Our very own Dorian talks to Edge Online about balancing in Card Hunter!

Discussion in 'Card Hunter General Chat' started by Megadestructo, Nov 26, 2013.

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  1. Megadestructo

    Megadestructo Shark Card


    "In our case, we tried to make it interesting from the tactical side, because the game is about finding a subset of your loot that’s best to tackle the next challenge. We tried very hard to make it go sideways and not merely upward – the next thing you find isn’t strictly superior to the last thing, but gives you more tactical options, and success in the singleplayer campaign is about figuring out which options are best suited [to a scenario]."
  2. Genki

    Genki Orc Soldier

    That was an interesting article. I was a little disappointed though that none of the questions seemed to be aimed towards balancing multiplayer. In the off-chance that Dorian reads the forums from time to time I wondered if he might respond to a couple of additional questions specifically about multiplayer and the best way to move forward.

    To quote Dorian from the article:

    "There are games out there that present themselves as skill games and then slowly switch to pay games, and never have a particular moment when you realise it. We’ve tried really hard to avoid that."

    "...we wanted to add extras that people would enjoy – but they’re not necessary to progress."

    Well said - I couldn't agree more. Imo this is the key to making any strategy game fun.

    In the multiplayer experience though, at around the 1200+ rating (depending on who happens to be tanking at the time) you reach a point where you encounter opponents that will rip you to shreds regardless of skill level. Simply put, (without naming any specific skills or items) if you don't have the top level gear yourself you will very likely get slaughtered (i.e not progress).

    My question is: Don't you think this situation goes against your initial intention to put the emphasis on skill? The above situation literally provides that moment you describe where you realise that unless you have 'X', no amount of skill will make a difference.

    To clarify: I'm not saying that an under-geared party should be able to win. What I am saying is that an under-geared party should be able to at least compete. I understand that obtaining powerful items can be a source of motivation for players to continue playing and you need to eat of course! But imo this is far from a catch 22, for I strongly believe that by focusing on bringing balance to MP that new doors will open and with it new methods of monetisation.

    Another quote from Dorian regarding balancing Card Hunter in general terms,

    "It’s like an n-dimensional puzzle where n is always one or two higher than we can reasonably deal with, and pulling on any string causes unravelling in places you would never have expected."

    Anyone who tries to say that balancing is easy (myself included) is delusional.

    My question is though: Given the complexity of achieving balance in general, why do you think it's better to roll out changes only after careful consideration as opposed to continually implementing minor nerfs and buffs where the situation calls for it?

    To Clarify: If you believe that balance is vitally important, don't you think that (given the size of the dev team) the latter is the more logical choice? The current approach is imo much too slow and I don't believe your taking advantage of the platform by having regular updates. By adopting the continuous approach not only will you keep the game 'fresh', you will also show the community that you are actively engaged in balancing and encourage people to play more often!

    I will admit as I type this I feel guilt. Should I keep my opinion to myself? This is not intended to be a cheap shot on Dorian. For the most part, I think he has been amazing and I'm sure everyone agrees with that. In fact, I really don't want to upset anyone on the dev team. I just think that your currently selling yourself short.
    Codde likes this.
  3. Phaselock

    Phaselock Bugblatter

    Commenting from a general player's PoV.

    What do you mean by under-geared ? And what do you mean by being able to at least compete ? Are you saying that as of this moment: an under-geared party isn't able to compete ? Or should said party be able to break 1000 ? or break 1400 ? or or ?

    Players paid $$ to open epic chests, they don't want item values to keep fluctuating before good use is made out of them. Perfect balance is a myth, it doesn't exist. As long as there are enough variety of builds without a single dominance, I think the current approach is alright. Devs are free to produce new content w/o being bogged down by daily balancing.
  4. Genki

    Genki Orc Soldier

    Under-geared means playing against someone who doesn't have the same level of equipment as you do.

    I'm saying that as of this moment, top tier gear has dramatically reduced the skill aspect in the 1200+ rating in a way that is unacceptably frustrating to play against for a player who does not possess similar top tier items - ultimately encouraging people to farm single player for items instead of acquiring them through a human experience in multiplayer.

    To clarify further, what I am saying could almost be taken as a direct quote from Dorian: "There are games out there that present themselves as skill games and then slowly switch to pay games". The difference here though is the skill aspect is not replaced with a pay-to-win barrier. The barrier is equipment based which is more like playing-to-win.

