Some thoughts on balance. (also long)

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Some thoughts on balance. (also long)

Postby Kingdom of One on Fri May 17, 2013 11:22 am

In my review/feedback thread someone suggested that I may be able to provide an interesting perspective on balance as I'm newer to the game than most here. This was meant to be short! I tried but just kept writing once I'd started. The tldr is that mostly things are fine but I've got some ideas here and there.

I've been thinking about how to approach this and I've come up with the following conclusion:
This game doesn't have to be all that balanced.


This game embraces its random elements and part of the point is that all runs will be different. This means that some will be easier than others. I came here from a roguelikes background and that's part of the fun.

The important thing is that >95% of runs feel beatable if you'd improved your strategy and >95% of runs feel like they required strategic input to complete. Following the main progression of the game, I think this requirement is met for the most part.

I never felt that a dungeon/challenge/puzzle was too hard. Occasionally you'll have a run that seems doomed to failure but it almost always feels like you'd have had a chance if you'd played it better and the times this doesn't happen are very rare. I occasionally felt like an element was too easy but there were always harder things to try instead so this wasn't a problem either.

The problem cases are any items/classes/gods/dungeons/mechanics that remove meaningful strategic choices from the game. I'll list a few (in no particular order) that I can think of.

Dungeons:
As a completionist I'm going to want to get all the badges/classes on all the normal dungeons at some point. I went back to one the other day and (even with the vicious token) it was kind of dull. Maybe vicious token should spawn an extra boss in the normal dungeons with only one. That way you can use the token while going for the badges and still have a challenge or you can just not use it if you want an easy run.

Classes:
It's fine to have some classes stronger than others and they all have a unique play-style requiring different strategies which is nice. The fighter is pretty boring but feels like the introductory class so that's fine.

I think the berserker/monk are a little dangerous design-wise but it feels like the curses and monster damage diversity in the later dungeons is designed to combat this and they end up still being interesting.

beserker/monk/rogue/warlord and assassin are my usual go-to champions when trying a new dungeon as they all have an ability that effectively says you will get (at least) one extra attack in combat. The monster diversity (diff. damage types, first strike, mana burn etc.) makes this OK though as each ability brings different required strategies to utilise effectively.

Items:
I mentioned the one I consider the biggest offender in reducing strategic decisions in my other thread and don't want to repeat that discussion here.

Some items are kind of dull in what they bring to the table (think dragon shield) but some of them have to be so that's fine.

Preparations:
Patches: I took patches on a run once and didn't find it enjoyable. I don't plan on ever using it again. I would imagine there are lots of other people who have done the same. I think it needs to be changed to do something more interesting or also provide some tangible benefit (eg. +3gold on level up) otherwise there's no point it being there.

God preps: I've yet to use one as for some reason it doesn't feel right to do so. I've no idea why I feel like this but I'd be interested if others feel the same. If they do then maybe something needs to be done here.

Monsters:
Again the diversity sorts out the balance for itself.

It feels like killing undead was meant to have more of a bonus (uniqueness) associated with it for zombies to be as annoying as they are. I think it's fine to have a monster type that just acts as a roadblock but maybe there should be some minor reward for killing them (eg. +1 exp) just so that they feel more unique.

The other monster type that feels a little boring is dragons and I'd consider a minor change to make them feel more unique too. I can't think of a good one though.

Gods:
I guess this is the real area where balance actually makes a big difference to the game so I'll go through them in order.

Binlor:
The ENDISWALL boon seems expensive to me. It makes a huge difference whether you find one in the dungeon or not if you're going this route. Maybe it should be split into two (though then binlor has a lot of boons).
10 piety - create an ENDISWALL glyph in the dungeon (only if one doesn't currently exist)
15 piety - teleport an ENDISWALL glyph from the current dungeon level next to the altar.

The few times I've been with binlor I've found it interesting choosing between the boons to maximise resistance pre piety or get other useful effects so the rest seems OK.

