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View Full Version : Challange balance: a lost art?



dnf
12-10-2012, 11:17 PM
In some games, you will have your ass handed big time even on easy(arguably older titles, and some modern ones like STALKER). In other games, the game is just a cakewalk and plays by himself even on hard( see CODBLOPS). So, where is the balance in difficulty?

Companys like EPIC made games like UT with like eight difficulty modes for the AI, but when they go to consoles they dont reproduce the same feat and end with the same fate as COD. Hell, just watch this guy play Batman blind XD: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FxIcklF-8hY

So, whats your thougts on the issue?

victory
12-10-2012, 11:38 PM
I see your Batman and raise with a Joy Ride:

http://youtu.be/KWbLOFGSEDo

dnf
12-10-2012, 11:48 PM
haha, lol, kinect brings fail to the next level

fiddlesticks
13-10-2012, 02:36 AM
Any thread that gives me an opportunity to post this video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6PxRwgjzZw) is a good thread.

On a more serious note, I haven't played Black Ops, but COD4 was unforgivingly difficult on Veteran at times. As are many other games released in recent years. So I wouldn't say the art of challenge has been lost. On average, games are probably easier nowadays than they were during the NES era, but this is mostly due to two factors. One, a lot of the difficulty in past games comes from janky controls, unintuitive interfaces or general buginess, things we tend to tolerate less in modern titles. Two, games used to be a lot shorter, so the high level of difficulty was an attempt to artifically lengthen the playtime.

Generally speaking, I'm all for games featuring different levels of difficulty. The problem is that many developers do it in the laziest way possible. They create a normal difficulty as a benchmark and then simply scale enemy health and damage up or down. This results in enemies being bullet sponges on higher difficulties and makes the game more tedious than actually challenging. It would be nice if increasing the difficulty meant enemies would get new powerful attacks or a more advanced AI. Or do what Doom did and simply increase the monster count, rather than the monster hp.

Internet
13-10-2012, 02:43 AM
One company that's pushing the edge of accessibility is Nintendo. They are remarkably adept at incorporating multiple difficulties into a single game, frequently by having collectibles inside a level that are harder to get, and more rewarding paths. DKCR is a great example of this. On the one hand, the game will take you through any tough point if you ask it to, but it has some wonderfully hard extra missions, extra areas, and special challenges.

Ritashi
13-10-2012, 02:46 AM
Betteridge's Law of Headlines (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betteridge's_Law_of_Headlines).

Hypernetic
13-10-2012, 03:04 AM
So you are wondering why all the world's game developers didn't get together and decide to make all of their games the same difficulty?

victory
13-10-2012, 03:15 AM
Generally speaking, I'm all for games featuring different levels of difficulty. The problem is that many developers do it in the laziest way possible. They create a normal difficulty as a benchmark and then simply scale enemy health and damage up or down. This results in enemies being bullet sponges on higher difficulties and makes the game more tedious than actually challenging. It would be nice if increasing the difficulty meant enemies would get new powerful attacks or a more advanced AI. Or do what Doom did and simply increase the monster count, rather than the monster hp.
Laziness is bad, but "what can we add or change to produce a harder difficulty" is also the wrong way to go about it. The hardest mode is the one that needs the tightest balancing. If the difficulty levels are not really independent from each other - as in different game modes - then the hardest one should always be designed as the first and primary one, and the easier difficulties should be adjustments of the hardest mode.

soldant
13-10-2012, 03:39 AM
In some games, you will have your ass handed big time even on easy(arguably older titles, and some modern ones like STALKER)
Difficulty with older games generally was a way to artificially extend gameplay time though. Take a look at the sadistic NES games. If they weren't messes of enemies flying everywhere, one-hit-death mechanics, and very limited lives, they'd have gameplay times in the order of bugger all. Fiddlesticks has the measure of it - an artificial increase in difficulty isn't smart gameplay. Having enemies that act as tanks by jacking up the HP isn't something that should be celebrated. But AI is hard, and it's easy to just fiddle with numbers or let the AI cheat, so that's all we're likely to get for the moment.

Mohorovicic
13-10-2012, 06:25 AM
On a more serious note, I haven't played Black Ops, but COD4 was unforgivingly difficult on Veteran at times.

All modern CoD titles can be frustratingly difficult at Veteran. People who say they're all easy games that "play themselves" likely never played them at all.

Lukasz
13-10-2012, 07:38 AM
All modern CoD titles can be frustratingly difficult at Veteran. People who say they're all easy games that "play themselves" likely never played them at all.

doesn't one of the cod games have a mission where you don't have to do squat and just simply follow some guy? i think i saw a video of it.

jnx
13-10-2012, 08:04 AM
doesn't one of the cod games have a mission where you don't have to do squat and just simply follow some guy? i think i saw a video of it.

