How to balance burst characters with dps characters in a competitive game?

by gaazkam   Last Updated September 11, 2019 23:13 PM

Burst characters (common trope: mages) are distinguished by their peculiar pattern of fighting: they first unleash lots of damage, but then have to back off until their cooldows go down.

Dps characters (common trope: archers, fighters) do not have this pattern and are instead able to deal consistent damage over a long time.

The question is, how to balance the two classes of characters with respect to each other?

The interesting thing to note that in games like DOTA2 and League of Legends we have a consistent pattern of balancement: Namely, burst characters are typically good mid-game, but then fall off; dps characters, on the other hand, start very weak but get better and better and are the best class late game.

I am wondering when does this pattern come from (which problems may I run into if I ignore it) and how can this pattern be avoided nonetheless?

Because this seems counter-intuitive both plot-wise (bows&arrows better than a magic wand that soaks the battlefield in fire, really?) and gameplay-wise (it would seem that the gameplay would be richest if there were both mid-game and late-game bursts and both mid-game and late-game dps'ers).

I have my own hypothesis, but I have no idea if this is correct. I also have my own idea to avoid this pattern, but again I have no idea if this makes any sense.

Firstly: Why is this a thing?

People commonly say that this is just a power of mathematics. As the game progresses, burst characters scale with their burst damage (linearily) while dps characters scale with both damage (linearily) and attack speed (linearily) => they scale quadratically.

I have trouble with this reasoning because (a) asymptotics would only mean if the power was unbounded, which is practically not the case - otherwise gameplay designers' numbers are everything; (b) even despite the above this is incorrect. In Dota for example - where mages are supposed to scale even less than in LoL - we have Yasha&Kaya that increases spell damage by 12%, Orchid Malevolence which increases it (indirectly) by 30%, and refresher orb which (indirectly) increases it by a whopping 100% - this is 112%*130%*200% which as far as I know is exponential scaling!! (c) is unobservable IRL - a nuclear bomb, despite dealing "constant" damage will be more hurtful than an archer who can increase both their fireing speed and arrow damage through training.

Instead my hypothesis is that this stems from a conscious decision of the devs which MIGHT have been motivated by reasoning similar to this: We have: DPS, burst, tanks. We need to balance them with respect to each other. Now if a burst can nuke down a tank then they can certainly also nuke a squishy dps = dps is useless in comparison to burst, so a burst will have to be countered by a tank. On the other hand to make burst not useless the burst will have to kill a dps, so we have rock paper scizzors: Tank beats burst beats dps beats tank. Now from this we already now we have to make dps late game, since they will have to scale hardly to keep and win the arms race with the scalings of the tanks. So we have to make burst mid game to balance this off. Ouch, it seems a burst might actually loose 1v1 with a dps late game? Well their power spike is over, its OK."

Am I correct with such an analysis? Because if I am than this sounds pretty solid - is there any escape from this pattern?

Well I do have scratch of an idea how to escape from this pattern... Would it make sense to reverse the rock-paper-scizzors? Burst beats tank bc of their immense damage. Tank beats dps because they can survive dps' weaker damage. Dps beats burst because... er because what?

Why not reverse the cooldowns mechanics with spell channeling mechanics? Dps beast burst because dps kills burst before burst can unleash their burst. Burst's spells are time consuming. Or to make this less boring: Burst can unleash their weak spells on a whim, but these do little more than allow them to survive and reduce the channeling time of powerful spells. Eg: Im a wind mage, uh-oh a guy with sword runs to me and wants to kill me! - I now cast a breeze that slows his movements, this makes wind blast accessible - I re-create the gap and only now I have bought myself enough time to summon a badass tornado that kills the sword guy.

This creates its own problems I guess - but does the idea make sense in principle?

Tags : balance

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