因此，最小化零和玩法的消极作用，限制玩家的交互活动是非常有效的方法。根据允许哪一类交互活动，带有相似主题和规则的游戏可以极大地改变游戏玩法。例如，《部落战争》和《Empires & Allies》是相似的异步即时战略游戏，玩家要发展军事，然后进攻敌人。然而，这两款游戏之间存在重大区别，从玩家入侵对方的城市时发生了什么事可以看出来。
在《部落战争》中，进攻是严格的零和的；进攻者从防守者的贮存中获得资源。而在《Empires & Allies》中，战斗是正和的；进攻者是凭空得到资源的。另外，《部落战争》中的死亡单位会从游戏中消失，而《Empires & Allies》中的防守单位总是活着，即使被打败了。
《Empires & Allies》秘密地掩饰了玩家对战斗的预期——胜利需要战败方，这个设计选择很有效，因为它使游戏更容易玩，玩家的情绪不会受太多影响。相反地，《部落战争》采用的是传统的方法，即一名玩家的获得需要另一名玩家的损失。这种设计选择创造了一个险恶的游戏世界，里面尽是坏脾气、野蛮的玩家。
这周末在纽约大学，我有幸聆听了《Magic：The Gathering》创作者兼资深设计师Richard Garfield关于游戏平衡策略的演讲。
篇目1，Game Theory Applied To Game Design
Every modern real-time game has some form of rock, paper, scissor mechanics. As gamers we subconsciously know that such mechanics are there and that they work pretty well but no one ever explains why. With a little bit of game theory I can show you why but first I’ll need to give you some brief game theory definitions.
What is a game?
A game is a framework involving two or more players where each player’s success is determined not only by his own strategy, but by the strategies of all the other players in the game.
What is a strategy?
A strategy is a complete plan of action for a player that explains how he will behave.
What is a dominant strategy?
A dominant strategy is a strategy that does at least as well as every other strategy in all situations but does strictly better than every other strategy in at least one situation. (In a game of rock, paper, shotgun, the shotgun would probably be the dominant strategy.)
One Way To Win
Let’s stitch this together in a computer game example. Let’s say there are 2 people playing an RTS called Lugaru Wars. Each player has just enough resources to either make one wolf unit or one rabbit unit. Let’s assume that winning the game earns the winner one point. Let’s also assume that wolves always beat rabbits (the rabbits are not like Turner). Finally let’s assume that the result of a wolf fighting a wolf or a rabbit fighting a rabbit is a 50/50 toss up where each player’s expected winnings are half a point. Here’s what the game would look like in normal form:
Payoffs are represented in the form (X,Y) where X is what Player 1 has won and Y is the winnings for Player 2. For more information on how to read and understand normal form games click here.
From looking at the payoff matrix, it becomes clear that building a wolf is the strictly dominant strategy. If my opponent builds a rabbit and I counter with a wolf, I get 1 point whereas countering with a rabbit gives me an expected value of 1/2. If my opponent builds a wolf and I counter with a rabbit I am guaranteed to lose and get 0 points whereas countering with a wolf, I can expect 1/2. Choosing to build a wolf makes me better off in every scenario. This game is not balanced because any player who is trying to win, builds the wolf unit all the time every time and the rabbits might as well not be in the game at all. (Bonus Fact: the “Nash Equilibrium” of this game occurs when each player builds a wolf.)
Balanced But Boring
How can this be fixed? Let’s pretend that wolves are twice as powerful as rabbits, so that when two rabbits meet one wolf, it’s a 50/50 toss up as to who will win. A quick fix for balancing this RTS is to make the rabbit cost half as many resource points as the wolf. So now with the same resources each player can build either one wolf or two rabbits. Now the payoff matrix looks like this:
In this game the strategy of building 2 rabbits is just as effective as building one wolf. One could try to argue that our work is done and we will now see a healthy mix of both units being built. However, this game is still very boring because the players don’t care at all what they build or what their opponent builds. Each person says, “Hey as long as I spend all my resources building something, I can always expect half a point no matter what.”
