Thursday, November 19, 2009

Make Your Game Easy. Then Make It Easier.

I started writing my first RPG for Spiderweb Software in 1994. Yes, this makes me old. When I started my cute, little shareware business, I had a lot of instincts for how to write a good role-playing game. Happily, about 85% of those instincts were good ones, so I was able to write solid games and make a living.

But 15% of my original instincts were not good. In fact, they were terrible, and it has taken many years for me to realize that. Even now, I have to fight those bad instincts with all of my heart, and I lose as often as I win.

My worst instinct has to do with game difficulty. I'm a hardcore nerd of the old school, and I'm not truly satisfied unless a game is really difficult. Other people, also known as "regular humans," do not, in fact, want this.

I used to succinctly describe my views about game difficulty thus:

People will forgive a game for being too hard. They will never forgive it for being too easy.

No. This is, in fact, completely, 100% opposite from the truth. A better summary of reality would be:

People will happily forgive a game for being too easy, because it makes them feel badass. If a game is too hard, they will get angry, ragequit, hold a grudge, and never buy your games again.

Video games are leisure time expressions of adolescent power fantasies. They should only be hard if players specifically request that they be hard.

I tend to like hard games. I am perfectly happy if any given title has 3 or 4 fights that requires 3 or 4 tries each to beat. But I am increasingly recognizing that this makes me a bit of a mutant. I am also realizing that while I like (or at least don't mind) the occasional repeated failure, I don't require it. I blasted through Brutal Legend with ease and I still had a great time. Plants vs. Zombies is easy, and it is also terrific. On the other hand, a game like Ninja Gaiden 2, which would happily make me refight bosses ten times on the easiest difficulty level ... Well, that was just stupid. Never again.

After long reflection, here is my new rule for RPGs I write:

When a player is on the default difficult level, has built his or her characters poorly, and is playing straight through the main storyline with mediocre tactics, that player should almost never be killed.

I can almost hear the heads of hardcore gamers imploding with impotent nerdrage. But seriously. If you have a problem with this, I think you're getting a lot of your fun from making other people have less fun.

Of course, a game should have harder difficulty levels. And, if a player chooses to opt-in on higher difficulty, they should be seriously nasty. But, when played on the default difficulty, the game should be accessible to your mom or average eight-year old.

I'm about to release my next game, Avernum 6. And it doesn't live up to what I have learned. In fact, in parts, it gets downright tricky. But then I'm going to write an all-new game series, and I promise that it will be pretty easy on Normal difficulty.

And if you turn the difficulty up to Torment, well, I'll be gunning for you.

Oh, and one parting thought.

If your game is actually fun, killing the player won't make it more fun. But nothing sucks all of the fun out of a good game faster than repeated failure.

84 comments:

  1. Always loved those character editors.

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  2. Avernum 5 was my favorite of the series. It was also by a huge margin the hardest. I actually had to use all those specialty potions that gather dust in my inventory. Sometimes I had to -- inconceivably -- leave an area so I could try again when my guys were tougher.

    I liked the difficulty, but I've been playing your games for 15 years. I had to wonder what new players thought.

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  3. You know, I love that RSS feed. Once in a while something will pop with a perfect timing.

    Sharing your experience with others is one of the most generous thing one can do.

    Thanks for that post. Timing was perfect for me. Maybe one day I'll be able to do the same.

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  4. I disagree, Jeff. Perhaps I'm a mutant myself, but I see things completely different; part of the fun a game can offer is challenge - not every game that is challenging manages to be also fun, of course.

    A good game will make it challenging by requiring you to think. In RPGs, this means fe. a combat encounter that is very difficult when tackled mindlessly but becomes significantly easier when the player makes an effort to choose appropriate tactics. This gives a sense of achievement, strokes the ego. Makes the player crave more of that nice feeling and thus keeps him playing the game. Sometimes up to 3 AM ;>

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  5. My gosh, your just like any other popular mainstream company. Make the games easy to appeal to the masses.
    It's this horrible attitude that led us to losing our arcade machines and losing our skills with games. Just look at Japan's thriving arcades, and how skillfully they play games.

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  6. @monocause: "I disagree, Jeff. Perhaps I'm a mutant myself, but I see things completely different; part of the fun a game can offer is challenge - not every game that is challenging manages to be also fun, of course."

