Welcome to Jester's Trek.
I'm your host, Jester. I've been an EVE Online player for about six years. One of my four mains is Ripard Teg, pictured at left. Sadly, I've succumbed to "bittervet" disease, but I'm wandering the New Eden landscape (and from time to time, the MMO landscape) in search of a cure.
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Monday, August 1, 2011

Quote of the Week: Balance is boring

"Balance is boring."
CCP Soundwave, as reported by Seismic Stan of Freebooted, who attended EVE Vegas over the weekend. 

I only live four hours from Vegas, and this quote now kind of makes me wish I'd attended.  ;-)  Put into context, here's the full two tweets as reported by Stan:
@ktouborg "Balance is boring. How to create imbalance without breaking things?" #evevegas
@ktouborg "Give players access to the same imbalanced items. Make the imbalance slight or perceived. Rotate imbalance." #evevegas
Ecliptic Rift was good enough to provide the full context in his post regarding EVE Vegas (and I think I'm gonna go ahead and add Ecliptic to my list of featured blogs, because I'm finding him to be increasingly awesome ;-) ).  I'm not going to quote the whole thing, because it's rather long, but here's the money quote:
Chasing the "next big thing" provides an incredibly powerful goal-setting mechanism; if all ships were the same, we’d be bored to death.
Put in another context: "That's not a bug, that's a feature!"  ;-)

It's tempting to see this kind of game design as just a little bit lazy.  Yes, CCP recognizes that some ships are imbalanced, but yeah, they meant to do that.  ;-)  I get that balance is hard, but I disagree that it's boring.  It's more boring to me if there are obvious optimal and sub-optimal paths to game-play.  I want everything to be so equally awesome that it's damned hard to choose which way to go, but you're not punished for going this way rather than that.

It's gotten to the point in EVE where there are obvious ship-to-ship and fleet-to-fleet match-ups that are so well understood that the chances of victory can be calculated before the fight even begins.  Which EVE battle video would you rather watch: a set-piece AHAC versus Alpha fleet battle, or Rooks and Kings doing something unpredictable and goofy?

I thought so.  Me too.

Ships from different races don't all have to be the same.  They should all be different... but equally awesome in their own ways.

Two other words Soundwave used -- "rotate imbalance" -- also annoy me.

When I first got serious about living full-time in null-sec, my selection of available ships was kind of limited.  I could fly inties and AFs and EAFs from three races, and Gallente/Caldari cruisers and battle-cruisers.  I couldn't fly any T2 cruisers yet, nor battleships, nor anything Minmatar heavier than a Wolf.  My armor-tanking skills were also not all that good; I did a lot of relying on ANPs and active hardeners.  Thereafter began my most frustrating year in EVE Online.

Ship tactics were changing remarkably fast, and every time I got trained up for a popular ship type, that ship type went out of fashion and everyone was called upon to get into some other type of ship.  For a while, it was sniping shield HACs, so I trained into an Eagle.  Then those were regarded as too fragile and sniping battle-cruisers became the norm, so I trained a 14 inch penis (aka Ferox).  That led to the first serious use of full Drake gangs (which happily, I could fly already).  But then those became boring and it was preferred to have as many Canes along in these fleets as possible.  Then Drake/Cane gangs started getting their asses kicked by AHACs, particularly sniper AHACs, so I trained a Muninn.  Then the ABHAC Zealot came to the forefront of this type of fleet, but they wanted Recon support, so I spent months getting into Rapiers and Arazus.

It never seemed to stop, and I always seemed to be a couple of months behind the trend, and unable to fly what was actually called for.  I could fly the last "big thing" but not the current one, much less the next one.

Of course, these days, Ripard has about 60M SP and can fly just about any sub-cap, so my worries on this score are now pretty much over.  I'm nearly nerf-proof.

But it's kind of a cynical way to design a game, and sure puts a strain on lower SP players!  What it definitely does not do is reduce the learning cliff.  "Rotate imbalance" just makes the learning cliff taller... and fits it with shale walls lined with poison spikes that pop out randomly to kill the unwary.

Happy Monday, everyone.  ;-)


  1. Eve Vegas was broadcast live on everadio both radio and streaming video. Head over and watch it on replay it will be up for one week.