Mixing It Up
Ok, enough boring examples. Let’s spice this up by adding another character. Let’s say that players can again only build one unit each but now they can choose among a rat, a wolf and a rabbit. In this game assume wolves always beat rabbits but rats are sneaky enough that they can always ambush and kill wolves. Finally, the rabbits have such good hearing that the rats can not sneak up on them and rabbits can destroy rats every time. Here’s what the game’s payoffs would look like:
Now is there one dominant unit type that is always the best to build? No. Do players still feel indifferent about what they build relative to what their opponent is building? No, quite the opposite. Now each player really wants to know what the other player is up to so that he can build the right counter unit. The game is again balanced (each unit has equal merit) but there is no obvious strategy. (Bonus Fact: This balance here coincides with the fact that there is no pure strategy Nash Equilibrium in this game, only a mixed strategy Nash Equilibrium where both players are equally likely to pick any of the three units).
If you’re going to allow the player a super-strategy, make its cost to the player proportional to its power so they can’t execute it frequently. More importantly, make sure that the player can’t derive a super-strategy that works in every situation. Game designers have an obligation to combine some weaknesses with the strengths for a given course of action so that instead of dooming the player to repeat his same old dominant strategy again and again he finds himself forced into situations where a new strategy must be derived.
One of the reasons I like Lugaru so much is that not only is it structured to have no dominant strategy, no move to beat all moves, but David actually programmed the AI to punish users that repeat one type of attack too many times in a row. Players are thus forced to experiment and become comfortable with a lot of different moves.
Can you think of any games that are famous for embracing mixed strategies with their careful balance? Do you have any thoughts on how to take these game design concepts further?
篇目2，BALANCE BEYOND FAIRNESS
by Max Seidman
What Balancing Isn’t
Balancing is usually understood as the process of tweaking numbers to make a game fair. This often entails getting rid of ‘dominant strategies’ (strategies that, when chosen, make the player win more than their fair share of the time), and making sure no components are tremendously better than others. Balancing also generally includes tweaks like making sure the first player doesn’t have an advantage over the others.
This is a very limited view of the role of balancing for one major reason: fairness for fairness’ sake is not necessarily desirable*. It’s easy to imagine a completely ‘fair’ game that is no fun at all, for example: “All players roll a die. Whoever rolls highest wins.” This ‘game’ is completely fair, and consequently completely boring. This concept can be extended to exception based components as well – if all the cards in Magic were the same (or similar in function), the player wouldn’t have any meaningful choices and the game would suck!
What Is Balancing?
There have been a few pieces written in the community recently on strategies for balancing games, with a focus on achieving fairness. While achieving fairness is a result of balance, balance is not about avoiding giving one player an edge over the others. The balance that the term refers to is not balancing the players’ likelihood to win, nor is it balancing the power of cards: it’s about balancing the choices the players make. At their core, strategy games are about tensions in choice: I want to do A or B, but I can’t do both. We balance these decisions to make sure that players always have one of these tensions on their turns – if all of these choices are imbalanced, then the tension vanishes. Balancing is the act of tweaking numbers (resources, probabilities, options, etc.) to ensure that players always have at least two interesting and equally appealing choices during their turns.
As I mentioned, this understanding of balancing still achieves fairness. For example, imagine players are drafting cards. If any of those cards is much better than any other, then the player has no meaningful choice.
How Is This Understanding Practically Different?
Take, for example, a Magic draft. If the Magic R&D team had understood ‘balance’ to mean “making all strategies fair,” then they would design each of the five colors of Magic in any given set to be roughly equal choices for your deck while drafting. Understanding balance to mean “balancing player choices,” however, could allow the Magic design team to make one color generally underpowered with a few really great individual cards. Thinking about this design from a choice-balancing framework, this could easily result in fun choices: imagine a player opening their first pack to find a mediocre red card (but knowing that red is a strong color for draft in this set), and a really strong white card (but knowing that white is a relatively weak color for draft in this set). This could definitely be a fun and meaningful choice for the player, and one that I would called balanced (assuming one option wasn’t much better than the other), without forcing the strategies (colors) or individual components (cards) to be equal or “fair.”
The goal with your balancing is to think through the choice points players encounter during the game, and to average 2-3 meaningful choices at each point. One option (no choices) is occasionally alright, especially at the start of the game when more choices could be overwhelming. More than three options can also be okay, especially in games with high replayability, or late in the game (basically, the more choices there are, the more players have to know what they are doing in order to not be overwhelmed).
