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Editorial Difficulty Settings

VentilatorOfDoom

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Tags: Obsidian Entertainment

Obsidian Entertainments Nathaniel Chapman started his blog at the Obsidian boards with his first entry. <a href="http://forums.obsidian.net/index.php?automodule=blog&blogid=5&showentry=132">Topic: Difficulty Settings.</a>
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<p style="margin-left:50px;border-style:solid;border-width:1px;border-top-color:#ffffff;padding:5px;border-right-color:#bbbbbb;border-left-color:#ffffff;border-bottom-color:#bbbbbb;">Anyways, in my opinion games tend to offer the most interesting difficulty options when they rely on tweaking or even adding new core challenges without invalidating the core gameplay. A great example of this is Thief. Thief's difficulty options added new challenges to their already existing stealth gameplay. They didn't choose to increase enemy health (at least, as far as I remember) because that runs at cross purposes to their core stealth gameplay. Instead, they force you to not kill anyone. This makes the game's environment navigation and perception/awareness challenges much more complex, but doesn't really alter the core balance of the weapons and tools.
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The reason why more blunt instruments, like just increasing health and damage, tend to fail IMO is that they don't actually make the game more challenging, they just mess up the pacing. I played an ARPG recently that scaled damage and enemy HP and rather than really being more challenging at higher difficulty levels, it just turned into a massive slog. That's something you really want to avoid at all costs... pacing is key to the game being fun, and hard doesn't mean frustrating or boring, it should mean challenging.
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Yes, difficulty levels that just increase health (or armor/shields/resistances/damage) of the enemies are pretty lame. Take NWN2 for example. Hard means enemies do magically 50% more damage. How interesting. One might ask what good it does for them if they can't hit you in the first place, but that's another question. To Obsidian's credit I'd like to mention that they gave the difficulty slider a more interesting meaning in SoZ.
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BG2 did - if memory serves - also some interesting things according to the chosen difficulty. For example on lower difficulties Demogorgon would summon Glabrezus, whereas on higher difficulty levels he summons Mariliths & Balors. Which makes quite a difference.
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Spotted at: <A HREF="http://www.rpgwatch.com/#14782">RPGWatch</A>
 

spectre

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I agree with all this. Usually, I never play beyond whatever the game considers "average" difficulty, because it doesn't feel like there's any sort of difference.

Same for games (mostly strategy) where added difficulty at higher levels is just adding "cheat" bonuses to the AI, here I tend to stop at whatever difficulty level gives me the most advanced AI algorithms.

Shame, really, that the only two games that I recall where difficulty setting actually makes a difference are thief and hitman. Feels like a natural progression to finish them at normal, then switch to hard. Otherwise, just feels like more of the same.
 

Shannow

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Take NWN2 for example.
Hardcore means normal rules apply. Friendly fire is possible, you can be critted, etc.
"Hardcore" should have been called "normal" and "normal" "easy", but apart from that it was more of a change than upping dmg and hp.

And what the blog and Spectre said.

M&B also has several difficulty affecting options. That'd be a nice alternative to classic difficulty settings. Letting the player himself put together some difficulty settings.
 

Phelot

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Myth had some interesting difficulty options. Sure, it made enemies tougher and allowed them to do more damage, but higher difficulty would also do things such as add trees that will block an easy line of sight for archers, remove explosives were they would be too convenient.
 
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Yes. And? What are you getting at?

In the first post, he meant hard, not harcore like you thought. So his complaint about magical extra damage as a means to make the game harder on higher difficulties is valid, because that's what happens on Hard (you cause 50% damage and receive 200% damage for no real reason, and nothing else changes - things get artificially more difficult)
 

VentilatorOfDoom

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Shannow said:
Yes. And? What are you getting at?

I thought you thought that I was talking about the hardcore level. But I was talking about *hard* - which has the +50% dmg I was talking about. Or even +100% dmg, if CK is right.
 
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The best games have no difficulty settings in the first place (e.g. Gothic 2: Night of the Raven, Dark Omen, Might and Magic VI, Super Mario 64). That's because, instead of creating a variety of difficulty levels that "might, kind of, satisfy everyone because there are so many to choose from", the developers spent the time and resources to adjust everything to perfection. If you want to beat the games, you do it like everybody else does, not by lowering the difficulty level.
 

janjetina

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I always choose the highest difficulty setting with full AI options, but with the rules of the game equal for my PC / party and computer generated enemies. I have no incentive to play on higher difficulty settings, if higher difficulty is achieved by cheating.

In the mentioned example of BG 2, I played on Core Rules difficulty, where the rules (derived fromm DnD) were equal for everybody (critical hits on the player, friendly fire, party member permanent death,...). I had no incentive to play on (I remember there were two) harder difficulty setting, where the challenge was in enemies dealing double damage, i.e. playing outside the rules, i.e. cheating.

I feel that challenge should be accomplished by varying degrees of competence in AI.
 