    Here is one example. When you first start playing multiplayer and don't have the convenience of the stronger items, skill really is the biggest factor for winning or losing. It's more engaging because when you both don't have cards like team sprint, step 4, etc, positioning and timing is much more important. Some cards are so strong that they render any attempt at strategic positioning void.

    What's the problem here? Players worked hard (either in-game through single player runs or out of it by buying chests with hard earned cash) to find these items. What you are suggesting is going to make all my efforts in vain because every strong item will be nerfed to allow some bum with no items to actually have a chance to compete at my level.

    The first problem with this is the whole notion of bringing in a moral restriction on the dev team not to change op items because it took a long time or real money to get is not a healthy approach to balancing any game.

    Top tier items will always be that, top tier. Even after a top tier item is nerfed, as long as is it still provides an advantage over other equipment then it will still do just that - give you an advantage. And as long as an item still gives an advantage it will still be sought after.

    What I am suggesting is in order to up the level of skill required to win a multiplayer game, certain items and cards need to be rebalanced in a way that allows players with a high amount of skill a fairer chance at being able to win with weaker equipment against less skilled players with higher level equipment.

    Contrary to what you believe, applying constant (weekly not daily) minor nerfs/buffs based on player feedback would actually give BM more time to focus on doing other things than the current situation provides.
  5. bluesage

    bluesage Mushroom Warrior

    This is sort of the whole point of the rating system. No matter what level your deck and skills are, you should be paired up against someone comparable. You may face someone with better cards but worse play skills, or possibly better skills than you but worse cards. You may run into a deck that is a hard counter to yours and you have a hard time beating, or a deck that is an easy win for you. The point is, if the system is working, you should hopefully never be paired up against someone who you have zero chance of beating.

    Of course, if the issue is that people are tanking their ratings so that they only face people who really have no chance to beat them, well that's definitely a concern but I don't think nerfing top tier equipment would help all that much.

    Keep in mind that the current multiplayer environment is basically Constructed format in TCG terms. It seems like you might prefer something more akin to Limited format - give each player a limited selection of equipment to choose from and have them build the best team they can with it. This balances the playing field somewhat by minimizing the chance of one team having far better equipment than the other - potentially increasing the role of play skill (but possibly increasing the role of luck as well). It wouldn't surprise me if Blue Manchu has thought about doing something like this in the future (and may already have plans for it). We'll see what happens in the future.
    Genki likes this.
  6. Good article. The only thing even close to approaching a pay to win type mechanism in this game is the ability to buy chests to eventually obtain a Vibrant Pain, which is a pay to win item that hasn't been balanced for no clear transparent reason.
    Genki likes this.
  7. Kablizzy

    Kablizzy Orc Soldier

    I stick around the 1100-1300 brackets solely because in the 1100 brackets, my time playing CCGs and Final Fantasy Tactics and stuff like PoxNora for years has given me that skill, but in the 1300+ brackets, I can't compete whatsoever because I haven't ripped any Legendaries worth their salt. Because I don't run X, Y, or Z item, I cannot be considered 'Top-Tier', and this is slightly problematic.
    Genki likes this.
  8. Genki

    Genki Orc Soldier

    @Bluesage, you are right, the limited format does sound very appealing to me.

    I do agree with you on how the rating system works in general and that it should in theory solve the problem, but allow me 1 last attempt to show you exactly why I think its flawed and actually harmful to the game long-term.

    Some might already be familiar with theory of 'flow'. Basically it is the science behind the loose term 'fun'.


    How does it apply to my opinion?

    Based on this theory, I will show you exactly where the point of engagement is lost.


    Figure 1. The rate at which your equipment directly affects your rating. The result of which places players in 3 distinct brackets.

    What do you think happens when players reach the end of bracket 2? Providing you agree that figure 1 is somewhat accurate then according to flow theory (and regardless of skill level) the challenge becomes so great that the player is either forced to:

    a.) find themself pidgeon holed into using 1 or 2 different strategies to compete with a decent chance of winning.

    b.) encouraged to go back to single player and farm those elusive epics themselves (or pay to get them) before they come back to have the same level of enjoyment.

    c.) intentionally tank their rating so that they can stomp other players and reach the higher end of bracket 3 in the most time-efficient manner possible.

    d.) Quit the game and move on to a more engaging experience.