It's probably the infamous No Russian level where you're supposed to butcher civilians at an airport. So yeah, that kind'a doesn't count. You can also skip the mission entirely.

Lukasz
13-10-2012, 08:55 AM
It's probably the infamous No Russian level where you're supposed to butcher civilians at an airport. So yeah, that kind'a doesn't count. You can also skip the mission entirely.

nah. the other one where you have to get to the plane (not sure.) happens in a town.

this one
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RULv6HbgEjY

NathanH
13-10-2012, 10:28 AM
Laziness is bad, but "what can we add or change to produce a harder difficulty" is also the wrong way to go about it. The hardest mode is the one that needs the tightest balancing. If the difficulty levels are not really independent from each other - as in different game modes - then the hardest one should always be designed as the first and primary one, and the easier difficulties should be adjustments of the hardest mode.

I disagree, I think it's pretty cool to play games on difficulties that the designers clearly didn't even bother to balance, they just threw in to see if you could deal with them. Indeed, it's often a pointless effort to try to balance the top difficulty, because the players playing at this difficulty will be vastly superior to the designers and the testers anyway.

Hypernetic
13-10-2012, 11:37 AM
I disagree, I think it's pretty cool to play games on difficulties that the designers clearly didn't even bother to balance, they just threw in to see if you could deal with them. Indeed, it's often a pointless effort to try to balance the top difficulty, because the players playing at this difficulty will be vastly superior to the designers and the testers anyway.

This is why Blizzard often tunes/hotfixes boss fights in WoW after they come out. They've been known to tune fights in between the attempts of the first guild making progression on it as well. A lot of people think it's Blizzard being lazy, but really where are they going to find internal testers capable of playing in the top .00001% of the player population? There are maybe a few hundred players in the world who play at that level. I doubt they are going to go move to California and work for what is basically minimum wage just to help Blizzard out.

dnf
13-10-2012, 03:10 PM
All modern CoD titles can be frustratingly difficult at Veteran. People who say they're all easy games that "play themselves" likely never played them at all.

Im not saying they play by themselves at all. The point of my post is to show unbalanced difficulties both on hard and easy. Games like Gears of War, COD, Batman, etc. became trivial on easy and normal modes. Difficulty in COD or GOW just boils down to how much of a spongebullet you and your enemies are. In most modern games, you need to play on the hardest mode to have any semblance of challange at all. my point just boils down to ask for challange in easy and normal modes.

Also i dont get the trowback at the NES era by some posters. Early consoles likes to mimic the arcade enviromment, the kind of place that hard modes become key to the sucess of these places.

Kaira-
13-10-2012, 03:55 PM
Betteridge's Law of Headlines (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betteridge's_Law_of_Headlines).

Very much this. We have at least Dark Souls and XCom ot mention from the straight hand, and numberless more if we stop and think.

dnf
13-10-2012, 04:16 PM
Very much this. We have at least Dark Souls and XCom ot mention from the straight hand, and numberless more if we stop and think.

Except that exception is not the rule. For every Dark Souls out there we got 10 more games with unbalanced and trivial challange. Some people are really accostumed with scraps it seems.

Kaira-
13-10-2012, 05:32 PM
So exceptions don't count because they are exceptions...? Exception refines the rule: we may get games with badly tuned challenge but likewise we get games with good challenge balance. Unless there is a reason to believe there are only a few well-balanced challenging games and one can prove it, that is.

dnf
13-10-2012, 06:01 PM
Instead of bringing the old vs new debate here, how about we list games with good and balanced challange(like, Street fighter) and games that suck in this regard as mentioned above?

Sketch
13-10-2012, 06:23 PM
Street Fighter? Haha, ok.

dnf
14-10-2012, 12:37 AM
compared to the games mentioned in page 1 street fighter 2 is a diamond

ambing1
14-10-2012, 01:02 AM
On a more serious note, I haven't played Black Ops, but COD4 was unforgivingly difficult on Veteran at times.

game balancing is always an issue with any game i think. It's a challenge that every developer has to cope and there's no measure how to make a difficult level difficult in a certain level.

Mohorovicic
14-10-2012, 06:52 AM
doesn't one of the cod games have a mission where you don't have to do squat and just simply follow some guy? i think i saw a video of it.

Yeah, and?

Lukasz
14-10-2012, 07:49 AM
Yeah, and?

that the games are not really that hard.

Sketch
14-10-2012, 07:50 AM
They are pretty damn hard. They have their problems, but a full run through on Veteran isn't all that fun.

