萬字長文,關於遊戲中的難度曲線設定和用戶體驗,上篇

篇目1,分享以難度圖表分析遊戲難度變化的方法

作者:Rafael Vázquez

(Xibalba Studios首席遊戲設計師Rafael Vázquez針對開發者難以評估遊戲實際難度的問題,設計了一種考察遊戲難度的方法,並以三款橫向卷軸動作遊戲爲例進行說明。)

數月之前,我在一個新項目的原型製作階段發現了一個問題。由於團隊中不同成員對何謂完美遊戲挑戰的看法不盡相同,我們幾乎無從判斷自己的遊戲怎樣才能設置理想的難度級別。

我知道這對小型且具有多元文化的團隊來說更是一個普遍問題,因爲大家的技能水平並不一致,所以很難就此問題達成共識。

思索一段時間後,我突然覺得遊戲難度不應該與玩家技能掛鉤,而應該取決於遊戲本身。我們不能將遊戲難度視爲一種靜態的因素,而應該去觀察它在遊戲發展過程中的變化。

抱着這種想法,我嘗試開發一種可以在不考慮玩家技能的前提下,衡量並比較遊戲挑戰的起伏情況。儘管這種方法還是不夠準確,但我認爲這至少是一個良好的開端,並希望它能獲得開發羣體的關注和討論並因此得到完善。

設置恰到好處的難度並非易事。遊戲設置過難,玩家就會很抓狂,過於容易,玩家很快就會感到無趣。這是衆人皆知的常識,因此設計師一般都會選擇中間路線。但多數時候,我們還是得憑膽量和感覺行事,而這種方式也似乎頗爲可行。

遊戲難易情況往往取決於遊戲類型,以及我們從玩家那裏得到的反饋結果。寧靜安詳的社交遊戲和緊張激烈的FPS屬於兩個截然不同的世界,我們不可將它們的挑戰性等量齊觀。當你向團隊成員解釋遊戲挑戰性時,往往是費了幾個小時的口舌,大家還是沒有就其難度設置是否合理達成一致。

出現這種情況的原因在於,難度是一個主觀因素,它在很大程度與每個人的技能水平存在關聯。更糟糕的是,合理的難易程度也要取決於每個人的興趣點,例如有些人就喜歡《超級食肉男孩》這種遊戲。當你想開發一款遊戲時,就會發現真的很難找到大家共同的切入點。

但這個問題也並非毫無解決之策——它就是我們能夠找到共同基準的難度圖表。在深入探討這個問題之前,我要先聲明這種方法並非用於創造遊戲難度(設計師恐怕還是得憑直覺制定決策),而是分析遊戲難度,以便你的團隊成員就此展開有建設性的討論。這些圖表並不能指明遊戲應該具備哪種難度,只能說明遊戲本身的難易程度。

何爲遊戲難度圖表

這些圖表可以解析遊戲過程的難度變化情況,主要可分爲兩種類型:基於時間和基於距離的難度圖表。前者會根據玩家體驗遊戲的時間指出遭遇挑戰的時刻(遊戲邦注:這裏排除玩家暫停和死亡的時間),後者則標註挑戰出現的位置(假設遊戲開始至結束是一條直線路徑)。

這兩者各有千秋,但要選擇哪種方法需取決於你所測試的遊戲類型。《Asteroids》或《幾何戰爭》等街機遊戲只能選擇基於時間的難度圖表,因爲這些遊戲並不存在奔向目標的位移過程。

但多數FPS中的敵人會在特定地點出現,所以最適合採用基於距離的圖表。我個人比較偏愛基於時間的圖表,具體原因稍後再談。

吹毛吹疵者可能會指出,這兩種方法實際上還是不能完全擺脫玩家因素的影響;玩家闖過一關的速度,以及完成一個挑戰所用時間均與其技能水平有關。

但這種方法已經得到我們團隊每一個成員的檢驗,也是目前我們最靠譜和可行的解決方案。我們只能從不同玩家多次玩遊戲的情況中搜集數據,並計算其平均值。事實上,只有進行多次測試之後,難度曲線纔會派上用場。足夠數量的玩家試過遊戲之後,你就會了解玩家的平均遊戲水平。

正如前文所述,難度具有主觀性,所以如果我們詢問測試者是否覺得遊戲過於困難,很可能就會得到五花八門的答案(但你還是得向他們提問)。如果遊戲難度因人而異,那麼我們如何才能衡量遊戲難度?訣竅就是讓遊戲與自身作對比。

假設我們有一個低級敵人會產生X的破壞性,那我們就把它的威脅指數設置爲1,這裏的威脅指數是指敵人對玩家而言的難度。如果我們有另一個敵人火力是前者的2倍,但其他屬性完全相同,那麼我們就將它的威脅指數設置爲2。

