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Toma
Let me show you through these halls, my friend, where treasures of indie gaming await...
(09-19-2012, 03:54 AM)
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Disclaimer: I am NOT talking about whether games should be difficult or not (AKA "We need more retro
gaming difficulty!" or on the other end of the spectrum "Dark Souls sucks so hard, games shouldnt be hard,
they should be fun!"), and the first one who does gets slapped across the face for not even reading the first
line of this OP. If the whole text is too long, read only the last part of the OP for my favourite discussion points
and/or the questions below the current sentence you are reading in italics.

I considered making a thread about this for a long time now, and I think this also would be a welcome change
of the other "difficulty"-related threads we had lately. All of my discussed points are of course up for discussion
and might be somewhat subjective. Feel free to point out any flaws and post your own opinion on that matter.
A few questions for discussion (the bolded one being the most interesting for me):

How do difficulty levels affect the replay value for you?
Do you care at all if games offer higher difficulty levels?
Which developers put a lot of effort into creating replay value through complex changes on a higher difficulty level? (Game examples please)
Which approaches to how higher/lower difficulty levels are handled are annoying to you?
Any elements you would like to see, but havent yet?
Would including all of the approaches (if applicable) always make for a more enjoyable higher difficulty?


Please note: I am NOT saying that games that only use one, or the most basic, type of difficulty change are bad,
or that this type needs to go away. More often than not its also probably a monetary decision not to go with more
intricate difficulty changes. I just want to point out my appreciation for when developers actually go out of their way
to change more than just the HP/damage stats and I would like to hear your examples and opinion on that. I am
also aware that many of these are incorporated in the game difficulty curves (Enemies having less HP at the beginning
of the game than at the end), but am specifically talking about the replay value through higher difficulties.

My initial thought for this topic was this:

I hugely enjoy if games offer more than just raised HP/damage stats on a higher difficulty level. A game provides
more motivation/incentive to replay the game on a higher difficulty level if those higher difficulty levels offer an interestingly
altered experience from the normal difficulty.

I noticed that games may achieve this in 2 ways, either by using several aspects that change upon the difficulty level
(not just focussing on HP/Damage as many, if not most, games do), or by using at least one very complex alteration
(different level layouts, enemy placement, better AI). I took a look at which elements actually are being used in games
and wrote them down to make for a better understandable discussion later on. Feel free to add any aspects that I might
have missed.

The effect of these approaches can be twofold. Either it simply lengthens the amount of time it takes for the player to
reach his goal, while the player still does exactly the same things, just more often. Or in the better way, it means that
the player needs to apply more game skills (like the necessity of using game elements such as potion brewing in RPGs
, using traps in Roguelikes or finding great cover spots in First Person Shooters) and/or soft skills (mouse aiming accuracy,
multi tasking). I'll try to point out the lazy and better ways when I can think of them.

Don't consider this complete or exhaustive, its merely thought as an overview which is supposed to serve as food for discussion.
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1. Changing simple stats
Skyrim (or all Elder Scrolls games really) - Damage dealt, Damage received, Own health, Enemy health
FTL(Faster Than Light) - Money received (unable to buy as many upgrades)
Call of Duty - Damage received, own health, enemy accuracy, enemy reaction time

Genre where you might encounter that more often: probably every genre ever

This may come in varying forms, which all usually have the same effect: Make the game take longer by getting the
player to do the exact same things more often. Again, I am not saying that this is necessarily a bad thing (I love
FTL and Elder Scrolls), and games that rely solely on it may still just be as fun as games that combine more elements.
In fact, in my opinion, this is a hugely important element that, if properly used, shouldnt be missing from our games
and difficulty levels. Open world games especially need to rely solely on these for higher difficulty levels as the other
approaches would be hugely time consuming to integrate into such a vast world. However, this is also probably the
easiest to get "wrong" because its so easily applied. Getting the player to spend twice the amount of time doing
tedious things is bad. BAD. Getting the player to use other skills (as mentioned above) to overcome the new challenges,
however, is awesome. The requirement for that to happen is that developers need to playtest higher difficulty levels
though. These modes will be bad as long as developers consider these modes nothing but a nuisance that need to
be added so as not to lose 0.5 points in Metacritic. "Hey, same game, just increase the enemy HP by 50% No playtesting
needed." BAD.
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2. Changing the enemy skills
FTL - Enemies you encounter have a higher chance of carrying deadlier weapons
Diablo 3 - Enemies accumulate more abilities
Every Shmup ever - Enemies shoot more bullets/ more difficult to dodge bullet patterns

Genre where you might encounter that more often: Shoot 'em Ups

A huge part of the threat that enemies in games usually pose comes from their different possibilities to harm the player.
I consider this a very smart approach, as this usually also changes the way the player needs to approach these enemies.
The obvious example are shmup enemies that start using different bullet patterns (like wavy instead of a straight line),
getting you to search different spots to safely shoot at them. This also applies to many other games that give the
enemies skills which they might use more often on a higher difficulty setting(for example enemies using more grenades).
If applicable, this is almost always a great way to make higher difficulties feel less tedious and more like needing to
learn a new way to approach these enemies, which feels fresh and definitely keeps the motivation higher to replay a game.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
3. Change Item Setup
Resident Evil 4 - Less Ammo, no tactical vest
Bioshock - Less random loot

Genre where you might encounter that more often: Any game that uses ammunition

This also has a rather lazy way of integrating this and a more interesting way (that, on the downside, also needs
more balancing/playtesting). The most commonly used approach is to simply give the player less ammo so that he
needs to aim better and use other skills/items/weapons he might not have used if he has enough ammunition for
his preferred weapon. However, using this idea a developer might not only change the amount of things to be found,
but can actually dictate which weapons a player gets to survive a certain level. Imagine a shooter level which you
can beat on normal with any weapon you want, but on hard they'll strip everything away from you except your pistols.
Completely turns the way around how the player would go about this, AND it would be a huge surprise for an
unsuspecting player, which is always a plus in my book since a really small minority of games actually manage to make
the higher difficulty levels feel genuinely surprising.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
4. Enemy Count & Placement
Resident Evil 4 - Raising enemy count, enemy danger level, placing them were no enemy has been earlier

