Game Development Reference
a fighting game, players might use different characters with different at-
tacks. In chess, white goes first. And in StarCraft , players can choose to
command armies of different species. Such asymmetric games are not
guaranteed to be fair the way symmetric games are. To make them fair (or
at least fair enough to satisfy), they must be carefully balanced.
It might seem like just making a game symmetric is an easy way to
achieve balance. But often, asymmetry is an inherent part of the game.
Someone has to go first in chess. Players of the game Risk must have dif-
ferent starting territories on an asymmetric world map. In a World War II
game, someone has to play the Axis and someone has to play the Allies.
Often, symmetry isn't an option.
There is also a third option besides symmetry and balanced asym-
metry. We can create asymmetric games that are deliberately unfair. This
approach loses any sense of competitive legitimacy, but it unlocks unique
experiences that can't be had in a fair game.
For example, many historical war games have unfair scenarios because
their players are more interested in exploring history than in competing.
They want to find out whether the German army could have won from its
disadvantaged position at the Battle of the Bulge, or if the Japanese could
have held Iwo Jima. Such games must be unfair because historical battles
Other times, designers use unfairness because it creates wild stories
and funny interactions more often than honest competition. For example,
the classic board game Cosmic Encounter equips every player with wacky,
unfair powers because the game is designed to generate humor and, as
designer Peter Olokta said, “Fair isn't funny!” So there aren't any competi-
tive Cosmic Encounter tournaments—but the game is bloody hilarious.
BalanCing foR DePtH
I've described depth as the property of a game that makes it provide mean-
ingful play at high skill levels. Balance is essential in depth. Because for a
game to be deep, it must generate decisions that are so balanced that even
experts aren't sure of the best answer.
For example, imagine that the hero in a swords-and-sorcery fantasy
game encounters a murderous ogre. The hero has two options: he can
attack with his sword, or he can cast a spell to set the ogre on fire. The
sword would cause a lot of immediate damage, while the spell would do
small, repeated amounts of damage over time as the ogre burns. Which
does he choose?
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