Staredit Network > Forums > Modding Assistance > Topic: Game Balance Guides
Game Balance Guides
Feb 23 2009, 6:22 pm
By: Ix~  

Feb 23 2009, 6:22 pm Ix~ Post #1

Those guides are good to read if you are do not play more than about 500 SC games a year or understand SC/Mod Balance very well.
Basically posted so you could get help for Mod/Game Balance for the casual player who might be a hardcore modding enthusiast.
Additions to guide are welcome.

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Post has been edited 4 time(s), last time on Mar 19 2009, 9:37 pm by Ix~.


Feb 23 2009, 10:00 pm A_of-s_t Post #2

aka idmontie

Smontiel71266 [9:05 P.M.]: I would say both perhaps. I know that SC sometimes restricts ideas inherently, and sometimes developers simply don't want to include a feature, only to realize that it was what the public wanted all along. So, maybe you could present an example of each?
Lord Agamemnon23 [9:06 P.M.]: Sure. That's a bit more work on my part, but my fingers ain't sore yet :P
Lord Agamemnon23 [9:08 P.M.]: What SC prevented me from doing? Well, one thing I had wanted, although it seems somewhat trivial now, is that there would be a Sanctioned ship, the Apostolos, that would repair others just like the Medic does. Well, guess what? Heal doesn't work on air units! And I wasn't about to make these things ground units or they couldn't overlap, and with ranges as short as they are (scale again) that would kill the gameplay.
Lord Agamemnon23 [9:08 P.M.]: So no Heal for you, my friends. And if you ever need a religious-sounding name for a unit, folks, feel free to use Apostolos. It's a good one.
Lord Agamemnon23 [9:10 P.M.]: As for things I wanted to do but couldn't? Well, I would have liked to include that second race. The time investment involved in it, though, given the race premise, the fact there are very few existing graphics that would fit it well, and the general bother of including it restricted me a bit there. Plus, come to think of it, I'm not sure that I would have had enough unit entries to support the Meryn at all...
Smontiel71266 [9:12 P.M.]: So, once again, it boils down to SC limitations :P. What advice would you give to new modders when dealing with these limitations and creating a new mod?
Lord Agamemnon23 [9:12 P.M.]: Well, which part of that? Dealing with limitations, or creating a mod? And which part of creating a mod?
Smontiel71266 [9:13 P.M.]: When specifically dealing with SC's limitations -- there are already too many tutorials out there about creating a mod :P.
Lord Agamemnon23 [9:13 P.M.]: Well, but I haven't written any of them :P But regardless, dealing with limitations.
Lord Agamemnon23 [9:16 P.M.]: Limitations are limitations. You've got to live with them one way or another--this isn't Warcraft III, where the World Editor lets you do nearly anything and is damn near impossible to use because of it. This is Starcraft, and they never meant for people to mod it in the first place. If what you're up against renders your entire concept inviable, then you've got no choice but to drop it. Sorry, kiddos, but that's the way it is. If you really don't want to let it go, however, or it's not integral but would be really cool to have, then sit there contemplating your navel for a while. Think about how SC is restricting you and what the concept is. Think "Can I massage this idea into another form that SC can work with?" Think "If I did this with this unit, then could I do this with this other unit, and then maybe add this trigger here, and then it'd be close enough?"
Lord Agamemnon23 [9:18 P.M.]: Modding SC is, in many ways, like those lateral thinking puzzles I hate so very very much. You know, the ones where you get a problem like "A woman heard a familiar tune. She pulled out a gun and shot a stranger. Why?" You sit there puzzled and say to yourself, WTF? And then you look at it a different way, and you say "Well, maybe if I think about this slightly differently, it'll work out." And then you realize that someone was trying to rob her house and the tune was from her musical jewelry box, and it all makes sense.
Lord Agamemnon23 [9:19 P.M.]: Well, except the jewelry box isn't a jewelry box, and the thief isn't a thief. But that's the idea.
Lord Agamemnon23 [9:19 P.M.]: And I'm going to stop there before I mangle that analogy any more.
Smontiel71266 [9:19 P.M.]: Are there any questions that you wish I had asked?
Lord Agamemnon23 [9:20 P.M.]: Hehe, I was wondering if you'd ask about balance.
Lord Agamemnon23 [9:20 P.M.]: Or unit degisn.
Lord Agamemnon23 [9:20 P.M.]: *design
Lord Agamemnon23 [9:20 P.M.]: (The two are closely related)
Smontiel71266 [9:22 P.M.]: Then I'll ask: Why is it important to balance a mod, and how would one go about balancing? Should one unit's purpose be to beat another unit? And how does one take into account all the different variables in SC such as health, shields, cost, sight range, damage and usage?
Lord Agamemnon23 [9:23 P.M.]: Whew, big question. I'll start from the end here.
Lord Agamemnon23 [9:27 P.M.]: Taking things into account? Well, sight range isn't that big of a balance factor in most games. Your biggest problems boil down to cost vs. utility. Say that Unit X is meant to counter Unit Y, and that Z counters X. If 200 minerals' worth of X can beat 200 minerals' worth of Y without problems, you're doing good. And they should lose to 200 minerals' worth of Z. Generally, given the way modders play (at least when I was still playing mod nights) mins vs. gas isn't that big of a factor. Population is something to worry about, though. And health or damage? Well, those depend on what the unit's role is. Shields, again, can be pretty much treated as health unless you're going for something that's a "hard counter" against something else specifically because of its size. Generally, the best thing you can do is just develop a sense of what's balanced and what's not and wing it from there. Throw out your ideas and then playtest them, both in special test maps and actual gameplay, until it's balanced.
