'Balance Is Boring,' Says Torchlight 2 And Original Diablo Designer

Conversations on CRPGs inevitably turn to balance. At least, they do when the game in question is World of Warcraft. WoW has seen continuous development since 2004 and eight years later, Blizzard is still trying to balance it. Erich Schaefer, one of the designers behind the original Diablo and more recently, Torchlight, says that these types of games are just too complex to balance and even then, this perfect world of equality would be "boring" anyway.

No one likes playing a character they feel is gimped. Sometimes, there's novelty value — have a crack at a low-intelligence PC in Fallout or Arcanum — but in today's world of theme park MMOs, believing one's character to be underpowered holds little charm. Schaefer, speaking with The Critical Bit, feels that given how many different system interact with each other in RPGs, reaching a state of utopian balance would not be that fun anyway:

I could expound on the complexity forever, but it’s pretty dry to discuss and probably not that much different from any other RPG, so let me digress to where I think our methods are different, and where it gets fun, for me, at least. I don’t even try to balance the game! ... There are too many systems and too much randomness for my puny brain to deal with. But the more important reason is that I think balance is boring. I specifically want you to find a weapon that's just too good. I want you to discover a skill combo that makes killing certain monsters seem too easy.

Essentially Schaefer is saying that these "imbalance spikes" are an important part of what makes loot-centric RPGs so exciting. As long as they're temporary, there's nothing wrong with the player feeling super-powerful for a period of time. As Oblivion's levelled mobs showed, getting your arse handed to you by the same bandit that killed you 10 levels ago is a crappy feeling.

Schaefer suggests designers simply "manage the chaos", smoothing out the rough patches rather than flattening them:

A few levels deeper into the game, you might be struggling to find a replacement weapon, your skill combo won’t work as well against the new monster varieties and your pet will start to seem weaker. The multiple, overlapping systems and heavy randomness work to my benefit in this respect ... So all my spreadsheets and assumptions become less important as we finish development, and I concentrate on playing over and over again, getting tons of feedback, and ironing out the really crazy peaks and valleys. Fun always trumps balance.

This is only a small part of the interview — Schaefer has a lot more to say about balance, as well as Runic's upcoming Torchlight 2 — so hit the link below if you're keen.

Interview: Erich Schaefer on ARPG design, starting a successful studio, and Torchlight II [The Critical Bit]


    Balance is too vague a term for single player. In multiplayer it's essential, else you have a game where everyone is the same.
    Single player "balance" comes from giving the player the belief they can take on challenges while finding the old ones easier. If the player has put in the effort to become stronger, then stronger they should be.

      Skyrim is an example of terrible balance in a singleplayer game. By the time your level 20 you can easily be 1 shoting most enemies as melee or stealth without abusing smithing /enchanting/alchemy and your not even halfway to max level or the soft level of 50. and when you do abuse crafting you can create weapons that do 3000+ damage with just a normal swing and have an armour rating of 2000+

        I prefer Skyrim to Oblivion - just because I managed to get that strong doesn't mean I should hit an equal challenge (the old Raiders with Power Armor argument)

      He's saying that balance isn't essential because it will level out in the long run, this applies to multiplayer as well, if everyone went the same overpowered character then you miss out on bringing other abilities that other character types bring in. It encourages people to find ways to counter those overpowered chars, which then removes them being overpowered.... its an interest approach that i'd like to see more of.

        But what you're suggesting is balance. The ability to counter the overpowered abilities to the point where picking another character, weapon, etc doesn't put you at a massive disadvantage is balanced. Gears of War does it well. Every weapon is massively, game breakingly overpowered, however reaching that potential requires more skill than it does to counter the weapon.
        I remember during an early DCUO update they added Two-Face as a playable Legends PvP character. He had an AoE DoT that was just insanely powerful (it was like having another player there launching unblockable attacks). Figuring out how to counter it, and even the act of actually countering it wasn't hard, but it wasn't enough to bring balance to the game and give anyone a reason not to choose Two-Face. It ruined Legends PvP for a lot of people simply because Two-Face was neither a fun character to fight nor play.
        I can only speak of the games I've played but I've never seen an overpowered character, class, item, etc in an online versus game that resulted in more variety.

        All that said I sort of agree with the jist of what he's saying. It's why I'd rather a lot of MMORPGs didn't have PvP at all. In World of Warcraft almost every mechanically interesting class has been absolutely screwed for the sake of balancing them in PvP. They always fall into a pit where the only reasonable way to manage PvP balance is to make everything as similar as possible which just results in bland, sucky PvP and PvE gameplay.

    Yer Skyrim is screwed, the more time you invest into your character to make him stronger the harder the game gets.

    I understand the point in making you "use yourrepertoire" but if you dont think it out hard before you go on level you can screw yourself. (see level blacksmithing to level 100 before anything)

      This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted.

