Friday Dev Update: Balancing Random Loot

10:31 AM Will Sterling 5 Comments

There's something extremely rewarding about looting an item that you know is rare. It's almost an addiction, like gambling. You know the odds are stacked against you, but when you do get that item, it's pure elation. You want it again.

This is something you will likely experience in Salt at some point or another. A lot of the resources and items in the game are based on chance. In a sense, they are randomized. This works well in the world to alleviate monotony and keep things fresh, but it doesn't come without its challenges. One of the most difficult areas to overcome with a randomized loot system is balance. 

Creating Balance

Just as there is the potential to be lucky, there is also the potential to be unlucky. There are times I've played Salt and scored big when it comes to certain rare items. For example, I recall times when I've come across an island that seemed to be a goldmine of hardwood logs, the ever elusive timber. Then there are times where I've spent hours in search of hardwood only to come up dry. By statistical averages, most players will be somewhere in the middle. But then there will be those who end up on the outskirts, whether for good or bad. 

How do you balance this out? Do you constantly tweak spawn chances until the maximum amount of players are happy with it? Do you give players a little more than they need or make things more scarce in general? 

All of these questions are aspects we have had to consider when picking loot chances and designing a system of balance. We've come up with a few ways to do this. 

Alternate Paths

Our major solution to the problem of balance is what I call alternate paths. Essentially, what we've done here is provide players with alternative ways to get most items and resources in the game. Since we have already been talking about hardwood logs, lets use that for an example. 

Let's say you are getting unlucky and not finding many hardwood logs. Did you know you can use broken pirate axes and sometimes craft hardwood logs that way? You can also find merchants who sell them. Or you can find a merchant with a quest to trade regular logs for hardwood. 

Providing these alternate paths helps to balance the chance of finding certain resources. In addition to that, it also allows you to focus on your playstyle and still get the items! If you like combat and fighting pirates, you will find hardwood by killing them and crafting their broken pirate axes. Or you might find it in wood log stacks near their campfires. It allows you to focus on the aspects of the game you enjoy most, while still feeling like you are getting the items you need. 

This is still a work in progress and we constantly tweak it, but I think this is a game mechanic you will see implemented in various aspects of the game.

Resource Placement

A more recent implementation that we've done is implement a new resource placement system. Rob has designed this system to help you better learn where certain resources are and be more productive at finding them. This system helps make sense of the things you find in the world. Now, instead of finding hardwood logs in the middle of a large field, you will be more likely to find them in heavily forested areas near trees that resemble their color. 

Community Feedback

Last but not least, community feedback. We can test and test all day but we are only three people. We need data and feedback from a large group of players to let us know if certain resources and item rarities are balanced well. We've been able to tweak a lot of item chance changes so far based on your feedback and it's helped us create a more balanced system for the player base as a whole. As we implement new items and more resources into the game, we would still love to hear your feedback on item rarity chances and any suggestions you may have! 

Balance in a randomized world is hard. But by implementing these design ideas and constantly getting your feedback, we are confident that items will be challenging and rewarding to get, yet remain balanced and obtainable to all players. 

- Will Sterling (Game Audio and Design)


  1. The alternate paths system really helped save the day for me at the beginning of the game when I really needed hardwood logs for something. Being able to trade for them saved me time and frustration. Though I also do like it now with hardwood being easier to find than it was originally.

    Balance is great. I also think that rare items should be a challenge to find. I know it gets frustrating not finding what you are looking for, but making it too easy would turn the game into a loot quest, not the model of exploration that it is now.

  2. mountain climbing is nearly impossible. u guys have to fix this soon.

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  4. What problem have you been having with mountain climbing? I just use garibaldi oil and up I go.

  5. I want to randomly loot a crows nest for my ships mast!