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Looking back on the balancing strategy


Stan`
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The core issue is that for the most part, team members are people working on features, because people that care about balancing & gameplay are players, and players like to play. And people just don't have the time to play and work on the game. Ergo the team are feature-builders, and there is real vision for gameplay.

Add to that that amongst the team, we have severe disagreements on how the game should play. There is deadlock there to a large extent. Then nothing really changes.

The problem with the 'incremental changes' approach that we tried to take is that everything can be scrutinised, and it kind of precludes changing the 'long-term vision'. I think it worked well to locally balance the gameplay, but it has lead to increased uniformity and has not really made the gameplay more interesting.

Another way is the 'split & regroup' approach, that was tried with balancing mods or to an extent wow's Delenda Est. That has the benefit that it can leverage a benevolent dictator and realise a vision. If there are enough players / traction, it could be considered for merging back as the 'main' 0 A.D. mod. But it might need us to provide more support to help good mods gain traction, and it would probably benefit from a split between more 'engine' files and more '0ad-specific' stuff.

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Finally, 'balancing' is trivial. Just make all civilisations have identical gameplay. That's not particularly interesting, but it would work. The question is generally not how to 'balance' but what game to make.

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1 hour ago, wraitii said:

I think it worked well to locally balance the gameplay

uhm what?

also @wraitii, thank you for the insight, but 'incremental changes' is how all software development is made nowadays, it doesn't preclude anything really. you want to get out the deadlock? set the rules and start a decision process. what's the manager doing about this?

Edited by alre
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No matter how hard the developers try to balance, mistakes by the host (bad team settings and randomness) will cause imbalances. If there is a random civ option and some people got a civ that they don't like, it will be imbalanced, as a supposedly 1700 player might perform like a 1400. Furthermore, some civs naturally perform better in certain terrains or against other civs. If you don't use feldmap, one team might get all the resources and the other team doesn't. At the moment, the biggest source of imbalance is randomness, not really new features from the developers. 

Unless we change the very foundational mechanics of the game, I think A25 is the closest we have come so far and the developer team has done a good job at balancing the civs ( with the exception of fire cav and mercenary sword cav)

 

Solutions

1. Let players choose what they want. If they think that the Ptolemies are OP, then by all means let them take it. If you think that Carthaginians or Iberians are OP, take those. 

2. Never random biome or random map

3. Implement feldmap into vanilla, or at least convince all TG players to install it ( A good way to filter inexperienced players from your game, as new players don't know how to install feldmap).

4. Give genuine balancing advices when making teams. Don't try to troll the host just because they don't know some of the players there.

5. Agree before the game which units are banned, and just don't make them.

If all you want is to win, then just go beat up the Petra Bot and don't play TGs.

Perfect balance will be boring; it can only be achieved if everyone is doing the same thing with exactly identical spawns.

 

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2 hours ago, wraitii said:

The problem with the 'incremental changes' approach that we tried to take is that everything can be scrutinised, and it kind of precludes changing the 'long-term vision'. I think it worked well to locally balance the gameplay, but it has lead to increased uniformity and has not really made the gameplay more interesting.

the majority (of the base, multiplayer) want to remain stagnant. we can not do that.

Delenda Est is ahead.I think even mirror could get ahead of us and there are mods already using units for example arsonists.

The main project is stalling.

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4 hours ago, ChronA said:

AI vs AI testing is not very useful for RTS balancing purposes because it is very difficult to make an AI that plays optimally AND in a human like way. A huge part of the effectiveness of a unit is determined by 1. how it can be micromanaged to avoid threats, 2. how fast it can move between strategically important locations compared to opponent compositions, (i.e. if your force can threaten multiple locations at once, that is a force multiplier,) and 3. how effective it is across the totality of optimal compositions (i.e. a unit you don't usually need to replace when your opponent changes strategies is more valuable than one that frequently becomes obsolete). AI is good at testing precisely none of these factors.

Yeah these are valid points. What about point 2? Analyzing the matches in the lobby, or matches based on data from replays.

