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kerryl

Unit Balancing: Just Play Test?

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kerryl    122
So am I missing something or is the only way to really test unit balancing through frequent and excessive play testing? I''m kicking around developing an RTS but need to have a clear plan in so far as quality control. Sure, my units look balanced on paper but I want to avoid killer combinations, unit repetition, etc. I''m curious as to whether there are any recommended methodologies or a way of automating the task since the number of combinations quickly makes the problem seem insurmountable. As a multiplayer game there isn''t much in the way of AI except for a rudimentary system to trigger missions so I can''t easily plop down a set of shirts n skins and watch them duke it out. Any ideas? Point me to a url or recommend a book maybe?

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Sandman    2210
Ooh, one of my favourite subjects....

IMHO, unit balance depends a lot on the style of the game. I suppose that for a more conventional RTS in the mold of SC/RA/AoK balance is very important. However, a lot of us would like to see a more strategic game in which the player''s freedom to choose his armies is somewhat restricted - in this case, balance is not only less important, to a certain extent is is undesirable. But I digress.....

I think that the Rock Paper Scissors system is far too simplistic a method of balancing for all but the most dumbed down games. If your game rules are simple enough, you may be able to balance things mathematically, but assigning values to certain attributes or abilities such as vision range etc. is ultimately subjective and must be therefore be playtested.

So in short, I imagine that the only way you can balance your game is by extensive playtesting. You can give yourself a good start by looking hard at the details on paper and thinking about the following observations....

1. Ranged units: Obviously, the longer the range of a units attacks, the more powerful that unit is. Less obvious, is that the units value does not increase proportionally with its range, but much quicker. Bear this in mind particularly if you have melee only units in your game, unless you want them to be completely useless. Even in well balanced games like AoK or SC I still find that I rarely bother with more than a handful of melee units, if any at all.

2. Numbers: Most players I know prefer small groups of powerful units to huge swarms of wussy ones. If on paper, 20 of unit A is equivalent to 5 of unit B, then unit B is more valuable than 4 of unit A. Reason? It is far easier to keep track of and control 5 units than 20, and it is also far more likely that the units wont get in each others way etc... This is particularly true if the unit AI is a bit ropey.

3. Cost/build time: cost and build time alone are IMHO poor ways of balancing a unit... why? Because once you have paid the cost and waited for a very powerful unit, that unit no longer has any disadvantages, it is now a super unit. All I need to do is build crap units to keep my defences up, and once I have enough resources I start building the super unit. From then on, they dominate the game. A unit must be balanced with factors that are in play for the whole game, not just for the length of time it takes to get your resource production up to speed.

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kerryl    122

Thanks for taking the time to reply, Sandman...

re: Numbers
Ideally, if 20 of UnitA are comporable in strenght to 5 of UnitB shouldn''t UnitB be 4x the cost of UnitA? Would Units A & B then be "balanced"?

re: Cost/build time = poor balancing strategy
But isn''t player 1 at an advantage while player 2 is still building? That provides a balance, right?

As an example: Player1 has superior military capabilities to Player2. Player2 has invested his money in a BigGun instead of tanks like Player1. But the BigGun takes a long time to build so his risk is in getting stomped on by Player1 but his reward is that he will have an advantage if he can survive long enough. Those are the choices we want our players to make, right?

And now here''s the fly in the ointment:

Let''s say that this RTS game is on a grand level...it''s a persistent multi-player environment. And for arguments sake, let''s say it''s a space game with one offensive and defensive weapon. A laser and a shield. When a laser is created, it does 1 point of damage with a range of 1. When a shield is created, it can absorb 1 point of damage before failing.

Since information is one of the hardest things to control and really doesn''t make much sense for a persistent multiplayer game (see below) let''s give the players the ability to make gradual improvments rather than climb through a tech tree. For x "points" I can increase my range by 1, or increase my shield defenses by 1...per unit, not globally.

Then unit balance is more closely coupled to how quickly you can get money to build and increase units, right? It seems like it is a simpler approach to balance because:

1) Anyone can create a shotty little laser...who cares.
2) If I invest heavily in offense then my defense is weaker.
3) Continued balance is handled by the players in an attempt to be competitive and gain an advantage.
4) New player disadvantage is a whole nother thread, I suspect.

