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Dauntless

Victory conditions and game balance

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Eldee''s post from the defeat hangup inspired this post: I think that victory conditions should be unknown or variable. If the game designers/levelers can deduce what the weak points are, then the players can too. Let me make that more clear...the enemy''s victory conditions should be unclear. Sometimes the weaknesses are obvious, sometimes they are not. Sometimes strength''s are illusory. I think that in many ways, play balance is overrated in game design. In some ways I feel that balance should happen through the playing of the game, not predetermined at the beginning of the game. Look at the American Revolution for example. If we played this as a "balanced" game, America surely would have lost. The truth is that wars are fought when an imbalance exists, and its up to one side to redress that balance as quickly as possible. I also want to point out the difference between PLAY balance, and game balance. Game balance to me is the odds of winning the mission or game itself. Play balance is the unit to unit combat, or small scale balance. In many ways, its an issue of scale...but play balance is more than just taking same type units and comparing them to each other. For example, Southern units during the American Civil War tended to be better than their northern counterparts. They tended to have higher morale, be more brave, and were better shots. However, they didn''t have as good weaponry, and were constantly tired and worn out compared to Northern troops (who may have been more green, but also more fresh). If you went one on one, I''d give the odds to the Southern regiment. But without out factoring balance of units, how do you set about victory conditions? Another glaring error in RTS games is that the player has too much knowledge of what units can do, how well they do it, and what a country can produce. In other words, the strengths and weaknesses of a country are too easily deduced. This leads to the player being able to deduce the strategy of the enemy player and counter his moves. I posit the following steps: 1. Player can create his country''s units. Therefore player can not know the units strength''s and weaknesses initially. 2. Player can create his country''s resources, including "people resources". While manufacturing capabilities may be guessed at, and natural resources known for the most part..."people power" can not be guessed at. 3. Players assign their own victory conditions. For example, taking certain resources, having a "kill ratio". This forces each player into not knowing what the real objective is. All games today basically have two objectives...kill units and take resources. Perhaps the objectives are simply to procure a strategic spot to launch a raid. 4. Battles will be non-linear. Players can chose when and where they fight (unless of course forced into a fight by the enemy player). Think Shogun instead of Starcraft for an idea. So in essence you have to do the following things: 1. Make information much harder to glean. Obfuscate a side''s abilities, and it makes attacks and objectives less clear. 2. Make objectives less clear and more varied. 3. Make play balance unsure. If one side is convinced he has the superior units then he will proceed with an attack without worries. If the player understands that it is possible for the weaker force to destroy his own, he will be a bit more hesitant to use them. This goes hand in hand with the first issue above. Not knowing for sure is a good thing. Chance is good.

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in addition to being able to create your own troops, i think
the resources you have availible should affect the outcome of
their quality. for example, if you allocate x ammount of money to
spend on training, but twice as much toward uniforms and artillary,
you'll have a fine looking soldier who doesnt know how to aim.
vice versa, you could have a finely honed instrument of destruction
but no shoes and an uncalibrated rifle. in this scenario, the
troops you create will be different than your opponents, and
based on your decisions, your outcome would be affected.

-eldee
;another space monkey;
[ Forced Evolution Studios ]


::evolve::

Do NOT let Dr. Mario touch your genitals. He is not a real doctor!

[edited by - eldee on December 1, 2002 5:24:34 PM]

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You have to be careful with the ''create your own units'' idea. The more creation options you give the player, the harder it is to create play balanced units. If there is any way to create a superunit, people will find it very quickly. I''m not sure I agree that play balance is not important. However, there definitely does need to be a way of breaking the balance through clever play. That is basically what what strategy games are all about.

As for the idea of letting your players figure out their own objectives, I totally agree. By telling the player exactly what his objectives are, you are immediately reducing the amount of strategic thinking he has to do.

