Game Development Reference
In-Depth Information
If we find a problem at one skill level, we can usually solve it. But once
we start worrying about multiple skill levels, the number of strategies we
have to consider multiplies immensely. Balancing one skill point is hard;
balancing all of them at once is nearly impossible. The only response is to
let the game be imbalanced at some skill levels. It sounds like accepting
defeat, but nearly all games do this.
Even the balance team on the masterfully crafted StarCraft II is open
about their willingness to sacrifice balance at low skill in exchange for
balance at the top of the range. Dustin Browder, lead designer of StarCraft
II , said, “The goal is always to get solutions that will affect everybody. . .But
when you put a gun to my head and say, 'You've got to make a decision'
. . .we tend to go with [the most skilled players].” Browder recognizes that
balancing the game all across the skill range is impossible. Instead, his
team concentrates on ensuring that the game stays balanced at the expert
level, while opportunistically picking up whatever else they can along the
rest of the skill range. And for StarCraft II , this is the right choice, since
the game is intended to support long study by professional players.
Narrative-driven games usually take the opposite approach. Instead
of balancing at the top of the skill range, they balance at the middle or the
bottom because they're not intended to be played as intensely as a competi-
tive game like StarCraft II . For example, BioShock includes super-powerful
enemies called Big Daddies who are not aggressive unless provoked. Big
Daddy battles are intended to be tough, climactic fights, but there are actu-
ally a number of degenerate ways to kill them without fighting at all. The
player can attach a number of proximity bombs to an explosive barrel to
create a giant super-bomb that kills a Big Daddy in one hit. Or the Big
Daddy can be lured into a large pile of traps and killed instantly. BioShock
is full of degenerate strategies like this, but it doesn't matter because the
game lasts less than 10 hours, and few players will work out these strate-
gies in such a short time. And even if they do, the game stays interesting
because the game's meaning comes from narrative and role-play, not skill
optimization.
That's why the degenerate strategy caused by the intelligence potions
in Morrowind doesn't break the game. Morrowind isn't about winning—it's
about exploring a world. A player might try the intelligence potion trick
once, but he'll quickly return to the normal game because he wants to
experience the game's narrative.
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