Game Designer saying: “when someone tells you that there is a problem in your design, 90% of the time he’s right. When he points out what you need to change to fix it, 90% of the time he’s wrong.”

In this first blog post about Game Design, we have chosen to focus on units balancing, a fundamental condition in real-time strategy game viability.
Balancing requires to identify with precision the cause and solution to a problem detected during a test session. Keep in mind that neither the cause nor the solution to a given problem are obvious, and the important thing is to always keep an overall view of the balance of the game when making an adjustment.

In order not to bring a disaster and make the game unplayable for a time, it’s important to keep some essential points in mind. Of course, since the following examples are directly taken from Win That War!, you’ll have to make some adjustments.

logo win that war

Balancing rules

  1. Always read the specs (specifications) of the units that are directly or indirectly related to a change. Remember the role of this unit in the strategic and economic balance of the game.
  2. There is always two sides to a deficiency or an excess in a stat (a parameter). Either the stats of this unit is too high, or the stat (of this unit or its opposite) which counterbalances it is too low. It’s essential to consider which side of the issue needs to be improved, all the while preserving the original intent of the gameplay dynamic and, above all, minimizing the imbalance caused on the game economy. Most of the time, this means picking the solution that would have the least possible impact on the rest of the system.
  3. Preserving the rewarding aspect of the use of an unit: its specificity, its imbalance in some particular situations (regulated and counterbalanced by other local imbalances in the other units’ stats and mechanics), its role in the economy and the possible strategy of a player, or rather the possible strategies.
  4. Finally, keeping an eye on the possible upcoming upgrades that would affect this unit: don’t nullify or OP-ify (Over-Power-ify. Don’t make it too strong) an upgrade when you affect a stat that might be subject to possible improvements for one of the factions. Some units are bound to be much more useful in a build of a particular faction. This is normal and advisable.

 

Case study – Units balancing in a RTS

Example: We find out that Bombers are way too weak compared to the AirKnocker, which devalues the use of surprise air-ground tactics and late game air-rush.

 

The question is: how to make this unit less efficient in this specific case, without going against the concept of use of this very unit, or any other one?

Here are some of the possible choices, as well as their impact on the game:

  • Changes such as improving the attack stats of the Bomber against the armor of the AirKnocker, making the Bomber harder to target or increasing the range of its bombs seem to be the best options at first sight, but would have a destabilizing impact on all air-ground fighting situations. These three options are then excluded.
  • Nerfing (reducing) the armor of the AirKnocker makes it more vulnerable to all ground units, which would be very frustrating since this unit is quite expensive and takes time to be produced. Moreover, this change would only take effect when the attacking player has a compo allowing him to reach AirKnockers through more powerful lines of units, which is the usual function of this unit. This means that the effective impact on the problem will be lower than the imbalance felt by the player as he watches his units get destroyed in one shot. That’s not a good idea, so this option is also excluded.
  • Increasing the price of the AirKnocker (as well as its required production time) to justify its power by its cost would make it a powerful and high-value unit to the player, which counterbalances its light armor and its visual appearance. Moreover, being the only anti-air specialized unit, it needs to be accessible, as beginner players would otherwise feel helpless when faced with air tactics. Well, we’ll exclude this one too.
  • Reducing the range or the fighting stats of the AirKnocker could be the solution, while keeping in mind the preservation of its specific role, its tactical viability and its difference compared with the use of anti-air turrets. A small change in several stats can subtly remove the problem by giving the unit a slightly awkward feeling. A medium or low cost unit shouldn’t have an “ace”, capable of anything kind of feeling, and making it less reactive while preserving its specialty is a very good option.

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In most cases, (after a number of iterations), the existing balance of the stats of a given unit is correct and matches its role, and simultaneously scaling several stats by a small factor is enough to fix a defect or an excess of power.
As a general tip: Do not cancel what makes the unit special and fun, but rather work on related factors that reinforce its strengths and weaknesses while remaining consistent. Eg. making it easier or harder to use a feature.

In the case of the AirKnocker, the range, the acceleration and the tracking speed were the three main factors we had to tweak to solve its relation problem with the Bomber, while maintaining the overall balance.

Since we don’t want you to get bored with Game Design, we’ll keep the topic of economic balance for another blog post.