    Then play at a higher difficulty level. It's always there. The important thing is to not make your fun mean less fun for others.

    @Alastair: "My gosh, your just like any other popular mainstream company. Make the games easy to appeal to the masses. "

    I love how you make trying to make my games actually fun sound like some sort of moral failing. Though, on reflection, your post looks like it was meant as a joke. Never mind.

    - Jeff Vogel

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  7. @Jeff: I think you're right. Every game should have a mode that will _practically_ play for you, even if I'd prefer a challenge.

    On the other hand, not every game developer sees it the same way, and if you're gonna build your games this way, I think it behooves you (as it behooves people with the opposite strategy, where Normal is really quite difficult), to give some inkling of what each difficulty level means when the players are choosing it. I hate nothing more than getting 10+ hours into a game before realizing I picked the wrong difficulty at the outset.

    Other lessons that follow-on from this:
    1. Let players change difficulty mid-game if feasible.

    2. Let players in an RPG respec, at a minimum, once after they've had some time to tool around with the system.

    -Brian

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  8. I agree.
    Jeff you really need to fully and explicitly describe each difficulty setting. I usually pick normal because I assume that's the setting the developer wanted the game to be played on. But now I feel like I should always pick hard with your games. If normal is for poor character builds and mediocre tactics you should say that in the description of normal or at least hint at it, maybe in a humorous manner.

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  9. I agree that games are not fun if they don't have the option of changing difficulty levels. But the player must know exactly what each difficulty level means.

    BTW: If normal is for bumbling fools who is easy for????

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  10. I'm in total agreement here. I play games to have fun, not to get frustrated. If I wanted to be frustrated, I'd spend more time at work. I don't shy away from switching to easy if need be, and I adore cheat codes and character editors. If I keep getting killed, I get bored real quick. I'm a story girl, which is why I like your games so much- the stories are so good I want to get to the next part, not get killed by a gazer for the 12th time. I can appreciate the puzzle aspect, trying to get the right system down to kill something, and I'll try a few times if I think it's just a strategy thing. If I just keep getting half my hit points taken away in one swing no matter what I try, forget it, I'm moving on to Mario.

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  11. Agreed. I was talking with a friend about this same topic just recently. Fun is directly proportional to your own personal level of difficulty. +1 for Jeff.

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  12. I think there's also the matter of how possible it is to overcome greater difficulty through learning to play better.

    The latest word on high-difficulty games is Demon's Soul, which is APOCALYPTICALLY difficult, yet has garnered wide praise. The reason: Although everything in the game tries to kill you, every opponent is conquerable if you plan ahead, learn strategies, and react quickly. You die a thousand deaths, but there is always, always, always something that you could have done to not get killed, and a huge sense of accomplishment when you learn all of those things.

    RPGs like Avernum have the problem that it's possible to just get stuck if you're in over your head with difficulty. You might be out of money and consumable items, or have characters that are badly spec'd. Decisions you made hours ago could have doomed you in your current save, and even if you understand how the whole thing work, it takes some metagaming to estimate whether your strategy is correct ("If I use this rare potion now, how long will it take me to find the next sidequest where Jeff gives out more potions?").

    In other words, in a game like Avernum, you pretty much have to play through the entire game once in order to learn how to be a better Avernum-player. That's a tall order for players who are just starting out, so it makes more sense to reserve genuinely challenging difficulty settings for series veterans and people who like the game enough to play it all the way through more than once. I suspect that RPGs of this kind aren't really suited to deriving fun from how hard the game is, even among the kind of gamers who enjoy hard games.

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  13. That is very true. I used to believe I love hard games, and later on I found I don't like hard games, I live managable challenges.

    It might just be me, recently I thought a good story telling part of a game is just as fun as the game itself. When I am really busy, I want the game to be movie watching easy :-)

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  14. I think that you are underestimating the flexibility inheirent in your own games. Given the RPGs of the type that you create, there is a certain amount of difficulty tailoring that a player will do all on their own as they play, provided you are clear with them.

