[100% subjective] Two of Fallen Echantress' main issues: Scaling and Obsolescence (Beta 5C)

By on October 2, 2012 1:23:44 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Werewindlefr

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What follows is my take on Fallen Enchantress' balance and its failings. I admit it's completely subjective, and that I might not understand the ideas behind the current balance choices well enough. But after playing so many games, this is the conclusions I came to and the feelings I was left with.

Fallen Enchantress faces two strong issues, mainly due to its numerous components. Those issues are obsolescence (that is, the tendency of content and components of the game to lose their usefulness at a sustained pace) and relatively poor scaling/control of the pace.

These issues are linked, but aren't identical. Obsolescence can mainly be felt in terms of armies and monsters. When military technologies are discovered, they invariably render all former military techs completely obsolete. There is no point using weapons from previous technologies anymore, or smaller groups - in the end, the solution is always to put the best weapon and the best armor on the largest group possible. There were a lot of dev' diaries about "quantity vs. quality" and how these would be balance - this is just not the case. For armies, quality is invariably better, because the increase of cost for better quality soldiers is much less than the increase in power and survivability.

Civilization, another long game with many more military technologies than Elemental, also features obsolescence. But Civilization doesn't feature customizable units, lasts a very large number of turns (much larger than the time it takes to reach chain/plate armor, when an FE game is usually over), and obsolescence comes much more gradually with less emphasis on quality (some, but less).

This also creates a problem with recruited and special units, such as Darklings and Resoln's spiders. Their window of usefulness is short, and if you're unlucky, they'll be obsolete before you can actually find a recruitable "resource". Again, this leads to content becoming poorer.

In the end, I believe the game would be much more interesting if all of these choices stayed relevant for a much longer time (for the whole game, maybe? At least a bigger part of it), and if quality didn't dominate the game so much in terms of military power. And it would be much more interesting if all those choices had unique characteristics to them, a role that they would fulfill better than the other options. And the AI would fare much better if its equipment could compete with the player's, which it almost never does - because if it's a bit late on the player technologically, its armies will be slaughtered due to the huge jump in power (for a minimal increase in cost) this translates into.

 

The scaling problem comes from the lack of regulating mechanisms in the game. It's hard to know how many shards or cities a players will have - so how does one balance magic or research? Civilization IV had maintenance, Civ V has tech/policies prices increase and happiness costs (that can be overcome but only after a while). Sure, these aren't perfect, but they do help reduce issues by keeping research and resource production within a certain range. FE has almost none of this - you can have many cities and they can all be big, and it's hard to know what a typical player's research output will be. Similarly, it's hard to know how many shards (or iron, or any other resources) that player will have. As a result, I find the game to be really unbalanced and difficult to balance.

For instance, how does one balance a fire damage spell in the current paradigm? Too much importance on the shards, and if they get 5 of them they will slaughter everything in sight. You can reduce base damage to compensate, but if the player can't find fire shards (happens very often, due to the high variability in starting conditions), the spells will then be useless - and if his sovereign is a fire mage, this severely weakens him. Too little emphasis on the shards and you break their usefulness. In the end, because there is no control over the variability in resources the player will have access too, because of the very unstable scaling in Fallen Enchantress, balance has become a small nightmare.

The same happens to the difficulty of monsters: it's very hard to make monsters that will be adequately challenging because it's hard to predict what sort of power the player will have access to during a typical encounter. Of course, some variability *is* good, but in Fallen Enchantress, it's completely out of control. Hence these regular, contradicting complaints that things are either too hard or too easy... for the same patch. When you know how to harness the game mechanics, the game becomes easy and a few elements stand out as much more powerful than the others - you can exploit the lack of reasonable scaling. Otherwise, the game is much harder.

The absence of a limiting mechanism on the number/size of cities (big cities, or lots of cities? In FE, you can - and should- have both) makes the regulation of research difficult. If players expand a lot, they will have a lot of research and will be able to produce better troops - making the AI even less able to put up a fight.

It might be outside of Beta 5's scope to introduce regulating mechanisms and consider how to keep each side of the game within reasonable limits. Most of these issues can be modded away, with work and ingenuity - however, I am afraid the AI will not be able to play the game well if these changes are too radical - and that would make the game less interesting, not more.

