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Balancing Your Game - Beyond the Numbers
By: KarrLordofChaos | Published: February 5, 2009 22:00 pm | RPG Maker


Many great games have fallen because they failed at one aspect, one aspect so important and often neglected that the success of a game is made and broken by its execution. That which I speak is balancing; balancing battles to be specific.

The problem is multi-fold, being chiefly caused by a lack of understanding of the player's position, not realizing the repercussions of new elements, or is simplicity lost in the variables that must be dealt with in battle creation. This article is not about how to balance your game in regards to hard statistics - there are plenty of those guides around - this article focus instead on which factors you should consider when balancing your game beyond the numbers.

Understanding the view of the player is paramount in game creation. Not just in battles but in every aspect of your game. Know that your player may not like battles and thus avoid them at all costs. When they finally reach the end dungeon boss they maybe mercilessly slaughtered, or in the worst case scenario they may be able to squeak by until a point where they cannot backtrack to re-level or regroup. Always provide a backdoor for your player to fall back to if they make a poor choice; never force them to restart the game. This could be as simple as setting up a rest point and save junction in a lengthy dungeon or providing a way for the player to escape to town to restock in an emergency. You may even wish to consider having no save points in places where the player could be stuck for supplies without escape (or at least warn them to save in a new slot).

Always be aware that people will play your game differently. Some may like using stat boosters like defense and attack up, or using status effect spells. Others will just pile everything towards their attack power and hope for the best. Don't force the player to play a certain way; they will resent restrictions to their playing style. Provide the way you want the player to play, showing that they can have an easier time if they utilize their full arsenal but make sure they can still win if they choose their own route. A player shouldn't be forced to use a certain spell just to damage a boss or regular minion and have everything else they have achieved be of no use (unless the plot explains such an occurrence). If you want a player to use a shield rather then two weapons then show early on that it's really within their interest to use one.

In the same token you don't want to provide anything that can unbalance your game. Make 'food' items hard to find so the player doesn't pile them on their favorite character. Don't have spells that destroy enemies in a single hit unless you make the cost for such a spell high enough to be used sparingly. Anything you provide that's more powerful then the average should have a penalty proportionately set to compensate.

The party always starts out with basic equipment, as they move forward they purchase their next set of equipment and by the end of the game they have access to the most powerful set. The speed at which the new equipment arrives should be proportionate to the speed at which a party levels. Faster levels means faster equipment turnover. The rise in stats should also reflect the space apart between new set purchases. If the player is gaining a new set after every dungeon then the stat increase should be low, if its every three then it should be higher. Know that leveling up will grant a large boon towards a parties stats but the new equipment will often give the extra edge that levels can't provide. At some point the current dungeon monsters will provide less reward and require new equipment to cover the gap. This also means that you shouldn't be able to acquire end game equipment at the beginning of your game unless you can balance the benefit with a penalty accordingly.

Gold needs to be kept at a level that reflects your story progression. You should have to save up to buy new equipment but not spend hours farming gold. The same goes for the opposite; having too much gold gives the party the ability to buy everything in sight, destroying carefully worked battles. By the end of the game the player will have a nice nest egg to buy fun extras, or even at certain points in the game to give the feeling of accomplishment. Too much and too little of anything is bad.

Also note, the larger the gap between weak and strong, the harder it is to balance. This is why many designers decide to choose low stats rather then go for big impressive numbers. Each level up in RPG Maker can grant huge benefits. You can gain a great deal of power that will easily change the balance of the dungeon you are in. You can go from being slaughtered to blocking every hit after gaining a single level. This is why you must keep the stat gain to a minimum, and that also means keeping the leveling per dungeon to a minimum. You shouldn't gain more then one or two levels per dungeon, and the difficulty should escalate in the later half of long dungeons where you would have leveled up.

You want the player to feel accomplished when they play your game. You want the player to experience a sense of fulfillment, like they are actually getting stronger and not just bashing their way through an endless stream of encounters. This is often the most difficult aspect to balance and the least to be executed properly. Xix describes beautifully:

"Tier 1 are melee fighters; they have no magic. Tier 2 adds a bit more to the stats (more melee fighters). Tier 3 are the first magic casters. Their Hp is between Tiers 1 and 2, and they get enough Mp that they won't run out after a few exchanges. And so on, adding further tiers of monsters that get tougher based on how much tougher the heroes are when they first encounter them.

Each regular encounter with a bunch of the usual lackeys is like a boss fight in its own right. You start out evenly matched with them (but with a small advantage, as there are no enemy healers present and you outnumber them by one). By the time the healers start showing up, you're tough enough to handle it. When the magic casters start tossing out more damaging spells, you're tough enough to handle it but it's still a pretty pitched battle. There are a few occasions where you get it easy because you just got stronger but you're still going up against guys who gave you a tough time of it earlier; it's a respite of comeuppance. But it won't be long before the difficulty gets back to full swing."

Know what each elements effects and how. It's impossible to balance if you're blindly changing things hoping for a miracle. Finally, Play test, play test, and play test. You wont even know your game is unbalanced if you don't play it, and by playing more then just the battle sampler you understand that perhaps you should reduce that paralyze attack to a lower number or include more paralyze cure items. Nothing frustrates a player more then a designer's lack of care to even play his own work!

Happy balancing!

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