The concept of meaningful choices (or not false choices) is a relevant one here. Often times players will ostensibly have many choices, but only several will be meaningful. Revisiting the Magic draft example, if I’ve committed to making a red green deck, a pack of cards from which I must choose might have 15 cards total, but usually only 6 or so of them will be in my colors (allowing me to ignore the false choices of the white, black, and blue cards). Of those 6 maybe 2 to 4 will be decent choices, and after that it’s up to me to make the decision. Having these false choices is not bad design, as they actually help make the player experience easier while allowing for plenty of replayability. However, designers must realize two things: first, the average 2-3 choices at each decision point is counted after omitting false choices, and second, false choices that look like meaningful choices can confuse new players.
Using This Framework
About a month back Seth Jaffee wrote an excellent article on concrete steps to follow in order to balance your game (using the traditional definition of ‘balance’). While this was a pretty cool walkthrough, it’s missing the single most important step to balancing – the step that follows from understanding balancing as ensuring tension in player choices. As a designer, you must first identify your game’s decision points and the potential decisions the players will be making at those points. Only then can you know how to assign values and probabilities to guarantee 2-3 meaningful choices at each juncture.
As an example, I am working on a game with a “veto drafting” mechanic. Each turn, the player chooses one card from a row on the table, and asks the other players whether she can have that card. Each other player has a chance to deny that player the card by paying her a flat number of victory points. If they don’t, she gets the card. If they do, she gets to choose a different card. “Which of the cards on the table do I ask my opponents if I can have?” is the biggest decision point in the game. The player’s choices at that point are:
1.”Do I ask for my first choice card, assuming my opponents will give it to me?”
2.”Do I ask for my second choice card hoping that an opponent will pay me to veto the choice, and then I can choose my first choice? Even if they don’t veto, I get something alright.”
3.”Do I ask for something I know someone else wants, but I do not, in order to force them to pay me VP, and then I get my first choice? If they don’t veto, I get stuck with something crappy”
4.”Do I play a card from my hand?”
The goal is to have the player split between 2 or 3 of these choices every turn, with the occasional 1-choice turn or 4-choice turn. Once a designer understands her players’ decisions at their decision points, she can analyze the game to determine which game elements or numbers could make some of the possible decisions false choices. In my game, here are some numbers in the game that can imbalance some of the choices above, reducing player agency:
Average victory points per card – each card drafted also provides the player victory points. The more victory points a single card can score, the easier it will be for an opponent to veto a choice, and consequently the less likely a player is to choose option 1 above. It would be very risky.
Number of suits in the scoring scheme – the players are trying to collect cards with the same suit in order to score more points. The more suits in the scoring scheme, the more each card will be worth to a player who is investing in gathering that suit, and the less it will be worth to another player who isn’t. The higher this difference between value for a player who is collecting those types of cards and the player who isn’t, the less likely a player is to choose option 3 above, because getting stuck with a card of a suit you’re not collecting is very bad.
Victory point cost to veto – the higher it costs for a player to veto an opponent’s initial choice, the less likely a player is to veto, and consequently the less likely a player is to choose options 2 or 3 above, since in both of those cases the player has a high chance of getting left with something that isn’t their first choice.
Number of cards in hand – since players can sometimes play cards directly from their hands, the more cards a player has in her hand, the more likely she is to have a defined strategy that she doesn’t want to step outside of, so the less likely she is to choose option 3, above, and the more likely she is to choose option 4.
The core balance goal of this game is to make vetoing an attractive enough option that players must always take it into account, but not so attractive that players can always count on their first choice being vetoed. With that in mind, I can now apply Jaffee’s 5 steps for balancing game elements.
So next time you’re ready to balance a game, remember: when balancing, you don’t want your game elements to be “fair”** first and foremost. Your primary goal should be to make sure the numbers in your game work to afford the players with an interesting choice every turn and beyond.
Fairness is not usually bad, but it can get in the way of more important design, and it can definitely hurt when misused.
It’s worth noting that not all forms of fairness will result from my framework of balance as ensuring interesting player choice. For example, just making sure that players always have interesting choices doesn’t necessarily mean that going first won’t be a huge advantage. This is where fairness for its own sake can be taken into account.
篇目3，The Price of Personalization
by Josh Bycer
Personalization is one of the best ways of giving players progression and choices in games. Being able to create a character or army to the player’s specification allows them to connect more to their character and is a great motivational mechanic to keep people playing. Team Fortress 2 with its bevy of items is one of the best examples of providing replay-ability and longevity to a game. Because of the popularity of personalization, more designers are experimenting with it in their designs.
With Diablo 3, players can mix and match active and passive skills for each of the five classes, allowing two players using the same class, to be very different in terms of utility. While in Age of Empires Online, you can equip every build-able unit and structure with a variety of gear and take advisers into battle that provide age specific bonuses.