I would consider changing the major punishment to - sets resistances to -5% (or -10%) as then it's never free to desecrate the altar as sometimes can happen.

Dracul:
Seemed fine with my little experience.

Earthmother:
Has interesting strategic choices. It seems like piety gain on Plantation does not need to be so high. It seems too easy to get to 100 piety.

Glowing Guardian:
A lot of interesting choices with this god. I think it's the -10 on a potion that really makes this god interesting.

Jehora Jeheyu:
Oddly I find the 'random' god the most boring. This one seems most in need of a change. It's a huge difference how close to the start of a run you find the altar. The play doesn't feel interesting and the final boon is only so good to balance out the failures of the rest of the god. I don't think a minor change can fix this and the whole thing needs reworking.

Mystera Annur:
This one also seems good/interesting. I get the overall impression that she doesn't punish me all that much and it's mainly easy going. I'd suggest a small punishment on converting glyphs but that's terribly out of flavour with the refreshment boon.
I'd like to see some additional action punished though.

Pactmaker:
There are enough options here that this is interesting. They all seem to have their uses. I'd like to know what overheal actually means (hopefully this will be in the codex). I don't understand why you can concensus and then another pact but not the other way round (iirc). It seems to me that concensus should act like all the other pacts.

Taurog:
A little dull. The only really interesting part is assessing whether or not you should take him as a god in the first place. There's not much that can be done without a big overhaul and it's not a big issue.

Tikki:
Another interesting one. I don't have that much experience so can't comment on the finer details but definitely adds to the strategy in the game and doesn't feel too over/underpowered.

We're done!! Thanks for reading.
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Re: Some thoughts on balance. (also long)

Postby Lujo on Fri May 17, 2013 12:26 pm

Well, plenty of things I'd agree with, bunch of things you'll learn with experience. The beserker/monk/rogue/warlord and assassin is interesting because from a perspective of a long time player, if you take the berserker out of that list, the 4 that are left are generally considered the strongest classes by a wide margin.

The "game doesn't have to be balanced" is a tricky proposition really. "To a degree". Past that point you get the old trisword and the game can become rather unfun if players are allowed to bring a rocket launcher to a knife fight. Thakfully the game is pretty well balanced right now, or at least seemed so to me in the aftermath of my last playthrough.

Patches - the problem with patches is that one of his boons (bonus resists) is way stronger than the others. Noone ever really wants any other boon when they prep him. Well, you could prep him for mana but his mana burn punishment makes it not worth the risk most of the time. The health, gold and damage boosts he provides need much more stacking to become relevant and pay off the potential string of misfortunes he can visit upon you. But the main thing is - the ammount of "worth" you get from Patches is measured in +resists and they seem to have a low percentage chance of appearing (I've had a 4 in ten streak maybe once in my long career, while I've had every health and gold streaks every time).


As for gods - well, ATM, for experienced users - Binlor and Mystera are pretty overpowered. Mystera because she takes no effort at all and provides bonuses you can depend upon for said no effort. Binlor because he provides both damage and resistances while greatly helping exploration and letting you farm piety for almost no effort as well. Oh, and he provides more overall magic resistance than any other source in the game, and the stoneskin can provide a character with no physical resits a full cap when he needs it for a relatively low investment.


As for monsters - I wouldn't mind it if zombies provided you small extra piety when you killed them.
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Re: Some thoughts on balance. (also long)

Postby Kingdom of One on Fri May 17, 2013 12:49 pm

Your comments all make sense.
I guess the main point I was trying to make is that balance only matters if it gets you to that unfun point (too easy - or more accurately not enough strategy required).
In my experience so far nothing massively breaks that point. I assume as you get further into the endgame and you have to exploit the game more and more the balance issues become more important - but I'm not there yet.

I'm sure plenty of things I wrote are wrong/bad ideas but it seemed better to just throw my opinions out there than preface everything.

The strongest classes/gods thing makes sense to me. The class abilities are clearly strong and with physical damage being more prevalent I'm not surprised the berserker isn't as powerful. Those two gods have strong benefits without gameplay changing drawbacks. The binlor drawback was interesting the first time but after that you just account for it during the run.

