On Difficulty Levels

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I have always agreed that a difficulty should be switched mid in the game and see no reason why you should have to be set. It just makes sections which might be frustratingly hard...real grinds to do, when people could just switch it down if they wanted to and get past that point...then enjoy the rest of the game.

I cant recount the number of times I wish I could have done it myself!

MrNickster:
The only game I can think of off the top of my head that lets you switch difficulties without starting a new game is Red Steel 2. I didn't use it though-I like to play a game all the way through on the same difficulty (I'm weird).

That bit about an NPC offering to weaken the enemys by poisoning their water could be a clever implementation-A bit 4th wall breaking, but it could definitely be useful to a struggling player or one that finds the game too easy.

Half-Life Source and HL2 let you do it, and it helps a lot.

It would be fun to see a Super Mario game with a "wheelchair accessible" mode.

Yahtzee, please make Actually Scary Game be a Chzo game. Please.

too bad i was looking forward to fun space game:the game. although yahtzee certainly can make an incredibly scary game when he wants to.

The use of difficulty level as a setting instead of an option you pick at the beginning is one of the things I like about the Half-Life series, but for a different reason than Yahtzee's: If I want to jump back into the game "already in progress" after I've already played through it, I can either load up an old save state or just jump to the chapter of my choosing, and pick what difficulty level I want. Whereas with other games every save state is stuck at the difficulty setting I was playing at at the time, and it doesn't even tell me what it is! If they just put a little "H"/"L"/"S" stamp on the save files, or even color coded them or something, I'd be satisfied. This is one thing Valve did right without even trying.

mad825:
I disagree on any system that allows you to choose a difficulty, I'm not thinking of FF "no difficulty setting" but like Unreal tournament where you get the option for the computer to decide how good you are depending on your performance through out the game (match) which will prevent those insanely difficult parts of the game where you either have to start all over on a lower setting or cheat to progress

Speaking of Valve, their "AI Director" is designed to more or less work like this as well. At this point it's probably sophisticated enough that they could phase out difficulty levels entirely - at least for single-player games; the difficulty settings in Left 4 Dead are still helpful for ensuring you play with people who are roughly on the same skill level as you.

ldwater:
The only problem I have with difficulty settigs on some games is that they don't seem to scale with friendly AI.

Some sports games (NFL / NBA) the computer will become unstopable but your own computer controlled friendlies are still moronic. Same goes with some shooters and upping the difficulty means that the enemy becomes inhumanly accurate and aware while your own squad mates seem to remain the same.

I did like the difficuly settings of 'Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising' - instead of making the AI harder / better / more accurate etc it simply removed more and more of the HUD (and reducing save points) meaning that the player had to be more aware of the surroundings etc.

Shame the AI on that game was already pants on head retarded :(

now you owe yahtzee twenty bucks in royalties.

I do not like dynamic difficulty levels. Or, I suppose more precisely, I do not like inappropriately placed dynamic difficulty levels.

I play a lot of Rez-HD on the Xbox. Rez is 3D third-person rail shooter. That means all sorts of baddies show up in waves to try and take you down, and you blast the fertilizer out of them. However, certain achievements and extra levels can only be unlocked when you play a perfect game -- shoot 100% of the baddies, collect 100% of the goodies. And that's fine, that's well-established formula for a rail shooter. Learn the patterns of baddies, learn to shoot them down efficiently and completely.

...Except that Rez, when it senses you're doing well, changes the patterns. I can't tell you how many times I've played map 3, scored 99.44%, and thought to myself, "Self, you must have missed one of those baddies just off screen in wave 6 or whatever." I then press Start to try the map again... And suddenly I'm playing a completely different map! And I end up scoring 92.87%, and the game sneers at me for becoming crap so quickly.

Grr, I say, grr...

Shit, just let people change in the middle no matter what. Usually it can be done with mods on pc games anyway, but unless it really is that technically difficult to do it, it should be in every game regardless.

One of the old FIFA games I used to play had a nice prompt.

