HOW DO YOU BALANCE SKILLS/MONSTERS/ITEMS/CHESTS/EQUIPMENT?

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CashmereCat
Self-proclaimed Puzzle Snob
10842
For the first time ever, I'm involved in a type of game I've never tried before in its entirety - the RPG. I was wondering how you guys go about balancing skills, monsters, items, equipment and so on to make battles make sense with respect to the difficulty curve? Is it just a trial and error thing, changing numbers where your common sense believes they need to be changed? Or will that end up in a messy battle system that doesn't make sense? I understand where some of the strategy comes from with regard to skills and status, MP cost and single target vs. all, and there's probably tons of articles on the subject, but I'd like to know what's your personal experience with battle systems and how to improve and/or approach it in the best way?
LouisCyphre
can't make a bad game if you don't finish any games
4433
Start with your pacing: How long do you intend your game to be? How long is each gameplay segment (classically; a dungeon or level, though it's muddier these days)? Is your difficulty gradual, as in conserving resources throughout a dungeon, or concentrated entirely into bosses?

The answer to these questions and more is usually "somewhere in between." Your first task is to figure out where in between. The rest of the decisions of your design will follow.

For stats, I typically start in very specific point -- HP -- and arbitrarily decide how it'll scale. The rest of the game's stats and scaling bows to serve this arbitrary decision. I consider the length of your stats to be a graphic design decision, since it influences how you set up your UI and how visual elements are spaced. Smaller numbers better suit tightly-balanced games, whereas larger numbers better suit games in the vein of Diablo or Disgaea where the goal is to allow the player to become ridiculous. Again, your tonal decision here will be influenced by the overall mood of your game.
I've stated it before, and its not entirely contrary to Louis' advice.

Pick your end point, and your starting point. What will your final boss be, about how much damage/healing do you expect characters to do at that point. How about your first enemy, how strong will it be? Balance your characters to be built around that, yet a bit stronger. Include all facets of your game, gear, one-time use stat boosts, optional things, etc, but where your best possible party will be...balance enemies to be below that. Never assume players will be perfect, or find every item or have all the best of everything. Reward them by making things a bit easier for doing everything right, but don't force them to get everything perfect.

Then walk back through your game, and decide certain choke points, parts of the game where you want your characters tested. Do the same for the final boss you did for these. Give the players gear and abilities to surpass the boss, but not overly much, and at the same time if they miss something, don't make the boss impossible. Not every boss should be a chokepoint, and not every chokepoint should be a boss. They should be important to the story though, to keep the flow and add to the importance of the challenge.

When you're finished, you should have a nice graph of where your characters should be at each point in the game, how strong they are at each point if they do everything perfect, and an average player missing a few things. This should allow you to keep everyone challenged throughout, without forcing them to follow a guide.

Its more of a general strategy, after all I don't know what sort of game you're designing, and the features you include. Make sure you include all your features in the balancing, and try to avoid adding extras afterwards, otherwise that throws off your balance.
Trial and error, then later you will know what pattern you like, then no more trial and error.
Don't get me started on that - what I did for my test game was to decide the bosses in the game and arbitrarily assigned a level at which you're intended to fight her. Then I changed the Exp values of the monsters around until the player is roughly at that level when facing the boss. Speaking of which, the skills you and your enemies have should have you win by outplaying the enemies rather than outstatting them - if the latter applies, your game is vulnerable to be "Press A to win".
I think it's most important to first determine how you want the pacing of your game to be (fast, medium, slow), the frequency of encounters and how many you want the player to go through in each areas on average, and work from there.

First thing I do when determining what the stats of a monster should be is by testing it against the party of heroes auto-attacking it. See how many turns it takes for them to kill a monster with that combination of HP + Defence.
Then I test it against the party using their Skills only and see how quickly it dies. It should die a lot faster than in the battle when using auto-attack only, but also consider the MP costs.
Then I try to balance the monster's stats in a way that killing it with auto-attacks only would take just too long to make the player want to use at least 1 Skill on it to speed up the kill.

Best way to find out what stats stuff should need is by playtesting the game lots. :)
Craze
i bet she's a diva with a potion popping problem
13832
i think you guys should use more examples from games that cash has probably played or probably knows of because stuff like "a fast pace" or "outsmarting your enemies" is incredibly subjective!

i start with HP, like louiscyphre said. i suggest keeping an eye on how many stats you actually have, because things can get unwieldy or confusing if you have armor penetration and mana regen on-hit and a scaling resistance to petrification based on your Willpower and Jailbreak stats. Basically, if you overload on ~variety~ you get something really stupid like Visions & Voices that nobody understands (don't ask me, I couldn't tell you)! if you're feeling queasy about all this, i highly suggest using few stats, and remember that hp/mp are stats. why have defense when you could just have hp ;V
author=Craze
i think you guys should use more examples from games that cash has probably played or probably knows of because stuff like "a fast pace" or "outsmarting your enemies" is incredibly subjective!

