Game Development Reference
Since those knobs are fixed, we must balance by turning other ones.
Luckily, every tool has many properties which aren't essential to its identi-
ty. The rocket backpack must be fast, but we can do anything we want with
its price, weight, or vulnerability. And if that's not enough to balance it, we
can create new mechanics to strengthen or weaken it. If it's too powerful,
we can make it explode when damaged, or leak fuel continuously, or slowly
suck away the wearer's health. If it's too weak, we can let it shield the user's
back like armor, or make it silent so that enemies won't hear it descending
on them. But under no circumstances can we slow it down.
Similarly, armor may be made expensive, obvious, heavy, or obstruc-
tive. It might prevent the player from carrying a second weapon, or make
lots of noise so that enemies can hear you easily. But it can't be made
By finding the key properties of each tool and locking them at an ex-
treme, we ensure that the game has a set of distinct tools spanning a broad
space of possibility.
Cut as deep as needed to solve problems.
Every now and then, a tool can't be balanced without changing its
key properties. In these cases, it's often best to simply cut it rather than
weaken it. Having no rocket backpack is often better than having an un-
satisfyingly slow and strategically pointless rocket backpack.
Blizzard Entertainment, the studio behind StarCraft II , Diablo , and
World of Warcraft , is famous for doing this. If the Blizzard designers can't
perfectly balance a tool by knob twisting, they don't hesitate to cut as deep
as needed to solve the problem. For example, in StarCraft II there is a large
walking tank unit called the Thor. Early in development, the Thor unit was
far more massive than anything else in the game. It was so large that it
couldn't come out of the factory and had to be constructed in the field like
a building. If it was destroyed, it could be resurrected like a partially col-
lapsed structure. It moved slowly, turned slowly, and was nearly impossible
to kill. Everything about it expressed its concept of an ultra-massive mech
walker, and it was awesome.
But it was impossible to balance. In-field construction meant it could
be mass-produced too quickly to counter since there was no slow buildup
of production facilities. Resurrection made it too hard to defeat. Its slow
turning speed made it annoyingly easy to kill by the use of small, fast units
running circles around it (a classic degenerate strategy). These problems
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