The only flip side would be to prevent someone from creating a mega cannon which in the RTS kind of game I''m thinking of, saboteurs could be employed so that you can''t just create a big cannon, you also have to have a good anti-sabotuer rating. Thus forcing the player to invest elsewhere helps prevent tipping the scales beyond recovery.

(sarcasm) So we''re done! It''s balanced! (/sarcasm)

By all means, shoot holes in my theory...that''s why I''m asking in the first place..

----------
Info is hard to control (reality): no matter how hard the US tries to control information, every country on the planet could probably find a way to make a nuke or bioweapons - they just might not have the resources to construct it.

Info is hard to control (game): how long does an area exist on a game persistent world before you can download it from a fan site? your character doesn''t know that info is because maybe they never found the mapmaker or completed the quest but you still have it.
----------

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Silvermyst    113
Numbers:

Unit a Strenght X
Unit b Strenght 2X
Unit a Cost Y
Unit b Cost 2Y

I''d probably prefer unit b, because it''s easier to control one unit than to control 2.

If you follow a cost/strenght method, you have to make sure that the number of units used matters. If a game favors a gameplay that uses as many units as possible (maybe two units attacking one unit gives an added bonus), then all players will pick unit a. If a game favors a gameplay that uses as few units as possible (no bonus or advantage at all for using many units) then all players will pick unit b.

Your gameplay would have to be designed to give
a) an incentive to use one big unit
b) an incentive to use multiple small units
Each choice should give the player a different gameplay. Both choices should be balanced (how to balance that is another question... try the ''holistic'' thread)

One more thing about balance...

To me, a game that is TOO heavily based on balance will forever feel like a race for power. I''ll feel like I have to make all the right decisions, every second I play, or I''ll fall behind.

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kerryl    122
quote:
Original post by Silvermyst
To me, a game that is TOO heavily based on balance will forever feel like a race for power. I''ll feel like I have to make all the right decisions, every second I play, or I''ll fall behind.



Never thought of it from that perspective. Thanks!! Definitely something to think about...

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Silvermyst    113
KERRYL:

It''s just that that''s the main reason why I never liked PvP RTS games. I always felt this huge pressure of time... pump peons, pump peons, build buildings in the exact right sequences, build the exact right type of units at the right time, send exactly the right number of units to opponent... rush, rush, rush.

If you DO want this rush in your design (hey, Quake etc are all about that adrenaline rush as well, and there''s nothing wrong with it) you''ll have to provide me with an interface that allows me to do all the things I want to do without giving me a headache. I like adrenaline, I just don''t want to see it spill all over my keyboard.

To balance or not to balance, that''s the question.

PS I happen to agree with Sandman: balancing a game is a lot of fun to think your way through. Especially when multiple ideas all of a sudden meld together and you go ''EUREKA!''.

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Sandman    2210
quote:

re: Numbers
Ideally, if 20 of UnitA are comporable in strenght to 5 of UnitB shouldn't UnitB be 4x the cost of UnitA? Would Units A & B then be "balanced"?



They might be balanced on paper, but they may not be balanced in the game. The interface/AI may make it difficult to control 20 of unit A well enough to make full use of them, whereas controlling only 5 of unit B would be easier. So most players would completely ignore unit A and just build unit B.

quote:

re: Cost/build time = poor balancing strategy
But isn't player 1 at an advantage while player 2 is still building? That provides a balance, right?

As an example: Player1 has superior military capabilities to Player2. Player2 has invested his money in a BigGun instead of tanks like Player1. But the BigGun takes a long time to build so his risk is in getting stomped on by Player1 but his reward is that he will have an advantage if he can survive long enough. Those are the choices we want our players to make, right?



The problem is that while these may be interesting choices, they have nothing to do with unit balance. It does effect dominant strategies in the game however - if player 1 strikes early then he wins, if he strikes late then he loses. Hence the abundance of early rush tactics in RTS games - which tends to make later units obsolete. As a developer, you cant win with this method of balancing.

Now onto the specifics...

