Difficulty in games

If it's not ZDoom, it goes here.

How should difficulty be handled?

No difficulty settings, the game must be accessible to all. (casuals only)
2
5%
Difficulty should scale to player (Resident evil 4)
5
13%
Difficulty should have no other incentive asides challenge and achievements (X-COM)
9
24%
Difficulty gives incentives restricted to higher difficulties (more perks, more levels, better endings, etc.)
8
21%
No difficulty settings, the game must be for the skilled. (git gud)
2
5%
why not all (most) of these? (WildWeasel's suggestion)
12
32%
 
Total votes : 38

Re: Difficultly in games

Postby Reactor » Fri Mar 23, 2018 12:26 pm

Difficulty is a tough subject. Casual gamers consider it as a bane of their existence, hardcore gamers consider it as a must-have part of a game, like graphics. Decades before, gaming was a privilege to a very narrow community only, as electronics only began to evolve, and this form of entertainment was pretty obscure before "da Intarnetz". Later, as more and more developers emerged, and tons of games have been developed, it became much more mainstream and actually part of the pop-cult. Every hobby requires certain skills, and video-gaming was not an exception. So I believe, having a decent difficulty is paramount for a game.

Do not forget: developers also focus heavily on playtime, at least good developers, that is. Crappy developers, who are lazy asswipes just whack together something very basic as a campaign, and handwave the shallowness of their game by blurting "duuuuuuuuuu, peoplez r gonna play multiplayerz anywayz, singleplayer iz fer loooooozerz", or something, so they won't really give two and a half fucks about making a decent difficulty, just a "press any key to win" one. I think in this aspect, indie developers are much more cognizant and effective than the big bad gamemaking factories. There are also certain game types where difficulty has less meaning - for instance, puzzle games, or games which feature no lives, health, game-over and such. Rocks'n'diamonds-type puzzle games usually don't have any difficulty setting at all.

So I don't mind harder than hard difficulties, as long as the game presents a reasonable difficulty curve. The first level shouldn't begin with hundreds of enemies attacking you with firearms, while you have nothing but a knife, and the penultimate/last level should be the hardest, where the player finally faces the big bad boss, and save the kingdom/Earth/universe, and despite how impossible it looks like, good must triumph over evil eventually (good guys are usually heavily outnumbered, and the evil boss still have tons of minions and lots of dirty tricks up his sleeve). Main thing is: there should be a progressivity. It's not a problem if certain special levels feature a difficulty spike, or certain others are laughably easy to finish, as long as this progressivity is retained.

Unfair difficulty increasements however, should be omitted entirely from a game. This includes enemies appearing in hordes out of nowhere, dying for no apparent reason, and stupid time limits, which you MUST finish the level under, because meowmeow.
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Re: Difficultly in games

Postby Matt » Fri Mar 23, 2018 1:04 pm

Answer to original question: Depends on what kind of time flow the game has.

If it's a roguelike or one-off sort of thing, where your entire progress is either accomplished or utterly defeated in a single sitting, then it should at least have the option of scaling to the maximum possible human achievement. (E.g., multiplayer PvP games where your difficulty, assuming the interface isn't itself requiring constant conscious engagement, is out of your direct control)

If it's something with a story that is best enjoyed "completed" - really any singleplayer campaign - I would very much like a way to play through it with minimum disruption of the narrative flow, whether that means easy mode or very easily accessible cheat codes.


Difficulty meaning, of course, actual challenge; I personally find grind intolerable. Slightly less intolerable for me are those games where there are totally arbitrary traps throughout the level and the whole point is to discover and memorize each to eventually find the one path to the exit - which is basically a grind except the XP is tracked in your own brain.

On that note, there are a bunch of different things that can pose a challenge, in descending order of subjective personal enjoyment:

  • outmaneuvering the opponent by messing with their heads and finding openings
  • managing risk in quasi-unpredictable environments
  • learning the interface and rules of the world
    ---the line between like and dislike goes here---
  • outmaneuvering the opponent by simple rote skill speed
  • learning the interface and rules of the world under constant time pressure and taunting from opposing players
  • committing time to amass resources
  • planning out combinations of logic and number puzzles to maximize the output of a particular resource (basically RPG shit)
  • learning the interface and rules of the world, where a core rule turns out to be "there is exactly one specific sequence of actions that you must follow precisely to beat this, and if you want to go anywhere else in this game you will have to just sit here and bash at your computer until you do exactly that"
  • trying to get the thing to run on my computer (which is often very similar to the above)


Re: naming and shaming, I deliberately chose "Homely" as the lowest skill setting in HD because everything was intended to be scaled to something more closely resembling ordinary Doom gameplay, i.e., "home". Before that it was some condescending remark about the player not understanding what cover was. I think I might've changed it after accidentally playing on that setting and genuinely enjoying myself.

(And, of course, I'm sure y'all remember back when Grimdark was named Girlfriend Mode...)


