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"Pink isn't a color. It's a lifestyle." - Chumbalaya
"...generalship should be informing list building." - Sir Biscuit
"I buy models with my excess money" - Valkyrie whilst a waitress leans over him

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Game Design, Some First Hand Experiences - It Really Is Hard Guys, Part 1

Recently a good friend of mine (Scott) officially set up a gaming company - Purgatory Games. It's a new company that is setting itself up for production of various Board, Card and Tabletop Games beginning later this year. The website is a bit all over the shop at the moment but for those interested can be viewed here.

So asides from plugging Purgatory Games, what's this all about then? Basically, as an occasional online gaming blog author I (and many more well known authors then me in this field of writing) look at the competitive side of the games we all play and love. It's very easy to make blanket statements and assumptions about how this could have been designed better or that makes no sense and what were these people thinking when this should have been done or that. But I'm now in this more unique position to share some experiences with you in terms of games design because as of several months ago I have been co-designing a tabletop skirmish miniatures game set in the near future with a twist. We're in Closed Alpha right now so what I can say about it is actually rather limited. But I can hopefully enlighten a good amount of you to just how mind blowingly complicated even simple things when working either from scratch, or once a basic rules set for the thing/s in question exists, can get. This is also a follow up series of linked articles to AbusePuppy's recent look at games design from an external vantage point, and should give you a more personal feel for what the designers have to deal with directly.

GAME BALANCE (Coupled With Game Mechanics).

At the heart of game design is game balance. At the heart of game balance are 'balancing equations'.

'Balancing Equations' are basically equations consisting of stats and attributes plus their relative values. In defining these values and their worth, balancing the equation of this worth against the other stats and attributes results. In a perfect world, the Rock, Scissors, Paper example is what you are after.

Rock is more powerful then Scissors.
Rock is less powerful then Paper.
Scissors are more powerful then Paper.
Scissors are less powerful then Rock.
Paper is more powerful then Rock.
Paper is less powerful then Scissors.


This examines two attributes against each other, but what if you have all three verse each other? And what if you can encounter multiples of one attribute?

In the Rock, Scissors, Paper example this is solved and balanced by the same attributes having no effect against each other, and instead in a game mechanics point of view such a conflict results in a draw and if time/turns permit, a complete re-cast of the two attributes being randomly generated is undertaken until a winner is determined.

Now, with the above 3 attributes we can extrapolate them into something that gamers are going to associate with better. We have 3 attributes: R, S and P. Let's say that each of these represent a type of damage that a weapon can deal. Rending, Stun and Preventable.

In the above equation we get:


i.e. Rending > Stun > Preventable > Rending

We'll now add a points system to this, R>S>P>R gives us 3 attributes where each is greater than one other and so are in balance, therefore, from a points perspective R=1, S=1, and P=1. In this way we can determine that a weapon that deals Rending damage is worth the base cost of that weapon plus 1 point for the Rending attribute. If the same weapon instead had Stun, then it would still be worth the base cost of the weapon plus 1 point. What happens if the weapon has both Rending and Stun? Would it be the base cost of the weapon plus the cost of Rending (1) and the cost of Stun (1), or would it be the sum of both values and multiplied by 2 because it is twice as good (two attributes instead of one) as a normal single attribute weapon? Is this addition of points plus the multiplication factor too much? Or too little? This is where play testing comes into the picture as through games you can see whether something is as good in a game as it looks on paper or whether it is stronger or weaker and allows you to then adjust the points cost and thus value of the relative attributes or combinations of attributes accordingly.

Following on from this, let's say we played a game and we were combining multiples of the attributes on single weapons. What then would our costings be? Well, start with our attributes and the combinations, and we'll assign a points system as each attribute costing 1 and each combination of attributes costing the sum total of those attributes, with No Attributes costing 0 points.

1) Rending (R) {1pt};
2) Stun (S) {1pt};
3) Preventable (P) {1pt};
4) Rending + Stun (R>S) {2pts};
5) Rending + Preventable (P>R) {2pts};
6)Preventable + Stun (S>P) {2pts};
7) Rending + Stun + Preventable (R>S>P>R) {3pts};
8) No Attributes (N/A) {0pts}.

Now it starts to get a bit more complicated. We need to know if a two attribute weapon is twice as good as a single attribute weapon and we need to know if a triple attribute weapon is twice as good as a double attribute weapon and 3 times as good as a single attribute weapon. Most importantly, we need to know if the weapon with no special attributes is half as good as a single attribute gun.

This brings us into a play testing mode but due to time constraints we are limited on the amount of games we can assign to testing these. In the above, we have 8 separate weapon types, and if memory serves that's the same as 8! combinations i.e. 8*7*6*5*4*3*2*1 combinations, that is, 40,320 combinations needing to be tested.

We can't test 40,320 combinations to see if they balance against each other, we simply do not have the time, heck a team of a dozen or more games designers doing this as a full time job don't have the time, it's ludicrous to think they do. So to emphasise this point:


Too many people forget that when making criticisms about systems or armies for systems that have just been released for their favorite games systems - there's not enough time to play test everything always.

So time is a resource that is limited, so what does this mean? Some corners are cut and you take what you think is the best mix of playable combinations for play testing and you go from there.

I'm going to wrap this article up here and continue it in another as it is going to be rather long otherwise, but to the discussion in addition to any points of interest above, have any of you formally designed or tried to design a Tabletop/Board Games System before (as in you were intending to release it as a system/game to be sold)? And if so, did your experiences mirror any of the points above? If they varied let us know, because games design is difficult and balancing it is surprisingly hard especially when working from scratch and in complex systems with more variables.

Have a great day,

Auretious "Watch Tower" Taak.

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