I'd like to add that I realised why I find preparing a god 'unfun'. It's because you get a disadvantage for ensuring something that could have happened anyway. (The fireball prep disadvantage of not being able to choose another preparation for that slot is less direct so doesn't feel as bad).
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Re: Some thoughts on balance. (also long)

Postby The Avatar on Fri May 17, 2013 3:30 pm

@Lujo: I'm kind of surprised you didn't mention Dracul in your little gods write up. His boons are off the charts for late game users, and he provides resistance and lifesteal as an alternative (or complement) to resistance. I'd say he's just as good as the other two.

@Kingdom of One: The interesting thing about god preps is they place the altar within 4 or so tiles of you. I'm not sure if they mention this but they should, and personally, I think it is a lot better than scumming.
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Re: Some thoughts on balance. (also long)

Postby Darvin on Fri May 17, 2013 3:44 pm

Patches: I took patches on a run once and didn't find it enjoyable. I don't plan on ever using it again. I would imagine there are lots of other people who have done the same. I think it needs to be changed to do something more interesting or also provide some tangible benefit (eg. +3gold on level up) otherwise there's no point it being there.

Patches is a real gambler's item, but he provides very tangible benefits. One of the random effects he can provide is extra gold on level-up.


God preps: I've yet to use one as for some reason it doesn't feel right to do so. I've no idea why I feel like this but I'd be interested if others feel the same. If they do then maybe something needs to be done here.

Often quite useful for quests that require specific badges (Parched = Glowing Guardian; convert your potions for piety). Most of the time, though, I'll go with the extra altar if I want sheer power.


Binlor:
The ENDISWALL boon seems expensive to me. It makes a huge difference whether you find one in the dungeon or not if you're going this route

I've long said that since it costs piety, the glyph created should have normal CP attached to it so you can convert it for a bonus. Because you can convert the original ENDISWAL glyph if you create a duplicate, it's not a complete loss in that case.

I do agree this one is generally overpriced.


I would consider changing the major punishment to - sets resistances to -5% (or -10%) as then it's never free to desecrate the altar as sometimes can happen.

That's an interesting approach. I will agree that Binlor varies between much too easy and much too difficult to desecrate.


Has interesting strategic choices. It seems like piety gain on Plantation does not need to be so high. It seems too easy to get to 100 piety.

That's part of EM's strength; she is literally a piety farm.


Jehora Jeheyu:
Oddly I find the 'random' god the most boring. This one seems most in need of a change. It's a huge difference how close to the start of a run you find the altar. The play doesn't feel interesting and the final boon is only so good to balance out the failures of the rest of the god. I don't think a minor change can fix this and the whole thing needs reworking.

While I do think that JJ could be fixed without a rebuild, I will agree that he's a problem for the reasons you've described.


Mystera Annur:
This one also seems good/interesting. I get the overall impression that she doesn't punish me all that much and it's mainly easy going. I'd suggest a small punishment on converting glyphs but that's terribly out of flavour with the refreshment boon.
I'd like to see some additional action punished though.

She can be nasty in the end-game after exploration is done. If there are 10 spellcasting monsters you need to kill, that's -50 piety. Very hard to get the 100 MP required to cast enough spells to counterbalance that.


Pactmaker:
There are enough options here that this is interesting. They all seem to have their uses. I'd like to know what overheal actually means (hopefully this will be in the codex). I don't understand why you can concensus and then another pact but not the other way round (iirc). It seems to me that concensus should act like all the other pacts.

Consensus used to act like the other pacts. The problem was that 19/20 runs people chose consensus over the other pacts. Because it was so much better than the other options, the devs just made it so that a player could have their cake and eat it, too. I'd agree that a lot of his options aren't that great (Spirit Pact and Alchemist's Pact in particular are kinda niche).


