Game Development Reference
If either option is obviously more powerful overall—for example, if
the sword did more damage than the fire could do in 10 minutes—the
answer would be obvious, and the decision would become a nondecision.
For this decision to be meaningful, the player's different options must
be balanced so that the best answer isn't obvious. In this case, a designer
might have the sword do more damage overall if the fight lasts less than 30
seconds, while the fire does more damage if it continues to burn for more
than 30 seconds. Now the player doesn't just choose the obvious answer.
He has to guess whether the fight should be more or less than 30 seconds
long. Guessing the future like this is an interesting and emotionally mean-
ingful thought process.
Some people treat this sort of balancing as though it's about matching
different tools against one another in some vague measure of power. They
try to balance the sword, the flame, and every other tool so that they're all
basically equal. But this approach doesn't work because it misconceives the
goal of this kind of balancing. Our goal isn't to balance the tools. That's
impossible, because every tool has different levels of usefulness in differ-
ent situations and combinations with other tools. The fire might be great
against the ogre, but useless against a crowd of weak goblins. The sword
might be good against the goblins, but poor against the ogre. So which is
better? Without context, such comparisons are meaningless.
Our real goal is to balance the strategies among which the player
chooses in any given situation.
STRATEGIES are specific combinations of actions that players can
decide to take in pursuit of a goal. A game's decisions become richer
when the thought process required to find the best strategy is more
So, in the fantasy ogre example, we're not really balancing the fire
spell against the sword. We're balancing the choice between these two
strategies in this particular situation against this particular ogre.
A simple strategy might mean using a single tool to solve one prob-
lem. For example, if your opponents were advancing with cavalry, a good
counterstrategy would be to place your spearmen in front of your army.
Since charging horses don't do well against entrenched lines of long pointy
sticks, your strategy is effective. You've used one of your tools against one
of their tools to achieve one goal.
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