Picking the best difficulty system for your game

Posted on Posted in 2018 Workgroup Topic Proposals

Challenging players appropriately varies enormously depending on the type of game you’re making.

With the rise of games that are deliberately hard enough to force player engagement with all of the game systems (Dark Souls, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Cuphead), challenge as a selling point for a game has never been more popular. However, games become ever-more mass market, and in most cases we want all types of players to be able to enjoy our games, hence adding features like “tourist mode”, specific difficulty sliders for different types of content and other ways for players to choose how hard the game is for them.

Discussion points:

  • What disadvantages are there to having selectable difficulty modes?
  • What does increasing difficulty mean for games with combat?
  • What about for games without combat?
  • Is it reasonable for every game to use Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s method of having sliders for combat, exploration and puzzle?
  • When should you make skill checks harder vs punishing failure more harshly as you increase difficulty?
  • Is Adaptive Difficulty a silver bullet? What are the pros and cons?
  • How important is it for the latest game in a franchise to feel just as difficult as the previous games at a selected difficulty level?
  • If cost were no object, what would be the perfect difficulty system for YOUR game?

2 thoughts on “Picking the best difficulty system for your game

  1. Not a helpful comment, but I gotta say I adore dynamic/adaptive difficulty. Every single game we implement it on results in far lower player complaints, smoother progression and better retention. So much better than a one-size fits all table printed in a paper rulebook.

    I’m sure there are genres like eSports where it doesn’t work (because of the culture’s desperate need for ‘authentic’ validation) but dang, what an amazing tool. We are making a curated experience and adaptive difficulty is merely curation on a per player basis. So start curating already. 🙂

  2. Love how they did this in Celeste, a masocore game where the player could disable each individual thing that made it masocore in order to pick their literal poison, making the game just as hard as they want in just the way they want.

    Also love how the Supergiant games handle this, letting the player add various difficulty modifiers, incentivized with better loot/xp to get the player to seek their own optimal difficulty level.

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