A rambling chat about game balance

In lieu of a Pokémon review (because what even is my life right now, arghghghl; next weekend my students are handing in essays and I have to write an exam for the week after that), here is a message log with a conversation between me and Jim the Editor about game balance in Pokémon (and elsewhere).  This is the kind of thing I might post regularly to a Patreon page, if I ever actually create one?  So, comments would be useful.

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[assorted unrelated chat ensues]

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[further unrelated chatter, I go out and buy a bagel]

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2 thoughts on “A rambling chat about game balance

  1. Your mention about Let’s Go becoming a separate series is very possible – the devs stayed they would do so if the first one sells well, and we’d see one for every gen. Of course, it likely won’t be used to introduce more than the odd new Pokémon here or there; I imagine the bulk will continue to be introduced in the mainline games.

    I agree that the fans would never go for the idea you proposed, though it is interesting. I also agree that balancing the game became unrealistic within the first two gens… and downright impossible by gen 3 with the introduction of abilities. The only way I see it being manageable would start by heavily cutting most of the movepools, as there’s too many factors per Pokémon when most have so many options for movies – they can’t accurately predict HOW each Pokémon will be used then. Giving each Pokémon a single ability would be a good second step, as then each Pokémon would have an obvious niche based on its ability, small movepool, and stats. EVEN THEN, balancing would be ridiculously complex because competitive games aren’t balanced with numbers and paper, they’re balanced with actually playtesting and honestly required constant patches to stay balanced because millions of players can do things the dozens of testers didn’t think to try. At this point, even with all those cuts, playtesting could takes years or even decades? It’s hard to say, but the number of team combinations are ridiculous, so it’d be an unrealistic feat. Unless they cut the number of Pokémon down substantially (which you stated). And then that upsets all the people who’s favorite mons are not in the games (people are already outraged that Let’s Go only has the first 151 + meltan). And as much as that could improve the competitive scene… would it improve the games? I agree we’ve reached a point where most is getting bloated, but personally I don’t mind if some Pokémon are trash in battle (I mean I mind a little when my favorites suck but I realize they can’t all be top tier), I just like to see interesting new designs and a large and deep world to explore. I’d be happier if they just gave us bigger postgames like some of the middle gens gave us, the ORAS and USUM post-game episodes were fun but not very meaty. There’s only a handful of Pokémon that are so bad they can’t be used in single player, and as long as they can do that they serve SOME purpose.

    But I entirely agree balance was a lost cause very early on and think it’s cute that GF has tried to fix it a bit in the last couple gens!

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  2. How to perfectly balance the metagame and usher in an ace of puppies and unicorns forever:

    1. Instead of haphazardly buffing the stats of weaker Pokémon, they could do the hard work of reformatting the stats of every single Pokémon to be consistent with each other (consider the huge difference in how they designed stats in Gen 1 compared to Gen 5). I would use Gens 2-3-4 as the template – Pokémon like Onix and Mr. Mime in Gen 1 have weirdly low stats, which I don’t think is a good precedent, while Gen 5 onwards give out 130+ Attack and Sp. Attack like candy on Halloween.
    I don’t think they should make every Pokémon more-or-less (much less strictly) equal in terms of stats – it would make for a rather boring in-game experience if the super-rare and difficult-to-evolve Pokémon aren’t that much stronger than the early game bugs and birds. Instead, let there be Pokémon which are obviously better than others in raw numbers, but give the early game trash and mid-game fillers access to some more specific niches (by way of a combination of movepool and abilities) that allows them to at least have some relevance in upper-tier play.

    2. The type chart, obviously. Again, I don’t think every type has to be equal. Why have a Normal-type if it’s not average, or a Dragon-type if it’s not superior? Furthermore, having a few extra-strong types also empowers the weaker types that happen to be strong against those types – Fairy is everywhere, which gives the otherwise mediocre Poison a very useful role. Obviously, types like Ice simply need big buffs.
    Another thing I think would be helpful is to make double weaknesses less damning – make it so that Rock/Steel-types take 3x damage from Ground and Fighting instead of 4x damage.

    3. Stealth Rock. Defog has improved the situation, but IMO, to the detriment of Spikes, which is really useless now. I’m very biased here, but Stealth Rock is as much suited for Offense as it is for Stall, since it only has to be used once to continuously cripple many, many Pokémon when they switch in, while Spikes require much more effort. Furthermore, Defog itself also favors Offense over Stall since it removes the player’s entry hazards as well. I would prefer a serious debuff or outright removal of Stealth Rock over the current Defog mechanics.

    4. Rework the movepools of Pokémon, making them much more limited for most Pokémon. That way, the possession of a huge, unpredictable movepool would become more of a unique strength, ideally given to Pokémon who are middling in other respects. This would be a good niche for Normal-types.
    For instance: given that Stealth Rock is still in the game, and as absurdly overpowered as it currently is, make it very sparsely distributed. Not accessible as a TM. If you want to use the glory of Stealth Rock, you’ll have to use some not very outstanding Pokémon like say, Golem and Sudowoodo.

    5. A potentially incredibly stupid pet idea of mine: the weather wars of Gen 5 were a bit excessive, but I feel like the debuff to weather really removed a useful tool for making many Pokémon competitively relevant. Say that you rework Drought etc so that they don’t activate weather by themselves, but rather activate the weather move for free on switch-in – given that the Pokémon actually /has/ that move. The secondary effect of Drought etc would be make the weather permanent, provided the Pokémon in question carries a Heat Rock etc. This way, you can have your perma-weather, but it comes at the opportunity cost of both your held item and a move slot. Obviously, this system would apply for Electric Surge etc, and could also potentially open the way for more abilities, given out to underperforming Pokémon, that activate moves such as Reflect on switch-in. (Mr. Mime with auto-Reflect: maybe useful?)

    6. Hand out Huge Power, Drizzle, Wonder Guard and special stat-doubling items to all my favorite Pokémon, and hand out Stall and Truant to the ones I personally don’t like. This last point I think we all can agree on.

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