也許這種方法過於簡化,雖然地點、位置和其他敵人出現情況等因素也會產生影響,但重點在於,我們得先將最簡單的挑戰作爲一個標準(低級敵人),才能將它與遊戲中其他挑戰進行對比,這樣才能在脫離玩家技能的情況下判斷每個挑戰的難度。無論你的技能有多高超,行動速度快三倍的敵人,總是比標準敵人更難對付。

但是,敵人的狀態並非影響遊戲難度的唯一因素。假如敵人是在玩家身後或者從天而降地復生,那麼遊戲難度也會因其復生地點而發生變化。即使是最微弱的低級敵人,他們突然冒泡的情況也會讓玩家瞬間手足無措,形成不容忽視的挑戰。

除此之外,會飛的敵人總是比陸地敵人更難纏,藏匿於暗處的敵人亦是如此。但那些心不在焉的敵人,或者緣木求魚地尋找玩家的敵人,就基本上是小菜一碟了。我們不能低估這種情況對遊戲挑戰造成的影響,所以我們使用了一個“情況乘數”將其考慮入列。

情況乘數是一個可以根據某障礙物與玩家之間的空間關係說明其難度的數值。但每個乘數的屬性主要取決於遊戲設計。

在使用雙搖桿控制方式的射擊遊戲中,飛行的敵人並不是個大問題,只要玩家能瞄準目標就能將其擊落。所以每種乘數的重要性如何也要看設計師的想法,後者需根據遊戲機制的需要檢驗這些乘數的合理性。

要想判斷征服一個敵人的難易程度,有一個好方法就是統計玩家採取攻擊行動的次數。殺死敵人的方式越直截了當,就說明敵人越容易對付。

我們可以將敵人難度價值與乘數相結合計算出結果。例如,敵人出現在玩家身後的乘數是1.2,該敵人的威脅指數是3,那麼它在玩家身後復出時造成的新威脅數值就是3.6。

我們還要考慮到多數時候,敵人不會單兵作戰,他們總會成羣結隊地出現。在這種情況下,我們就需要添加同一時間(或同一地點)出現的所有敵人難度。在此我們就需要計算一羣敵人的難度係數。這也正是我爲何更習慣使用基於時間圖表的原因,因爲玩家可能在同一地點遭遇一茬又一茬的敵人,而且多數情況下是倒下一批又涌現一波。基於距離的曲線圖表會讓敵人難度數值擠到一塊,但這並不能反映實際情況。

所以計算一幫敵人難度的公式如下:

Ʃn=0 = (ETn)(ESn)

n是指一波敵軍的特定敵人種類;

ET是指敵人威脅指數;

ES是指情況乘數。

找到一幫敵人的所有難度數值之後,你就可以查看玩家何時或何地遭遇挑戰。針對每個關卡的所有敵人都要採用這種算法,這樣你就能得到一份難度圖表了。

增強功能(或道具)

我尚未提及的另一個層面就是增強功能。關於這個層面的話題已經足夠它獨立成章了,我們還是得在此提出它對遊戲難度的影響。如上文所言,我們在比較一個敵人或一波敵人的難度時,都會先設定一些標準條件。

在那種情況下,我們是假設玩家角色的能力水平保持不變,在晉升等級過程中的技能維持原樣。但事實並非如此,玩家在遊戲過程中總會有得有失,掌握或者喪失某些能力。這就會產生一個問題,如果你給玩家一顆核彈,原來難對付的敵人可能就再也不是威脅了。增強功能在遊戲中隨時隨地都可能出現,即使是遭遇戰也不例外,因此也必須考慮這種因素。。

我們可以將增強功能粗略劃分爲兩種類型:永久性和暫時性。永久增強功能是那些在遊戲過程中獲取之後就永不消失的功能,它包括新能力(遊戲邦注:例如,“現在你可以連跳了!”)以及帶有易獲取彈藥的新武器(例如敵人掉落的裝備)。而暫時增強功能則是那些在遊戲中容易喪失的東西,例如因死亡而丟失技能,或者彈藥有限的武器(例如在整個關卡中僅有6顆子彈)。只要丟失了,它們就不見了。

遇到第一種情況時,我們可以假設遊戲標準條件已經發生改變,你可以重新計算敵人在這種新條件下的威脅指數。原先需要打10槍的敵人,現在只需要2槍就能斃命。假如其他條件不變,那麼這個敵人的威脅程度已經比原來小5倍。

暫時增強功能就比較棘手了。問題就在於你無法知道玩家在何時會獲得這些功能。如果假設玩家都已經獲得這些功能,並根據這個條件設計遊戲,這勢必讓玩家因頻頻出現的高難度挑戰而抓狂。解決這個問題並非易事,但我們可以先在之前的標準條件下(假設玩家從未獲得這些功能)製作圖表,然後用垂直線標出他們獲得這些功能的位置。這樣即使我們繪製的是最不利的遊戲場景,也能夠清楚看到何處功能會讓玩家獲益。

步驟

現在讓我們複述剛纔提到的步驟:

