As I’ve started to document my board game idea I’ve ran into one of the oldest challenges in game design, balance. Creating a single player game, balance is pretty easy, just make sure the player has all the tools necessary to win and you’re done. Multiplayer is a different beast all together and trying to balance out my game really makes my respect for companies like Blizzard grow.
In a single player game you’re dealing with one predetermined force (the AI) and one unpredictable force (the player). As a designer you should know exactly how the AI will handle specific situations and build the game mechanics from that. In multiplayer however human players are not predictable. The other issue is winning, lets face it, and we like to win at our games. It’s really easy to create a game for someone to win, but when you have multiple players someone will have to lose.
My board game for example, the challenge I’m facing is how many advantages should each player get; will they give one player too much of an advantage? Take for example, in my blog post I talked about having the monster roll a dice check every time it enters a country, if it fails then Victor is alerted to the monster’s presence. Now it would be fair to the monster that it should always have a chance to win the roll, however this would absolutely kill the game for Victor who relies heavily on this information. Another case, having the monster not move for a few turns to confuse Victor, very useful tactic for the player who is the monster, however another game ruining mechanic for Victor.
The solutions I’ve reached to these problems are, making the security checks very high in well populated countries forcing the monster to try to stay in barren areas. For problem two, each turn the monster stays in one area the security check will increase by one to signify the people are on to this strange creature. Going back to my mention of Blizzard, I still would love to know how long the designers spent fine tuning every part of Starcraft to make it balanced.
When dealing with asymmetric sides, the normal rules of balance don’t exactly apply. Sometimes you need to push each side as far away from each other to achieve it. Which could mean creating a very expensive high quality side vs a cheap side in a RTS, or defining what makes each side unique and going from there. However when dealing with asymmetric balance, don’t expect everything to line up as some elements will be an advantage for one player and a disadvantage for the other every time, there really isn’t anything you can do about this.
Even though I’m going to talk about a book I just read this is not going to be another entry for the round table, sorry Corvus. Anyway I’ve been reading a lot of classic literature this month and I picked up a book of classic stories from the author of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. One of the stories had an interesting hook which I think could be applied to video games, most likely adventure titles.
The story was “The Suicide Club”; don’t be fooled by the name, this isn’t a teen angst driven tale. The interesting part about the story is that it is one long tale split into three different stories. Each one involves in some way the three main characters but after the first tale they become background characters in regard to the adventures of the new protagonist. While the story was really good I also liked this way of storytelling.
I could see this working for RPGs or Adventure titles where the story is the main element. This kind of storytelling has two advantages compared to other tales, one it opens the world of the story up from just the view of the protagonist. Second, it allows you to see the same characters in a different light from a new point of view. Anyway I just wanted to express how much I liked this story and wanted to put it out there.
In other news this week I officially joined the working force and found a job in my area. Unfortunately it isn’t in the game industry but I can at least make some money to help with the bills in the meantime.
Corvus has opened up the round table this month for another entry and I think I have a good one. At the end of my last one I mentioned that there must be a good game somewhere in the story of Frankenstein; after writing that it came to me. This past week I was struck by inspiration (or a lightning bolt) and an idea popped into my head, so I now give you:
Frankenstein the board game:
For this game, it will be 2 players only and I can imagine this working best on the computer using multiplayer. The game will be split between two rounds, one player will control Victor, the other will play as the monster. The game begins with the player controlling Victor; they will build the monster using cards that represent various parts. The player will roll a die from 1 to 6 for each of the following groups: Arms, Legs, Head, Torso, Heart and Brain to determine how many of each type they have to pick from. Each type of part has various stats based on it which determine how easy or hard the player controlling the monster will have it. Besides stats each card has points associated with it, the better the part the more points it’s worth. These points make up a pool of the maximum amount of points the player who is Victor can earn for the round. The better a creature they make, the more points they can earn but this means making it easier for the second player.
The monster’s main goal is to perform a variety of tasks against Victor to make his life hell, with each task worth a certain number of points. Completing a task will take those points from Victor’s pool. Tasks will be randomized at the start to keep both players guessing. During the monster’s turn he will be able to move around the world map country by country depending on the movement rating on his legs. Each country has a security rating which is how active the police are looking for suspicious people, when the monster enters a country he must roll a die to beat the security number. The number will also be modified depending on a “recognition” stat that is based on the sum total from every physical part of the monster. The more disturb he looks the greater the penalty. If the monster rolls less then the security rating then Victor will know which countries he has been sighted in during his turn. If the monster rolls a very low number he may be attacked by police officers causing damage to his health. Each task is based on a stat such as intelligence, strength, etc. The higher the stat the more die the monster can roll to attempt the task. Meaning that depending on the stats, some tasks may be unavailable to the monster.
