Tuesday, June 28, 2011


One Shaw made a comment on my last blog about difficulty. Saying "It's important to have the AI scale with difficulty." which I agree with. Though on thinking on this I reached my old problem of "what is difficulty?".

And to illustrate as I have not added images to this at all, have a horrible MSPaint quality image that I should have been ashamed to make.

Once again I apologize, but it kind of gets the point across.

So the first thing to start off with is what a lot of games like to do with difficulty being big numbers. This comes in all manner of flavors both hidden and not so hidden. One is hit points or the number of times something has to be hit or damaged to take it down, this is the oldest of the old for difficulty. If you played a mario game that had all bosses take 4 more hits it would be more "difficulty". This happens a lot in shooters where difficulty just means increasing enemy damage and enemy health. For real time games there is always just how far the AI can "see" you. As it stands I do not believe there is an AI in a game right now that legitimately uses 'vision'. It just calls a method for the location of any player, checks if there are any solid objects in the way of 'seeing' them then goes about all the other functions. The higher the difficulty the more easily the AI can spot you, or even see through walls so it can plan a route around them to shoot you. That once again is more "difficult". RPGs have a notorious difficulty increase purely by numbers. Every number used by the enemies is increased which means ultimately the player just has to kill a lot more monsters to level up to continue than if it was on an "easier" difficulty.

For me this isn't the difficulty I am after. It's what I like to call "lotto" difficulty. I mostly use the term as a trap in Pen and Paper design where fights can only be won if the player rolls high consistently while the monster rolls low. Nothing the player does actually in the fight matters only what the Random Number Gods decides to give them. Any input on the fight the player had was decided before hand in how much they beat up lower level enemies or the quality of equipment they are using. This effectively just turns the bread and butter of the game into a math equation. For shooters and RTSs some of this is mitigated as there is a lot more things to do than click a button but at it's core it's not what people want. People want some challenge which comes down to their actions influencing the outcome, not some long formula of success that has no bearing on what they did during the time of conflict.

It isn't impossible but it is hard as a designer to address the problem. For shooters there is always changing up the map making the play have to choose the approach enemy, or by giving the foes tactics of their own while rudimentary can it more challenging for the player. RPGs have a lot harder time with their system not being twitch based but 'tactics' as some basic multi turn stratifies or nullifying players can prove quite rewarding if you're looking for a game that doesn't require a lot of grinding. Still it's a lot of work for what ultimately isn't what players really want, something akin person behind the scenes with forethought and a bit of an imagination. I fear it'll be a lot longer than we expect before we get such an AI and for now Pen and Paper games or ones with heavy Game Master involvement will be the closest we get to it.


  1. There's a heap of ways games can vary up difficulty besides just numbers amping up. I know a few older RPGs would use different loot tables for randomly generated chests and such. Higher, worse stuff, though the very rare better stuff sometimes was made to make it worth it, the general trend is less resources to play with.

    or more simple ways. Neverwinter Nights added the chance of friendly fire to AoE spells on normal difficulty+, and added a little to your challenge rating (As spawns in that were scripted so it took level into account for determining the quantity/quality of enemies from any spawn.)

    And there's what I call the Prototype method, where they just add enemies arbitrarily immune to your standard shenanigans, so you have to fight them to kill them, instead of sneaking around or evading them.

  2. I dont difficulty has much to do with that, but maybe thats just me :P

  3. games can be tough lol.
    practice will do!

  4. Oh wow, I've been quoted! Too bad my name is Shaw, not Shawn. :\

  5. I have no idea whats going on here. I'm completely lost. Maybe I need to go back and check out a previous blog.

  6. > Oh wow, I've been quoted! Too bad my name is Shaw, not Shawn. :\
    Well that's embarrassing, fixed it.

  7. but is it Nintendo hard? remember when games simply made things run faster and faster to increase the difficulty?