*首先,確定遊戲的標準條件。它應該是玩家在特定遊戲片段(遊戲邦注:例如一個臺階、關卡或者整個遊戲過程)中擁有的最低級威力,它也可以因永久增強功能而發生變化。

*找到基本敵人類型(通常是最弱小或者最普通的敵人)並將其威脅指數設置爲1,然後依此爲基準調整其他敵人類型的威脅指數。

*進行多次測試。讓不同操作習慣的玩家在遊戲中闖關,計算他們遭遇每個敵人時的平均遊戲時間(基於時間的難度圖表)或者平均距離(基於距離的難度圖表)。

*查看敵人會出現在哪些情形中,然後根據遊戲機制以及敵人的攻擊行爲,爲這些情形分配一個數值。

*確定戰況。算出在每場戰役中,敵人出動多少次兵力,每次分別都是哪些類型的敵人。

*Ʃn=0 = (Etn)(ESn)將敵人威脅指數與情況乘數相乘,並將每批敵軍危害性的結果相加。

*根據敵人首次出現的時間或者距離依次繪製出圖表。

舉例分析

接下來我要用以上方法爲三款不同的2D橫向卷軸射擊遊戲繪製基於時間的難度圖表。這些遊戲來自不同的掌機設備和年代,這樣才能體現這種方法的通用性(這三者也是我最方便找到的遊戲)。

Metal Slug(from kotaku.com)

Metal Slug(from kotaku.com)

這三款遊戲分別是《合金彈頭》(由SNK於1996年發行的街機遊戲)、《閃克》(由Klei Entertainment於2010年開發,本測試採用的是其PC版遊戲)以及《鐵血兵團:反叛》(由Arc System Works於2011年開發的Xbox Live Arcade和PSN遊戲)。

它們表面看起來相差無幾,但在某些細節上卻極爲不同。因爲難度圖表並不會顯示哪一款遊戲更困難,所以我需要特別指出這一點。這些遊戲難度的評判標準是其本身,不可與其他遊戲相提並論,需知《閃克》中的威脅指數1與《合金彈頭》中的威脅指數1並不是同種概念。

這些圖表可以顯示遊戲過程中的難度變化情況,以便我們瞭解遊戲發展速度及緊張刺激性。如果圖表存在許多高峯,那就說明它是一款速度快,極具緊迫性的遊戲;如果圖表多數時候呈平緩狀態,那就說明這是一款較爲“平靜”的遊戲。

提示:如果想直接衡量遊戲進程的速度,可以參考Ben Cousins計算玩家行動的方法。他在《Elementary Game Design》一文中描述了這種方法,你可以通過其個人網站www.bencousins.com瞭解詳細內容。

這些圖表從左到右顯示了玩家在每款遊戲第一關遇到boss之前的情況。我在這裏排除了boss遭遇戰的情況,因爲它們的出現總會改變規則,玩家需要藉助特定的機制才能獲勝。如果直接將它們與關卡中其他情況作比較,就會讓圖表產生巨大的高峯,這並不能反映遊戲的總體難度。

我們先以《合金彈頭》爲例,這張圖表截取了約1分20秒的遊戲內容,從中可以看出,玩家每隔兩三秒就會遇到敵人。除了普通手槍之外,玩家剛開始時還可以使用一些手榴彈,雖然數量有限,但卻很管用。與其他兩款遊戲不同的是,其特點是所有敵人的破壞力都一樣,並提供了數量可觀的暫時性增強功能,其中包括號稱“Metal Slug”的坦克。在這款街機遊戲中,死亡並非什麼要緊的事情,因爲玩家每回都可以在原來喪命的地方復生。

《合金彈頭》難度圖表(from gamasutra)

《合金彈頭》難度圖表(from gamasutra)

從圖表中可以看出,遊戲的基本趨勢很接近橫軸,其中夾雜着一些較爲平緩的突起,其中有兩個大型高峯代表直升機。在標準條件下,它們非常難對付(用普通手槍要打40彈左右才能將其擊落)。遇到直升機時,鏡頭會停滯在此,玩家無法躲過這些敵人,只有擊落直升機後才能繼續前行。

爲了讓玩家突圍,遊戲在玩家遇到這種勁敵之前爲其提供了增強道具(紅色垂直線),因爲遊戲中的所有增強道具都是暫時性的,所以遊戲會連着多投放一些增強道具,確保玩家至少能夠揀到其中之一。

在這個環節將近尾聲時,玩家又迎來了一個高峯,遭遇其他坦克的攻擊。如果玩家的Metal Slug此時的戰鬥力尚存,那就無需擔憂這個問題,但如果Metal Slug在對付直升機時就已經成了炮灰,那就要做好心理準備了。不過遊戲此時會增加玩家坦克的健康值(綠色垂直線),以免玩家在遭遇這些敵軍坦克時掛掉。