While all this looks great on paper, personalization needs to be kept in check as we’re seeing cases where designers are not able to see the forest for the trees with balance. To talk about game balance and personalization, there are two areas we need to focus on: single-player/cooperative, and competitive design.
The False Choice Syndrome:
Cooperative design is where designers like to give players a variety of choices, seeing as how they can design and balance them around player’s working together (or solo) instead of using them against each other. The problem which I talked about in my post about the difference between masochism and challenge in design: Is when to make a game difficult, the designers make some choices useless.
Diablo 3 is a different game when we look at the early to mid game (normal-nightmare) vs. the end game (inferno.) As it stands, many skills outright become ineffective for inferno, reducing survivability down to a number of pre-defined builds. Compounding this issue is that it’s hard to determine base-lines for enemy values due to Diablo 3′s system.
Because of how the primary attribute for each class dictates damage and defense, players who aren’t able to find loot related to it will have a huge disadvantage. But for people who use the auction house system, they can render the game a lot easier by just buying the best loot related to their class.
The problem is that there are so many permeations to a character, that it makes the end game near impossible to balance. They have 5 different classes with all the skills and runes, plus randomized loot for people who don’t use the auction system, and then they have to adjust for people who did use it. Blizzard didn’t just shoot themselves in the foot; they took a chainsaw and chopped it off.
In Demon’s Souls, game balance was far easier to achieve due to equipment placement and the leveling system. The designers had a good idea of what would be the base line attributes of a character at each stage of the game thanks to pre-defined equipment locations and altered enemy attributes accordingly. Of course, expert players who knew how to get every little bit of power out of their equipment and attributes could blaze through the game, but that’s alright. As balancing a game around the hardcore minority usually leads to boring design. This becomes even more challenging when you throw competition into the mix.
The Competitive Angle:
While balance is important for cooperative design, competitive games live or die based on how balanced they are. Gamers who play professionally will comb over every inch of the game’s design to find any little tricks or issues with the design for an advantage. If the game is not balanced, professional gamers will not touch it and the competitive scene will die.
The importance of balance is one of the main reasons behind the popularity of Starcraft on the professional scene. Not only did the designers balance 3 asymmetrical races, but they fine tuned them down to the decimal point of every unit’s attributes. Starcraft’s design is one of those games that deserve to be studied on this fact alone.
The detail that makes balance achievable in competitive games is a closed system. This means that there are no variables to the equation: a SCV in Starcraft will move and gather the same amount of minerals at the same rate every-time, no questions asked.
What happens is that when designers add the ability for the player to personalize their strategies, it adds variables to the equation. If any one of those variables leads to an always optimal strategy, a professional gamer will find it and exploit it until it is changed. For a game to be considered competitive, the gamers’ skill has to be first and foremost the factor in winning or losing. If someone can just equip better gear through time or money and can beat someone with several more hours at the game, no competitive gamer will want to play.
Strategy games in particular are easy to analyze due to how open they are in terms of numbers. The numbers game becomes an important learning tool for anyone who wants to be competitive at a strategy game. In Age of Empires Online the variety of items and premium upgrades that can personalize units is great, but they get in the way of providing balance.
Case in point: An Egyptian Spear-man can be upgraded to a champion via a premium upgrade. This upgrade not only increases the attributes of them, but removes the gold cost which is normally 10 per unit. What that means is that if someone researches it, after 15 spear-men the research has paid for itself. This is a huge deal and major advantage if two players are against each other and one hasn’t spent money on their civilization, then that player has a huge disadvantage.
With items, they can effectively break the balance of the game. Giving an archer unit enough defense and offense can make something that is only supposed to be effective against archers, now able to hurt everything. Combined with defense, even if another unit is strong against it, having 30% more health can be a huge deciding factor.
Imagine if players could choose special upgrades in Starcraft 2 before the match began: such as all Hydralisks have 0 vespane gas cost, and picture how bad the balance would be ruined with that.
Providing ways of personalizing the experience requires a careful eye for balance, and there are some tips designers can follow to prevent things from getting out of control.
1. An Open-Closed System:
Competitive games as mentioned require a set system for players to learn and build their strategies around. But that doesn’t mean a designer can’t give some leeway with variety.
