The thread about OP mod content got me thinking hard as I’m coding and working on my Solarian Union mod. As I was balancing, I asked myself, what exactly is balanced?
I do hold the general view that if it’s beatable by vanilla races (I might even go so far as to say the four core races) then it’s balanced. However, that still presents me with more questions. To what degree does this go?
If a mod fleet can be only beaten by “cheap” tactics, like ridiculous fighter or frigate spam, is that considered balanced?
What about a fleet that takes some kind of marginally cheap tactics, like CL rush and MWM spam?
Or what about only fleets utiilizing fairly advanced tactics, like bait & switch, armor tanks, and fighter decoys?
Or is a mod race balanced only if it has a 50/50 chance of beating any random old challenge/mission with generic orders? I honestly don’t know.
The ultimate reason for this thread is I’m beginning to split hairs about balancing the Solarian Union. I do want them to be extremely powerful, ship for ship, for that little sprinkle of uniqueness. I’ve balanced this economically for the time being. (A superdreadnought as of this moment has a +90% costboost). Also, while their weapons are long ranged (the “main” weapons have max ranges from 1400 to 4000) but have to deal with high minimum ranges (anywhere from 950 to 1350, which are higher than the max ranges of many weapons, including missiles). There’s also high power drain, redunkulous cost, long reload, and more.
However, I notice that my cruiser fleets can stomp most vanilla missions/challenges, as long as there’s some fighter support. (Like all cruisers, they’re vulnerable fighters pecking away with their lucky hits and so on.) They can be beaten with frigates and cruisers, but only if the said frigates and cruisers are purpose-built to quickly rush in and spam them with EMP, ion canons, and cruiser lasers. All other builds, including armor tanking MWM spam, and (slower) CL rushes, don’t stand up too well.
I was speaking with another GSB modder via IM a little bit back, and he was of the opinon that having to build purpose-made anti-Solarian vanilla cruiser/frigate fleets to actually defeat a single SDN is unbalanced. I can’t say I disagree with the general sentiment. However, I’m looking for further opinions, especially from fellow modders, tactics gurus like 123stw, experienced players like Archduke and DarkStar, and anyone who’s thought about this.
Well here’s my $.02 (value may vary depending on inflation rates):
To me, “balanced” is measured not just by the type of response that is successful, but also the number of different responses that can be successful. More succinctly, if your fleet can only be overcome using one specific tactic and laughs off all others, it is most definitely not balanced. I would have to agree with this sentiment:
Another example from my own experience: the “shielded fighters” issue from the Matmos Rift (my mod, for those not in the know). Yes, the shields are immune to all fighter weapons short of rockets and torpedoes; yes, they are also immune to the common anti-fighter weapons. I agreed that this was a problem, but largely because initially the shields allowed one to build the equivalent of vanilla fighters immune to the best responses against vanilla fighters. Not good. The fighter shields got some weight/power/cost adjustments and now a) the shields are harder to deploy across the board on fighters (unless you like having all your fighters trundling slowly about the battlescape), b) cruisers/frigates can combine tractor beams with any number of good weapons to pop those shielded fighters out of existence (it doesn’t take a lot of tractors either), and c) most good vanilla fighters can just outrun the suckers and ignore them. Is the fighter shield now balanced? Time will tell. Is the fighter shield now more balanced than it was? Indubitably. Why do I say this? Because now there are more ways to counter those shielded fighters.
So the long and the short of this rambling: balanced requires multiple weaknesses that can be exploited in multiple ways. Just don’t make those weaknesses big enough to torpedo your own efforts.
I was doing some playtesting a little while back, and depending on deployment a swarm of Federation MWM spam Panthers were able to bring down a dreadnought (beating a Solarian ship at its own game, such as it was). I did have to think about placement and orders; if they were spread out in a fairly wide line, they were able to corner the DDN and kill it. If they were compacted they got defeated in detail.
Eh, back to the drawing boards, I guess. Balancing is super hard, I tell you. Most vanilla tactics involve the idiom “if the enemy is in range, then so are you”, so most missions and challenges don’t need a fleet that has to rush in to avoid getting massacred from outside cruiser missile range. Probably I’ll reduce range a tiny bit.
Heck, maybe I should just throw out the SU mod funky and unfinished as it is, so I can get a head start on balancing suggestions.
If you only have the balancing issues sometimes releasing it will help others to find the issues. But then you will run into troubles like I am and NO ONE gives you back any useful feedback or none at all. >.<
For me personally i try and look at the tools a mod race use and balance those.
When you look at the original races, they share a large amount of the same weapons and the hull bonus are somewhat similar. Due to this minimal weapon diversity the vanilla races are somewhat balanced across the board. (Apart from the tribe :P)
However it is important to remember, the further your mod race “diversity” moves away from the core (ie bigger, faster, stronger, longer) - the harder it will be to “balance”
According to my “simple” theory, the Positives attributes must be balanced out by the Negatives attributes for any hull / weapon / module. The problem with this “simple” theory its damn hard to execute because none or the parameters have an equivalent exchange and it is all subjective.
However if you can get your head around that part, the theory follows that if your hulls and weapons are balanced then the race is balanced. However you have to be prepared for the face that you might create new exploits (CL/MWM spam, tanking etc) for the player to use. One thing you can be certain of, the player will not use anything you created the way you intended it to be used.
