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Technical Difficulties: Luck should never be a factor (and other stuff)


There is nothing inherently wrong with a game being too hard (or too easy for that matter). Some people like to breeze through a game casually to experience all the content and other gamers like a brutal challenge. There are many ways to adjust a game's difficulty to suit a player's particular needs. But there are certain things that should and shouldn't be factored when determining difficulty. I'll got into detail as to what is proper challenge and what is just bad design.

#1: Luck should never be a factor in game difficulty

Good example: Bayonetta

Anyone who has played Bayonetta will tell you that the game is balls hard. Your reflexes have to be quick, you have to know when your enemies are going to strike, and you have to take advantage of what you have at your disposal. If you don't know what you're doing, or if you're new to this kind of game, the enemies will tear you limb from limb, but with a little patience and and some quick reflexes you can (and will) conquer the game.

With all the chaos you'd think that this game would be a bad example of game difficulty design, but this game works because of one single factor. YOU ARE ALWAYS IN CONTROL. The enemies always have a pre-attack animation that queues you when to dodge. Bosses have a predictable pattern. As long as you stay aware of your surroundings, you can dodge their attacks. And if you can dodge their attacks, you have a crapload of ways to attack them too: Short range, long range, circular, aerial, the list goes on and on. Meaning you can adapt your offense to whatever the situation needs.

It requires you to think on your feet constantly. But regardless of whether you beat it, or get your ass kicked, you are always in control. All it takes is a little practice.

Bad example: Call of Duty

I'm referring to the single-player's veteran difficulty. Some of it can be determined by skill, but a lot of the of difficult spots are simply cases of bad luck. Enemies continuously respawn at certain points until you somehow squeeze close enough to trigger a checkpoint. No matter how many time you practice this segment, there will be a freshly respawned enemy ready to pop out of the corner and take you out in less time it takes to say FUCK! There is no pattern in which they appear, there is no "trick" to beat it. Just keep going into the meat grinder until you somehow come out the other side intact.

Another example of this is a little more specific. In Modern Warfare 2 towards the end, you have to bunker down into a mansion, while you download data from a computer. After ward you have to sprint down toward the bottom of a hill while tons of enemy troops are firing at you. Well, on veteran, the enemies are more accurate and as you sprint toward the "finish line" they will hit you. 90% of the time they will kill you. The only thing you CAN do at the part is to sprint and hope they miss you enough time to where you can escape. You can't bob and weave, it's impossible to dodge that many bullets coming at you at once and fighting back you always get you killed. This is terrible game design. Constantly running forward until, by a blind stroke of luck, you make it is not my idea of fun. And I'm sure it's not anyone else's either.

#2: Make the difficulty scale more precise.

Good example(s): Rock Band 3 and Forza 3

Both of these games have accomplished the seemingly impossible task of being more difficult and more accessible at the same time than their predecessors. First I'll start with Rock Band. Rock Band 1's setlist was mild in difficulty compared the Guitar Hero 3. That turned off many players at the time, so for Rock Band 2, Harmonix make a setlist that would appeal to more hardcore players (Painkiller, Visions, etc) and added a "no fail mode". With this on you can suck at a song royally at a song but never be booted off stage for it. This made the game far more accessible to beginners and non-players while the tougher setlist gave music game vets a real challenge. Rock Band 3 expanded even further bu adding Pro mode, where you had to hit actual notes from the song. But even Pro mode had its own set of difficulty levels. So if you can't quite handle playing the guitar part of a song note-for-note, you can start on Pro Easy, and move on to Pro Medium and so on and so forth. And the No Fail option made it so you won't be booed offstage.

Now onto Forza Motorsport 3. Forza has a customizable difficulty system where you can add and subtract difficulty features individually. You like using an automatic transmission, but harder opponent AI? you can tweak it like that. You like to use a manual transmission with the clutch, no anti-lock brakes, and no cruise control, but want the accel/brake guides on? The game fully supports it. You can make it as easy as having an autobrake function to where all you have to do to drive and steer. or you can make it as complex and technical as driving a real car. Beginners can start with everything on and slowly switch things off as they see fit and eventually become an expert all by precisely adjusting their difficulty level bit by bit, instead of having some abstract easy/medium/hard setting.

Bad example: Street Fighter (and pretty much every other fighting game)

I know I'm going to get a lot of shit for this but just listen. Most games have a simple easy/medium/hard difficulty setting in them. Most fighting games however, have a 10 point system to adjusting difficulty and they all have some fundamental flaws. 1) Normal mode is always a different number on different games. Some games it's 3/10 while others it's 5/10 there is no set standard of difficulty for this kind of scale and it get incredibly frustrating. 2) It never scales linearly. 3/10 will be too easy while 4/10 will have your opponent use reversals/counters. That kind of difficulty spike should be gradually climbing instead of a huge spike like that.

These are just 2 examples for making difficulty more accessible. Games should make the player work for his/her victories and not just fire a few cheap tricks and call it challenge. Players should have to step their game up gradually and slowly implement all the new skills they've acquired. holding their hand while letting go at the edge of a cliff is NOT a good game design philosophy and these few example will hopefully influence they way we see difficulty in the future.
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About Arch649one of us since 3:01 PM on 04.09.2009

My name is Jared and I have a sexy voice. I've been playing video games since was about 4 years old (I think the first game I played was Kaboom for the Atari 2600). I joined Destructoid simply because I like to write about them too. Some of my all-time favorites include (in no specific order):

1. TIE Fighter
2. Wolfenstein 3D
3. C&C: Red Alert
4. Perfect Dark
5. Unreal Tournament
6. Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
7. Super Mario Bros. 3
8. Star Fox
9. Quake II
10. Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem

Me as of 2/7/2011

My 360 collection as of 2/7/2011

My Wii collection as of 2/7/2011

My ps3 collection as of 2/7/2011

My cat as of . . . well she always looked like that.
Xbox LIVE:Archers Voice
PSN ID:archi649
Steam ID:archibald649
Mii code:2425-7788-8614-7950


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