Your idea as presented should be self balancing. As you seem to have noticed, offensive power is more valuable than defensive power, so in order to encourage players to avoid building supergun units that die after one hit (who cares if they can kill everything else from three screens away in one hit) you need to make defence and unit preservation important. Perhaps you only have a limited number of units available to you at the start of the game, and you cannot build more, (or make it very difficult to obtain more) you only upgrade the ones you have.... that might be interesting. Another way of preventing this is some kind of shields/reactor/guns interaction, e.g:

Class 10 laser needs at least a class 5 reactor, (ideally better, the stronger the reactor the higher the recharge rate)

Class 5 reactors are somewhat unstable, and require at least class 4 shields in order to avoid meltdown. Of course, if you only have 4 shields then it only takes one to fail before your units reactor becomes unstable....

Edited by - Sandman on August 7, 2001 2:41:18 PM

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ahw    263
I could start talking numbers and write pages, but how on Earth would that help you ... everybody have their own point of view.
But it doesnt mean I can''t give you something useful neither

I say (and, ahemm, I have said it before to other people, sometimes I feel like I am nagging), go and PLAY with your game. No, I don''t mean go and write some software, I say do some playtesting !!! There is nothing easier. I remember creating a little battle game with one of my friends when we where 12 to test some ideas, it was a great exercise in balacing (''cause of course, each of us wanted to create the BEST unit )

You don''t need graphics, you don''t need cool drawings, you don''t need any programming... you just need some pens, some paper, scissors to cut your tokens to play with, et voilà! homemade wargame to playtest.

Now go forth and write down a list of units, rules for movements, conflict resolution, and other mechanisms you''d want to deal with, and you''ve a good prototype.

It could be a board game or a free movement game, the problem of real time is dealt with by the way you order the different phases of a turn ... actually, that''s when you start realising all the little problems you wouldn''t have thought of before.

Ah, and if you don''t know where to start, what better than starting by copying from the masters ? Look for the Netepic project on the web. It''s the old version of the Epic40k game by GamesWorkshop, the old rules have the advantage of being extremely detailed, which a computer doesn''t care about, while the new version of the rules are realy cool to play with, but would be much harder to implement in a computer (IMHO).

Now go and make that search engine burn !



Sancte Isidore ora pro nobis !

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Mooglez    122
http://web.mit.edu/tcadwell/www/gamedesign.html

This is a link to some good unit balance rules and tips. The articles are written by Tom Cadwell aka. Zileas. (Any hardcore Starcraft player knows the name and can backup his reputation.)

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Ronin_54    122
I know a good solution for the "a vs B" problem.

a) Make sure you can repair vehicles, at a lower cost compared to buying them.

b) Make sure a unit becomes less effective when hurt.

When you got 2 of unit A fighting one of unit B, it can be a... strange... battle.

The player with tank ''A'' will have a slight advantage, since only one tank gets hit, while the other one keeps at maximum power. But he is more likely to loose a tank forever.

Player with tank ''B'' will have a problem with the strenght of his unit, since he can take more damage, and *will* take more damage. But, it is also more likely to come out of battle somewhat in one or two pieces, so it can be repaired.

Choices, choices...

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Kylotan    9873
quote:
Original post by kerryl
So am I missing something or is the only way to really test unit balancing through frequent and excessive play testing?

*screams loudly*

No. NO.

Sorry kerryl. It''s nothing personal, but we had this conversation a week or two ago. It would be worth your time to browse back over the last month or so as there has been a lot of good discussion on this and closely-related topics.

My short and very-opinionated response: if you leave something to the testing phase before trying to get it right, your game is almost certainly already broken beyond repair. The earlier you get something right, the quicker it takes to do so and the less knock-on effect it has on other systems. You should plan for balance, design for it from the start. The testing phase should be to close up the loopholes that you didn''t forsee, not to try and work out what works and what doesn''t.

If your stuff looks good on paper, that''s a start. Try running the combat system without the rest of the game, just by using probabilities and statistics. They can''t tell you everything, but they can highlight problem areas.

I don''t think there are any accepted methodologies. If there was, most people would use it by now. But one way is the "scissors-paper-stone" method, called "balancing high" by someone on the Red Alert team, which theorises that if it''s possible to destroy any given unit type easily, then the game cannot be too unbalanced. Personally I find this to be a poor method and is used more as a damage limitation method than a way of ensuring good gameplay.

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kerryl    122
My apologies, Kylotan. I''ll check the archives.