    Your games are faily open and rarely force any kind of linear progression on the player, with plenty of secondary things to do and places to explore aside from the main plot progression. This means that the player is rarely railroaded into increasingly difficult encounters that they are not ready for. In fact, the very openness tends to make predicting a gradually rising difficulty curve almost impossible, the players will always find ways to screw up any such plans.

    That said, that same openness allows players to dive into challenge on any slope that they like, so long as you the author make it clear what the slope is for any given area or encounter. If, say, you have some cave surrounding by gnawed bones with shreaks and sulfur coming out, and a strong sense of foreboding and fear felt by the party, then the player will get the idea that this is a difficult area. When given the chance to buypass such an area in favor of obviously easier territory, most players will choose to go into the easier territory first. This gives them a chace to gain valuable experience and coin with minimal risk to themselves, and they can always come back to the difficult area later when they are better prepared in the hope of greater rewards. And if they are feeling brave or foolish, they could always try taking the difficult area first as a shortcut to levels and riches, albiet at a much greater challenge. I also tend to think that this works well with the power-fantasies you mentioned. If I could steamroll over the difficult areas, the reward might not feel as sweet as if I took my time, built up my strength on the easier areas, then tackle the harder areas when I am better prepared. Then I can say, "I can't believe I used to be afraid of that enemy. I can crush them easily now!" If you made that enemy easy to begin with, that sense of accomplishment is lost.

    The point that I am trying to reach is that I do not think that your games need a serious difficulty adjustment. I think that, structurally, they are at a great sweet spot where the player can choose how challenging they want to make their experience. Maybe you have some punishing optional boss encounters, but so long as they remain optional, you are not forcing a challenge upon the players they do not wish to tackle.

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  15. You inspired a post on my own blog.

    In short, I'm wary of absolutes like you talk about. 3DO's management had the philosophy that easier games were better, and we can see how that did for them. :/

    Some games don't have varying difficulty for various reasons. It's hard for an online game (MMO) to have varying difficulty, for example, since it's a shared, competitive game.

    Finally, I think you're barking up the wrong tree when it comes to RPGs. If I want an easy game, I'll go fire up Solitaire or visit Facebook. If I load up an RPG, I'm probably in the mood for a challenge. You have to deal with player expectations in this case.

    Some food for thought.

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  16. An important element of difficulty that this doesn't seem to look at is forgiveness. The price of failure, not just how often the game causes you to fail.

    It seems like most "hard games" I've seen lately have achieved that status just by manipulating that; Going from infinite to limited lives, or changing the frequency of checkpoints/savepoints, can make a significant difference in how difficult the game "feels," even when the game itself remains static.

    I'm drawing a blank on your other games, possibly due to application of your rule, but I remember Exile 1 deaths as being particularly cruel, dumping your dead character's loot across the floor, forcing you to carry it all if you want to save any of it and bring them back, not even discussing the process of bringing them back.
    Contrast that with RPGs (though no names are coming to mind) where a fallen character is propped up at 1 HP after battle, and the only time any progress is actually at risk being when all your characters die in the same fight.

    Should the player almost never die at all, or should death be easily conquered and dealt with?

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  17. The whole concept of "poor build" is a weird aspect of RPGs. I think the normal difficultly level should allow success with any reasonable build. If the game allows a hardcore player to create a min-maxed uber build, then the hardcore player can also set the difficulty higher if they want a greater challenge.

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  18. My experience with making games (I've made quite a few as a hobby developer though they're all free) is that if you don't actively think about it, you will make the game too hard. My situation is probably a bit different from yours since you have betatesters and an extended QA period, whereas I just tend to do my game and then be done with it. (I do hobby games for the fun, not to make money. Although I am a professional games developer as well).

    A small request about your difficulty levels: If you're going to do this, please don't name them "Normal", "Difficult" etc. Instead, try to make it sound like something the player can identify with: Beginner, Average, Experienced, Hardcore (for example). I like my games to be fairly challenging as well, but I wouldn't think to play on Difficult instead of Normal.


    Finally, if you could do a post on why you aren't selling your games on Steam, that would be interesting.

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  19. Why should this difficulty be the default one ("normal") ?? Why not "easy", "very easy", "extremely easy", etc. ? By making "normal" difficulty very easy you take fun from clever player in favour of dumb and unskilled ones. That cannot be praised. "Normal" difficulty should be normal (middle), not kid- or grandmother-oriented.

