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Good Game episode 4 part 1

*show Richard on Wii Fit*
Balance is everything. From execution barriers, skill curves, tiers, stalling, camping, stale move negation, to the pacing, these are the result of how the design of a game and the players come together to shape the gameplay experience. Though most commonly think of character balance, there’s so much more to it. Balance is not an on/off quality. All games are balanced to play like they do. So instead of only asking if character matchups are fair, let’s consider how design decisions affect the balance our experiences as a whole.

*bust out the science lab equipment*
*show Richard*
Check out this balance metaphor. Understanding how one design element can affect gameplay is like taking an issue to the lab. Here we look at things very closely while considering skill, complexity, depth, and all the tournament data we can get our hands on. Remember, video games are complicated. It’s likely that any seemingly small change or design element will have multiple effects on the gameplay experience. The following are different ways to look at the balance of Brawl and Melee.

*use smashboard and character chips as illustration*
*use white board*
  • [balance is] closely entwined with depth. However, the most common type of balance to consider in an asymmetric game (such as Melee or Brawl) is the balance between asymmetric elements. The most significant in the case of Smash would obviously be characters; seeing how well balanced the characters are compared to each other is the most important thing here. A

*use white board*
Gameplay balance starts with the balance of mechanics or player actions. So before we look at tiers we must consider how each character is balanced and how each move is balanced.

*mechanical balance formula*
Each move or attack in Smash has pros and cons. In general, we expect moves to be balanced according to a fairly simple forumla. For every 1 or 2 pros a move must have 1 con. In this formula are the categories start up speed, active time, recovery speed, range, damage, knockback, and special ability. Knowing this formula helps us strategies against new moves or moves used in a new ways because it’s a lot easier to memorize the formula than all the data of every move and character in the game. Notice how many of the categories deal with space and time. This is because most of the counters in the game are natural counters, which involve dodging and avoiding attacks through movement.

*Zamus forward B, Zamus up smash, Fox’s shine melee, MK Mach Tornado, Snakes forward tilt, Snake’s down B*
Some moves have very few cons. Some moves are powerful, meaty, lengthy, and recover quickly. Yet, such a moves don’t break the game. The reason is winning in Smash involves more than just using your best attacks all the time. Knocking characters off the stage far enough in any direction is how to win. So we have to consider the many ways players can do this and avoid such a fate.

*character balancing formula*
Like the general mechanical balancing formula, characters are designed with pros and cons of weight, speed, recovery, power, maneuverability, nuance/special abilities. So even if your opponent plays a character that has a really effective up air for example, if you don’t jump in the air a lot, then their best move will be much less applicable.

*Show Richard*
So the final question from the survey asks which game is more balanced. Here’s what you said...

*Show the survey question*
*Show the reults*
  • Balance in a broad sense is the relative worth of various options A
  • This one is pretty non-obvious, but I'd have to say Brawl has an overall closer power level of each character. For example, the difference between MK and Ganon in Brawl is closer than Fox and the bottom 4 of Melee. Ganon in Brawl is also radically worse than the person above him, and the inverse is true for MK, so you can see that the majority of characters are on an even fighting level most of the time. The gaps between Melee tiers are more radical than Brawl's. The stages are roughly the same aside from the fact Brawl has more, which means I'd have to give the edge to Brawl; With so many stages, it's easy to get a big set of stages to strike to get the most fair starting matches, and non-blowout counterpicks. Melee really had few options. M

*Use chips to arrange the tier list*
We all know that some characters are better than others. Most fighting gamers don’t expect all the characters in a game to be perfectly balanced. But it’s not unreasonable to expect them to be close in power. The trickiest part about judging the relative power of each character is that the tier list is based on current knowledge and the current metagame. Years after release players still discover new things about their characters. This is the result of the massive amount of complexities and emergence in fighting games. Because of this reality, characters with simple, straightforward power will quickly rise to the top of the list, while it’ll take much longer for players to develop the LTM to convert other character’s nuances into power. Because many will play the strong straight forward characters, their knowledge base will grow making them even stronger. Fortunately, this also helps players learn how to counter these characters.

*design space/character types*
*Use white board*
Another way to think about character balance is not which character has the best chance of winning but, but how each character fights. Some refer to this quality as diversity, but I have a better term. It’s all about fleshing out the design space. Whether you touch as many corners as you can, as Sirlin would say, or you make sure that each character is as unique and distinct from all other characters as possible, the end result will be more diverse.

For every move in the game, if you can think of a character that exemplifies that move in their common playstyle, there’s a good chance that the game has fleshed out its design space distinctly rather than making a lot of characters that are slight variations of the same fighting style.
  • The grabber: DDD Marth
  • The Roller: Lucario
  • The arial dancer: Wario  jiggs
  • The Flyer: Pit
  • The Sniper: Rob
  • The jabber: Ike, Snake
  • Tilt master: Shiek, Snake
  • Free Smasher: G&W
  • The speedster: Sonic, Fox, Fox
  • The B move trickster: Diddy
  • Ranged explosions expert: Snake
  • Range Grabber: Yoshi
  • The low flying danger: Peach, Peach
*show melee footage and APM thread*

In Melee’s case L-canceling makes characters most effective and most used moves aerial attacks. This makes ground attacks less used and special attacks used sparingly outside of recovering. The Melee APM thread confirms this (and just about any high level video you can find). Even if the game has a fleshed out design space of ground, special, and air ttacks, the metagame or the tournament gameplay does not use it evenly.

*show Richard*
Movement is a big deal in any character based game. From platformers to fighters, how you move is a key part of how the gameplay challenges are created. Before we consider how movement options affect combat, we can take a moment to look at all the ways players can move. The more unique paths and speeds, the more diverse the game. This is something you can see clearly for yourself. I’m simply going to map out the movement of some high level Brawl and Melee matches.

*Show the movement maps*

Understanding these results takes an understanding of how battles play out. This leads us into considering the balance of Brawl and Melee’s core combat design, which I’ll tackle in part 2.
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