that I’ll save it for part 4 of this series when I tell you how much trouble we’re really in trying to balance a game at all.

Conclusion

To ensure we have many viable options, building in counters with the Yomi Layer 3 system is a good start. Not all situations need this though, and checkmate situations might be acceptable, but you should avoid their longer cousins, lame-duck situations, if possible. Explore your game’s design space by offering moves as different as possible because this technique has a good chance of making all moves useful somewhere and it makes it very difficult to determine what the best moves really are. That becomes an interesting skill test for players. Eliminate all the worthless options because they confuse the player and add nothing, but they make you a lot of money in a certain genre. The double-blind guessing mechanic helps keep more moves viable than otherwise would be.

And finally, all the theory in the world does not substitute for playtesting. (Source: sirlin.net)

Balancing Multiplayer Games, Part 1: Definitions

By Sirlin

Balancing a competitive multiplayer game is not for the faint of heart. In this article I’ll define the terms that will let us know what we’re talking about in the first place, then in the second and third articles, I’ll pretend that we have some hope of solving the wicked problem of game balance and I’ll explain techniques to do it. Then in the fourth article, I’ll try to impress upon you what deep trouble we’re really in.

First, the terms. Let’s start with balance and depth as defined by the Philosopher King of game balance:

A multiplayer game is balanced if a reasonably large number of options available to the player are viable–especially, but not limited to, during high-level play by expert players.

–Sirlin, December 2001

A multiplayer game is deep if it is still strategically interesting to play after expert players have studied and practiced it for years, decades, or centuries.

–Sirlin, January 2002

This definition of balance is pretty good, but there are two concepts hiding inside that term viable options. On one hand, I meant that the game doesn’t degenerate down to just one tactic, and on the other hand, I meant that if there are lots of characters to choose from in a fighting game or races to choose from in a real-time strategy game, many of those characters/races are reasonable to pick. Let’s call the first idea viable options and second idea fairness in starting options, or just fairness for short.

Viable Options: Lots of meaningful choices presented to the player. For depth’s sake, they are presented within a context that allows the player to use strategy to make those choices.

Fairness: Players of equal skill have an equal chance at winning even though they might start the game with different sets of options / moves / characters / resources / etc.

Viable Options

The requirement that we present many viable options to the player during gameplay is what Sid Meier meant when he said that a game is a series of interesting decisions (a multiplayer competitive game, at least).

If an expert player can consistently beat other experts by just doing one move or one tactic, we have to call that game imbalanced because there aren’t enough viable options. Such a game might have thousands of options, but we only care about the meaningful ones. If those thousands of options all accomplish the same thing, or nothing, or all lose to the dominant move mentioned above, then they are not meaningful options. They just get in the way and add the worst kind of complexity to the game: complexity that makes the game harder to learn yet no more interesting to play.

For the sake of depth, we also hope that the player has some basis to choose amongst these meaningful options. If the game at hand is a single round of rock, paper, scissors against a single opponent, there is nearly no basis to choose one option over the other so it’s hard to apply any kind of strategy. And yet a game of Street Fighter might be decided by a single moment when you choose to either block, throw, or Dragon Punch, or a game of Magic: the Gathering might be decided by a single decision to play a Counterspell or not. These examples at first glance look like the rock, paper, scissors example, but the decisions take place inside the context of a match that has many nuances where each player is dripping with cues about his future behavior. In Street Fighter and Magic, the player does have basis to choose one move over the other, and more than one choice is viable, we hope.

Also for depth, we prefer if the meaningful choices depend on the opponent’s actions. Imagine a modified game of StarCraft where no players are allowed to attack each other. All they can do is build their base for 5 minutes, then we calculate a score based on what they built. There are many decisions to make in this game, and it might have several paths to victory, but because these decisions are purely about optimization–more like solving a puzzle than playing a game–they make for a shallow competitive game. Fortunately, in the actual game of StarCraft, you do need to consider what your opponent is building when you decide what to build.

While we require many viable options to call a game balanced, the requirement about giving the player a context to make those decisions strategically and the requirement that the decisions have something to do with the opponent’s actions are really about depth. They’re worth pointing out though because we should attempt to increase the depth of the game as we balance it, not decrease it.

Fairness

Fairness, in the context I’m using it here, refers to each player having an equal chance of winning even though they might start the game with different options. In Street Fighter, each character has different moves, in StarCraft each race has different units, and in World of Warcraft, each arena team has different classes, talent builds, and gear. Somehow, all of these very different sets of options must be fair against each other.

I want to stress that I am only talking about options that you’re locked into as the game starts. That’s a very important distinction. Options that open up after a game starts do not necessarily have to be fair against each other at all. Imagine a first-person shooter with 8 weapons that spawn in various locations around the map. Two of these weapons are the best overall, 3 are ok but not as good as the best weapons, and the remaining 3 are generally terrible but happen to be extremely powerful against one or the other of the 2 best weapons.

