This is going to be the first post in a longer series of articles I want to write about the balancing of weapons in shooters via gameplay situations. I was rather frustrated about the lack of information I found about this topic, may it be balancing at large or the balancing of weapons specifically, so I thought it could be a good idea to write some of my thoughts and approaches here and maybe create a forum for a more detailed discussion and exchange on this matter.
Let me start with a short list of the most interesting resources I found on the web:
Dave Sirlin on Balancing Multiplayer Games.
Dave Sirlin, game designer of Streetfighter 2 Turbo HD Remix, has written a very deep and interesting four part series on the matter of balancing multiplayer games and I am seriously thinking about getting his book.
Brandes Stoddard on Balancing Weapons
Brandes Stoddard is System Designer for the upcoming MMOFPS Fallen Earth and shares some of his experience in this Dev. Journal.
Eric Heimburg on Balancing for Awesome
Tom Cadwell on Techniques for Achieving Play Balance
Tom Cadwell was apparently working for Blizzard on WC3 and WOW and has written a good article on balancing.
Brian Reynolds on “The Poor Get Richer: The Ancient Art of Game Balance”
Brian Reynolds, former CEO of BigHugeGames and currently Chief Designer of Zynga, talks about balancing but focuses more on the long-term experience and multiplayer aspects. But it is a good source if you want to define youre balancing goals.
Wolfire Games on Game Theory Applied To Game Design
Game Balancing based on game theory. Very Interesting, especially for all people who design strategy games.
If you know some other good resources please tell me and I will update the list. But for now let’s continue with the approach of balancing weapons via gameplay situations. First I think you can split the way to balance weapons into eight single steps.
First Step: Define your weapon system.
This is the first step you have to make. How should the weapon system work? The most important question is the limitation of weapons a single player can carry. Can he carry all weapons at the same time like in a classical shooter (Half-Life, Unreal Tournament, etc.) or is the number of weapon slots limited like in most modern shooters? (Gears of war, Dead Space, Resident Evil 5) This will determine how valuable a single weapon should be and in how many gameplay situations one weapons must be useful.
If the player can carry all weapons, each weapon can have a single purpose because the player can switch between weapons and adjust his equipped cannon to the specific situation. If you’re weapon system is limited either by the number of slots, inventory space or weight than each weapon must be more useful in different situations because you want to avoid that the player can’t overcome an obstacle because he hasn’t chosen the right equipment. (Even if you provide the right weapon in front of the challenge, a player could still decide to go with his old armory because he invested too much money in upgrades or simply because he likes them)
Another important point is the way player gain new weapons and ammunition. Do you have a shop system, a weapon upgrade system or does the player need to search rooms and loot corpses? There are a lot of different options to choose from and I think the decision depends on the way you want to reward the player and the restrictions of your game world. (A shop system in a WW2 shooter can easily break the immersion of a game)
Second Step: Define your goals
The next step I took was to define my balancing goals. An important matter for me is that I don’t want to have a dominating weapon, meaning a weapon which is better than all the others in every situation and I also want to avoid dominated weapons, which are worse in all situations than at least one other weapon. Based on this system I think you can create two categories of weapons. The first category I called special weapons, which are the best in at least one situation but also the worst in others. The second one I defined as mixed weapons, which are good in a lot of situations but also crap in others. When you think in these categories all weapons should be useful in the game but in different situations, challenging the player to choose the best weapon for each situation and by this creating depth to the gameplay because you cannot just rush with the weapon of your choice through the game.
The next point I would describe as aiming for maximum difference. The player should really feel that each weapon feels and behaves differently. This means that the differences between the ingame values should not be in a small percentage area because than the player will not notice them.
I also decided that I want to balance my weapons internally, which means for me that the balancing is not based on global variables set by the level design a.k.a. the ammunition available. A lot of games feature dominated weapons but force the player to use them because the ammunition he finds for better weapons is rather spare which sometimes work in survival horror games but I personally think it limits my choices as a player and takes away room for interesting decisions.
I also want that all weapons should work the same in multiplayer and singleplayer modes, because I think the system gets intransparent for the player if weapons behave differently in each mode.
Third Step: Define your weapons’ attributes
In the next step one should make a list of all attributes concerning the behavior of weapons. I will write more about this step in the next part.