Game Development Reference
weren't obvious on the surface. They only became apparent after testing
by skilled players.
The exotic mega-mech concept was cool. It sounds compelling and
different. But if it can't be balanced, it can't be used. Blizzard's designers
didn't try to paper over the problems with layers of inelegant special case
rules. They sucked up the pain and cut deeper, scaling the Thor way down
into a manageably sized mech walker that is built from the Factory like
any other unit and cannot be resurrected. It's boring on the surface—but
it works. And in the end, the game turned out better than it would have if
it was full of gimmicks, imbalances, and special cases designed to prop up
someone's pet idea.
As a designer, it's hard to cut this deep—intellectually, socially, and
emotionally. It can seem terribly wasteful to throw out large amounts of
work and such cool ideas because of one strategy interaction hidden some-
where in the game's possibility space. There's real emotional pain in doing
that. But if you're seeking high-skill balance, it's not a choice. Degenerate
strategies left in the game will always be found, and sometimes the only
way to fix them is to cut fun ideas. As in any creative field, sometimes a
game designer must murder his darlings.
Don't be reactive.
When something that seems wrong happens in a playtest, often our
first instinct is to rush in and turn some knobs to make sure it doesn't
happen again. And this is always easy to do. But trying to balance by solving
single problems one by one is like pushing bubbles out of wallpaper. Since
strategies are coupled together, every solution to one problem is the cause
of another. The game lurches between balance points, running in circles
but getting nowhere. In the worst cases, this can go on forever, with the
game making no forward progress at all.
The mistake here is focusing on the problems that we do have and
ignoring those we don't. As Dietrich Dörner puts it:
We may believe that we have been pursuing a single goal until we reach
it and then realize—with amazement, annoyance, and horror—that in rid-
ding ourselves of one plague we have created perhaps two others in dif -
ferent areas. There are, in other words, “implicit” goals that we may not
at first take into account at all and may not even know we are pursuing.
To take a simple example, if we ask someone who is healthy about her
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