I figured this was probably beating a dead horse...however, I''d like to thank everyone who took the time to respond. Next time, I''ll check the archives before starting a thread.

Thanks again,
Kerryl

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Kylotan    9873
Oh, please don''t refrain from starting new threads. Just be sure that you''ve read the recent ones when you do so Because once you''ve been here 6 months or so, you''ll see just how often certain threads repeat

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TechnoHydra    122
Um this probably wont help much but a game I''ve been beta testing deals with lot of adv. tech units. Shattered Galaxy its called. It''s closed beta right now I dont know if youd be able to test it any. It has okay balance between the units. infantry/mobile/aviation/organic. It based on a continueing neverending war between factions. Emphasizing team play like nothing I''ve played before, personal opinion. check out sgalaxy.com it has a lot of info on it. Might be worth looking at. play the game if you can it might give you perspective on some ideas for balance.

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ahw    263
snif
Did anyone read my post ? Anyone ?

Ah well ...

and if you were just to lazy to search, shame on you. Go there to see what playtesting (gee'' Netepic itself is 3 and half years old, based on a game more than 10 years old ... and still being practiced) and constant feedback brings to a game.

*Grumble* >:/




Sancte Isidore ora pro nobis !

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DashZero    122
ahw is right on about prototyping. (See someone read your message...)

I like GA&D as a reference to create a game by. (Game Architecture and Design.) Admitedly the Rock Paper Scissors is little more than a launching point though...

We HAVE already bloodied each other over this topic, but we obviously like it enough to poke each other some more.

I still like the idea of exposing your parameters (in a database or something) so that you can tweak your units on the fly. That way you can have the game DESIGNER playtesting and getting the balance HE/SHE envisioned right. The Test department should get a fairly decently balanced game when they start digging in...

Dash Zero
Credits: Fast Attack - Software Sorcery - Published by Sierra 1996

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Dauntless    314
Sandman and keryl brought up good points. Namely about the balancing issues of GROUPS and not individual units. Lord knows I've beated this point to death in other threads, but I think it bears reiterating.

If you are creating a true strategy game, then I believe you should not compare on a unit by unit basis, but on a grouping and methodology basis. Balance testing should be considered from the angle of the composition of units, and not the units in and of themselves. However, it's trickier than just adding up point totals. As I've mentioned before, you have to consider the holistic effect of the unit designs and how they interrelate to one another. As a small example, have you created a unit with very good capabilities that you "handicapped" by giving it a vulnerability or weakness....but then created another unit with very little to offer, other than to protect that other unit's weaknesses? If so, then you must factor this in to the "costing" (although I personally abhor the idea of costing units).

Look at Naval vessels for a little inspiration. Take the Aircraft carrier for example. While they are the most powerful vessel afloat, it'sversatility and power is in many ways their weakness...they are overly reliant on their fighters. Take away the fighters and it's essentially defenseless. This is why Destroyer Escorts came to be. If all you did was create aircraft carriers without supporting units, then you are in trouble. And in relation to your concern, in playtesting you must account for these weaknesses and strengths. But how do you account for this if you only look at unit by unit capabilities? In the end, look at the real world and see why countries don't build all of X type units. Some countries have different fighting styles which makes them prefer different units, but in the end, there is a rationale while they chose the units they do. Countries design their strategies around their units, but they build their units around their philosophies (as an example, Americans prefer to send as few men into battle as possible, but we make sure they are highly trained and very capable all around units with a very flexible chain of command...the Russians believed in massing firepower with troops that weren't highly motivated or trained and had little flexibility, but they would outnumber you 5 to 1).

I can't stress enough the importance of realizing that an army is more than the sum of its parts. There are various factors that make different unit combinations and the strategies employed therein that make them more or less effective.

I think ultimately that you have to do a lot of playtesting, or perhaps make the game have customizable units so that the actual game IS about balancing. I think there are many hidden variables that simply can't be accounted for by looking at paper what the strength's and weaknesses are. And this is mainly due to the permuations of strategies that players will come up with. Frankly, I don't think balancing should even be that huge of an issue. Sometimes it's actually fun playing the underdog....actually I take tha back, it is always more fun for me to play the underdog. Why? Because I like the challenge of having to use my wits to overcome the superior position.