Genre where you might encounter that more often: ARPGs & Shooters

Something that is rather similar to the approach of "3. Change Item setup", but I want to talk about that a bit in
detail here with Resident Evil 4 as the main example. First off, as always, there is a lazy way to go about that
and a more intricate way. The lazy way simply means doubling the spawn count of enemies in a certain area. This
however,albeit certainly offering a challenge, might get repetitive pretty fast. Its basically the equivalent of raising
the HP bar of an enemy. However, there is nothing wrong with using this approach, if its not the only one being
used. Other than simply raising the numbers of existing enemies, the games can add more dangerous enemies to
that area, make them move faster..etcetc. Resident Evil 4 did something more subtle though. It actually plays on the
fact that the player relies on positions considered to be safe from their previous playthrough. On you first playthrough
you learned that entering a certain house is safe since you went in, locked it up and fought a horde of enemies. On
your second playthrough (harder difficulty) you assume this to be the same, only to notice that the game threw an
enemy at you that did not appear on your previous playthrough that actually got into the house, slicing you up nicely.
My last playthrough has been a while, so please correct me if I am wrong on that a bit. Still, now THAT is awesome
difficulty design.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
5. AI
Fear - Improved AI, using better tactics
Chess - Improved AI

Genre where you might encounter that more often: Board Games and Shooter

I think this one is a bit of a tricky topic. I mean you built a crazy great AI, but wont allow 50% of the players that
don't jump into hard mode to ever see it? Not saying their approach was wrong, but it certainly begs the question
whether dumbing down the AI, or dumbing down the weapons the AI has at hand might be the better solution
for this. The lazy solution to this is having AI pause completely instead of having an AI process at all. Think the
easy modes for beat em ups. They usually mean that the enemies will do a combo and stop fighting for 3-4 seconds
in which you can do what you want. Afterwards, they still might not immediately react as they need to give the
inexperienced player time for a retreat. Actually writing an AI that simulates a beginner level player on the other
side (without button mashing), sounds like a horribly difficult task, though, so that might not go away anytime soon.
Any Beat em up that does it better? Other obvious appliances include how many turns the AI is allowed to calculate
in advance in turn based games(see the chess example).
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
6. Adding Game Content
Castlevania - Adding Bosses
Resident Evil 4 - Adding Level areas and puzzles

Genre where you might encounter that more often: not applicable

With this, we now move away from the field of making the game "harder" as the sole motivational aspect
to get the players to play higher difficulty levels. Difficulty levels can not only be "harder" through the means
described above, but they can also contain hidden rewards, which are more in line with what I consider
rewards for playing higher difficulty levels (compared to pretty petty stuff like achievements for beating higher
difficulty levels). These are the examples that inspired me to do this thread, and search for more games like it.
Resident Evil 4 has entire level areas that are hidden from you on the lower difficulty settings. That was an
amazing surprise that blew me away, when I discovered something I had not seen before in a game I considered
beaten and properly well known by me. Castlevania (DS, did all DS games do this?) pushes that even further by
not allowing you to beat the final boss on the lower difficulty settings. People might dispute my idea of that
being awesome ("I want to play the game as I want! Not fair I shouldnt be able to beat the boss just because
I wanted to play on easy!"), but I simply consider this an amazing reason to pick up the game again, up your skill,
and get through the game on a higher difficulty to see all the content the game has to offer. Every game locking
away core content could be a bit annoying, but what is keeping the developers to include levels that didnt make
the cut in a higher difficulty level? I remember reading about some God of War levels that got scrapped, but if
they are already finished, why not put them in for those willing to search for/unlock them?
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
7. Subjective Difficulty
Metal Gear Solid - Decide which enemies to avoid
Europa Universalis - Decide on a nation
Mario Games - Multiple routes you can take

Genre where you might encounter that more often: Stealth games, PC RPGs

This is another approach to difficulty levels, and another one that is rather subtle and that we all have probably
already encountered so far, maybe even without realizing that it is actually a difficulty level. Games love giving
you choices, and multiple solutions or routes offer challenges appropriate to players of different skill levels. The
easiest example would probably that famous first jump/enemy from Super Mario Bros (Youtube it if you must).
Players are given the complete freedom to decide how difficult they want to make this scene. Jump on it while
hitting the coin block, not wasting any time? Or wait for it to come out and jump over it? Or using a different way
altogether by avoiding it when jumping on top of the blocks? These topics can get a bit fuzzy, since some games
are a rather blurring the lines between several elements but I would consider Metal Gear Solid , or even the
Europa Universalis games to use the same approach. You decide which enemies to tackle, and therefore how
difficult you want the game to be. The more I thought about it, the more I got to the conclusion that these decisions
are in fact nothing but a very smartly designed and invisible difficulty slider.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
8. Dynamic Difficulty
Left4Dead - AI Director
Mario Kart - Rubberbanding

Genre where you might encounter that more often: Racing Games

I encourage you to read this great article about this issue, from which I took these examples from. What it basically boils
down to, is that the game gets harder or easier based on the players performance. One of the most annoying
instances we find this in, are racing games and the rubber banding AI. You are having the best race of your life,
and the others still cling to your heels. I can't stand that at all. A better example would be Left4Deads AI director
which changes the difficulty on the fly, allowing to drop in enemies when it notices that you are having an easy
time with the game. Apparently that very same director even changes the music to what it has in store for you.
Now as the last sentence for this short overview, let me blow your mind by stating the example they used in the
link above. One of the hardest to integrate difficulty adjustment measures in Videogames (Dynamic Difficulty) is an
old trick in games of the "real" world. Pocket Billards actual has a dynamic difficulty. The more balls your enemy
pockets in, the better are your chances to hit your own balls on your next shot.
:-o
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Resident Evil 4 - Analysis
Part 1 - Stat Change

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Issues that I'd like to comment and would love to get some opinions on:

Now let me blow your mind, by saying that Resident Evil 4 does ALL of the above, which also makes it my contender
for most awesome difficulty levels in any game so far. Anything that is comparable? This also raises the question
whether games that use all of these techniques are immediately better for it. The more influential dynamic AI from
Left4Dead is also pretty damn impressive though, I gotta say.

