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Is competitive balance good or bad for games?

Discussion in 'Chad's Strategy and Simulation & Tactical Gaming' started by Absinthe, Jul 10, 2018.

  1. BING XI LAO Educated

    BING XI LAO
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    Then stop using balance to mean symmetry.
     
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  2. Dayyālu Arcane

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    Yeah, that's the joke. I know rather well what ICS is, and how it has been a traditional problem of all Civ-likes since the beginning. Again, I'm not particularly interested in the endless minutiae of this discussion, but AC is a terrible example (and even worse if we take into consideration Crossfire) of "well balanced game". Again, to be fun in MP AC needs to be houseruled heavily.

    I'm still waiting for good examples of "balanced" MP-focused 4x, or even, God forbid, TB games. HoMM 3 is\was one of the most played TB MP games ever and its balance is .... well, something.
     
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  3. mondblut Arcane

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    The original Civ and MoM didn't even have hotseat, FFS.

    Multiplayer is for sociowhores. Decent people suffer no meatbags tainting their gaming hobby :obviously:
     
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  4. Matalarata Arcane Patron

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    [​IMG]

    :philosoraptor:

    Are we back at arguing semantics? Balance comes from the scales metaphor, a matephor that uses perfect geometrical simmetry to express equilibrium. In any case, I supposed that, after a gazillion post about it and innumerable examples, the point should be clear. I also changed the terms I used to express myself using both your homogeneizing and Absinthe's symmetry, 'coz I concede it could be misunderstood. Should I link an on-line dictionary each time I use a term? In any case english isn't my native language, cut me some slack please.

    edit:

    Just to give you a perspective, here's how much I've been waiting for that answer:

    Oct 19, 2017
     
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  5. BING XI LAO Educated

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    We're still at the same place this conversation has always been. You equate balance to symmetry and removal of features, but balance doesn't have to be done via symmetry and removal of features.

    Too often it is, maybe even most of the time, I admit that. But not inherently or always.
    [​IMG]
    :philosoraptor:
     
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  6. Matalarata Arcane Patron

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    Oh God no! And I cannot be arsed to explain it over again. I'm not equating balance per-se to nothing else, stop putting words in my mouth, ffs! I'm saying there have been multiple examples in multiple genres of videogames that attempted exactly this:

    With various degree of success. 4x are hindered by such design principles. Here, let's see if quoting your own words works. Now, since you love to repeat that balance doesn't have to be done via symmetry, could you name a competitive 4x game (you keep trying to broaden the discussion to other genres but I'm only debating this one) you deem balanced for MP? Any kind of balance? Symmetric or asymmetric?

    You understand that a truss isn't a scale, right? That it injects mechanical effects into a system to obtain artificial equilibrium?

    Show Spoiler
    :lol: ok, now I'm just trolling you
     
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  7. DragoFireheart all caps, rainbow colors, SOMETHING.

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    The only balancing needed is fixing bugs and exploits (ex: unintended combinations like something causing infinite damage or w/e).

    Some of the most fun games have whacked out balance.
     
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  8. BING XI LAO Educated

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    Okay, I know what you meant now, but it sure sounded like you were talking about balance in general.

    I agree with you about bad balancing damaging 4x games. I'm merely saying I don't think balance has to be like that, even if it usually is.

    If, say, a fast-moving lightly-armoured race is stronger than a slow-moving heavy armoured race, and you want to balance this for multiplayer, then you can make the lightly-armoured race even more lightly-armoured, or give the slow-moving race better armour. You don't need to make the fast-moving race slower, or make the slow-moving race faster. I don't need to find an entire game to state this. The peasants that clamoured for Calabim feasting to be nerfed for multiplayer, could instead have requested that the other races be buffed and have their unique mechanics expanded on, or for some kind of vampire slaying unit/promotion, or for some kind of spell or unit that was particularly good against units with craptons of experience.