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18 minutes ago, Sevda said:

Let players choose what they want. If they think that the Ptolemies are OP, then by all means let them take it. If you think that Carthaginians or Iberians are OP, take those.

We should put it to a vote every alpha. That's what Supercell do for example with their  game Clash Royale.

We must  go to social networks and ask.

--We continue to have problems with social networks.

People are not learning enough about the project.---

Edited by Lion.Kanzen
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5 hours ago, Lion.Kanzen said:

the majority (of the base, multiplayer) want to remain stagnant. we can not do that.

Delenda Est is ahead.I think even mirror could get ahead of us and there are mods already using units for example arsonists.

The main project is stalling.

Use DE as the main game and I can assure you that people will yell. Just see what happened with a simple cursor, custom colors or player names for maps... etc

6 hours ago, alre said:

also @wraitii, thank you for the insight, but 'incremental changes' is how all software development is made nowadays, it doesn't preclude anything really. you want to get out the deadlock? set the rules and start a decision process. what's the manager doing about this?

There is no balancing manager really. I would be really happy to have a balancing team with a decision process but I'm not exactly sure how it can work when every single little change is argued until everyone gives up on the project, and when there is no right answer as to what the game should be. My only goal is to make the game fun to play and to keep the project alive.

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36 minutes ago, Stan` said:

Use DE as the main game and I can assure you that people will yell. Just see what happened with a simple cursor, custom colors or player names for maps... etc

that was very radical.But we are talking about less extreme discussions. Mercenary camps for example.

Less experimental stuff.

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8 minutes ago, Lion.Kanzen said:

that was very radical.But we are talking about less extreme discussions. Mercenary camps for example.

Less experimental stuff.

Cursor is very radical ?

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19 minutes ago, Stan` said:

Cursor is very radical ?

Yes it was. it is a change that is not needed.

It is not a dictatorship, what we need is a council, with consultations( polls).

I agree to use ideas from our mods.

Not exclusively Delenda Est.But that it has a path, people want updates, the games of today are like that, new stuff every season.

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6 hours ago, Mastoras said:

[re: ChronA on limitations of AI driven balance testing]

Yeah these are valid points. What about point 2? Analyzing the matches in the lobby, or matches based on data from replays.

Replay data can definitely be useful, especially for answering specific questions--like whether a certain civ matchup is unfair. It can be a little more changing to draw wholistic balance assessments just from analyzing multiplayer stats. There are a lot of confounding variables: like differences in player skill, effects of prior RTS experience, and the influence of the continuously evolving metagame. Basically unless you a tremendous volume of data to work from (and a lot of life experience with multivar statistical analysis), you are going to have to filter everything through some prior conception of how the balance situation works, which is just inviting confirmation bias (ending with reinforcing the status quo and never noticing the out-of-context issues).

The other problem for a FOSS project like this is that someone has to volunteer their time to do all that analysis, and then get argued with and accused of bias and/or incompetence because some people don't like their conclusions. Normally you need to pay people large sums of money to put up with that **** for more than a few weeks.-_-

 

Also, I should have qualified on my previous comment by adding that AI driven or scripted scenario testing can be very useful for quantifying the effects of specific balance changes, and just diagnosing what is actually going on with the game's balance situation. I don't want to poo poo automated testing entirely; just point out that such tests usually need to be very cunningly conceived and tightly constrained in order to produce useful information.


And lastly I want to point out that game balance is about more than who wins and who loses. It is really about whether the game supports entertaining interactions. A game with exactly one optimal strategy that always results in a draw is "perfectly balanced" but also has a huge balance problem. 0 A.D. is actually seems quite successful in terms of providing a fair contest, but it does so by paring away unit and faction diversity to their bare bone. Consequently there is no slack left in the fabric to iron out the last remaining wrinkles.

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@ChronA I agree. My recommendation was more for something really simple/lean for very basic things that are very obvious. Of course if it time consuming to implement, it is not worth it.
 

6 hours ago, ChronA said:

Replay data can definitely be useful, especially for answering specific questions--like whether a certain civ matchup is unfair.

I was thinking even more simple, not even civ vs civ. Just gather the win rate for every civ.