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October 2, 2012 1:40:25 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

well written...

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October 2, 2012 1:57:56 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

To elaborate / extrapolate / whatever:

1.  There's too much prestige (growth) to be had for zero effort.  Way too much given simply by researching technologies, and early, cheap technologies at that.  Way too much is given simply for gaining sovereign levels.  Prestige from cities should come from buildings, mostly world wonders (there needs to be many, many more, of all sorts); Prestige from the champions should come from high-level ultra-rare traits (that do other things as well) or even ultra-rare items.  Reducing the amount of early prestige would create real choice in the whole wide vs tall empire thing, which ought to be a consideration.  Currently, growth buildings are nigh useless.  Simply level your sovereign instead.

2. Leather vs Chain vs Plate armor balance is completely broken!  All three should be available from the beginning of (or early in) the game, at poor quality.  Then quality should be upgraded through technologies.  Leather starts out at hides > tanned leather > boiled leather > studded leather > reinforced leather.  Metal armors Start at rusty > iron > steel > forged steel > mithril (or whatever.)  They should be balanced through the awesome but completely under-utilized potential of the encumbrance system. The problem is it's too simplistic: it ought to have about seven levels, and should affect both initiative and dodge.

3. Shard mutation spells need to be introduced for every element.  One should need to destroy a shard to be able to convert a shard to another element.  Only the sovereign should be able to convert shards.  There should be a range of 1 and a casting time of 3 seasons on these spells, as well as a 10 turn cooldown. 

4. As far as the AI goes, it has a looong way to go before it can actually play the game in a suitable fashion.

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October 2, 2012 2:35:13 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Agree with the first point, disagree with the second.  Obsolescence in this case can easily be remedied via balance.  However randomness is not an issue, it is a strategist's greatest foe.  Specializing in fire magic because one discovers 5 fire shards is just wise.

 

Quoting ,

it's hard to predict what sort of power the player will have access to during a typical encounter.

Not really.

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October 2, 2012 2:51:05 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

You don't choose to have 5 fire shards when you take a fire-magic specialized sovereign. Or when you find a hero. Adapting your strategy to what you find is one thing, but there's a gap between "some variability" and "complete unpredictability". The point isn't that fire spells should be good without fire shards, it's that they should be mildly useful.

Anyway, that was a minor point - the real point is that a game with extreme variability in the resources available to the player is extremely hard to balance, because it tends to reach extremes easily and to be out of control. In one game, you'll find no shard, and in another you'll have 5 - what number should the game be balanced for? 0, 2, 5? The abundance of "extreme cases" makes it very hard to find a "sweet spot". How many cities will a player have, and what should be the pacing of research as a consequence? It's hard to say, because there's no stabilizing factor - the player (or AI) can have little or a lot of research, and both extremes won't be rare. Ideally, you'd want a sort of "gaussian (bell curve) around an average", allowing some variability - and thus some factions being more powerful technologically - but with extremes being rare. Civilization(s) has such mechanisms - imperfect, but they do give *some* pacing regulation.

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October 2, 2012 4:52:50 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting cardinaldirection,
However randomness is not an issue, it is a strategist's greatest foe.  Specializing in fire magic because one discovers 5 fire shards is just wise.

But the player and the AI choose the specialization at the Sovereign creation and not in the game. That is the reason why the randomness is such a huge problem.

There should be either a building that increases the shard power of one element by 1 (requires a level 1 city, can be build once per faction) or, as mqpiffle suggested, a spell (level 3, can be cast only in your zone of control, 100 mana) to convert a shard to a different element.

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October 2, 2012 5:03:07 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Wizard1200,



But the player and the AI choose the specialization at the Sovereign creation and not in the game. That is the reason why the randomness is such a huge problem.

No, they don't. It is perfectly possible to play a well-rounded sovereign. If you decide to specialize heavily into one area and then not get the right resources to support you, that's a calculated risk you chose to take.

 

Re: OP.

1) Obsolescence - is this really an issue? First, what strategy game doesn't offer you better stuff as the game progresses? Second, I disagree with the conclusion overall. For military, leather and early weapons remain viable because they have no resource cost other than production. But they continue to scale with group size, and you also get new traits for unit designs unlocked that benefit them. Magic - early spells continue to scale with shards, and the hero (for spell power). Cities are meant to be specialized. You can't really have a mid- or late-game desire for specialization without making the early improvements less important at that point in time.