        People expect to be able to eventually break away from the curve given enough time, effort, thought and epic loot. The problem with Skyrim and every other Bethesda game is, if you level up non-combat abilities, it raises your character level, which in turn still raises the combat power of the enemies. So basically you can gimp yourself unless you focus almost solely on levelling up your main combat abilities. In the case of Oblivion, even if you only levelled up your main combat abilities but you didn't get good enough stat multipliers, levelling up eventually made enemies so hard that they were unbeatable. I should know, my first Oblivion character was a warrior who only levelled up long swords, heavy armour, blocking and blacksmithing, but due to letting myself level up naturally instead of "training" my skills in a certain order, I got bad stat multipliers on level ups. At level 20 I was having crazy stupidly hard boss difficulty fights with a regular wolf, and would have to rest immediately afterwards. If I ever got interrupted by an enemy during resting, I was dead.

          i played oblivion with teh difficulty slider up all the way all the time so i dont get these complaints. However yeah i did do a lot of kiting and it usually took a few minutes to kill a single ogre.

    Give this man a medal. I've been saying this about Diablo 3 the whole time. Balancing the game so much that you have no advantage no matter how much thought you put into your build is boring as hell. For instance, in Diablo 3 you might find a weapon with your barbarian that has "+1000 life per hit". The smart person would think "hey, if I combine this with frenzy I can heal a lot better with the bonus attack speed, I might do less damage overall but I'd have more survival ability". Well guess what, you're wrong, because Blizzard has secretly balanced frenzy so that you only get +200 life per hit (without making it obvious). So basically, you get +75% attack speed, but -80% healing, making frenzy LESS effective than bash for taking advantage of this stat. Boring and counter-intuitive.

      I suspect its for PvP, but then I never understood the lure of PvP in the diablo games.

        The only fun that WAS to be had with PvP in Diablo games was deciding to hunt down and kill a friend randomly. Since it's going to be boring-ass arena crap now…

      When we say balanced we dont mean so that every class is as strong as each other.

      In WoW for example, a rogue can outdo any class with no trouble and there ability to use there stealth skills with very little cooldown makes it unfair. Then the warrior class is by far the most useless class in PvP combat unless ur tanking. Before Wrath of the Lich King I had no issues defeating other class's with my Warrior, but as soon Wrath of the Lich King came out, I noticed big time that the warrior class could be owned by nearly every other class then Cataclysm came out and it felt like the Warrior class became obsolete. I will Get the Rogues health down to nothing but they heal every second and can 2 hit kill me.

      The mage keeps healing and has sheilds and again can 2 hit kill me with no problem.

      But the warrior class might have the most Health of all class's, that wont matter when the rogue or mage or priest can just 2 hit kill me but my attacks take atleast 15-40 hits cause they keep healing but the warrior class hasnt got that ability.

      We need balanced games to give us that feeling that the enemys chance of killing me is just as high as my chances if killing them.

      I dont want to play a game and get soooooo angry cause every time I die it feels unfair.

      And allthough this man being interview thinks balanced games are boring, well then i guess the industry is in the toilet cause Developers are trying so hard to get there multiplayer games balanced.

      Single player doesnt matter cause the NPC's dont care if it unfair, real people do

        That only applies to PvP. In my opinion, hack and slash games like this should never be PvP centric. PvP should just be something extra, provided "as is" for a bit of fun on the side. It should not detract from the single player or co-op experience.

    Haha Final Fantasy 8 notoriously levelled up the enemies relative to Squall, so if you wanted to bludgeon everything you had to get him KO'd and leave him that way, and use everyone else for battles.

      Actually wasn't it relative to the whole party as a whole? =P

      That game was brilliantly abusable once u got the skills that let you "kill" a field monster w/o gaining exp + junction = overpowered stats and weak bosses xD

    this guy hits the nail on the head. The fun part about an RPG is finding its structure and "breaking it" as much as possible (atleats thats what i enjoy)

    Makes me remember an old D3 gameplay preview where the dev on hand said, and I quote; "There's no such thing as too much power." - except when we decide a cooperative game is just too much fun with not enough arbitrary limitations.

    I don't know if Torchlight 2 has PVP, but given the random loot, I think what he meant was having a guy get an awesome gun making him 10% more powerful than the other guys until the gun ages or the others find upgrades makes the game fun.

    That being said in Diablo 2 when we played the game 3 player co-op the Guy playing the Necromancer made the game boring as his personal army took out everything so fast you'd be lucky to hit something. We now play with a "No pets rule" for games so we can actually take stuff down. I'm guessing that means switching pets to passive in Torchlight 2.

      ahhh the good ol days of diablo2

      the deadly combination of full pet necro with salvation aura pally
      unstoppeable army of the dead

    So much this, I'm so happy to hear a dev say it. I don't see why people can't understand that striving for perfect balance is a stupid thing, real actual perfect balance is making every player/class exactly the same, making every piece of gear exactly the same, so that you have two people hitting each other at the same speed, for the same amount of damage so that whoever hit first wins.

    Certainly the goal should be to keep things competitive and create counters to certain abilities/builds/playstyles, but the gaming community's obsession with balance over the last decade is utterly stupid, particularly in mmo circles.

    I have to agree with the developer, fun should always come first!

    "A few levels deeper into the game, you might be struggling to find a replacement weapon, your skill combo won’t work as well against the new monster varieties and your pet will start to seem weaker. The multiple, overlapping systems and heavy randomness work to my benefit in this respect"

    To me that just sounds like another form of balancing but. If he insists that over time the "over powered" build will cease to be powerful, and another build will be required, then surely that is a form of balancing. Maybe not balancing so that each individual contest is fair, but the game itself balances out or requires the modification of strategy in the long run for a player to progress effortlessly.

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