    Also AoW isn't full-blown 4x anyway, it's far more focused on combat war and maneuvre than the classic 4x. It has more in common with a Total War game than with Dominions.
     
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  9. Dzupakazul Savant

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    Starcraft: Brood War is touted as being one of the most well-balanced strategy games, or games in general, ever made, while maintaining all races as asymmetrical. But, truth be told, it does come with a few caveats: the general consensus of the community is that Protoss > Terran > Zerg > Protoss, and that much of the actual balance is derived from the community that supplements maps. Original Blizzard maps tend to be pretty bad, and even the ones from the competitive circle tend to favor Terran. The iconic Lost Temple, for instance, has cliffs overseeing each of the natural expansions, and the risk of losing to a simple tank drop is pretty real, especially if it's also reinforced with some units to help stave off air. The latest big tournament had maps that were arguably very much favoring Protoss. They also had certain new features - the map Sparkle was the first island map in a long, long time, and it was also created in such a way so as to provide the Zerg race with a bonus gas source that only they could access, as Zerg is historically really, really bad on island maps. It actually worked somewhat.

    It had a few effects - first of all, the tournament finals were Protoss vs Protoss (although the 3rd place match was a ZvP which was won by Zerg). The inarguable best player ever, who is Terran, has been knocked out in the quarter-finals by one of the Protoss finalists in a long, amazing 3-2 match.

    After the tournament the community consensus was, while the tournament produced some fresh and exciting games (particularly the series where Flash lost), they would still rather not introduce these maps into the ladder, because they offered too many frustrating pitfalls for the average Joe. It was nice for a change of pace and to introduce some freshness, but overall many people would prefer to keep playing on regular, classic maps.

    I do think games should be balanced, as generally this adds to the depth and playability, as you never feel like you're gimped by picking one faction over the other. It's only bad if, in the process of balance, we introduce massive homogenization to playstyles to the point where picking either of the factions doesn't really change much.

    As for 4X games - I've dabbled quite a bit in Civ4 MP scene, and it's generally interesting to note how traits and factions that are bad or just average in single player are amazing in multiplayer. Aggressive/Expansive Shaka is an okay leader with a so-so unique unit, but in MP he's an absolute monster on 1v1 ancient maps. Expansive is a decent trait in Single Player, but absolutely excellent in MP because quicker Granaries let you snowball really hard. Aggressive is poor in SP, as you generally want long-term economical bonuses over quick and easy promotion bonuses, but in MP you will park Axemen on someone's lawn and really try hard to pressure, which Aggressive really helps with. Protective is a poor trait against the AI, since it doesn't really do anything useful and you're rarely in a situation where you actually have to defend yourself from the AI (you can rice your way to the top on skeleton army and just kiss the AI's ass), but against a human player it gives a nice advantage, particularly in terms of holding down chokepoints and outposts. Philosophical is excellent in SP because you can "bulb" techs for massive profit off of tech brokering with the AI, but in MP, there are fewer of these slingshots and, while quick Great People give you decent tempo and can be a nice bonus to research, you won't reap nearly as much value from the tech discoveries.

    Civ4 is also notable because certain factions offer really interesting options even if certain elements of them suck. Montezuma is a rather poor leader in general, but his Jaguar Warriors have a specific niche for dominating jungle and forest terrains, are resourceless, and his unique building lets you run a really effective slave economy (and slavery is already one of the most powerful mechanics in Civ4).

    Overall, Civ4 was one of the more extensively playtested Firaxis games when it comes to multiplayer, and it certainly shows.

    I feel like the best shot at strong multiplayer balance is achieved by games that have a long-standing, mature community that is capable of finetuning the balance based on their commitment. Starcraft's fabled balance is mostly maintained through maps. Starcraft does not release balance patches anymore, as the community self-regulates somewhat whenever they feel like, for example, we've had too many Terran-leaning maps in the last ladder circuit. Civilization 4 had many internal playtesting sessions between veterans of the previous games. HoMM3 just had a fanmade expansion pack maintained by Russian pros and people who listen to these pros, who managed to scale down the power of the most eclipsing factions, Necropolis and Conflux, introduce a brand new faction, finetune that as well, and overall release a product that is more competitively healthy.