I also read that Max Payne 2 actually changes the narrative on the unlocked higher difficulty setting? Anyone that
can shed a bit of light on what actually happens there?

Another discussion point which my girlfriend pointed out to me: Jump and Runs should contain easy modes that
allow to play the game with bigger platforms. This may sound a bit ridiculous at first but its actually rather
ingenious. This would obviously be aimed at people not very apt at hand-eye coordination or (in 3D games)
people less apt at virtual movement in a 3D space. Those games are usually designed for people knowing how
to play jump&runs, which might already pose a high entry barrier for someone willing to give the genre a try
based on style alone. This completely changes the way a difficulty level is being done, compared to approaches
as making you immune to all enemies with an item that pops up after 5 deaths, which even my gf noted as a
rather cheap way out to balance the difficulty.
Last edited by Toma; 10-01-2012 at 03:30 AM.
Toma
Let me show you through these halls, my friend, where treasures of indie gaming await...
(09-19-2012, 03:55 AM)
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God damn, it feels great to finally get that thing out. *phew*
Haunted
(09-19-2012, 04:03 AM)
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Stealth FTL thread? :p

Bookmarked, will read through this tomorrow when I have a bit of time.
Jintor
Lit himself on fire to get
a mod to tag him
(09-19-2012, 04:08 AM)
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The last couple of games that I have been playing are FTL, Dark Souls, and X-Com. Difficulty is king for me this year, I think.

I'll read your goddamn novel in a bit.
DocSeuss
Member
(09-19-2012, 04:08 AM)
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That was a fun read!

I remember reading a paper a few years ago--I think it was called 'The Illusion of Intelligence'--that detailed how, in Halo, Bungie didn't merely change the health/damage of enemies or the damage a player took, but allowed the AI to perform different/more challenging routines in combat.

I believe that STALKER, like Halo, functions similarly. I believe the game also increases the likelihood that you will bleed or suffer various negative effects. Some of this might have been modded in, though. It'd be nice if someone could talk about this a bit more--STALKER does difficulty really well, but I don't really know what's going on behind the scenes.

For Dynamic difficulty, Left 4 Dead might be an example everyone knows, but Payday's a vastly better example of the same idea. I love running heists in that game because, even if you don't change the difficulty, stuff's going to change, but in Payday, different scripted sequences kick in on various levels, different items spawn (a crowbar that will let you into a room in the Panic Room heist, for instance)... lots of cool stuff.

Not sure what category New Vegas' Hardcore mode was going under. No, it wasn't very challenging, but it was neat to keep track of a lot of stats, like thirst and sleep. On my next playthrough, I'm going to stop fighting those stat things and start treating the game like I should have done all along--as a role-player.

Bioshock Infinite looks to be doing some neat stuff with 1999 mode, like altering how you spawn and stuff.
Toma
Let me show you through these halls, my friend, where treasures of indie gaming await...
(09-19-2012, 04:10 AM)
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Originally Posted by Haunted

Stealth FTL thread? :p

Bookmarked, will read through this tomorrow when I have a bit of time.

FTL was indeed a game that crossed my mind when making this thread earlier today. But it being more of a counter example to why I actually made the thread (It being a stealth Resident Evil 4 is awesome thread and all). FTL actually almost exclusively uses the lowest kind of difficulty level, yet still manages to be fun, which is more a testiment to the overall awesome game design though.

These difficulty levels definitely dont differentiate themselves as much as they could. One idea would be able to delay the rebels on the lower difficulty setting by defeating them. I love the game and all, but I certainly think people should be more creative about how they present their difficulty levels. Now the subjective question: Would that make the game more diverse and, more importantly, more fun? (if it were as well balanced as the other difficulty)
Last edited by Toma; 09-19-2012 at 04:14 AM.
Lindbergh
Member
(09-19-2012, 04:14 AM)
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Anyone remember Zanac on NES? That adjusting level difficulty that runs by your gameplay, ack. I think I was punished for spamming a leveled up weapon.
Last edited by Lindbergh; 09-19-2012 at 04:15 AM. Reason: name error
Margalis
Banned
(09-19-2012, 04:17 AM)
DMC and Bayonetta both have enemy placement changes and such on higher difficulty levels IIRC, and Bayo also removes Witch Time entirely on the highest I think.

Which approaches to how higher/lower difficulty levels are handled are annoying to you?

Generally increasing enemy base stats like health and damage is really bad. Usually the game is balanced for the normal difficulty and giving enemies more health just makes them tedious to fight, or giving them extra damage forces the player into playing an extremely safe and boring style.

Increasing base stats also does very little to make the higher difficulty level feel appreciably new.
Toma
Let me show you through these halls, my friend, where treasures of indie gaming await...
(09-19-2012, 04:21 AM)
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Originally Posted by DocSeuss

That was a fun read!

I remember reading a paper a few years ago--I think it was called 'The Illusion of Intelligence'--that detailed how, in Halo, Bungie didn't merely change the health/damage of enemies or the damage a player took, but allowed the AI to perform different/more challenging routines in combat.

I believe that STALKER, like Halo, functions similarly. I believe the game also increases the likelihood that you will bleed or suffer various negative effects. Some of this might have been modded in, though. It'd be nice if someone could talk about this a bit more--STALKER does difficulty really well, but I don't really know what's going on behind the scenes.

For Dynamic difficulty, Left 4 Dead might be an example everyone knows, but Payday's a vastly better example of the same idea. I love running heists in that game because, even if you don't change the difficulty, stuff's going to change, but in Payday, different scripted sequences kick in on various levels, different items spawn (a crowbar that will let you into a room in the Panic Room heist, for instance)... lots of cool stuff.

Not sure what category New Vegas' Hardcore mode was going under. No, it wasn't very challenging, but it was neat to keep track of a lot of stats, like thirst and sleep. On my next playthrough, I'm going to stop fighting those stat things and start treating the game like I should have done all along--as a role-player.