Because we all know what games he's played or knows about.

author=Craze
why have defense when you could just have hp ;V

To make enemies strong against physical attacks and weak to magic, or vice-versa?
slash
APATHY IS FOR COWARDS
4011
I'm all for simplifying numbers and stats as much as possible. I prefer to keep damage numbers relatively low (5-10 per action, for example) because I think it makes it easier to judge the relative power of skills for players. The jump from 5 -> 20 damage is more obvious than from 1240 -> 4960 (imo, maybe that's just a personal opinion, though!)

Reducing the number of stats and demystifying what they do is important too, I think. I usually reduce ATK and MATK to one stat, POW. Same with DEF and MDEF, if I have DEF at all. I think that separation between physical and magic attacks is kind of uninteresting most of the time. If you want them to feel different, they should act differently in a more noticeable way, not just use different stats. In the same way, I usually don't bother with specific-element resistances.

Complex stats like Critical Damage Bonus are kinda fun for MMOs where you only have one character and min/maxing them is half the game, and mystery stats like Luck are fun for some kinds of RPGs, but typically players want to know what a piece of equipment does for them, and I think most RPGs can do without them. With less "common" stats, you have more room for equipment with special effects like "sets enemies on fire!" or "auto-casts Confuse on wielder" :P
Marrend
Guardian of the Description Thread
20058
I'm probably terrible at this too.

With monsters, I use a spreadsheet, and plug in numbers. Like, I plug in a level, and the stats an average character would have at that level (plus any equipment modifiers). Most stats are just transferred over, but, HP, is based on how much damage is incoming (which uses the damage formula using the "average character" as a reference), while ATK and INT (if they cast spells) are based on how much damage I want the creature to do (again, making reference to the damage formula and appropriate stats from the "average character").
Easy by Testing,And by making a Ranges..For exemple between Level 1 and 7 the hero can only do a specific damage to the monsters that will help you make a suitble HP for enemies and a decent combat flow...that also apply to Defense and others,as for Monsters you could increase some stats but with the price of decreasing some...You can't have a Really fast Rabbit with Huge attack power..As for the chest and items is up to you When you making them in the database make them in order that importent so that you know which one have the most priority than the other...and the items that are sold in shops must also be required through exploring not all players can afford them so they have to explore to get the wanted equipment.
Chest is kinda easy,the easier you get them the less important they are..

The decision between high and low stats isn't a no-brainer - low numbers are easier to calculate with for both the player and the developer, while high numbers allow more room for fine-tuning.
LouisCyphre
can't make a bad game if you don't finish any games
4433
author=Milennin
author=Craze
why have defense when you could just have hp ;V
To make enemies strong against physical attacks and weak to magic, or vice-versa?


You say it like it's so simple, but it's not.

Whether or not you even need to make that distinction will depend on other factors in your game. Are you operating on a system of elemental resistances, or simply not playing up the "matching game" aspect that enemy defenses often give? You might find those sufficient for your needs. SMT IV is a solid example of a game with no defense stat. Armor gives HP and modifies your elemental resistances, rather than just subtracting some value from damage taken.

Whether or not you want more or less stats is typically a function of the length of your game. The more gameplay segments you have, the more mechanics you'll want to provide variance and identity to those segments. Many MMOs and SRPGs, for example, have lots of stats and rules so that they can use them to differentiate dungeons or maps. You might have dungeons with many fast, frail foes that take reduced damage from Crits to encourage you to use area spells. You might have enemies that ban certain elemental spells; causing tactics to change.

Essentially, decide the ways you want to challenge the player. Then, include only the stats and rules you need in order to make those challenges.
Craze
i bet she's a diva with a potion popping problem
13832
Milennin
author=Craze
i think you guys should use more examples from games that cash has probably played or probably knows of because stuff like "a fast pace" or "outsmarting your enemies" is incredibly subjective!
Because we all know what games he's played or knows about.

author=Craze
why have defense when you could just have hp ;V

To make enemies strong against physical attacks and weak to magic, or vice-versa?


i said probably. if you are into rm* you probably have played chrono trigger.

what slash said, and also from a coding standpoint i think it'd be easier to consider them all "elements" anyway because %resistance makes it simpler to know when to show pop-ups or graphical effects that identify resistances and weaknesses. when i'm playing ff7 i'm never really sure whether my magic or physical attacks are the statistically superior option because comparing the numbers is so pointless, and then WHICH element and then by then the enemy's dead anyway.

you don't always need defensive stats because black mages are FUCKING BORING that's why millenin, that's why.
author=LouisCyphre
author=Milennin
author=Craze
why have defense when you could just have hp ;V
To make enemies strong against physical attacks and weak to magic, or vice-versa?
You say it like it's so simple, but it's not.

