11/03/2004

11-4-04 - 1

11-4-04

Game difficulty has a form of relativity. If you are in a car looking at another car, and you both keep speeding up, you don't feel fast - you feel like you are still. In our game (Stranger) at the moment, we introduce a new set of harder enemies, and we give the player upgraded weapons at exactly the same time. The result is that the difficulty doesn't change at all, it feels just the same as before. Good games will typically introduce the harder enemies before they give you upgraded ammo. This gives you a chance to perceive that they are harder, to go "whoa, that guy is tough". Then you get more powerful yourself, and difficulty comes back to the sweet spot. RPG's all are built on this principle - you go into a new area, and it's really tough at first, then you start to level up, at some point it probably becomes pretty easy as you are now more powerful, then you go to the next area and the process happens again. The difficulty oscillated up and down across the sweet spot, which gives you the perception of movement, of getting more powerful.

A related note is that for difficulty to remain in the sweet spot (I've been assuming you know about the sweet spot - the spot where it's challenging, but not frustrating, where it takes a little while to beat, but not too long), for difficult to remain in the sweet spot as you play, it must ramp up over the course of the game. The reason is that the player is getting better at the game. If you don't give them harder challenges, they don't really have a chance to experience the fact that they're getting better. Some of the old jumping platforms were really good at this ramp. The later levels would have just felt impossible at first, but if you actually play through the whole game to them, they feel fine.

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