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  20. Psychochild said: "Finally, I think you're barking up the wrong tree when it comes to RPGs. If I want an easy game, I'll go fire up Solitaire or visit Facebook. If I load up an RPG, I'm probably in the mood for a challenge. You have to deal with player expectations in this case."

    The key, I think is, that YOU fire up Solitaire or Facebook, when YOU want an easy game. I might go to the park and toss some stones into the pond or feed my change to the ducks, but that is totally beside the point.

    Also, this discussion about game difficulty is infact about combat difficulty. What I deduce from some comments in other forums and such is that people who don't even bother to read through dialogue and follow some sort of storyline complain about fights being too easy while they find puzzles and labyrinths tedious. But you forget that you can turn combat difficulty up, which I find unneccessary for my personal taste, but okay if that's what you want. How about riddle and puzzle difficulty? How about mission complexity? That's what I would care about more and that sure enough feeds into overall game difficulty, doesn't it?

    Perhaps it would be good to have a tiny questionnaire before you start the game to find out what difficulty setting would be appropriate and set the preferences accordingly.

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  21. I agree Jeff. I'm an RPG player of the old school as well. Though I like a challenging game, repeated death is no fun.

    There's nothing worse than finding yourself boxed into a corner with a character build, unable to progress further because you failed to look up the munchkin's guide to min-maxing prior to playing.

    Normal difficulty should be for normal people.

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  22. There are a couple of games (albeit not RPGs) that I have abandoned because of this issue. And note that a lot of games don't have easy settings, only normal and hard. After trying something and failing for 10 or 12 times that's it for me.

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  23. I think your new rule of thumb is great - and the key part is the fact that it's the default difficulty level. That way you don't insult many people by making them have to actively select something easier, and people who want to be hardcore can feel badass by actively selecting something harder.

    Also, "The important thing is to not make your fun mean less fun for others" is such a great way to look at it. That's one of the biggest advantage videogames give us - different difficulty for different players. I don't know if you've seen this already, but there's a post floating around about the economics of pinball that makes a compelling argument that focusing only on the high-challenge, hardcore players basically killed pinball. Videogames don't have to have that fate.

    (Shameless self-promotion: I have recently written a blog post myself on this same subject.)

    As for your final thought, I definitely agree that killing the player won't make a fun game more fun. But as for failure sucking the fun out, I think that depends a lot on how the failure is experienced. Even failing can be fun if the player feels like they are learning, and not just slamming into a brick wall or wasting time with heavy punishments for failure. (Bit more shameless self-promotion there.)

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  24. Many game designers see it as their duty to not only challenge the player, but to prove how much more "clever" they are by making challenges that are difficult to the point of frustration. That's fine. Some people want that. There are no absolute rights and wrongs in game design.

    The important lesson to draw from this article, though, for both camps, is to be conscious of your audience and their wants/needs. Make sure you're providing entertainment for them, and that you're clear in your expectations of them.

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  25. I generally agree with Jeff's sentement, and I should note that my tastes have changed over the years. In the 90's I was in high school, loved pouring over every tiny detail and tactic of a game (especially RPGs) at that time. Now that I'm older, have children, my time is somewhat limited and my taste for the "challenge" has waned.

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  26. Haha, I think I'm an RPG masochist. I'll deliberatly not allocate skill points or improve creations in the Geneforge games and relay tricky fights a dozen times perfecting an elaborate stratagy.

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  27. This is practically god given mathematical truth. I've been trying to argue this for years, and it's awesome to hear you support the same idea. Every time a player dies, the chance increases that he will never play your game again. The player is playing to have FUN, not to lose. Even for me, in Geneforge 5 I usually stop playing for the day/week around the time I first die. And I'm a pretty hardcode oldschool gamer.

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  28. I think this could all depend on the genre of the game, perhaps RPG's are a rare exception to the general rule as players are here to play it for storyline, for role-playing etc etc. However, outside of the genre which spiderweb has been very focused on over the years, studies have shown that easier is not more fun, infact quite the opposite. There have been actual doctors and cognitive specialists performing case studies on this for years and the results all point to the fact that players attain more enjoyment and satisfaction from a more difficult game than an easier one. There is still a fine line to walk, it can't be too hard nor too easy however studies show that games which lean more towards the difficult end of the spectrum are rating much more favorably than those that lean towards the easier one.