接下來要分析的是《閃克》,它的第一關約爲5分30秒。與《合金彈頭》不同的是,遊戲設置了不少健康條,這樣就不會讓敵人的攻擊過於致命。玩家在開始遊戲時擁有4種武器(遊戲邦注:手槍、刀、電鋸和有限的手榴彈),你可以同時對付數個敵人。但不利之處在於,除了額外的健康條和手榴彈之外,玩家沒有其他任何增強道具。

《閃克》難度曲線(from gamasutra)

《閃克》難度曲線(from gamasutra)

從圖表中可以看出,《閃克》擁有不少阻礙玩家前行的遭遇戰,所以它的遊戲速度比《合金彈頭》更慢。在多數遭遇戰中,敵人是挨個逐漸出現,所以其圖表曲線呈階梯狀走勢。其明顯用意是讓玩家輕鬆進入並適應戰鬥狀態,而不是同時應對所有的挑戰。

在大型遭遇戰之間(較高的曲線突起部分),我們發現敵人總是成雙成對地出現,所以挑戰性不會太低。

與《合金彈頭》一樣,它在將近尾聲時也有一個高峯,但它的這個高峯恰好是該關卡中最困難的部分。在此之後,高峯迅速下滑,接近於0狀態,所有敵人和障礙蕩然無存,爲便玩家做足準備,迎接後面的boss戰役。

有趣的是,遊戲中的健康包一般出現於遭遇戰之中(它們一般是敵人掉落的健康包),並且多集中於該關卡的後半部分。與此同時,我們在這個過程中只能補充一次手榴彈,這可能是遊戲有意讓玩家多練習掌握其三種主要武器。

最後一款遊戲是《鐵血兵團:反叛》,玩家在其中擁有分段的健康條,初級敵人的每一擊都會耗損整段健康條。雖然玩家剛開始時只有一把作用有限的機關槍,但他們可以拾取一些增強道具(但這些道具在玩家被命中時會丟失)。其首個關卡(敵人最少)大約6分鐘20秒。

《鐵血兵團》難度曲線(from gamasutra)

《鐵血兵團》難度曲線(from gamasutra)

遊戲雖然擁有一個街機模式(無創建角色的設置),但其最具吸引力的模式卻是反叛模式,玩家在該模式中可獲得經驗值,即使斃命也仍可爲角色升級。換句話說,該模式支持玩家刷任務。

首先我們可以看到圖表中的直線高峯,它代表玩家遇到miniboss。miniboss威力極大,玩家需要多次命中和強大的攻擊力才能把它放倒。但在與之決鬥的過程中你會發現,玩家所處地勢非常有利,所以miniboss並沒有想象中的那般無敵。這也正是我爲何建議將boss戰役視爲特例的原因,因爲它們的遊戲規則和機制與整個關卡存在較大差異。

撇開miniboss,我們會發現遊戲還是具有極爲突兀的難度曲線,有一些較爲短促的平緩狀態和大量的高低起伏,它顯然是一款速度極快的遊戲。除了高低起伏之外,其曲線在整個關卡中多呈走高趨勢,玩家在特定時間段內要打一場需應對更多敵人的持久戰。

在關卡開始之初,遭遇戰的難度等級約爲7,接近尾聲時達到30,其難度差距較大,因此適合玩家以刷任務形式體驗遊戲。在近結尾時我們再次看到玩家遇到一次較大阻力,以及一次短暫的間歇。需要注意的是,遊戲中的增強功能幾乎是平均分配在這個關卡中,彷彿是遊戲機制的一個組成部分。健康條出現頻率雖然也很均衡,但總體數量卻非常稀少。

結論

我們可以通過標準化的時間(分解其總體時間長度),在同一圖表上繪製三款遊戲難度曲線。再重申一次,該圖表主要作用是顯示遊戲難度變化情況。在這三款遊戲中,遊戲難度曲線的平均值均低於10,這在多數遊戲的第一關中極爲常見。《鐵血兵團:反叛》的難度變化最大,而《閃克》則較爲穩定,《合金彈頭》也較爲穩定,只是偶爾會夾雜一些高峯。

Normalized_Chart(from gamasutra)

Normalized_Chart(from gamasutra)

如果從每款遊戲的總體設計來看,我們就不難發現它們這些差別的合理性。《鐵血兵團:反叛》的刷任務機制和持續的增強道具使其得以採用陡峭難度曲線,同時也有助於鼓勵玩家失敗後再重玩遊戲。而《合金彈頭》則依靠miniboss增加挑戰性,允許玩家進行多次嘗試。《閃克》卻側重於遊戲的易用性,曲線較爲平緩,以便新玩家順利體驗遊戲。

分析難度圖表不但可以讓我們瞭解遊戲構造,遊戲粘性所在,而且還可以讓我們觸及每款遊戲背後的設計原理。你在設計遊戲的過程中,也可以採用這種方法找到合適的難度高峯,或者排除不合適的難度設置。

當然,這也並非衡量遊戲難度的唯一可行方法,但卻是排除玩家技能因素,獨立考察遊戲難度的有效工具。通過繪製圖表找到結果後,開發團隊中的每個成員都可以更容易看到遊戲的難點,更容易共同解決問題。我真的建議你也來試試。