Personally I can't stand fine-grained difficulty customization, I feel like I'm being pandered to in a way that doesn't even give me the dignity of admitting I'm just not good at the game and have to be given the easy version, and it feels like there's no "canonical" version of the game I should be aiming towards that would get me substantively the same experience as other players rather than the gameplay equivalent of a Facebook political news bubble. I don't think I'm even remotely in the majority on this sentiment, and certainly not "right".
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Re: Difficultly in games

Postby Caligari87 » Fri Mar 23, 2018 1:28 pm

Matt wrote:Personally I can't stand fine-grained difficulty customization, I feel like I'm being pandered to in a way that doesn't even give me the dignity of admitting I'm just not good at the game and have to be given the easy version, and it feels like there's no "canonical" version of the game I should be aiming towards that would get me substantively the same experience as other players rather than the gameplay equivalent of a Facebook political news bubble. I don't think I'm even remotely in the majority on this sentiment, and certainly not "right".

The idea is that there is a single canonical difficulty setting, the way the dev intended the game to be played. The customization ideally is behind some kind of paper wall that lets the player know they're taking control of their own experience and overriding the developer's vision. For HD, this would probably mean something like Hideous is the canonical difficulty everyone's intended to play on, but under gameplay options I can turn on any combination of spawn filter, fast monsters, respawning monsters, and damage multiplier that I feel would enhance my experience.

Incidentally, that's why I requested the "Spooky" difficulty, because I hate drowning in monsters but like the extra grimdark difficulty. I additionally load my own MAPINFO patch that removes timed respawning, because I tend to play really slow.

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Re: Difficultly in games

Postby Reactor » Fri Mar 23, 2018 1:42 pm

In earlier times, there was a very disgusting thing in difficulty: when the game forces you to literally guess your way thru the whole thing, because of some cryptic, meaningless puzzle nobody with the right mind would think about. That can possibly ruin the entire game, as it gives virtually no chance for anybody to figure the solution out.
Sierra's adventure games were especially prone to this. I remember when wildweasel exclaimed how frustrating it was to smell-touch-taste everything within plain sight just to see when the game offers something new (albeit it did yield several amusing results here and there) ;)
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Re: Difficultly in games

Postby Caligari87 » Fri Mar 23, 2018 1:43 pm

I like the way Silent Hill historically handled it, by allowing you to set combat and puzzle difficulty separately. That was pretty cool.

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Re: Difficultly in games

Postby Rachael » Fri Mar 23, 2018 1:55 pm

Yeah, King's Quest is enjoyable, but only with walk-throughs. There is no way in bloody hell that I would want to play any of those games without them. I have no idea what Roberta Williams was thinking when she designed all those puzzles but they are not pleasant and they are not that satisfying once you complete them.

Still though, the games are a magical adventure and I do enjoy them based on that, but being a little bit less cryptic and offering more obvious clues with everything would have been better, in my opinion.
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Re: Difficultly in games

Postby NeuralStunner » Fri Mar 23, 2018 2:00 pm

Personally, I'm not insulted by lower difficulty settings. Unless they're a ridiculous jump down. (E.G. Killing Floor. Normal is tough enough to solo, but one step down from there is Easy, which is almost "you can't lose" territory.) Granularity helps. (To some extent, a slider is a good idea here, especially if it's possible to change ingame and have the changes update immediately.)

One of my favorite games, God Hand, I initially played on Easy. (Strictly speaking, all it does is cap the dynamic difficulty at level 2. The game's still hard.) It's even insulting, but in a tongue-in-cheek manner that's entirely fitting with the rest of the game. ("What, you want me to hold your hand or something?") Turns out it's actually a good way to practice, since I eventually beat all the bosses in arena mode (where they're locked at max difficulty and you get limited resources to beat them). I suppose you could say the target audience is a bit different here, since the game is intended to be arcade-level hard.

One thing I cannot stand from difficulty settings is mucking about with enemy hit points. I feel this is a cheap cop-out of a modification, and messes with muscle memory to an extent. (Imagine if Doom's zombieman suddenly took 10 bullets to kill.) I guess the exception would be already-damage-sponge bosses, but even that is easy to overdo. I use a mod for Dark Messiah that removes the HP changes from the difficulty settings, it makes playing on Hard more reasonable since you can counter the increased damage through skill, and it doesn't become a grind. (Granted, no matter how much HP an orc has, kicking him off a cliff still works just as well... :twisted: )

It was mentioned earlier that Doom's difficulty settings are "perfect", and for the most part I agree. Increased enemy counts are a great way to make the game harder overall, without making individual encounters a complete difficulty spike.

Re: Canonical difficulty. Bungie made it clear that the Halo series is "meant to be played" on Heroic difficulty. It's supposed to represent the in-universe one-sidedness of the war as well. However, they made sure Normal was still a reasonable challenge.
Spoiler: Rant-like stuff
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Re: Difficultly in games

Postby Reactor » Fri Mar 23, 2018 4:41 pm

Personally, I don't mind if the enemies have more hit points in higher difficulties, OR if there are more enemies - as long as you have sufficient means of fighting them. I witnessed that most FPS games lavish more ammo on you than you can purposefully use up, even in the original Doom. Even if you don't find any secret areas with extra military supplies, that huge amount of ammo still makes fighting enemies a helluva lot easier.