For the record, I consider this the rough "ranking" of power of the deities:

1 - Dracul
2 - Tikki Tooki
3 - Glowing Guardian
4 - Binlor
5 - Pactmaker
6 - Earthmother
7 - Mystera
8 - Jehora
9 - Taurog

Taurog is good if you have a very specific approach in mind, but as a general-purpose deity he's sorely lacking (plus every time I decide to give him another shot I encounter the wall of goo. Why does a physical-damage specialist deity have no way to combat physical resistance!?)
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Re: Some thoughts on balance. (also long)

Postby The Avatar on Fri May 17, 2013 5:04 pm

An interesting idea for Taurog vs physical resistance is making the sword have a clickable ability that costs all your mana and makes you do magic damage (the sword is on fire). It makes it an interesting choice between spells and magic attack.
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Re: Some thoughts on balance. (also long)

Postby Checkem on Wed May 22, 2013 6:31 am

The Avatar wrote:An interesting idea for Taurog vs physical resistance is making the sword have a clickable ability that costs all your mana and makes you do magic damage (the sword is on fire). It makes it an interesting choice between spells and magic attack.

THIS. Taurog is the actually kind of bad for a god supposed to help slay the "sissy" magic users.

I think there is some real problems with both Taurog and Mystera. Neither seem to benefit their respective niche too much. Mystera in my opinion is awful for a wizard, the mana boost gets too expensive too quickly, the flames boon cripple the already wizard too much (you're not going to kill too many things with anything short of 22 mana and get any significant experience) , while not proving that big of a boost, conversion is nice, but is too expensive (the boon) for the price of giving up your glyphs, the resistance reduction is too expensive for almost no return, and the cost reduction does nothing for the wizard.

I think all of mystera's boon should provide a small 5% magic resistance reduction on all monsters, not only the ones visible(also Taurog). If that is not possible, then boost the resistance boost to about 20% or something around that area.

Also Jehora's petition boon should be cheaper by about 10 points, and the healing boon should have a base value of about 10%. 50 piety for even a chance of healing is far too much.
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Re: Some thoughts on balance. (also long)

Postby FDru on Wed May 22, 2013 8:09 am

Kingdom of One wrote:Patches: I took patches on a run once and didn't find it enjoyable. I don't plan on ever using it again. I would imagine there are lots of other people who have done the same. I think it needs to be changed to do something more interesting or also provide some tangible benefit (eg. +3gold on level up) otherwise there's no point it being there.

God preps: I've yet to use one as for some reason it doesn't feel right to do so. I've no idea why I feel like this but I'd be interested if others feel the same. If they do then maybe something needs to be done here.


Agree on both points. I'll probably never use Patches seriously, but I have messed around with him a few (or a few tens of) times. He can make or break a run, so he can be a strong choice if the random gods favor you. In general I'd rather just take Black Market or Bet on Boss... a sure thing is better than random effects.

The god preps have always bugged me. I think most of them have absurd punishments and I only use them for completing specific dungeon challenges or if otherwise absolutely necessary (to get a god in Naga City at all).
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Re: Some thoughts on balance. (also long)

Postby Lujo on Wed May 22, 2013 10:49 am

Whoa.

Mystera and Taurog don't benefit their niches?

I think, well I don't really think it - I sort of feel like I "know" it, that what you're struggling with is not a problem with Taurog or Mystera, but rather 3 separate cases of unintuitive weirdness with the fighter, the priest and the wizard.

1) Wizard doesn't need any help. That's the thing - Mystera boosts Sorcerors, Bloodmages, Fighters, Warlords, heck, even Berserkers, more than she boosts the Wizard. But that's the case of the Wizard being too good at what he does and overlap between his price reduction and mystic balance, rather than her not being as good in her niche - she's the best in her niche. I prep her for a string of weakenings even with wizards and I don't think I'd pick anyone else if the boss I was going to fight had magic resistance. But wizards benefit from EM and Binlor more, because they're so good at spellcasting that they don't need her.