篇目2,分析遊戲難度中的挑戰與挫折的區別

今天我們要討論的是一個對於所有類型的遊戲設計來說都甚爲重要的話題:難度。你有多種方法讓遊戲變得困難,但不幸的是,多數方法都只能算是取巧的捷徑,卻不會產生引人入勝的玩法。

許多遊戲開發者會覺得有必要將遊戲變得更困難,所以他們就添加了各種最終只會令遊戲更令人受挫的“功能”。他們說,“但玩家確實比之前更常掛掉,這是一個挑戰。”但,這真是的一種挑戰嗎?或者只是一種無緣無故的困難玩法?

今天,我們就來討論挑戰與挫折之間的區別,以及如何在避免令玩家產生糟糕情緒的情況下添加遊戲難度曲線。

難度曲線

difficulty_curve(from gamasutra)

difficulty_curve(from gamasutra)

人們經常忽視難度曲線的重要性。當然,多數人理解其基本理念:遊戲剛開始時很簡單,之後越來越困難。不幸的是,難度曲線的概念並不僅限於此。它並不只是遊戲變得多困難,還涉及遊戲以哪種方式給玩家帶來更多挑戰性。

關於難度曲線以及訓練玩家的話題已經夠我再另起一文了,但現在我只討論一些關於如何確定難度曲線,並且不惹惱玩家的重要理念。

我見過許多遊戲一開始很順暢和容易,但你過了“開始”這個節點之後,你拐了一個彎或者進入一個新區域時,遊戲就變得巨難無比。它的難度曲線究竟出了什麼問題?最好要讓難度曲線自然和逐漸上升,並且將玩家置於檢驗其能力水平的情形。

在創造遊戲難度曲線時,這是開發者需要銘記在心的最重要原則:遊戲的挑戰性在於其檢驗玩家技能的方式。簡單地製造擁有高HP的敵人並不是最佳方法,遊戲應該令玩家覺得自己正在攻克障礙,他在遊戲中越來越棒。一款難度平衡感良好的遊戲應該考驗玩家的能力,而非耐心。

隨着遊戲不斷髮展,開發者很容易陷入通過給予敵人大量HP,或者令其一招制服玩家等方式人爲地提升難度。有時候這些做法是合理的,但如果除了讓遊戲“更困難”之外,你就找不到解決這一做法的理由,那就要想想其他增加挑戰性的難度了。要在之前的玩法上創造挑戰性,並令玩家面臨新情況。給予玩家使用自己新技能的理由。

多數玩家更喜歡鼓勵在戰鬥中以策略取勝而非刷任務的RPG是有原因的,那就是他們喜歡優秀的挑戰而非挫折。

挫折

那麼什麼是挫折?它是什麼原因造成的?玩家爲什麼會想關掉遊戲並永遠不再回頭?

當玩家覺得自己的時間被浪費時就會產生受挫感,這就是遊戲的錯了。

這個說法中有兩個要點,讓我們分析一下。第一個與玩家時間的價值有關,這在現代遊戲中是一個重要的概念。二三十年前,玩家對時間價值的看法與現在極爲不同。當時的遊戲比現在更困難也更具受挫感。但這並不是說玩家的時間就不寶貴了。當時的電子遊戲易用性與現在不同,玩家也沒有成百上千款遊戲可供選擇。而在當今世界,如果某人不喜歡你的遊戲——也許他們認爲你的遊戲不值得投入時間,他們就會直接刪除,並在片刻內找到另一款遊戲。20年前,如果某款遊戲令玩家受挫,玩家也無法選擇,所以他們只能一直死撐到將遊戲打敗爲止。

遊戲文化也已經發生變化,遊戲設計也隨着遊戲生活方式而變更。你無法在浪費玩家時間中僥倖成功。

那麼,我們該如何定義浪費玩家時間的概念?想想你對某一電子遊戲咆哮的時刻吧。這也許是你在遊戲中掛掉了,並被迫重頭開始;也許是你被迫一次又一次地觀看冗長的過場動畫。也許你已經同boss激戰了一個小時,剛要對它發出最後一擊時,它卻一槍就結束了你,讓你之前的一切努力歸零並重新開始。

更進一步

我對挫折定義的另一個要點是遊戲設計師理解和持續提升玩法的關鍵。當出現什麼情況時,玩家都會怪罪遊戲而不自責。

很顯然,遊戲故障就是一個最大的例子。如果玩家在遊戲玩得正高興時,卻卡在一堵牆中,他就不會太開心了,他也確實沒做錯什麼。這並不是故意的,究竟是哪些玩法層面令玩家在屏幕面前咆哮呢?