 

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October 2, 2012 5:17:57 AM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

Quoting ,

The scaling problem comes from the lack of regulating mechanisms in the game. It's hard to know how many shards or cities a players will have - so how does one balance magic or research? Civilization IV had maintenance, Civ V has tech/policies prices increase and happiness costs (that can be overcome but only after a while). Sure, these aren't perfect, but they do help reduce issues by keeping research and resource production within a certain range. FE has almost none of this - you can have many cities and they can all be big, and it's hard to know what a typical player's research output will be. Similarly, it's hard to know how many shards (or iron, or any other resources) that player will have. As a result, I find the game to be really unbalanced and difficult to balance.

It sounds like the scaling problems you describe are due to the linear nature (y = mx + b ) of the resources in FE and bonuses they grant.  If these were converted to a logarithmic (y  =  logb x.) scale then diminishing returns with each new resource of the same type would provide a natural limit that the game elements could be balanced against.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/17/Binary_logarithm_plot_with_ticks.svg

Similarly when resources are scarce those initial shards would provide the largest bonuses i.e your first and second fire shards would be far more important and give bigger bonuses than your third fourth and fifth added together.

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October 2, 2012 5:30:19 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Heavenfall,

No, they don't. It is perfectly possible to play a well-rounded sovereign. If you decide to specialize heavily into one area and then not get the right resources to support you, that's a calculated risk you chose to take.

That was the case when the first spellbook had a cost of 1, but now it has a cost of 2 and that means the maximum number of elements that can be selected at the Sovereign creation is 3. This results in a 50 % chance of not getting a shard that you need.

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October 2, 2012 5:46:53 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Then go for a build that doesn't depend on getting a shard. Instead of picking 3 spellbooks, pick Brilliant or Warlock or Attunement or Summoner.

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October 2, 2012 6:21:10 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

You want flexibility in your shard choices- pick Pariden.

 

If I get the wrong shards, and can't find a hero to use them, I go melee.  You have plenty of mana to use for other stuff.

 

I do think Alchemy needs a buff based on total shards (and that quest needs to pop up less)

 

One suggested tweak: have magic staves impacted by shards.  Create electric and stoning staves for the other elements.  I'd like to see a second tier of staves as well, and a Stave mastery tree for heroes.

 

Leht Staff for Pariden tweaked to a staff that fires chromatic bolts which gain benefit from ALL shards.

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October 2, 2012 6:27:45 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Resoln - corrupt all shards, get the splitting demons, strong death magic and just win

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October 2, 2012 7:35:57 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Werewindlefr, Very correct opinion. I think so too.

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October 2, 2012 8:25:59 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Patho,
It sounds like the scaling problems you describe are due to the linear nature (y = mx + b ) of the resources in FE and bonuses they grant.  If these were converted to a logarithmic (y  =  logb x.) scale then diminishing returns with each new resource of the same type would provide a natural limit that the game elements could be balanced against.

I had a somewhat similar thought a few months back (link).  Balancing would be simplified through tables, and ditch continuous functions altogether; maybe it's just the board gamer in me...  Just my two cents.

 

OP:

Agree with you that balancing should be tweaked.  I like the idea w/ armor, as it keeps with the fantasy theme of the game.  In real life, of course you'd want to improve from leather to scale to plate armor, but in fantasy settings, even the most talented thief wears leather armor, it's just better than the stuff the average soldier would be supplied with (enchantments, etc).  How many low-level warriors have we slain in Skyrim that were wearing rusty plate armor?

In short, I like this idea of all armors available early on, and scale their effectiveness per tech level.  Would lend itself to the unit specialization that I think was intended with the whole different-effects-of-weapons decision.

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October 2, 2012 8:28:38 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Alstein,
One suggested tweak: have magic staves impacted by shards.  Create electric and stoning staves for the other elements.  I'd like to see a second tier of staves as well, and a Stave mastery tree for heroes.

Yes!  Staves need more love!

 

Quoting joasoze,
Resoln - corrupt all shards, get the splitting demons, strong death magic and just win

This actually makes a lot of sense...I would keep my Grave elementals though.  They are great at soaking up that damage.

