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Default Josh Sawyer - How To Balance An RPG

August 23rd, 2014, 22:26
Obsidian Game Designer Josh Sawyer posted a new editorial article on kotaku where he talks about how to balance the development of an RPG game.

Why is game balance important in a single-player game? It's a question many players often ask rhetorically, but there are many important reasons why balance should be a strong focus, even in RPGs that focus on single-player experiences. Balance isn't necessarily about seeing what character builds are more powerful when put head to head, but about understanding the different types of challenges those characters will face when going through the game.

Ideally, each type of character build has its own strengths and weaknesses throughout the game's content, but ultimately ALL character builds should feel viable in different ways. No player wants to spend 40 hours working toward a dead-end build. Similarly, few players want to accidentally discover that their fundamental character concept is an unspoken "easy mode" through the game.

RPGs, especially the RPGs we make at Obsidian, are about choice and consequence. That doesn't just apply to the narrative elements, but also gameplay: character creation, character building, and tactical application of skills and abilities in the wild. If we do our jobs well, players will feel the sting of character weaknesses and the satisfaction of character strengths over the course of the game. Challenge is a tricky thing to balance for a wide range of players, but ideally it builds by giving players short periods of stress and mild frustration caused by a mental obstacle. Players examine the obstacle, consider their options, make choices, and eventually overcome it, transforming stress into a sense of exhilaration at their own ingenuity.

But where does this process all start? For me, it begins with a common question I have with anything involving player choice.
Thanks Joxer for the link.

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August 23rd, 2014, 22:26
Good read!

"It is now 2014 and, friends, I am here to tell you that trash options are bullshit."

Preach it brother! Giving us skills to make our characters better swimmers then having one small river in the entire game is a BAD thing. (I'm looking at you, Two Worlds.) Players have no clue what kind of world they are getting into outside of a few screenshots and maybe a two minute video. We have to trust the game developers not to put skills out there that are pointless.

"We also intentionally avoided the classic RPG armor tradeoff of damage avoidance (i.e. dodging) vs. straight damage reduction."

Errr, I like that one, personally. It's easier to dodge with no/light armor but, if you get hit, you're done. It's trivial to hit somebody with full plate but actually hitting them in such a way that it's going to do damage - not so much. The player gets to pick between steady-but-low damage and more random, high damage.
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August 23rd, 2014, 23:08
Some parties are worse, some parties are better.
Finding characters that work good together is major fun for me.
Trying to win with a non optimal (exotic mix) party can be fun too.
(Try JA 2 with with an "eastern block party" -> great fun.)

Making everything equal for casual gamers is boring.

If you suck at party building you should fail after 40h and start over (*)

So I don't agree with J.E. Sawyer.

(*) maybe read the manual next time

For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong. - HL Mencken
Last edited by HiddenX; August 23rd, 2014 at 23:22.
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August 23rd, 2014, 23:24
Oh boy could not disagree with Joshy more. Of course there should be trash options, or else there is going to be absolutely no interest to the game system as all and may as well not even bother (as I won't be with any game he designs).

So for example say you have an attribute that affects attack speed. Well, if you ramp it up to max but have zero attack damage it's worthless. So by his philosophy you would have to remove this attribute completely because it can lead to a gimped character.

If you have BS like charisma adding to combat damage, then may as well play a nintendo game. They may be mostly stupid but they will at least be a challenge.
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August 24th, 2014, 03:33
Originally Posted by ManWhoJaped View Post
If you have BS like charisma adding to combat damage, then may as well play a nintendo game.
Or any version of D&D since third edition as a sorcerer, warlock, bard, or ardent.

Originally Posted by ManWhoJaped View Post
They may be mostly stupid but they will at least be a challenge.
I also like challenge in a combat system. Figuring out which stat is OP in the game and then raising that stat until I am invincible is not a meaningful challenge.
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