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Character Progression and Balance


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#1 Butabee   Members   -  Reputation: 238

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Posted 11 April 2012 - 12:37 AM

Can the two co-exist?

It seems like if you want a player character to feel more powerful as they play, balance has to be sacrificed. What are some ways to keep both working adeqautely?

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#2 Zethariel   Members   -  Reputation: 310

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Posted 11 April 2012 - 01:11 AM

The most common method is ramping up the difficulty as the player goes. It really depends on what you want the player to experience -- if the game is designed so that the player feels like a god, and he gets his ass kicked every other time, the ballance is off. If the game is about strugling in the face of an unbeatable enemy, and you don't break a sweat while bringing him down, the game is grossly broken.

Your perspective seems to be too generic -- ballance is when a player has a 50% chance of survival, and character progression is when a player becomes stronger. In real design, both definitions are far more complex than that and dependant on the context. In the end, both factors have to contribute to fun and keeping the player in the fragile state of flow.

Ballance as a thing is extremelly subjective too. Take a look at any competetive game out there -- you'll always find a crowd howling for blood and nerfing, those that chant righteous words for buffing, and the small gray area that thinks the game is fine as it is, it just requires some time to master and understand.

Character progression can be very esoteric as well -- it can be as blunt as gaining levels or strenght, or as suble as the protagonist growing as a person, the story progressing with no variables changed. Both settings have their type of ballance, be it strenght of foe or complexity of choices to be made.

So when you ask yourself if the character progression is rewarding or if the game is broken and unballance, you should really ask yourself -- is it fun the way it is?

A promiment example of an unballanced game (that was awesome) not that long ago was Allods Online, a game that was fun until fixed. Before the first expansion pack, each class was so wildly different and broken, combat was pure bliss. Great numbers could become small ones in an instant, field battles were short but very entertaining and intense. A warrior could 1-2 hit a mage, and the mage could blow away 1-2 warriors at a time -- all was luck, some skilfull building and lots of luck. Then, they fixed everything -- gave more hit points, lowered damage, normalized items. 75% of the server population quit the game, game ballancing being one of the main reasons.
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#3 Jungletoe   Members   -  Reputation: 225

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Posted 11 April 2012 - 08:13 PM

Your perspective seems to be too generic -- ballance is when a player has a 50% chance of survival, and character progression is when a player becomes stronger. In real design, both definitions are far more complex than that and dependant on the context. In the end, both factors have to contribute to fun and keeping the player in the fragile state of flow.


This raises an interesting point, What about in survival sandbox games where the point of leveling is to have a better chance of survival in the world? You can't maintain that 50% survival rate without the player feeling like all of their work is going towards nothing,

#4 sunandshadow   Moderators   -  Reputation: 5056

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Posted 11 April 2012 - 08:28 PM

If you want to design a game where a lvl 1 and a lvl 100 are about equally powerful, it can be quite difficult to make that happen. One approach is to allow players to gain breadth instead of power. For example, a lvl 1 player might start with an attack which has medium range, medium damage, and no elemental affinity. Then they can learn a high power low range attack, a low power high range attack, a DOT attack, various elemental versions of all these, and various utility spells (freeze an opponent but do no damage, increase self's speed or movement points, set a trap, unlock, etc.) The monsters would function as puzzles, where you would need to have learned the correct type of spell(s) to fight them, keeping low level players out of high level areas until they did the prerequisite activities to earn those spells.

Another possibility is to have power increase over level in PvE, but to give handicaps to cancel this out in PvP.

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#5 Jungletoe   Members   -  Reputation: 225

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Posted 11 April 2012 - 08:38 PM

If you want to design a game where a lvl 1 and a lvl 100 are about equally powerful, it can be quite difficult to make that happen. One approach is to allow players to gain breadth instead of power. For example, a lvl 1 player might start with an attack which has medium range, medium damage, and no elemental affinity. Then they can learn a high power low range attack, a low power high range attack, a DOT attack, various elemental versions of all these, and various utility spells (freeze an opponent but do no damage, increase self's speed or movement points, set a trap, unlock, etc.) The monsters would function as puzzles, where you would need to have learned the correct type of spell(s) to fight them, keeping low level players out of high level areas until they did the prerequisite activities to earn those spells.