I''m basing my own victory conditions on controlling terrain. I haven''t worked out the details yet, but there needs to be some algorithm to determine how much control you have over the map, taking into account the idea that certain units can exert more control than others, certain fortified positions give you more control than others etc. The important thing is that wiping out the enemies units is only a means to this end, not an end in itself.

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quote:

Original post by Dauntless

I think that in many ways, play balance is overrated in game design. In some ways I feel that balance should happen through the playing of the game, not predetermined at the beginning of the game. Look at the American Revolution for example. If we played this as a "balanced" game, America surely would have lost. The truth is that wars are fought when an imbalance exists, and its up to one side to redress that balance as quickly as possible.



I was always convinced that most history events are pretty well balanced. Wars are only fought when both sides at least think that they are balanced, that they stand a chance to win (hence balance).

Still, the question remains what can be done to make previously unbalanced gameplay interesting (e.g. fighting losing battles, etc.).

I always liked how Panzer General handled this by adding time as a victory condition. Fast wins are hard to achieve even with superior forces, late wins can be as useless as defeats.
The card-game bridge has another smart idea. After the cards (randomly) are dealt, the game is normally un-balanced. The players proceed on negotiating victory conditions. More difficult victories score higher, so players are encouraged to make the best of each game if they want to have the highest total score.

Some versions of Risk include secret victory conditions. Each player knows only his victory condition.




[edited by - Diodor on December 2, 2002 11:08:09 AM]

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Sandman-
I was thinking of having something of a "points" system in creating your units, but that has its own pitfalls associated with it. It could at least make sure that you didn''t create an uber unit. But when I was thinking of designing your own units, there was a realistic build system going on. In other words, for vehicles, you chose a hull which determines the capacity of the vehicle. Weapons will be modifiable as well, in that you can determine their damage (up to a maximum limit) as well as things like ammo capacity, range, and accuracy. However, the lighter you make your gun, the more accurate you make it, the more expensive its going to be. There has to be a minima and maxima so that players can''t build the ubervehicle.

And more to the point, if they try to create for example a 100pt. Behemoth, they may find out that a clever player can easily take it down with 4 25point ones. Indeed, that''s sort of how WWII armor battles were fought...the German armor was generally far superior to Allied armor (the T34''s and JUStalin tanks being exceptions) but there were always more allied tanks.

Here again, that can add to the strategic flavor of the game. Do you want to have lots of expensive units or lots of throw away ones? It might be a wiser choice to use the expensive strategy especially if you don''t have the people power to create all the pilots.

So I think that having a rules based system that calculates not just the "base cost" of a unit, but its upkeep and maintenance as well will ensure that players can''t truly build the ubervehicle. And even if the ubervehicle slips through the rules cracks....whats good for the goose is good for the gander. There''s nothing preventing other players from creating the ubervehicle too.

My fear about a cost based system is that it makes people rules-lawyers rather than strategists. They focus too much on squeezing every last ounce of efficiency out of what they perceive as the ultimate design. The only way I can see around this problem is by making sure the rules actually favor combined arms warfare and making sure that the sum of a forces parts is greater than the whole. The player who does not creating a holistic armed force should be beaten time and again by a player who knows how to integrate his forces. In this sense, there is a balancing, but not of the units.....but of the rules themselves.

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Diodor-
I think the key to what you said was that one side may have believed they were equal. When you think about it, it''s not smart to fight an opponent who you think is equal in power to you. Because then there''s a 50% chance you''ll lose. So you can throw a sucker punch but you have to be careful because then you might lose allies.

The Japanese samurai even had a term for this; ai nuke....mutual destruction. Chances were pretty good that your opponent was as good as you were or better. Therefore there was a very good chance that either you killed your opponent, he killed you, or you both killed/maimed each other. That means that only about 33% of the time you lived through a duel. It bred a notion of acceptance of death in them.