It's simple if you keep it simple. For example if you establish early on in your game that armoured enemies are strong against physical attacks and weak against magic, and spellcaster enemies being weak to physical attacks and strong against magic.

author=LouisCyphre
SMT IV is a solid example of a game with no defense stat. Armor gives HP and modifies your elemental resistances, rather than just subtracting some value from damage taken.

Haven't played it, nor have I ever played an RPG without a Defence stat, but the way I see it is that having no Defence stat would lead to strongly inflating damage numbers and HP values to compensate for ever-growing Attack stats.
Craze
i bet she's a diva with a potion popping problem
13832
you seem incapable of seeing a game as anything other than a slight modification of the status quo. go play the spirit engine 2 or something
Well, this really depends on how difficult you want your game to be. I tend to enjoy and am currently making an RPG which I feel is 'challenging'. To me, that means that even most normal enemies can be threatening if you're not careful.

My game's difficulty is starting out fairly easy and gets gradually more difficult from there on. There are certain areas that are harder than others though, so I like to give the player some time to rest or cool down in between the struggles.

The usual way to do this is by having towns or monster free areas to visit. What you could also do, is to have dungeons with weaker enemies. If your game is tough all the time, then it might be hard for the player to feel strong(er) and/or rewarded.

Planning out your items and equipment is always a good thing to do early on as well. Available classes and skills/magic is of course crucial to decide upon early on as well.

Honestly though: you can't really fully plan and finish a game's balance in the beginning. The balance will be refined and shaped through testing and experimenting. Especially since you're fairly new into making RPGs.

Also, about treasures: I've personally never played an RPG that has as much on-map treasure as my games. If you want to fill your maps with treasure, remember to make the more valuable treasures harder to get to/find than the regular stuff. The simple treasures should be easier to spot and get to.

I recently started to play Chrono Trigger and so far (I've just reached the Magic Village), I've enjoyed the balance quite a lot. It feels neither too easy or too hard. Maybe you too could play that game and learn from its strengths/weaknesses?
With regards to lack of defense stats, it is true that most SMT games have no defense, just HP values. However, they do have defenses in the form of elemental resistances/nulls/absorbs/reflects, etc. The gameplay is far more centered on that than large amounts of HP. So yes, it can lead to heavily inflated numbers, but it doesn't always have to. SMTIV actually has the numbers matter so little that going back to old areas can still get your ass kicked if you don't pay attention to weaknesses and just try to rush the enemies.

That being said, lack of defense makes a game 'defense neutral', basically making the damage solely based on attack and relevant resistances, instead of whether the attack is magical/physical. SMT still makes differences though, older games made physical attacks cost HP and magic attacks MP, and physical attacks tend to be boss killers, since they can critical to give you extra turns, whereas magic attacks usually are targeted towards weaknesses. That is a -lot- more balancing than just 'stick a lot of HP on everything.'

@Luiisha: Chrono trigger is always an amazing example of balance, because the fights I always remember struggling in were important, and even if it was your first time you could figure out the boss on your first go, as opposed to retrying.

Always take into account all potential combat related features in your game before starting to balance, and if at all possible avoid adding further features later, because it completely borks your balance.

Edit: In a relevant note, and I should probably write an article on this if someone else hasn't: Make your non-attack spells matter! One of the most amazing things about the SMT series is buffs, debuffs, and spells to remove them are some of the most important tactics. If you are going through Nocturne, you will hit a solid brick wall in the story, let alone the Candleabra bosses, if you don't learn how to debuff enemies, buff allies, and remove enemy buffs/debuffs. Its telling that besides the random large damage AoE attack you get early, the next most important skills to grab early are fog breath (Accuracy/evasion heavily reduced for enemies), and war cry (defense/attack reduction for enemies).
Solitayre
Circumstance penalty for being the bard.
18257
Man, when I hear people talk about designing enemies or encounters in terms of what their 'stats' should look like I want to cry.

Read this you heathens: http://rpgmaker.net/articles/698/
I personally like to keep everything gradual.

Make each enemy give more EXP/gold the further you go in, make their skills more powerful, make their stats higher... the whole nine yards. With items, I make them progressively more useful (50-200 HP recovery earlygame, thousands of HP and some beneficial state adds endgame, though that depends on growth o.c.). Chests are a bit more of a mixed bag; I make the easy-to-find ones contain convenient items relative to the area (i.e., if there's a shop and it has potions that recover a certain amount or equipment of similar versatility, have that chest contain something of that nature). Harder-to-find ones would contain something slightly more powerful, like a helm that increases DEF significantly, though just a bit above the standards of the area.
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