Shannow

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VentilatorOfDoom said:
Shannow said:
Yes. And? What are you getting at?

I thought you thought that I was talking about the hardcore level. But I was talking about *hard* - which has the +50% dmg I was talking about. Or even +100% dmg, if CK is right.
Nope, that's why I said hardcore should have been called normal. I wouldn't suggest calling a difficulty level "normal" that has increased dmg.
What I was getting at, was that NWN2 isn't the best example of "bad" difficulty setting because it has settings that differ in more than health/armor/shields/resistances/damage.
 
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janjetina said:
I feel that challenge should be accomplished by varying degrees of competence in AI.
In strategy games, yes, where the enemy is a commander of larger forces, and the AI is the ability of the commander.

In RPGs, where you can have dumb goblin shamans and intelligent dark elf wizards as your enemy, just increasing the AI difficulty across the board is a crap way to increase difficulty. Goblins should be dumb, and act like goblins (pick a better example if goblins aren't actually dumb as a rule without exceptions). Intelligent wizards should always be intelligent. Etc.

To conclude, in RPGs the difficulty should be what it is. The challenge should be there without the player having to tweak sliders and second-guess the developers. At most, there should be two difficulty levels: one labelled "For Morons", one labelled "The Game."
 

VentilatorOfDoom

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Shannow said:
What I was getting at, was that NWN2 isn't the best example of "bad" difficulty setting because it has settings that differ in more than health/armor/shields/resistances/damage.

Yes if you count normal & easy. But I was really refering only to the difference between hardcore (core rules) and the harder difficulty. Those differ only in +x damage which is a bit silly. It would have been way more interesting if the difference were achieved by other means (as SoZ partially did). A good example how SoZ improved over the original game in this aspect was for instance that enemy Mages would indeed act halfway decent. I had a Red Wizard cast Assay Resistance on my Sorc (who had spell resistance) following up with a Forceful Hand, taking him out of this encounter! Such things never happened in the OC and never before in NWN2 games you had actually a reason to cast spell mantle or breach.
 

deuxhero

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Fire Emblem tends to do hard mode right (except for 11's hard modes, Easy mode in 5 and 9 also fall under the trap by giving you more XP and nothing else). Reinforcements from behind your units and flying units on a map that you can't go after them (as it is bisected by a river most units can't cross) are two of the more noticeable changes.
 

StrangeCase

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I remember Goldeneye 64 added mission objectives as you went up in difficulty level, which typically meant you had to explore more of the level, make sure certain equipment stayed intact, etc. I thought it was a brilliant feature that added a ton of replayability, but apparently I was alone because I have yet to see another game even attempt this method.

Granted, Goldeneye is an FPS, but still. It's an example of difficulty level done right, IMO.
 
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StrangeCase said:
I remember Goldeneye 64 added mission objectives as you went up in difficulty level, which typically meant you had to explore more of the level, make sure certain equipment stayed intact, etc. I thought it was a brilliant feature that added a ton of replayability, but apparently I was alone because I have yet to see another game even attempt this method.

Tie Fighter did this. From the first mission, if you want to get the bonus objectives on hard you have to take out those fucking shuttles with the backwards firing turrets. On medium you can just ignore them, or maybe you just had to identify them.

Oh how those missions make me rage.
 

Merlutz

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I remember Goldeneye 64 added mission objectives as you went up in difficulty level, which typically meant you had to explore more of the level, make sure certain equipment stayed intact, etc. I thought it was a brilliant feature that added a ton of replayability, but apparently I was alone because I have yet to see another game even attempt this method.

Granted, Goldeneye is an FPS, but still. It's an example of difficulty level done right, IMO.

Yeah, Timesplitters (at least the second one) copied them here. Considering the popularity of both games, it's disappointing that it didn't become the industry standard.
 

Fat Dragon

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StrangeCase said:
I thought it was a brilliant feature that added a ton of replayability, but apparently I was alone because I have yet to see another game even attempt this method.
Thief series. Higher difficulties add more objectives, demand you collect even more loot, you're not allowed to kill anyone and usually must complete the entire level (which are fucking huge in Thief1-2) without being seen once. If I remember correctly, Looking Glass said their difficulty design had been inspired by Goldeneye's.
 

Kraszu

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Difficulty levels often lack descriptions, how can you decide between them if you don't know what they actually influence, does they only influence health of you, and enemies, does it spawn more enemies on map, does it make the AI better etc. It would not be so hard to make short descriptions.

In more sandbox games I like big variety of diferent options to choose from.

In more open non sandbox game there is usually no need for difficulty levels as you can get more prepared for some harder part.
 

JarlFrank

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I like the Nameless Mod for Deus Ex in that regard.
You could start with a custom difficulty where you could change the amount of health you have, the amount of health the enemies have, the amount of enemies there are and how many items there are.

Want a challenge because enemies are plenty, and not because the few enemies have too much fucking health? Set enemy health to low but enemy number to high!

Custom difficulty is the best thing.
 

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