Lord Agamemnon23 [9:29 P.M.]: As for purpose, I got a good deal of my start on balancing from an excellent essay by Hercanic which DiscipleOfAdun reposted on SEN v3 a long time ago. To summarize: Every unit should have a distinct purpose. If it's doing things other than what that purpose is, it's going to be imbalanced. And make sure that everything has at least one counter. Preferably more than one, since rock-paper-scissors is no fun.
Lord Agamemnon23 [9:29 P.M.]: As for why balancing is important? I could write an essay on that.
Lord Agamemnon23 [9:30 P.M.]: People will like anything with pretty graphics and big explosions. But they won't keep playing it if you can just spam one unit all the time.
Lord Agamemnon23 [9:31 P.M.]: It's just not fun unless it's balanced. Balance ensures that different people can try different things and that it'll remain fun. It keeps the game from turning into an orgy of "Who can rush to X faster?" or "Who can spam more Y?"
Lord Agamemnon23 [9:31 P.M.]: And that sort of mod won't stay around for very long.
Lord Agamemnon23 [9:34 P.M.]: I'd also like to throw out something that I call the "Mad Elephant" problem. This is what happens when every side has an imbalanced unit. This is not balance. There's external balance, which is balance between different races and is usually harder to get than the other kind, which is internal balance. That's making sure that all the different units within a race are balanced in terms of cost vs. utility. The Mad Elephant Problem solves the first at the cost of the second. In particular, I found that Starcraft: Field Command suffers from this. No offense meant to you, Voy, but I've told you before :P I call it the Mad Elephant Problem because if you have a lion, you can get rid of it by siccing a mad elephant on it. The only problem is that then you've got a mad elephant on your hands.
Smontiel71266 [9:36 P.M.]: I've noticed this problem a lot in mods. Would a proper solution be creating a unit whose sole purpose be to beat this "Mad Elephant," but it still easily beaten by other units?
Smontiel71266 [9:38 P.M.]: Oops. "...whose sole puropose *is to beat*..."
Lord Agamemnon23 [9:39 P.M.]: That would be a good solution--but a bit specific. Tut the best solution is not to have that mad elephant at all. In general, make sure that everything has some limiting factor. This unit does good damage--but only against infantry/buildings. This unit has high damage and range--but very low health. This one's pretty good overall--but slow and expensive. Be careful with that last one, by the way, because expense isn't always as limiting as you may think, particularly in the end game. Supply can be, though, but make sure that whatever-it-is can be beaten by something (or some two things) cheaper than it.
Smontiel71266 [9:40 P.M.]: What question are you glad I have not asked and what is the answer to this question?
Lord Agamemnon23 [9:43 P.M.]: "How many letters are in the answer to this question?" There are, of course, many answers, such as "Four", and "There are ffiteen," but my favorite has to be "Why, there are thirty-seven letters, of course"
Lord Agamemnon23 [9:43 P.M.]: *fifteen
Lord Agamemnon23 [9:44 P.M.]: Count 'em
Smontiel71266 [9:45 P.M.]: And now, my final question: Who do you consider the greatest insipration to your work, and who would you like to thank after this long period of modding?
Lord Agamemnon23 [9:45 P.M.]: Who? Gosh.
Lord Agamemnon23 [9:46 P.M.]: I can't name anybody as my greatest inspiration as such. I get my ideas from all sorts of places.
Lord Agamemnon23 [9:47 P.M.]: The people I'd most like to thank, though, are three. Firstly, Hercanic, for his help with the concepts of game design and balance. Secondly, Voyager7456, who has been a great friend and provided many lulz. And lastly, my father for playing Starcraft with me, helping me test, and (along with my mother) putting up with his son's weird obsessions.
Smontiel71266 [9:48 P.M.]: Thank you Lord_Agamemnon for your time and patience with all my questions. It's been a pleasure getting to know you more. Are there any last things you want to add?
Lord Agamemnon23 [9:49 P.M.]: Never split the party, kids. It never ends well. Fact.
Smontiel71266 [9:58 P.M.]: When did you attain stardom in the modding community?
Lord Agamemnon23 [10:00 P.M.]: After the first SEN Summer Modding Contest. Before that, I'd just release a couple little things. When that contest rolled around, I--then a nobody--got second place behind Voyager and Ermac--by 1 point. Admittedly, Ex Machina isn't that great by today's standards, but there wasn't much at that point that compared to it. That was followed up by a couple minimods, and by then everyone knew me :P
Smontiel71266 [10:00 P.M.]: Did you like being in the spot light? Or do you wish you attained the stardom that Voy had?
Smontiel71266 [10:01 P.M.]: As in, do you wish you became a SEN/Maplantis meme?
Lord Agamemnon23 [10:03 P.M.]: Eh? Voy was in the spotlight too, you know. I suppose I was less popular than Voyager, but my mods were probably more well-regarded, by and large. I'm happy with that--I've always preferred it when people I work with (and that's how I viewed most of the SEN/Maplantis community) respect me for what I do rather than who I am. Besides, at least I don't have a creepy cult following.
Lord Agamemnon23 [10:03 P.M.]: And I did win the Modder of the Year a couple years back on Maplantis.