As for victory conditions, time is definitely one of them. I liked how in the Close Combat series, once you won a battle, you had to chose how long you wanted to wait. If you waited longer, you got more reinforcements, but if the other side chose an earlier time, the earlier time is when the battle was fought. It forced the player to think about acceptable losses. Even if they won a part of the battle, did they have the forces remaining to make it through the campaign?

I think a big part of the problem is the notion of harvesting and resource building in game. If your industry is strong enough, you can just continually pump out the peons to replenish your stock. In real life, wars aren''t fought like that. Whole new units aren''t sent into battle normally, instead they replace those who are wounded or to strengthen a unit to prepare for an assault. Sometimes entire brand new units are shipped out as a unified unit, but this is more the exception than the norm. But this is another topic, and one I touched on in the "pizza rodering post" I made awhile back.

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Dauntless-

Once again I agree with most (if not all) of what you are saying. I think that the whole C&C style of each side having a preset tech tree it can build should be kept for C&C style games, but other, far grander games (such as the one you are desgning) need to be a lot more open ended.

I love the way in Earth 2150, and all the games made on that engine, you can design your own units. As you add more to it it gets slower or more expensive meaning that if you make the perfect weapon you will only be able to buy a couple of them and this will limit the number of strategies open to you. I believe this is the idea you were talking about with desigining your own units.

And leading on from this, I think the balancing that needs to be done is more on how each weapon or attachment to the unit will affect its cost and speed etc. Unfortunately if this fine tuning isn''t done perfectly over time people (especially when playing online) will figure out the "perfect unit" and everyone will use it. It is a sad fact that 90% of people out there will figure out that spending all of your money on Tank x will beat any other combination of units built with the same amount of money (eg the heavy tanks in Red Alert, if I had a dollar for every player that tank rushed me with ONLY heavy tanks...).

In my RTS you can create your own units and then based on what strategies you like to use lean towards lots of weaker units of a few stronger ones etc. I believe this opens up a lot more options for the player and would make for a far more enjoyable game. It also adds into the other player not knowing exactly what you are going to do based on what "side" you choose.

Anyways, just wanted to say that I agree with what you are saying but that we (as developers) need to be VERY careful with how we implement such systems as unfortunately people seem to have more fun winning with the same unit over and over than using lots of different strategies.

Doolwind

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quote:
Original post by Dauntless
whats good for the goose is good for the gander. There's nothing preventing other players from creating the ubervehicle too.



True, but the game won't be so interesting if everyone plays has exactly the same unit. However, I doubt many players would be prepared to sacrifice victory just for the sake of being different.

Balancing build-your-own units is a bit of a nightmare. Even if the individual components look balanced, there is always the possibility that certain combinations can be abused.

In MOO2, you can design your own starships, choosing components and weapons from a big list. You're limited by the size of the hull you choose. The overall cost of the ship depends on what you equip it with. None of the weapons or devices are particularly overpowered. Or at least, individually they aren't.

Unfortunately, late in the game there is a particular combination of weapons and devices which is ridiculously powerful. A single ship with this setup can wipe out pretty much any fleet - and they are sufficiently cheap to build that you can field them en masse. I've wiped out ridiculously large fleets in a single turn with these things, despite being outnumbered about 6 to 1. In multiplayer games, if your opponent builds the same design, then it is a total stalemate. A far as I am aware, there is no design that can adequately combat it.

Of course, MOO2 is saved by the fact that this design is only really possible fairly late in the game - you need to have pretty much completed your tech tree in order to build it, and ideally gained a few levels of miniaturization. It is very easy to get squashed long before it is possible to build it, so it doesn't completely break the game. If you could build it right from the start, the game would be worthless.