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October 2, 2012 8:58:09 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting mqpiffle,
To elaborate / extrapolate / whatever:


2. Leather vs Chain vs Plate armor balance is completely broken!  All three should be available from the beginning of (or early in) the game, at poor quality.  Then quality should be upgraded through technologies.  Leather starts out at hides > tanned leather > boiled leather > studded leather > reinforced leather.  Metal armors Start at rusty > iron > steel > forged steel > mithril (or whatever.)  They should be balanced through the awesome but completely under-utilized potential of the encumbrance system. The problem is it's too simplistic: it ought to have about seven levels, and should affect both initiative and dodge.

I've been pushing for something like this because my games are over before anybody gets chain or plate.

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October 2, 2012 9:23:43 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Nice post. Broadly speaking I agree with .

Obsolescence is of course necessary, there needs to be a reward for researching better weapons/armour, but currently it steps up in very big steps, possibly too big.

The randomness is both part of the beauty of the game and a curse. I like the thrill of exploring, not knowing what I will find and how I can best take advantage of it. But it does make it hard for the game to be balanced as carefully as say Civ IV or Civ V where your empire size will to a moderate extent be constrained by your progress along the tech tree.

I actually think there is another factor at play too. Because of the nature of the game with heroes of varying abilities and the ability to micro your troops in tactical battles, I find that battles can quite often be very one sided and if you are on the winning side that means you can probably steamroller your way through an entire empire pretty easily. It might be nice if one's forces were ground down more as can happen in Civ IV even with a fairly dominant army (and in Civ V in theory, although in practice the Civ V AI still doesn't really know how to play 1 unit per tile well).

I don't know what the solution to this is... MoM had the same problem. Arguably it is by design and is the reward for building up your heroes well. Dunno.

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October 2, 2012 10:02:25 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Rewards for technology advances don't need to be in the form of obsolescence - they can come in the form of improvement. A simple example: you get new, very powerful weapons, but with a worse power/cost ratio. Since you are limited in the number of units you can put in an army, the new equipment allows you to build a very strong army - but at a very high cost.

Anyway, lots of 4X don't have straight obsolescence and have "decrease in usefulness" instead. The Age of Wonder and the Heroes of Might and Magic series come to my mind - early troops are still used in vast quantities late in the game because they're cheap and still have some usefulness. Even Civilization IV and V are much more moderate in their obsolescence curve - 1 maceman (medieval unit) has a good chance of losing against 2 swordsmen or axemen, their ancient counterpart.

In FE, since high-power troops are not much more expensive than early ones - but are vastly more powerful, every new weapon tech makes earlier weapon techs irrelevant.

Heavenfall, I agree that armour is relatively well balanced. It's actually one of the most well-balanced part of the game. My issues with obsolescence have more to do with weapons and group size.

Basically, I see 3 problems with obsolescence: 

-It reduces the amount of content available in the game. Instead of having many useful weapons with each their particularity - in my opinion, the ideal case - we have basically 1 or 2 weapons that are useful at any given points. No "quality vs. quantity" in FE.

-It makes monster/mercenary units a lot less relevant to the game. More often than not, they're obsolete by the time you find them (and if it wasn't the case, they could become overpowered instead :/. See: Cyndrum Demons)

-It makes the AI almost incapable of competing. Since it doesn't understand that it should exploit obsolescence by beelining weapon techs (after a couple civilization techs of course) and crushing me, its fighting abilities are very subpar.

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October 2, 2012 1:06:31 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Heavenfall,
Then go for a build that doesn't depend on getting a shard. Instead of picking 3 spellbooks, pick Brilliant or Warlock or Attunement or Summoner.

Warlock and Summoner are professions and cost no points. Not picking 3 spellbooks increases the chance of not getting the shards you need to 66 % (2 spellbooks) or 83 % (1 spellbook) and all builds depend on a shard, because it is huge difference if your Heal spell heals 8 HP or 12 HP.