攝像鏡頭是3D遊戲中的一個普遍問題。它時有發生——攝像鏡頭突然旋轉,導致你在一次跳躍中失手,或者出現一堵牆擋住了角色的視線,或者發現有敵人在攻擊自己,而你卻無從知曉攻擊來源。玩家會覺得自己失去了控制,而令玩家產生失控感恰恰是最不該發生的事情。

在RPG中更難發現這類問題,但這並不意味着其受挫感就更少。這裏就有個經常發生的例子。想象一下經典的推積木謎題遊戲,玩家的一塊積木有時候會卡在角落裏。他別無選擇,只能離開房間,重置謎題,一切重新開始。你在設計地圖時就要考慮到積木可能會卡在角落的問題,或者允許玩家將積木抽出來。要避免那些會讓玩家被困的玩法。

這裏還有一例,它起源於隨機遭遇戰的理念。例如玩家在一個困難的地下城中一路斬殺,他的團隊成員HP值都相當之低。但遊戲勝利在望,所以他義無反顧一路向前。但突然屏幕閃光了,而他恰好正在戰鬥中。他想碰碰運氣,選擇逃跑但卻失敗了。怪物殺死了玩家。這種情況可以通過一些簡單的玩法調整來避免。也許怪物並沒有在玩家準備逃跑的同時發出攻擊。當然,這會讓遊戲更簡單,但卻可以避免令玩家受挫的情況。或者你可以一起拋入隨機遭遇戰。

即使沒有隨機遭遇戰,你的玩家也會責怪遊戲令其無故死亡。當製作顯而易見的敵人遭遇戰時,要認真考慮敵人刷出的地點以及他們的移動方式。要允許玩家躲開敵人(多數情況下),不要在玩家恐慌的時候出現雜亂無章的畫面。要將你的遭遇戰融入關卡設計中,而不只是隨處安插這些情況。

要認真觀察玩家掛掉區域中的玩法,要知道這並不是玩家的錯。要努力找到給予玩家掌控自己命運的方法。

挑戰

現在我們知道挫折感的來源了,它創造了糟糕的難度。而令遊戲以好方法創造難度的因素又是什麼呢?挑戰。

挑戰是對玩家技能的檢驗。任何失敗都會讓人覺得這是玩家的錯。

我已經說過檢驗玩家技能的情況。這正是玩家希望遊戲變得更困難的地方。他們並不想連續數個小時地刷同樣的任務,他們希望獲得通過新途徑使用新技能的機會。想想你的RPG機制。RPG多數情況下是涉及思考的遊戲。要鼓勵玩家思考,使用戰略,並最大化地利用遊戲機制。不要一開始就向玩家拋出一切。要隨着遊戲發展,爲玩家呈現那些可用現成工具解決的新問題。這在戰鬥,在地圖謎題中的概念是一樣的。隨着遊戲繼續發展,將問題混合在一起,並引進新挑戰。當然,要讓敵人更難對付,讓謎題更復雜,但要記住一定要以挑戰促使玩家思考。

當敵人獲得更高的HP時,RPG並不會更困難。它有可能更難,但其難度卻減少了。如果玩家所要做的一切就只是刷任務,那麼他很快就會生厭。要挑戰玩家的頭腦。

我這個定義的第二部分與指責有關。當玩家在優秀的挑戰中陷入困境時,他只能怪自己。

grand master galaxy11(from finalbossblues)

grand master galaxy11(from finalbossblues)

(《超級馬里奧銀河2》的最後一個關卡很困難,但極具回報性——你每次掛,都會覺得自己犯錯了,並在下一次嘗試中吸取教訓。)

我並不是說玩家應該對自己咆哮——而是說每次死亡對玩家來說都是一次學習經驗。他應該能夠指出自己所犯的錯誤,以便下一次再改進。如果玩家死了,就應該給他一次改變挑戰策略的機會。也許他是從錯誤的角度對付boss,死亡教會他嘗試另一種方法。總之,死亡應該給予玩家經驗。

