Dev Blog #5: Trying to get it right…

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One of the hardest things I found in game design was balance. It seems many game designers struggle with making a game fair so one player doesn’t have an enormous artificial advantage over another based on poor design choices. The more rules, units, and interactions you have in a game, the harder that chore becomes. When we were making the video games, it was all about balancing the unit’s agility with its power and hit points. I may have mentioned there were lots of spreadsheets. Lore was a team-based game. You picked a faction, then you picked a mech. If you got killed, you could pick a different mech when you respawned. If the game mode needed to capture objectives, your team needed a balance for fast mechs to capture the core and slow, heavily armed mechs to defend your team’s objectives. But, a scout mech from one faction, should be able to beat a scout mech from another faction about half the time in any confrontation.

We balanced the video game with a basic sliding scale, the slower the unit, the more heavily armed or armored it could be, and one faction favored high damage per second weapons with lower armor for defense, and the other faction flipped that equation. So all Federated States mechs had slightly better weapons, but slightly worse armor than their Eastern Confederation counterparts with minor variations in speed. And then we played them. A lot. And we had beta testers play. A lot. We took A LOT of feedback. If something was overpowered, we gave it a long recharge time so it couldn’t fire as often, limited its ammunition, or made the unit carrying the weapon very fragile. And we kept that spreadsheet. Each shot fired caused certain damage, and the rates of fire for each weapon meant we could calculate the damage per second.

Creating the D20 version of the video game meant we had to take those statistics and map them to the D20 SRD combat system. For those who don’t know, D20 combat is based on Dungeons and Dragons combat, and combat is broken into rounds where players complete actions. A round represents 6 seconds of time, and an attack is an action.

Creatively assigning a number and type of dice to get that maximum possible DPS value, with larger dice like the eponymous d20 being used for the weapons with larger damage per shot, worked out as a mechanism to replicate the feel and BALANCE of the game we released.

Creating a new system meant changing that, and balancing that new system meant multiple play tests with real people. Were the units fair? Did we recapture the balance from not just Lore but Mechanized Corps? What would our sliding scale look like here? What would real players do to break that balance?

We played (and as of this writing are still playing and tuning what we have) a lot. Heavy, manned mechs could deal and take a lot of damage compared to their drone counterparts. The game was very lopsided, but in some ways that was intentional. the manned mechs were supposed to be the kings of the field.We gave them powerful weapons in our new system, where they could be causing in some cases over 100 points of damage to targets in a single turn. We slowed them down, we penalized their movement. We created bonuses and penalties for moving fast and sitting still.

We wrote EVERYTHING down. We recorded play tests and rewatched them. Players suggested things, we used those suggestions. We suggested things to each other. We debated and argued.

I can’t stress this enough, we wrote EVERYTHING down. I have reams of notes from play tests, and those notes got summarized for the team. We played again, trying those new things we added or removed. Did that fix the perceived problem?

It may not be obvious, but writing things down, especially the rationale for how you came to a conclusion, is invaluable. Make play testing count. Test specific things, and have a goal for that testing. Knowing when you tested something, who tested it, and what conclusions you came to is critical. Knowing WHY you changed something is as important as the fact that you changed it. Sometimes the change doesn’t work.

Our final mechanism for converting units and weapons from the earlier works looks almost nothing like it looked initially, and that is entirely the result of playing the game with real people. Come join us, we are still working on it!