Organic Difficulty and Playstyle Options- How to make games that anyone can play

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User Info: SigmaLongshot

SigmaLongshot
1 month ago#1
Difficulty is one of those really... well, difficult things to balance. It starts with your USP mechanic - what do you do in the game? That informs your target demographic - who's your game for? From there, you continually pigeonhole until you've found a niche which is based not only on which genre the game is, but how difficult the game is.

And therein lies the issue - most of the time, you'll find an audience for your game's genre, but to limit your player base even further by making the game overly easy, or stiflingly difficult? Or to tell them they have to be as urgent, as fastidious, as thorough, as the developer tells you you should be? Should that really be necessary?

And this all brings me to "Organic Difficulty and Playstyle Options". This basically means that "difficulty" shouldn't just be "how much damage your enemy can take versus how little you can", and "playstyle" shouldn't just be "the way we tell you you have to play".

Imagine if you didn't just pick from the following:

EASY
NORMAL
HARD


But instead, you could pick from a plethora of other options which influenced the game in the way that could help you enjoy it much more? So instead of normal "difficulty" options, you got "Strength" and "Playstyle" options more akin to something like:

STRENGTH OPTIONS

I WALK THROUGH ENEMIES UNSEEN BUT CAN STRIKE FATALLY WITHOUT EFFORT
I LOVE TO BE POWERFUL, AND ENEMIES TO FEAR ME
I LOVE TO BE POWERFUL, BUT ENEMIES TO FACE ME WITH ALL THEIR STRENGTH
I LIKE TO BE ON EQUAL FOOTING WITH MY FOES
I LOVE MY ENEMIES TO BE MORE POWERFUL THAN I AM, BUT PAY ME LITTLE HEED
I LOVE ENEMIES TO WISH TO CRUSH MY FRAIL FRAME ON SIGHT

PLAYSTYLE OPTIONS

I PLAY FOR THE DEVELOPER'S INTENDED TRADITIONAL EXPERIENCE (default)
I PLAY FOR THE STORY WITHOUT FEAR (fewer enemies, extra reading, immortal protagonist)
I PLAY FOR THE UNINTERRUPTED COMBAT (more enemies, fewer cutscenes and reading, regenerating health)
I PLAY FOR AN ARCADE EXPERIENCE (hardly any story interruptions or menus, no saves, health pickups)
I PLAY FOR AN INSURMOUNTABLE CHALLENGE (maximum enemies, no checkpoints, health regeneration severely limited)
I PLAY FOR THE ATMOSPHERE AND TO EXPLORE (no enemies, no objectives, no damage taken)

What do you think? I believe such a system would require an incredible number of design-based headaches, for sure, but it would open up all games, hypothetically, to all playstyles. The only issue? Some purists could argue that the game would cease to be the same game from one player to the next, but is that really a bad thing?

We've already seen a few attempts at this with things like Minecraft (with everything from Creative to Survival and Peaceful modes allowing for many ways to play), Soma, which now has a "Safe Mode" which allows for the game to be played minus the enemies and "Puzzle easy mode" which limits the puzzles to be completed, Silent Hill series which has different difficulty settings for both combat and puzzles, and Starfox Zero which even went so far as to include an invulnerable Arwing mode.

I've spoken to many gamers who believe the above setup would be brilliant in something like Uncharted or Skyrim, but terrible in Dark Souls.
I wonder if that's more telling of the demographics that play those games that they fear the integrity of those games would be compromised, but if you consider all the new options and ways to play having those variables could offer players, do you see "Organic Difficulty and Playstyle" options to be a positive suggestion?
XB1/XB360/Wii U: TotoMimo PS4: Gooey_Toto/SigmaLongshot
A decade working in AAA game development? Time certainly flies.

User Info: robdisco

robdisco
1 month ago#2
What you’re describing is less “organic” and more “nuanced”.
I prefer to just play video games rather than worry about which platform/s they release on or how many pixels are on the screen.

