Balancing

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by GamerID, Sep 13, 2017.

  1. GamerID

    GamerID Villager Member

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    Hey everyone, I'm not all that new to making games as I have a super creative mind and have been using the engine since vx ace. Yet I have always struggled with balancing enemies so that they are not to weak or to strong. Do you all have any good tips on balancing enemies?
     
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  2. Aoi Ninami

    Aoi Ninami Veteran Veteran

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    Balancing is relative. Enemies' stats only make sense in context with actors' stats, the number of actors, and the damage formulae of available skills.

    My suggestion is to fix these things one at a time. Since there are (usually) fewer actors than skills, and fewer skills than enemies, it makes sense to fix them in that order; then you can have your first dungeon entirely finished and playable, and still have room to add new late-game enemies without risking unbalancing what you've already created.

    I'll use my own project as an example. (Sorry, no link yet; I'd like to get a bit further before I start a project thread.)

    I had thought up a magic system with six elements, so I knew that I wanted there to be six actors, one for each element. That fit in great, because there are also six battle stats; so I laid out a grid, and gave each actor a rating "1" to "6" for each stat, ensuring that every actor had one of each rating. I knew I wanted to use low numbers, so I made a "3" rating correspond to a stat value of 10, and each step was +2 in the case of Attack, Defence, Magic and Magic Defence; +1 for Speed and Spirit. For HP and MP, I just summed each character's physical ratings (for HP) and magical ratings (for MP) and multiplied by 8.

    Now, for the first dungeon of the game, only one actor is available, and my grid system gives her initial stats of 32 HP, 32 MP, 12 Attack, 10 Defence, 16 Magic and 6 Magic Defence. (I decided that each stat increases by 2 on level up, but that's not relevant for the very first battles.) It looks silly if the starter weapon and armour have +0 stats, so I gave both +2. (Erika's effective ATK and DEF are 14 and 12.)

    Since I'm working with low numbers, I decided on a damage formula of 2 x ATK - DEF.

    Now for the enemies. Each one has a different role in combat (especially for the tutorial dungeon), so each needs to have stats suited to its role:

    Roach. For the very first "how to fight" tutorial, the monster needs to go down in exactly two hits (so you can see it hitting the actor), and its one hit on the actor needs to do noticeable damage, but not enough that the player gets worried. I gave it 2 DEF because it's nice to see (relatively) big numbers come up for your damage on the enemy. That means Erika hits it for 28 - 2 = 26, which can be 21 to 31 with variance. So the roach gets 40 HP. Its ATK is 10, so it does 8 damage to Erika. Its magic stats don't matter.

    Wood Golem. This monster is intended to teach "some monsters have strong physical defence, so you should use magic". Because this will work within my story, I did this by having a guide follow Erika in the tutorial dungeon, and he explicitly states you should use magic on the Wood Golem, and tells you about saving right before the battle. So I felt okay with magic one-shotting the Wood Golem (it's weak to fire), but if you ignore the tutorial and use a physical instead, it gets a turn, and can one-shot the player. This allows the monster to show up in pairs or larger troops in the second dungeon, when Erika is a bit stronger and you have a second party member.

    At this point I tried out some different troops. Roach + Wood Golem is fine as a lesson on eliminating the greatest threat first. Two Roaches work as a lesson on using healing items mid-combat (and giving the player a little confidence boost: you can actually defeat a troop that outnumbers you). Three Roaches are simply too much for a solo Erika, so forget that, but make a note that three (or four or five) Roaches may be an interesting troop for the next dungeon.

    Slime Cube. The other thing I wanted to teach in my tutorial dungeon is Erika's Fire Blade ability, which buffs her ATK. For this to be effective, I need a monster that can't be one-shotted normally, but can after a single buff; then a troop of two such monsters can be defeated in three turns with Fire Blade, four without. I can't tweak the Roach for this, because then the player would have a legitimate complaint "why didn't you teach me this sooner?" So, new monster. It must have less HP than the Roach, so let's make it all-round weaker, with 1 DEF. After a single buff, Erika's effective ATK is 17, so she hits it for 34 - 1 = 33, which can be 27 to 39 with variance. But if I give the monster 27 HP, Erika has a 50% chance of one-shotting it without the buff. So let's compromise and give it 30 HP. That means that with the buff, Erika will usually one-shot it (10/13 chance, to be precise). Because of that uncertainty, the monster needs to have lower ATK as well, so that bad luck won't kill the player.