Bioshock Infinite looks to be doing some neat stuff with 1999 mode, like altering how you spawn and stuff.

Thanks for reading! Nice to hear you enjoy the premise :) I'd also be hugely interested in that paper you mentioned if you think you'd be able to dig it up again. I tried a quick google search and only came across the power point presentation, which is not quite as cohesive to read (read as: not at all). In case anyone is interested still:
http://www.bungie.net/images/Inside/..._griesemer.pdf

Stalker definitely is a great example and I also hope we get some people in here that know the ins and outs of these respective mechanics in these games. Would love to read more about that.

You also just singlehandedly made me interested in Payday, gotta check that out when I can.
mooooose
Member
(09-19-2012, 04:24 AM)
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Persona 3.

If you play wisely, you can beat tons of enemies without taking a single hit.

If you make one mistake, even on some easy ass monsters, you will die and lose all your progress because you forgot to save two hours ago.
sn00zer
(09-19-2012, 04:24 AM)
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FEAR and Crysis play completely different on the highest difficulties.

Crysis goes from a Terminator-esque game on medium to full on Predator on Delta. Careful positioning and quiet take downs are necessary unless you want to end up dead fast. It becomes very much a stealth game, and can get very tense as you let soldiers pass feet in front of you.

FEAR plays very tactfully on the highest difficult. Careful planning, quick reflexes and an out right necessity for cover make it one hell of a ride.

(Crysis and FEAR are my favorite FPSs, well and HL2, but for different reasons)
Miker
Member
(09-19-2012, 04:25 AM)
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God Hand isn't first post? FOR SHAME.

Seriously though, perfect dynamic difficulty in that game. You have a "level" that goes from 1 to 2 to 3 to die (4) as you play better (don't get hurt, dish out damage), and enemies get tougher accordingly. Not only do enemies take less damage, but they become MUCH more aggressive. Their AI is also tweaked so that they block more often, jump over your sweeps, and so on. Oh, and you get more money as you go up in level.

And God Hand also had designated easy/normal/hard modes - easy maxed out at level 2, normal goes from 1-die, and hard is stuck on level die.

If you enjoy action games, PLAY GOD HAND.
Thraktor
Member
(09-19-2012, 04:25 AM)
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Goldeneye deserves a mention here. At the time it was amazing that harder difficulty levels included things like added objectives, and not just bullet-sponge enemies. In fact, I think it contained almost all of the factors listed in the OP, barring dynamic difficulty.
Toma
Let me show you through these halls, my friend, where treasures of indie gaming await...
(09-19-2012, 04:28 AM)
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Originally Posted by Lindbergh

Anyone remember Zanac on NES? That adjusting level difficulty that runs by your gameplay, ack. I think I was punished for spamming a leveled up weapon.

Can you dig up a bit more on that? And how were you punished for using that weapon? Would be interesting to hear how older games approached this issue too.

Originally Posted by Margalis

DMC and Bayonetta both have enemy placement changes and such on higher difficulty levels IIRC, and Bayo also removes Witch Time entirely on the highest I think.

Generally increasing enemy base stats like health and damage is really bad. Usually the game is balanced for the normal difficulty and giving enemies more health just makes them tedious to fight, or giving them extra damage forces the player into playing an extremely safe and boring style.

Increasing base stats also does very little to make the higher difficulty level feel appreciably new.

The witch time nugget is interesting. And I agree in most cases that a simple stat change makes the game feel more annoying than anything else. However, there ARE examples in which it wont lead to just more "tediousness", but instead makes the player use more of the available skills. However, you could argue then that the base difficulty might be badly balanced since the game should require you to use all of your skills in any case. Unfortunately not always the case.
Le Singe
Junior Member
(09-19-2012, 04:29 AM)
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Always liked Goldeneye adding more objectives depending on difficulty.
Last edited by Le Singe; 09-19-2012 at 04:30 AM. Reason: Beaten
sn00zer
(09-19-2012, 04:30 AM)
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Oh oh Timesplitters 2 added tons of extra objectives onto higher difficulties, this would actually considerably lengthen levels, adding extra areas and boss fights.
Toma
Let me show you through these halls, my friend, where treasures of indie gaming await...
(09-19-2012, 04:32 AM)
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Originally Posted by Miker

God Hand isn't first post? FOR SHAME.

Seriously though, perfect dynamic difficulty in that game. You have a "level" that goes from 1 to 2 to 3 to die (4) as you play better (don't get hurt, dish out damage), and enemies get tougher accordingly. Not only do enemies take less damage, but they become MUCH more aggressive. Their AI is also tweaked so that they block more often, jump over your sweeps, and so on. Oh, and you get more money as you go up in level.

And God Hand also had designated easy/normal/hard modes - easy maxed out at level 2, normal goes from 1-die, and hard is stuck on level die.

If you enjoy action games, PLAY GOD HAND.

I loved God Hand, its just too long ago that I didnt feel like throwing up some random thoughts about elements I can barely remember. Definitely a cool idea to use the dynamic difficulty as a feature to be used by the player.

Originally Posted by Thraktor

Goldeneye deserves a mention here. At the time it was amazing that harder difficulty levels included things like added objectives, and not just bullet-sponge enemies. In fact, I think it contained almost all of the factors listed in the OP, barring dynamic difficulty.

To my shame, I unfortunately havent played Goldeneye. Different objectives sounds like a great example for this thread though. Can you find/name concrete examples of missions that were added in a higher difficulty level?
entrement
Member
(09-19-2012, 04:32 AM)
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Ninja Gaiden Black.
Tain
Member
(09-19-2012, 04:33 AM)
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Originally Posted by Toma

Can you dig up a bit more on that? And how were you punished for using that weapon? Would be interesting to hear how older games approached this issue too.