[edited by - Sandman on December 3, 2002 8:11:18 AM]

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Sandman-
I was thinking of your territory control system and it''s interesting. I''ve been trying to think of ways to come up with victory conditions and objectives and it''s really a pain in the butt. There is a slight problem with the territory control system in that it''s warfare-style dependent however. In guerrila warfare, controlling territory is meaningless and I''m not just talking about Vietnam style guerrila warfare, but our own American revolution as an example. The British believed that by controlling the cities, they therefore controlled the resources and the power. Unfortunately for them, cities were not really what sustained the American troops. While supplies were a problem, living off the land was just a way of life.

Nevertheless, for most conventional styles of war the territory control is a good scale of victory. But the trick is also in holding on to that territory. The Japanese learned the cost of trying to hold on to so much territory even if it provided them with more natural resources. I think that the game designer has to look at the rationale and context of the war in his game background and decide what fits. In my own game, one side will be at a pretty fair disdavantage to the other. One on one, they are about even with maybe a slight edge going to the underdog one on one...but they are outnumbered almost 4-1. So I''ve had to come up with lots of ways that battles will be fought and to make them all logically consistent.

As for the building system, there''s lots of games that focus their gameplay almost on the ability to create units. Battletech and Car Wars come firmly to mind. For roleplaying games the Hero system is also noteworthy. And one thing all of these games have in common is their extreme longevity. Battletech has been around since 1984, Car Wars since 1979 (maybe 80), and the Champion system has been around since 1981. In many ways I''d include Star Fleet Battles in the list since there are rules to build your own ships (think Orions) and that''s been around since 1978. I think the most fun from these games come from building your units and actually testing them out. The only problem with all the above mentioned games is that they are duelling type games...one on one style combat (or maybe an all for one kind of melee).

With good rule design I think it should be fairly easy to come up with a build system that is not imbalancing to the game. The only real problem is making sure that there isn''t a loophole that was unforseen by the designers that players exploit (for example a combination of items that drastically alters the woth of the unit). If this gets discovered than the game can always be patched (just as the aforementioned rules went through various errata and revised editions).

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Doolwind-
Do you play any miniature games? If so, check out Jon Tuffley who makes an excellent series of sci-fi miniature games (and since he''s English he seems to be more popular in the UK and former commonwealth countries, so maybe you can find his stuff there in the land down under ) But one of the things that he mentioned in his game Stargrunt II that I agreed with completely. He mentioned that he didn''t create a points based system to create armies for his games because it led to the wrong kind of mentality in games.

I think he''s right when he says it fosters a thinking of; "I''m better or smarter than you are for beating you with an "equal" army". Balance for balance sake I think is a mistake. What matters more is getting something out of the game. I think players are focused so much on winning because it''s the most visible element of the game. But I guess I see games as being able to offer more than just "victory".

In my game, I REALLY want to stress the concept of sacrifice, valor and duty. One of the missions I was thinking of creating was essentially a rearguard retreat. In the mission the player is in charge of holding off the advancing forces. But the only way he can really be successful is if he sacrifices his units to blunt the advance...perhaps by blowing bridges in front of him. So while the player may "lose" through material calculations, in the end he''ll really win. But the important part is the player must chose this path on his own, without being railed into the choice. In psychology you learn that to motivate people there are external rewards and internal rewards. The best reward is the one where we give ourselves our own rewards. The problem with games is that they provide mostly an external motivation, "I beat the game/mission".

I just got done watching Kiss of the Dragon, and made a mental note of the part near the end when Jet Li''s character could have just gone home...case solved. But he made a promise to the women to get her daughter back, and she had to remind him that he didn''t fulfill his promise. When he was reminded, he remembered his duty and obligation even if it meant dying. Sort of like in Saving Private Ryan where James Ryan had to live with the sacrifices of all those men to save him. That''s what I want to get across in my game...a victory of choice....not a victory of balance or calculations.

It''s those sort of things that I want to introduce as "victory conditions". Choices...moral choices....choices of life and death. I''ve been thinking of the commanders being NPC''s, and I want the player to get attached to them. To make it all the more saddening if the player realizes he will have to sacrifice one of his commanders for the greater good.

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