Mohorovicic
14-10-2012, 07:53 AM
1. BLOPS alone does not speak for the entire series
2. It's a team-based shooter
3. It's the very first level of the game, essentially a tutorial since the game lacks one like MW/2 do
4. It's not the highest difficulty

KDR_11k
14-10-2012, 09:26 AM
Whatever you do, do NOT use dynamic difficulty to rectify that. It's not a solution to make the difficulty lower itself if you're trying to figure out a solution for an especially tough spot. Nonsense like Soul Calibur 2's arcade mode comes to mind where I pretty much knew which fights I would lose how many times because the difficulty would lower itself on every loss (while of course each win would increase it as you'd expect from a fighting game arcade mode). Learning? What for?

Also too low a difficulty with no way to turn it up is going to hurt a game. Diablo 3 was a terrible game for that (I didn't hate it for the difficulty since my mage died plenty of times on Normal but I hated the game for other reasons) and I really hate how awfully easy EDF: Insect Armageddon is, especially since increasing the difficulty makes enemies crazy bullet sponges without actually making the game harder.

dnf
14-10-2012, 03:27 PM
1. BLOPS alone does not speak for the entire series
2. It's a team-based shooter
3. It's the very first level of the game, essentially a tutorial since the game lacks one like MW/2 do
4. It's not the highest difficulty

haha, oh wow. So immortal NPCs count as team based shotter? more like team based shitter amirite. High level difficulties in COD sucks because the game was designed as a spongebullet shotter. You just need to take cover and camp more often, which it sucks.

Anyway, i could count the indie darling FTL as a example of unbalanced difficulty on easy. Most battles have little to no challange, with the exception of a rare ones in the later sector and the final boss. I know its supposed to be easy, but it needs to have challange too.

LTK
14-10-2012, 03:51 PM
....What.

FTL has an easy mode, which is easy. FTL has a normal mode, which is challenging. And you call that unbalanced?

ERROR. DOES NOT COMPUTE.

dnf
14-10-2012, 03:55 PM
Just because its easy it doesnt mean it have to be a cakewalk

Sketch
14-10-2012, 04:00 PM
Playing on easy generally means its going to be easy.

dnf
14-10-2012, 04:08 PM
yeah, but really? Does the game needs to play by himself? Im not saying this is the case for FTL, but the ratio of challange in the easy mode is skullf*cking low (and the end boss is a cheater btw). I guess you guys are OK with winning fights blind in the easymode of batman( is daredevil now,lol) or winning by doing nothing in mario party.

Sketch
14-10-2012, 04:53 PM
Yeah I can see how you drew that conclusion from what I said.

LTK
14-10-2012, 04:57 PM
There's no challenge in FTL, yet the final boss cheats? Wow, you're really going to town with those contradictions, aren't you?

Take it to the devs (https://getsatisfaction.com/ftlgame/ideas/popular) if you think it's so awful.

dnf
14-10-2012, 05:07 PM
The final boss cheats because he dont play by the general ruleset of the game(it has a special power no other ship have) and thats a fact,if you like it or not thats up to you! Now please, readding compreension anyone?

"Most battles have little to no challange, with the exception of a rare ones in the later sectors and the final boss."

And no, i dont think its THAT awful! At least the ship management sim make up for the lack of a BALANCED challange in the Easy mode( and my definition of easy is not "for handiccaped people" like the other games mentioned in this Thread).

LTK
14-10-2012, 06:06 PM
Handicapped people aren't supposed to play games now?

(Now THAT was too easy.)

dnf
14-10-2012, 07:13 PM
Just make a handicapped level difficulty but FFS dont design your game around it(unless handicapped people IS the target audience, then its ok). And before someone responds, no, easy mode is not supposed to be extreme handicap mode(or baby's mode or whatever) almost to the point of cheating.

Hypernetic
14-10-2012, 07:58 PM
Just make a handicapped level difficulty but FFS dont design your game around it(unless handicapped people IS the target audience, then its ok). And before someone responds, no, easy mode is not supposed to be extreme handicap mode(or baby's mode or whatever) almost to the point of cheating.

Says who? If easy mode is too easy for you (imagine that, easy mode being easy) play a harder difficulty. Problem solved.

DaftPunk
14-10-2012, 08:13 PM
So dnf is complaining that easy mode is to easy :D lol,thats funny.

dnf
14-10-2012, 08:15 PM
Says who? If easy mode is too easy for you (imagine that, easy mode being easy) play a harder difficulty. Problem solved.

And if you dont know how to read, dont post in public foruns. Problem solved. Now who is next from the semantics arguing squad.