User Info: AwayFromHere

AwayFromHere
1 month ago#3
Madden has had this for a while. The better you play, the harder the AI gets. The problem with this you will reach your skill limit before the AI does.
You are hallucinating. Seek help immediately.

User Info: SigmaLongshot

SigmaLongshot
1 month ago#4
robdisco posted...
What you’re describing is less “organic” and more “nuanced”.

Yeah, I'm aware my choice of vernacular doesn't translate exactly, it's more the "buzz" term applied to this type of more natural, player-tailored bespoke experience within the games industry at the moment.

It came about when we in the studio were conversing about "easy mode" like it was "baby mode"; the problem with easy mode is it normally just makes enemies weaker, when some people may actually enjoy the combat but hate tough puzzles, or love the setting/architecture/lore of tough games but can't get to see it because the preceding boss is a God mode, 1,000hp behemoth and thus the fun part is lost to them.

Difficulty, and even the relative important factors in games, can mean many different things to different people. If games offered the options, hypothetically they could all get equal enjoyment from the same games in very varying ways.
XB1/XB360/Wii U: TotoMimo PS4: Gooey_Toto/SigmaLongshot
A decade working in AAA game development? Time certainly flies.

User Info: robdisco

robdisco
1 month ago#5
AwayFromHere posted...
Madden has had this for a while. The better you play, the harder the AI gets. The problem with this you will reach your skill limit before the AI does.

Aside from this, the EA Sports games also tend to have difficulty sliders for every individual facet of the game.
I prefer to just play video games rather than worry about which platform/s they release on or how many pixels are on the screen.

User Info: Zombody2

Zombody2
1 month ago#6
I don’t like that style of difficulty. I’d rather chose one thats catered and designed with the challenge in mind.

Getting easier or harder depending on me stagnates the entire experience. If I chose hard I want a challenge, and if I fail I want to fight back as overcome it, not have it adjust for me.

User Info: robdisco

robdisco
1 month ago#7
Zombody2 posted...
I don’t like that style of difficulty. I’d rather chose one thats catered and designed with the challenge in mind.

Getting easier or harder depending on me stagnates the entire experience. If I chose hard I want a challenge, and if I fail I want to fight back as overcome it, not have it adjust for me.

Personally, I prefer to experience the art in the way that the artist intended. I don’t go to movies expecting the filmmakers to cater the story to my liking. I shouldn’t expect game developers to cater their games to my every whim and preference.
I prefer to just play video games rather than worry about which platform/s they release on or how many pixels are on the screen.

User Info: SigmaLongshot

SigmaLongshot
1 month ago#8
robdisco posted...
Zombody2 posted...
I don’t like that style of difficulty. I’d rather chose one thats catered and designed with the challenge in mind.

Getting easier or harder depending on me stagnates the entire experience. If I chose hard I want a challenge, and if I fail I want to fight back as overcome it, not have it adjust for me.

Personally, I prefer to experience the art in the way that the artist intended. I don’t go to movies expecting the filmmakers to cater the story to my liking. I shouldn’t expect game developers to cater their games to my every whim and preference.


I understand, but what if there was also the option to play the standard experience without any compromises? If the design balance on the development side wasn't a considerable challenge, would you have a gripe with allowing more ways to play for people that enjoy some facets of a game more than others, giving them the incentive to buy a game they normally wouldn't (because of overzealous violence, or too much of a focus on mind-bending puzzles, etc)?

I love talking about this because it raises issues about how players perceive their own investment in a game. Dark Souls is a great example, because From Software had themselves discussed an "easy" or "tourist" mode where you could enjoy the setting and lore without fear of insta-death. But it was actually the elite fan crowd that shot the idea down, saying the game "would be ruined" if that option was available, even if they never had to look twice at it. The same was said of Star Fox Zero's invincible Arwing mode, designed for younger gamers or novice players seeking to learn the most effective action plans before trying their high score plans out in the main game - angry "elite" fans said it "ruined" the game, saying things like "you might as well get a game that plays itself then" - forgetting that they were not in any way the audience for this mode.