    Even for those at the lower end of bracket 3, the combined power of having access to most of the epics is still too sharp of an incline for them to compete effectively with those at the higher end.

    Whats the point of all this? Again, provided you agree with figure 1, then the ONLY way that you will keep people enagaged when they reach the end of bracket 2 is if you adjust the power curve of items to make it fit with general theory of flow. In other words, getting rid of the spike.

    And the only way you are going to do that (without adding more items/cards that bridge the gap) is by reducing the collective power given by epics. How would you do that? Well, undoubtably the easiest way is by applying minor nerfs until the curve balances itself to follow the initial line once more.

    By doing this you will:

    1.) increase the size of bracket 3, making it easier for high ranked players to find a game.

    2.) Avoid pushing players into the Anxiety Zone where immersion is lost.
  9. Phaselock

    Phaselock Bugblatter

  10. bluesage

    bluesage Mushroom Warrior

    Most impressive, Genki! I did already basically get your argument, but the charts are a nice touch. That said, as much as I admire your diligence, I am still not convinced that the curve really takes quite that sharp a turn or that specific top tier cards (like Vibrant Pain) are really completely dominant just by themselves. It certainly seems like at this point there is more than one viable top tier deck, and not all of them rely on legendary or epic cards. In any case I certainly doubt that the graphs are really that smooth - my experience is that there is a lot of variance from game to game, so the graph looks more like a random scatter plot than a nice solid line.

    It's true that if you have your heart set on building your deck around a particular legendary card that will not drop for you, you're going to experience a lot of frustration. But on the other hand, part of the skill of the game is looking at the equipment you do have access to, and figuring out how to build the best deck with just those cards, even if it's not your ideal "dream" deck. And one thing I've learned from TCGs is that the metagame is constantly changing. If one deck becomes dominant, then people figure out how to counter it. So for that reason I think it does make sense for the devs to give the metagame a chance to work itself out before they intervene with the nerf hammer. If there's no viable counter-strategy on the horizon though, or the deck type is actively discouraging people from playing (as card-drawing did) then a nerf may be called for.

    Finally, play skill is not to be underestimated. It's really easy to make mistakes in this game, and a single bad mistake will cost you a match in many cases. I've finally started to see my rating go up recently after stagnating around 1100-1200 for weeks, and while some of it was due to slight card improvements, a lot of it was just figuring out how not to make dumb mistakes (or rather, I learned the hard way how NOT to play against certain deck types, and those lessons finally stuck).
    Genki likes this.
  11. Phaselock

    Phaselock Bugblatter

    Those charts are not Genki's. They can be found in any rudimentary basic game theory site/publication. I could point you to a recent online article but I don't see the relevance to this thread.


    Disclaimer: Take such articles with a huge grain of salt. They are largely models created by researchers/students to explain social phenomenons.
  12. Genki

    Genki Orc Soldier

    I think he meant the charts in figure 1 Phaselock. I have obviously hit a nerve with you and I apologise if I might have come off as aggressive when expressing my opinion. You can take articles like the one you linked lightly but 'flow theory' itself was not put forward by a researcher\student like that essay was. It was developed by a psychology professor and is generally the most accepted model in the world we have for explaining why we become engaged in any activity where skill and challenge are involved.

    @Bluesage, sorry mate I didn't mean to bombard you with the same information again, I just wanted to make sure I was perfectly clear with my point and thought a graph would best describe it. If you (and anyone for that matter) don't agree with brackets then I honestly respect your opinion. We can agree to disagree.

    I do take your point that I am perhaps underestimating the skill needed at higher levels. Admittedly I might be in the minority with my experience. In any case I hope you keep enjoying the game and thanks for the conversation. I look forward to seeing what happens with this game in the future.
    bluesage likes this.
  13. Flaxative

    Flaxative Party Leader Staff Member

    I mean, drawing Nimble Strike (or a lot of nimble strikes) is definitely skill-intensive. It's like how you can be good at opening packs in MtG. Heart of the cards and all that.

    Disclaimer: I'm not being entirely serious; immense skill is required to play at the top tiers.
    Kablizzy likes this.
  14. Qui11

    Qui11 Kobold

    I enjoyed MP more as I was rising through the ranks, winning the majority of my matches. I could play faster since all I had to do was to make fewer mistakes than my opponent. Once I passed 1200 the game changed. No longer can I make mistakes and expect to win. It has slowed me down and I am frequently under time pressure. It bothers me that some opps find it annoying to play against me because of that.

