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Splitting our civs in groups - Fixing the balancing problem


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This is an idea I've had for a while now (couple of years maybe?)...

Original text in spoiler:

Spoiler

What if we voluntarily 'unbalanced' the civs? Most RTS only have one balancing tier, where all civs are supposed to be equally playable overall (some are dominant on specific maps obviously, but that is a feature). This is obviously a lot of work, particularly if you try to differentiate civilisations (contrast AoE 2 and Starcraft).

We now have 13 civs, some more or less similar. Balancing the is hard, and I think we would have an easier time differentiating them if we organised them into tiers (they are very different graphically, but quite similar gameplay wise).

As a quickly-thought of example: Tier A would have Persians, Macedonians, maybe the Maurya ? Tier 2 would be Rome, Sparta, Carthage, Tier 3 being Britons/Celts/Kushites and so on.

In a given tier, we would be able to easily differentiate civs since we would only have to keep them balanced against 3 or 4 other civs, not all of them.

This would let us balance fewer civs, make the civs more unique, and would also be interesting for players: can you beat a "stronger" civ with a "weaker" one?

What do you think?

Proposal below:

Our civilisations are currently supposed to be balanced. Picking a random civilisation should, on average, give you a fair chance to win assuming equal skill. Since we now have 13 civilisations, that means we need to balance 78 matchups. This is a considerable amount, particularly since we actually have limited manpower, particularly for gameplay purposes.

In my opinion, we only have 2 ways to balance so many matchups:

  1. Effectively reduce the # of civs (e.g Celt, Greek, Roman, Kushites), by making the different "sub-civs" very similar. This precludes adding too many different groups, or we have to add "trash" civs.
  2. Effectively make all civs very similar. We can't get AoE2 level of variety because our tech tree/unit tree is much too small. So we're reduced to making them all basically equivalent.

I like neither of these options.
My proposal is to split our civilisations into groups, and only balance inside a given group. What I mean is that any matchup inside a group should give you a fair chance of winning - but matchups across groups (say, below, Roman vs Kushites) could be terribly unbalanced - or could not be. Romans might have one unit or one strategy that Kushites can't counter for example.

Below is a Group List (proposal with some quick reasoning). My criteria are, to some extent, chronological and geographical. I am also picking what I think would be interesting matchups.

Superpower Group - the 3 largest empires in the relevant timeframe

  • Macedonians - Under Alexander the Great, circa 330 BC, they conquered most of what I will call the then "civilised" world. Obvious pick.
  • Aechemenid Persians - While Cyrus II is technically out of our date range, he's in the game files, and it makes fine gameplay to have Macedonians and Persians in the same group since they did fight.
  • Mauryas - Under Chandragupta, became one of the largest empires — period — back then.

These 3 together also form a continuum of Greek-Indian empires and are historically somewhat tied. I think they make up an interesting group.

Mediterranean Civs - More naval oriented

  • Romans - Since we are pre-marian, this is the Rome of the punic wars. Stronger in terms of naval power than we might think, not yet mingling with the gauls up North too much.
  • Carthaginians - Foil to the Romans at the time, we need them in the same group for historical play reasons.

The question is "who next?". I think we might put Athens, a strong naval city state, but they did not really wage war on each other too much.
Alternatively, Iberians were conquered by Rome by 100BC, so they could be put here.

I'm having a hard time putting Athens somewhere more relevant, because as a strongly Naval civilisation they would be easily unbalanced against "land-based" greek civs, and they're historically not really relevant against anyone but these same greek states.

  • Athens/Iberians

Aegean Civs - more land-based civilisations perhaps.

  • Spartans - land-based, which makes them good to fight the two other successor states.
  • Seleucids - Successor state in the region, that mingled with Ptolemy
  • Ptolemaic Egyptians - likewise.

Celtic Civs

I'm grouping these here because they were relatively similar, and thus would be relatively easier to balance. To be honest, we could perhaps move them all alongside the "Rome" group, particularly if we put Iberians there. The trouble is that they didn't really fight many of the other civilisations from our time-range. We could also dispatch one celtic civ in each other group, for variety, but that throws historical realism somewhat out the window and might complicate balancing.

  • Gauls
  • Ibers
  • Britons

Unbalanced Civs - those that aren't in a group (yet/ever?)