Edited by - Dauntless on August 8, 2001 9:23:20 PM

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RolandofGilead    100
Having the designer test and tweak units on the fly is good.
It''s amazing the number of tools I make in order to make a game.
Sandman''s first reply, point 3, I''m so surprised no one
ever mentions this but we''re talking a strategy game where
armies and infrastructure play a critical role, well, don''t
you have to feed your troops? I think a good way to make
superpowerful units less common is to make them have a high
upkeep/maintenance cost. If a game uses some incredibly
powerful units but their maintenance is so high that they
can''t be used for "your big so just go and crush whatever"
then they have to be used in a coordinated manner.
Probability and statistics, sure, if you know how.
I looked back through the posts but can''t find it, anyway,
I like the idea of ''improving'' your units, especially by
giving greater abilities for increased costs, but experience
works too and both make you try to preserve your investment.

Create.

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kerryl    122
First, let me say that I''m not TRYING to beat a dead horse here. I didn''t think anyone would post after my last post. However, lots of conversation, so let me try to respond individually:

Mooglez: Excellent link. Thanks a lot! For those who haven''t visited this site, there''s a formula contained within that the writer gives for computing cost effectiveness of a unit on a general level. Can anyone recommend a resource where I could find additional formulas like this that seems like it would be helpful in balance?

TechnoHydra: I''ll certainly check out the site you mentioned. Thanks for the link.

ahw: No. I read your post! I know it''s right and I''ve since started working on fleshing out the details. I am persuing your recommendation. After all, a couple years back, I helped a guy test a combat system for an FRPG...the best I''ve ever seen, btw, but very complex (perfect for a CRPG).

Dauntless: Good analogy for the Navy. I''m finding it''s incredibly easy to get in over my head so I think I''m going to go with the age old "start small" recommendation. At this point, just balancing a couple of units will be a task...later I can assign terrain based attributes (since they will be global with adjustments for certain units). I think having some basic units that can have various attributes improved makes sense since it offers different strategies. So you buy fighters with x,y,z attributes. But what PILOTS do you put in them. My homeworld will want strong defensive. My dropships will want heavy offensive with good evasion skills for avoiding others. And finally, how are those odds adjusted for deep space, heavy and low gravity, etc. It gets frustrating pretty quickly because instead of unit balancing I''m finding myself FEATURE balancing! What really needs to be there, what can I reasonably do in x amount of time, what offers the most fun, at my experience what can I balance?

RolandofGilead: On point #3...even something as simple as ammunition and/or fuel would provide interesting scenarios, missions, and problems. Maybe not for your cheapest units but certainly for your big guns. Sure that torpedo does 10k of damage BUT your nearest supply ship/stardock is 2 days away.

Thanks again everyone for your patience in responding to a topic which has been brought up countless times.

kerryl

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Sandman    2210
That was a fantastic link. I wouldnt mind discussing a couple of the points....

quote:

2) The true "costs" of actions
Actions in most games have some inherent game-based cost, be it some resource, like gold or minerals, or in the case of many turn based strategy games, a turn, as well as some player time investment. There is also an inherent player time investment that is especially relevant in real time games, and somewhat (though not as) relevant in other games. Actions with low payoff, low game cost, but high player time investment, are generally less useful (and imbalanced-weak) compared to low payoff, mid game cost, low player time investment actions, simply because many players will refuse to "waste" a lot of time, or in the case of a real-time game, cannont afford to use such time in that way.



The concept of the cost of an action in player time is very insightful. This is partly connected to my point about large numbers of units (managing a large swarm of units is more time consuming for the player than managing a small group) but it also runs deeper than that.... I think this also covers activities such as scouting (I rarely bother - it takes up too much of my time which is better spent peon pumping and teching in most RTS's) It also applies to units "special abilities". I find that I rarely use these abilities, and even when I do, I rarely use them as well as they should be used because I dont have time to coordinate them. Good exceptions are passive abilities like siege mode or the wraiths cloaking devices in SC.

quote:

9) The Basic Cost Effectiveness Equation
Cost effectiveness is Square Root of [Firepower*Hitpoints/Cost-squared]

Test it if you don't believe me. Firepower represents game effect, be it damage, or something else. Hitpoints represent the durability of the game element, which generally will be just that -- hitpoints. Cost is the cost it takes in the game, usually in terms of a game resource. Its harder to measure concentration of course.

