Today we are talking about balance and our Technology Ruleset.
The Technology Ruleset V2 is the foundation for all combat gameplay and much of the Lore in the Synthetik Universe. Similar to classical RPG rulesets, It is supposed to be updated over time and stay consistent across the varied games in our Universe. It is called Version 2 as it builds up on the Synthetik 1 technology ruleset. Here is a short overview:
The Core Concept
While many other RPG-style rulesets exist, they usually are based on character sheets. We, however, have a technology based ruleset that the world design adheres to.
The technologies are the base foundation for all the combat in all of our games, and as you know, we are rather combat centric; as such this is a very important key element to ensure balance and consistency.
The Key idea is that all the technologies are balanced against each other in a global roster. Technologies are divided between the different factions, all of them having specific advantages and disadvantages, unique visual designs, recognizability and consequences for their gameplay.
Adhering different things like Items, Weapons or Units to technologies also creates a very strong reference point in how something is supposed to look like, behave and be balanced.
By ensuring that the base technologies/damage/weapon types are balanced, we can, to a degree, guarantee good gameplay with strong dynamics and counters, no matter which kind of weapons and items are created by us or by modders, as long as the ruleset is followed.
It can be very hard to start designing from a blank canvas but with the technology ruleset you will instantly have tons of helpful references and do's and don'ts to base your creation upon!
At the very base, the technologies are balanced around the trifecta of Armor, Shield Damage, and Plating. (see first image). The Techs however represent not only damage types and their strengths and weaknesses, but go far deeper and are even linked to the lore, gameplay and visual designs.
As an example, Laser Tech:
- Deals high damage against unarmored enemies
- Has mediocre armor penetration and is slightly weak against shields as a tradeoff
- Laser tech gear has a very specific design language and elements which are recognizable
- Laser effects are always red/orange in hue, there can be no blue lasers or purple or such
- Is tied to certain factions, in this case to the Machine-Military, Red Guard and the Soviets
Laser tech is tied to very specific gameplay elements:
- Weapons are balanced around heat, low deviation, high damage, low firerate, low recoil, effects happen very fast with high velocity
- Weapons have special designs in how they act. For example some have recoil changes based on heat
- Weapon perks have specific designs around heat, last/first shot bonuses, stacking effects, etc
- Laser Items are generally tied to direct damage, not to over time effects and they generally offer little utility but might have effects that stack up or upgrade themselves
- Laser has its own special status effect: "Overdrive" which has a fixed special effect
Knowing all of this, creating a laser weapon, item or faction related tech element will be much easier and have little room for ambiguity. Gameplay that does not make sense and would confuse people by going against common themes and core design can be easily avoided this way.
The New Balancing Paradigm
Additionally to the new ruleset, we now have new way of approaching weapon balance
(or rather ammunition balance) .
Previously, weapons were balanced around fixed bullet types with fixed damage, as example the basic P33 Pistol had 9mm ammunition that dealt around 220 damage.
Another gun like the Nemesis rifle had bullets with 1200 base damage. Ammo in Synthetik was not balanced against each other at all. Some ammunitions were highly superior, like the Nemesis ammo, there were no downsides and only upsides: more armor penetration, more bounces, more damage, more velocity.
Now, the new approach is that all ammo for all technologies start with the same base damage (around 250 for a nice round number, but this is arbitrary) and the weapons simply multiply on these. So a sniper rifle would take the same ammo tech as an SMG (assuming it would use the same technology) but have a 5x damage multiplier. Additionally technologies have their own changes upon the ammo type; the Fusion technology deals 15% less base damage, but gains much more shield damage to compensate.
With this approach, the weapons technically work with any technology and ammunition type and it should be always working and be more or less balanced.
If you think about it, a shotgun is merely a rifle that uses an ammunition with a lot of pellets tumbling in the barrel that cause its bullet spread. This new system works in the same way, adding a soft ballistic normal bullet ammo to the shotgun would make it an acceptable rifle, assuming a decent barrel and sights.
Now as a designer you can use any weapon with any ammunition in the game, even plasma and fire technology. It might not be thematically fitting or look right but it will not only work but also be balanced, as long as the technologies are balanced. If something does not work out, then there is a flaw in the weapon design or there is an imbalance in the technologies which then can be fixed globally and will improve the balance of the entire system.
(Do not expect however that we now will allow nonsensical ammo swaps like a sniper rifle suddenly shooting a flame, it will still look bad and feel wrong. It can certainly be modded in though.)
The technologies themselves are now also supposed to be always equivalent in power, so having explosive ammo might be a lot better in area of effect cases but single target damage would be weaker. It would however add up to a similar total damage output on average as other technologies. In short, there are no "better" technologies in the grand scheme.
To summarize, putting any ammo in any weapon will ideally always give you a balanced gun, while with the more classical system, taking nemesis ammo and putting it into an LMG, or putting fireballs on your pistol would make the weapon incredibly imbalanced.
In addition, we have also implemented rarity-agnostic reference weapons for Synthetik 2 before adding the real faction weapons, which represent the balanced core archetypes of the different weapon types.
We made references like SMG burst, SMG spray, SMG classic, SMG PDW and were balancing these first before going onto any specific guns like the police MP70 Maro.
In Synthetik 1, the Spectre was the baseline for the SMGs and the others would deviate from it in specific directions, but now we are going one step further and creating a real generic reference SMG for each of the categories we think are different enough to warrant a new category, and these generic ones might not even be used in the game. If you take a K7 SMG from S1 per example, it has more damage output than normal due to its rarity, and a very specific perk with luck and high crit damage, heavily skewing its balance. Now we have a generic burst SMG and you can see how the K7 would deviate from that one.
With this approach we can guarantee a much better baseline weapon balance, and anyone creating a new gun can use the reference gun as a starting point, making overall weapon balance much more consistent.
With the stronger defined identity of the reference weapons from the start, it is way harder to make a gun that is accidentally identical or redundant. You don't have to balance from scratch each time but can focus purely on thinking what your new gun does different from the baseline archetype instead of scrambling to see how its balance even works to begin with.
Even though some things in the ruleset are not 100% fully defined yet and the balance between the technologies, while already at a good point, needs some iteration. With this foundation, however, it should be much easier to keep the balance in check and each small fix will be a permanent improvement to the system.
We are planning on gradually (re)introducing the different technologies together with the introduction of the factions that use them and they will be refined over time.
An additional complementary Blog entry about Armor 2.0 is also coming soon.
Let us know what you think!
- Shrike & Team FFG