Is this theoretical game balanced? It certainly might be, meaning that nothing said so far would disqualify it. A designer could decide that he wants all weapons to be of equal power, but he need not decide that as long as each weapon is still a viable choice in the right situation. It might be fine to have two powerful weapons that players compete over, a few medium power weapons that are still ok, and some weak weapons that allow players to specifically counter the strong weapons. There could be a lot of strategy in deciding which parts of the map to try to control (in order to access specific weapons) and when to switch weapons depending on what your opponents are doing.

By contrast, a fighting game with 8 characters designed by that scheme is not balanced because it fails the fairness test. Players choose fighting game characters before the game starts, but they pick up weapons in the first-person shooter example during gameplay. Being locked into a character that has a huge disadvantage against the opponent’s character is unfair.

Games that let players start with different sets of options are inherently harder to balance because they must make those sets of options fair against each other in addition to offering the players many viable options during gameplay.

Symmetric vs. Asymmetric Games

Let us call symmetric games the types of games where all players start with the same sets of options. We’ll call asymmetric games the types of games where players start the game with different sets of options. Think of these terms as a spectrum, rather than merely two buckets.

Symmetric                       Asymmetric
< ————————————->
Same starting options       Diverse Starting options

On the left side of the spectrum, we have games like Chess. In Chess, each side starts with exactly the same 16 pieces. The only difference between the two sides is that white moves first. Because of this different starting condition, we shouldn’t say that Chess is 100% symmetric, but it’s damn close. If Chess were the only game you had ever seen, you might think that the black and white sides are played radically differently; white sets the tempo while black reacts. There are entire books written about how to play just the black side. And yet if we zoom out to look at the many games in the world, we see that the two sides of Chess are so similar as to be virtually indistinguishable when compared to two races in Starcraft, two characters in Street Fighter, or two decks in Magic: The Gathering.

The more diversity in starting conditions the game allows, the farther to the right of our spectrum it belongs. So asymmetry, as we mean it here, is a measure of a game’s diversity in starting conditions. This is not meant to be an exact science, so there is no specific formula to determine where a game belongs on this spectrum, but it’s a handy concept anyway.

Let’s look at a few examples. StarCraft has three very diverse races so it belongs toward the right side of our spectrum. That said, even if the three races were as different as imaginable from each other, the number three is small enough that we shouldn’t put it at the far right (admittedly, this is a judgment call). Fighting games can have dozens of characters that play completely differently and they tend to have more asymmetry than most other types of competitive multiplayer games.

That said, individual fighting games can vary quite a bit in just how asymmetric they are. Virtua Fighter, for example, is an excellent and deep fighting game, but the diversity of characters is relatively low compared to other fighting games. All characters have a similar template compared to Street Fighter where some characters have projectiles, or arms that reach across the entire screen, or the ability to fly around the playfield. Meanwhile, Guilty Gear, a fighting game you’ve probably never heard of, has more diversity than any other game in the genre that I know of. One character can create complex formations of pool balls that he bounces against each other, another controls two characters at once, another has a limited number of coins (projectiles) that power up one of his other moves and a strange floating mist that can make that powered up move unblockable. It’s almost as if each character came from a different game entirely, yet somehow they can compete fairly against each other. Guilty Gear is possibly all the way to the right of our chart because it has both wildly different starting options (characters) and many of them (over 20!).

Magic: The Gathering is also extremely asymmetric in the format called constructed where players bring pre-made decks to a tournament. The variety of possible decks is staggering and tournaments usually have several different decks of roughly equal power level, even though they play radically differently.

First-person shooters tend to be very far toward the symmetric side of the spectrum, usually offering the same options to everyone at the start, except for spawning location. Remember that picking up different weapons during gameplay, or even changing classes during gameplay in Team Fortress 2, does not count as asymmetric for our purposes. (Again, because those different options don’t need to be exactly fair against each other.) Also, first-person shooters that do have asymmetric goals for each side often make the sides switch and play another round with roles reversed so that the overall match is symmetric.

Now that we’ve mapped out where some games fit on our spectrum, remember that this is not a measure of game quality. If your favorite games appear on the left (symmetric) side, that does not mean they are bad. If you like StarCraft more than Guilty Gear, you do not need to be upset that Guilty Gear is “more asymmetric.” The spectrum is simply meant to give us an idea about how different the starting options of a game are, not about the depth or fun of the game.

No matter where a game appears on this spectrum, it still needs offer many viable options during gameplay to be balanced. In addition to this, the farther a game is to the right of the spectrum, the more it needs to care about balancing the fairness of the different starting options. In the next part of this series, I’ll talk about how we can design games that make sure to offer enough viable options and in the article after that, I’ll explain how we can attempt to create fairness in those pesky asymmetric games.(Source:sirlin


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