    Games with haphazard, flavor-of-the-month balancing tend to cause a lot of vitriol between fans of different factions because "it's been 7 months since Spooky Skeletons have received a balance update while Devious Devils are wrecking the meta, pls do something already". When a game is mostly left to its own devices and is worth proliferating, the community often is capable of figuring out solutions to any lingering balance issues that remain, either through bans or maps.

    So yeah, I'd say balance is good, overall. I don't think it necessarily means a boring game. You can do it well and you can fuck it up, just like everything else. Overall, I'm leaning towards balance as a way of making sure that I can always find an interesting playstyle without thinking along the lines of "I could just be playing this other thing which does the same thing but better". Of course, it's bad if it means "It doesn't matter what I play because everything is the same".
     
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  10. Raghar Arcane

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    Competitive balance for SP is bad, because MP balance tends to be rigid numerical analysis accurate, and then it feels in SP like each faction is roughly the same, no more powerful faction or less. Which feels weird.
     
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  11. Dzupakazul Savant

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    How many games do you actually know that behave this way? Most of the time balance doesn't mean "this faction and this faction have exactly the same development path and the exact same moments where they're strong or weak", but "this faction and this faction manage to have a fair matchup where the winrate is as close to 50% as we can muster and they both hit different power spikes at different points in the game, forcing the players to play to their strengths and nullify their weaknesses". In Civilization 4, Zulu vs Malinese on a 1v1 ancient start Inland Sea is a match between two tier 1 factions where Shaka is trying to expand as aggressively as humanly possible and overwhelm Musa before he can spin his Financial nation into a tech edge, and Musa's saving grace is his buffed Archers. In "fastest run to a victory condition" single player competitions such as Game of the Month, the guy who picks Elizabeth is going to have a strategy that is much different from the one employed by a Ramesses II player. In Starcraft, Terran vs Zerg is a fair matchup that slightly favors Terran because Terran, by the very nature of the game, has the initiative over Zerg and will try to force the Zerg into overspending on defense or lose one of his acquisitions too early; when Zerg stabilizes, he becomes much more aggressive and can simply start overwhelming the less mobile Terran army, but he also has to watch out for Terran's excellent spellcasters. Those are examples of games that, generally, are considered well-balanced, both in an SP or MP environment. Civ4 grognards are still having playstyle discussions over which Civilization traits are high tier and which are less powerful to this day, so apparently the question is not as clear cut.

    So I really don't understand why competitive balance in MP would necessarily cause problems in SP. Most of the time balance doesn't say "here, both of you, fight, and the win is determined by a coin toss". It doesn't even usually mean "here, both factions have functionally identical units, so all that determines the victor is whether you allocate them better on the map". What I find it means is "you get an axe, and you get a spear and net - now let's see who is craftier".

    On the other hand, I don't understand what exactly is fun in the notion of "here, you get a toothpick and the other guy gets to be immortal unless you behead him". Usually it resounds in a cry of "lmao you can't even behead this guy with a toothpick, l2gitgud" or citing that "the better player still wins", but without any notion of balance at all, we'd have to rely on the immortal guy literally handing you over an axe (which is what the underdeveloped video game AI usually tends to do) instead of going for the throat.

    Not to mention that many players have an absolutely shit understanding of balance. Many people still cite old 1999 Heroes of Might & Magic 3 walkthroughs, or their games as a kid, that claim Fortress is the worst faction in the game "because it has weak units and weak magic" as gospel, even though it doesn't matter against their really strong opener, very fast scouts, one of the best hero classes in the game, many tools of aggressive expansion, or the existence of the few patches that actually buffed some Fortress units. Many players still think Solmyr is the best hero in the game. There was a Gamespot advice column for Civilization 4 where the writer claims Inca is the worst faction in the game and cannot hope to win in a multiplayer match, even though Incans are the absolute strongest faction in Civilization 4 in most contexts, including SP and MP.
     