True, but I'm thinking of a survival game where it's just pure survival-- no fantasy and magic. I guess the higher level players could gain access to attacks that can be used in groups and attacks that trick the other player, but that seems kind of boring. A game I once played (Haven and Hearth) used food to dictate how "strong" you were in a fight and had a seperate skill system fueled on experience points. Because different combat combos were used, there were sometimes lvl 20 strength players killing lvl 100 strength players simply because they knew the fighting system better. Of course the fighting system was uber-complicated, but it was very interesting.

#6 Tincha7   Members   -  Reputation: 169

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Posted 11 April 2012 - 08:50 PM

Your player progresses by gaining experience which is done by killing enemies or receiving other bonuses (exploration, side quests etc.). This experience adds up slowly and takes you to the next level. Once the character reaches a new level, his abilities are boosted just a little. He gets more damage into one of his spells, and is able to take more damage as his defenses goes up. With this, the game also slowly levels enemies to maintain that balance, which is what you need.

Heres my idea, treat experience as a simple number, and don't level the character in ANY way whatsoever. In turn, make the difficulty (enemy strength/AI) a function of this number (the experience) so that as players play more and more, their enemies become harder and harder. So a lvl 100 player will simply spawn harder enemies than a lvl 1 player, but both those characters will be exactly the same (strength/resistance/damage). With this, you'll have precise control over your difficulty curve, you can actually draw it out as a function of the players' experience (sawtooth, linear, quadratic, exponential), but at the cost of lesser choice for customizing your character. I'm quite sure that a system like this would also work well in a non-fantasy setting.

#7 Jungletoe   Members   -  Reputation: 225

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Posted 11 April 2012 - 08:56 PM

Your player progresses by gaining experience which is done by killing enemies or receiving other bonuses (exploration, side quests etc.). This experience adds up slowly and takes you to the next level. Once the character reaches a new level, his abilities are boosted just a little. He gets more damage into one of his spells, and is able to take more damage as his defenses goes up. With this, the game also slowly levels enemies to maintain that balance, which is what you need.

Heres my idea, treat experience as a simple number, and don't level the character in ANY way whatsoever. In turn, make the difficulty (enemy strength/AI) a function of this number (the experience) so that as players play more and more, their enemies become harder and harder. So a lvl 100 player will simply spawn harder enemies than a lvl 1 player, but both those characters will be exactly the same (strength/resistance/damage). With this, you'll have precise control over your difficulty curve, you can actually draw it out as a function of the players' experience (sawtooth, linear, quadratic, exponential), but at the cost of lesser choice for customizing your character. I'm quite sure that a system like this would also work well in a non-fantasy setting.


Yeah, I agree. Then again, this would need a lot of balance between PvP and PvE. If you focus too much on PvE then it'll take away from the survival-from-other-players aspect. If you take too much away from PvE then you really can't implement this system and the game will end up chaotic. Of course, if you don't implement this in an open-world survival setting then it will be much different. You could round all the high-level players into one area and make them PvP.

I guess this all depends on what type of game you're talking about.

#8 Tincha7   Members   -  Reputation: 169

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Posted 12 April 2012 - 02:53 AM

Not asking you to alter you design in any way, but heres some food for thought. How does experience relate to the game, I'm not talking about the variable inside the game, but the players experience playing the game. You said that you could maybe unlock special attacks for high level players, or buff their strength/survivability, but ask yourself, is that really necessary? Why do you want to allow the player to level up at all, when balance needs to be maintained at all times? Of course you need to show the players that they are growing stronger as they play more and more which is what draws players to these kinds of game, but I'm sure it can be managed aesthetically.

Pick a game like L4D, or CS for PvP, the xp bar in these games (if there are any at all) dont affect the attributes of the players in any way (lets leave out the unlocks for a bit please). What makes a person with more xp better than the other? It doesn't, the metric in that case is just 'guessing' how experienced the player is (proportional to kills etc.) which is not always right because a person who has played more but is pathetic can have more xp than a pro.