這是一個要點:優秀的挑戰應該能夠被玩家順時而變的能力所克服。優秀的挑戰要鼓勵玩家發揮自己的最大能力。優秀的挑戰要讓玩家產生繼續遊戲的念頭。

而挫折只會讓他想放棄。

篇目3,免費模式:那些爲基礎付費率而存在的公共難度問題

市面上我們經常能夠聽到各種或真或假的傳聞,比如某遊戲上線首日首充率(或者上線當日的付費轉化率)超過10%(正常情況下的免費模式遊戲最終整體的付費轉化率會遠低於這個比值)或者單日流水超過數百萬甚者數千萬人民幣(當然這並不意味着該款遊戲的日均充值量能夠達到相似的水準),事實上能夠讓人疑惑的一個問題就是:在遊戲遠未向玩家呈現核心優質內容的情況下(剛進入遊戲,一般都是結束新手引導沒多久玩家剛開始能夠稍微自主遊戲的階段,遊戲尚未完全展開,大部分的系統功能比如玩家與玩家之間交互功能可能都還沒正式解鎖,遊戲還處於單機狀態下),開發者究竟是如何驅動沉浸未深的玩家執行這麼高比例的付費轉化的(國內玩家最忌諱的幾乎就是爲先預購的內容付費,舉個最不合邏輯的比方,單機遊戲的預告片做得足夠勾魂攝魄也未見有幾成的玩家願意主動花錢購買,而國內免費模式的遊戲在只是稍微呈現一點點基本遊戲模式並且拖時間刷任務重複堆積的形態已經昭然若揭的情況下,玩家竟然能夠高比例地爲完全未知定數的內容齊刷刷地付費了,或者說乏人問津的單機遊戲和賺得鉢滿盆滿的免費模式遊戲在玩家消費問題上最大的差別是,同樣在引導第一次消費,後者似乎是模式上設定了更巧妙的溫水煮青蛙試驗,我們將在以下內容做初步的解構)。

前不久,我們把免費模式的這種設定簡單地抽象爲(雖然不同的遊戲可能在進程上稍微有差異,但整體的設定節奏基本都在這個範疇之內):玩家在(一般情況下都是單機線階段)level a所向披靡(毫無疑問所有的遊戲設定指數方面,玩家都能夠滿分完成,成就感爆棚),在level b稍微遇到阻力(基本沒有完成的相關難度,只是適當提升了系統npc的數量和數值,當然也可能優化了npc的智能程度),在level c如果不小心就會受挫(這個階段的玩家整體戰鬥數值比如攻擊性、防禦性、技能和可攜帶的隨身道具,與系統給關卡設定的通關數值相當,獲勝或者失敗已經存在概率了),在level d即使全力以赴也經常挑戰不了npc(這個階段的玩家數值已經全面劣於關卡系統的挑戰數值,npc不管在數量上、技能上、智能方面都全面領先於玩家當前的最大值,受挫度十足)。

這個就是我們前面所描述的,在玩家剛過新手引導想開始展示稍微自主能動遊戲的時候,在大部分遊戲系統尚未解鎖使用(當然也包括玩家之間的交互系統和pk系統),遊戲尚且處在預覽階段情況下,每一個玩家都必然要遭遇完全一模一樣的單機線進程障礙(此時的關卡和npc就像一座大山,玩家如果想要繼續往前推進遊戲,唯一的方式就是正視這種難度並且消弭掉這層障礙,雖然可以顯眼地預測到下一個關卡會是更大的阻障)。雖然目前遊戲圈暫時還沒有特別明確的概念來闡述這種在遊戲尚且只能提供初級模版就要設卡給每一個玩家制造進程障礙以謀求最大程度付費轉化率的情況,或者可以直接假稱爲集體受挫的公共難度,並且這部分難度的消弭一般不以玩家的主觀技巧掌握和施展爲核心,而是以當前玩家的整體數值量累積爲核心,換句話說玩家想要挑戰這種公共障礙設定唯一的方式不是讓自己的主觀能力更強,而是讓自己的客觀數值更彪悍。

這個就是結論性之一:這類遊戲一般不存在任何的操作掌握問題(要麼根據引導點擊要麼根據固定的操作按鈕點擊,其他的環節都是系統代理完成,如果一定要這麼說的話,這種模式下其實玩家也算半個npc,有時候,我們在遊戲中能夠做的就是看玩家的角色在系統的操作下進行演繹的視頻動畫),或者說玩家的主觀操作能力基本不會得到體現也不能夠影響遊戲的進程表現(玩家在遊戲中很難存在學習障礙,各種功能在遊戲的刻意引導下完全一目瞭然,甚至玩家都不需要親自了解,只需要配合遊戲的進程點擊就能夠自動獲得);同樣也不存在一般意義上會存在的主觀難度(所謂的主觀難度,大體上是由三個環節促成的,第一個是基於開發者和玩家之間本身對遊戲的熟悉度差異,因爲開發者淫浸在自己的遊戲中對各種功能和節點了如指掌從而獲得了某種本能性優異而不自覺地替代玩家思考覺得遊戲的設定不存在玩家難度而導致遊戲整體到處存在玩家障礙;第二個是基於玩家自身的遊戲素養差異,這種差異可能包括對遊戲類型的敏感度,對遊戲在時間和能力方面的介入程度以及玩家本身對遊戲的理解,都有可能使同一種遊戲模式在不同的玩家層面出現體驗方面的差異,或者說對遊戲難度的接受能力就存在因人而異(比如同一個難度係數,某些玩家很享受,而某些玩家則感覺很受挫);第三個是第三方評價所造成的先入爲主的偏見,這種偏見可能來自媒介的評測或者來自少數玩家的主動評論,都可能使遊戲在體驗前或者體驗時蒙上了某種偏離自我實際感受的預設難度)。

從而使得這種預設的遊戲障礙在難度上具有了某種特性:障礙的消弭與數值緊密捆綁,而解除的方式就由此被限定爲兩種截然相反的途徑,一種是依靠純粹自然累積的羊腸小道(各種折磨人的重複和數值小疊加累積,用長時間的投入來彌補中間的巨大差距),另外一種是藉助充值消費開闢的通天大道(植入原系統之外的外掛系統,獲得無上的遊戲借力而改變原先的失衡)。