    I would also suggest that you spend some time reading and learning about temperment theory and over all cognitive psychology. The problem with our industry is that we have people saying 'this is best, or that is more fun' and no one has a damned clue why. They have opinions and perhaps they made a game in the past that was a hit and they loosely attribute it to some aspects of their design but there is a world of cognitive research out there in the area of fun and then specifically in the area of video game fun. If we don't learn about how our understanding of human psychology works how are we ever supposed to forward our medium in a meaningful way as we are just stumbling around guessing at what works and what doesn't.

    Again I think you're idea might work for rpg's much more so than any other game but outside of this genre I feel you are off the mark

    Two authors that you might want to read

    Jesper Juul:
    http://www.jesperjuul.net/text/fearoffailing/

    Chris Bateman:
    http://www.ihobo.com/

    Of course both of these gents have a bunch of articles up on www.industrybroadcast.com

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  29. Ah that 2nd last paragraph sounded so egoic and I see myself standing up high pointing my finger down. I think the more all of us study and research any area of science that can allow us to learn more about giving our players a more enjoyable experience the easier we can 'quantify' fun so that it can be broken down and further refined with conscious understanding instead of just repeating 'what works' as that can lead to stagnation and complacency in our design

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  30. This is very insightful, but I guess it may be a bit subjective. I'm into RPGs for storyline and setting, so I'm totally in the camp of not wanting to die 50 times or restart halfway through cause I'm not a pro at that game yet. A key point that you make Jeff that I think some folks may have glossed over, is that you directly emphasized "the Main Storyline". You *should* reasonably be able to complete the game the first time you play through on the default difficulty! Now, if a game designer just has the sadistic itch that must be scratched, there are always sub-quests and side-plots that are totally optional, but can be made obscenely hard to flex your mental prowess!! I see nothing wrong with that at all, that's great for people who want to seek it out. In Avernum 5, the monster hunting quest chain or raiding Gladwell fall into those catagories, as well as a couple other places.

    Another blog that has some interesting data on game/player dynamics is:
    http://lostgarden.com/2009/11/testosterone-and-competitive-play.html
    It's primarily focused on multiplayer games, but I think there's a bit to be gleaned about single-player games/gamers too.

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  31. *nods* I understand what you mean, I typically play on the easiest difficulties and up the ante as I see fit.

    However from playing your games; (namely the demos) I have found that while the games can sometimes be down right dangerous, it made it that much more invigorating to beat. To think of different ways to get past an obstacle, and what I should do to prepare. If I still can't get past, then I typically go and grind for some levels. Since I must be rushing the game too quickly, especially if I cannot get past an important point in the game. This has taught me to level/build/gather as much as I can before I do any more continuation in the story, that will make it easier in the long run.

    I think that in some regards, the type of game is what matters the most. RPGs can typically get away with difficulty, due to the ability of building a character(s) to meet your needs. Plus saving after every battle is handy too, then loading... and saving.

    Ultimately, the individual can be the problem. Since you have to cater to their needs/interests, what kind of game do you make? Is your game a pick up and go? Do you have to spend some time figuring things out? Do you need to read a manual to figure out every aspect of a game?

    My only problem with an RPG is re-playability, which ties into 'end-game' syndrome. I have personally found, that RPGs lose their value after playing it through once or twice. This is usually the result of knowing where everything is, where to go for this/that, what to do, and the result of action. Of course, having a difficult game or setting available can help you get past that problem. Since it'll be harder to achieve what you know you need to do. Plus beating something hard tastes so sweet.

    Anyways, I'm rambling on for too long. Ultimately, a game typically will fall into some niche if it is not generally accepted. Be it for the hardcore, the jelly puddings, or the odd ones in-between.

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  32. It's very very difficult to walk that thin line between "challenging" and "frustrating".

    Pre-patch Dragon Age on normal difficulty was a beautiful thing; almost every battle required some thought and tactics to make it through without using a health potion or other limited resource. You'd need those for the boss fights.

    Then they patched it, and normal became much easier, and hard stayed where it was (too damn hard), leaving a gap where that perfect difficulty had been. Doh.

