On Balance

OK, so yet again I haven’t done my placement games for this season.  Busy, putting things off, and so on.  I don’t know whether I’ll get to ten even this week but I’ll definitely do some.  Anyway, since I don’t have my placement to talk about this week, this week’s post, inspired by the unexplained Falstad nerf that I’ve talked about before, is on the impossibility of balance.

Real balance, like equality, doesn’t exist and can never exist.  Trying to balance a game with 50+ heroes is basically a three-body problem, only worse.  Off the top of my head, for those of you who haven’t heard of a three-body problem, calculating the gravitational effect one body has on another (and vice versa) is relatively simple.  But add a third body, and the calculations become exponentially more complex, so much so that the problem may be unsolvable.  Not only this, but each hero has four abilities including ultimates, the effects of which can’t always be quantified, and changing any of them (or any talents) could affect dozens of others.  I doubt that even with unlimited computing power anyone could do it.

Even if it has a solution, there’s also the 80/20 rule.  For anyone who’s been living under a rock, the 80/20 rule basically says that 20% of the inputs yield 80% of the outputs, and sometimes the ratio is even more skewed, to the point of 95/5 or more.

So even in theory, Blizzard is faced with an impossible task, and they don’t even have recourse to any easy method to keep the game fresh, as Magic the Gathering and other CCGs do by periodically rotating out sets to keep the game fresh (the fact that this also forces players to buy new cards is a nice bonus for them).  And yet, I can think of several instances in Blizzard history where they got balance wrong.

Level 1 Arcane Explosion:  I played a troll Mage named Oohbaby in the olden days of WoW, mostly for PvP.  About a minute after I started that I realized that level 1 Arcane Explosion could be spammed indefinitely in order to reveal nearby Rogues.  I have to admit that was unfair, but it was fun while it lasted.

Warlocks: When resilience came out, which reduced critical strike damage, why did it not affect Warlock dots?  This was a nightmare for Mages, who relied on burst damage far more than Warlocks did, and subsequently had to face lower raw damage as well.  This was eventually changed.

Frostbolt Coefficient: No PvE Mage ever used Frostbolt, so even when they manage to isolate the problem to one aspect of the game (PvP), Blizzard still gets it wrong sometimes.  Don’t take my word for it: they soon changed it back, admitting they’d screwed up.

Falstad: Gathering Storm used to grant one extra damage per hit.  Then it was two.  Now it’s 1.5.  You used to be able to get extended Hammerang range and Boomerang range at the same time; now you can’t.  At least he’s got a bribe-like talent now though!

As I said, Blizzard has an impossible task, and if they’d done an unacceptable job I wouldn’t play anymore.  But I’d give them a few simple suggestions.

Have a devil’s advocate, i.e. a guy who asks “how could this be abused?” whenever any change was rolled out.  He would have found the above issues in under a minute I bet.

Please, please, explain your thinking.  Why was Falstad’s Hammerang damage changed yet again?  We don’t know, because the patch notes only talked about the bribe talent change.  Not explaining it just makes you seem capricious.  Some people might have grown attached to a hero because, I don’t know, they own a glorious pirate skin or something.

What’s Blizzard’s balance goal?  A 50% winrate across the board on hotslogs?  Among all skill levels, or just restrict it to the upper levels?  Or is it an ever-changing meta-game?  How important are map win rates?  Important enough to get rid of maps like Haunted Mines just because of Sylvanas, or is that less important now because bans are in place?

Make Stitches great again, make Gazlowe not terrible, and end the anti-troll racism by putting in a troll hero.  Maybe that’s their real balance consideration: Headhunters were terrible in Warcraft 3, and the only troll in Heroes is a severed head carried by a guy who thinks spiders and toads are powerful.  Make trolls great again 😦

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