So we could have:

  • civ1: 15%
  • civ2: 13%
  • etc..

I agree it could be totally useless information and highly depends on the amount of rated games we have in lobby, which I don't know how much, maybe 50? rated games/day, so like 4500 games per 3 months. So like ~700 games per civ/3 months, assuming equal preference, which would not be the case most probably. Yeah I get it very borderline, we are not big enough yet for this.

7 hours ago, ChronA said:

The other problem for a FOSS project like this is that someone has to volunteer their time to do all that analysis, and then get argued with and accused of bias and/or incompetence because some people don't like their conclusions.

Yeah, which brings us back to the topic of the thread.

I agree we need to have at least 1 person or team who will be making the balancing proposals for every release. After discussions with the community, etc.

Post 1 - Submission of Proposed Balancing Changes for next Release. (The Bill)

- 1 Month deliberation on the thread. (Bill amendments) - Forum

Post 2 - Poll on forum with amendments based on post 1. (Final Bill with amendments)

- If Poll gets more than 50%+1 we move forward, otherwise we don't.

Broadcast:

- We could use SM indeed for this, actually would be very good marketing campaign as well. "Decide the fate of 0ad" kind of thing. But I believe the most important is we update the lobby message, this is where the active player base is.

 

 

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18 hours ago, alre said:

uhm what?

I think the game is more balanced than it was on A23 (or A24, don't recall), so I'd say it has been a local success.

18 hours ago, alre said:

you want to get out the deadlock? set the rules and start a decision process. what's the manager doing about this?

Yes, that is what I am saying we cannot do. There is no 'manager' in charge here. The simplest way to move change forward is therefore 'fait accompli'. Make a mod that basically the whole lobby uses, and it'll be straightforward to argue that it should be replace the 0 A.D. public mod.

---

Specifically, combined with the above, a single vote to choose the 'mod' for the next alpha might be workable.

---

16 hours ago, Lion.Kanzen said:

The main project is stalling.

I think that's rather unfair/incorrect. There has never been more development on the graphics side, and I substantially upgraded the pathfinding in these late alphas, not to mention the threading. It's just not something that's very visible to players, but as a game engine 0 A.D. has made strides.

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18 hours ago, Lion.Kanzen said:

the majority (of the base, multiplayer) want to remain stagnant. we can not do that.

Delenda Est is ahead.I think even mirror could get ahead of us and there are mods already using units for example arsonists.

The main project is stalling.

I propose a solution to this problem: separate multiplayer mode and singleplayer mode

We can allow 2 main mods instead of 1: 0ad-relaxed and 0ad-hardcore. 

For people who want to enjoy relaxed games, good graphics and new features, they can activate the 0ad-relaxed mod. This should also be the default option as it is friendly to newcomers. Within this, the developers can add whatever cool features they want and no-one will ever complain! The developers should commit all of their new features to this mod. This will prevent lobby players who complain about balancing issues from hindering the development of the game. 

For hardcore lobby players who want stagnant features for balance, they should activate 0ad-hardcore mod, which focuses much more on balancing at the cost of new features and art. Within this, I would recommend implementing Feldmap, vividcolours and autociv by default (I cannot play without these nowadays). We can even have different pathfinders and AIs within this! Changes should not be made to 0ad-hardcore unless there is a concensus across the competitive playerbase. This would also eliminate the problem of inexperienced players ruining TGs: they are unlikely to know how to activate mods nor would they actively try to, so there is a natural filter for hosts. By the time someone is willing to activate the mod and use it regularly, they are likely qualified for TGs. 

The two mods should be updated separately each alpha. 

Furthermore, we can make mods to fix imbalances and convince other players to install our mods. Again, this removes  inexperienced players from pro games without hurting their feelings. 

 

@Stan` Does my idea sound reasonable? After playing this game for 2 years as both AI player and lobby player, I think splitting the 2 groups is the easiest solution. 

It is certainly acheivable from a technical point of view. 

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1 hour ago, wraitii said:

It's just not something that's very visible to players, but as a game engine 0 A.D. has made strides.