In Command and Conquer Generals: Zero Hour, the expansion took the three playable sides: US, China and GLA and gave each one, three sub factions. Each sub faction took their respective side and altered it to emphasize a specific strategy. For example, the US air general removed the majority of tanks a player could build, but gave them more air units and made them cheaper in the process.
This gave gamers a chance to use these specific factions to alter their strategy during vs. but even though this introduced variety, the system was still closed as the player could not alter the sub factions. Recently Sins of A Solar Empire: Rebellion went a similar route, splitting each of the three races into 2 sub factions. Each one had different bonuses, units, researches and a super unit they could build.
2. A Variety of Limits:
Giving players multiple ways of affecting their character may lead to imbalance if left unchecked, but it can be reign in by providing limits. In Age of Empires 3, players had shipments in the form of resources, additional units, and upgrades that could be sent to their base during play. However, while the player can eventually unlock access to all of them through playing online, there is a limit of how many they can take into a match.
Because of that, it allowed players to create “decks” of different shipments built around different strategies for their civilization. Do you focus on the strengths of a civilization? Or work to counter their weakness? Or go for a jack of all trades route? No one could make their side unbeatable, as there weren’t enough slots available to fit every shipment in. Contrast to Age of Empires Online where players can equip everything with better gear. Meaning that the longer someone plays, the better their Civilization will naturally get.
3. A Side Order of Balance:
A discussion of personalization balance cannot be complete without another mention of Team Fortress 2. Valve has gone to great lengths to keep Team Fortress 2 as balanced as possible, even with more items then I can count. In the past there have been a few items that did slip through the cracks (the original medic hack saw upgrade for example,) but Valve has improved over time.
“Side-Grades” as they are called, provide unique bonuses to the classes, but they also come with a negative factor as well. From reduced damage, less ammo and many, many more are factored in to prevent any one item from being the optimal choice for all situations. The best part is that this prevents having more time spent playing Team Fortress 2, to beat out people with greater skill. It doesn’t matter what sniper rifle you’re using if you can’t aim accurately.
What’s important to remember is that for this to work properly, every item has to be a side-grade in some way or another. As having an item that beats everything else, defeats the purpose of the side-grade system.
Giving players more options of how to play the game always seems like a no-lose solution, but the more variations available, means more areas that need to be tested. If the developer wants to add more choices or even the option for PvP at a later date, they need to make sure that the foundation of the game is steady, or the whole thing could fall apart.
篇目4，GD Column 21: More Than Zero
by Soren Johnson
A zero-sum game is one in which the gains of any one player are balanced out by the losses of all the other players, such as winning a pot of chips after a hand of poker. Using strict game theory terminology, many competitive games are not actually zero-sum. Scoring a field goal in football, for example, does not take three points away from the other team.
However, more loosely speaking, the phrase “zero-sum mechanics” can mean that hurting one’s opponent is as equally valuable as helping oneself. In a typical RTS like StarCraft, a rush strategy, which aims to destroy the enemy’s economy as soon as possible, is just as viable as a boom strategy, which focuses on building up one’s own economy. If one can quickly wipe out the enemy’s first units, it’s irrelevant what level of development one’s own troops ever reach.
Thus, whenever a game rewards the player equally for hindering the enemy as for strengthening herself, the game has a zero-sum mechanic. Most team sports (basketball, soccer, football, etc.) share this characteristic; the defense, which prevents the opposition from scoring, is just as important as the offense, which does the scoring.
Competitive games are firmly rooted in this soil. Fighting games balance protecting one’s own health with taking away the health of the opponent. Strategy games encourage countering an enemy’s plans as well as perfecting one’s own. Shooters combine killing as many enemies as possible while also fulfilling some parallel goal, such as capturing a flag or checkpoint.
Zero-sum mechanics, in fact, seem to be the default choice when designing competitive games. However, their ubiquity masks the many, many problems with this type of gameplay. Indeed, zero-sum mechanics are, at best, a necessary evil and, at worst, a wrongheaded approach to game design that turns away many potential players.
The Zero Problem
The problem with zero-sum mechanics is that they require a negative experience for someone – watching a devastating combo annihilate one’s character in Street Fighter, watching one’s buildings crumble in Age of Empires, dying and respawning over and over again in Team Fortress. One player’s pleasure results from another player’s pain.
In fact, competitive games do not require that another player must suffer. A game’s rules determine the frequency and intensity of player interaction; ultimately, the designer decides how players will interact with each other during play. Indeed, competitive games are even possible without players being able to affect one another at all – consider parallel sports like golf or bowling, for example, or online games with asynchronous leaderboards like Bejewelled Blitz or Burnout Paradise.