We'll take Silent Hill 2 for example - the developers themselves say that playing on hard puzzles and hard combat is the "most oppressive" way to play. If you wanted to play the "definitive" way, then it would probably be that way, right? So if a person loves a puzzle but hates a scrap plays it on easy combat, hard puzzles, are they "not playing it right"?
XB1/XB360/Wii U: TotoMimo PS4: Gooey_Toto/SigmaLongshot
A decade working in AAA game development? Time certainly flies.

User Info: xninjagrrl

xninjagrrl
1 month ago#9
SigmaLongshot posted...
robdisco posted...
Zombody2 posted...
I don’t like that style of difficulty. I’d rather chose one thats catered and designed with the challenge in mind.

Getting easier or harder depending on me stagnates the entire experience. If I chose hard I want a challenge, and if I fail I want to fight back as overcome it, not have it adjust for me.

Personally, I prefer to experience the art in the way that the artist intended. I don’t go to movies expecting the filmmakers to cater the story to my liking. I shouldn’t expect game developers to cater their games to my every whim and preference.


I understand, but what if there was also the option to play the standard experience without any compromises? If the design balance on the development side wasn't a considerable challenge, would you have a gripe with allowing more ways to play for people that enjoy some facets of a game more than others, giving them the incentive to buy a game they normally wouldn't (because of overzealous violence, or too much of a focus on mind-bending puzzles, etc)?

I love talking about this because it raises issues about how players perceive their own investment in a game. Dark Souls is a great example, because From Software had themselves discussed an "easy" or "tourist" mode where you could enjoy the setting and lore without fear of insta-death. But it was actually the elite fan crowd that shot the idea down, saying the game "would be ruined" if that option was available, even if they never had to look twice at it. The same was said of Star Fox Zero's invincible Arwing mode, designed for younger gamers or novice players seeking to learn the most effective action plans before trying their high score plans out in the main game - angry "elite" fans said it "ruined" the game, saying things like "you might as well get a game that plays itself then" - forgetting that they were not in any way the audience for this mode.

We'll take Silent Hill 2 for example - the developers themselves say that playing on hard puzzles and hard combat is the "most oppressive" way to play. If you wanted to play the "definitive" way, then it would probably be that way, right? So if a person loves a puzzle but hates a scrap plays it on easy combat, hard puzzles, are they "not playing it right"?


Dark Souls wouldnt be ruined but the fanboys egos would.
Pros: The pills were there.
Cons: So was the tank.

User Info: Critter_crew

Critter_crew
1 month ago#10
There have been a few games with easy modes that restrict progress to the end game. Cuphead has one I think. Personally I'm not keen on that and denying the game's final act to those that choose this route is a little insulting.

Good old Goldeneye and Perfect Dark had superb difficulties. The game got a little tougher in the usual way (you can take less hits, enemies are more accurate) but there were more objectives to complete in each mission. So you got a reward for playing on higher difficulties because you got more game to play. And being forced to find new ways to navigate the levels and with longer exposure to enemies, naturally made everything more difficult. I am continually surprised that this never caught on, it should have been standard by now. Having different objectives for different Playstyles would work well with this.

The biggest balancing problems are surely where the single and multiplayer games cross over. If you have access to the same items whatever difficulty you play then naturally some players will be inclined to obtain everything in the easiest possible way in a bid to dominate in multiplayer. Equally, someone that obtains an item only available in the hardest possible mode should not be able to use that to become untouchable to everyone else.

Multiplayer games need a reward mechanic that encourages the particularly skilled players to take on the less skilled with a playing field skewed massively against them. So in a racing game you might have the cars (or car upgrades) needed for the highest level championship locked behind a multiplayer requirement to beat other racers with a significantly underpowered car. But would this cause as many people to be upset?
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