Many STGs would dynamically adjust their difficulty during play, actually. Usually called "rank", Gradius was the first big one to do it. Pretty easy to see, too: compare how aggressive the intro enemies in stage 2 are when you have no options to how they behave when you have four. Shinobu Yagawa's older games are pretty famous among enthusiasts for their perverse use of rank. Battle Garegga gets seriously gross if you pick up every power-up you stumble across. Some of his post-Raizing games give you a rank meter and scoring incentive to play at dangerously high levels.
Toma
Let me show you through these halls, my friend, where treasures of indie gaming await...
(09-19-2012, 04:35 AM)
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Originally Posted by Tain

Many STGs would dynamically adjust their difficulty during play, actually. Usually called "rank", Gradius was the first big one to do it. Pretty easy to see, too: compare how aggressive the intro enemies in stage 2 are when you have no options to how they behave when you have four. Shinobu Yagawa's older games are pretty famous among enthusiasts for their perverse use of rank. Battle Garegga gets seriously gross if you pick up every power-up you stumble across. Some of his post-Cave games give you a rank meter and scoring incentive to play at dangerously high levels.

Hm, I should have all the Gradius games lying around somewhere. Does that apply to all of Gradius games? And you say that enemy patterns are more aggressive when I have more sideships? Seriously? Wow, I never noticed that. Gotta try that later.
Thraktor
Member
(09-19-2012, 04:39 AM)
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Originally Posted by Toma

To my shame, I unfortunately havent played Goldeneye. Different objectives sounds like a great example for this thread though. Can you find/name concrete examples of missions that were added in a higher difficulty level?

Originally Posted by Toma

To my shame, I unfortunately havent played Goldeneye.

Originally Posted by Toma

I unfortunately havent played Goldeneye.

Originally Posted by Toma

havent played Goldeneye.

Originally Posted by Toma

havent played Goldeneye.

Originally Posted by Toma

HAVENT PLAYED GOLDENEYE.

Dude, you're missing an apostrophe.

Also, might want to give Goldeneye a go. It's pretty good.
Tain
Member
(09-19-2012, 04:39 AM)
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Pretty sure it's present in all of the Gradius games. I'm sure it is in all of the arcade originals, at least.

Some googling dug up this chart for Gradius III, showing how items affect rank:

Code:

Power Ups:
Speedup: +0
Missile: +1
Double: +2 (Spread Gun & Freeway: +3)
Laser: +3
Option: +1 for each
Shield/Force Field: +4
So get full options and a shield and expect the game to throw a ton of bullets at you. Gradius III is an absurdly difficult game (even by older arcade shooting game standards), but I wouldn't be surprised if the original Gradius and Gradius II handled rank similarly.
Ace Harding
Member
(09-19-2012, 04:40 AM)
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You blew my mind with the billiards bit - never thought about that in these terms, but yeah you're spot on.

I just finished a session of Super Hexagon, so that's on my mind a bit. That game is pretty much all about steadily, constantly increasing difficulty. It's not the first game to do it (Tetris, any endless runner) but it does it really well. I haven't played it a ton, but it's very interesting how a combination of speed and different patterns are thrown at you in a way that eases up the difficulty a notch every few seconds. Pretty genius and kind of impossible to explain to someone who hasn't played it.

I didn't answer any of your questions, just thought I'd add the speed/pattern/steady ramp-up difficulty changes into the mix.

Interesting thread though - thanks.

Edit: yeah I thought I read the OP but apparently I wasn't paying attention. You are talking about difficulty settings.

How about the Halo games? They did a pretty good job I thought. AI, stat changes? Do they change the number/type of enemies on you? It's been a while since I played a Halo game.
Last edited by Ace Harding; 09-19-2012 at 04:46 AM.
Toma
Let me show you through these halls, my friend, where treasures of indie gaming await...
(09-19-2012, 04:40 AM)
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Originally Posted by Thraktor

Dude, you're missing an apostrophe.

Also, might want to give Goldeneye a go. It's pretty good.

Pah, stupid Catastropostrophes.
Wasnt there a remake of that game on some platform? Was it any good?

Originally Posted by AppleMIX

Eh? It really has aged pretty poorly.

I fear that as well.
Last edited by Toma; 09-19-2012 at 04:45 AM.
AppleMIX
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(09-19-2012, 04:41 AM)
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Originally Posted by Thraktor

Dude, you're missing an apostrophe.

Also, might want to give Goldeneye a go. It's pretty good.

Eh? It really has aged pretty poorly.
Kyuur
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(09-19-2012, 04:44 AM)
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The best difficulty system is the kind that encourages to play the harder one, but doesn't force. Imo, the style of difficulty change is completely dependent on what kind of game it is, so it's hard to argue which kind is 'better'.
Lindbergh
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(09-19-2012, 04:45 AM)
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Originally Posted by Toma

Can you dig up a bit more on that? And how were you punished for using that weapon? Would be interesting to hear how older games approached this issue too.

Originally Posted by Tain

Many STGs would dynamically adjust their difficulty during play, actually. Usually called "rank", Gradius was the first big one to do it. Pretty easy to see, too: compare how aggressive the intro enemies in stage 2 are when you have no options to how they behave when you have four. Shinobu Yagawa's older games are pretty famous among enthusiasts for their perverse use of rank. Battle Garegga gets seriously gross if you pick up every power-up you stumble across. Some of his post-Raizing games give you a rank meter and scoring incentive to play at dangerously high levels.

Yeah pretty much the same with Zanac. In that game, you have a subweapon that you can level-up along with your main and I mostly used such to clear many levels. If you perform well (clearing waves and timed mini-boss fights), the game would throw harder enemies which to this day I can't fathom tackling. I think it was vice-versa if you played badly and the system lightened your load. It's a neat feature for an 80s shmup.
Thraktor
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(09-19-2012, 04:45 AM)
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Originally Posted by Toma

Pah, stupid Catastropostrophes.
Wasnt there a remake of that game on some platform? Was it any good?

Under no condition should you play the remake. Anyone who suggests otherwise is a heathen who should be burnt at the stake. Get yourself an N64 and play it on that. Especially in multiplayer with friends if that's possible, but the single-player's also excellent (and of course will be relevant to this thread).

Edit:

Originally Posted by AppleMIX

Eh? It really has aged pretty poorly.

Better fire up the stake, more heathens incoming.
Toma
Let me show you through these halls, my friend, where treasures of indie gaming await...
(09-19-2012, 04:46 AM)
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Originally Posted by Kyuur



The best difficulty system is the kind that encourages to play the harder one, but doesn't force. Imo, the style of difficulty change is completely dependent on what kind of game it is, so it's hard to argue which kind is 'better'.