The most important distinction is whether a player can lose their current progress or if they can only lose the ability to continue progressing. In the former case, the game mechanics have a zero-sum feel as losing one’s progress is usually a painful experience and often a sure route to a loss. In contrast, one of the defining traits of the Eurogame movement (epitomized by games like Ticket to Ride and Settlers of Catan) is eschewing such direct, zero-sum player conflict in favor of limited, indirect interaction which will not destroy a player’s progress.
For example, in worker placement Eurogames, such as Agricola and Caylus, players take turns choosing exclusive abilities; the competition emerges from players jockeying for position to determine who gets to grab the best jobs first. If a player knows his opponent needs food, choosing the food job for himself can seriously damage this opponent’s fortunes. However, this tactic is qualitatively different from actually destroying an enemy’s farms and killing his villagers in Age of Empires.
In the former case, the setback may only be temporary; in the latter, the player suffers a heavy emotional loss and has little chance of recovery. In fact, a player who spends too much time trying to disrupt his opponents in a game like Agricola can often dig his own hole as each precious action has significant opportunity costs. In contrast, damaging an opponent early in an RTS has little downside; wiping out another player’s economy can actually buy valuable time to grow one’s own much larger.
Balancing a RTS game to not reward destroying another player’s economic base as soon as possible is extremely hard. Indeed, RTS games suffer heavily from a dominance of zero-sum mechanics, which encourage the rush. Many players adopt “no-rushing” house rules to manually rebalance the gameplay away from destructive raids and towards building up for the endgame.
Further, many RTS games end with a whimper instead of a bang because the end goal is usually wiping out the enemy’s forces, which means that the outcome is obvious halfway through the match. In Ticket to Ride, during which players race to complete routes before running out of pieces, the dramatic tension is a consistently rising slope. In contrast, the dramatic tension of StarCraft is an arc which rises and then falls, and – unfortunately – the downward side of this arc is simply a sequence of painful events for the loser.
However, zero-sum mechanics need not be endemic to the RTS genre. Consider economic games, like the Anno series or Railroad Tycoon or even M.U.L.E., in which the primary goal is the acquisition of wealth; because the players are in a race to see who grows the fastest, the games need not encourage – or even allow – players to attack one another.
Alternate competitive mechanics are possible in military RTS games as well. Warcraft 3 introduced the creep – neutral characters who occupy the central area of skirmish maps and who players race to kill for the rewards and experience points. Perhaps a new RTS could take this mechanic a step further and make the game focus solely on killing creeps?
Removing the Negatives
Many competitive games solve the zero-sum problem by severely limiting interaction, so that players can only affect each other under certain circumstances. In Mario Kart, for example, racers can only shoot one another after picking up limited-use shells from certain locations; even then, players will only get the most powerful shells if they are trailing in the race. Even in a cutthroat RTS, a player can only attack after first building a barracks, then training troops, and finally moving them into position.
Thus, limiting player interaction is a powerful tool for minimizing negative emotions from zero-sum play. Games with similar themes and rules can dramatically change their feel depending on what sort of interaction is allowed. For example, Travian and Empires & Allies are similar asynchronous strategy games played over months of real-time about developing a military and then attacking one’s enemies. However, an important difference separates these two games with what happens when players invade each other’s cities.
In Travian, attacks are strictly zero-sum; resources captured by the attacker are taken from the defender’s stockpile. In Empires & Allies, however, combat is actually positive-sum; the resources captured by the attacker are conjured from nothing. Furthermore, while units which die in Travian are removed from the game, defending units in Empires always stay alive, even after a defeat.
Empires quietly belies players’ expectations for combat – that a victory requires a defeat – and this design choices pays off by making the game more accessible and less emotionally draining. In contrast, Travian uses the traditional approach that one player’s gain requires another player’s loss; accordingly, this design choice creates a nasty world full of brutish players with short tempers.
Many designers instinctively assume that conflict must be zero-sum, but this prejudice may be keeping their games from reaching a larger audience. The emotions players experience during a game are real enough, so a mechanic that requires at least some players to suffer should be used carefully.
Adding the Positives
Sometimes, alternate solutions are blindingly simple. In the board game 7 Wonders, players compete along multiple axises – earning victory points for science, civics, buildings, wealth, and military. The default way to implement military in such a game would be to allow players who invest in an army to attack other players’ units, buildings, or resources. 7 Wonders, however, employs a very different approach.
