Difficulty is a very subjective topic. Many gamers are going to write about specific games they found too hard or easy and they’ll get plenty of responses saying they’re wrong. While there technically is no right and wrong answer, I honestly cannot think of a game that really drives me mad with difficulty.
To further elaborate, I’m a fairly hardcore gamer. I play nearly every type of genre and I try to play them at the highest possible setting available from default. RTS and Racing games I draw the line (as I’m next to awful at them), but I typically will go for Veteran/Legendary/Realistic, etc.
To say the least, my view of difficulty is skewed. Miyamoto was claiming that “New Super Mario Bros. Wii” and “Super Mario Galaxy 2” would be difficult games and I did not find that to be true at all. It has to be my previous experience (something like 18 years) with the genre, but who am I to say?
What I would like to talk about, though, is Adaptive Difficulty. This is still a fairly new thing in video games, but it’s something that intrigues me. The prospect of doing well in a game and the game calculating your skill and increasing difficulty is something that should be ironed out in gaming.
We adapt to your skill...but really can't calculate that because the game uses autosaves.
The first time I saw this feature was in “Far Cry” on PC back in 2004. The developers claimed they made a system where the A.I. (already fairly intelligent) would be able to distinguish your ownage from your suckage and react accordingly. That was a total farce.
I believe the LEGO series of games uses this technology, as well. I cannot tell you how much of a joke that is as the game doesn’t even allow you to die. I will say more enemies appeared in my playthrough of “LEGO Star Wars II,” but I also rarely died anyway.
“Left 4 Dead” administers this technology and it mostly gets it right. As you do better, sometimes random zombie hordes will ambush you or you’ll be facing off against a few tanks. The game even changes the layout of items based on your prowess. But sometimes you get nothing even after failing multiple times.
My question is, why does Adaptive Difficulty not work? From all the applications I’ve seen of this new feature, I’ve never once felt like the developers knew how to program it. Either the game is pathetically easy or it’s ridiculously difficult. I know “Far Cry” failed as the game used a checkpoint system, so it never really dropped from the initial difficulty you selected.
Like I said with the LEGO games, you cannot die. So, changing enemy layout isn’t going to suddenly have an impact on your experience, unless you’re an 8 year old and don’t truly grasp game mechanics.
My research into the topic only brings up “Halo: Reach” and how the A.I. will compensate for more or less partners in a Co-op match. That isn’t a true Adaptive Difficulty, though, as the game is just compensating for more people. The enemies won’t get easier if you all die.
We'll "Adapt" to how many are here. Get it?...C'mon guys, it's funny!
I’m not sure how to even offer a solution to this problem. What I have in mind is something along the lines of taking the stat tracking from a Halo or Call of Duty game and using that to calculate the perfect opponent. Bungie has some truly incredible stat tracking systems and I’m sure there has to be some way to sync those with A.I.
BioWare even has some kind of stat tracking for their single player games. If you can tell me exactly how many players per platform picked a Female Shepard, you should also be able to read and calculate my accuracy rating and my amount of kills. Use that information to suit the A.I. to my playstyle.
I do have faith in the term. I truly think that the perfect game could be achieved if the A.I. were able to track everything. It would be awesome if the game progressively got more challenging instead of developers just making the game harder purposely.
Until that day, though, I’ll be chugging through my games on the hardest settings possible. I live for challenge and it’s great to overcome extreme odds. Maybe I shouldn’t look for something to ease up on me, but I think it would sell games to a broader audience. That could only mean good things for our future.