It logged your results in the season mode, and it you were consistently beating better teams 3,4,5 nil, it would pretty much tell you off for being a pussy and tell you to raise the difficulty.

That is the only time I've seen it however.

I caught the end of the "creative naming" period. Now I live in Gritty n' Brown 2 - Lack of Boogaloo

Also, GASP, ZP made a classic [i]URL mistake[/I] like that one!

The Lizard of Odd:
Yahtzee: Have you heard of Amnesia: The Dark Descent? It strikes me as a horror game that you would approve of (at least in concept) . . . pretty sure you play the entire game without using weapons.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M627-obxNzg

Oh god, that video just reminded me of the chase through the hotel in Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, which was one of the most irritating gaming experiences ever.

If they manage to pull it off without making the same mistakes (only having one path that works, and requiring you to take it at such speed that you can basically only make it after dying a ton of times or resorting to a walkthrough, as you can't explore the route before hand) it could be interesting.

OT: Changeable difficulty levels is one of the things I love about BioWare (and associated companies, a ton of western RPGs do it) and Valve. On the other hand, I found God of War offering a drop down to easy after you've died a few times is really obnoxious as a) it always offers easy, even if you're playing on hard+, rather than the difficulty below, and b) it offers it even if what's killing you is an insta-death platforming section which the difficulty drop will provide precisely zero help with. I can't believe that three games in they haven't fixed either problem, or just added difficulty level to the options.

Illessa:
Oh god, that video just reminded me of the chase through the hotel in Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, which was one of the most irritating gaming experiences ever.

Good to know I wasn't the only one who needed a walkthrough to escape the filthy townsfolk. Though I admit that part of the game really got the adrenaline pumping.

Blood 2! I read the title of the article and thought: "no way." But yes, there it was, Blood 2 the bastard child of a 3d engine still in the expiremental stages and a story that came off as a failed experiment entirely.

Throughout the game you can taste what they were trying to do but failed to really get a handle on. So sad, especially since its predecessor stands as one of the most polished games I've ever seen, handily outdoing the other build engine games (Duke Nukem 3d, Shadow Warrior and Redneck Rampage) on practically every front.

But hey, at least the game has a taunt button so you can spout one-liners at yourself while you're trying to figure out where the hell you're supposed to be going.

Yahtzee Croshaw:
But for action games, they should definitely be mandatory.

It's not just about being immediately accessible to any level of player, it's about escalation. This isn't really an issue for me because my job requires me to play a new game every week, but for you poor non-game-reviewing saps who don't buy a new game as often and need to get the most out of their purchases, harder difficulties add an extra spice to a replay.

I respectfully disagree with this point.

Mind you, I realize that I am in the minority when it comes to my game playing tastes and my observations on how games work. But such is my take on this.

I don't like difficulty settings because they really aren't difficulty settings. Well, they are, but in the one's I've encountered they are the laziest bunch of bullshit I've ever had to deal with. What do the harder difficulty settings actually change?

1) There are more enemies wandering about.

2) Your weapons do less damage to the enemies.

3) Their weapons do more damage to you.

So what basically happens is it uses up all your ammo and health kits. But more to the point, it makes gameplay even more repetitive that usual.

Think of the early scene in Bioshock when you've got the wrench and the electrobolt plasmid and the NPC instructs you on how to do the one-two punch where you stun a splicer with the electrobolt and then wail him in the head with your wrench. Now imagine you need to zap and whack each splice twice to take them down in this manner. Not only does it waste Eve, but you're just doing the same goddamned thing twice on each guy. Is that more challenging or is that tedious? I think the latter.

This is not a challenge of skill. It's a test of endurance. It's to see how long you will put up hitting everyone many times before you decide to go watch the Twilight saga instead for something more engaging to do.

It would be nice if difficulty settings actually made the game more challenging rather than a bigger chore. Perhaps making the enemy A.I. smarter, quicker to spot you, fast to attack you. Maybe even dodge your attacks once in a while. Genuine challenge of how well someone can play the game rather than making them slog through more of it.

sievr:
I'd also like to add Thief to the list of games that lets you choose the difficulty of each mission separately, and i am eternally grateful that they do. Haunted Cathedral...I'm looking at you.

