MatGB wrote:Hahahahahahaha No.
Sorry, not meaning to be dismissive here, but I've come across this many times in balance discussions for both video games and board/card games, and it's never true.
I see your Hahahahahah No and raise it to an *ALL CAPS* HAHAHAHAHAHA YES!!!!!!!! With many exclamations points.
Um, guys, I'm getting a bit worried here. Exchanges like that have the potential to escalate into fighting, and I think it's better to stop too early than too late.
Please, lets stick to calm and objective discussion, and well-founded reasoning. Both of you manage to do so in the rest of your posts just fine, no need for remarks like the above. Okay?
Now back to the topic:
I think there are two very distinct things/concepts getting mixed up here. The one being specific game elements/mechanics
, the other being game objectives
(aka victory conditions). The former being e.g. ship hulls, megacannons etc., the latter (currently) being conquering all other empires, researching the Transcendence tech or defeating the Experimentors. When it comes to balancing, the specific elements have to be balanced primarily against all the other elemens in the same category
. Meaning, we have to make sure that all game elements/mechanics like ship hulls, weapons, specials, races etc. have to be properly balanced against each other, and all the different victory conditions have to be properly balanced against each other (because obviously, if one of them is far easier to achieve than the others, all players will always go for that easy win, making all other ways to achieve victory pointless).
Which is why you can't compare the Antimatter Cannon to the Transcendence tech - these are very different things. When bringing up the card game example with the "win card", Mat actually pointed out that very important distinction, I quote (emphasis added by me):
MatGB wrote:If a card game manufacturer prints a card that, basically, says "play this card and win the game", the card is unbalanced and will likely see that game fail (unless, of course, playing the card is the objective of the game).
The Transcendence tech is a victory condition, which means, it is supposed
to win you the game. The Antimatter Cannon is definitely not
supposed to win you the game, it's meant to be a very powerful weapon for very specific use cases (basically being the most efficient weapon against big targets). Which applies more or less to all megacannons (currently we have only that one, but I expect to have more of them in the future).
This distinction is very important, because different rules apply when it comes to balancing these things (see above).
Now, of course we can add a superweapon to the game that beats all the other weapons, and gives the empire which manages to acquire and deploy it such a big military advantage, that it becomes (almost?) invincible. However, that weapon wouldn't be a game element like all the other weapons, getting it would actually be a game objective, and thus have to be balanced against the other victory conditions.
The Antimatter Cannon is not meant to be a game objective. However, if it were changed in the way proposed (being able to effectively spread its damage to more targets until all damage it can deal has been applied) it becomes too powerful to be able to balance it properly as a game element
Furthermore, it isn't even an autowin, because if you and I *both* have this technology, then our fleets *both* die.
The point of the argument against "I win" game elements isn't that if more than one player acquires it you still can win (which is obviously completely illogical), but that everyone who does not
have that weapon/device/whatever thing has lost, regardless of what other achievements, techs, devices, weapons, whatever they have. Only those who have that one "thing that rules them all" are still in the game, which is something we specifically do not want in our game - unless we want that thing as a game objective/victory condition
Even if I ignore this technology, it still isn't an autowin but a strategic choice on my part: While you are sinking all your research and production into a supership, can I deploy masses of more ordinary stuff to defeat you before you can bring your superweapon online?
The same applies to tech victory conditions like the Transcendence tech: while you are sinking massive amouts of research into getting that extremely expensive tech, I switch all my planets to production try to overrun you with my superior fleets.
Which again makes it clear that you're talking about a superweapon that's actually a game objective, not just a weapon among other weapons the game offers.
Something that takes longer to achieve and is more expensive is no longer the obvious best choice.
If it were, then FreeOrion is already utterly broken, because Solar Hulls are clearly the best. We can discount silly stuff like heavy research costs and the need for a black hole. Right?
I wouldn't say "utterly broken", because, as powerful as it is, the Solar Hull isn't anywhere near what that Antimatter Cannon would be with the proposed changes. But "grossly unbalanced" probably applies. It has more structure and slots than any other hull, is one of the fastest hulls, provides limitless fuel - that's a bit much, and because of that it's very hard to balance it properly. Especially if you only take research and build costs into account - requiring a black hole to be able to produce it is already a very different thing, because it introduces a significant weakness.
But still, you're right insofar as when phrased like Mat did, the argument indeed becomes problematic. I mean, obviously there are a lot of things in the game that are best or at least better than most other things in their respective areas, and balance is maintained by making them costly to get (be it research and/or production). That works fine as long as you have a game mechanic that offers increasing improvements (like e.g. weapons and shields currently do). It becomes difficult once you want to offer the player several alternative paths, which are different but should be viable. If one of the paths is too much more powerful/efficient/better than the others, the other options become pointless.
While you certainly can control how good/efficient/powerful a path is compared to the alternatives by adjusting costs, this only works up to a certain point. Because the better a specific alternativ is, e.g. the more powerful a particular weapon is, the harder it becomes to get the balance right if you only rely on making it sufficiently expensive. For each game element the costs of this element need to be within a certain "margin" for the element to be properly balanced. If you price the element to cheap, it becomes an obvious superior choice over all other alternatives, making the alternatives pointless. If you price it to high, it becomes an obvious inferior choice to all the other elements, making that element pointless.
The better/more powerful/ more efficient a path/element is than all its alternatives, the smaller that "margin" becomes, until you reach a point where you can't balance it properly anymore. You'll either get it to cheap or to expensive, it becomes impossible to get the costs just right so it's viable, but not making everything else pointless. With our game, this problem is even drastically compounded by the enormous variety of possible game setups. You can play maps ranging from a few dozen to several hundert star systems, with different planet, monster, specials, native density. It's almost impossible to balance our game content in a way that most of it stays a viable/reasonable choice across all possible setups.
Balancing superweapons properly within that context? Good luck...
Or, I can load up a fleet with ordinary Death Ray 4s and be able to bust the planet and deal with the fleet defending it, all in one go. Then I don't need to waste production and deployment turns on a Special Princess Fleet.
That's actually raising the question if the Antimatter Cannon with its current price (research and build costs) is properly balanced against the Death Ray, taking into account what you can actually use it for. And in that regard it has already been stated that the Antimatter Cannon is still an experimental feature that originally has been deliberatly overpriced (so human players can experiment with it/test it, but it won't give them an advantage over the AI which can't use it). As a potentially very powerful weapon it will take us a while to get the balance for that thing right.
"Use this or lose" is a problem.
And that's actually what the discussion is about. Avoiding a "use this or loose" thing. And that price alone won't always provide suficient means to balance things properly.
But something that has better stats at a higher cost isn't necessarily the same thing
Definitely, but we're not only talking about "better stats" here. The proposed changes to the Antimatter Cannon completely change how it works
, making it immensely more powerful, to the point where you no longer can balance it just by increasing its costs.
and is sometimes the "use that *and* lose" option.
Certainly a valid point. The Antimatter Cannon is probably still too expensive. The most powerful super-device will only loose you the game if it's so difficult to acquire, that your enemies will blast you into oblivion while you waste all your resources trying to get that device. However, if it's too easy to get, each FO game will be a race to get that device first, and then it's essentially a game objective - see above.