What does TWEWY do in regard to different difficulty levels?
Kyuur
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(09-19-2012, 04:50 AM)
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Originally Posted by Toma

What does TWEWY do in regard to different difficulty levels?

Difficulty changing is built in as a game mechanic. It is one of the few games that gives the player a choice on difficulty throughout the entire game, and rewards them differently based on the difficulty they choose. Besides just changing the slider difficulty, you can also chain together battles for increased rewards. It's incredibly satisfying...
Toma
Let me show you through these halls, my friend, where treasures of indie gaming await...
(09-19-2012, 04:51 AM)
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Originally Posted by Fong Ghoul

Edit: yeah I thought I read the OP but apparently I wasn't paying attention. You are talking about difficulty settings.

Yeah, sorry. I thought a while about how to call it, but since some of these "difficulty settings" also meddle with the general difficulty curve in the base game, I had problems nailing it to one specific term. Difficulty "Settings" somehow implies that certain element of choosing between several options shown in the OP banner, which is only half of what makes this topic so interesting.

Who knew that the most difficult part about this topic would be finding a fitting and easily understandable title.
DocSeuss
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(09-19-2012, 04:51 AM)
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Originally Posted by Toma

Thanks for reading! Nice to hear you enjoy the premise :) I'd also be hugely interested in that paper you mentioned if you think you'd be able to dig it up again. I tried a quick google search and only came across the power point presentation, which is not quite as cohesive to read (read as: not at all). In case anyone is interested still:
http://www.bungie.net/images/Inside/..._griesemer.pdf

Stalker definitely is a great example and I also hope we get some people in here that know the ins and outs of these respective mechanics in these games. Would love to read more about that.

You also just singlehandedly made me interested in Payday, gotta check that out when I can.

Payday is great--hard, but great. It is currently my favorite co-op game, and makes Left 4 Dead look bad (to say nothing of Left 4 Dead, which is made to look laughably incompetent by comparison).

Check the ppt notes here for The Illusion of Intelligence.

At some point, I was actually hoping to make a thread on awesome papers on game tech and stuff, listing The Illusion of Intelligence, 3 States and a Plan, and Stealing Sound as examples of what I mean. But, alas, still juniored. One day...
Toma
Let me show you through these halls, my friend, where treasures of indie gaming await...
(09-19-2012, 04:56 AM)
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Originally Posted by DocSeuss

Payday is great--hard, but great. It is currently my favorite co-op game, and makes Left 4 Dead look bad (to say nothing of Left 4 Dead, which is made to look laughably incompetent by comparison).

Check the ppt notes here for The Illusion of Intelligence.

At some point, I was actually hoping to make a thread on awesome papers on game tech and stuff, listing The Illusion of Intelligence, 3 States and a Plan, and Stealing Sound as examples of what I mean. But, alas, still juniored. One day...

Cool thread idea. And I thought you meant that you read a "paper" on that. A Ppt presentation isnt quite as nice to read ;) Thanks though. And I definitely need to watch out for a Steam sale on Payday.
Toma
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(09-19-2012, 05:00 AM)
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No one here who paid Max Payne 2 on a higher difficulty setting? Really curious how they changed the narrative there, but I couldnt find anything from my Google search.

Edit: And its 5AM now, meh. Gotta throw myself into bed. Hope I'll find a few more examples on this topic when I stand up tomorrow :) I definitely plan on checking out a few of the games mentioned here. (Starting with Gradius, which I never even noticed having dynamic difficulty. Damn.) I'll also probably create a more in depth post at how Resident Evil 4 incorporates all this tomorrow. But now, sleep.
Last edited by Toma; 09-19-2012 at 05:06 AM.
axisofweevils
Holy crap! Today's real megaton is that more than two people can have the same first name.
(09-19-2012, 05:08 AM)
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Kid Icarus: Uprising on 3DS has an interesting difficulty level mechanic. This is really hard to explain, but I'll give it a go.

There are 90 (!) intensity levels for each chapter and you are able to earn more Hearts (sort of the in-game currency) and more powerful weapons from defeated enemies as the difficulty increases.

However, increasing the standard intensity costs you, as you have to bet your Hearts that you will be able to complete the chapter. If you are defeated before the chapter ends, you lose the bet - and along with it, your precious Hearts.
PBalfredo
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(09-19-2012, 05:18 AM)
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Originally Posted by axisofweevils

Kid Icarus: Uprising on 3DS has an interesting difficulty level mechanic. This is really hard to explain, but I'll give it a go.

There are 90 (!) intensity levels for each chapter and you are able to earn more Hearts (sort of the in-game currency) and more powerful weapons from defeated enemies as the difficulty increases.

However, increasing the standard intensity costs you, as you have to bet your Hearts that you will be able to complete the chapter. If you are defeated before the chapter ends, you lose the bet - and along with it, your precious Hearts.

Not only that, but when you lost, your intensity level would go down. It made it easier to get through the rest of the level, but it also lowered your possible reward. It sort of became you're "lives" in a way, because if you lost too much, not only would you be loosing hearts but you would get a junk reward for finishing on a low difficulty.
SkyOdin
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(09-19-2012, 05:25 AM)
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Originally Posted by Toma

To my shame, I unfortunately havent played Goldeneye. Different objectives sounds like a great example for this thread though. Can you find/name concrete examples of missions that were added in a higher difficulty level?

I'll tackle this question.

Let's look at the very first mission: the Dam. On the easiest difficulty setting, Agent, the only objective you need to accomplish to beat the mission is reaching the end destination point of the map, where James Bond bungee jumps off the dam.

On Secret Agent difficulty, the middle difficulty setting, the player needs to destroy all of the alarms located in the guard towers along the path. This is a pretty simple added objective that can easily be done along the normal course of the mission.

On 00 Agent difficulty, the highest difficulty, there are an additional two objectives: place a covert modem on a computer, then retrieve stolen data from a mainframe elsewhere in the mission. This objective mandates that the player has to enter into a part of the map that can be skipped on lower difficulty settings, where there are a lot more enemies as well as explosive crates to watch out for.