  • Kushites

----

The advantages of this are:

  • We need to balance fewer matchups.
  • With easier balance, we can make civs more diverse, possibly more historically accurate. Currently, and particularly in A24, we've made civs very similar as balancing is hard.
  • It makes it possible to highlight some different matchups.
  • It also makes it possible to add more civilisations - we don't need to consider the overall balance.
    • As such, a Mesoamerican group can easily be added, like wise for Asian civs.

The drawbacks, obviously, are that MP users would have a reduced # of picks, and that it needs some development to support.

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I think this is like going backward to what we did for the past years when we started separating and differentiating factions.

For instance, technologies are a way to showcase what advantages those civilizations invented or did differently than the others. Wipe that and the game will be blander.

Then with roasters if all civs in tiers have the same stats and the same units we shouldn't have different civs. In AOM the factions were the same except for a few quriks

 

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48 minutes ago, Stan` said:

I think this is like going backward to what we did for the past years when we started separating and differentiating factions.

For instance, technologies are a way to showcase what advantages those civilizations invented or did differently than the others. Wipe that and the game will be blander.

Then with roasters if all civs in tiers have the same stats and the same units we shouldn't have different civs. In AOM the factions were the same except for a few quriks

Sorry, I guess I wasn't clear. I'm suggesting that we put civs in "tiers" and then we differentiate and balance them compared to civs amongst the same tier.

So we can keep what we have now, but we only need to make sure Persians are balanced with Macedonians and Mauryans, it's not a big deal if they crush Kushites every time because they have superior technology.

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15 minutes ago, wraitii said:

Sorry, I guess I wasn't clear. I'm suggesting that we put civs in "tiers" and then we differentiate and balance them compared to civs amongst the same tier.

So we can keep what we have now, but we only need to make sure Persians are balanced with Macedonians and Mauryans, it's not a big deal if they crush Kushites every time because they have superior technology.

Ah I see, so the goal would be reduce the tiers of civs you can play against so that you only have to balance civilizations in that tier. Would make sense, but it would probably be utterly confusing for players, if not displayed correctly. Especially if playing with random civilizations ^^"

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Well yeah obviously, so we'll have to change the interface a bit. But I think overall it would allow us more liberty in doing things while keeping a competitive game.

Also no I think we should still allow player to pick "Random Tier 1" or "Random All Tiers" so that one player can play a Tier 4 and another a tier 1 civ in the same game - would also be a neat way to introduce handicap.

 

Edit: also it would help with historical accuracy - a siege that didn't really have siege might be Tier 4 but we wouldn't have to shoe-horn ways to have siege in, for example.

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7 hours ago, wraitii said:

would also be a neat way to introduce handicap.

That's exactly what I was thinking when I read your first post. Instead of striving for perfect balance, let weaker civs serve as a built-in handcap. I'm not sure how I feel about this, but I don't think it is automatically bad. It does mean that top tier players would have fewer civ options, but that's almost a certainty anyway considering the quantity of civs we have. Historical accuracy could definitely be a basis.

 

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  • 3 weeks later...

Probably a mute point... but this thread caught my eye. 

I had numerous discussions about this exact issue over a decade ago.  There was a reason the original game design limited the number of civs.  The civs were intended to branch as the game developed.  So, for example - when you start the game you choose the generic civ of "celts" then when you reach a certain phase (city) then you are offered the strategic choice of either going with the Britons or the Gauls.  Depending on what strategies and tactics you wanted to finish the game with (based on the sub-faction's strengths and weaknesses).  

Michael didn't agree and opted to separated them all into their own factions....  So... happy balancing guys ;)  

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18 hours ago, Wijitmaker said:

Probably a mute point... but this thread caught my eye. 

I had numerous discussions about this exact issue over a decade ago.  There was a reason the original game design limited the number of civs.  The civs were intended to branch as the game developed.  So, for example - when you start the game you choose the generic civ of "celts" then when you reach a certain phase (city) then you are offered the strategic choice of either going with the Britons or the Gauls.  Depending on what strategies and tactics you wanted to finish the game with (based on the sub-faction's strengths and weaknesses).  

Michael didn't agree and opted to separated them all into their own factions....  So... happy balancing guys ;)  

According to Michael, civ branching was meant to work like Age of Mythology / Age of Empires 3:

https://wildfiregames.com/forum/index.php?/topic/12600-about-the-hellenic-factions/&tab=comments#comment-201511

At some point we gave up on the implementation, but I'm not sure exactly when that happened. A few years later and we were discussing splitting the Celts up into Briton and Gaul.

https://wildfiregames.com/forum/index.php?/topic/15776-alpha-10-tomfoolery/&tab=comments#comment-237426

It's mentioned in the Alpha 11 release preparation, so that was the release it was first split.

https://wildfiregames.com/forum/index.php?/topic/16140-alpha-11-planning/page/7/&tab=comments#comment-250234

We aren't limited by any of these things. It would be possible to group civs back together if someone with vision designed how it would work. Leaving them separate can work too.