    That's my concern. I hate getting my ass kicked constantly (eg, Torment), but I also hate games that I could play with one hand while eating a sandwich and watching TV. I don't particularly care about the default (Torchlight on normal is quite easy), as long as there's a nice challenging middle ground available.

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  33. Oh, and since I mentioned Dragon Age, I should also mention that healing/recharging automatically after combat (except for lasting injures if you got "killed") was a brilliant choice that made the game so much less micromanage-y but no less challenging. If you had survived one battle, you could go into the next fully prepared without wasting potions or time.

    It probably made the game easier for the designers to balance too, since you could assume the party would be at full strength for each battle.

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  34. Anyone tried a game with automatic difficulty adjustment?
    Not certain if it'd work or not.

    My guess is it'd work great if the player doesn't know it's there.

    (Tried a quick web search, but got academic papers - was looking for personal opinion)

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  35. Have you played Demons Souls? I think it effectively refutes everything you've written here. It's caught the attention of the "mutant" population for sure, but it's turning a lot of people (back) on to the idea that a game can shove failure in your face repeatedly and still be fun in spite - or even because - of it. http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=25238

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  36. I am glad to hear that your "normal" difficulty level will be easier. ^_^

    Another feature I think is nice (re: your point about poorly built characters): I'd prefer if I could build my characters without having to go on the internet and read the spoiler files. Hard enough to figure out whether Strength, Dexterity, Melee Weapons, or Quick Action will make me deal more damage; I got halfway through the game before realizing I needed to unlock the secret skills like Blademaster, Anatomy, and Lethal Blow. Even with the spoiler files it's all very mysterious: is it better to spend four skill points on a rank of Blademaster, seven on a rank of Melee Weapons, or six on a rank of Quick Action?

    I'm not afraid of numbers, but to build a good character I need to actually know what the numbers are...

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  37. I agree here - certainly I'll notice that a game is easy, but it takes me a long while to realise it mostly due to the fact that the less I die, the more I feel a part of the game world. Way to tell me I'm in a game by showing a game-over screen. Also, I don't have a lot of spare time, so spending that time doing the exact same sequence really bores the hell out of me and leads to a quick uninstall.

    Difficulty levels are there for a reason. I hate games that either give you no difficulty choices (not every player has the same skill-level or inclination to spend time on the game) or only has normal and hard. How about a sliding scale after you've played for a while (something that allows you to adjust flow of enemies, amount of ammo, AI capabilities in an FPS for example).

    What's normal for one game is hard for another. Difficulty levels are tricky to correctly do, so one should be able to switch freely while playing (being stuck on a single difficulty level for the rest of your game is a really poor idea especially when one boss fight is all that you have an issue with).

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  38. For what it's worth, as one of those weirdos who always plays all your games on Torment, I'm pretty satisfied with A6's difficulty so far. I particularly enjoy the fact that there are challenges of widely varying difficulty in each area, so it's possible to go off the beaten path a little and find encounters that are meant to be way beyond my level... and then find a way to beat them anyway. Or, if I don't feel up to taking them on yet, I can do some easier quests and come back with more levels and equipment. A5 did that sort of thing to a lesser extent, and A4 really only had one or two areas that were signficantly harder than their immediate surroundings.

    Basically what I'm saying here is keep putting challenge areas in your games, make sure they're actually challenging on the highest difficulty, and I'll be a happy camper. I don't mind being able to mostly barrel through the main plot, as long as there's *something* out there that's a challenge.

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  39. I think it's possible to satisfy those looking for a challenge and those looking for easy enjoyment with good game design. Game difficulty is not necessarily easy to measure objectively, especially in RPGs where so much is dependent on your characters. Many games are hard for casual, inexperienced gamers because they are poor teachers and leave the player unprepared for difficult sections, whereas some games may require a lot of skill or tactics but feel quite easy because the game ratchets up the difficulty gradually and ensures that the player is well-prepared and has learned the necessary tactics. The key is not to make the game easy for incompetent players, but rather to make the incompetent players competent. Don't make it easy if the player makes poorly-designed characters, rather make the default characters good.