Taking more damage from enemy fire, on the other hand, can be a lot nastier, especially at bossfights, which you cannot circumvent. In general, this can be a bigger problem, as medical supplies are usually more sparse than ammo (makes sense, if you have 7 guns, but only 1 health-o-meter).

One-hit death games are a special case. Commander Keen-series for instance. However, even those games can have reasonable difficulty, allowing you to save anywhere, or making off-scren threats harmless. We grew up on Commander Keen, and none of us found the series excruciatingly difficult, except for a few levels. For a today's gamer, Commander Keen would be impossible, even on "Easy" setting. How things change...!
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Re: Difficultly in games

Postby PermaNoob » Fri Mar 23, 2018 5:12 pm

System shock has a pretty great difficulty configuration. You could make combat easier if you aren't confident in your reflexes, puzzles easier if you don't like them, "mission difficulty" easier for less backtracking and exploration, and cyberspace easier if you don't like smacking yourself in the 'nads with a hammer.
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Re: Difficultly in games

Postby Matt » Fri Mar 23, 2018 9:35 pm

NeuralStunner wrote:(Imagine if Doom's zombieman suddenly took 10 bullets to kill.)
That was one of the very first sourceport mods I'd ever seen back in the Doom Legacy days. If HD was written as a "fuck you" to any other mod, it was that.

Anything that reduces ammo had better have a stealth option.
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Re: Difficultly in games

Postby insightguy » Sat Mar 24, 2018 1:08 am

Matt wrote:Anything that reduces ammo had better have a stealth option.

Or at least make the shots worth more. (getting 2 bullet ammo per clip is not so bad if you one shot imps.)

OK, so things I'm getting so far:
  • Segregating parts of the difficulty is recommended (puzzle/combat/resources/etc.).
  • "Canon difficult" is a thing that people seem to either do not want or are fine with. (me in the latter)
  • How difficulty is handled by the developer is more important than assuming the skill of the player. (because fuck cryptic puzzles)
  • Give players options to reduce or increase difficulty without demeaning them, in game if possible.
  • Flow is king, grinding makes things go to a grinding halt, difficulty should be in skill and not just a numbers game. (though numbers sometimes help)

Even with all the civil arguments, there still seems to be a case for higher difficulty within games, but without the need to bar new players. how to go about it and what to increase/decrease is the debate.

also @Caligari87 while the video was very informative, I fail to see how it's an argument against "cannon difficulty", the entire point seemed to be that make cannon difficulty the default, but allow players to turn on an assist mode if they need help.
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Re: Difficultly in games

Postby Caligari87 » Sat Mar 24, 2018 9:31 am

insightguy wrote:the entire point seemed to be that make cannon difficulty the default, but allow players to turn on an assist mode if they need help.

Yeah, that's what I was saying.

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Re: Difficultly in games

Postby Reactor » Tue Mar 27, 2018 10:23 pm

insightguy wrote:How difficulty is handled by the developer is more important than assuming the skill of the player. (because fuck cryptic puzzles)


Correct, that's 100% percent correct! I don't mind puzzles or riddles, even complicated ones, as long as the game provides certain hints how to solve said puzzle. Resident Evil 3: Nemesis was extremely good in this, and so was Half-life. I'm no innocent in this aspect, me and the boys have thought up tons of diabolical puzzles for our game, however, we do have the courtesy to tell the player what must be done in that certain situation, eliminating the necessity of a wild goose-chase, trial-and-error...or cheating for that matter. Just imagine:

How NOT to:
Displayed text: "The teleporter appears to be non-functioning."
Me: "Oh great, that's real nice! What am I supposed to do, wait for a bus or something?"

How to:
Displayed text: "The teleporter appears to be non-functioning. Departure coordinates are missing, meson battery has been used up."
Me: "So I need to find the correct coordinates, and a meson battery!"
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Re: Difficulty in games

Postby NeuralStunner » Wed Mar 28, 2018 11:05 am

Your second example is still a little too far on the hand-holdy side. Allowing the player to investigate a problem more closely to find clues can make it seem less like a message-induced fetch quest. (i.E. The exact thing Hexen is always bashed for.)

* Tries the teleporter* "It doesn't seem to be working."
*Turns to the control panel, tries it* "There are no target coordinates set."
*Sees "power fault" message, checks the power panel* "The meson battery seems to be drained."
This engages the player's interest. Makes them feel like they've actually solved a problem, rather than hunted a couple reskinned keys/switches. The investigation continues with "where would i find teleporter coordinates, or a meson battery?" The survey station and supply depot that they passed signs for earlier would be good places to start.
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Re: Difficulty in games

Postby Matt » Wed Mar 28, 2018 2:57 pm

I think Reactor's example is reasonable given how often we see "The teleporter does not seem to be working" meaning that the "teleporter" is in game terms a non-interactive decoration only - cf. 90% of the time you see "the door is locked" nowadays.

An NPC blatantly suggesting that you try that specific teleporter might be in order.
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