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Community Balancing Games

Discussion in 'Chat' started by Ortheore, Jan 6, 2019.

  1. Ortheore

    Ortheore Leader

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    So I'm a casual fan of Smash Bros, and something that's been interesting to see is the discussion surrounding the game in terms of character balance and stage legality in Ultimate. A lot of the Smash content I've been watching lately has come from Melee figures discussing approaches to these issues, and they were mostly critical of people suggesting that a given character needs a nerf this early on in the game's lifecycle, or those being ultra-strict on the stages that should be legal (apparently there are people who think a stage having a slope is grounds for banning it???). Although it's terrible logic to watch some videos from Armada and M2K and draw conclusions about the divide between "old-school" and "new-school" players, I went ahead and did so anyway because fuck it, and also this is more of a starting point for discussion, rather than a conclusion.

    My atrociously reasoned notion (it may be right or wrong, idk, it's just my reasoning is stupid) that Melee players are generally a lot more tolerant of game imbalance and deviations from convention (in terms of stages at least) mirrors something we see in the competitive Pokemon community as well. How often have you seen some old gens figure complain that players of the more recent generations are far too ban-happy? I honestly think it's close to a universal sentiment among old gen players. GSC is the perfect example here- by the standards of modern generations, Lax would be banned from OU in a heartbeat, but good luck finding actual GSC players in favour of banning it lmao. Sure, most people will probably admit that it's broken, but almost no-one wants any sort of change (believe me, I know from experience lol). And players adapted to this imbalance, and found an extremely deep and interesting metagame as a result.

    This is contrasted by modern generations, which see regular suspect tests, frequently of pokemon which, from my perspective as a primarily old gen player not involved with current gen OU, seem like the kind of things you can adapt your play to and evolve around it, rather than simply banning it into oblivion. This is mirrored by other active competitive games. For Overwatch it seems that going a full season (all of two months) with a specific type of team comp being prominent is intolerable to the playerbase, while Clash Royale sees consistent monthly balance updates (I mention these because they're games I'm relatively familiar with).

    This dichotomy is the whole point of this post. To compare and contrast these two different approaches to game balance. And yes, there are probably more than two philosophies and yes, it's not a true dichotomy as there is a whole spectrum between these two approaches. It would be folly for a competitive game to never do anything about balance, just as it'd be stupid to say, adjust balance on a weekly basis and so there must be some compromise between stability and balance.

    So what are the tradeoffs between these two mindsets? I'll start with the "old-school" approach. Personally, I see two major appeals to having a metagame free from artificial change. The first is that I think it's far easier to reach a competent level in a more static metagame. The reason for this is that developing knowledge of a metagame I think is something extremely difficult to do, and in competitive pokemon it represents one of the biggest barriers of entry for newer players. If your understanding of a metagame is not sufficiently developed, frequent changes to the metagame are difficult to adapt to, and likely to represent a setback in your development as a player. The second point is that there's a clear progression of mastery over the game, as over time players push the game to its limits and come to understand it on an incredibly deep level. To me, this feels incredibly rewarding, to know that our understanding has come as far as it has. I've observed the development of RBY and every twist and turn the meta has taken has mostly been an improvement in our knowledge of the game.

    More active balancing approaches have their own merits too. Perhaps the biggest factor driving this is that games begin to feel "stale" really quickly, even if the defining trend has counters or is otherwise ephemeral. The majority of the playerbase is going to take the most straightfoward path to victory, which is what is perceived as the dominant trend of the time. This makes playing repetitive, and even if you are experimenting, you're still likely to face a lot of similar things, which means this stale feeling isn't easy to escape.

    One interesting factor that I feel is notable is players' attitudes towards ladder. This both incentivises a large quantity of games and therefore greater exposure to staleness, and winning them, even at the expense of experimentation. Here I think there's a clear divide between older players and new ones, as I feel that although tournaments are still considered the top measure of player skill, newer players place a lot more importance on grinding on ladder, and it's only a small fraction of players that compete in tournaments. By contrast, I think most older players don't really care about ladder, maybe venturing onto it only for fun or to test a team.