    Changes in difficulty level also greatly affect how hard the game "feels". Games that contain long stretches of easy or moderate difficulty interspersed with a few memorable, challenging sections or that increase the difficulty only gradually feel easier and are much less frustrating than games that continually punish the player with difficult areas or games that suddenly switch from being easy to impossible.

    Finally, in the case of RPGs it's possible to make the difficulty somewhat self-adjusting with optional fighting. I'm not suggesting that players should be forced to grind, only that doing extra leveling should be possible if the player doesn't feel strong enough to advance or to help them recover from bad decisions.

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  40. I agree with this blog post. I have had 5 since it came out and have not finished it (2 attempts, the second I started using cheats but stopped due to moral reasons ^_^). I like the Avernum series for the story, but I don't want to spend so much time that it starts being a waste of time to me. I have not had issues with the games before 5 though.

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  41. Some people don't really seem to be getting what you're saying at all - that he wants the games to be easier on 'Normal', not that he wants the games to be easy in general. There will still be Torment difficulties that will totally violate the geneva conventions of gaming, just the average gamer will not get surprised by them in the normal setting. I like that.

    Branden up above mentioned Demons Soul, and while I know it is an excellent game, it is not the /failing/ that is making you excited ,it's overcoming something quite difficult - and something you can get in many games just by cranking difficulty back up to Hard on many games.

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  42. I agree with this...To a certain extent.

    See, lately there seems to be a trend of making games TOO easy, like, beat the game without dieing once easy. Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is a good example of this. I wouldn't have minded if they had given me an option to make it harder, but there is only one difficulty level, and it is far too easy. Did this stop me from enjoying the game? Not quite. Did it stop me from buying my own copy (played a friend's)? Yes. I would have totally bought the game for myself it it had a harder difficulty (adding replay value) but it was just one of those games that you 'experience' rather than 'beat'. Another game that's far too easy without adding an option to make it difficult is Prince of Persia (the newest one). Again, the game would have been great with a Hard Mode, but they didn't give us one.

    But in general, I agree that people can forgive a game for being too easy rather than too hard. I know more people that enjoyed games like Twilight Princess than I know that enjoyed games like R-Type or GodHand. I myself prefer for a game to be Challenging, rather than Easy or Hard. I want to die during levels, forcing me to get better, but I don't want to feel like I am being punished for not being good, because then it makes it so losing becomes a hassle and it discourages trying.

    But really, adding difficulty options is very important, I think. By doing so, you can maximize your audience by providing different levels of experience to each of the types of gamers that wants to play your games.

    I sold my Wii because I felt Nintendo was purposefully alienating more experienced gamers by, not only removing the hard features of their games, but making their games even easier as a whole (games that play themselves?). This is the sort of Too Easy that I can't forgive. However, if this easy feature was present in a game that ALSO had a Hard Mode, I think I would be more accepting.

    A game doesn't have to beat up the player for being bad, I just think that it needs to be rewarding to the player for trying, as well as giving the player the opportunity to do so.

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  43. I agree on all but one point. A player with poorly made character going through only the main story with mediocre tactics should in my opinion have some hard time in the the game if playing on a normal difficulty unless normal is the lowest difficulty available. I don't know but I was never a stranger to going with the Easy option over Normal but that might not be the case for most players.
    I really like the ability to change difficulty ingame, after the game starts, since then I wont have to start over again if it is to hard/easy or if I'm having problems with a specific area of the game. Even if I consider myself as a cheater for doing the latter I still like the option to do so.

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  44. wow i remember playing avernum 1, i played it on a mac game disk and that was pretty sweet back in the day. did not know there were more of them.

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  45. I agree with the comment "If you're sacrificing your players' fun to have your own fun, then you're doing something wrong". I've played D&D as wall, and a sadistic DM SUCKS to play with.
    I've always found the Exile/Avernum games decently well balanced, though at some points I did find them downright atrocious. But never as bad as some areas of Baldur's Gate, where I could NEVER figure out how to get by without using a cheat.

    You shouldn't be able to play a game without dying a few times. You need to struggle a few times to be able to go "YEA!" when you finally beat it. But that shouldn't be every battle, or even every third one. But Boss battles should exist. Considering that most people play a hero to escape from reality and be 'special' for a few short hours of a day, I think it's good if the game designer doesn't try and remind them of their mortality for more than 10% of it.