    Yet I still win about half my matches. I myself don't particularly worry about whether I am losing to less skilled players with better decks. I am playing less MP but kibbitzing more, and it seems clear to me that the top players would kick my ass regardless of deck. There is a natural increase in anxiety/frustration once a game "gets hard" (and one loses the positive reinforcement of rising ratings) that I think is present even in lootless games like chess. To progress past this point requires effort, whether it involves honing one's skills or farming loot, and that will indeed turn off many casual players. However, removing OP items would merely delay the inevitable. Not to mention making it rather pointless to put any money into the game, without which there will be no Cardhunter.
    bluesage and Flaxative like this.
  15. I've had the opposite experience. I've played a substantially small number of players I would consider skillful or capable of performing well with a balanced equivalent deck (in a tournament format for example). Item Power level is very determinative of rating. Skill is harder to measure currently, its more of an "I know it when I see it" aspect you get from matching up against certain opponents, or spectating high-level players. With that said, epics and legendaries in general aren't necessarily better (in fact, legendaries are often quite worse than equivalent token commons), but certain legendaries, and we all know which one I'm talking about, are so disproportionately strong as to approach pay to win and rating inflation and should be balanced.

    Items like that existing in a game like this are, in my eyes, holding back the potential of multiplayer because certain items will give players a significant boost in rating and form an equipment plateau as suggested above by Genki.
    Kablizzy likes this.
  16. Oberon

    Oberon Hydra

    Guys, you miss the point of the article. You don't make balance decision based on opinion, you make them on data and testing. Particularly in CCG type games, small changes can have large ripple effects due to having lots of moving pieces. You want solid data showing an issue, and then after lots of discussion on how to fix it, you still need substantial testing to try to avoid causing other problems.

    What I keep hearing about Nimble Strike just isn't making much sense to me.

    1) Many of the top players got to that point using strategies (priest card draw) that are no longer possible. So their rating wasn't based on a specific legendary.
    2) Observing top rated players in games, I personally haven't seen any specific legendary being relied upon. No one else seems to be reporting that either.
    3) Multiple people with high ratings have posted decks that don't require any specific legendary. So again I'm not seeing any dominant strategy emerge relying on specific legendaries.

    All I keep hearing is opinion. To me, it just seems an easy excuse at the moment. There's over 220 legendaries, making it prohibitively difficult to have any specific one, so the excuse is just going to keep moving to the next item people don't have. An item being stronger than average is mainly a concern if it has no viable counters. That doesn't appear to be the case here. Otherwise you'll be chasing item changes forever.

    Honestly, all I see is a shifting metagame. Warriors with a lot of movement have always been good, so with priest draw gone, they've simply come back. There are strategies that beat step warriors, namely control/encumber wizards for one, and at least it seems that people are posting on the forums that they are doing quite well in MP using these counter measures.
    spacedust likes this.
  17. Oberon

    Oberon Hydra

    Second post for a different discussion.

    People seem to be under the misconception that Card Hunter MP is like a constructed format CCG tournament (where you show up with the best possible deck). It's not. It's clearly closest to a sealed deck format.

    Sealed deck formats are defined by having access to a limited amount of the total card set. Meaning you don't have all the cards you want, you have to make do with what you have. Don't confuse this with the "limited" format which are actually draft formats, they have confusing names.

    With such a large base set, Card Hunter is mimicking a sealed deck format in a regular CCG. Even with years of play you're unlikely to have anything close to a "complete" set of legendary items, unless you've bought thousands of dollars in pizza. Even Randimar's shop reinforces this design decision, as it could take years before you ever saw a specific legendary item in that shop. I use the term design decision on purpose, because clearly this was a decision made by the developers. This is why they don't let us buy any item we want, that would turn the game into a constructed format.

    Sealed formats are largely considered to be both reliant on skill and luck, many consider them to be the most luck dependent format for CCGs. The winners of these tournaments normally need to have enough luck to open a powerful set of cards, but they also require the skill to play them at a competitive level versus similar decks. Cardhunter, being free to play and all that, lets you mitigate the luck factor by increasing your collection the more you play. But over time it's still incredibly unlikely you will get everything you ever want, so you will always be limited by your available cards.