 

[edit]

These are private links, so most won't be able to read them.

[edit 2]

Nevermind, this is the staff forum. :laugh:

Edited by WhiteTreePaladin
typo
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Yeah, it all kind of started with Michael's dream to convert 0 A.D. into his dream game he was calling "Age of the Aegean".  I think the Hellenes were the first generic civ that was broken apart and split into multiple civs.  

When you look at RTS games 15 years ago (I'm not sure what is out there these days) you usually find that they are either many civs/races that are slightly different from one another (Age of Kings), or few civs/races that are drastically different from one another (StarCraft).  

Each Civ was supposed to have a general theme and favor a certain playing style...

  • Romans - Generic all purpose, Strength in siege
  • Hellenes - Generic all purpose, Strong fortifications
  • Persians - Cannon Fodder, Cheap infantry, Cavalry strong
  • Celts - Aggressive and Offensive, Cheap/weak structures
  • Carthaginians - Economy is based on metal/gold because of mercenaries, biggest variety of units, strong navy
  • Iberians - Defensive, Small numbers, Tactical

New civs were created and I'm not sure how they fit in or how they are distinct but I would encourage there to be a distinction to give players a reason to use them.  For me - 0 A.D. was always a game first and wasn't ever intended to be a historical simulator.  That was for games like Total War.

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Probably would be cool too if Generic civs would have generic heroes, like in Warcraft 3 (Paladin, Archmage and Mountain King), this would avoid the historical criticisms too, like how some players complaint why heroes from different timeline exist in the game. Having them generically named would eliminate such problem make everything more historically immersive.

Romans:

Consul? - Military bonus

Senator? - Economic bonus

Dictator? - Territorial bonus

 

Greeks:

Strategos: Military bonus

Statesman: Economic bonus

Basileus/Archon: Territorial bonus

 

Celts:

Chieftain: Military bonus

Druid: Economic bonus

Rix (King): Territorial bonus

 

 

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Interesting points about the history and Age of the Aegean, thanks to both of you :) .

Overall I think we did kinda lose ourselves in this civ business. I remember the "AoM like branching" discussions. I guess it would be an interesting idea for a game representing more of history?

I'll agree with your that I'm going game first, history second, but some people do feel more at ease with the reverse.

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  • 11 months later...

Hello all, I'm making this thread public - I probably should have done so from the get go.

This is my idea on how we can get out of the balancing tarpit.

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Aside from an approach that seems a bit backwards to me, there are some strange generalisations made about each civilisation.  The Persians were a force to be reckoned with, but they were easily defeated by a collection of city-states and had to heavily rely on Greek mercenaries to have a decent force of infantry.  The Macedonians were well and good, but the other successor states are just as much based on similar tactics as them.  You can say that the Seleucids kept on getting beaten up, but there were many enemies around them and general instability; what makes a successor state 'failed' is another rather odd thing to me.  

Rome's having a good navy is also odd.  Granted, if their use of the corvus could be represented in naval warfare, it would have an interesting impact on a meta that in the future meta that would probably focus around ramming. 

Instead of groupings like this, I would advise considering historical rivalries as a basis as opposed to formal tier lists, keeping in mind that just because two civilisations are equally effective against the same civilisation, it does not mean that they would match up well against each other.  

For instance, Athens had rivals in the game of Persia and Sparta, so making these fairly balanced becomes just a matter of looking at those to combinations in isolation.  Granted, Sparta campaigned extensively against Persia also, making it a prime candidate as a rival of sorts also.  The list goes on, examining individual factions and finding about two or three different rivalries to work with.  The whole thing would be pretty convoluted, but so is balance.

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  • 1 month later...
On 6/17/2020 at 1:37 PM, Thorfinn the Shallow Minded said:

Aside from an approach that seems a bit backwards to me, there are some strange generalisations made about each civilisation.

There kind of has to be generalisations if you're going to tier our civilisations. My claim is that these generalisations will actually be less than what we need to do to balance all civs together.