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  46. If your goal is to sell games, yes make them easy. If your goal is to make good games, make them fair and true tests of skill. True tests of skill are necessarily hard because people who lack skill will lose and only those few who have it will win.

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  47. One of my finest gaming moments was in the legendary space quest II in glorious cga. Don't want to waste the plot if you haven't played it yet (go do it!), but there is an event in the game that seems innocuous, but when you're moments from the end, that innocuous event has a deathly outcome forcing you to effectively start again because you're unlikely to have an old enough savegame. It was cruel and beautiful in equal measures.

    Difficult and tricky is good sometimes.

    What you're describing is a lot like the Nintendo "computer controlled" approach that they're discussing with their nextgen console games to let little kids get value out of the games.

    If space quest II had recognised that I wasn't a good enough player for the hard bits (maybe I died a bit too much walking through the infuriatingly difficult maze of vines) maybe it would have pulled the final beautiful punch and just let me complete.

    I'd suggest that you definitely patronise your customers and make an explicit Easy mode, make it the default even, that way when the player starts the game they know that they're not buying into the full experience. That's a lot better imo and could even increase the replay value for the casual gamers that you are rightly courting.

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  48. It is nice in a game where you can grind and then end up with powerful characters that wipe out their opponents easily, while at the same time if you just prod along and don't do anything special you notice your characters have to work for it, but generally come out on top.

    Ad to this mix some "shortcuts" in the story that a sufficiently strong party (due to hardcore grinding), could get ahead at certain points and beat the bad guys in a different (and faster) way.

    Nothing like the bad guys underestimating the characters and the game actually detecting this in the case the party managed to use the shortcut: "No! You should not be here yet! How did you escape my servants!?"

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  49. Its a double-edged sword. Your original premise wasn't wrong.

    "People will forgive a game for being too hard. They will never forgive it for being too easy."

    Your secondary conclusion isn't really wrong either..

    "People will happily forgive a game for being too easy, because it makes them feel badass. If a game is too hard, they will get angry, ragequit, hold a grudge, and never buy your games again."

    Both are right, for different people.

    I have only recently begun playing games on hard difficulty settings. Not the most hard, but 1 notch up from what the default is. That's been my new standard for mainstream games for the past couple years.

    I used to dislike doing that and, your comment about getting enjoyment out of the game from other people's misery (paraphrasing) might not be totally inaccurate. I used to hate the idea that the default setting wasn't as hard as I liked.

    But you have to understand where I come from (and I know you do). When I began playing computer and video games it was about 1980 (probably earlier if you count PONG). Games were cruel, unforgiving, bitches. Hell, we didn't even complain much about game wrecking bugs in those days, just opting to start over and try to avoid that bug the next time.

    At some point games added easy modes, which I barely noticed, since I never played on them. And stayed repetitively difficult on default settings until about 6-8 years ago I'd say. Since that point there has been drastic, and nearly fun-destroying (for me), easing up on the difficulty.

    The idea that I couldn't just start up a game and get the difficulty I like still bothers me. I don't like having to fiddle around until I find a setting I like. For one thing, how do I know that a setting that seems right as first is going to remain right at the end of the game. Difficulty should ramp up as a game goes on, and I'm not looking for "insane" difficulty levels. Just the standard challenge I've been used to. I'm completely against (for myself) changing difficulty level after I'm in the middle of a game. It just feels too much like cheating.

    But, I digress. I'm now in my mid 30's, married with children. I don't have as much time as I used to to play games, so I recently decided to take the plunge into increasing the difficulty level when I play a game. I don't have the luxury of replaying a game, so I try to make it fit my standards on 1 play through.

    I just finished Mass Effect 2 on hard, and I finished Dragon Age on hard as well this fall. I hear Fallout New Vegas will have a Hardcore mode, which I might try.

    Its taken some getting used to, but its become my standard playthrough now in mainstream games.

    I just began Avernum 6 this weekend. I'm playing on Normal, as I have with all your games. It sounds like I should still be OK with this one, but I may have to ramp it up for your next series.

    I just urge you, as others already have, to make it as clear as possible what each of the difficulty levels mean as explicitly as possible so we can make the right choice from the outset.

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