In the end there are no official rules on what constitutes balanced and what constitutes over/under powered. When someone passes judgement on the balance of a mod, it is an opinion and therefore subjective to the persons point of view. The important thing to remember is that there are no Wrong answers and the only Rights in modding are:
The author of a mod has the Right to determine if the mod will be balanced against a standard and how it will be balanced against that standard.
Just as the player has the right not to play the mod if they disagree with the results.
While its always a good idea to listen to the community because they might find things you have missed, in the end its your mod and you have to be happy with it.
In my own +27 months of experience around here, the two points shown above have been the most frequent sources for any and all modder-made races’ weaknesses. The second point Darkstar made greatly influences his first point. None of us are omniscient enough to make every mod 100% watertight against abuse. But trying real hard is still a very good idea. I sometimes go to extremes in the pursuit of such perfection with my own GSB creations, despite knowing that somebody is surely going to try breaking the equipment on my brand-new “mental playground” the minute that my back is turned.
I tend to nerf a lot of stuff fairly heavily to soften the blow of the worst expected player abuses. Sometimes, in my heated and immoderate Puritanical frenzy against problems, I nerf things noticeably too hard. Ironically, I enjoy that more than I lament that. No, it’s not masochism. I have discovered that the limitations of modded content are sometimes more interesting than the advantages of the same modded content. The limits add a certain range of spice and savour to a modded meal, and can even add positively to the replay value of a mod.
If I let something have the ability to fire on a target at a max range of (for example) 1300, I am apt to penalize it with a minimum range of, say, perhaps 750. Some folks might think that’s much too radical of a penalty. Then again, brewing a new weapon that can reach out and touch someone at ranges far in excess of nearly all vanilla weapons of any kind is a huge tactical bonus – one that’s very hard to rein in solely on the basis of adding increased purchase price at the strategic level prior to any battle. I must therefore add costs to it which reach from stark to subtle.
So in addition to a high financial pain, I make sure to cut this mythical new gun off at the knees and forbid it from engaging within a rather long minimum range. I also determine how to intelligently saddle it with substantial infrastructure costs, as appropriate (crew, power, weight, tracking, stack effectiveness, etc.). Sure, it helps insure that my new weapon isn’t too godlike, but it also creates a weird, refreshing and hopefully new set of viable tactical options which not only shake up the status quo, but also contribute towards the intangible aesthetic quality that I’ll dub “tactical distinctiveness”. T.D. can include useful left-brain things such as DPS calculations, though it’s far from limited to such boring humbug. As you and others observed, Forge, vanilla cruisers in this game are stuck with about three main cruiser attack strategies that (unsurprisingly) get spammed to high heaven because they’re so much more effective than the other possible choices. Of course the MWM / CL /plasma spams score super-low in my personal measurement of tactical distinctiveness, while many other interesting & uncommon choices are about as militarily useful as a shower of confetti. I dearly wish that Cliffski hadn’t skewed things to such an extent. [-shrug-]
Truly, there’s not a lot that I can constructively add to the theme of this discussion except for saying that I concur with these thoughts above.
I have never discovered an antidote to the time-wasting heap of fail that ensues if one chose poorly when selecting a “standard ruler” to measure one’s mod against. What if one’s chosen standard is, to put it bluntly, stupid? OK, I’m being very silly, but all in a good cause. I think that the most vital quality here is that, whatever your standard ruler, as long as it’s logically consistent and isn’t burdened with lots of unanswered internal contradictions, it’s a good start.
Just make sure that you aren’t burdening yourself with mental blind-spots of your own. Remember, “sacred cows make great hamburgers.”
I’m well aware that you have a torrid love-affair with the essence of the dreadnought aesthetic. Ask yourself if adherence to that isn’t causing more problems than you hope to solve by sticking with it to the extent that you originally intended to. What works on the television screen, the printed page or a cherished old Win98-era game can sometimes translate embarrasingly badly when ported into GSB. Believe me; I know.
I have found that much of my own planned mod content here has required substantially more meat-axe editing and merciless reduction than I ever wanted to subject it to. Many writers are bad at editing unless their feet are held to the fire, and I’m no exception. I am compelled to admit (perhaps reluctantly) that it was all for the best, though, no matter how badly it hurt me at the time. I know that my Classic Dreadnoughts would not have skyrocketed ever closer towards one thousand downloads if I hadn’t done so.
Right on, brother. (-brofist–) Forge, you had best be modding first and foremost for your own personal enjoyment of the end product. While we opinionated GSBers on the forum look forward to a lean-and-mean Solarian Union to play with someday, YOU must be “fan number one” of your modded creation. I hope that my words, as seemingly vague or Zen-like as they have been at times in this post, have lent some clarity to your own efforts in reaching for that goal.
I’ll take those words to heart, guys. Once I get the next chapter straigthened out, I’ll probably release an alpha version. It’s basically just coding, since I’m still horribad at any kinds of graphics work, but it’s a start.
Currently, I’m seeing how best to reign in my fighters, which I think are a bit too powerful, and replacing the ultravelocity cannon (UVC) both in the game and in the story. I think what’s basically a big gun doesn’t quite fit the image of the missile-happy Solarians.