The game is split into three epochs, and at the end of each epoch, players with the largest armies receive positive points while the other players receive negative points. Furthermore, the total point distribution is actually positive-sum, so that losing combat does not hurt a player as much as winning combat helps. Thus, the military strategy does not drown out all the others and is appropriately balanced; a strong military cannot prevent an opponent from winning with strong technology because military victories do not require the loser to forfeit her progress.
Indeed, the spirit of positive-sum gameplay can benefit other aspects of game design. Puzzle Quest, for example, avoids a manual save system by ensuring every combat is positive-sum; players can never lose an item during combat and will always gain at least a little gold and experience from each battle. Thus, a player is always better off after combat, whether a win or a loss, so the game can constantly auto-save into a single slot. This feature, which would be hardcore if paired with a traditional zero-sum design, instead removes the need for a load/save system, which can be a barrier to entry for new players, thereby expanding the game’s potential reach.
Ultimately, zero-sum mechanics are still a powerful tool for game designers as they can unlock primal emotions. Sometimes, allowing players to destroy each other is exactly what a game needs. However, not all conflict need be zero-sum, especially since that design choice has significant disadvantages. Losers need not suffer so that winners can triumph.
篇目5，Richard Garfield’s strategies for game balancing
by Leigh Alexander
This weekend at New York University, an intimate audience had the opportunity to hear game balancing strategies from a master — veteran designer and Magic the Gathering creator Richard Garfield.
PRACTICE at New York University’s Game Center is a now-annual observance of game design as art and practice — a conference focused on the moment-to-moment experience of game design, and on building a community that supports game design as a process in culture.
Garfield may be one of the most prolific and influential living designers, responsible for countless physical games that have influenced design and business models. Yet balance is an ambitious topic, even for him.
Given the breadth of variety in games, it’s challenging to talk generally about them. “An analogy you might draw is that if you’re a biologist and you’re talking about life, there’s a crazy amount of life,” he says. “It helps to take a subset of that and say, ‘I’m going to talk about that.’”
Balance in orthogames
For the purposes of his discussion Garfield chooses to focus on orthogames, which he defines as finite multiplayer games (two or more players) that result in players being ranked — classic games like bridge and chess fall under this umbrella, while FarmVille doesn’t.
“We define balance as strategic collapse,” Garfield explains. “What this means is that games can be approached with a set of strategies and if there’s a strategy that is regarded as not being viable that people think should be viable, then people will talk about this as not being balanced.”
Strategic collapse occurs when one strategy is so preferable that all players essentially choose it all the time. In the Magic tournament environment, looking for a variety of deck types is a good way to check the health of the tournament. A wider variety of types keeps the game balanced, and it’s less enjoyable when there’s perceived to be just one viable deck type. On the other hand, too many deck types is too confusing for most players.
“There definitely can be too many strategies,” Garfield says.
Sometimes strategic collapse has nothing to do with strategy at all. For example, the player that goes first in Tic-Tac-Toe will win much more frequently, such that an opponent might lose interest in playing the game simply by virtue of not going first.
Garfield also highlighted the concept of play style collapse, relevant to balance — players all approach a game in different ways, and a game that has weaker support for your approach than for other approaches will feel unbalanced to you.
Two ways of viewing balance
He views two types of balance: Holistic and componential. When a game has separate components that need to be balanced, it’s componential — in Magic, should a lightning bolt cost just one red mana? In Diablo, should a piece of equipment give you 152 intelligence? Holistic balance issues concern the game as a whole — in Magic should you start with 20 life or seven cards? In Diablo, should you be able to sell equipment for real money?
Sometimes the distinction is muddy, he notes, but it’s still useful in talking about balance to differentiate.
“Often designers will design the game to be balanced for the expert,” Garfield says. “This is certainly the way we thought about it in the early days of Magic, and it took me a while to outgrow this mode of thought.”
A game balanced to favor experts risks other types of gamers having an unbalanced experience — and the game may lose most of its players before they ever develop the skill level to attain the well-balanced experience. Meanwhile the experts run out of people to play with.
Also, balancing for experts often fails to consider that there might be levels of proficiency even above what the game is desgned to contain. Designers aren’t necessarily the best players — most of the time, they’re not, actually.
All kinds of games are patched with rules to accommodate players that outgrow their bounds. Balancing is helped by the fact that most of the time skill goes up logarithmically, and the benefit for performance tapers.