  2. I disagree with you on this one.

    Train to fly a tackle frigate (any tackle frigate) - you are useful in gang. Train core skills (gunnery support/missile support/armor tank/shield tank/cap/nav) around that and the "next ship to fly" and you have a baseline to move any direction.

    The thing is, gunnery support skills work for 3 races, all of which have been (or are FOTM) for more than two years now. The only hiccup in that is the Drake, which has the dubious distinction of being the core PvE ship - so almost everyone can fly one, with at least T1 missiles.

    I actually liked some of his ~words~, although the "imbalance works" was a bit of a cop out, it's true. But if you have Cruiser IV (and Frigate IV) for all 4 races you spent about 10 million ISK and about a month - and now you can sit in any battlecruiser (assuming you trained for one at some point). If you train core skills in between your "fun skills" you have the tanking for any race, the cap for any race, and then you just need to deal with the appropriate offensive skills. Train Gallente or Caldari, the other is fairly quick to fly. Minmatar translates to Gallente quickly in gunnery. Amarr and Gallente both need cap for weapons and armor tank, so there's some crossover there as well. So many of the T2 ships are based on the same core skills it doesn't matter which race you can fly now - although it is a whole month to get another race's T2 cruisers...

  3. Yeah, I've never really agreed with his balance manifesto. I don't want "everything to be the same and boring," which he claims his methods avoid, but that doesn't mean that things have to be outright bad. Take the badness of hybrids right now. Hybrids don't have a clearly defined niche. Projectile is low optimal, long falloff, high alpha; lasers are high optimal, low falloff, high dps. Thus, many people would like rails to be a middle of the pack gun, with a good balance between optimal/falloff and dps/alpha. Soundwave seems to disagree with that. It seems that he plans to leave rails as bad, buff them crazily at some point, and then be like, "Man, look at all these people frantically training rails. This is good balance."

    I think one of the best examples of balance is the Recons class. Each of the Recons is competent in its role (long range racial electronic warfare), so they're all flown, because they all have a niche.

  4. Good article. While I initially agreed with your viewpoint, after some thought, I had to change my mind on that. Irregardless of how many devs or how many hours they put into balancing, it never ends up balanced anyways because there is always someone who is going to play the game their way, and thus find a new FOTM. In Eve really each individual ship is a class on to itself. Most MMOs have a dozen or so classes they have to balance, considerably less than just the PVP capable ships in Eve. So why shoot for something that is impossible? Why not just make minor imbalance (stress on the word "minor") just part of the dynamic.

    The other part of that mindset is that it does require me to relearn aspects of the game. It may not be a new game, but it does give me a new experience to enjoy. And usually past FOTM are often still viable ships in their element, which rarely go away completely.

  5. @S.W.: yeah, I get that, but there are very few corps that will accept people flying T1 frigs and cruisers. You'll then spend millions of SPs getting the various core skills... and find that you can't fly any of the ships the FCs are asking for. If you could train the core skills and the ship skills concurrently, then this wouldn't be a problem, but you can't. As a result, you end up making choices and unless there's an experienced hand guiding you, a lot of those choices will be wrong. If you don't believe this, I've still got an Eagle I'll sell you. Hardly used. ;-)

    @Stevie: with regard to your prediction on rails, this is exactly what I'm afraid of, yeah. It's why I haven't sold that Eagle. ;-)

    @Orakkus: I agree that balance is hard. But that isn't a good reason not to try to achieve it. People will still try out other weapons and ships, but they'll do it because they want to try out something new. It shouldn't be because they're forced to by the latest "rotation."

  6. I always look to Starcraft 2 when it comes to a model of how things can be different but also balanced. And as new player tactics and strategies evolve the balancing from Blizzard continues.

  7. Not comfortable with some of those Soundwave comments either. Balance doesn't necessarily mean that everything is equal. There's a lot of room there in between the 2 perspectives. Imbalance on purpose seems a bit lazy tbh. Give every ship the ability to do something. Some maybe more specialized than others. But letting an obsolete ship or weapon, rot is bad "design" no matter how you spin it.

    Also what about the people that want to fly a certain race due to RP reasons? Is it now good game design to force those people to abandon their attempts at immersion for the sake of flying a competitive ship?


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