Single Player Game Balance

What does it mean for a single player game to have good or poor balance? Like does it just mean that things are too easy or difficult?

Balance in a single player context typically means balance between the options the player has, so they’re used in roughly equal proportion. So if you have 5 weapons, you want a balance between them, so they each have a moment where they’re useful. This can mean giving options each their own unique utility, their own thing they’re best at, but also regulating how often more powerful and less powerful options are used. If options aren’t balanced in singleplayer games, then they become all about doing the same thing all the time. Options in single player games need to be balanced both in terms of what they actually are, and the situations that crop up across the game. Something might be really powerful, but if it’s situational and the situation for it never comes up, then that’s kinda lame.

In an abstract sense, even a game like Mirror’s Edge can be said to have a type of balance. There’s tradeoffs between different routes through each level, and the different types of movement capabilities you have. You use all of them in roughly equal proportion, but you have the ability to choose which you use in many places.

Halo had a good example of this with its weapons. There’s a clear sorting order of power between them, but more powerful weapons are constricted by ammo scarcity. I think ironically Halo 2, which has better weapon balance in terms of damage output, does weapon balance a bit worse for a single player game, because it means the power weapons have lower utility as a result. I can see how it would help multiplayer though. Sometimes it pays to balance differently between singleplayer and multi. Starcraft 2 did this for example.

Keeping this type of balance in mind when designing a singleplayer game is important. It helps the game express the depth of all the elements you put in, instead of leaving things on the cutting room floor.

Which single player games do you think have the best overall balance?

Best balance? In a single player game? I mean, balance is a thing in single player games, you need to balance different options, but a lot of single player games don’t totally work that way, at least not nearly as demonstrably as multiplayer games.

How balanced is Mirror’s Edge? How balanced is mario, or castlevania? Balance begins to become a question as you get into RPG territory like dark souls, where there’s multiple ways to build the character. It begins to become a question for games with lots of overlapping options, like Devil May Cry. However judging the game with the best overall balance, who knows? Who can say?

In Single Player Games, the balance just needs to be good enough most of the time, rather than really fine-tuned perfect. Also single player games can cheat a bit by giving different elements unique utilities, so you need to use them all to some extent. In many games, you’re perfectly capable of ignoring the balancing between different options and just powering through with one underpowered option, where that gets you slaughtered in multiplayer (except versus very bad players who can’t adapt).

That honestly gave me the idea at one point that a boss enemy, like in the souls series, should perhaps try detecting if the player is using the same tactic over and over again and specifically doing the tactic that counters that. Like if the player only punishes this one move, never use that move. If the player never attacks long startup short recovery moves, use more of those. Basically, use moves in inverse proportion to how much the player punishes them.

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