Many of the objective changes across the various missions are similar. Agent only requires the player to accomplish the bare minimum number of objectives necessary to move the plot forward and reach the end of the stage. Secret Agent adds in complicating factors, often disabling security systems and defense mechanisms. 00 Agent difficulty then adds in the truly difficult objectives.

I really liked it. It made replaying the stages on higher difficulties feel very different.
Last edited by SkyOdin; 09-19-2012 at 06:12 AM.
SatelliteOfLove
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(09-19-2012, 05:28 AM)
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Good: Ulduar

Bad: Every other raid in the last 4 years.
SkyOdin
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(09-19-2012, 06:32 AM)
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Since people have been talking about dynamic difficulty systems in this thread, I suppose I should mention how Super Robot Wars handles it.

A key mechanic of most of the Super Robot Wars games is something called Battle Masteries, or SR Points. In short, in addition to the normal victory conditions of each mission, there is an optional objective called the Battle Mastery condition that serves as an extra challenge. These Battle Mastery conditions typically include "Clear the map in three turns", "Beat every enemy before clearing the victory conditions", or "Kill this boss who normally runs away at 30% health". Going for these conditions often makes completing the map much harder.

Furthermore, it is normally possible to restart a map if you lose, keeping all of the experience points you earned on your first attempt. However, if you restart the map, you are no longer able to win the a Battle Mastery on that map. So going after Battle Masteries not only makes a map inherently harder, it prevents you from grinding on the map like is otherwise possible.

The reward for clearing Battle Mastery conditions? The game gets harder. You normally start on Normal difficulty. If you don't collect Battle Mastery points, you will eventually drop to Easy difficulty. Consistently clearing most of the Battle Masteries will push you up to Hard difficulty. And with an increased difficulty, enemies become stronger and drop fewer rewards. While some games in the series give you access to secret stuff if you have a lot of Battle Mastery points, not all do. Thus, clearing these optional objectives purely makes the game harder.

It is a system that works by directly appealing to a player's pride, while using the inherent difficulty of the objectives to screen out the players who would get frustrated by the increased difficulty.
Jerry Orbach
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(09-19-2012, 11:05 AM)
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Originally Posted by Toma

Another discussion point which my girlfriend pointed out to me: Jump and Runs should contain easy modes that allow to play the game with bigger platforms.

Bionic Commando: Rearmed (another Capcom production!) did something like this - on easier difficulties, translucent blocks would appear in strategic positions, widening platforms, giving you additional grapple points, and papering over bottomless pits. BCR also introduced a lives system on harder difficulties, placing it in the category of games that add challenge by restricting saves and/or continues. Other examples: Tough Guy mode in Fallout Tactics, which disabled mid-mission saves; Hardcore mode in Diablo II, which added permadeath; and plenty of arcade ports, which limit your credit stock based on difficulty.
Lapidus' Beard
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(09-19-2012, 11:36 AM)
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Fallout New Vegas: Hardcore mode
ThoseDeafMutes
Very good! Keep thrusting!
(09-19-2012, 11:38 AM)
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Originally Posted by Toma

7. Subjective Difficulty

Europa Universalis - Decide on a nation

My game starting as Brandenburg in 1399 (Vanilla):

My game starting as Epirus in 1356 (D&T):


The game also has difficulty settings which change stats, too.
Toma
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(09-19-2012, 01:30 PM)
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Originally Posted by SkyOdin

I really liked it. It made replaying the stages on higher difficulties feel very different.

Man, the Goldeneye stuff sounds really great. What a pity that it apparently didnt get proper remakes. I wonder why stuff like that isnt more common. Maybe because stuff like that takes up development time/money but usually doesnt drive sales :/ It should, though.

Originally Posted by Jerry Orbach

Bionic Commando: Rearmed (another Capcom production!) did something like this - on easier difficulties, translucent blocks would appear in strategic positions, widening platforms, giving you additional grapple points, and papering over bottomless pits. BCR also introduced a lives system on harder difficulties, placing it in the category of games that add challenge by restricting saves and/or continues. Other examples: Tough Guy mode in Fallout Tactics, which disabled mid-mission saves; Hardcore mode in Diablo II, which added permadeath; and plenty of arcade ports, which limit your credit stock based on difficulty.

I think I remember playing some games that had additional platforms too. Cant't remember right now, though. Pretty sure I havent seen "widening platforms" in any game though. Will try to look that up.

Originally Posted by ThoseDeafMutes

My game starting as Brandenburg in 1399 (Vanilla):
My game starting as Epirus in 1356 (D&T):
The game also has difficulty settings which change stats, too.

True, the thing that I found truly interesting about the EU3 example, though, was the fact that while playing, the player decides on the difficulty level depending on which nations to attack for example. Start with Castille and go to war with Granada/Portugal or France first with Portugal as allied partner. Some people may also try to set their game "rules" in such a way to allow for a more difficult game, as "Try to be allied with nation xyz" at all times, which also makes the game inherently a bit more restrictive and therefore harder. This goes for many other games as well too, I guess, while the first part I mentioned seems more inherent to EU3 since not many genres/type of games give you that much of a choice.
Last edited by Toma; 09-19-2012 at 01:33 PM.
Ainaurdur
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(09-19-2012, 03:55 PM)
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Originally Posted by Toma

Pretty sure I havent seen "widening platforms" in any game though. Will try to look that up.

This was the first thing I thought of:

Though not sure if that was what he meant. I have never played Bionic Commando.

This thread has made me want to go home and play some Gradius III this afternoon. Oddly enough I just happened to find my cartridge of it last night while searching my closet for a couple Gameboy games.
Celegus
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(09-19-2012, 04:06 PM)
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I've been playing Kid Icarus Uprising lately, and one of my favorite parts of it is the difficulty settings. You get to pick prior to starting every level a difficulty from 1.0 to 9.0. I don't know for sure if more enemies are spawned on higher difficulties, but I do know they hit harder and have better AI.

