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 Post subject: Difficulty Levels and Poor Game Design
PostPosted: Tue Feb 21, 2012 2:46 pm 
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It's pretty common nowadays for games to incorporate multiple difficulty settings, but all too often they don't really contribute anything to the game. Literally the only difference between difficulties is that the player receives more damage from attacks and maybe deals less damage with their own. That's it. Hack'n Slash/Beat'em ups are the worst perpetrators of this. A noticeable problem this is that the games themselves are most often designed around the standard difficulty for the game. When you clumsily up the difficulty, it can make otherwise sensible design choices break down. A good example of this is the final segment on God of War with the Kratos clones. Originally, you were faced with a large number of enemies that were capable of doing only moderate damage. These factors even out. However, once every single enemy becomes capable of dishing out fatal damage, the logical balance of this segment goes completely out the window. Rather than a solid or rewarding challenge you're stuck grappling with what is simply a broken segment.

My question is, is it bad game design to make higher difficulties by only changing the damage done by and dealt to the player? Do they contribute to the quality or enjoyment of the game? In my opinion, this is simply lazy. There are plenty of ways to incorporate higher difficulties that choose better and more rewarding methods to challenge the player. As much as I fault Ninja Gaiden for having a difficulty that detracts from the experience, on higher difficulties they genuinely add content to the game. There are new and interesting enemies and enemy patterns that challenge the player in new ways. In most shmups rather than just making all of the bullets faster, the developers will add entirely new bullet patterns. In lots of RPGs there are plot-unimportant superbosses and extra tough sidequests waiting in the wings in case the player wants to go for an extra challenge. It's actually a different experience for the player, rather than a cheap extension of the old one. For this reason, these can be considered good game design choices. Compared to this, cheaply increasing the difficulty doesn't really contribute to a game's experience.

Thoughts?

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 Post subject: Re: Difficulty Levels and Poor Game Design
PostPosted: Tue Feb 21, 2012 3:52 pm 
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As long as it doesn't actually break anything, then I'd call it a legitimate method of making a hard mode. Most of the time it just means there's less room for error, or that you actually need to make full use of the tools provided.

It'd be different if, say, the game fails to provide adequate ammo for the increased defense/HP of enemies.

Which is not to say it'd be the preferable route to making Hard Mode, just that it's not necessarily bad design.


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 Post subject: Re: Difficulty Levels and Poor Game Design
PostPosted: Tue Feb 21, 2012 4:00 pm 
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I personally prefer a game to be designed with difficulty in mind, rather than they just adjust the difficulty of an already-created game.

My favorite kind of difficulty is Rank. This allows the game to adjust the difficulty based on how well you are playing the game.


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 Post subject: Re: Difficulty Levels and Poor Game Design
PostPosted: Tue Feb 21, 2012 5:49 pm 
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Sparkster and gunstar heroes are great examples. The content changes dramatically between difficulties.

I'm grappling with this issue in development of my own game (plug) clash force. I've designed the game around the normal difficulty. However, iphone games need to appeal to a broader audience (ie they suck at games). So I'm adding health packs throughout the levels for an easy mode. Granted, this is to make an easier difficulty, not a harder one, so it's not quite the same. The way I see it, anyone picking the easy mode wants just that, easy, so even if the health packs make certain areas too easy, they'll be happy.

I'm not planning a hard mode unless I get complaints. It's hard to judge the game's difficulty being that I've designed it. But if people do want a hard mode, I will be modifying the enemy and obstacle layouts, not just lessening the damage you can take.

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 Post subject: Re: Difficulty Levels and Poor Game Design
PostPosted: Tue Feb 21, 2012 6:49 pm 
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It really depends on the game for me. If you're playing a racing game and just starting out, Standard or Hard difficulty will let you get a handle on the game and enjoy yourself, but the really difficult settings won't even give you a chance and you'll always pull an 8th place. If it's a shmup, difficulty settings are good for non-pros.

On the other hand, adventure games, beat em ups don't need difficulty adjustment.

One thing I'd like to see is better difficulty labeling. Like Beginner setting, for beginners who couldn't play the game at all. This should have some kind of content restriction so the player is forced to play the game as it was meant to be, once they have a handle on it. And then Normal setting, which is what the game is balanced for.