    So what does all of this mean? I think the biggest thing to note is that even if a developer wanted to approach game balance in a manner similar to what old gen players are used to, that approach may be out of their hands. There's only a certain extent to which developers can promote that mindset among their playerbase, as a competitive game is ultimately nothing without a large, active playerbase. If players demand frequent balance updates, the developer's hand is forced, as otherwise players will simply leave. Unfortunately, it seems that this overactive mindset far outweighs those that want to give things time to evolve (note: this is an anecdote) so it's hard to say what should be done.

    Instead, I think developers should aim to implement systems that de-emphasise ladder play (that said, it's not going anywhere, and it's still a great option if you just feel like playing), and replace it with a robust tournament system. They should also consider withholding immediate skill ratings, instead only making available at regular intervals. I think that this would maintain a goal for players to strive for, but without the constant feedback that a typical ladder score provides, I believe players will feel a lot more free to experiment. Lastly, there's always giving players access to resources to understand how to adapt to threats. Strong community discussion is a no-brainer, but other things such as public replays and access to stats for the game are important, with the former potentially showcasing how to play around top threats and the latter enabling players to identify optimal matchups to counter given threats.

    Also I'll say now that there's nothing inherently wrong with the overactive balancing mindset, but as you can tell from the way I describe it, I have my own preferences lol

    Anyway, this was kinda a wall of text, but if you read it, let me know your thoughts.
     
  2. Lojh

    Lojh Above Average GSCer Member

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    snorlax may be banworthy in gsc, but deleting it kind of screws up the meta
     
  3. Disaster Area

    Disaster Area Little Ball of Fur and Power Member

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    I'm not sure lax would be banned in a heartbeat if GSC OU were the current OU. Is lax even broken? I would argue that if a Pokemon being included can lead to a "extremely deep and interesting metagame" then why is it broken? And if it is broken, surely that's besides the point if you already have an "extremely deep and interesting metagame"? Isn't the point of banning to ensure that we're playing metagames that aren't extremely deep and interesting. I think that stuff often called uncompetitive (e.g. swagplay, baton pass abuse) actually satisfy the criterion of making the metagame not deep and interesting, so maybe this just means that Pokemon we might call broken, and things which we consider banworthy, are not considered such because they prevent the game from being deep and interesting, but because of... some other reason? Or it's a matter of degrees maybe? I think it's fair to say that RBY Ubers can be quite deep and interesting, but RBY OU is deeper. However, I think depth and interestingness are super subjective... when XY OU still included deoxys-speed, and deosharp was basically considered the best team, no ifs or buts, I'd guess that in some ways that metagame was still deep and interesting - in RBY OU, our games are close to mirrors most of the time, and that does not prevent them from being interesting - but it's a matter of taste that the sort of depth exhibited there isn't what we're looking for as players. It may be what some would call stale, perhaps. I think the insight on newer players playing ladder more is interesting.
     
  4. Lilyhollow

    Lilyhollow Member

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    Snorlax would 99% be banned if gen 2 competitive play first started today. I think the only other outcome would be it staying unbanned but also something else being unbanned, and only if that other thing fixes how centralized the metagame is. The reason it is not banned is kind of complicated, but generally the pokemon community is very banhappy (as is the smash community).

    (People always bring up the fact that Electrics would be too good or whatever, but modern Pokemon community would just ban them then.)

    It's common for older games to have more broken stuff that's left alone for years, with newer players looking at that and being surprised at what was acceptable 'back then.' Super Turbo is one of the most beloved games in the fighting game community, but it's commonly understood that if that game came out today, everyone would be freaking out about how broken it is and asking for all kinds of nerfs. The nerf-first mentality was not even available back then because games couldn't receive regular balance patches, so the result is that we just accepted whatever we got. So I don't think our mentality is really any scrubbier now than it was in the past, it's more like we have more options to actually get shit changed so it's easier for that to be our immediate reaction.

    So then there's this question of, "okay, but these games are still being played in the modern era, so why haven't we gone back and 'fixed' them?"

    And the reason is that there's usually not much appetite for that. The players who are turned off by a game's lack of balance tend to drift away to other games, leaving a hard core of players who accept or even embrace the bullshit. So you get a really strong community and sense of identity for your game based off of that. What's there to 'fix' when the community that's dedicated to the game doesn't see a problem?