On 6/17/2020 at 1:37 PM, Thorfinn the Shallow Minded said:

The Persians were a force to be reckoned with, but they were easily defeated by a collection of city-states and had to heavily rely on Greek mercenaries to have a decent force of infantry.

Yet it is unarguable that they were at some point the biggest empire in the world. Time periods change, but I don't think it's absurd to group them alongside Macedonians and Mauryans as the 3 biggest empires of our time period (which is honestly more like 500-250BC than 250-0BC... Rome is a bit problematic in this setup)

On 6/17/2020 at 1:37 PM, Thorfinn the Shallow Minded said:

The Macedonians were well and good, but the other successor states are just as much based on similar tactics as them.  You can say that the Seleucids kept on getting beaten up, but there were many enemies around them and general instability; what makes a successor state 'failed' is another rather odd thing to me.  

I'm not trying to make a comment on which civilisation would be best overall, in fact I'm trying to do the exact opposite. My point is that we can balance Macedonians and Persians and Mauryans and have some fun gameplay. 

On 6/17/2020 at 1:37 PM, Thorfinn the Shallow Minded said:

Rome's having a good navy is also odd.  Granted, if their use of the corvus could be represented in naval warfare, it would have an interesting impact on a meta that in the future meta that would probably focus around ramming. 

I mean, the Romans did beat Carthage in the first Punic war owing, in parts, to a strong navy.

On 6/17/2020 at 1:37 PM, Thorfinn the Shallow Minded said:

Instead of groupings like this, I would advise considering historical rivalries as a basis as opposed to formal tier lists, keeping in mind that just because two civilisations are equally effective against the same civilisation, it does not mean that they would match up well against each other.  

Yeah, this is exactly what I'm trying to do here, but I've obviously failed to convey that.

 

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Just to add an interesting read, not really about tiers.

One mod I particularly like is AOE III's Wars Of Liberty (http://aoe3wol.com/civilizations) in which the civilisations are split by "culture" where each culture differs greatly from another but the civilisations differ slightly within one culture. I don't think each civilisation is perfectly balanced against all other civilisations, but there are no tiers either. Each civilisation just has its pro's and cons. Perhaps it would be interesting to find out how they balance stuff.

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I updated the first post, removing notes about "tiers" since that's not really the heart of my argument.

My point is that we should have "groups" of civs, which are internally diverse yet balanced. Matchups between civs from different groups are not guaranteed to be balanced.

The logical conclusion is that some groups might end up overall stronger than others, but I think the highlight here is that civilisations in history adapted to their rivals and their context, and thus sentences like "Would the Roman have kicked the ass of the Zapotec?" make no sense.

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I think the point of balancing is not that all civs should be equally balanced (I'm not sure that's even possible if we want diversity in), but that in general it should not be an impossible matchup between players of similar tier.

I agree that historically speaking it does not make much sense for zapotecs to kick romans ass, but at the same time I don't want to be in the zapotecs player shoes when I have to face this matchup.

Now I could understand that making this 'balanced' would be insane from a realism point of view, but at the same time there are such many inconsistencies in aoe and I don't think it takes away much enjoyment from players.

Alternatively, if we want to have as many civilizations as possible I could see we not needing to make this tradeoff and silo civilizations in their own tiers, it would be a bit of an ugly inconsistency in terms of gameplay though. Unless we separate these tiers in their own 'settings'. E.g. the American setting, Asian setting etc. I still think it's not bad that Mauryans can fight a war against Britons though.

Edited by badosu
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Just to clarify: I don't want to prevent Briton vs Mauryan fights for example, I just don't want to guarantee that this would be a balanced fight. So players would pick from the same "group" in competitive MP.

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Group 1: Mediterranean supremacy

  • Romans
  • Carthaginians
  • Athenians

Group 2: Aegean enemies

  • Spartans
  • Macedonians
  • Persians

Group 3: Galatian safari

  • Gauls
  • Seleucid
  • Ptolemies

Group 4: The rest of the world

  • Britons
  • Iberians
  • Mauryas
  • Kushites

Obviously the names of the groups are only an excuse but at least like this the civ could be really balanced

Edited by Genava55
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I like the idea that you can get some leeway into providing more realism and avoiding anachronistic or even impossible stuff in (e.g. mauryan bolt siege, zapotecs catapults, etc) but I would like to keep it possible for players in the same tier to be have a decent matchup with wildly different civilizations. I don't know if it's feasible though, it would probably require bringing in heavy counters which might make balancing even harder.

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