Some games, like Demon's Souls, brutal shmups, etc are designed with the hardcore in mind and shouldn't have to cater to anyone else because the difficulty is such a big part of the experience.

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 Post subject: Re: Difficulty Levels and Poor Game Design
PostPosted: Wed Feb 22, 2012 1:09 am 
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dunpeal2064 wrote:
I personally prefer a game to be designed with difficulty in mind, rather than they just adjust the difficulty of an already-created game.



If I were a designer, that'd be my approach. I think rank systems that grade level performance, optional missions/bosses, completion percentages, hidden secrets, combat ranks(like the ones in Final Fantasy XIII), optional paths through a game, etc. are all more creative and rewarding ways to challenge players than a silly higher difficulty mode. Or just incorporate higher difficulty into the game by ramping up the challenge gradually over the course of the game. Towards the end of the game, only the most skilled would make it to the end credits. I don't see the point off difficulty settings. It's just another one of those outdated gaming conventions that we don't need anymore.

Side note: That God of War fight wasn't THAT hard

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 Post subject: Re: Difficulty Levels and Poor Game Design
PostPosted: Wed Feb 22, 2012 1:35 am 
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Oh man, fuck the Kratos clones.

I think the ideal way to approach this is to design the game with the hardest difficulty in mind from the outset, and then scale it down from that. Cover up certain pits, remove a few enemies... The hardcore still feel like they're getting their money's worth, and the casuals were only along for the ride anyways.

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 Post subject: Re: Difficulty Levels and Poor Game Design
PostPosted: Wed Feb 22, 2012 1:35 am 
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sabrage wrote:
Oh man, fuck the Kratos clones.

I think the ideal way to approach this is to design the game with the hardest difficulty in mind from the outset, and then scale it down from that. Cover up certain pits, remove a few enemies... The hardcore still feel like they're getting their money's worth, and the casuals were only along for the ride anyways.

That's how Mega Man 10 did it. They built a hard game and then created an easy mode which puts platforms over pits and spikes.

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 Post subject: Re: Difficulty Levels and Poor Game Design
PostPosted: Wed Feb 22, 2012 3:15 am 
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isiolia wrote:
As long as it doesn't actually break anything, then I'd call it a legitimate method of making a hard mode. Most of the time it just means there's less room for error, or that you actually need to make full use of the tools provided.

Ah, but that's the thing, the game doesn't require you to be more skilled, it simply punishes you more for your mistake, it does nothing but reduce the options the player has, which can easily make the game uninteresting.

Let's compare Doom and Doom 3. Doom has awesome difficulty levels, adding more enemies instead of everything just doing more damage. The gameplay is the same, guys take the same number of shots but you have to do it more often to succed. You need more strafing, more aiming and more crowd control. Good stuff.

Doom 3 had terrible difficulty levels. Instead of facing more zombies, each one took 4 or 5 pistol shots to die, which forced the player to walk backwards and shoot over and over. Not fun at all, the difficulty forced players to play in a boring manner.


Proper difficulty levels require very little effort for the amount of joy it gives to the audience. But when developers do not even care about proper customizable controls...yeah.

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 Post subject: Re: Difficulty Levels and Poor Game Design
PostPosted: Wed Feb 22, 2012 8:26 am 
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Valkyrie-Favor wrote:
It really depends on the game for me. If you're playing a racing game and just starting out, Standard or Hard difficulty will let you get a handle on the game and enjoy yourself, but the really difficult settings won't even give you a chance and you'll always pull an 8th place. If it's a shmup, difficulty settings are good for non-pros.

On the other hand, adventure games, beat em ups don't need difficulty adjustment.

One thing I'd like to see is better difficulty labeling. Like Beginner setting, for beginners who couldn't play the game at all. This should have some kind of content restriction so the player is forced to play the game as it was meant to be, once they have a handle on it. And then Normal setting, which is what the game is balanced for.

Some games, like Demon's Souls, brutal shmups, etc are designed with the hardcore in mind and shouldn't have to cater to anyone else because the difficulty is such a big part of the experience.

I would agree with that. Sometimes difficulty is part of a game's identity; Demon's Souls wouldn't have gotten half the publicity that it did if it was a walk in the park.

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