Feldspar
14-10-2012, 08:16 PM
Just make a handicapped level difficulty but FFS dont design your game around it(unless handicapped people IS the target audience, then its ok). And before someone responds, no, easy mode is not supposed to be extreme handicap mode(or baby's mode or whatever) almost to the point of cheating.
Careful where you are going with comments like that, 'handicapped' is a very broad description and doesn't necessarily just include people less able to play computer games than yourself.

Mohorovicic
14-10-2012, 08:43 PM
So dnf is complaining that easy mode is to easy :D lol,thats funny.

It makes sense in the context of FTL though. As it is, there are only two difficulty settings: "Guaranteed win" Easy and "Why not just put my balls in a vice while you're at it" Normal. With lack of a third option, either Easy should be made harder, or Normal easier for a better overall balance.

LTK
14-10-2012, 08:55 PM
And if you dont know how to read, dont post in public foruns. Problem solved. Now who is next from the semantics arguing squad.
You say that like you've already made a coherent argument somewhere, but I can't seem to find it. All I see is you hammering on the word 'balanced' like it means something that's not entirely subjective.


It makes sense in the context of FTL though. As it is, there are only two difficulty settings: "Guaranteed win" Easy and "Why not just put my balls in a vice while you're at it" Normal. With lack of a third option, either Easy should be made harder, or Normal easier for a better overall balance.
I'd sooner describe it as "Mistakes can be forgiven" Easy or "Screw up and you're dead" Normal. Even on Easy, the boss will kick your ass if you're not prepared for its every move. A third option would be nice, but that's the kind of reasonable suggestion dnf isn't making.

dnf
14-10-2012, 09:02 PM
Well thanks for getting my point LTK, thats all i have saying in this thread. The last boss is actually the only guaranteed challange the Easy mode has to offer. If you find this balanced, then maybe we need to discuss the definition of balance.

KDR_11k
14-10-2012, 09:16 PM
If normal in FTL was any easier the game would be broken. The default result of a game of FTL should be failure. Easy is just a sandbox to play around in and see what's in the game if you don't want to do the learning with real pressure on you.

Hypernetic
14-10-2012, 10:47 PM
Well thanks for getting my point LTK, thats all i have saying in this thread. The last boss is actually the only guaranteed challange the Easy mode has to offer. If you find this balanced, then maybe we need to discuss the definition of balance.

That's why it's called easy mode.... and the boss is easy on easy mode once you know what to do. FTL isn't the type of game you are supposed to beat in one try or even ten really. Learn his phases and then he's easy as pie.

dnf
14-10-2012, 11:09 PM
And thats why i think the easy mode is unbalanced. Its kinda like a twist, your crew is kicking ass and chewing bubblegun with a suboptimal strategy only to be beated by the very last boss(with his unique superpowers). For me, i dont think a suboptimal strategy could go on so far...

Hypernetic
15-10-2012, 12:33 AM
And thats why i think the easy mode is unbalanced. Its kinda like a twist, your crew is kicking ass and chewing bubblegun with a suboptimal strategy only to be beated by the very last boss(with his unique superpowers). For me, i dont think a suboptimal strategy could go on so far...

The game teaches you how to deal with that stuff though early on. Even though they are special powers they are still susceptible to the same tactics you used prior (cloaking, disabling systems, etc). I mean hell, you can just brute force the last boss on easy with a few burst lasers. I killed him in 12 seconds.

deano2099
15-10-2012, 01:10 AM
And thats why i think the easy mode is unbalanced. Its kinda like a twist, your crew is kicking ass and chewing bubblegun with a suboptimal strategy only to be beated by the very last boss(with his unique superpowers). For me, i dont think a suboptimal strategy could go on so far...

For a short game like FTL it's different though. The challenge isn't meant to be in getting to the last boss, it's in getting there in a state that you can actually beat it. It's like arguing that Civ has no challenge until the endgame, as it's perfectly possible to get to modern times by being really conservative and playing it safe. But once you get there, you can't then win because you don't have the resources.

dnf
15-10-2012, 11:25 AM
Talking about FTL made me remember Rayman 2. The game is piss easy most of the time(you will die a few times though), but when you reach the last boss the game screams Fuck you! Im nintendohard now, haha. Cheap tatics

biz
15-10-2012, 12:20 PM
wtf... FTL easy is not easy until you've actually learned how the game works

sonson
15-10-2012, 12:43 PM
I think fairness is more important than difficulty per se. I'm quite happy if a game is hard if I have been given the abilities and practice to overcome a situation and I simply haven't managed to do that to the required level that a new challenge is asking of me. Had that in the Witcher 2 at the weekend, there were a few fights which seemed grossly unfair to start with but in hindsight they just required me to be precsie and to concentrate more than I had been doing. Super MeatBoy, though hard, is actually alot easier than some games nonetheless becuase it just requires practice with the mechanics.

