Balance

This post was written as a defense of this reddit comment in which I more or less flame PGI's ability to balance the game and suggest that the proposed chassis specific buff quirks would bring more harm than good to the MWO community at this point in time.


In an abstract sense it is relatively easy to balance a video game. By defining some scoring system which reflects a unit, weapon or item's combat effectiveness, one simply must ensure that for all weapons, the fitness or effectiveness function yields as close to equal values as possible. This is good and rational, because trivially if one is to achieve balance then for some definition of equality all must be equal within some framework of tradeoffs & costs.

BattleTech

When balancing a tabletop game such as battletech, it is relatively trivial to define such a "fitness" or "combat effectiveness" function. Consider the mobility of the piece, its striking value, damage absorption capability and between these points one could define an entire universe of functions which rate mechs differently based on different assumptions.

One trivial and valid fitness function is to assume that a mech will be destroyed, and that as some value X constitutes the average damage output of the opposition then the expected number of survivable salvos is N, multiply N by the maximum repeatable alpha of the mech and add some fudge factor based on the move speed relative to the average expected movement speed of the opposition. The sum of these terms then is crudely the expected damage output of a given mech for a given matchup, being the essential combat effectiveness value of a mech. Mechs with higher expected damage output values will almost necessarily perform better in combat than a mech with a lower expected damage output value, but these are subject to fudge factors such as probability of hit & probability of being hit which complicate things further.

Clearly balancing a game is no easy task. The universe of possible value combinations even under this very restricted three aspect system and it becomes clear that there is room not only for a huge amount of subtlety in that one mech may be as "fit" or "balanced" numerically as some other mech yet hard counter it due to excessive maneuverability or huge apha or soforth.

This is where traditional "table top" battletech has its roots. Each "technical report" game manual lists the striking values for weapons & speeds on an engine by engine basis, providing a multidimensional matrix of all possible loadouts and the numbers required to compute damage values & soforth for all possible combat situations. Add to this the "random" element of dice rolling and it is quite clear that balancing good 'ol table top (tt) battletech (btech) was no mean feat. To be honest I don't know much of BTech's history as a tt game, born in 1992 I missed BTech's heyday in the 80s by nearly a full decade. However looking at other tt games such as Warhammer 40K from Games Workshop it is clear that game designers seldom get a game balanced on the first try simply because balancing a game is a massively involved problem.

Mechwarrior Online

I'm not sure if it's reasonable to accuse the MWO community at large of needing to sit down, shut up and wait for Community Warfare when MWO is expected to be nearly feature complete, balanced and ready for Prime Time. Several months ago at the end of closed beta I remember talking to several of my fellow cRedditors who quipped that MWO was already in release because there is a playable game and PGI will take your money with a smile. There is more than a grain of truth here, but the important thing in my mind is that as a community we need to be focused on growth. The road to Community Warfare is still long, and as a result the goal of the moment should be to interest and retain players with the existing stompy robot action. This is not the time to be driving new players away with metagame blunders which render missile or PPC boats (both of which are all but inaccessible to new players without purchasing MC from PGI) the only viable build. These metagame mess-ups don't just disrupt what little competitive scene MWO has, they make the game less fun to play by degrading the essential element of big stompy space robots getting up in each-others faces and duking it out in favor of gimmiky LRM boats or PPC poptart Highlanders and Cataphracts as the patch of the week permits.

I could belabor the pain which to my mind PGI has caused the MWO community with the rough introductions of Artemis, ECM, the repeated nonsense with missile damage either being too high or too low and recently the poptart madness where the PPC and ERPPC have been hugely overpowered to the point that MWO has degenerated to a direct fire sniping fest in both pug and competitive play. However I feel that these points are self-evident to PGI, and serve little purpose to the MWO community as a whole. If you are an active MWO player then you know what I'm talking about and if not then to put it simply they were and are the growing pains of MWO as PGI introduced new features. In time I hope that they will be forgotten in the shadow of MWO's general awesomeness, however there is one major point which I would make from all of these debacles and that is PGI's reaction time.

Initially PGI was extremely slow to respond both to complaints regarding the Artemis and ECM systems, leading to weeks on end of "imba" gameplay where rewards and combat were massively and temporarily skewed. PGI has gotten better about this, and the latest round of missile madness was re-patched within the week and for this I am delighted. It is unreasonable of me to expect PGI to release a perfectly balanced game. Purely mathematical balance is difficult and when player skill factors into the balance operation as StarCraft and DOTA are ample evidence there is nothing for it but to release and iterate until some happy balance is reached. The iteration time has markedly shortened, and that's all that I think the rest of the community and I can ask for baring some miraculous foreknowledge on the part of the dev team as to what constitutes a perfectly balanced MWO.

TL;DR

The startup model is "fail fast", followed by "release and iterate". PGI has clearly realized that they have a resource in the RHoD, TheMittani and main mwomercs forums which sound the klaxons at every even slight perceived imbalance in MWO. When something is actually wrong I'm sure the dev team realizes it. Now they are reacting in a relatively timely fashion too :D

I wish PGI the best and look forward to being a part of the MWO community as we move towards CW, Clan Tech and the much awaited Dire Wolf.

^d