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Feb 23 2009, 11:03 pm Sand Wraith Post #3


I suggest sticking this topic because of its potential for extreme usefulness. Perhaps we won't see as many finished mods that are unbalanced, too.

Feb 26 2009, 2:05 am Keirebu Post #4

Mod section isn't that lively, =o


Feb 26 2009, 5:15 am Hercanic Post #5

STF mod creator, admin, staff

Good stuff.

Currently, I'm working on the upgrades in my mod. In a game, all choices should be useful. If any are not, they are a waste and will only hinder newer players who will fall prey to them. Upgrades are generally only useful if they create breakpoints. Two examples were listed by Ix above. The Zealot's attack upgrade allows them to kill a Zergling in 2 hits instead of 3, and the +1 armor to Marines allow them to survive 3 hits from a Lurker instead of 2. These situations create reasons for a player to invest in the upgrades. If an attack upgrade does not reduce the amount of hits it needs to kill anything, the extra damage is pretty much useless. The same goes for armor if the unit cannot survive any more hits with it.

Now, what about other types of upgrades? Well, looking at Starcraft, it is telling how the designers determined what sort of unit should get what type of upgrades.




Zergling (Attack Speed)
Ultralisk (Additional Armor)
Overlord (Transportation)
Reaver (Specialized Damage Boost)
Carrier/Reaver (Capacity)

Science Vessel
Dark Archon
High Templar
(Basically every energy-using unit, save things like the Shield Battery, ComSat, Broodlings, and Hallucinations)

These upgrades serve a few purposes, depending on the unit. Early tier units need to remain useful lategame, while still remaining balanced in the early game. The Zergling's attack speed is a good example of extending the utility a unit.

Other upgrades assist in the essential function of the unit. Speed is vital to a melee unit, range is crucial to a ranged unit, and casters love their energy. The Sight upgrade has one of the smallest lists of beneficiaries for "common" upgrades. The Observer and Overlord, obviously, need it for extension of their detection. The Ghost's allows him to spot a Nuke deeper into enemy territory from a safer distance. The Scout's is a little more ambiguous, but as the hardest-hitting anti-capital flyer, spotting approaching enemies is certainly favorable to some degree.

Still other times upgrades are used to limit a unit in the prenatal early game, such as the speed upgrade for the Hydralisk and Overlord.