Alot of games though create difficulty simply by moving the goalposts entirley and asking you not to do something just better but for an unfair amount of time as well, or just completley different. E.g Meat Circus. Psychonauts manages to basically avoid all that's bad about platform games but then it throws it all at you in one go for the final level, completley devoid of all the other stuff throughout that makes it such a good game.

dnf
15-10-2012, 01:03 PM
Actually, Super meat boy is a save state platformer simulator. If i want to play a 2d platformer with save states i just prefer to play in some emulator.

fiddlesticks
15-10-2012, 11:05 PM
I wouldn't exactly call Rayman 2 easy. The game has some very devious levels, including the infamous cave of bad dreams. It's easier than its predecessor to be sure, but then the original Rayman was one step away from a romhack in parts.

If we're looking for good examples of difficulty in platformers, I'd go with Yoshi's Island for the SNES. The game excels in two ways. Firstly, it manages to convey a steady difficulty curve. You always feel that the next world is slightly harder than the previous one. Often, concepts get introduced early on and are then made full use of in later levels. It gives you a sense of accomplishment as you're constantly surpassing your previous achievements and getting better at the game.

Secondly, there's essentially two difficulty settings for every level, beating it or getting 100% completion. The former generally isn't too hard and should be doable for just about any fan of platformers. The latter can be quite tricky and requires a lot more finesse. This way casual players can have an enjoyable experience and still complete the game while the more experienced ones can challenge themselves even further. Then there are also the special levels, which aren't required to reach the final boss but offer an extra level of difficulty above the rest of the game.

I really feel this kind of model where difficulty depends on your goals works well in video games. The two types of players have different playstyles and some levels can feel completely different for them, but in the end they both had a fulfilling experience.

Mohorovicic
16-10-2012, 06:43 AM
wtf... FTL easy is not easy until you've actually learned how the game works

Which takes about three hours.

Sketch
16-10-2012, 06:57 AM
What's your point?

Mohorovicic
16-10-2012, 07:57 AM
I just realized that your nickname is "Wounded bum". I always somehow skimmed over it and thought it was something german.

Sketch
16-10-2012, 08:21 AM
Well, Sketch was taken I think. So this was the only alternative.

kingmob
16-10-2012, 12:44 PM
I think for most games a huge step in AI is required before we get any meaningful distinction between difficulty levels. Until that time, you more or less have to design a game for one difficulty and then just adjust some things (like the dreaded higher HP monsters) to make it 'harder' on higher difficulties. This target difficulty is likely quite easy so that you cover a large audience.

Of course, such a hard mode is actually 'hard', but not in any meaningful way. For instance, I switched Skyrim to an easier mode, because fights were maybe harder to win, but not more fun. It didn't actually require more tactics from me, just more time (and more abuse of glitches :P). I think as a general rule, a hard game is only fun if this hard mode requires a better understanding and use of the core mechanics. This is why I mention AI, because in the end I think that will boil down to a believable human enemy of varying intelligence for most games. The player's job is mostly to abuse any mistakes made or disadvantages the enemy has.

So, to tie this to FTL. I enjoy the game, I even enjoy the fact that it is murderously hard. But I would enjoy it even more if the game had weaker ships but not AI doing silly things, leading to roughly the same difficulty.

And to add one thing, the curve is also important. One of the reason I think Portal worked was because of the more or less constant difficulty curve. You were essentially playing a rather long tutorial, but I don't think anyone cared.

deano2099
16-10-2012, 08:44 PM
So, to tie this to FTL. I enjoy the game, I even enjoy the fact that it is murderously hard. But I would enjoy it even more if the game had weaker ships but not AI doing silly things, leading to roughly the same difficulty.

I've not unlocked much, but how do the different ships/layouts figure into the FTL difficulty? As it doesn't have to be a direct function.

Take Desktop Dungeons for instance, there's one main difficulty mode, but once you get the basics down and open up all the classes and special dungeons, difficulty becomes a function of class and level. For example the Priest in the undead levels is a piece of cake, but the mage in the levels full of magic immune guys is a nightmare.

Mohorovicic
17-10-2012, 06:38 AM
If FTL actually had AI you would never get past the first sector on Normal. It would be literally impossible.

biz
17-10-2012, 08:08 AM
if FTL had actual AI the battles would be almost entirely pointless

other than a few dicerolls, there would be no suspense. they might as well auto-resolve since both players are playing optimally