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October 2, 2012 3:52:13 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Werewindlefr,
Anyway, that was a minor point - the real point is that a game with extreme variability in the resources available to the player is extremely hard to balance, because it tends to reach extremes easily and to be out of control. In one game, you'll find no shard, and in another you'll have 5 - what number should the game be balanced for? 0, 2, 5? The abundance of "extreme cases" makes it very hard to find a "sweet spot". How many cities will a player have, and what should be the pacing of research as a consequence? It's hard to say, because there's no stabilizing factor - the player (or AI) can have little or a lot of research, and both extremes won't be rare. Ideally, you'd want a sort of "gaussian (bell curve) around an average", allowing some variability - and thus some factions being more powerful technologically - but with extremes being rare. Civilization(s) has such mechanisms - imperfect, but they do give *some* pacing regulation.

 

One solution would be for all champions under a faction's control to contribute a point to the elemental shard powers for each level in the associated school of magic.  Of course all spells would have to be re-balanced, but this would give the player some choice in their proficiencies as well.

If the effect could be limited to only stationed champions, and new troop traits introduced which related to the elemental shard powers, many birds will have been felled with just a couple stones.

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October 2, 2012 7:02:11 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Sounds like improved random map balance could help with some of these issues - insure that there are a variety of shards near any given start, with the option to secure more of any given type by branching out in certain directions.  Map balance could also keep the monsters near the start relatively weak, while having the most dangerous monsters localized in more distant areas that also happen to have good city locations and/or good resources to claim.

Of course, the fast obsolescence curve is something that would need to be dealt with elsewhere - higher training time might help, though the mana  cost of Call to Arms would have to be tied to training time, or it would just be made even more powerful.

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October 2, 2012 7:11:15 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Tohron,
Sounds like improved random map balance could help with some of these issues - insure that there are a variety of shards near any given start, with the option to secure more of any given type by branching out in certain directions.  Map balance could also keep the monsters near the start relatively weak, while having the most dangerous monsters localized in more distant areas that also happen to have good city locations and/or good resources to claim.

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October 5, 2012 10:31:35 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Am I the only one who hates those "diminishing results schemes"?

1. Why should an empire 10x the size not have 10x the budget and 10x the army? That's what it is there for and if you remove it... well all the more reason to go sauron. Or in a game like civ just raze every single city immediately as you conquer it because conquering it is detrimental/worthless.

2. People can't wrap their head around complicated scales like log or power scaling. Although you could make simple "tiered" scaling where you simple tell people that tier 0 is at 0 shards, tier 1 at 1 shard, tier 2 at 3 shards, tier 3 and 7 shards, and tier 4 at 15 shards.. (or whatever numbers you need for your diminishing return scheme).

3. Doing so via arbitrary values is rarely implemented well, like the corruption mechanics in "Distant Worlds" where adding colonies means your overall income goes down because every single colony in existence gets more corrupt with the addition of one more colony. Resulting in people's empires collapsing economically without them understanding why.

4. As far as civilization having caps on growth... that is far more sensible. Although so does FE. In civ it was sanitation and food, in FE its just food and its not at all quick to overcome. The thing is populace is kinda unimportant in FE since you get all benefits from buildings rather then population. FE could put caps on spells power from shards for example... then tie in a hero ability to increase that cap. aka, sov can use up to 3 shards per spell, heroes up to 1... then either can get certain skills which increases shard cap per spell by 1 (path of the mage, warlock, maybe picking a skill at levelup...)

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October 6, 2012 1:21:55 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I agree that both of these issues are problematic. The extreme randomness hurts the game the most. Especially since nearly every aspect of balance has a slider before the game starts. Then the maps largely decides difficulty. Overall your starting point and the AI's ability to cope with theirs determines difficulty more than the difficulty settings. That may just be a constant drawback in the design scheme to allow massive replayability, but it also makes the strategic aspects feel less vital. Dealing with randomness gets to the point where each play feels like a totally different game with completely different balance.

Most of these issues can be modded away, with work and ingenuity - however, I am afraid the AI will not be able to play the game well if these changes are too radical - and that would make the game less interesting, not more.

I have had little problem making the AI bend to my changes and we are set to get even more control over the AI after release. In the end of beta 5, I can say I like the vanilla game for new users, but for a hardcore strategic experience, you need mods. What matters to me is that all the light users enjoy the core gameplay so that it sells. I think even with the many overarching strategic flaws, that goal is by and large achieved. 

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