Difficulty levels in games

This seems odd coming from the guy who hates it when video game designers include difficulty settings in their games. Board games are expensive and there are a billion of them. Why should you pay eighty bucks to do these guys’ job for them?

Well, $25, but valid point.

Really? I just searched it up on Amazon and it was being sold for $80. Out of print?

I don’t know whether it’s out of print, but you shouldn’t buy it for $80. It’s $25. $30 with markup

Indeed. I think it’s supposed to be a +/- $25 / £25 game. They pack a lot in that little box too. The next print run is due in March. The Amazon price was simply profiteering by a 3rd party seller.

I hate that.

Wait, what? You think I hate it when video game designers include difficulty settings? That would be dumb. What gives you that idea? If you show me what you’re talking about, I’d be happy to clear up your confusion. You’ve obviously misunderstood something I wrote.

But to your point, yes, I like Under Falling Skies enough to try some house rules to make the finale less of a kick to the nuts.


Well, I can’t point to it because I’ve read a ton of what you’ve written in both reviews and forum comments, so who knows where I got it from, but you’re telling me you do NOT think it is an abrogation of design duty when video game designers include difficulty settings? I swear I’m not making this up. You haven’t said multiple times that you think it’s lazy design and asks you to do their job, basically, of tuning the game?

It’s not my intention to speak for Tom, but I do recall him mentioning something to the effect of not understanding why games have multiple difficulties without a corresponding incentive to play on higher difficulties, maybe that’s what you were thinking of?

I do NOT think it’s an abrogation of design duty when video game designers include difficulty settings. Variable difficulty is a fundamental tenet of good game design.

But as @divedivedive noted, I do think it’s an abrogation of design duty when video game designers include difficulty settings without any incentive for changing the settings. Variable difficulty should be a part of the design and not something players have to figure out and tune and rationalize on their own. Designers need to incentivize harder difficulties, even if it’s a matter of just including an achievement. It’s not my job to “make my own fun”, much less to “make my own challenge level”.


Ah. That seems like a very fine line, indeed! A single achievement is all it takes to go from, “blech” to “blawesome”?

Correct, because as you know, that’s the only criteria I use to review games. I don’t even care about grafix or fun factor. I’m crazy that way!


I only meant the existence of variable difficulty, of course! Not the whole game.

But there is an incentive – enjoying the game more! Plus bragging rights!

I’m in the middle of Immortals right now. I’m having to pay attention to enemy positioning and timing, make smart use of my god powers, ration my potions, retry tricky fights, and occasionally leave a boss that’s too powerful for me and come back later. My six-year-old is also playing Immortals. When monsters attack she can mash random buttons for a bit until they go away and she can go back to riding her unicorn in peace. We’re both having a great experience with the game.

I honestly don’t know if I’ll get an extra achievement for playing on hard. Some inconsequential recognition would be nice, I guess, but not a big deal either way. But importantly, any incentive should ONLY ever be cosmetic. I’m very glad that the game isn’t trying to “incentivize” me by giving +20% more upgrade crystals or anything like that because getting stronger faster would defeat the purpose of choosing a more challenging experience in the first place.

I agree with you that I shouldn’t have to tune and rationalize the difficulty level within the game to make my own fun. But that’s more in the context of people who say “well sure, X is overpowered, but if you don’t want the game to be trivialized, just don’t use it.” A difficulty selection that takes place outside of the game proper is a different scenario entirely. Oh, and strategy games with dozens of independent sliders for every granular aspect of difficulty are guilty of this too, though at least they usually have some tested presets.

And none of this is relevant to games where you’re picking from among differently-leveled options within the game itself (i.e. do a 3-star mission for 100 gold or a 2-star mission for 60).

Sorry, as I mentioned and as you agree, it’s not my job to find my own fun. I paid the game designers to do that part.

You won’t. I checked. I always check. :)

“Outside the game proper”? What does that even mean? If you mean “in the options settings,” how is that “outside the game proper”? It’s altering fundamental values in the game. That seems pretty much inside the game proper to me! :)


What is happening here!?

Of course, Tom’s subjective view of how much he likes varying difficulties and achievements associated with them is entirely his own opinion, and none of us have to share it. But I will join the chorus of people who are nonplussed by this dichotomy:

In a game that Tom otherwise would give five stars (a 100%, or an A+ if the game were in school and he were the teacher):

varying difficulties with no cheevos for playing on Hard:

varying difficulties with cheevo for playing on Hard:

But games are a participatory activity – you can meet the designer 5% of the way! Just enough to tell them “I want to breeze through while enjoying the environment and story” or “I want to face stiff resistance until I master the nuances of the combat system.”

Your stance is like walking into a Thai restaurant and ordering pad kee mao, and when they ask how spicy you want it, you reply “It’s not my job to find the right taste. I paid the chef to do that part.”

Maybe there’s a better way to put it, but there are some difficulty-related things that exist within the context of the game world (for example, “take the left fork to the Isle of Bunnies, or the right fork to the Pit of Grisly Doom”, or “play a Royal and spam Soul Arrow”). I guess you could call that stuff diegetic difficulty?

But Fenyx isn’t yelling “Hey Typhon, can you just lay off a bit?”; you as the player are deciding what terms you want to engage with the game on. The distinction might get blurry at times, but picking hard mode feels distinct and far more satisfying than “oh, that game is pretty easy, but if you want a challenge, just play without ever upgrading your skills”

What if they offer to put Tom’s photo on the wall if he orders extra-extra-spicy? That’s an IRL cheevo!

I hope that’s the next Patreon stream.