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  12. thesheeep Arcane

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    You also fall from the misconception that only victories matter.
    When I think back on every strategy game I played, no matter if SP or MP, the most memorable, most fun experiences have always been the close calls. No matter if I won in the end.
    By allowing factions to be different in strength, you also allow players to pick their own challenge level in a way.
    It would be so much more interesting to take a toothpick and see just how many immortals you can behead. It might just be 1/10, but the journey itself is way more intense than just going for other toothpicks.

    The important part is that the player knows beforehand what he's getting in to. It should be clearly communicated that some faction is considered weaker - most might not play the faction, then. But some will.

    It is not about the victory. Most people want an adequate challenge. Otherwise, nobody would play games like Battle Royale where only one in 100 can win. What counts is that in the end, the player can be happy with his own performance - or work on improving it.
    Plotting people of equal skill with equally powerful factions against each other is just one way to achieve this.
    And doubtlessly the most overdone, boring and least varied way.
     
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  13. Dzupakazul Savant

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    You may pick a faction in a balanced game, and then face an equally skilled opponent with another balanced faction, and then have a long battle where both of you squeeze out every single resource and the outcome is ordained by a crucial battle.
    You may also pick a shitty faction, play a similarly outstanding game and then, more likely, lose.
    If the first thing happens, you are like "woah, we both played the SHIT out of our factions' abilities! That was great!"
    If the second thing happens, you are liable to go "eh, I guess I couldn't win anyway because I'm playing the Toothpicks" or "lol I'd own ya if I was playing the Capables".

    Point is, I don't think that game design should deliberately include factions that aren't balanced. If something is blatantly stupid and uninteractive, like the Progenitors in SMAX, this is bad design.

    Mrrshans in MoO1 being a weak race because they do not have any economic bonuses in a game that's slanted towards them, but them still having useful tools and a generally level playing field is okay design.

    If you're going to consider playing a weak faction as a form of self-restriction, you might as well just vow to not use certain OP tactics or resources, like, idk, refuse to use ICS or supply crawlers in SMAC.
     
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  14. deuxhero Arcane

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    You can include factions that aren't balanced, just as long as they are non-playable bosses or explicitly weak tutorial foes. Examples that come to mind are Advance War's Sturm (the final boss who has OP units that you fight with two allied armies, the playable version of him is nerfed to hell and STILL considered good) and the ability to play with no CO (which is strictly worse than playing any CO that doesn't have a direct penalty, which is about half of them)
     
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  15. Circuit Self-Ejected

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    Slightly offtopic: I think Birthright had an interesting way to deal with lack of balance - different factions were presented as different difficulty levels for the player. Even in multiplayer.

    You could always pick a powerhouse faction with some strong sides and a good starting position, or pick a weaker one to add some challenge or give your PvP opponent a headstart.

    Weaker factions were the most interesting to play - trading empire with a neutral evil leader right in the center of the continent and a lot of enemies, or the empire that starts as a vassal of a much more powerful AI controlled faction. While the easiest ones were boring elves\dwarves in a rich fortified provinces without agressive neighbours.
     
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  16. Damned Registrations Prestigious Gentleman Furry Weeaboo Nazi Nihilist

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    Somewhat off topic, but I watched a video fairly recently that goes into a lot of detail regarding 'balance' in fighting games:



    To sum it up, making everyone play the same way is boring, whether that is caused by making all the factions/characters/etc. the same, or by making all but one of them obsolete.

    I think 4x games are inherently kinda bad in this regard, because naked aggression is pretty much always going to be the only viable option in a 1v1 scenario, which kneecaps all the other aspects of a 4x game like trying to get economic, technological, or political leads.

