Balancing Roles Matters Just As Much As Balancing Classes

Though I haven’t been commenting and publicly hanging on every announcement made by the team at CSE, I have been following Camelot Unchained rather closely over the past year. My inbox is constantly blowing up with an evening update, an alpha test announcement (which by the way are always so last minute or during horrible times for me… come on Mark!), or a newsletter from the team. I think they’re making what looks to be fine progress on the upcoming PvP-centric MMORPG.

The latest newsletter (#19) discusses one item in particular that I think will hit home for a lot of us MMO vets: Balance. CSE is aiming to balance around rock-vs-paper mechanic rather than an apples to apples one. In other words, one class type can bet another class type — or taking it a step further, one class specialized in a certain mechanic can beat another class specialized into a certain mechanic like magic vs plate being strong and physical vs plate being weak.

This rock-vs-paper idea isn’t original — it’s been around forever. Even Dark Age of Camelot utilized the system. What’s also not unique is how difficult the idea of balance can truly be, and no matter how hard anyone has ever tried to create the perfect scenario, it never works that way. Paper doesn’t always beat rock in MMORPGs… and perhaps it shouldn’t be a hard counter. The idea of a perfect counter doesn’t exist, and that’s honestly part of the fun. I have no doubt CSE is well aware.

Taking things a little bit further out of the nitty-gritty mechanics side of this conversation, I like the concept of filling a role. When I say filling a role, in this context we can consider a role as a counter or a necessity — or both.  I’ll dumb it down. I used to really, really like the idea of being the guy who killed archers on the walls of a keep. Those archers were countering melee who would run up to the doors, and to counter them I had to sneak into the keep and take them out.

I like to imagine a PvP world where players will say willing specialize to fill roles. If people are going to carry a battering ram, who is going to hold the shield above them to protect them from arrows? Who is going to repair that door? Who is going to protect the people repairing the door? There are so many complexities when you take a PvP game’s balance outside of “my class heals and your class shoots stuff.”

Balancing ROLES to me is just as important as balancing the mechanics of blunt damage vs. plate armor. Without a balance of roles we are left with a very sterile system where we just worry about what class we’re up against or what weapon they are using rather than how they are playing. Balancing classes around roles becomes even more complicated than simply balancing roles against roles.

The “HOW is my enemy going to defeat me this time” is something I want to see balanced around. It may seem obvious, but that’s where most of these PvP games fail even harder than class balance.

  • The issue with the role balancing, is to keep each role ‘fun’. Or fun for some people, enough of them to fill the need.

    Let’s retake the Battery ram and shield holder stuff : do you really want a game where your role is “holding the shield to protect from the arrows”. Do you mind doing only this for the whole time in the game ? I believe the more specialised the roles are, the more boring they are.

    One partial answer is to be able to switch role. “If I take the Battery ram Shield, my role is now this one”. So you can balance fun role with mandatory role.

    But this is only a partial answer as : who would agree to take the shield, when you can be the assasin roaming the enemy wall.

    Conclusion : when you try to equilibrate role, you also have to equilibrate the fun of those roles.

    PS : Not everyone has the same resistance to the boring roles, so the “fun” issue is not the same for everyone. For me, it would be a game killer.

  • @ettesiun if you dont like “holding the shield to protect from the arrows” then that class isnt for you.
    if you want to kill the archers then pick a rogue, if you want to kill the melee then pick an archer.
    if you want to do everything make alts.

    you cant say “give me everything and let me to do everything so i’ll never be bored” then every class would be the same. (that’s what happened to WoW)

    is like saying that street fighter 2 has a bad desing because “what happens if i have chunli and im bored of using lightning kick all the time, give me shoryukens and hadokens too!” if you want to do “shoryukens and hadokens” choose ryu.

    people don’t understand that there is people who play games just to “protect the ram” all the day, just to fishing, just to mining ore 24/7 and they are probably having more fun that the rogue 1 shooting archers
    just because that would be boring for you it doenst mean that is boring for everyone.

  • Plenty of people play tanks. More people play dps but that’s not the point. The point is there would be people willing to carry the shield, or the ram.

    Be careful not to envision a role like protecting the battering ram as simply carrying a passive shield. That would be boring. More than likely the role would involve shield wall abilities that provide extra AC and protection to a small area around you. Maybe warcries to boost HP and movement speed would be something you have. If rogues try to ambush your allies, no doubt you’d be expected to deal with them.

    That’s just the battle for the door. Once the door is down roles will change slightly. Battering ram folk will draw weapons and become more self sufficient. The shield bearers guarding the ram may join up with the ones protecting the mages to give them even more cover.

    Everyone finds different things fun. If you still think playing tank in a war is boring consider that there will be people who will specialize in crafting the daggers that the rogues will use in their wall sneaking efforts. They’ll craft the best damn daggers money can buy, and they’ll have tons of fun doing it.

