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Feb 01, 2007



Asymmetric games work when the range of motion and problem space are sufficiently complex, open ended and vast enough to provide interesting and (nodding to zimmerman) meaningful play options. To be interesting, there always needs to be a way out of the box. (What makes asymmetric situations interesting in the real world is that they require - even depend upon - out of the box options for resolution. If there are none, people check out of the process and become "resigned.")

To date, deterministic game architectures have been too limited. As a computer game developer, one gets a thrill from creating rules that the computer enforces (e.g., a chess board where you can't distract the other player and move your rook to Mate while he's not looking). So naturally this is a blind spot for the industry.

The love child of Sid Meyer and Will Wright would have one approach to this...wolframesque cellular automata in a persistent world framework where the gamers' job is more like "great clockmaker", letting assortments of persistent bots play out deliberately (or more likely emergent) unbalanced circumstances.

There is a project coming out of Australia that will be delivering something on this in a different way, but no details yet.


Some virtual worlds are already designed to be imbalanced, although not profoundly so. For example, I'm pretty sure that WoW's paladins were intended to have an easier time of things than, say, priests.



Also, with emergent gameplay assymetry invariably rises. In EVE-online there is no firm balance between the power of individual alliances as they are all player managed and created.


Sometimes the asymmetry is engineered in a way that is aimed at discouraging, penalising or handicapping particular playstyles. Statloss for reds would jump out as an example. UO had to deal with the PK problem somehow and several of their approaches involved making life harder for those who wished to indulge their inner PKer.

Similarly, CCP decided that they wanted more people in 0.0 space and less in safe, Empire space. So they rebalanced a number of things (level 4 mission difficulty, relative rewards for 0.0 ratting and mission-running etc) so as to introduce real asymmetry in advancement based on playstyle.


I don't know this interesting project coming out of Australia but I am all (asymmetrical) ears.
Surely the fascinating aspect in real-world asymmetry (and I don't refer here to us living on a flattened sphere) is the protagonist's response to the lack of balance: will they go with the status quo or charge in as the against all hope crusader?


Having played the original "Balance of Power" when it first came out I found the game incredibly frustrating and difficult

The primary reason was the inability to do anything in the bi-polar world of the game other than threaten. Most of the other actions either made very little change (helping an ally didn't do too much towards winning) or the action was un-allowable by the polar opponent who was willing to go to nuclear war for almost any reason. I lost games as the Americans when the computer USSR player was willing to go to nuclear war over aid I gave to Canada!

The sequel simulated a more multi-polar world, still based around the US-USSR axis. The difference was that the other actors in the game (countries) were altered and changed by what you did to them and what you did in nearby countries. Helping a variety of friendly countries would slowly erode support for your opponent in nearby less friendly countries. As well the more clearly defined spheres of influence made it harder for either the human or the computer to escalate to nuclear war in a country where you had no influence. (ie Americans would be hard pressed to threaten over actions taken in Romania or a hard line Eastern Bloc country)

In the sequel it was easier to win. Even to win as the Soviets against the economic aid abilities of the US.

Asymmetric games and simulations CAN work if there are other avenues of activity that allow one to accomplish ones goals. If we can either take actions that can't be stopped by the opponent, or if we can perform other activites that only slowly help our asymmetric goal, then at least we can take action and play in a polarized environment.

The ability to actually play the sequel made it a much more fulfilling, if almost too easy, game.

The other "lesson" from Balance of Power about asymmetric games is that Chris insisted that if the game escalated to nuclear war BOTH players lost. Having a game which restricts each player's ability to grandstand, and also allows for actions and gameplay, such as the sequel, allow for asymmetric games to be playable and fun.


The PvE game in all the MMOs is by nature asymmetric. It's just tilted in favor of the player. :)


@Raph: "The PvE game in all the MMOs is by nature asymmetric. It's just tilted in favor of the player. :)"

Depends on how yer keeping score. If the player is winning because he/she is beating the environment in quest-after-quest, then yeah... it's tilted in favor of the player. If the environment is winning because it's keeping the player paying $15/month, month-after-month... then it's tilted in favor of the publisher.


Raph> "The PvE game in all the MMOs is by nature asymmetric. It's just tilted in favor of the player. :)"

Yet signficantly, the same PvE field with the same tilt is offered to all players alike. ;)


Platyers have been known to deliberately create assyemtric tactics, partly because they are fun (for a while). This video from EVE shows a 100+ noob-frigate fleet attacking much larger single targets, and I know that groups in other games have embarked on similar "human wave" attacks.

"you don't always win your battles, but it's good to know you fought"


Raph's comment reminds me of the odds in Pachinko and Pachi=slot. They are tilted slightly ABOVE 100%, but the post-game payback mechanism is tilted to less than 100%, so that you feel like you are winning even as you are losing.

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