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  1. Time and culture may have shaped Eora’s borders, piety may have strengthened them, and conflict may have shattered them, but all things sprout from a shared root in the vast unknown. Pillars of Eternity Guidebook, Volume One A few days ago I bought the game and launched it. In return, the game launched a volley of numbers at me. Numbers I did not understand. But I like numbers. You can depend on numbers. They are always there for you. So I asked myself: how do I make those numbers sing? After some time spent nudging them here and there, I realized that my past experience with Infinity Engine games and their AD&D mojo wouldn't get me far on this particular journey. And, frankly, that's great – it means that PoE will possibly be an exciting and refreshing adventure in terms of gameplay mechanics. But still, what do I do with those unwieldy numbers? So I started reading [1, 2] and it seems the news (OK, it's pretty old news, but new to me) is fantastic: the devs at Obsidian are experimenting with the ancient RPG formulas in an attempt to make something fresh, approachable and enjoyable for newcomers and veterans alike. So far so good. But how do I navigate this brave new world of Might, Constitution, Dexterity, Perception, Intellect and Rhesuses? (Or was that Resolve?) In other words, how do I build a character? How do I build a party? A lot of talk about character/party builds gravitates around the so-called min/maxing. For me, this is really just another flavor of good ol' optimization problems. And actually it's pretty natural. Every time you level up a character or equip some shiny new gear, you're optimizing something. What? On the meta-level, I'd say it's your enjoyment. You build a better character, so that playing with it gives you more pleasure. But what makes one character better than other? This whole “enjoyment” thing seems pretty subjective and ethereal. Most people talking about min/maxing use hard facts, objective truth and gargantuan Excel spreadsheets. In fact, there are many things you would want to optimize, which makes min/maxing a multi-objective optimization problem [3]. For example, two of these objectives could be damage output and survivability. For brevity, let's assume these are the only two – I find two dimensions easier to visualize than seventeen, or one hundred twenty-three, or lady-knows-how-many-there-actually-are. So, you could have multiple builds, each with different scores in damage output and survivability. Cf. Figure 1., where build B has the highest damage output, while build C is the most survivable one. Figure 1.: Character build configuration space Based on these ideas, we may try to divide all possible builds into classes, e.g. offense-oriented and defense-oriented, cf. Figure 2. Figure 2.: Different classes of builds in the configuration space We can also try to establish a notion of how good (powerful) a particular build is. This could be analogous to Pareto frontiers [4]. Builds lying on the same “frontier” would be similarly powerful, however they may achieve their power in different ways, e.g. one build would be more offensive, another more defensive. This is pretty intuitive – usually you have a limited number of attribute points to spend, and so if you want to increase one parameter (e.g. damage output) you have do decrease another (e.g. survivability). See Figure 3. Figure 3.: Frontiers of build power If I understand this correctly, the problem with D&D is that there are many “trash builds”, i.e. legal character configurations which are not powerful enough to be comfortably playable. Similarly, there are possibly some uber-builds, which make the game too easy. We may call such a situation a Variably Balanced System (VBS), cf. Figure 4. Figure 4.: Variably Balanced System (VBS) The opposite of a VBS would be a Uniformly Balanced System (UBS), i.e. a system in which every character build is equally powerful, cf. Figure 5. Figure 5.: Uniformly Balanced System (UBS) I presume that Pillars of Eternity is not strictly a UBS, for the following reasons: It would be practically impossible to ideally balance such a complex system. When creating an RPG system, you probably would want to give advanced players some space to optimize their builds. So, as far as I understand, Obsidian were aiming at a situation depicted in Figure 6, i.e. eliminating the “trash builds”, while still leaving some space for build min/maxing. All builds are equal, but some builds are more equal than others Figure 6.: PoE-type system? As far as I know, many people are trying to analyze PoE character and party builds in various contexts, e.g. Let's talk race balance... http://forums.obsidian.net/topic/74777-lets-talk-race-balance/ Ultimate DPS class? Rogue/Cipher/Barabarian? http://forums.obsidian.net/topic/74642-ultimate-dps-class-roguecipherbarabarian/ The architecture of the Pillars. http://forums.obsidian.net/topic/74451-the-architecture-of-the-pillars/ Let's figure out an ideal ironman PotD party! http://www.reddit.com/r/projecteternity/comments/30xymw/lets_figure_out_an_ideal_ironman_potd_party/ Yet, a number of open questions persist: Is the above reasoning about the game system correct? It seems pretty basic and straightforward, but maybe I'm making some wrong assumptions here. Did anybody analyze the equations the game uses for computing various variables (damage, defense, etc.)? Which parameters are the most important? What should I pay attention to? Did anybody do any number crunching in the context of optimizing PoE builds? Do you have any idea how big the configuration space actually is? What criteria do you use when min/maxing your builds? A fellow researcher suggested that a good criterion could be to maximize DPS while maintaining a certain level of survivability. What are your opinions? I'm thinking about playing a Cipher. References [1] Sawyer, J.: How To Balance An RPG, 2014, URL: http://kotaku.com/how-to-balance-an-rpg-1625516832, accessed on: 2015-04-02 [2] Hall, C.: How Pillars Of Eternity Rewrites The Rules For Role-Playing, 2015, URL: http://www.polygon.com/2015/3/25/8284763/how-pillars-of-eternity-rewrites-the-rules-for-role-playing, accessed on: 2015-04-02 [3] Wikipedia, Multi-objective optimization, URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multi-objective_optimization, accessed on: 2015-04-02 [4] Wikipedia, Pareto efficiency, URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareto_efficiency, accessed on: 2015-04-02
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