Resourceful Comparisons

March 11, 2008 at 1:32 pm (Game Balance, Game Design, Game Mechanics) (, , , )

I have previously argued that a game will only be balanced if players’ capabilities are good at what they’re intended to be used for without usurping the functions of other capabilities.  In order to determine whether that’s the case, we need to consider the effectiveness (for the player) of taking each of several options in a given situation, and compare the usefulness of each.

One of the hardest parts of comparing the effectiveness of two player options–for example, turning invisible versus hurling a fireball–is often finding a common basis for comparison.  Let’s face it, in terms of their immediate effects, those probably accomplish completely different things.  They probably synergize in different and complicated ways with a whole host of different circumstances and strategies, so we don’t do them justice if we consider simply swapping in one for the other in an otherwise identical strategy, and their effects on the game’s final outcome are probably (intentionally) virtually impossible to predict in the general case.  We’re comparing the proverbial apples to oranges.  Where do we even begin?


As usual, there’s no silver bullet, but one widely-applicable strategy is to abstract the game state as a set of resources, by which I mean quantifiable assets that can be expended to change the course of the game.  For example, ammunition is a resource–you can use it up in order to fire your weapon, which is one of the ways you can affect the game’s outcome.  “Mana” (or energy, power, etc.) often serves a similar role in fantasy-themed games.

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