  • @TheCrow : You are totally correct that everyone have different taste, and some players would prefer different roles than other.
    Nevertheless, I believe always playing the same thing is not very fun – this is specifically true for myself, some people are less susceptible to it, but I do not think that a lot of people will find fun to do the same thing everyday.

    Your exemple of Streetfighter is very interesting : you can switch from Chunli to Ryu quite easily at whatever moment – each game being very short – and the fun from playing one character has two dimensions :
    – learning to play it well
    – discovering new human player, that play differently than other one.

    “people don’t understand that there is people who play games just to “protect the ram” all the day, just to fishing, just to mining ore 24/7 and they are probably having more fun that the rogue 1 shooting archers
    just because that would be boring for you it doesn’t mean that is boring for everyone.”
    It is true that everyone has different taste, and find different thing boring, but the idea of doing the same simple task repetitively without anything new look like hell for me. And it is hard to believe that someone would enjoy it. But I know from reading Bhagpuss, and other bloggers than some player love the relaxing state of mindless task. Si you are correct not everybody is the same.

    You still have to be careful to align the need for specific role, with the population that would enjoy that type of role. Or else some role will be underpopulated, so the game would not work, and some will be overpopulated, rendering those roles less fun.

  • @ Gringar : This was my point – thanks for making it clearer : you have to make the shield role fun (multiple abilities) for at least some people, and it is better to allow player to switch role (from Shield bearer during gate attack to offense after the gate are downed) to not make it too much repetitive.

    If as soon as the gate is down, you are absolutly crap at everything else, this is not fun – at least for me.

    My point are :
    – no role that is totally boring for everyone should exist
    – multiple role can/shall exist to cater to different playstyle
    – no role shall exist that is only effective in a very specific situation , and worthless in all others

    That was what I called : the balance of Fun

  • I don’t know if anyone here played Raiderz (or to a lesser extent Blade and Soul now), but they had an interesting system where mobs would drop their horns, or their shells, or a stinger or something and then you could pick it up and it would give you a whole new set of abilities that you could use for a short time while wielding that new weapon.

    I wish games would take this even further. the idea that you could summon a battering ram and attached to the sides of it would be shields that characters could pick up and it would grant them completely different abilities sounds fantastic and easily doable. Take this example and expand it to many different aspects of the game and you create something so much more dynamic and interesting where you can change your role simply by picking up a different item in the game world to help with a particular situation. finished with that role (or you die), just drop the item and another character can pick it up and take your place.

    You could have items that grant temporary stealth, or allow you to scale walls, or break/repair walls etc:… these roles would be secondary to the actual combat, but allow you to do something different to break up the monotony and help your team where it needs it.

  • Maybe you even give the enemy an ability that destroys these shields, (i’m picturing a long cast time like when you plant a banner in a downed enemy in GW2 to finally kill them). This way the shields become an important item to protect and an important item to destroy, it adds another layer of strategy, which always seems to be lacking in MMOs.

  • I agree with K&G that successful pvp involves fulfilling roles within a small group. It seems to me the 8v8 element of DAOC made it quite appealing for those who played.

    The problem exists, how do you make healing or tanking a fun activity? In all honesty, it is very difficult.

    Low and behold every pvp game I have played in the last 5 years involves spamming in AOE damage and healing and letting the spreadsheet decide who wins. aka Warhammer, Rift, Aion, GW2. Eventually the game comes down to staring at the icons over your name and removing the most dangerous ones.

  • @solarbear, The best way I have ever seen to make Tanking in PvP relevant was in the 8v8 scene of DAoC. Bodyguard was just PERFECT for implementing a tank mechanic into PvP, where simple “taunts” just won’t really cut it.

    I think Warhammer Online had something that was a pale shadow of this on their tanks… basically like a taunt debuff that you hit a single target with, and it would reduce their damage by a % then if they didn’t attack the taunter. But I mean really… that just isn’t far enough to make it really matter.

    Bodyguard was great. You had to stand still to be affected by it, it took a fraction of a second to kick in because of that, and it forces every single melee on the field to stop attacking said target (or just simply waste time). So because of this one simple spell/mechanic, you could actually have a tanky spec’d armsman, warrior, whatever be good at their job…. which is just soaking massive amounts of damage TO PROTECT OTHER PEOPLE. Not just have someone lumbering around the battlefield that was hard to kill, but had terrible damage, and so was simply left for last because they were more like a hard to kill fly than an actual obstacle.

    As far as making healing interesting… I think that just boils down to having situational healing abilities instead of just a “Go To” healing spell. DAoC did this well, in my opinion. It isn’t the (imo) perfect solution that bodyguard is for tanks… but it at least makes healers have to think, react, pre-act, etc. And that keeps it interesting. As long as you enjoy healing in the first place, of course.

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