Although Thief's difficulty settings were in many ways simply an aesthetic detail. If nothing ever knows you're there it doesn't really matter if it can kill you in one hit or ten since it's never going to hit you regardless. The sneaking didn't get noticeably harder at higher difficulties; the real challenge at the top is the requirement to not kill anyone, which DOES make things substantially harder than playing through on easy where you can just snipe everyone you meet on your way through wherever you are and succeed with no problem.

That said, I'm pretty sure all your enemies in the cathedral are undead to which the "no killing" rule on hard doesn't apply, so you can still snipe everything and go on your merry way. Just...don't alert anything that can shoot skulls at you. Oh good lord, no.

This is averted somewhat in Thief 2 by harder difficulties requiring more water arrows to disable steambots. At least I think it required one or two more on hard. Been years since I played. Since water arrows are in fairly short supply that makes picking your targets much more important as you wouldn't want to waste them on an avoidable patrol only to discover a big 'bot is sitting on his ass in front of the Shiny Goal Stealy Thing and now you're screwed.

In other words, as was mentioned in previous posts, difficulty levels really depend on the game. Some make the game harder in interesting ways. Some just make everything twice as beefy but are otherwise the same game which just feels like the game is wasting your time rather than really making tasks more difficult.

Oh, and Fallout/Fallout 2 also allow changing difficulty mid-game as well as having a split between combat difficulty and...I forget what the other difficulty is, but it basically makes your fail/success roles in non-combat things (speech, lockpicking, etc.) more difficult, requiring higher skills to accomplish the same tasks. Results in simply requiring more grind to get the same things done, but also encourages finding alternative solutions that may not have such high skill checks.

A Few Suggestions for Difficulty Settings (From easy to hard):

In General:
EA, Bioware, Blizzard, Valve

Silent Hill 8:
Hug Therapy, Talk Therapy, Aversion Therapy, Shock Therapy
Lying Figure, Bubblehead Nurse, Pyramid Head, Laura

Portal 2:
Skynet, SHODAN, HAL, GLaDOS

Half-Life 3:
BS, Master's, PhD, Post-Doc
Tesla, Hawking, Newton, Einstein
Liberal Arts, Linguistics, Sociology, Science

Mass Effect 3:
Voyager, DS9, TNG, Original Series

Alpha Protocol 2:
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Dragon Age 2:
4th Edition, 3.5, 3rd Edition, 3rd Edition with Psionics

Bioshock 3:
Ayn Rand, Brad Bird, Kurt Vonnegut

Dante's Inferno 2:
Plot Diagraming, Imagery Analysis, Historical Referencing, Italian Couplet Structure Numerology

Final Fantasy:
Can cutscenes have a difficulty setting?

If the Escapist Released a Game:
Graham Stark, MovieBob, Yahtzee, Rebecca Mayes

Speaking of Silent Hill, I saw Yahtzee's review and was suspecting unforgiving combat and so I started at Easy (second highest of 4) and was a bit nonplussed by how easy it was, so I see what he was saying. I never ran out of bullets and was brushing my teeth with Ampoules. Although it did still create a great experience, because it made it feel like the monsters were more like tortured souls that I was putting out of their misery in a symbolic way.

I really dont see the issue you're presenting; honestly it seems like a rant saying "Waaa feel bad for me I play games for a living and some of them are too easy".

I like choosing a difficulty, and sticking through it. It adds a layer of consequence to games: if your confident you can beat a game on Hard, you better put up or shut up. If you find you too easy or too hard, either the difficulty curve sucks, or you didnt choose the best option for you.

Further more, why are you making this an issue? Most games now-a-days come with that feature. I applaude ones that dont, as they still have consequences in the game: something games need more of. Most games allow you to start from a chapter you beat, and choose Difficulty anyways

Actually, I think the first game to use the offer to turn the game down if you were getting your ass kicked was Onimusha.