    Playing the Toothpicks is only a rewarding experience if it wasn't a stupid decision. If you also had the option of playing the dragon ninjas, then it feels more like you made a terrible mistake in choosing your faction, just like nobody is going to respect you for trying and failing to win a game of starcraft without ever gathering any vespene.
     
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  17. orcinator Learned

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    Because it's really retarded. Literally who would care more about some arbitrary league points instead of the game they're actually playing unless there's cash prizes involved.
    And even if you get people to care, now you have something where instead of everyone playing the same game, only those with equal matchups will get to play the game, everyone else will either be playing survival mode or speedrun/milking mode.
     
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  18. thesheeep Arcane

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    You present that as if any of those three sentences were something bad.
    None of them are.
    Knowing that you played really well despite playing an inferior faction is something I would consider way more rewarding than getting a victory in an otherwise equal setup.
    It is true that I might lose due to my choice, but that simply doesn't matter as long as I feel I did well.

    But nobody is doing that.
    The point is that the game is designed for interesting gameplay and varied factions, balancing simply doesn't play much of a role in designing factions.
    Some factions end up stronger than others? Fine!

    Yes, you might. But why not just give players more choices?
    More options are always better than less.

    This might shock the hell out of you, but there are people who play games because it is fun, not just to have a victory in perfectly equal matchups.
    People who simply don't care how equal a matchup is. Weird as fuck, I know.
    Then there are those who want to climb ladders - as I'd say most people going for just that in SC 2 are. For climbing ladders, my suggested "system" would be even better because it allows more people to play, not just those interested in perfectly boring balanced factions.
    And finally, those who really only play to win can always play one of the stronger factions.

    That you can only imagine people playing on absolute equal conditions - or for money - is just a very projecting lack of imagination... and somewhat sad.

    All of which are perfectly valid choices clearly communicated to the players. I wouldn't do factions like that if it wasn't communicated which of them are considered stronger/weaker. I don't like obfuscated game design.
    You also seem to think that matchmaking should always be random.
    I don't see why you shouldn't be able to match up randomly/only against same or similar strength races/etc. Same for leagues, there could be more than one.

    It is all about having options.
     
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  19. Generic-Giant-Spider Augur

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    Most developers that do competitive balancing have no real endgame or actual finish line. They go into this endless loop of change for the sake of change, provide twenty page patch notes, and then repeat the cycle in two months time.
     
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  20. DraQ Prestigious Gentleman Arcane

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    Competitive balance is good for competitive games, otherwise there is wider array of tools to provide "balanced" playthrough and enforcing simple competitive balance usually makes the game suffer in some way.

    Do note that the notion of balance isn't exclusive to strategies, cRPGs are very good example of competitive balance being almost invariably awful.

    Also, do note that while symmetry implies balance, the inverse isn't true.
     
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  21. IncendiaryDevice Arcane

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    A lot of people in this thread are confusing badly designed game balance with exploits.

    The Civilisation series (including AC) is a series that traditionally has very good game balance by design, whereby each game is then mined by addicts for potential exploits. There's no specifically overpowered Civ and they all tend to have their pros and cons.

    Badly designed game balance would be something like the Necromancer class in Heroes of Might and Magic 3, particularly with regard to the Campaign where, by the end of the map, you have 1,000s of Liches.

    With Civilisation games you wont tend to play just once and experience the full force of the imbalance, with Civilisation games it takes dedicated exploit hunters many games and hours to fully break down any avenues for exploitation and then for these people to communicate their findings to the masses via the internet. With HoMM3 the imbalance is unavoidable and there for the first game you try, no need to info-share nor experiment, you'd have to be monumentally retarded to not cream the game with Liches.
     
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  22. Matalarata Arcane Patron

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    Before being diverted into the new thread, the discussion wasn't limited to symmetrycal balance, you'll notice that we went through a linguistic understanding of sort. There are examples of asymmetrical games which suffered by attempting to balance them for a very specific MP scene, a competitive one. I used the term balance since this is the term used when arguing for such "tweaks" in those circles. The recent DoW III fiasco comes to mind. The game was perceived both as diverging from its root (less RTS, more MOBA) but also bland, samey, extremely lazily balanced, although still being asymmetryc.