It is a very engaging system, because you're betting your currency on the difficulty as well. High risk, high reward - but if you die, you lose a good chunk of your currency and it also deducts one point from the difficulty each time. The loot you find also corresponds to the difficulty rating you chose, and there are certain areas you can only access on a high enough rating.

Being able to choose for every level means you can make the game a cakewalk or nearly impossible, and there are reasons for each. Playing on 9.0 is extremely intense and it hurts so so much when you get killed and know your loot isn't going to be A-grade when you beat the level.
Toma
Let me show you through these halls, my friend, where treasures of indie gaming await...
(09-19-2012, 04:08 PM)
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Originally Posted by Ainaurdur

This was the first thing I thought of:

Though not sure if that was what he meant. I have never played Bionic Commando.

This thread has made me want to go home and play some Gradius III this afternoon. Oddly enough I just happened to find my cartridge of it last night while searching my closet for a couple Gameboy games.

Those extend in the base game though, right? I think he was referring to a platform that was extended in the harder difficulty setting. Btw, do you happen to know whether Gradius V did the same thing as the older Gradius games? Thats the one I played the most.
spekkeh
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(09-19-2012, 04:31 PM)
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Regarding repeated play, I pretty much have the opposite opinion. I rarely play games again after completion, but if I do, it's to relive the story. I'm at a point in my life where successfully completing something very difficult, apart from a slight, transient feeling of accomplishment, no longer feels intrinsically meaningful, whereas a story and characters are.

So right before ME3 came out I fired up ME1 again, and switched it to easy, while running past most of the enemies if I could. The second playthrough may possibly have been more enjoyable than the first, because I wasn't annoyed by the combat anymore, and could just bask in the atmosphere and story.

edit: Goldeneye is probably the one example where I did play the game a few times with increasing difficulty, and probably would do again now, because it adds something meaningful (for me) to the experience. On the other hand, that was when I still had all the time in the world. Now I'd feel cheated for keeping stuff from me.
Last edited by spekkeh; 09-19-2012 at 04:34 PM.
Nocturnowl
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(09-19-2012, 04:32 PM)
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Very nice OP, covers a lot of ground.

Well since you threw in some questions/discussion points to answer...

How do difficulty levels affect the replay value for you?
Simply put if I enjoyed a game enough i'll likely replay it at a harder difficulty level, some games in fact change completely on higher difficulties meaning that you've barely scratched the surface if you just do one run through. So they can certainly increase replay value.

Do you care at all if games offer higher difficulty levels?

I like the option, it's not a major point that will greatly sway my opinion but more options are certainly a good thing, I was going to say that it's more dependant on game genre but hell I wish 2D Mario games just had a mode where getting damaged from say Fire Mario knocked you all the way back to small Mario like the good old days, its a small thing but it adds a little something to the proceedings.

Which developers put a lot of effort into creating replay value through complex changes on a higher difficulty level? (Game examples please)
Game Example? well Goldeneye has already been brought up which leads nicely into my main choice of Perfect Dark. PD built on the Goldeneye formula, that is higher difficulties not only include tougher and smarter enemies but also more objectives to tackle for mission completion. PD in particular really took this to the next level, there would be entire sections of stages unseen if you never venture onto higher difficulty levels, one stage in an undersea alien ship went as far to become damn near completely different on higher difficulties.
Timesplitters 2 (made by former Goldeneye staff if i'm not mistaken) also carried on this trend but unfortunately its follow up Future Perfect was seemingly tainted by the invading hands of EA and lost this approach to difficulty and went to lazy mans route of just tougher enemies that deal more damage.

Which approaches to how higher/lower difficulty levels are handled are annoying to you?

Just making enemies super sponges and damage dealers is such a lazy way of creating "difficulty", it's not particularly fun. One series that springs to mind is the Metroid Prime trilogy, I enjoyed the first game on hard even if it basically went by those rules above, I really enjoyed the second game on hard as it became like a gruelling slog in a oddly appealing manner that really helped push the games ammo system, but then Prime 3 came in and threw up all over the place by having the standard enemies fly off into a powered up state ALL THE TIME causing you to have to keep wasting time leaping in and out of the games new "hypermode" feature to deal with them which isn't fun nor difficult, it's just a pain.

Of course that's nothing compared to most regenerative health peek a boo shooter that flood the market these days, when they apply this rule to their higher difficulties it's less of a thrilling action shoot out and more of a hiding simulator in grey scale (or with red shit all over the screen). Though I say this as someone whose not great at TPS anyway, then again i'm not great at hack and slash either and while their higher difficulties are brutal they are still compelling as they often mix up the enemy encounters and sometimes the stage design, throw them in the good pile of how this should be done, something being too tough can still be enjoyable if done right.

Any elements you would like to see, but havent yet?
Not that I can think of though I guess more stuff that lets you as the player tinker with difficulty options is something I don't see too much.
Using Goldeneye once more it has an unlockable 007 mode that let you toy with various enemy stats to make either a really easy game or absolutely nails.
To use another type of game entirely even the rather crummy newer WWE games have sliders you can alter determining certain move damage, counter difficulty, AI actions and so on.
Basically custom difficulty is something that could be further explored.

Would including all of the approaches (if applicable) always make for a more enjoyable higher difficulty?
As in the 5 from the opening post? absolutely, you said it yourself that Resi 4 does this to great effect and i'd agree. Obviously not every genre can fit quite so snugly under that umbrella. I like to think adding content to higher difficulties is always a good thing but on the other hand players that can't meet the challenge may feel slighted by missing out on some game content, I must've had moments like this when I was younger.

Okay i'm done.
Goldenroad
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(09-19-2012, 04:34 PM)
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I'm just about through Mark of the Ninja, and I think it nails that difficulty curve. The way it steadily introduces new mechanics and enemy types and actually properly incorporates everything in the core gameplay that you are building upon is masterful. Maybe the game ends with a whimper, but so far it's been all bang.
TucoBenedictoPacifico
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(09-19-2012, 04:35 PM)
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CTRL+F "Thief" -> No results.

THIS THREAD IS LACKING.
Last edited by TucoBenedictoPacifico; 09-19-2012 at 04:38 PM.

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