The important thing is to provide options so that every type of player has a good choice, versus grouping players into correct and incorrect ways to use skills or classes. This lets players compete even if they’re not mechanically-focused — like roleplayers or fans of storytelling.
Some of these players will choose gear for their character based on appearance or narrative suitability, and feel forced out of their play style by the fact that other players are more successful. That unbalances their experience.
Strategies for balancing
“Balance is an art, not a science,” Garfield says. Math helps in his game design, but never supersedes the level of complexity that a poker player would need to know.
“I came to the conclusion there is just no formula,” he says. “If you haven’t solved the game, it seems a tall order to actually come up with a formula to balance the game in the sense that people usually mean… and balance is different for different audiences. If you solve the game and then balance it, then you’re only balancing for the expert, which we’ve established you don’t always want to do.”
And audiences are always changing: Beginners become intermediates become experts, younger players become older players. “It’s a moving target,”” he says. “Because of all this it’s really a matter of psychology, rather than math, so you shouldn’t expect there to be an exact formula.”
An iterative design approach with a lot of testing and flexible prototypes is one essential technique to find a game’s natural balance — Magic was playtested for two years. “I have tried many, many times to design games as a document… but it is really hard to internalize what the game is going to be like unless it’s really closely modeled on a game you already understand.”
One benefit of iterative design is that everyone is a beginner at first, and the scope broadens as development goes on. But a risk is that the more you test and iterate, you can lose track of your beginners and casual players — so intentionally bring in new people regularly and ensure you have a good mix of players familiar with the game and people who know little about it.
These days, publishers are likely to iterate after a game launches — which is fine provided it launches with enough balance for beginners and can rebalance fast enough to keep up with the growing player base and not lock out new players either.
Rock-paper-scissors’ structure — where every element of a game is strong against a different element — is incredibly helpful to keep in mind while balancing, Garfield says. On the component level it appears in a broad range of games, from Stratego to Team Fortress 2. On the holistic level it works too — take rush, defense and economic-oriented gameplay patterns for Starcraft, where each strategy is weak to one other strategy.
“Once that was recognized by Blizzard as being a healthy rock-paper-scissors relationship, it’s designed with that in mind,” Garfield points out. “If they make units or base states for the game which imbalances that and makes one of those strategies dominate the other, then they will tweak those back.”
While rock-paper-scissors in itself can be regarded as a trivial game, there’re options: Rock doesn’t need to beat scissors 100 percent of the time, for example. As long as the odds are better than 50 percent, then the structure is sound, and in fact in many cases it’s best to make it so that the entire game doesn’t rest on a single choice. Choosing a strategy within a cycle simply improves the success chances of a player that prefers that strategy, rather than guarantees a victory.
Another useful idea for balancing is to generate and define a “cost” for components that need balances, where that cost can be multiple resources. The cost can be paid during the course of the game, and all players begin at the same base. If the game has in-session costs and between-session costs, they usually will be a different resource and sometimes the cost will be difficult to define or subtle.
“The important thing is that you have one, or perhaps a few numbers to tweak to balance your components,” Garfield says. “With cost and score [you need] one number that your developers recognize as being the principal knob. And as you become better at understanding your system… you’ll become experts at tweaking that knob. In Magic, once we got good at tweaking the mana cost knob, we got better at tweaking other knobs.”
Start by setting a series of benchmarks for cost. After that, grow the system — add new components in such a way that new ones don’t dominate the old ones by being strictly better, he advises. With domination things are easy to value and thus games have less dimension; non-domination generally offers a wider array of viable choices.
If a component is too powerful, you can use a strategy or component that “hoses” it, or reduces its efficacy. Magic uses this a lot; for example, the hurricane card damages all players and specifically flyers; “if I’m running into problems with my opponents playing a lot of flyers, here’s an answer. Now if they rely too much on flyers, I will beat them.” Starcraft’s observers hose invisibility. Adding a hoser creates a viable response for players to use against specific strategies or powerful components.
Often, hosers can create a rock-paper-scissors situation, where Strategy A is the ideal choice against Strategy B but is vulnerable to being hosed by Strategy C.
Players can also bid for access to elements and features as a method of controlling their growth arc and keeping balance intact. Sometimes variance also assists in balance — a strategy that isn’t viable most of the time may randomly become viable. This is often present in card games. To mitigate a very powerful approach, make that approach useful under rare circumstances.