Recently I have been working on some game design for a two player fighting game. The first rule of these sorts of games is to maintain a proper balance. In games, balance is a term used to encompass a handful of ideas, such as fairness and difficulty. Balance in games is not strictly for video games, but card games, table top role playing games, board games and even sports. When one is challenged with designing a game of some sort, balance must be in the front of the designers thoughts at all times.
When working on the balance of the game, first think of whether each player will have a fair chance at success. Think of Street Fighter 2, a popular and well known fighting game. The heroes name is Ryu, a martial arts master who can throw fire balls from his hands. Other characters in the game can also shoot fire balls from their hands in various shapes and at various speeds. If Ryu was the only one who had the ability to throw fireballs, it would grant him an unfair advantage and everyone would play Ryu over all other characters.
Another issue that comes up in balancing games is something called level disparity. A good example of this is in the game World of Warcraft. At the beginning of play you start at level 1, fighting an endless string of monsters to earn experience points and become stronger. The problem of level disparity comes into play when you try and join up with a player who is 10 or more levels higher than you are. A level 15 character has no chance against a level 25 character, and neither of them can participate in any adventure the other is partaking in. A well balanced level system allows high level players to enjoy the fruits of their labor while maintaining fair competition with lower level players. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is a great example of a well balanced level system as no matter how many levels a character earns or how many new guns he unlocks, he can still be caught off guard by a low level character and be shot in the head.
Balance does not only show its face in multiplayer games however. It can also show up in single player games like Mario Brothers or Sonic. For instance, lets say you are playing Mario Brothers and you make it half way through the game. The challenge has increased every level, more enemies and more difficult jumps, but now you’re suddenly facing off against a flying creature that follows you wherever you go, is immune to all your attacks and can fly through walls. The difficulty has just gone through the roof and the games balance is off. In this case, the balance has shifted in the games favor, as opposed to shifting from one player to the other, but the problem is still the same. Every player of this incarnation of Mario Brothers would forever decry the level with the invincible flying heads, and most people would point out that level as the farthest they ever got.
Game Balance is certainly one of the top 5 factors for determining a games success in the market. People do not want to play a game they have no chance of winning or succeeding at. Getting into the game first should not be the deciding factor in who is going to win. The difficulty of a game should rise and fall the same way that a successful story raises and lowers the tension. If you’re going to reach the coveted station of being able to “Print Your Own Money” as Nintendo does, you have got to learn to balance your games.