When deciding what upgrades to give units, keep these reasons in mind, as they are reasons a player will want to buy them.

Just remember, never saddle players with trivial choices.


Post has been edited 3 time(s), last time on Feb 26 2009, 5:24 am by Hercanic.

Feb 26 2009, 6:58 am IskatuMesk Post #6

Lord of the Locker Room

I wrote a little guide to balance a while ago.

But, in short... Hard counters kill your game. Stay away from them. Factor the potential use of the unit, not the direct use, into its cost and abilities. For example, ranged units that can kite should be more expensive than melee units that can be easily kited. The Spirestorm in ITAS used to be 3k+ but I reduced it to like 1k because it was so slow and experienced players can easily kill it. Same with the blood moon. Everyone thought BM's were OP until I utterly raped everyone with simple Confed ships.

Read this.

Show them your butt, and when you do, slap it so it creates a sound akin to a chorus of screaming spider monkeys flogging a chime with cacti. Only then can you find your destiny at the tip of the shaft.

Feb 26 2009, 6:21 pm Ix~ Post #7

Wonderful section spoken by someone who has played many RTS games with an understanding above most of us.
Quote from IskatuMesk
Balancing - The pitfalls of the RTS

The whole balance thing has been done to death, but have no fear. I don't intend to preach on SC's 3-4 year old balancing system and how awesome it is, because we already know that SC is virtually perfect, that map terrain actually has a value unlike in virtually every other RTS, and that even over 10 years it continues to evolve. I won't preach on how SC is amazing because it's easy to learn but challenging to master, providing a degree of depth that can provide for both the casual player and the slanty-eyed calm-faced hero of our dreams.

Nay, I'm going to rant about different, but still related topics.

Balance is one of the most important aspects of an RTS, if not the most important. Even an RTS that is technically fun to play is totally ruined by balance problems.

The largest, biggest, most obvious pitfall in terms of balancing is Hard Counters. Hard Counters are systems like in Dawn of War, also known as Rock Paper Scissors. Hard Counters destroy competitive gaming in every sense of the term by removing the skill factor, removing the strategic factor, removing the tactical factor, and replacing them with predictable, stale garbage.

Someone might get the bright idea to argue, "Well, SC has hard counters, too! For example, vultures can't do damage to dragoons!"

If you're such a person, I'd like you to kindly stop reading, get up, and plant your face into your monitor as hard as you possibly can. Thank you.

Starcraft's damage system seems to resemble a hard counter system, but intuitivity, player strategy, and micro all help round out key units in this argument. Ghosts, vultures, and the like are the primary candidates of showing off that even if they can't directly fight certain units, giving hint to a rock paper scissors kind of gameplay, they can, and will, fuck you up viciously when used correctly. In other RTS', a Hard Counter is a Hard Counter, and you're fucked; ie, Warcraft 3 and Dawn of War.

Although counters are not necessarily a complete paragon of evil, they must be used in moderation, very careful moderation, to promote creative and imaginative gameplay. As Blizzard themselves said, they did not expect SC to become such a huge success - practically founding Esports, along with Counter-Strike and, later on, Halo. The challenge is, now, to recreate that balance of strategy, discipline, and unit flexibility.

By forcing specific activities, like how Dawn of War did by giving half of the units very small hard caps and rigidly defining damage systems, and like how C&C always does with its completely rigid and braindead damage system, these games cause gameplay to become exceptionally stale very quickly. Supreme Commander steps outside the box by instead using a very rigid tier and economy-based system, promoting a clever but still plain and overall uninspired and repeditive method of balancing.

Something hard counters and extreme maneuverability also discredit is terrain value. In starcraft 2, currently the races are so mobile that terrain has lost its value to a degree. In warcraft 3, terrain means virtually nothing. In Dawn of war, there is no fucking terrain to speak of. You can't factor cover areas into this, because cover areas are also rigid and for the most part play extremely little if any role in the grand scheme of the game and are more or less gimmicks rather than worthy features.

In Starcraft, the terrain ultimately determines the gameflow, the metagame, and the overall strategy the players will undertake. Even minor changes in seemingly similar maps can bring out entirely different gameflow, and significantly different maps, say Othello and Plasma, will have entirely different games and ultimately keep the matches fresh and interesting, even if they are in a Bo5 mirror matchup between equally skilled players.

