Balancing a game involves a meticulous process of testing and tweaking. There are numerous variables to consider, and all of them need to be aligned. Hence we reached out to Encoding Lead Petr Kolar and ordered him to ‘Report In!’
We're often asked to let some of our people talk about what it's like to develop a game at BI. 'Report In!' gives you a more personal perspective on our team, a more detailed look at the way we go about our work, and fresh information about our ongoing projects.
In Arma 3, all vehicles have its own handling, which is new in the Arma series. It means that each vehicle now feels significantly different. However, setting all of the parameters is not as easy as it sounds. Petr Kolar (one of our Task Force Balance members) tells us a bit more about the work involved.
Tell the people a little about yourself. What's your role? How long have you been with Bohemia Interactive? Which projects have you contributed on and what is your favourite BI game or mission?
[thumb class="pull-left" clear-xs]petr_kolar.jpg[/thumb] Some of you already know me from the BI forums as ‘pettka’ (the-guy-with-icon_twisted-in-each-post) and I should be in charge of Encoding – a team of self-sufficient people responsible for having all assets in the right state. I’ve been with BI since the start of the BAF DLC development (about three years ago), and began working on Arma 3 afterwards. I really like the missions in BAF, especially the Merlin one. All the procedural changes make each flight unique, and the story twist in the end was splendidly handled. But my most favourite BI game would be Fish Fillets – which serves up a great combination of puzzles and funny quotes by its cast.
And can you give us a random fact about yourself?
I’ve been a game journalist before joining the ranks of BI. This means I’ve played more games than you can probably imagine. And… I like to use triple-slash for comments in my code, because it is displayed in a different colour.
Configuring the game
There have been a few changes in the way vehicles are configured (in comparison to Arma 2). Could you tell us a little about the process of configuring a vehicle/weapon in Arma 3 and how it’s different from previous games?
[thumb class="pull-left" clear-xs]arma_report_encoding_8.jpg[/thumb] I would dare to say that each A3 asset is somehow more complex than in previous Arma games – be it the PhysX for vehicles, accessories for weapons, and uniforms for soldiers. That means we have to configure and cross-test more features, and ensure that all assets are balanced. The good thing is that we now have many more options for tweaking. You may have read our guidelines for configuring cars and weapons. But this is only a tip of the iceberg. All the parameters contain certain logic, and creating distinguishable yet balanced content is our primary goal.
These configurations need to be set for every item in the game?
A lot of stuff can be inherited. This is something our community knows best: adding a new weapon isn't rocket science, most parameters are already pre-defined in parent classes. That means we need to set the bases correctly, and modders should only have to focus on the details. That is what will make their stuff unique.
Arma 3 also contains a few futuristic military prototypes. How do you set the parameters for these?
Two things help us to set these new shinies – real data and game expectations. There is no such stuff as ‘lazorz’ in Arma 3, most of the tech is based on real prototypes, and for example ballistic laws shouldn't change that much in next decades of the Armaverse (you know, bullets would still have weight, energy, friction. Physics stays the same for eons). We know how to gather real data and process them in our game. Meanwhile, most of us are seasoned gamers, with a feeling for how things should behave. But don't expect us to make Arma 3 more arcade-ish. Authenticity is important for us and we consult with military advisors on a regular basis.
And, what about one of Arma 3’s most striking new features: diving?
[thumb class="pull-left" clear-xs]arma_report_encoding_2.jpg[/thumb] Diving was a lot of fun to make, but it did take a large chunk of my life to make it work in-game. The combination of seamless controls and movement inertia have proven to be crucial. But there have also been a couple of funny moments, such as trying to teach fish how to swim.
What is it like
Ah, that brings us to the next question. For a true understanding of what it’s like to drive a tank or fly a helicopter, don’t you need real-life experience?
Yeah, that is somewhat covered by our previous development blogs (about helicopters and GM-6 Lynx), but yes, we always try to get real-life experience where it is even remotely possible. Some of us, including me, have even taken part in University of Defence exercises as civilian hostages. This is all part of getting the ‘feeling’ right. And, obviously, there's a lot of publically available reference material that we take into account.
How do you conduct research in general?
We have quite lot of reference materials in our libraries, but modern technologies help a lot – you are able to find loads of data if you know where to search. Experience has proven that Russian sites have extremely good access to military technologies from all around the world. I wouldn't be too surprised if I see some fictional assets made working by some of our Russian fans.
The process of tweaking assets is seemingly never-ending. We are really glad for the feedback provided by our community and we hold their opinions high. Yet we have to maintain the balanced state of our assets in game and this is often harder than expected.
Tipping the balance
We’ve talked about configuring separate pieces of content, and we know you’re part of the infamous Task Force Balance. So how do you make sure all parts fall together in perfect harmony?
[thumb class="pull-left" clear-xs]arma_report_encoding_7.jpg[/thumb] It is important to have a vision, or design, as we call it. If you have a correct one and keep it during the project, you don't need to re-configure assets so often. And the rest is mainly about balancing countermeasures on several levels – armies, units, their strengths and weaknesses. If you compare for example the Ifrit with the Hunter (faster, but less resistant), they are quite different, but still balanced - even in 1-on-1 engagements. The Red and Green armies aren't just a plain mirror of each other, but the conflict isn't as asymmetric as it used to be for example in Arrowhead.
What about game balancing in MP?
Even if the sides aren't so technically different, balancing in MP proves to be a challenge. Each army should have weak points and strengths. Even more so for the ‘Green’ army (Beta leak). We still think that all sides should be distinguishable yet balanced. In the end, people should be able to come up with interesting strategies for getting the best equipment mix for each side in a MP fight - if we do our work correctly.
How do factions compare to each other?
Each faction has some sort of internal characteristics that define its assets. Some assets are better for a particular use than others, but all of them have meaning. This information helps a lot during the configuration.
The Arma 3 Alpha has been released and in that time we’ve seen a few updates. Could you name a few things that have changed or are being evaluated based on feedback?
There have been several of them. For example, we have added some new features in cooperation with programmers, like sliding on skids of helicopters. But the thing I like the most is the additional cargo space for MH-9 helicopter. It was easy to implement, makes sense and I have seen a lot of positive feedback during multiplayer missions.
Looking ahead, what will your team be working on towards release of the Arma 3?
Most of our assets are at least in prototype stage. That means we are going to tweak them and we are going to look for the overall balance. We will also add several story-related assets, heavy vehicles and stuff, but the main aim of Arma 3 should remain the same. And don't forget that Red and Blue aren't the only factions. The Green ones are inbound and others may come soon.
And after a long day of making games, what do you like to do to relax and unwind?
I'm a gamer, which means I usually play games. It’s also important so that I stay in touch with the industry. But still, volleyball goes first and it's good to have a ball to smash over the net after sitting in office for a whole day. We usually change this during summers for a beach variant.
What advice would you give to the young Vigilio Configo adepts out there?
Try to finish the stuff you start to make. Even if you do something wrong, finish it just for the sake of gaining experience. Get your sources right and keep your code as tidy as possible. It is easy to do many things sub-par quickly, but try to achieve the highest possible quality. Have a bit of luck and enough endurance. Plus, remember that Encoding goes in first and comes out last.
Somewhere, on the fictional island of Altis, a virtual butterfly flaps its wings - causing a digital tsunami. While the world’s video games are drowning, you set out on a final attempt to restore balance, and dive into the sea of pixels. What game will you look to bring back up?
I would go for durability, variability, a strong setting and something to think about. This sounds like Arma 2, but I would need some variety from work, so it means Planescape: Torment for sure!