Now that we speaking about general gameplay design, like the discussion about health systems, i wanted to talk about difficulty in videogames.
Most people simply comment things like “the game is easy” or “it’s too hard, aghh!” and that’s it. I think difficulty is a very important aspect of games, and sometimes a slightly badly adjusted difficulty can transform the best videogame into mediocrity. So imo a well adjusted, well balanced difficulty settings it’s an essential part of a good game.
So what parts should we look in videogames to judge?
How difficult is the game, in average. It’s easy, hard, kind of normal?
How is the difficulty curve. It should raise smoothly. A too high curve and the game can be frustrating, i think everyone will agree on that. But i also think a curve too flat is bad, the game will seem to lack something, it will be a bit too bland.
Weird “spikes” in that difficulty curve. Sometimes there are high points and low points in the difficulty curve, even if the general trend of the curve is the correct “slightly up”. Depending of how pronounced are these spikes in the game, they can bring up interesting variety to the game with a more difficulty encounter or a zone where you slay fast to all the enemies, or in the other hand they just fuck up the difficulty curve, putting the difficulty all over the place.
And let’s not speak of these videgames where the game designers fall in the same mistake once and other time, of putting a boss which is much much more harder than the previous gaming experience of the past hour. I hate when they do that.
How many difficulty settings have the game. And, can be changed in the middle of the game? Or if a player was mistaking in choosing easy, can he change to normal or does he have to restart from the beginning?
Sometimes the games have a problem of having a too big gap between two difficulty settings. I can remember examples like Starcraft 2, where medium was too easy for me, and hard too hard. Of course it’s not the only example.
How the player have to know what is the adequate difficulty setting for him?
This last one is one of the points i feel videogames have barely evolved, even if as i am argumenting having (and choosing) the right difficulty is very important to have an good experience with the game. Nor too hard, nor too easy.
With all the “streamlining” and all the effort in accesibility in games, the system is still the same used 20 years ago. Easy / medium / hard, that’s it.
How easy is easy, how hard is hard? And to whom is hard “hard”? To me, to game developers, to the q&a testing team? the focus testing team?
Because every player is a world, some have 1 year of gaming experience, others have 20, some have a passing interest in racing games, others are hardcore fans, in summary, the very meaning of “easy” and “medium” changes from player to player. In special i can imagine it’s a problem with the really new player, who don’t know how good can be people after playing for some years.
I am a veteran player and still pick the wrong setting sometimes, in some games medium was too easy, in others i pick “hard” to not have the same problem as the last game, but surprise! these other game developers have a different idea of what “hard” means.
I think videogames should make a bigger effort in smart or dynamic difficulty settings, where the game values your skills while playing to know what is really “medium” for you, or put more features like the pit in Modern Warfare to know what is the appropriate difficulty.