Saturday, March 22, 2014

It takes a designer to balance a game

The rule of Saturday is that I don't have to post. However, I will probably post anyway, because I feel like it. I don't really feel like braining out quality content, though (whatever that means).

I feel like players are really bad at having balance discussions. I think this is true regardless of how good these players are. If you look at the Lee Sin balance discussions, people say ridiculous things like "rito nerfs the one balanced champ in the game" which is a totally ludicrous statement that I shouldn't have to debunk.

Yes I feel that Lee is too good and I can somewhat articulate why, which I already have. But it's really hard to have a discussion with players about why Skarner is bad because the players rage hard. Feelings get too much in the way of the actual truth, so all we hear is a lot of whining about how bad Skarner is and not a lot of useful feedback.

Scarra recently tweeted that the Ryze health buff is possibly too much. I can honestly say that is unlikely to be true. He was buffed by 54 HP (an honestly weird number), which is enough HP for roughly one basic attack at level 2 (slightly more than one at level 1). How many times do you get into a fight and survive with under 54 HP? I imagine that number is slim even in the early game. Yes it adds power, but the amount of power added is very low. I doubt that it's too much, but it's possible that he played Ryze and felt really strong for whatever reason (the range buff on Q or something) and said the HP might have been a factor. Or maybe he lost in fights to a Ryze, who knows.

Scarra's a pretty knowledgable player too, and I respect what he says a lot. But when he makes a statement like that, it makes me realize that he can't wear the designer hat, which is OK. A lot of people might say that players that play at the highest level know the game best, which is possibly true. However, only a designer can really read what is happening in games and say "well we need to tune in this way."

It seems a bit weird, but even smart players see things in forward directions. They tend to think that mixing certain things together would result in something strong. It's hard for them to work backwards and think about how the game might change to fix. The Lee Sin changes are a good example of that. Most pro players don't feel he's a problem, but most people with design experience who look at the character do.

You might be wondering, what does it take to have "design experience?" In general you need to have made your own game or done balance work for a game. More importantly, like any skill, you need to have made objective analysis about the things you've done and said "well I could have done this better" or "this change really sucked" and so on.

Having "made your own game" is possibly a bit out there for most people. All you need to have done is produced something that a group of others played and gave feedback on. If you have done mod content for a game that had a decent amount of feedback, that probably counts. Homebrew pen and paper rules also count, if you played the game long enough to determine what kind of an impact they had on the game itself.

I've done a lot of smaller stuff like modded content, homebrew rules and a little bit of making my own games (none published yet, sorry) and given a lot of feedback on design decisions. Some of my other blogs that a few of you have read have a lot of stuff related to that, although because much of it is caused by RL conversations there is a lack of context. I feel like homebrew is sometimes hard to balance. I can probably talk about some of the lessons I learned on that front later.

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