Frantic’s Antics: Balance

For the longest time now I’ve had 2 major time wasters hobbies: Destiny and Magic the Gathering. I usually can draw similarities to the two that most don’t think of immediately, and today is no exception.

I know game development isn’t easy. I’ve dabbled in making my own tabletop games and the initial prototype I make does lack fully balanced gameplay. This is fine because it’s the rough draft, not the final thing. Larger game development is no different.

Mark Rosewater, head designer of MTG, talks quite a lot about balance and rough drafts in his articles and podcasts. He hammers home the point that you most likely won’t get it right on your first try, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Destiny, on the other hand, isn’t as transparent with their gameplay balance. The balance of fun and challenge and competitiveness is definitely a sensitive scale. To oversimplify, if the goal is to improve fun by making weapons deal more damage, it could severely affect competitiveness and challenge by reducing both.

Now this is most likely not a foreign concept to you and that’s good because I’m not attempting to break down what balance is, but rather where did it go? Because both of my time wasters hobbies are having trouble with it.

Magic has had a ton of articles written about why it is out of balance, and to put it simply: the game lacks good answers. If I play effective creatures on turns 1, 2, and 3 and you don’t get a good answer to deal with one of them until turn 4, you lose. “Play better stuff on turn 1, 2, or 3 then” you might say. Well the problem is the best answers in the format don’t exist before turn 4, so the better option is to just play what my opponent is playing and race them. Sounds pretty stale right?

Wizards is attempting to band-aid the situation by banning cards that are too good for the answers in place, but this sets a precedent that if a deck gets too good it’ll kiss the format goodbye, something I called way way back in the early days of Frantic Talks. Luckily though, with the release of Amonkhet we’re seeing diversity and better answers than we’ve seen in about 2 years, so the future is promising.

But that leaves my other time waster hobby Destiny up in the air. If you’ve followed how Bungie balances the game you probably know that they tend to nerf (make worse) whatever is being used too much (oversimplified for the sake of this discussion, but surprisingly true in many cases). Typically this isn’t bad, some things do need nerfed, but I’m afraid they’re not learning why things need the nerf and are just reacting to stats. That’s a problem.

Think of it this way: if you press the A button on your controller expecting the result of your character jumping on screen and he instead reloads his weapon, you’d be confused. If you then press the X button expecting him to reload and he jumps, you don’t just swap the buttons and move forward, you fix the problem. “Well what’s the problem?” The setup, not the result.

In other words, Destiny’s system is not fit for what we expect, and what we should expect is not obvious. It isn’t very clear what the goal of PvP in Destiny is except to kill your friends with weapons. What should be the primary way of killing someone? Secondary? Tertiary? This isn’t obvious to us and isn’t something I’ve explicitly heard them say besides “use primaries, hence their designation as primaries.”

To make an educated guess I imagine Primaries should be the main source of our demise, followed by grenades/melee due to the recharge rate, then special and heavy. This is just based off of how often we have access to them currently however in the past we’ve had special ammo upon spawning and there are special weapons that regenerate special ammo regardless of whether you should constantly have it or not. There are also weapons that ignore these rules.

Simply put: I think there are too many unique factors going on with the mechanics of PvP. Maybe Destiny could benefit from a less is more approach, but with all the different gameplay aspects in the formula you can imagine how absurdly hard it is to achieve a really good balance. And at this point I should point out that I’m not asking for perfect balance as I’m certain that doesn’t exist.

Certain things will outclass others and that’s fine, but they shouldn’t completely destroy them and the meta of a game’s competitive scene shouldn’t be “pick A, B, or C unless you want one hell of an uphill battle.” That takes away your identity in the game.

I hope Bungie learns from Destiny and from what we’ve seen so far there are some promising things in Destiny 2 (like 2 primaries and a “power” slot which is basically the current special and heavy combined into 1 slot), but that I imagine we’ll discuss some other time. Regardless I believe balance is their biggest issue, and they need to understand you can’t just make tweaks and hope for the best and you can’t just nerf something into the ground to solve the issue. Band-aids truly are temporary.

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