Balancing balance

Backers, keep your eye out for the backer release later today, a few aspects are running a bit behind but we’re working on getting it out as soon as we can! That said, I think I’d like to share something that’s crossed my mind a few times that has given me some trouble at times, balancing HC.

Balancing different features can be very difficult, and having quite a bit of experience min-maxing myself I can have a bit of an easy time seeing how much or how little something will shift things in the grand scheme, but that doesn’t necessarily give me a good idea as to how to properly handle things. Sometimes this can be a problem with enemies as it comes to trying to get their numbers to be ‘just’ right, fit their skills in a way that work, avoid easy weaknesses for bosses without leaving players that brought say a stun-based party feeling useless. That said, while I do struggle in certain situations, I feel that for most quests at least I’ve managed to get the balance for most things pretty well, even if not perfect (though a few oversights have gotten by at times). That said who knows how things will look when we re-balance the game, as I plan to be taking a meat cleaver to both the rate that the player levels up as well as the stats the enemy has to help make lower level quests more interesting and higher level quests more approachable.

That said, enemies aren’t the only area of balancing that have given me some pause. Items in particular have been a bit of a sore thumb for me, and not just because of the typical item-hoarding that I’m sure many people are familiar with. See, while there are some very useful items in HC (Essential salts have made some fights go from flat out impossible to just incredibly challenging), some of the items strain the min-maxer in me to see them as anything other than something to collection for completions sake or items to sell for a minimal increase to my sil. The reason for this is because all aspects of an item need to be taken into consideration and contrasted to the players alternatives. For example, 1 item will always cost 1 action to be used (out of a typical pool of 4 actions per turn) and have a ‘cost’ associated (either in sil or not being able to use it at a later time), with that in mind you have to look at what any given item brings to the table. A lo-potion for example gives 33% healing and you’re given quite a few of them (or mid/hi-potions) which isn’t too bad, but it’s big advantage is that you can use some of your characters who may not have anything better to do (like Hero in many cases) and have them ease the healing burden from other characters, as a result it takes an important job and can serve to reduce the action cost by regulating it to Hero allowing say Felix to pull off another chain lightning or avoid someone being killed. Reinvigoration Potions however tend to rarely be worth it in battle, they use up one party member’s action (when you typically have 3 or fewer actions) to bring someone back with 10% HP, this will typically mean that they then proceed to die before you can heal them or they get an action meaning that you just used an item that you could have sold and one of your limited actions to accomplish nothing. The buffing potions tend to also leave a sour taste in my mouth too, as the magic based alternatives offer at least 2-3x the effectiveness if not more and only cost a small amount of MP (which 1 ether can give you several casts worth). Balancing Florine’s store can also be an issue as you’re asking players to invest several forms of resources, one of which is highly limited and can’t be renewed, to get the items… There’s just a lot of stuff to take into consideration. That said, if proper balance isn’t taken into consideration enough, you can end up in situations like how the current HC meta typically values mages over non-mages. While non-mages will still appear in various parties, it’s pretty rare to find players who don’t make at least half their parties mages, with a 3-mage party typically being the most common that I’ve heard about, and this boils down to how easily mages can use their abilities to get a lot of damage with a low action and MP cost to them, which means that when rebalancing things we’ll have to find a way to make it so that magic doesn’t feel quite an easy ‘I-win’ button to help encourage more diverse party make-ups (without making a 3-mage a bad choice except in specific quests).

There are other aspects of the game that can also give me some trouble when it comes to balancing, like trying to make it so that the furniture system doesn’t boil down to a simple easy perfect solution (which at least one player has found and posted about on the wiki I’ll say), trying to ensure that investments can feel useful in the grand-scheme of things, and other areas. I’ve seen some people talk about being able to measure the value of things by boiling it all down into one common point of comparison, but to me that approach to balancing can just as easily backfire as if you want players to be in a position where they have to choose, it means that they can use that same formula, even if they’re just going by some personal experiences, to always figure out what the ‘best’ option is or realize that it doesn’t matter. When it comes to balancing, to me the best balance is being able to look at two things and figure out if you prefer apples or oranges, and then find a way to find a way to get the most out of your apples to the point that it feels incredibly powerful, as I’m sure that a few people who noticed a bug in the ‘Feedback’ magic might have felt (though I’m sorry to say it’s been patched out).

Perhaps I got a bit off-topic here, I’ve got a tendency to do that when I ramble, but the point is that it can be difficult to balance things, especially when you’re continuing to develop the game (and as such creep can easily off-set any sort of balance that you had), which is a big reason why we’re waiting until HC is content-complete before we work to make sure that everything has the exact balance that we want. With that in mind, how about you guys? Any thoughts in particular about what you wish the balance would be like to make it more enjoyable for you?

2 Replies to “Balancing balance”

  1. I think that the big thing that I miss in terms of balancing is how easy is to get a over-leveled party quite soon in-game time.

    For the rest, fascinating read as always. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I know this is a kind of late comment, but personally, I’ve always felt that magic is simply too strong in the game… both player- and enemy-use. I remember jumping into a daily dungeon a few versions back with a completely up to date party as far as levels and gear goes… and getting completely wiped in like two turns by the first enemy group I ran into, simply because they destroyed me with AoE spell spam (with it’s accompanying debuffs). Personally, I think magic could be reworked at least a little bit to make it just a bit less punishing. Separate damage spells and ones that give debuffs would be a big step in the right direction, in my opinion. My only other complaint would be gear, honestly. Gear upgrades are infrequent, and minimal at best as far as being an ‘upgrade’ goes. I feel like gear and character stat balancing just doesn’t level out well compared to enemy stats and damage increase as the game goes on.

    I’m not trying to say that I want the game to be easy, of course. But there’s a difference between being challenging, and being unfairly punishing for even attempting to play, which is what I felt sometimes while I was playing (even in ‘Easy’ mode).

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