    For later dungeons, it gets more complex because there are more party members, but it still comes down to the same ideas: How many turns do I want this enemy to go down in? How much damage is the party doing per turn?

    Of course, the first dungeon is the easiest to balance, because you know the player's current level and skillset exactly. Later monsters may feel balanced when you test them, and other players may complain about them being unbalanced, because they made different choices about building their party. All you can really do there is make a few tests with different builds, and be open to feedback from your testers.

    ...and saying all that took a lot longer than I expected. I wonder if I should expand this into a proper tutorial post?
     
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  3. GamerID

    GamerID Villager Member

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    The information you gave was a lot to look into and it was very helpful. I appreciate and I shall try these tactics. Thank you.
     
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  4. Frozen_Phoenix

    Frozen_Phoenix Veteran Veteran

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    A general tip: Playtest the game until the point you want to balance, adjust the difficulty (change stats if it is an enemy etc) until it is balanced for you, then make it slightly easier.
     
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  5. bgillisp

    bgillisp Global Moderators Global Mod

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    Right. Always remember that you know your battle system inside and out, and your players will (probably) not. So battles you find easy the players will probably find just right, the battles you find just right they will find hard, and the battles you find hard the players will find near impossible.
     
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  6. kirbwarrior

    kirbwarrior Veteran Veteran

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    The biggest thing is "what is your base line?". I usually pick the actors. Once you have a baseline, everything else can be compared to it. For instance, I usually make the MC a "red mage" (like Dragon Quest does) that can do everything reliably enough, with other party members fitting a specific role stronger. In one game, the MC had the exact same numbers for every stat (HP and MP I think were x10, but I could be wrong).

    Another important one is, what is the Attack formula? How many hits kills a PC? How many an enemy? I like the "two turn" rule from Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, where every encounter can be taken down in two turns with ingenuity and low resource cost (the cost would go up with the pacing to be able to keep up with it).

    Because variance puts so much more rng into the system, I've been dropping it from 20% to 5% (or not having it altogether). It's much easier to figure out formulas and stats when there is no variance. And you can do what the pokemon community does; Assume you attack always does minimum damage and the opponent does maximum damage. If you want an enemy to go down in three hits, make sure the minimum damage can do that. Regardless of actual numbers, thinking in "hits" is probably the easiest way to balance things (for instance, Double Attack is Strong Attack is just two hits, while Flare or Holy might be seven hits).

    Related to variance, be careful with how much choice you are giving the player (but do give choice to them!). A simple rpg might have every ally have a single choice of weapon and armor, merely upgrading in tier throughout the game. If you want each ally to pick from three unique types of weapons and armor each, then it's probably best to figure out which is the "baseline" choice, then have the others balanced around that choice.

    The biggest piece of info I've seen in multitudes of game making is; Don't treat the enemies and allies different. It's much easier to balance things when both have the same(ish) stats. My random encounters are built just like the allies, but with HP decided by how many hits it takes to die. With the "two turn" rule, a party of four allies could actually fight an enemy with the same stats as an ally and be taken down in two turns.

    Usually, you don't want the allies' stats vary too much. The weakest stat in any given category should be max 1/2 of the strongest in the same category. Otherwise you might get situations such as where the game naturally gives one ally too much defense and another not enough.

    I usually make placeholder enemies (extremely basic ones that might only have Attack) to gauge how numbers work out, then use it as a baseline for making actual enemies.

    Lastly, compare games that are similar to what you are making. If you're making a traditional jrpg, play Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, etc. Check out the numbers on wikis. Try to reverse engineer what the developers were doing. You can even do this with RPGmaker games if you can get ones that don't have encryption.
     
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  7. GamerID

    GamerID Villager Member

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    So a lot of playthrough is what I'm seeing here haha. I never really do playthrough as much as I should.
     
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  8. MMMm

    MMMm Veteran Veteran

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    Another tip: it's better for the game to be too easy than too hard.

    Nobody ever rage-quits a game where they win at combat all the time. If it feels like it might be too hard, it's just make it easy. You can always create areas with tougher, optional monsters later.
     
