This has been something I've wanted to have a serious discussion about in a while because it cuts fundamentally to the heart of Empires. This is not a thread about discussing potential changes per se, and should not be taken as deciding the direction the game would go too. It is simply a discussion at the most, and more generally a collection of thoughts on the matter. I'm curious as to how others view balance on a more abstract level, ideally with some concrete examples paired with the concepts. Balancing in Empires has always been a complicated matter, and I certainly learned this personally when I tried my hand at balancing the scripts. As such, I want to list some things I've observed about balance, expectations of what balance is, and player's reactions to certain balancing methods. I do not intend to pass judgement and declare that any view is correct, but simply to try and foster some understanding of what balancing entails. The first thing I want to talk about is the concept of hard vs. soft counters vs. skill-based equipment. For those who don't understand the terms, a hard counter refers to anything that is almost guaranteed to beat another thing regardless of individual skill. For example, Absorbent has classically been a hard counter against Railguns because the Speed to Damage modifier drastically lowers the damage that Railguns do to the point that a tank with Absorbent with almost any weapon will beat another tank that's using Railguns simply because the second tank will do a comparatively negligible amount of damage. Another example would be Bio MG and Reactive when Reactive took 150% damage from Bio, causing Bio MG to tear a Reactive tank to shreds. A soft counter would be something that has an advantage but isn't guaranteed to win, or can be countered with skillful play. An example of a soft counter would be the Rifleman vs the Engineer at range, where the Rifleman would be at an advantage but the Engineer can still cinch a win. Another example would be 3-Phase vs. Homing on an open map, where 3-Phase can potentially just outrun the Homing missile, but can still be hit by, say, aiming ahead of the target instead of relying on the homing capability. Skill-based equipment refers to anything that isn't inherently good by default, but has some trait that makes it more effective with skillful use. Two common examples of this are Reflective and Regenerative. Empires has, historically, tended towards skill-based equipment. This is descended from its FPS roots, where hard-counters are rare and soft-counters relatively uncommon, where a pistol can be better than an assault rifle or a shotgun in the right hands. Fundamentally, Empires players tend to be FPS players, and as such don't like the idea of "Weapon X always beats Armor Y", because that takes a lot of the skill out of the player's hands. However, it is important to note that RTS's take the exact opposite view, where hard-counters are the bread-and-butter of gameplay and soft-counters form a support for this. Both of these views make sense within the respective confines of their genres: an FPS game that relied on hard-counters would almost be reduced to a game of chance, each player hoping that they pick the class that would beat a majority of the enemy, while an RTS allows a player to compose their own army and use a variety of units to emphasize strengths and cover weaknesses; FPS's rarely have the type of coordination required for such a system of balancing (If you imagine, say, an AoE-styled first-person game, it would be perfectly feasible that one team might be nothing but archers and the other team cavalry, while it'd be harder to imagine a single person managing an army deciding to put all his eggs in one basket). Certainly, one of the things I've seen is some people asking for hard-counters to be the way research is balanced in Empires. For example, Electric beats Bio, Bio beats Physics, Physics beats Electric, would be the classic rock-paper-scissors balance. Oftentimes, the reasoning for this is two-fold: Firstly, it would make balancing a helluva' lot easier; simply give each armor in each tree a resistance to the tree in front of it and a penalty to the tree behind it. Secondly, it puts a real importance on research and causes players to have to constantly be researching new items so they don't fall behind. However, there are two clear downsides to this approach. The first is that it takes a lot of the skill out of the game when it comes to encounters; a two players in tanks can only hope that they have the counter to what the other guy has. The second is that it moves a lot of how the game will go from the players to the commander. If the commander researches the wrong thing, then it makes it a lot harder to make a comeback than it would normally, and it's a lot more important to have a commander who knows exactly what they're doing. Another thing of note but not as important is how keeping the enemy radar down would be much more of a boon to stop them from getting the counter to whatever you have. As it's well known that it's harder for a losing team to afford a radar and keep it up, this would have the potential to make it harder for a losing team to make a comeback, by making research all the more important. Soft-counters would have somewhat of the same issues as hard-counters, but less so. I'd imagine that an Empires using a counter system such as this would tend towards soft-counters (say, 20% damage resistance on armor) rather than hard-counters (50, 75% damage resistance). Skill-based counters are another beast entirely. As I said earlier, Empires has generally tended towards skill-based counters due to its FPS roots. Like hard-counters there are upsides and downsides. The upside is that individual player skill becomes more important and it reduces reliance on the commander getting it right. The downside is that individual player skill becomes more important and it reduces reliance on the commander getting it right. I cannot stress how important it is that that cuts both ways. You see, oftentimes, commanders don't research the best upgrades, they research the most usable upgrades. That means Homing over Guided, HE over Ranged, Compo/Reactive over Regen/Reflective, Gas Turbine over AC/Fission. They can't afford to get Ranged if it just means the lesser-skilled players are going to get near-misses all the time, or get AC if players won't learn to stop moving their tanks, or Reflective if players won't learn to angle their tanks. When something is made more skill-based, players tend to want it more but at the same time, commanders want it less. The end result is that commanders classically have gone for safe research that doesn't require them to really weigh the skill of their team. This is also why Bio used to be such a popular tree with a team of new players; they don't have to worry about not being able to move when overheated, they don't need sustained firepower to keep the DPS of Bio up, and the armor means they don't have to worry so much about making sure they repair. I believe that the best example I have for this is Reflective. Reflective has been the best armor in the game for quite some time, by the numbers. Previously, if you could angle it by that 45 degrees, it become the best armor in the game because it had effectively double the health. But it was too risky of a maneuver to get Reflective because it was skill-based. So it got made safer, first by lowering it's weight, then increasing it and it's health, then by lowering it's health and it's weight to 80/15 respectively. By that point, it became safe enough for commanders to be willing to get it. However, that simple metric alone belies how much it had to be buffed to make it safe while keeping some semblance of skill mattering. When you bring the reflective modifier into account, it becomes extreme. At 10 degrees, Reflective has about the same health per weight as Reactive. At 30 degrees, it can match Reactive's health-per-plate and health-per-res, while matching Capacitive's health-per-weight. At a full 45 degrees, it smashes everything else out of the park at 160 health-per-plate and 10.66 health-per-weight, a full 25% better than the second-best with 8 health-per-weight. In other words, it was pushed to the point that players could accidentally make it as good as Reactive, and with a bit of skill make it outright overpowered. Certainly, the reflective modifier could be changed so it becomes less extreme, but then that just pushes it towards Reactive as an armor. As long as it wasn't passively as good as Reactive, it was too dangerous for commanders to get it. One of the more common complaints that I got from general players was how similar things were made to each other; Plasma was 3-slot HE; Railguns were 3-slot ER. There were certainly differences still, but most people boiled them down to something like that. But diversification necessarily requires specialization to reduce overlap between items. When I talked to pub commanders about their research (And believe me, I was doing serious 1-1 conversations over Steam with a lot of them), a lot of them were telling me that when things were specialized and diverse, they couldn't run the risk of players not being able to properly utilize the more specialized weapons/armors, so they opted towards the more generalized weapons/armor, the types that had the sole positive traits of having no negative trait and being easy to use. This leads to under-utilization of the specialized equipment, and in my perspective, there was no point in having things in the research tree if they never got used. Sometimes I wonder if that was the proper solution, but it was the solution I came up with at the time, and so it's what I decided to stick with. However, I never really explained my line of thought, so I decided that putting it on the forums might encourage a good discussion of balance in Empires. TL;DR, Read the damn post, I'm not writing a summary for a 1810-words-long wall of text.