My point is, PvP and the xp system can be detached from each other if you want, it all depends on how you want the xp bar to affect the game.

#9 Jungletoe   Members   -  Reputation: 225

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Posted 12 April 2012 - 06:52 PM

Not asking you to alter you design in any way, but heres some food for thought. How does experience relate to the game, I'm not talking about the variable inside the game, but the players experience playing the game. You said that you could maybe unlock special attacks for high level players, or buff their strength/survivability, but ask yourself, is that really necessary? Why do you want to allow the player to level up at all, when balance needs to be maintained at all times? Of course you need to show the players that they are growing stronger as they play more and more which is what draws players to these kinds of game, but I'm sure it can be managed aesthetically.

Pick a game like L4D, or CS for PvP, the xp bar in these games (if there are any at all) dont affect the attributes of the players in any way (lets leave out the unlocks for a bit please). What makes a person with more xp better than the other? It doesn't, the metric in that case is just 'guessing' how experienced the player is (proportional to kills etc.) which is not always right because a person who has played more but is pathetic can have more xp than a pro.

My point is, PvP and the xp system can be detached from each other if you want, it all depends on how you want the xp bar to affect the game.


Hmm... that seems interesting. I do think this would work in a FPS or similar game, but I doubt it will work in survival because some games don't have combat systems that could work like that AND it takes away from the realism. In a FPS, your skill is ranked by how good you can shoot, reload, dodge bullets, etc. Survival games typically don't have that. In real life, some people are stronger than others and can do different tricks in a fight. How do they obtain these special skills and traits? Real life certainly doesn't have grinding, but rather has studying and training.

My idea is that if a game found a good way to "train" the player to make him stronger then it would succeed. Maybe you could have an achievement system where killing someone for the first time unlocks an "aggressiveness attack" or something similar. Knocking experienced people out 20 times could earn you a new skill. This way, it does have "leveling up" but it doesn't become a grind AND rewards players for playing longer.

#10 Tincha7   Members   -  Reputation: 169

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Posted 14 April 2012 - 04:25 AM

Usually, unlocks and rewards are put into games to get people to grind for more points. Pople end up playing more and more even if they aren't really enjoying the game all that much, the achievements and unlocks drive them in some way.

I'm in the CS:GO beta, allow me to share my experience with you. The first day I loaded up the game, I failed at it really hard, I couldn't kill a thing and always ended up at the bottom of the leaderboard. I played and I played but nothing seemed to work out. Now if it was one of your run of the mill shooters, I would've been unlocking cool gadgets and unlocks and I would've slowly gotten stronger if those weapons give me an advantage in some way. Here my xp metric in-game is helping me out. But that doesn't happen in CS:GO at all, this is what you have to decide. Would you like your game to take the players' hands and lead them forward or let them 'learn' and gain 'experience' in the real world sense, and become better at the game? The former is considered safer in today's times, this is what makes older games a lot more fun for some people.

After spending a couple of more hours in the beta, I finally understood the ropes, I got a feel of the recoil on every gun, I learned that my accuracy is pathetic while moving, and crouching while shooting helps a lot. It gets better if you pay more attention, some guns have a directional bullet scatter, sort of like a biased random deviation on them. Its very satisfying to figure these things out, but not for most gamers. In a survival shooter, all these things can be applied quite easily. You don't have to spoon feed all the facts, for example, dismembering limbs slows movement, headshots are fatal (duh), aiming for the eyes makes them blind, and the special ones with the fatter arms explode to deal damage to their allies. Stuff like that, I'm sure you get the drift.

#11 ManuelMarino   Members   -  Reputation: 153

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Posted 16 April 2012 - 05:30 PM

there must be a progression and a little balance shift, because after I play for weeks, I want to feel stronger.

the game that balances while I play, I mean "exactly balances" anything I do, is not something that attracts me. It's not power playing, just rewarding.

the progression must be made in a way that it doesn't ruin the game, that's why it's probably the most difficult part of the game testing.
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