For me being able to swap difficulty settings temporarily in game is the difference between a rage quit where I never touch the thing again, and my continued enjoyment. If I'm grinding on a particular battle I just can't seem to finish I'm not having FUN anymore, and it's much less likely to encourage me to, y'know, get better at the game than it is to get me to abandon it in favour of something I just enjoy playing. Ramping up the difficulty is something I do far less often, but I can see it being equally important for people who crave challenge; if you just feel like you're mashing buttons, the game stops engaging you.

I don't see how someone being able to change their personal difficulty setting could possibly be "unfair". If you play a game on easy, finish it, and mistakenly think you're up to the task of similar multiplayer, it's your own fault for getting eradicated by a rocket launcher because the other players are better.

Also, happy at hearing about the possibility of another scary game on the horizon. I've always felt Yahtzee creates horror very well, so I'm curious to see where he goes with this; both a return to the Chzo mythos or an entirely new setting sound equally good to me.

ArmorArmadillo:

Final Fantasy:
Can cutscenes have a difficulty setting?

No, but they could have a length setting!

*Selects Hideo Kojima Setting*

10594859476936 million hours later

Wow, that was a long opening cutscene!

I remember being honestly offended when Silent Hill 3 offered to let me play on "Very Easy" mode. I wanted to say: "It's not the whole game I'm finding hard. It's this one fight. And this fight is hard because you sent me in with half a life bar, three bullets, and a knife against an opponent with multiple full life bars and at one point an unlimited-ammunition automatic weapon... You #@$%ing douchebags!"

...Okay, not my most gracious moment, I'll admit.

I always enjoy halo's "Heroic" mode, because it's tough enough that you have to think very carefully, but not so tough that you'll get stuck on one encounter for an hour, like on Legendary.

I've recently had a "difficulty level" experience with god of war 3.
A month ago or so I rented GOW to try to beat it with my buddies in one night. Since a few of us had played the previous games we went Titan (hard). Problem is that a certain wave of baddies kept kicking our asses and time was running out so we accepted the games humilliating proposition to go Spartan (easy). Suddenly the game became INSULTINGLY easy. For the life of me I couldn't enjoy beating the crap out of Hercules because all I could think about was how awesome an actual challenge would have been in that part of the game.
Why didn't GOW offer me to play in Normal instead of easy? I was playing on hard! Developers really need to think about this sort of thing.

EDIT: by the way, I was so frustrated I bought the game the next week and got the platinum trophy just to prove myself... so yeah, it was annoying

The in-game difficulty thing actually would be pretty sweet. Changing difficulty based on how you are performing in game would be cool too. As for a actually scary game, might I suggest the Penumbra series? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gqc7DJSigBg&feature=related Trailer for the second game in the series, Black Plague.

Callate:
I remember being honestly offended when Silent Hill 3 offered to let me play on "Very Easy" mode. I wanted to say: "It's not the whole game I'm finding hard. It's this one fight. And this fight is hard because you sent me in with half a life bar, three bullets, and a knife against an opponent with multiple full life bars and at one point an unlimited-ammunition automatic weapon... You #@$%ing douchebags!"

...Okay, not my most gracious moment, I'll admit.

Yeah, that can get annoying. I remember when I kept having to try over and over on some GoW 2 bosses and it offered to lower the difficulty and I'm like "NO SHUT UP YOU AREN"T BETTER THAN ME YOU JERK GAME I AM GOING TO KILL THIS BOSS DEAD!" Which may have been the intention...

Harder difficulties are nice though, especially when it's games I like enough to play through multiple times (Like Pokemon) and I find myself purposely handicapping myself (Not using revives) just to make the game challenging.

MrNickster:
The only game I can think of off the top of my head that lets you switch difficulties without starting a new game is Red Steel 2. I didn't use it though-I like to play a game all the way through on the same difficulty (I'm weird).

