Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Asymmetry in game design

I was reading this article over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun about Blight of the Immortals when one of the developers responses struck me as interesting. 

RPS: Hmm. The starting positions for both your games, particular the PvP in Blight, seems uneven. Position, resources – that can all give you a better or worse start. Is that deliberate?

Kyburz: I really love Starcraft but one thing I don’t like about it is that everybody starts on an even playing field. The sides are carefully balanced and each player starts with the same amount of resources and access points.

Most people would say this is absolutely critical, but I would argue that is actually makes that game more difficult and less enjoyable for new players, limits the number of interesting strategies for experienced players, and reduces the amount of player interaction.
As a long time MMOG player, I've had my fair share of arguments about balance.  In the decade I've argued about balance I've landed firmly in the middle.  I want balance, but only if it is asymmetrical.  Like the developer being interviewed, I find the Starcraft approach where both sides start on equal footing uninteresting.

This reminds me a lot about the discussion regarding racial abilities prior to World of Warcraft's launch.  Originally, races (and even classes) were going to have very unique traits.  Taurens were going to have plains running for sprinting over open plains.  Paladins were going to do more damage to undead, including players.  However, Blizzard pulled the plug on this idea and neutered the racial abilities into fairly meaningless afterthoughts; some more worthless than others (anyone that played a Troll or Dwarf at launch know exactly what I mean).

Its one of those "I wonder what it would be like..." moments that I look back on.  How different would WoW have been had the races and some classes kept their unique asymmetrical features?  How critical is this for the Blizzard design mantra: "easy to play, hard to master"?

Back to the interview, the asymmetrical starting resources definitely has me interested in Blight of the Immortals.  I couldn't get into this developer's first game, Neptune's Pride, as it was terribly unfriendly to new players (not challenging, but more just basic explanation of how you even played the game).  If I manage to kick my Minecraft habit (doubtful), I may get around to playing a few games.

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