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Balance - Philosophy and Thoughts

Taking Slither's advice I'm putting this out there.

There have been several conversations in several threads about game balance. Specifically X option would be unbalanced or something like that. I had originally asked if this could be brought up at the Winter Meeting, but I'm happy hearing about it here.

This argument make me wonder since the likelyhood of two PCs being balanced is really small anyway, what is the philosophy behind balance? Should the game have options which are in balance and respect the time and UE people have put in? Or should there be items that add additional layers of danger to even the strongest.

I have no real opinion on this myself, but wanted to hear the discussion none the less.

Personally I feel like balance should be considered on a factional macro level, rather than a character micro level. Does Faction A have the resources to deal with Faction B? What can be done to help Faction B become competitive with Faction A when Faction B has 2 immies and Faction A has 3 near-max UE characters?

Whether there's macro design considerations, or if they're even relevant, I have no idea.

'Balance' is a pointedly tricky thing in a game where 'unfairness' is a thematic staple.

I think alittlelonger has a decent point. It should perhaps be less Player A vs Player B balance than factional / sectional balance.

And balance is multilayered. There's balance of...lethality. Political power. IC factors, as it were.

There's also balance of...mechanics. Fun. Potential for interaction. Locii where IC/OOC factors overap.

The drum I'll bang forever as an example because it's existed forever is the dramatic imbalance of opportunities (jobs, money) and mechanical access to leverage for deckers. They nearly always go topside because that's where jobs and mechanical advantages lay. This could be balance by thematic, flavorful opportunities / mechanical insights Mixside pretty easily but it just....never happens. This feels like an disservice from a game design POV.

Things like the UE curve merit discussion for sure. But slightly lower-scope skill vs skill, faction / faction, archetype / archetype discussions feel more productive to me. There are serious gravity wells of power in the game that have existed for years, and disrupting them would be healthy.

I think the game might tilt one way or another in certain areas, undeniably...but the tilt is about probability and what is generally most effective but still in those cases there are exceptions and outliers to these "rules".

A lot of the time is sort of a rock, paper, scissor, lizard, Spock situation.

For the most part, I think the game strives for the impossible ideal of balance but at the same time it is not on certain things on purpose, because the theme of Cyberpunk is about unfair advantages.

Also there are tons of things, that if changed per the average ideas section suggestion would break some of these balances and systems and nobody can really go into great detail about it either because revealing things you figured out could also upset the balance and also because of misinformation and speculation of people who think they know, but they have no clue.

Ultimately how much balance there is and for what, is up to the staff to decide and manage and change to their criteria. Obviously player feedback is important, but a lot of what constitutes "balance" (not all of it) comes down to them in the end or rather they are in the best position to promote changes.

I agree with a lot of that, Ghost.

Many of us only have a limited scope, and don't get a real feel of the game from a larger view.

That said....when things have been status quo for -- in some cases -- literal decades, there is absolutely great trepidation to upset the...well, balance.

I've seen very nuanced, well though out ideas posted all the time by very, very experienced players completely shot down as 'broken' not because they seem actually broken, but just because they sort of upset the established order of things.

I think everyone needs to be more open to change, honestly. That includes staff, who I think feel the most pressure to make fewer or smaller changes and don't want to upset the playerbase, because they don't want the angry BGBB posts or xhelps -- understandably! But still.

"Balance" is keeping the spirit of Cooperative Competition alive, as many have alluded to in the thread.

It is terribly holistic as well and takes a wide understanding of the ripple effect of the mechanics to how players work together as a whole to start to get a grasp on. Even the example of "X faction has so many players and Y faction has fewer" can have some flaws, when you start to consider how one of their keys players might quit on day, or flip to the other side. But it's still a balance issue in the sense of GM decision making, with who they might choose to support with something in the immediate.

It's also a hard thing to really spell out, especially in discussion on the forums, since nearly every topic has matters that are best left FOIC in regards to their balance. Every mechanic having tips and tricks that can make something entirely moot knowing the application of the right command, a piece of chrome, or even who to talk to.

