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I would like to write some rules for a game I have in head but I don't know how to do that. So are there some methodologies or modeling tools (like UML) to do that? I'm thinking about a kind of tree of competencies or some kind of map to be sure that the game is well balanced.

I always wonder how the team who imagines some powers in magic the gathering for example does it. Do they have some diagrams to be sure the powers or creatures they imagine are well balanced for the entire game?

I'm pretty noob in the game creation so I'll be happy with some directions to seek.. Technical terms or basic principles to learn.

Thanks for help.

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2 Answers 2

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Balance is mostly attained by intuition and play testing. Games where balance is important usually have extended beta cycles and frequent updates because of this. In your specific example "Magic" attains balance through years of experience in play balancing - if they find that they have released an unbalanced deck they might come up with a ruleset to address it.

Unfortunately I don't think you could really fit balance into any of the UML models - considering that UML is typically used to design transactional or architectural software you would have a hard time fitting the balance problem-set into it (and would likely be wasting a lot of your time).

One of the methods you might want to look into is "zero-sum balance". Basically each "thing" can exert so much "stuff" into the world given a certain amount of external factors. Taking the example of a strategy game you could do your initial balancing by saying that each unit must exert 300 damage points within 15 seconds. This way you can work out hit damage based on, say, attack speed. More complicated systems obviously have more variables and are likely impossible to calculate - so you have to need to guesstimate (intuition): any errors on your part can easily be fixed by releasing balancing patches.

Another option is to try to autonomously break your balance using AI and adjust to avoid that scenario: doing this would likely teach you a lot of the intuition involved in balancing.

If there was a simple way to ensure balance you wouldn't see Blizzard releasing patches for Starcraft, IceFrog wouldn't have been so famous because of his balancing prowess. It all comes down to testing and listening to your community: which are often rife with people who are very experienced with balance - especially if your game's subject matter manages to attract such a community.

One of the main reasons balance is hard because there is a lot of "ghost in the machine" (where a computer exhibits surprising behaviour) involved in games. For example, if you are using a dice-roll/random damage system the random number generator you are using could introduce balancing factors. Another problem is ingenuity: you might make some unit that can teleport and completely underestimate how important mobility is. Things like this simply can't be modelled at all.

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There's a difference between documenting gameplay and making sure it is balanced. The latter is typically done through math (see for example: The Craft of Game Systems: Tuning RPG Content) and testing, the former (typically) by writing a design document. If you're familiar with UML, you'll also know that its main use is communicating a design, not validating it, or its implementation, through and through.

A universally applicable formal methodology hasn't yet cropped up, mainly because game design is a very organic process(*). Keeping that fact in mind, one of the main ways to approach game design is prototyping, for example as described here: Casual Game Design - Building a prototype. Excerpt:

Advantages [of prototyping]

  • Find out if the game works.
  • Try out different ideas.
  • Balance game rules.
  • Ease communication.
  • Get feedback.

Kinds of prototypes

  • Pencil and paper.
  • Board games.
  • Graphics program.
  • Program a prototype. [the game designers I know extensively use Unity for this purpose]

This seems a good way to go for designing a new game from the ground up, and will probably also work well for extending an existing game, like Magic: The Gathering. Although in that case a design team might already have a more formal process in place (e.g. to design an expansion pack, a type of unit, a specific card) given the fact there are set constraints to work with (e.g. previously released rule sets and expansion packs).

(*) In the last backer's update for his Kickstarter project Tim Schafer made an interesting analogy about a game [design] being a painting created by paint drops falling in slow motion. They can be seen falling and moved about by the designer, but in the end they all have to fall down on the canvas at the same time to create the painting/game.

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