    So with Melee you had the community actually banning a ton of stuff during the game's earlier days. Ignoring the item situation since that's arguably more of a 'game mode' choice than a ban, there are a ton of stages they banned for competitive reasons (some of them I think purely for character balance), and at one point Wobbling was banned. But there's still bullshit in the game, it's just the bullshit they happened to like or accept! We look at Melee now and I think there's no question that people would be begging for a Fox nerf if the game just came out today (ok I think they'd hit Sheik or Marth first but whatever), but there's nooooo way you could get people to go for that in reality. They've dedicated themselves to the game and to the character. Project M even nerfed Fox a bit and I know at least m2k dropped that game immediately afterwards. Project M never ended up being a successor to Melee (and Nintendo getting in the way wouldn't have changed that). It has its own separate community and own separate identity and own separate set of bullshit.

    In general I find that balance is typically very overrated (i say this literally having designed what is effectively a glorified rby balance mod). It's way more important that a game has room to develop a strong identity. And a large amount of that is 'what is this game's bullshit.' What are the problems I have to solve, what are the uncomfortable things I'll be forced to confront. Sooo many older fighting games would not be able to exist in this day and age despite being completely beloved because of their bullshit. Pokemon is in the same boat here.

    Gen 1 OU would maybe be okay if it came out in the modern era because it's just so fucked up that I have no idea how you'd ban the right stuff to create a game that isn't super centralized, but if it weren't attached to a single player game it 1000% would not exist because people would beg and scream for nerfs constantly. The game would legitimately not even remotely resemble what it currently exists as, which would be a huge loss we would never even know about. Sometimes I think about Gen 4, which was arguably the first 'modern' gen as far as community standards go, and how it had this incredibly bullshit acid rain glitch that we never even really looked at. I don't want to get into the details of whether it should have been banned or not, or if it would have had an actual effect on the game worth caring about or not, because the details are not the point, but I do think about those things and wonder how much we might be losing out on by focusing so hard on cleaning up balance or getting rid of stuff that's 'uncompetitive,' whatever that even means.
     
  5. Disaster Area

    Disaster Area Little Ball of Fur and Power Member

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    So... the modern Pokemon community also bans for centralisation? ... why?

    Also re: acid rain, part of the reason it's been largely ignored is the asymmetry (same for some mechanics in gen 3 too) (also see this).
     
  6. Lilyhollow

    Lilyhollow Member

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    the modern pokemon community bans for almost any reason. idk, nearly every ban that happens in this scene seems arbitrary from my warped fighting game vantage point :p
     
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  7. Ortheore

    Ortheore Leader

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    Yeah, I thought of mentioning balance patches but didn't for whatever reason. I guess maybe it's because our substitute is banning, which has always been available to us, we just didn't use it in the way it is now. However I guess the existence of regular balance patches generates a certain kind of mentality that proliferates across competitive gaming as a whole.

    Anyway, I 100% agree that balance is overrated. Part of the reason I've tried to define banworthiness in terms of an impact on the game's depth is that it provides some tolerance of imbalance because it's really only if a game is extremely unbalanced that it becomes an issue, as then whatever's causing the imbalance is likely violating the criteria I use. Otherwise I pretty much share your opinion Lilyhollow. Unfortunately, I'm not sure it'd be possible to change the way the modern community approaches these things. It's not merely a matter of one side being more right than the other, it's just different philosophies, with the approach taken being a matter of preference. Also again, numbers are an issue.

    Since uncompetitiveness was mentioned, I've got a little rant about that. I guess it refers to things that undermine the extent to which the game demands skill, covering things like OHKO and evasion. The trouble is that I think people use it in such a way that it distorts the word's meaning to the point where said meaning is destroyed. It's basically become a catch-all for stuff that people don't feel comfortable calling broken, but that they still want to ban anyway. The best example of this is in discussions on banning Baton Pass. I think the argument was that it's so heavily matchup-oriented, with favourable matchups being insta-wins, that it was somehow uncompetitive based on that. Bullshit. The fact is that bp teams had ways of shutting down literally every possible form of counterplay outside of extremely niche, otherwise unviable options like Haze and idk, Perish Song maybe? Even then, iirc players like Denissss (pretty much the go-to expert) felt that those matchups weren't unwinnable. That's not something uncompetitive, that's straight up broken. I guess people weren't comfortable calling a strategy that had a scrubby reputation broken, or they weren't comfortable with simply calling it broken because afaik no other move that's as widespread as BP has been banned for being broken, so maybe people were afraid of a slippery slope (SR, Scald?)?
     