The game engine doesn not affect the stats, and even if it does affect the gameplay at all, everyone is affected by the change, therefore it causes no balancing issues and hence shouldn't be a problem for multiplayers. 

I am suggesting dividing up the public mod into 2 to solve all arguments between devs and balancing advisors. Quoting @MarcusAureliu#s:

Image

image.png.ae944aa602a6b823f1de9cb84cf17661.png

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2 hours ago, Sevda said:

I propose a solution to this problem: separate multiplayer mode and singleplayer mode

We can allow 2 main mods instead of 1: 0ad-relaxed and 0ad-hardcore. 

For people who want to enjoy relaxed games, good graphics and new features, they can activate the 0ad-relaxed mod. This should also be the default option as it is friendly to newcomers. Within this, the developers can add whatever cool features they want and no-one will ever complain! The developers should commit all of their new features to this mod. This will prevent lobby players who complain about balancing issues from hindering the development of the game. 

For hardcore lobby players who want stagnant features for balance, they should activate 0ad-hardcore mod, which focuses much more on balancing at the cost of new features and art. Within this, I would recommend implementing Feldmap, vividcolours and autociv by default (I cannot play without these nowadays). We can even have different pathfinders and AIs within this! Changes should not be made to 0ad-hardcore unless there is a concensus across the competitive playerbase. This would also eliminate the problem of inexperienced players ruining TGs: they are unlikely to know how to activate mods nor would they actively try to, so there is a natural filter for hosts. By the time someone is willing to activate the mod and use it regularly, they are likely qualified for TGs. 

The two mods should be updated separately each alpha. 

Furthermore, we can make mods to fix imbalances and convince other players to install our mods. Again, this removes  inexperienced players from pro games without hurting their feelings. 

 

@Stan` Does my idea sound reasonable? After playing this game for 2 years as both AI player and lobby player, I think splitting the 2 groups is the easiest solution. 

It is certainly acheivable from a technical point of view. 

I think it would be arcade mode vs simulation/realistic mode.(kind LARP).

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5 hours ago, wraitii said:

think that's rather unfair/incorrect. There has never been more development on the graphics side, and I substantially upgraded the pathfinding in these late alphas, not to mention the threading. It's just not something that's very visible to players, but as a game engine 0 A.D. has made strides.

Gameplay...We are doing better than years ago, but we are going slower than before A15.

We're taking an  speed up (accelerating). As soon as the graphic part we have jumped.

Pathfinder is the best of features. I'm not complaining about that.

There are things that got stuck and forgotten, like the secondary attack.

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17 hours ago, Stan` said:

I would be really happy to have a balancing team

if you really want that, start by creating a dialogue between the dev team and those who would become part of the new team, empower them and give responsibility to them. I stand by my proposal of having a faster release cycle for the balancing part of the game.

6 hours ago, wraitii said:

The simplest way to move change forward is therefore 'fait accompli'. Make a mod that basically the whole lobby uses, and it'll be straightforward to argue that it should be replace the 0 A.D. public mod.

problem is, there a good part of the playerbase that doesn't use mods and doesn't know how to. many other players needed a lot of support before learning how to do it. you can make a gameplay changing mod, but you don't want to cut out all those players, when there is already so little. your proposal can't work, unless the game itself makes it easier to download and install new mods (one of them could be the official MP mod).

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4 hours ago, Sevda said:

Does my idea sound reasonable?

Sorry, but it sounds hard. Changes to the pathfinder made cavalry very strong, so engine changes would affect both mods. Also, we'd need to maintain both mods, two times the work and duplication.

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1 hour ago, alre said:

if you really want that, start by creating a dialogue between the dev team and those who would become part of the new team, empower them and give responsibility to them. I stand by my proposal of having a faster release cycle for the balancing part of the game.

I feel like that is the point of that discussion... I mean I listed there all I tried... Maybe I'm missing the point ?

29 minutes ago, Freagarach said:

Sorry, but it sounds hard. Changes to the pathfinder made cavalry very strong, so engine changes would affect both mods. Also, we'd need to maintain both mods, two times the work and duplication.

How about having custom techs that get applied on match start ?

1 hour ago, alre said:

I stand by my proposal of having a faster release cycle for the balancing part of the game.