I don't expect everyone to grasp "balance" when it's thrown out as a concept (trying to keep that holistic mindset and everything in the "web" considered), but I do encourage players to consider rhetoric and counterpoints that do mention it, since its usually with good reason its brought up. If there isn't a hard counter to something present in the game, you can bet staff's working on one.

I also agree that it's complicated. I can this one through various angles and many seem attractive.

On one hand, I do want to see some degree of mechanical balance. The simplest example is two combat bakas. If they have both invested similar levels of UE in reasonably sensible ways and are using similarly leveled gear, I would prefer that they perform at similar levels.

At the same time, I would love to see more balance between skills and roles as Jameson mentioned. There are some skills that people will dump mountains of UE into and some few if any PCs will ever seriously invest in. I feel that's problematic.

But I also don't want to see a UE wins all game. And to a large extent I don't think Sindome is that. I have seen role play trump UE plenty of times. There are a few places where RP can not do this barring GM intervention (no, combat is not one of them). Those situations (pure roll versus roll with no way to bond together effectively) sadden be and I do hope to see them reworked one day.

Another part is effort. If I work hard and put in time and drive story and find myself rewarded with power, I don't want to see that same level of power just handed over to someone who hasn't, in a sense, 'earned' it like I have.

On the flip side I don't want to push players to invest an unhealthy amount of time into what is honestly just a game. Just because Bob slaved away 80 hours a week for a year to get where they are doesn't mean I think this should be the new bar. Again, a tough one to balance.

Honestly this is a super touchy topic and there is no 'balance' that will please everyone. Not even close. But I do feel that it is a good thing to at least try and balance mechanics and rewards as I feel that they encourage better RP. It sounds odd but I have seen plenty of players game systems to win at the expense of story plenty of times.

Would it be oversimplifying if we break the question of 'should there be balance in a game about a cyberpunk dystopian future' down into some more narrow dynamics?

For example, should there be balance in player vs. environment conflict? Can the player ever win against the environment? I would say no.

Should there be balance in player vs. player conflict? I'd say that yes, there should, and that's something the staff can manage through code weighting and data analytics.

Should there be balance in player vs. self conflict? Or whatever that's called. This is again, up to the player. They can overcome their own self, or lose to it.

The one we're circling around on is faction vs. faction conflict. I'd say this should be kind of plug and play, with each faction having enough $ flow to have a set few member roles, and the staffing monitored to ensure a fair playing field. This is the 'do we have the opportunity to beat so and so'. If the players in one faction have put together a plan to defeat the players in another faction, and they have @noted it and discussed it with admin, or (better yet) gone to talk to their faction's token NPC about it, then they should have the opportunity to get good advice and guidance about their chances of success. If it's a stupid plan they should get told it's a stupid plan. If they are missing a key element, they should get told they are missing a key element, and should be given help to identify what resources they lack. But no magical 'here is your solution' to go defeat that faction.

What I am considering these days and don't know the answer to, is should there be a fail condition? A threshold of catastrophic loss past which you can gamble too far, or your stock can drop too low? Can your faction or corporation die out on your watch? Can new blood and a new name step up to take over, and be staffed appropriately to give them a fighting chance? Or will power vacuums and land grabs become part of the normal? Can we re-name and re-brand nightclubs and locations, or do we want to preserve the history (and save the staff some work?). I am waffling on that.

When someone rises to power to become unbeatable, that's another problem. Do the staff owe it to everyone else to unseat the power player? I'd say no. They're going to either kill the game's fun, or they're going to generate so much conflict that it enlivens the game. And eventually they will leave or fall; they always do. I'd say the staff's role at this kind of point is more of checking in on people who are being impacted, encouraging them if they are doing well in the theme, and maybe giving nudges along the way or attaboys ICly.

My 2 cents. Never been staff, no idea how that works, speaking about their role only because I think everything else not mentioned should fall on the playerbase. To the playerbase I'd say, oldbies especially, if you're running a strong faction and doing it well, turn your eyes on a bigger prize (work with the Staff if you think you've won Sindome and need them to make some bigger bad). Be sure you have a weakness and be willing to let it be exploited. Welcome the competition when it comes knocking on your door. It's okay to fall and have to start over, because somebody else will rise up.