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  8. Disaster Area

    Disaster Area Little Ball of Fur and Power Member

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    I think the thing with baton pass is it does have checks and counters, just... player's don't generally run them (and outside of maybe gen 3 that's usually the case). I'm not sure broken is necessarily the right word, nor uncompetitive, to describe Baton Pass when it is causing problems. But it does force the use of options that are a) difficult to fit and b) offer little utility versus all other archetypes. That being said, players run dedicated stallbreakers (taking up one, sometimes two pokemon slots) and that's something we accept. Even if you accept limitations/bans are required to keep baton pass in check (I would consider myself in that camp) it's surprisingly challenging (perhaps the right word even is subtle?) to argue that it's something so broken it can't be adequately adapted to.
     
  9. Ortheore

    Ortheore Leader

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    Out of curiousity, what C&Cs do you have in mind? Also the thing that makes stallbreakers acceptable is that they're still generally useful even when they're going against a non-stall team, which I don't think is the case for anti-bp stuff
     
  10. Disaster Area

    Disaster Area Little Ball of Fur and Power Member

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    Haze is the strongest anti-BP C&C, which can be used vs boosters (maybe most effective on stuff like milotic with its own insta-healing and to be used vs stuff like suicune which isnt a huge threat running a bulky set after a boost or tw) but it's not super strong on its own. Perish Song is a more significant example, though not seen as commonly beyond GSC, where perishtrap is more viable, but it's nonetheless sometimes seen on more defensive teams even in later generations. Phazing - particularly Whirlwind as it's not blocked by soundproof - is also a check to these sorts of teams. Taunt is strong except it can't get around magic bounce in later generations. In later generations, you do have the odd mon with infiltrator - could be used to land toxic on bp users.

    All of these things have fewer uses vs non-BP stuff the fewer answers BP has to them, and in later and later generations tools that work well vs BP become far worse move choices overall as the pace of games increases and BP's available options negate more forms of counterplay.

    Some dedicated stallbreakers, in some contexts, kinda suck versus non-stall stuff. I'm not very familiar with later generations but about the best example I could give is SpecsOgre in xy ubers/oras 1u... versus stall it's a decent breaker, but more offensive teams usually have all pokemon that can outspeed and 2hko it or better, and often have stuff like suicide leads which can sacrifice themselves against it if need be, so it does very little against offensive teams.

    Still, I will acknowledge the effect is far weaker in later generations than earlier ones: most stallbreaking tools are usually at least a little more than dead weight against all sorts of teams, while anti-BP tools, such as they are, are close to useless, if not actually useless, against most other sorts of teams.
     
  11. Ortheore

    Ortheore Leader

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    Haze is pretty much the only thing that genuinely neuters a bp chain though (afaik). PSong I believe is stopped by Soundproof, something I forgot when I mentioned it earlier. Phazing moves as well as Taunt get stopped hard my Magic Bounce. Also Toxic isn't really stopping an entire bp chain. Fwiw I'm specifically talking about gen 6/7 (maybe g5? I don't recall bp being an issue, but I guess there's no reason it couldn't be?). G3/4 differ in that full bp chains have never been discussed as a serious issue afaik, just specific things like Gliscor/Smeargle bping some things
     
  12. Disaster Area

    Disaster Area Little Ball of Fur and Power Member

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    Soundproof doesn't exist in gen 3, although I've managed to lose to a BP team in ADV while using a perish song user because I let celebi eat a STAB bug-type attack from ninjask so I guess that's on me.

    BP teams see play in every gen from 2 onwards and in every gen from 3 onwards there are restrictions (e.g. ingrain+bp ban in ADV) and in some cases asks for more restrictions (like we limited BP to 3 mons per team at one point here on PP)

    I would note that the restrictions on BP in most cases restrict it to a point where most teams have a decent shot at winning, and with fewer restrictions that would not be the case
     
  13. DarkCyborg

    DarkCyborg I represent the power of Ice! Member

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    Last edited: Jan 16, 2019
  14. Disaster Area

    Disaster Area Little Ball of Fur and Power Member

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    oh yeah I forgot whoops, so relevant from gen 3 on

    actually mr. mime does make an appearance... it is used on full chains and exploud is seen on drumpass to evade roar
     

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