    This luck might be represented by opening specific powerful rare cards (sound familiar?), or by having a good collection of cards at lower rarities that share powerful synergies. But again, it takes a skillful player to understand and evaluate their available card pool to realize which they have and be able to build the most powerful deck they have available. Though I suppose with a non-tournament format a lot of this can be figured out by looking for decks on the forums.

    My only concern with Card Hunter is that there needs to be viable competitive strategies that don't require specific legendaries. Regardless of the concerns. that does appear to be the case. As shown by the various control wizard builds, as well as the all out attack warrior builds (not to mention the priest draw decks). Will there be some strategies defined by legendary items, quite probably, and I'd be willing to bet we haven't seen all of those yet as over time people will find more of them. But so long as they aren't dominant against everything else, it can still create a "fair" metagame.
    Codde and spacedust like this.
  18. Flaxative

    Flaxative Party Leader Staff Member

    The meta is definitely healthier than it has been, and the devs are doing a good job.

    But, in response to your point—
    1) I don't talk about those top players. I talk about the active players in the current top 10.
    2) Many of these players don't use Vibrant Pain, as attested in some recent threads. This is cool I guess.
    3) If you look at the stories these people tell, once you get past "wow, these guys don't use Vibrant Pain!", you'll see that they broke into the top 10 once they had more nimble strikes in their deck.

    Remember, nimble strike is not a legendary item. It's a rare silver card that is grossly undervalued by the game's quality system and that generates tremendous instant card and tempo advantage in a way few other cards can. There are bad items with nimble strike, and there are good items with nimble strike. There are good players with nimble strike, and there are bad players with nimble strike. It is not in itself every factor in determining the outcome of a game, or series of games. But density of nimble strikes is definitely a big one. If you disagree that it's a super powerful card, I suggest you find Scared Little Girl's thread about it—there're a lot of great posts in that thread outlining the potential issues with a card so strong. If you continue to disagree with the claims you find there, then that's that and we'll have to agree to disagree :p
    spacedust and Pilgrim Bailey like this.
  19. Oberon

    Oberon Hydra

    None of these posts demonstrate much understanding of play balance in my opinion. Warriors need step moves to be viable against strong control wizard builds (we've been discussing this since the beta). As nimble strike still allows decent movement when you have 2 encumberance, it has every reason to be powerful and thus incredibly popular. The other step move cards simply don't work well against encumber, and the push move cards are rather limited in availability. Keep in mind that wizards have not only numerous encumber effects that last multiple turns, but multiple 2 for 1 movement effects in winds of war and improve telekinesis (not to mention force spells). Warriors need viable step moves to be competitive against wizards.

    Put as simply as I can. If you reduce the power of nimble strike you'll simply make control/encumber wizards stronger. As they are already quite strong, I have every reason to believe this change would just make that the clearly dominant strategy.

    This is precisely the point behind ripple effects of balance. Nimble strike is quite good, but its not dominant. Other strategies are able to keep it in check, just as it keeps other strategies in check. If you remove it from the card ecosystem, you're going to have other problems you have to deal with. You end up chasing your tail, and the environment is actually less balanced then when you started.

    If you balance a CCG based on people complaining about the cards they're seeing beat them, you end up in this endless cycle. Remove nimble strike, and you will have to reduce encumber effects. Do that, and you'll likely have to fix something else. None of this creates the imagined "perfectly balanced" environment.
    Lusus121 and PaladinGP like this.
  20. Flaxative

    Flaxative Party Leader Staff Member

    I'm not suggesting the game be balanced based on complaints. If the game were it'd be gone in seconds. There would be 0 cards. Anyway there is no balance utopia. It's a dream. But if being in the top tier directly correlates with your density of a single specific card, then it's not at all like a limited environment. Nimble strike is the Jace of Card Hunter. Sure, it plays a cool role in the meta. But I think its role should be much smaller—on a similar scale with emerald cards like obliterating bludgeon or freeze. There should be a wider variety of more varied (power-level-wise) cards that can deal with the things that nimble strike deals with. Purge and shrug it off should be more accessible; encumber effects should maybe cost a bit more to run; winds of war is clearly one of the best cards as well and might need tweaking. There're infinite options and I'm not calling for anything hasty, or not based on numbers. But I'm pretty sure the numbers show that nimble strike is a big factor in ensuring a high rating.
    spacedust likes this.
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