Theres other equations too, but we wont cover them now, and I want to avoid too much vigorous hand-waving.



I am really not sure about this one. It seems OK, but it seems to rate firepower equally to hitpoints, which disturbs me a little.... My gut instinct tells me that good firepower can make up for poor hitpoints far more than good hitpoints can make up for poor firepower... anyone else?


Edited by - Sandman on August 9, 2001 11:17:20 AM

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Guest Anonymous Poster
quote:
Original post by Sandman
I am really not sure about this one. It seems OK, but it seems to rate firepower equally to hitpoints, which disturbs me a little.... My gut instinct tells me that good firepower can make up for poor hitpoints far more than good hitpoints can make up for poor firepower... anyone else?

Edited by - Sandman on August 9, 2001 11:17:20 AM


No no, firepower is not equal to hitpoints. The equation is firepower*hitpoints not firepower+hitpoints. There''s a huge difference there. Think of hitpoints as a time factor of how long the unit can sustain to deal out the damage before destoryed.

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ahw    263
you know ... there is a formula to calculate the quality of a poem (as anyone seen the Dead Poet Society ?)

so OK, units in a wargame might be different thing, but *come on*... you are not gonna have a perfect game just by sitting and doing maths. You are gonna have a perfect game by testing it, get feedback, tweak it again, all the way trying to stick to some game philosophy... cf my previous posts on GamesWorkshop. They are still alive and growing, I don''t think it''s just because their miniatures look good.



Sancte Isidore ora pro nobis !

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Sandman    2210
quote:

No no, firepower is not equal to hitpoints. The equation is firepower*hitpoints not firepower+hitpoints. There''s a huge difference there. Think of hitpoints as a time factor of how long the unit can sustain to deal out the damage before destoryed.



Yes, I am fully aware of the differences between multiplication and addition. My point is that that equation gives equal importance to firepower as to hit points:

Unit A: hp 100 fp 1
Unit B: hp 10 fp 10
Unit C: hp 1 fp 100

According to that equation, these units are all equally efficient. Perhaps this is right, I cant think of any real argument against it except that it feels wrong. I think perhaps it is just my reaction to the fact that it is just an oversimplification - how does weapon range, unit speed, rate of fire etc. factor into this one magical number "firepower"?
In any case I am opposed to this form of balance, not only is it oversimplified, but it trivialises decisions. What difference does it make if I build A,B, or C? Absolutely none whatsoever.

ahw: You are right, at some point you have to sit down and test the thing. But doing a bit of maths can save you a lot of trial and error.

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kerryl    122
quote:
Original post by Sandman
Unit A: hp 100 fp 1
Unit B: hp 10 fp 10
Unit C: hp 1 fp 100

According to that equation, these units are all equally efficient. Perhaps this is right, I cant think of any real argument against it except that it feels wrong.



I know where you''re coming from.

Unit A=Tank with pea shooter
Unit B=Infantry
Unit C=BFG

So theoretically, in 10 rounds:
A dishes out 10 points of damage
B dishes out 100 points of damage
C dishes out 1000 points of damage

As odd as it seems, I think it would work UNLESS you have splash/area damage to divy out. Then it gets weird because C could, with a well placed shot, theoretically destroy 100 units of A. On the flip side, one A could destroy C...if they ever got close enough. I tend to think that you''d have to write a rule of some sort that says higher damage=shorter range otherwise it''s a draw.

quote:
Original post by Sandman
ahw: You are right, at some point you have to sit down and test the thing. But doing a bit of maths can save you a lot of trial and error.



After all, isn''t testing it just proving your math works? So what''s the key? 1 part testing to 1 part math; otherwise you spend more time on the piece you''ve given the least amount of time.

Sandman: you said that the formula was oversimplified. Any ideas for the master formula? What are our variables?

hitpoints
attack damage
terrain modifier if attacking
terrain modifier if defending
range (a function of damage? or vice versa.)
firing rate (also a function of damage and/or range? ie, a more powerful weapon takes more time to load)
resource cost (a weighted value of time, ore, wood, gold, etc?)

Should range and attack damage never exceed 1 (think percentages)? That would enforce a balance of sorts, right? If you deal out .6 damage you can max out at .4 range? Firing rate = ???


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