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  9. Lonewulf123

    Lonewulf123 Veteran Veteran

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    Agreed. Got a wide variety of people to play test your game.
     
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  10. Wavelength

    Wavelength Mo Daylight, Mo Problems Veteran

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    Balance is a discussion that comes up quite a lot around the forum, so instead of repeating everything I've said like a broken record, let me direct you to this post, which contains a bit of advice about how to go about achieving good balance using trial and error, and also contains links to multiple other posts I've written on balance. In particular, I'd recommend following the link to "How to give yourself a wide balance target", which will probably alleviate a lot of the struggles you are dealing with when you find that monsters feel either too weak or too strong.

    I forget whether I address this in any of the linked posts, but the type of damage formula you are using can be a hidden problem if you are running into balance issues. Additive formulas (such as the default "a.atk * 4 - b.def * 2" formula) are problematic because there is only a very small set of values for a.atk and b.def that will result in moderate amounts of damage (and therefore challenging but fair battles). Multiplicative formulas (such as "a.atk * 40 / b.def") will give you much more room to balance things, allowing battles to remain interesting and fair even if you've slightly misforecasted what character stats will be at a certain point in your game. Just make sure your starting ("level one") values aren't really low, because this can screw things up with almost any type of formula.
     
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  11. kirbwarrior

    kirbwarrior Veteran Veteran

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    I've been looking into a lot of games recently that don't have a defense stat (or it's a big deal when someone has defense at all). Final Fantasy Tactics has armor give more HP. Having defense at all heavily affects how you approach your balancing.

    I've been stepping away from having stats be "level * X" and starting at level 1. I find it much better to either start the heroes at a higher level (10ish) or have the stats pretend the heroes do (so it could be like "(Level + 20) * X". The other bonus is having them start higher level makes it obvious they are heroes.
     
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  12. Wavelength

    Wavelength Mo Daylight, Mo Problems Veteran

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    Ah, yes. I've parroted so many times in different threads about "streamline your stats system" that I feel like a broken record. There are a lot of games in which it would make sense to completely remove DEF (and MDEF, which should usually be rolled into DEF anyhow) and make HP the way to represent tough enemies.

    Aside from streamlining, plus making balance a little easier to achieve, a huge advantage here is that it brings much more clarity to why your attacks are doing the amount of damage that they are, as well as how hard an enemy will be to take down. There aren't any opaque Enemy DEF numbers to throw a monkey wrench into your heuristics.

    A few major advantages of using the DEF stat, on the other hand, include allowing heals to be more effective on tanks (250 HP of healing can negate three attacks' worth of damage on a tank with high DEF, but only one on a squishy with low DEF) and allowing the design of interesting enemies with low HP but high DEF (meaning that standard grind strategies won't work; you need to spike it with powerful attacks) or vice-versa.

    For sure, when you have 5 ATK at level 1, 10 ATK at level 2, 15 ATK at level 3, and so on, the early game will become badly imbalanced (unless the designer can control exactly when in the plot players receive a level-up). I find there's something kind of special about starting from "level one", so I usually give characters a large "base stat" compared to the increases per level. For example, a formula of "20 + (LV * 5)": they'll have 25 ATK at LV1, 30 ATK at LV2, 35 ATK at LV3, 40 ATK at LV4, and so on.
     
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  13. kirbwarrior

    kirbwarrior Veteran Veteran

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    Recently I've been chatting with people about what mdef is. Why do robes provide it? Why does armor not provide it? I get separating patk from matk (although even there I'm torn), but I'm still not certain what mdef is. At least some games do separate it; pdef decreases damage but 100 - mdef is the percent of damage you take.
    I love games that make enemy stats transparent. At the very least, telling you the range of possible damage when choosing targets is very helpful and honestly makes the game more fun.
    In one game I'm making, the base stats are roughly half the final stats (from lv1-99). It helps with keeping it so you can approach battles in basically any order (it's important because each battle levels you up and there is a fixed number).
    Ah, metal slimes, how I love thee. I do like defense. I especially love the feeling that I have too much defense for the enemies to hurt me. And defense does let the classes or roles that are supposed to take and lessen damage actually feel like they are succeeding.
     
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