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Sunriath

Mods, Game Balance, and Sociology

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I have been working on a multiplayer project and I would like advice and criticism of some issues that I am wrestling with. Note that this is an extremely simplified explanation of my project, but all the details are not relevant. Before the game starts, the players set a common point level (allowing handicaps for less experienced players) and they use the points to buy equipment and abilities for their units from a list of various genre specific objects and skills called an object set. Once play starts, the players fight/cooperate with each other while working towards a specified goal. I have been working on a multiplayer project and I would like advice and criticism of some issues that I am wrestling with. Note that this is an extremely simplified explanation of my project, but the details are not relevant. Before the game starts, the players set a common point level (allowing handicaps for less experienced players) and they use the points to buy equipment and abilities for their units from a list of various genre specific objects and skills called an object set. Once play starts, the players fight and/or cooperate with each other while working towards a specified goal. However, I am also making the game extendable so that user can design their own equipment and abilities to add to the game in the form of dynamic objects. Currently I am planning on implementing these by having a virtual machine that runs byte-code for the various dynamic objects in order to create an environment safe from rogue code while still allowing full flexibility. I do not want a componentized system where you combine pre-existing pieces to create the dynamic objects because such a system does not provide the flexibility that I need. The idea is to have a library of dynamic objects that the user community creates and which enables them to create their own object sets that describes world they envision. Of course, I will supply quite a few dynamic objects and object sets along with the engine. I have a few questions for you to respond to (but do not let yourself be limited to these questions, any criticism is welcome): How do I maintain the key game balance with users creating their own dynamic objects and object sets and therefore determining the point costs of the equipment and abilities? I have thought of either placing the point cost in the dynamic object or in the object set definition, or possibly both, however, none of these ideas completely resolves the issue of game balance. I have also considered using an economic model (supply and demand determining costs), however, I would have to conceive a method for resolving the point cost conflict between the multiple players due to their different styles of play and therefore their differing equipment and abilities costs. I have also considered releasing the game without the tools or with limited release of the tools necessary to create the dynamic objects until the game has run its course, however, I believe that this defeats my original vision for this project. Would the ability for players to set the point level at which they play each scenario cause the homogenization of all units into super-units rather than cause players to play diverse and specialized units? I am planning on including controls that allow the players to set the maximum number of units allowed, maximum point level per unit, etc in addition to setting the maximum points the player can spend on units. I want to make my engine as free and open as possible, however, I am afraid that the freedom will ruin the game balance and desire to play diverse units of the player''s design. Is my vision fundamentally flawed, or are these issues resolvable? Will complete freedom of extension in a game ruin the necessary structure to provide an entertaining experience? I believe these questions are sociological in nature rather than technical. Any insights will be appreciated. Thanks. Sunriath "Against stupidity even the gods contend in vain."

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quote:
How do I maintain the key game balance with users creating their own dynamic objects and object sets and therefore determining the point costs of the equipment and abilities?


I saw this question coming a mile off . Have you thought of enabling the computer to identify structures and designs of an object? I don''t know how flexible this system of yours is but there many ways to dynamically control balance. You can use systems where each object is constructed with values.

A common system of balancing is the "Power vs Speed" balancing act. Think of character generation systems and how players can make characters almost any way they want to but they can''t have everything. This probably goes along the line of what you were saying about "Specialisation".

Maybe some sort of wireframe might be useful as well, or having the player just creat a wireframe and the computer places in the rest. When the computer places in the rest can be where balancing becomes operational.

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This reminds me a bit of evolution.

Costing is a good idea, but I''m afraid that you''re not going to know the value of any characteristic''s point until you see it in play. Is 1 pt of stealth better than 1 pt of speed? How about 1 point of range vs. 1 point of damage? It''s tough to know until the units are in play. Simulating a lot of battles may help, but won''t account for human cunning.

What''s the lifecycle of your in game choices? Say I design something (a missile launcher, for instance). I enter the game and find it totally unacceptable. Do I have an opportunity to fall back and redesign? Or am I stuck with my choice?

I think you can allow for a lot of freedom, but it sounds like you''ll need to let players change their choices as they play. Otherwise they could end up bringing a knife to a gunfight. This wouldn''t be so bad if they had prior information and your world was such that retreating from conflict could occassionally be advantageous (this opens the door for covert action). Otherwise, you might potentially have a "War of the Worlds" type of gameplay, inwhich one side has no defense whatsoever.



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Just waiting for the mothership...

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Thanks for the replies.

By the way of analogy, let me apply the general concepts to another game we hopefully are all familiar with: Capture the Flag Quake (or some similar 3d fps capture the flag game). However, I will make one modification to the game play: before the game starts the captains from each team meet together and agree upon an amount of money that their team will spend on equipment. The team captiains then meet with their team and they buy equipment for the various team members to begin the game with, once play starts equipment swapping and stealing equipment off of dead players is allowed with very little effort involved. (One additional change I will make is that players cannot join a game in progress and all players will stay in a game until completed - just to simplify the issue).

Now that the ground rules for this modified version of Capture the Flag Quake are established, I will complicate the concept with the game balance issue. In Quake, users can make their own mods which replace provided weapons with user-created weapons (ie bfg, grappling hook, magic stone that increases your speed or reduces your damage). My idea is to bring design reuse to mod making by having these modifications (weapons) stored in a library of objects. The mod maker will then browse through the assorted weapons in the vast repository and pick which weapons he wants for a new mod, define the price of each weapon, and very quickly have a new mod.

This system would effectively place more power in the hands of the players. I am wondering if you think that the user community can handle the critical issue of game balance. Of course I will create a web site that highlights the top downloaded and most voted for mod packs and I will provide quite a few balanced mod packs and weapons. What do you think the effect the above modifications would have on Capture the Flag Quake?

Sunriath
"Against stupidity even the gods contend in vain"

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OK, I''ve got a clearer picture. Besides costing and balancing, you''re going to have the additional element of enforcing conventions. Unless you have a way of examining mods, it''s going to be tough to stop people from bringing in just anything. For this reason, I think your website (and the respected sites of others) will be the main download area for known and approved mods.

You still have the issue of the knife at the gunfight unless you can predict how mods are going to be designed... which sounds antithetical to your goal. The incredible balance that get from popular games like Starcraft comes from tons of tweaking, testing, and refining... even after the game had been out in the field. Even if you assign values to known, recombinable attributes there''s no real way of detecting how they''re going to be used in combination. As we coders say, "ya can''t handle ALL cases."

If you don''t prebalance known causes and effects, I''m not sure there''s a way you can know a game will be balanced. Here''s a weird thought: Can players balance the game as they play? Maybe they can take some action that changes the effects of a given module (voting, power allocation, etc.)


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Just waiting for the mothership...

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