2) Fighters are way better when played as spellcasters than if played in almost any other way. Warlords ARE spellcasters. And within the niche they belong in mechanicaly (spellcasters) they have plenty of benefits from Mystera. Fighters in particular benefit from her more than any pretty much any other god except Tikki Tooki. And neither Fighters or Warlords have sinergy with Taurog, not because Taurog's bad at boosting "warriors" but because they aren't in fact warriors. You couldn't make a "warrior god" that would benefit or synergize with them them more than Mystera, EM or JJ would.

3) Taurog isn't bad at boosting warrior types, in fact that's all he is good for. But the really niche warrior types in this game are in fact The Priest, The Monk and The Berserker. And while the Berserker can benefit from Taurog by going full retard niche, he's good enough at being a warrior that he tends to be looking elsewhere o shore up his weaknesses much like the wizard tends to not need any more spellcasting help from mystera.



As for the god preps - they're ment to be scumming-reduction mechanisms, and they are the strongest preps in the game if you know which strat you're going for. Having the altar you want right at the start lets you start gaining piety right away and guarantees you'll have the boons that have the most sinergy with your class-race combo. As for perp punishments:

Drac - you generally wouldn't want to pick him up early anyway, and his penalty is less of a problem than that.

Tikki Tooki - would be various kinds of broken if you could casually prep him anywhere you go. He's the only one with a really ridiculous prep penalty, but that's kind of justified, and you can still make him work.

Mystera - what prep penalty? She hands out piety for casting spells, and provides benefits to guys casting spells, and offers really strong boons to those guys. This is tied with the EM and Binlor preps as the strongest overall prep in the game.

Taurog - what prep penalty? I prep him for warmongers regularly.

GG - what prep penalty? I tend to prep him for any warmonger, or even when I just want a piety farm that doesn't require me to do anything but level up and convert stuff...

Binlor - what prep penalty? Prepping him = prepping a pissorff glyph (only way to do it), guarantees that you'll dismantle most cramped maps, provides +40% knocback and +30% on wall destruction eventually, and as much magic resists as you put an effort in acqiring. Also a string of stonesking which you can kill a boss with easily. It's probably the most broken prep in the game in any category, but it has to be there otherwise people would simply scumm for him.

EM - what prep penalty? Guaranteed slow on any monster, guaranteed IMAWAL for XP catapulting, piety comming out of your ears if you want to convert, and provides more plants per boon for clearance abuse. If you only grab the free glyph, entagle everythign and use a clearance, you can get to 50 piety just off IMAWAL, convert to whoever, desecrate her altar and drink a burn salve for 30 piety + 3 indulgences with the next guy. And once you locker avatar's codex, entanglement + clearance spam with it is one of the strongest prep-heavy strats on the game.

JJ - what prep penalty? Really, you only really want to prep him with warlords, and they don't mind. And if you wanted him in any other circumstance, having him available from the start would balance out any penalty he might give.


So in essence, the only guy with a serious penalty is TT, Drac isn't too good if you pick him up early (except with halflings) and JJ simply isn't too good. GG and Taurog can and should be prepped on most warmongers, and GG can be prepped every game if you just want an effortless 50 piety + humility. Mystera can be prepped any game if you want to win the game by using her boons OR if you just want a few points of mana and free piety, EM is better prepped than found and can be prepped anywhere for free piety AND benefits AND can win you games on her own, and Binlor is flat out broken.

Hope all this didn't come out wrong. :)
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Re: Some thoughts on balance. (also long)

Postby Kingdom of One on Wed May 22, 2013 12:31 pm

It's nice to see that this generating some discussion even if it's moved on somewhat from my original post.

I just wanted to clarify a few things:

God preps: I hadn't realised the altar would spawn at the start. It doesn't seem to mention this on the tooltips as far as I can tell. It just says the altar is guaranteed to appear in the dungeon. (I guess this should be made clearer).

Patches: I just don't tend to like mechanics with an unknown element to them. I think if the full list of effects was available somewhere (another useful codex entry) then this problem would partially disappear.
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