In short, Hard Counters hurt the player badly. Not just the hardcore player, but the casual player. If the game is always going to play out the same way, or if you're simply playing a glorified version of Checkers, what is the goddamn point? Even a game that is clever, visually and aesthetically appealing can murder itself viciously if its developers pull a Relic and utterly mutilate the gameplay.

There's also the whole argument for SC2 on how MBS ruins the macro gameplay which I don't agree with one bit (Even more flawed is using wc3 as an example for this argument), but I think they'll figure it out once they actually get the game in their hands.


Feb 26 2009, 7:06 pm bajadulce Post #8

good thread and good read.

Hercanic's explanation that an upgrade should allow fewer hits per kills hits home for me and something that is easy to manipulate with your new mod. Other imbalances are definitely harder to asses.

Today's SCraft mod is superior to yesterday's memgraft mod because of the freedom that things like Firegraft, PYAI, and creative trigger construction bring to the drawing board. More freedom in manipulating gameplay = more potential for creativity = more potential for a better overall balanced game.

Here's an example of a new idea I have incorporated into my own mod that attempts to combat the snowball size vs. might effect of most RTS economy designs.
Players are given an income every designated turn cycle. This is a base salary and your primary means of income such as resource gathering are used as supplements. Your base salary is then taxed based on the # of key buildings you possess. Military and Defensive buildings being the most costly of salary reductions. *especially corbian defenses! :) As your empire grows, your base salary diminishes. The larger force can afford to pay the taxes, while the weaker force will benefit from the extra income. This concept helps quell the huge advantage of a player that gets far ahead, and allows the weakened player a chance to catch up.


Feb 26 2009, 7:47 pm Ix~ Post #9

Foundations of a Successful RTS Essay
Found a really interesting article worth the read. Brought up some rarely thought about aspects of RTS games.

Here are some highlights.
Collapse Box

Collapse Box


Feb 26 2009, 7:49 pm Biophysicist Post #10

One thing I'd like to point out: If the early-game units aren't useful later in the game, that could be considered imbalanced, especially if it is more true of one faction than another: It basically means that whoever can rush medium tier (or maybe even medium-low tier) units will win, and that that's the only strategy that works. Zerg-style unit morphing presents a way around this if you really want to have it set up this way.


Feb 26 2009, 8:11 pm Ix~ Post #11

Delete me remade.

Post has been edited 1 time(s), last time on Mar 18 2009, 7:10 am by Ix~.


Feb 26 2009, 11:15 pm bajadulce Post #12

Quote from Ix~
... sounds like a neat idea, similar to the spy in Command and Conquer, but I imagine it could be considered quite annoying to have to pick out enemy units that are the same race and color as your own.
I loved that unit and my nephew would always find a clever way to manage to sneak one of those in my base. Of course there were always counters like Tesla Coils and dogs if I remember correctly.

RTS is an interesting concept. The fact that everything is happening in real time sometimes doesn't lend itself to much "strategy" or intimate microing that would otherwise take full advantage of the strengths of a particular unit. Take this following scenario for example: A carrier force has caught you off guard and is heading your way. You have maybe a half dozen wraiths and few medics for whatever reason. :). The technology optical flare is rarely ever used by any players, but if it were, here is an ideal situation where it would come in handy and demonstrate how a low level unit could level the playing field even at this stage in the game. A quick scan reveals that 3 observers are accompanying the small fleet. You might be able to pick one or possibly two off with your wraiths, but chances are all 3 aren't going down. You will lose all of your wraiths and your only chance to counter this threat. Now, with optical flare and 3 low level medics, you could knock those observers right out of the equation and the wraith's cloaking skill would wipe out the mighty carriers. Unfortunately only a teenager high on a six pack of pepsi would be capable of pulling off the inhuman micro that this would call for. So the "real time" puts a major hamper on the true potential of a given unit and its role in the overall game.

A turn based game on the other hand will offer far superior strategy and you will be able to maximize every unit to its full potential. In chess for instance, the lowly pawn can wreck havoc on a position by not even doing anything. Now that's balance.


Mar 18 2009, 7:10 am Ix~ Post #13

I doubt one person read this.

Post has been edited 6 time(s), last time on Mar 20 2009, 5:06 pm by Ix~.


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if we're significantly less safe because of the information he leaked (and I don't know enough to make that judgement) then it's the classic balancing act of safety/authoritarianism vs freedom/privacy
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