That bit about an NPC offering to weaken the enemys by poisoning their water could be a clever implementation-A bit 4th wall breaking, but it could definitely be useful to a struggling player or one that finds the game too easy.

There are lodas of games that let you do this, Biioshock and Mass effect/ Mass effect 2 let you do this. So do all the STALKER games (which is handy because most people get thir asses kicked until they wear them ass a hat on the first try). Infact i find it rare (and annoying) that games don't let you do this.

(also you mass effect 2 comment was bullshit, the game can be easy on normal but it's CHANGEABLE)

While I agree that games should just allow all the difficulty levels from the get-go, I think they require you to unlock the worst by playing through it at least once for one reason: Replay value. They want their game to be played through more than once, not just started on hard, powered through, and resold. A questionable way to pretty much force replay value for sure, but it works.

This reminds me of God Hand. All-in-all it's a pretty fucking hard game, but it has rather interesting difficulty settings.
Easy and medium don't actually change the difficulty right off the bat, it only changes how hard the game can get. You start the game at difficulty level 1, but the better you do, the harder the game gets. On easy mode you can go up to level 2, and on medium you can reach level Die (the fourth and hardest level). Oh hard mode, the game is always in level Die.
So the better you do on easy and medium, the harder the game becomes, and the reverse is also true. If you reach level 3 and start getting your ass kicked, you go back down to level 2, and all the way down to level 1 if you really start sucking.

I like games that challenge you, no matter how well you play.

the antithesis:
Think of the early scene in Bioshock when you've got the wrench and the electrobolt plasmid and the NPC instructs you on how to do the one-two punch where you stun a splicer with the electrobolt and then wail him in the head with your wrench. Now imagine you need to zap and whack each splice twice to take them down in this manner. Not only does it waste Eve, but you're just doing the same goddamned thing twice on each guy. Is that more challenging or is that tedious? I think the latter.

There is a difference between "difficulty level" and "repetition". Just because you can name an example where a higher difficulty just adds repetition (mostly because the electric plasmid stunlocks the enemy, making it so he can't fight back) doesn't mean every game does that.

Bottom line is this: If changing the difficulty setting in a game forces you to change your playstyle (or die if you don't), then it's handling difficulty properly while avoiding repetition. This doesn't always make the game more fun though, but it can definitely make it more challenging.

And given that i know plenty of people (myself included) that replays games on different difficulty settings, you are, at the end of the day, wrong. Maybe changing the difficulty setting doesn't add anything to you personally (which i find hard to believe if you claim it never does, no matter the game), but it does to a lot of other players, so you can't really "disagree" with Yahtzee on this point, even if it still doesn't apply to you.

Oblivion lets you change difficulty, and i think so does fallout 3, on a kind of sliding scale, far better than seperate difficulty levels, i always make it as easy as possible, not to good at games :P

I think that difficulty levels themselves need to be reworked. like insted of a higher difficulty incresing enemy helth, enamy numbers, or lowering player helth. that the eniemes acctually get smarter and use more advanced tactics but I know that this will not happen because it would take extra time and effort on the developers part. it would just be more interesting compared to the almost computer cheating higher dificulty levels of some games.

mm XBLA should give him a contract :] and not just in the indie listings, but like a real legit game listing haha

my favorite difficulty settings came from Kane & Lynch: Dead Men.
Aspirin
Codeine
Morphine

Lego Star Wars, Indi and Batman had an extra called "adaptiv difficulty"... I haven't tried it but i think it only goes up. Alsow, in Warcraft III you had the option of reduceing difficulty after iou've lost aa mision.

I remember this PS1 game called Tigershark that had creative difficulty level names. They were things like Milk run and such. I can't remember them all at the moment, since I played the game years ago, but it's a lost art.

I play games on the second highest difficulty setting the first go-around. If there's Easy-Medium-Hard-Very hard, I'll play on hard the 1st time then on very hard the second time. If there's just Easy-Medium-Hard, I'll play on hard.

I'm playing through Mass Effect on hard on the first go and it's pretty hard, making for a more intense, engaging and rewarding experience.

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