When it comes to balanced games, chances are you’re not thinking of fighting games. Chances are even better, that you cringe at the idea of a fighting game being ‘Balanced’. For the average person catching a high level eSport or watching a competitive fighter, it’s essentially a blur of movement, rapid framerates, endless combos and an audience/broadcaster commentary track using what is effectively an alien language.
To an extent, these things are part of the experience- The ‘Alien’ language of a fighting game commentary is part of the community, and the endless combos with an obsessive counting of framerates is what separates contenders from pretenders. However, when designing our own fighting card game (with a digital expansion in mind) it became plainly obvious that many of these things can be entry barriers for new players, or, in our case, players in a new game.
As a bit of background, our card game (currently in early development) is a mixed martial arts fighting card game sitting the line somewhere between the Street Fighter series and the EA Sports UFC franchise. Using punch and kick cards, as well as submission and wrestling cards, you’ll also need a solid gameplan to reduce your opponent’s HP to 0.
One of the advantages to a paper-prototype is that it inherently strips away frame rates by slowing the game down. For future fighting game developers, I would strongly recommend breaking down your game down into a card game for the sake of understanding how fighting commands (and their interactions with each other) work. In doing so, we’ve discovered what moves could be considered over powered and what needs a little extra heat behind it to keep its usage up.
As a personal note, when it comes to balancing the game out, I’ve always erred on the side of nerfing, as opposed to buffing attacks (in both fighting and card games) so as not to provide any potential game-breaking strategies. This however, has changed over the course of balancing the games as buffing cards increases the game’s pace and overall excitement. When trying to emulate the chaotic feel of an MMA fight, it should always feel like any fighter could win at any moment, conversely, it should also go without saying that the more skilled combatant should win more often than not. Essentially, what we’re going for is the feeling of a potential upset victory but reward those putting the time in to learn the game’s intricacies and strategies. It’s definitely been eye-opening going from player to designer, but overall it’s easy to say I’ve gained an entire mountain of respect for everyone in the testing department.
We’ve actually just printed out a new set of cards to expand our original 16 card lineup, and we can’t wait to test them. This game is going to be awesome.
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