Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Great Balancing Act

Few things warm our hearts like a balanced game. Reading the latest Dev Blog regarding "Dropsuits" was especially pleasing because it hinted at a world where the traditional FPS, one-man-army, super-soldier doesn't exist.

That''s right Super-Soldiers! Don't make that face, You know full well what super soldiers are even if you call them by a different name. Very often game developers make the mistake of not properly balancing gameplay by allowing the Ultimate Warrior on the battlefield. We've all seen it, the loadout/fit/equipment for any occasion incorporating an all-advantage, no-consequence mindset that doesn't require a player to sacrifice anything for balance sake or depend on teammates in any form. Some examples? Soldiers armored like tanks but as fleet and agile as ninja, the LMG-carrying brute who switches to his sniper rifle when he can't see the white of the enemy's eyes (SOCOM's Dual Primary feature allowed this madness) and even permitting the abuse of alternate PSN accounts so that we never know who to trust and spying and espionage reign supreme. MAG allowed weapons like the LMG and SMG effective distances so far that the sniper was essentially useless, and as good a foundation as BF3 has, has a game ever forced one Class on players so blatantly? (Engineer or die) or botched the effectiveness of rockets so badly? NOTE to the DICE Devs working on Dust: Rockets are NOT anti-personnel or CQC weapons! Balance is so critical to gameplay that it has the ability to ruin a game. Many would say that balance IS gameplay. If air-based vehicles have the ability to attack ground based troops, there must be a way for those same troops to defend themselves against these same vehicles (even on the individual level) or we run into balance issues.

Weapons - OP, Noobtube, Unbalanced and Nerf are all terms we hear in shooters nowadays. In truth, they are terms we'll probably continue to hear, as some players aren't going to stop using these excuses anytime soon. There is a difference however, with valid complaints and simply whining. Why are balanced weapons important? Because weapons that aren't properly balanced quickly become the exploits of choice for players who want to be successful. And can you blame them? What players will purposely put themselves at a disadvantage? We've all seen games where everyone is using the same weapon two weeks after release. THIS is how that happens. So pistols with the damage of rockets, shotguns with the range of sniper rifles, the outdated knives of FPS, sniper rifles misused in CQC because of their high damage and guns with so much splash damage that they hardly require aiming are always a bad idea. Weapons should have strengths and weaknesses. While one look at the early Dust 514 information implies that this will be done on a grand scale, we can't stress this enough. While the pursuit of game balance is a process and NOT a destination, there is no substitute for a system where rocket launchers can't be wielded with the ease of SMGs and pistols or where the latter can disabled vehicles.

Vehicles - Let's be honest, the shooter genre was changed with the release of the BF3 Caspian Border trailer. Doubt us? See it here. The trailer itself solds millions of copies of that game based on what shooter fans have always wanted. The addition of vehicles (and specifically aircraft) has always been a popular item on the shooter fan wishlist. Many consider SOCOM's demise specifically tied to the inability to implement vehicles in the current gen. Give DICE credit, multi-front warfare (land,sea,air) is really well done in their game. While many have criticized the OP nature of the Engineer class in BF3 (its the only class allowed to have rockets) vehicles like tanks have an advantage against soldiers on foot (and they should) while its is a great game to emulate from a Vehicle/Troops Balance aspect, we're hopeful that a much more "open" class system allows any solider to possess rockets or any other weapon/equipment that they have the ISK, desire and proper space on their loadout for. Within limitations of course, some aspects should probably remain class-specific so that classes still have a basic function.

Armor - Wasn't the Dev Blog on Dropsuits great? The part we liked most was the implication that players would have to choose from different strengths and advantages rather than a jack-of-all trades, super soldier ready for any circumstance. Want a Heavy dropsuit with more armor and the strength to carry anti-vehicle weaponry? Prepare to sacrifice equipment slots and mobility. Going with a recon suit to sneak behind enemy lines? You'll no doubt be sacrificing the sheer firepower of front-line soldiers. We love the verbage used and the images it implies. Heavy Armor was described this way:  "No other classification of personal armor can claim to be able to stand toe-to-toe with enemy vehicles and survive." How can you not get excited about that? Much of what we read in the latest Dev Blog is at the core of what we hope to a balanced game and does a lot to imply that Dust will truly be an experience for the ages.

Equipment - We can only imagine the amazing gadgets and other equipment we'll have access to in Dust and while the Dev Blog hinted at a few (nanohives for example, appear to be ammo replenishments) the most important aspect of anything added to enhance gameplay is the same theme we've continued to stress throughout: BALANCE. BF3's MAV is a great piece of equipment used to mark enemies on the battlefield, but one would question its ability to do damage to soldiers from a balance aspect. Why do that? After seeing how well the knife is done in BF3, what FPS would revert to the one-swipe-of-death-in-a-gunfight blades we've seen for so long? Not Dust 514, we hope. Mortars are also excellently done in BF3, but lack of friendly fire and the ability to see enemies when they fire (only marked targets should show up) make it unbalanced when in the right hands. We've touched on the mobility limitations we should see with snipers, anti-vehicle weaponry and the excessive splash damage that makes rockets unbalanced. Given the level of tech in New Eden, we could see SMART ammunition, stealthsuits with optical camo, electronic warfare, devices that intercept or disrupt enemy transmissions and a smorgasbord of other goodies. Balance must be at the heart of their implementation, however or developers run the risk of creating exploits.

Plex/Aurum/ISK - Without knowing what role Plex and Aurum will play in Dust 514 (we're pretty certain ISK will be the same in-game currency it is in EVE) we'd still like to stress the importance of balance in regards to currency and transactions as well. Since microtransactions were revealed to be the medium of choice, players have been wary of a system where they will be forced to "pay" to keep up. Questions have ranged from, "Will Dust really be F2P?" and "Will paying players be dominant?" We're cautious but optimistic, and we honestly hope vanity items make up the bulk of the things we can purchase with Aurum. An extensive in-game economy should certainly be bound by the same rules of balance as any other area of gameplay.

Well we hope some of the issues we've touched on have helped. Balance is such an important aspect of gameplay that it simply can't be overlooked. The beta period will no doubt be the best time to assess, take in feedback, examine and tweak gameplay. It must be a true beta that lasts a few months, not as the trend is becoming to have a one or two week beta to hype the game before release. For players and developers, its a genuine opportunity to enhance gameplay as well as test the experience. Careful steps must be taken so that great new features don't become the latest in a long line of fresh exploits. A good mantra to avoid abuse is "how will this effect gameplay in the hands of a skilled user who's using it at full potential?"


  1. pretty sure a rocket will fck u to say its not anti personnel is just silly and it takes a direct hit to OHK u.

    concerning BF3 and forcing classes idk what game u play but in clan matches all classes are used and teamwork between the classes is essential.

    obv u will have a few more engineers than recons, thats just common sense. u dont need more than 1 recon per squad and depending on the map assault classes actually are in more need

    other than that really love this read.


  2. great points you put up there

    but in my personal opinion we cant say nothing about how the game-play is because we dont know how it plays, but you can compare this to eve and it works well in that game

    my point is im really exited about this game and i will still play it if it is-int the ultimate game we have all been waiting for.... well this is kinda torwards ccp but coud you realise moar gameplay PLZ PLZ PLZ

  3. hope they make rockets like they were in mag. ridiculous all the rocket spam in bf3.

    DUST 514 :D

  5. sweet vid. is that weapon unlocked when u buy templar one?

  6. good post.

    @numbz rocket does not take direct hit to OHK you. rocket spam is the worst part of bf3 easy. tried it for the first time and got 3 straight kills. worst noobtube ever.