The balancing act

It&rsquo;s been a weird week. <em>Smash Bros</em> was just covered, yet I would like more time to cover the spookier games of the Halloween season, <em>Alien: Isolation</em> and <em>The Evil Within</em>. The issue of sexuality affecting review score for <em>Bayonetta 2</em> seems a good topic, but a) I&rsquo;d like to wait for the game to actually come out to give it a fair assessment and b) discussing usages of sexuality in video games in a university context is what could be called a &ldquo;can of worms.&rdquo;

But between my two current loves of <em>Destiny</em> and <em>Smash Bros</em> are the yells from the denizens of the Internet. That all too familiar shout for nerfs and buffs, the call for game balancing. A gun may be too powerful, and is reduced in strength in one game, while a character in <em>Smash Bros</em> may be overused online. Balance can seem like a losing battle to appease a frankly unappeasable community at times.

It&rsquo;s an interesting problem in the current world of easily updated games and a community of rabid players wanting changes left and right.

Should a game, specifically a competitive game, be built simply for balance or is there merit in having some aspects of a game overpower others?

I&rsquo;ve often wondered if the ideal of a truly competitive game might just be the simplest possible configuration of a game, allowing skill to dictate how the game unfolds. Less an elaborate board game with multiple gimmicks, and more the simplistic, stark strategy of chess.

<em>Nidhogg</em>, an indie game recently released on PS4 and PC, features very simplistic combat, in the backdrop of Atari-styled graphics and some broody bit tune music. It&rsquo;s no <em>Street Fighter</em> with a massive array of characters &mdash; simply two stick-figure characters duking it out with rapiers. Symmetrical, perfectly balanced, simply you and the controller, relying on sheer reaction and control. This would seem to be the ideal balance according to some.

However, this isn&rsquo;t necessarily the ideal situation for a game. For one, the sheer amount of weapons in a shooter or colourful characters in a fighting game are half the fun. That, and as I&rsquo;ve had it explained by some fighting game fans, complicating such a competitive game with multiple disparate characters is actually oddly balanced in its own way.

Adding an extra element to a game can add much more to a game than simplicity for the sake of pure balance. Rock paper scissors is one thing, but imagine if one of those hand signs was more effective than the other or one player could use a sign the others couldn&rsquo;t.

It&rsquo;s certainly unbalanced, and yet, it is also balanced in its own strange way. Having disparate characters in a game may give one character an advantage in certain ways, but this also mean you have to use your own separate abilities to overcome them.

There&rsquo;s actually a &ldquo;sequel&rdquo; to chess, <em>Chess 2,</em> that features various different armies of pieces you can take into battle. This means instead of the simple and even match of chess that we&rsquo;re used to, suddenly there are varying matchups and new problems to overcome. This supposedly cuts down the need for memorizing situations and setups in the game, making the game more about on the &ldquo;fly strategy&rdquo; than remembering strategy. Simplicity makes balance easier, but making opponents uneven in ability also provides its form of balance and depth.

In my opinion,<em> that </em>is what balance should be. Most video games need to rely on that variance in abilities to provide depth and fun, and having one thing being better than the other is just how most games work. That balancing act isn&rsquo;t about making someone&rsquo;s favourite character better in some way, it&rsquo;s about trying to make the different pieces in the game viable. And while the variance in player abilities will inevitably cause imbalance, and cause certain characters, weapons and abilities to be used more than others, the well-balanced game will make that gulf smaller, and make even the odd-ball choices viable in their own way.


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