There’s 2 things that many games miss when choosing difficulty levels. But before getting deeper into those, here’s a story about what made me talk about this issue.
I tested a game done by a friend of mine. It’s a cool sidescroller game which I like to describe as “horror-ish adventurish sidescroller” game.
Quite interesting phenomenon occured to me while I was testing the game. I thought that the game was too difficult to me. I didn’t get kicks in trying to time my jumps right, or fighting huge number of monsters or Big Bosses.
I was much more interested in immersing myself into the story and looking at all the beautiful artwork in the game. In fact, I even said to my friend that I disliked the fact that I almost got stuck once (due precision targeted jumping), and almost dropped the game. I then later got stuck against one Big Boss and felt that I would have wanted to continue, but it’s just my skills won’t be good enuf against that Big Boss. Therefore I have no option other than stop playing.
He said he would consider adding “easy” difficulty (besides “normal”) in the game.
And… if that happens, I’m so one happy camper since I hate to get stuck. My fingers aren’t made for platformer games, they are made to hold the NHL ’11 stick. It’s hugely important that player won’t get stuck. Difficulty levels can help with that
Anyways, this kept me thinking that there’s couple of nice tricks that you can do with difficulty levels.
- Naming them differently: In NHL ’11 the default difficulty level is “pro” which somewhat stands for “easyish”. Then there’s allstar and superstar difficulty levels. These stand for “normalish” and “hard”. There’s also “amateur” for “easy”. Even though “pro” can be somewhat easy, I still like that they call it “pro”. It gives me a nice lie about the fact that I can think to be better player than I am. And I like that lie. When I play games that have “super easy” or “easy” (and cannot even beat those) I feel like a small worm getting under a big foot. Not good. But “pro” (even when it’s relatively easy). Now that lie touches my ego. That’s a good lie. It’s good to communicate that “even though this difficulty level is somewhat easy, we respect your player skills – and call you pro”. Consider it. It’s a blatant lie. But I like it.
- Second thing is: *possibility to change difficulty during gameplay*. I first saw this in Minecraft and immediately thought that other games could use this as well. Why choose difficulty right in the beginning? Why not let player choose difficulty as the game progresses. Perhaps there’s some big badass boss which player cannot pass – then no problem, just switch to “very, very easy” and go pass the boss. Then switch to “harder than eva” and keep playing. I really think switching difficulty level is a good thing.
Of course you can also choose not to use difficulty levels, but rather make it easier for next attempts. For example, if the player cannot get pass an obstacle after 2-3 tries, you could give him extra boosters (health, energy, hit damage, jump distance, speed, whatever) that can help him on the 4th trying. If 4th fails, then make it even easier on the 5th. At some point he will pass.
And then if you want, you can give higher score points for people who pass on harder difficulty levels.
Some food for thought.
Do you have an example where you’ve witnessed a well executed “difficulty modifier” in a game?