Balancing Weapons Dev Journal, Part One
Fallen Earth: Balancing Weapons Dev Journal, Part One
In a developer journal from Brandes Stoddard, a systems designer for the upcoming post-apocalyptic MMO, Fallen Earth, fans learn how development team members must continually improve game systems in order to make the player experience more enjoyable. In the first part of the series, Brandes explains the necessity of balancing weapons in an MMO
The process of balancing all types of weapons, but most especially the firearms, of Fallen Earth has been the preeminent learning experience of my time here. Despite our attempted use of Excel spreadsheets, we can’t comprehend whether or not our weapons balancing strategies will pay off for players until the data is tested firsthand.
We started with a spreadsheet full of formulas intended to guarantee that our weapons would be balanced against one another. The person working on the weapon was able to modify its damage per attack up or down until the numbers over in another column came out evenly. There were a few other levers to manipulate, such as weight and range, but we generally recognized that small variations in these statistics were not going to make a weapon more appealing. That's what weapon balancing comes down to, really: creating something that a player is going to want to use. It shouldn't be the best tool for all tasks, but every weapon needs a niche. (Admittedly, one or two weapons claim the niche of "most embarrassing weapon with which to be killed.")
So we created hundreds of weapons in basically this manner. Weapons with a slow attack speed dealt more damage. Firearms with a slow reload dealt more damage. Firearms with a small clip dealt more damage. The reverse is also true for fast weapons with large clips. This led, inevitably, to shotguns that could kill even the largest of creatures in one or two hits, and assault rifles that needed to change out clips at least once to take down something as small as a prairie dog, if it were to be in our game. Technically, though, these weapons were balanced. They were!
I had all kinds of numbers I could use to prove it. I was very sad when reports came back from QA and from Alpha testers that maybe I wasn't as smart as I thought I was. I did some more tinkering and came up with more math that showed me how and why the previous numbers weren't a very good idea. So I did what any game designer worth his salt would do: I spent a few weekends drinking myself to death. Once I was done with that, I put on my big-boy underoos and told Lee that maybe I had better start over.
In this case, it was because a shotgun killed its target before the other player had time to react, which isn't fun. An assault rifle dealt a ton of damage per second, but if that second represents five bullets and you're watching your combat log scroll by with single-digit damage numbers, you felt cheated. We needed to go into the game and shoot each other until we figured out why we weren’t having as much fun as we could be having.
The lesson here is that no density or volume of numerical evidence will carry through on its promise of being fun. Only the combination of empirical evidence and a few rounds of rather hearty play testing get the job done in a way that is both pleasing to the Excel sheet and the player.
Earlier this week, due to a miscommunication, MMORPG.com published a Fallen Earth weapons article that was not a dev journal as we had thought, but that was in fact an article from our friends over at FE-InfoTerminal.com. While the article was removed, we wanted to make sure you all still had access, so you can view the article at its original source.