That doesn't really scale on cross platform. Some Debian and Ubuntu still have Alpha23 0ad packaging badges - Repology

Plus as you pointed out nobody wants to use mods, so even if we had an experimental empires ascendant mod on mod.io decoupled from the game nobody would use it. Not to mention some changes like C++ ones cannot be decoupled.

I don't see a perfect solution. The autoupdated thing is usually frowned upon in the linux world too,  with the exception of some distros.

@vv221 @Locynaeh 

 

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7 hours ago, wraitii said:

Make a mod that basically the whole lobby uses, and it'll be straightforward to argue that it should be replace the 0 A.D. public mod.

4 hours ago, Sevda said:

We can allow 2 main mods instead of 1: 0ad-relaxed and 0ad-hardcore. 

Both Vali and I (and possibly some others) have created some mods to change the flow of the game, But it is difficult to convince players to try these modification. Even if you get players to play the mod, then it did not have a lasting effect: It still takes considerable effort to find players to join a game with modded settings. 95% of the players in the lobby are unlikely to try any mods. Vali and I have tried to pushed to try some lobby games with mods, but both of us had trouble to find enough people that wanted to try something different. As long as that mentality doesn´t change offering lobby players the option to download a mod won´t result in anything.

I uploaded a mod on mod.io that allows you to research tier 2 forge upgrades in phase 2. Since it is on mod.io, it is super easy to install and can be done when you go to setting>mod selection>download mods in the game menu. As easy as that. No need to go to the forum, download the correct file and unpack it in the right folder. However I failed to get more than a few responses on the mod.

In the end I think it is a bad thing: we don´t know if something is an improvement or not and we don´t get any experiences about what changes would improve the dynamic of the game.

 

If you want the lobby to try changes to the game as @wraitii suggested, then I would say that you would need to create a ¨(semi) progressive mod¨ for A26 that features changes and make it the standard. Then players that do nothing use and test the new changes. Then also give players the option to use a conservative mod that allows people to play A26 in a way that is closer to A25. I think even some minor changes to technologies and templates could improve the flow of the game significantly.

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I think the theory of having different mods with different game play options sounds nice in theory, but the problems of diverging opinions about how the game should play will not stop. The question is still: who decides what the goal is and what gets implemented? I fear that it will just split up the discussion even more.

Also, it would split the (multi) player base, making it harder to find games with people who have a similar rating as you and as already mentioned, it increases the development effort.

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2 hours ago, alre said:

if you really want that, start by creating a dialogue between the dev team and those who would become part of the new team, empower them and give responsibility to them. I stand by my proposal of having a faster release cycle for the balancing part of the game.

I think you have unreasonable expectations of how this would go. We did open a dialogue, we in fact opened a ton of it in the various PMs and forum threads. We asked people to send us changes, and we tried to merge as many of those as we could (this meant understanding the change, the justification for the change, the validity of the change, and then actually merging it).

If what you mean buy "give responsibility" you mean commit access, this is something we haven't done because:

  • it's an on/off switch right now and seemed potentially a little dangerous, but that may be too cautious an opinion.
  • who we gave access to would become the de-facto balance dictator over all others. I fully expect that to go extremely well and cause no controversy whatsoever.

As for the faster release cycle, I think it would be a worthwhile option to decouple the 0 A.D. mod, that we can provide via other means & update separately, from the 0 A.D. game, but we haven't gotten around to that just yet.

Maybe an easy first option is to have an official 'patch' mod that we update rather more frequently than 0 A.D. itself, but it does introduce complexity if some features get changed and compatibility breaks.

2 hours ago, alre said:

your proposal can't work, unless the game itself makes it easier to download and install new mods (one of them could be the official MP mod).

Ah, yes, but that's the catch: this is one of the things that we can do, since it doesn't affect gameplay. The fact that it hasn't been done must be put to a lack of interest on the part of people writing code for 0 A.D. (for my part, I have to say I'm more interested in other bits of the game.

Here is the time for the usual FLOSS disclaimer: we are takers of good patches that introduce worthwhile functionality.

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