While the monster is doing his thing, Victor has goals of his own to complete. Victor’s movement rating each turn is determined by how much money he is willing to spend, with money coming in a fix amount each turn. In each country he can also shop for weapons or equipment that could aid him in his quest. If Victor enters a country that has the monster and finds him, he can attack him and use a dice roll to determine how much damage (if any) he can do. Besides killing the monster he could also try to appease it, some countries may have parts he could use to build a female creature that if he does it will end the game. However depending on the quality of the parts, the player will suffer a % of the score pool lost. Victor has other ways of using his money; he can place a bounty on the monster for the next round. Depending on how much money is spent, the monster could take more damage for failing a security roll, or even jailed in the country for X amount of turns. The downside is that each country will need to be bribed and the bonus only lasts a few turns, spending all your money early will leave you stuck until the cash rolls in.
Each player has different methods of ending the round. The monster can be killed which will give Victor a 500 point bonus to his pool, or the monster can flee away from civilization and away from Victor forever. When the monster escapes the game will end and Victor will get how many points are left in his pool, but no bonus for killing him. This can be attempted at any time but it is better for the monster to complete some tasks first. Note the game will not end if the monster reduces the pool down to zero, as Victor can still earn the point bonus for killing the creature.
Victor has two ways of ending the round, either by killing the monster or by appeasing him with a wife. As mentioned there is a chance that a country Victor is in will have a suitable part to use for a lot of money. Each part will have a negative percent rating which the sum total will determine how many points Victor will lose when he finishes the creature. This can be a way to end the game before the monster completes a high valued task and at least walk away with some points. Once one of the end situations has happened round two will start with the player’s roles switched, whoever has the most points at the end of the 2nd round will win the game.
I think this idea could work and follows the theme of the story. Victor is obsessed with creating the perfect creature which will turn against him. The player must choose between getting a chance at more points vs. having an easier game. As the monster, you must choose between living in peace (aka living) or seeking revenge and putting your life at risk. It also goes with the motif that the biggest danger is man as the player is the one who built the creature and gave it all of its advantages and now man is the one trying to kill his creation.
Last night I gritted my teeth and played some more Ninja Gaiden 2. Now on chapter 5 I’m once again dealing with cheap fights and an unintuitive camera but I kept going. Then I came to a spot that for once in my video game career I said “no” to. A section that has you in a huge underwater area dealing with a never ending supply of enemies called ghost fish. This was the most annoying enemy in NGB due to their ability to cause massive damage to the player. This section requiring me to get across a huge expanse was the last straw for the game. I’m now ready to condemn NG 2 as one of the worst games I’ve played due to this ridiculous section.
I’m fine with challenge in my games; I’ve played Ninja Gaiden, God of War, Devil May Cry and other games at their hardest levels. However there needs to be something testing the player for it to be a challenge. This section in NG 2 is not testing the player; I’m not going to become a better action gamer by going through this. It is just a designer getting his or her kicks by punishing the player. This would be like playing an action game where the only way to unlock a door is to walk up 100 stairs and then back down again. There is no challenge or game play reason for this section; it is just there to annoy the player. Not once when I played Ninja Gaiden Black did I feel that the designers were punishing me but instead were providing hurdles for me to overcome. The proof of this is going back to the earlier sections of the game on repeat playthroughs and finding the game is easy now that your skill level has increased. If I replay Ninja Gaiden 2 I’m still going to run into trouble by problems completely out of my hands due to bad design decisions.
While I’m ranting about bad design decisions I would also like to comment on one mechanic that I hate in RPGS. The final super secret boss in most JRPGS, instead of providing a meaningful fight, are usually designed that there is only one way to beat them. Either by having a select group of skills or a specific pattern to follow that the player would not have any knowledge about without a guide on hand, anytime a section in a video game requires a game guide to get through is a bad design decision in my opinion. Even if the challenge is a post game super boss, the fact remains that if I need to read a guide to know the exact way to kill it then that is a design problem.
At this point I know that if I ever do manage to finish NG2 on normal then it will be shelved because no matter how bad that room is on normal, it is going to be a lot worse on hard and up. This is one of those times that you do need someone solely focused on the design elements of your title, as there is a fine line between challenging and just plain unfair.