Couple of days ago I set my alarm clock to wake me up at 5 am. I wanted to watch the Finland – Czech Republic match. It wasn’t after 3rd intermission when Finland scored 1-0 (and soon after it was 2-0). The whole game was a thriller – and and the challenge was just right. Game was a one big fight that ended in a good end result (at least from the Finnish perspective). The best gaming experiences can be like this: the player encounters challenge and barely wins in the game, with chance of losing.
It was totally different in the next Finland – USA match. The match became so that after 3 minutes or so, USA scored 0-1 due horrible error. Then couple of penalties and some minutes later it was 0-3. Then 0-6 after 15 minutes or so. It was slaughtering, and the first intermission wasn’t even over. At that point I went to bed to sleep. There was pretty much no point for me to watch the game as it was pretty certain that USA would win (1-6 was the end result).
So, when you “know” already who is going to win, there’s no point playing. One could argue that one should not stop fighting and all that… and yes, I agree on that. But I also agree with the design lesson that it’s much more fun to play when game provides just the right amount of challenge instead of playing a game that’s nearly impossible to win.
So, how can this be achieved?
Sometimes, it’s possible to provide handicap for the losing side. Some games have mechanisms that help the losing side to catch up. This can sometimes work pretty fine if done properly.
Some games might do the opposite (“rich get richer” attitude) or nothing.
In video games, it’s sometimes done so that the “AI balances/tweaks its behavior based on the game situation”. In video games, this feels like cheating. It can also lead to conclusions such as “why play as good as possible, if the computer will match my skills no matter what I do” – it’s like there’s no point of trying to get better since the computer is always mimicking my actions. It’s like playing chess with a mirror or something.
I think video games can learn from board game mechanisms in this issue. Board games don’t have similar AI that video games, thus they need to build the game mechanisms so that it works properly. Checking that side of the fence can be useful.
What you think? What kind of balancing you like in games? How you handle balancing in your game? How you like if computer difficulty is adjusted based on how well you are playing?