    The majority of the disussion also verted around the idea that 4x games were born multi-player oriented titles at first, a notion I found ridiculous. The term balance was used to denote a process, that must happen in any case in a given game, but will follow totally different principles if undertaken to give a fun, interesting and replayable experience in single player or an even and competitive environment for multiplayer. Which term would you use to denote it, DraQ?
     
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  23. thesheeep Arcane

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    Yeah, if all you read in patch notes are +1/-1 here and +5%/-5% there, then you can be reasonably sure the devs are wasting their time on unimportant things.
     
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  24. Damned Registrations Prestigious Gentleman Furry Weeaboo Nazi Nihilist

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    I'd say those are the best kinds of balance changes. It's when the devs are reworking entire concepts or making drastic changes that they're just fucking with the meta without regards for actually making things fair. Tweaking something like a unit's hp or cost up or down in 5% increments until it starts to get used about as often as other options despite having radically different mechanics is a good way to balance things. I hate when people say shit like "X mechanic can never be balanced, it's too OP" as though anybody is going to use a unit with 1 hp that costs an hours worth of resource collection because it has an 'OP' mechanic.
     
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  25. Nevill Arcane

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    While my opinion mostly coincides with that of Dzupakazul, I do not entirely agree with that statement, though for a different reason.

    AC is a game about Absolutely Broken Shit, and is a competition to get things broken faster than your rivals can. However, a game between several experienced players - the ones who know which broken things to watch out for - is capable of self-regulating through alliances. Those were the most fun games I've played, the ones where they tell you 'build this project or step over that territory, and we'll see you dead', and you have to bide your time until you are reasonably certain you can take out everyone... which may take a while. It's not something I see often, because it requires players to be on the same page when it comes to threat estimates, - otherwise they will either miss a crucial moment or react poorly to others trying to keep them in check 'unfairly', leading to a violent disagreement and possibly a quick end - but I've seen it happen.

    (Aplha Centauri is also pretty poorly designed, in that mid-game a single mistake can cause a collapse of your empire in a matter of just a couple of turns with little to no possibility of recovery, meaning that any equilibrium or balance thus achieved is a house of cards ready to fold at a moment's notice. It's pretty unrewarding to spend 100+ turns in micromanagement hell for a 1-turn payoff that doesn't always come as the game may be conceded even before that. There are hardly any back-and-forth or comebacks here)

    What people tend to speak about here is multiplayer duels where two players compare their e-peens and so decide who is the more skilled between them. But should the games be designed with that in mind? Or should they consider the broader picture, which would inevitably involve having favorable and unfavorable match-ups between certain sides and under certain conditions, and then leave it to the players to find ways for it to work. Because that's what house rules or custom maps are, just limiting unfun things that do not work with this particular game mode you are playing.

    I am an avid HoMM III player - or was one a decade or so ago, - and whenever the rules for tournaments came up there were always guys making fun of the 'excessive' limitations there. No Dimension Door, no certain heroes, no upgrading certain monster tiers, no using certain structures, no hit&run, no diplomacy, no attacking on the 1st day of the Week if you brought reinforcements, no fun allowed - but it is only natural that whenever players want to compete in skill they want to minimize external influences they consider an 'unfair' advantage or disadvantage. It is also natural that others who care nothing for their 'ranking' see it as a complete madness infringing on their fun, and don't want it in their games.

    Don't think there is a way to reconcile the two approaches, except making sure the game doesn't have outright broken stuff that limits the number of viable strategies (and thus limit fun), and then giving the players a good modding kit to do whatever they want to with the rest and let them have fun however they want it.

    The HoMM mod is living proof that dedicated communities can balance games better than any developers would without it detracting from the gameplay. After all, no developer would playtest their game for two decades, and no, Grimoire is not a strategy!
     
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2018
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