作爲玩家還處在偏單機的階段,在遊戲中以陡然拉昇npc數值的方式所製造的遊戲斷層很快就給玩家提出了一個二選一的抉擇:要麼用愚公移山的精神移除障礙,要麼接受遊戲的商用規則用金錢來解鎖這種不愉快的進程(有時候,這種感覺其實就是花錢買一段看起來是自己大獲全勝的視頻)。雖然,這種由開發者主動介入的強力阻斷行爲,對遊戲本身極度不友好,從開發者層面人爲阻隔了遊戲的延續性,使得玩家面臨斷崖式困擾(難度曲線瞬間提升至現階段玩家角色能力不可逾越高度,遊戲進程到這裏就暫時中斷了,用遊戲中的大溝壑開始初步遴選潛在的消費型玩家):遊戲我剛剛開始進入點門道,就殘忍地面臨着還能不能愉快玩的問題(短期無事可做+只能重複體驗vs充錢極大提升戰鬥力數值)。

從而實現了我們常說的一個判斷:(大部分玩家還處在單機階段時候的消費)消費不是遊戲的體驗加成,消費只是爲遊戲障礙開路(當然如果一定要說有體驗加成的話也肯定是存在的,畢竟消費了就足夠把讓你鬱悶到死的障礙一腳踹到印度洋,在別人還在苦惱無邊的時候,你已經提前站在新的高度,用俾倪天下的方式俯視大部分無奈掙扎的各種螻蟻人生),所以在遊戲中當你發現上一個環節還隨便被你虐殺的某小怪在下一個環節就強勢進化爲對你隨便虐殺,玩家就要開始考慮這是開發者在用數值做暗示是時候要充值消費了,因爲接下來類似的現象和設定將比比皆是,並且這部分是針對全體初體驗的玩家,每個人所面臨的選擇基本是完全一致的(雖然到這個階段,玩家已經很明顯地感受到了遊戲付費優先的態度,因爲如果是體驗優先的話就很少出現這種莫名其妙的斷層障礙了)。

你甚至不需要擔心早先遊戲圈最老生常談的一個問題:難度太低,玩家就無聊跑了,難度太高,玩家就受挫跑了。因爲現行遊戲設定用的是更無解的難度:玩家的主觀能力在這裏幾乎是無效的,所有的遊戲變數都只決定於各種參數,換句話說,在玩家沒有能力改變當前的數值前,玩家對遊戲進程的改變就被註定爲無能爲力的,障礙就成爲純粹的障礙,這種情況下再來界定玩家基本就都是良心玩家,受挫能力超強,也正因爲有這樣的玩家,開發層面的參數遊戲纔會越來越被獨尊爲極品模式(基礎遊戲模式和開發者主導的外掛模式)。

而開發者所能主導的外掛模式無非就是強力道具,並且一般被賦予四種屬性:第一種是階段性,只用於匹配某個階段的特殊效能,過了這個階段可能還能發揮作用,但爲了不影響新道具的販售而被限定了效能,換句話說在上個階段風光無比的道具可能在下一個階段就只是大衆化的道具之一;第二個是時效性(包括使用限度),爲了配合商用性價值的最大化,部分道具可能存在使用次數的限制或者使用時間段的限制,從而使得道具存在不斷重複複製的販售價值;第三個是稀缺性,雖然可以無限低成本複製但爲了維持道具販售的超高價值而人爲限定了道具的出售數量,如果再配合上高參數就能夠從稀缺角度人爲地使道具的存在極品化;第四個是成品零碎化,使用鍛造和合成策略使得單一道具具有分區塊出售的效能,將道具的售價從高昂零碎爲不同的低價環節以保障有節奏地引導玩家從低階開始投入消費。

但不管從哪個角度,道具一出來被賦予的使命在還是單機環境下就是消弭npc所製造的人爲障礙,並使得自身成爲玩家邁向新進程中可以依賴的重要借力點,從而在自己的邏輯上呈現出來不可或缺的屬性,驅動了大面積的付費轉化需求。這也是我們尋常一直在討論的議題:遊戲經常會出現與整體平衡性相悖的趨勢,就是遊戲設計師對超級武器的偏好,而這種偏好一旦被植入到遊戲商用環節中就必然是先提升障礙臺階,再出道具解決方案(哪怕可能因爲這種大障礙導致了遊戲進程的人爲中斷,破壞了持續體驗的順暢性)。

差不多,這個就是達爾文定義中的叢林法則:適者生存(讓消費的玩家脫穎而出),背後是我們常解釋的另外兩個概念,一個是尼采的強人邏輯(讓消費的玩家成爲主宰者),另外一個是弗洛伊德的壓抑釋放(讓玩家盡全力釋放自己的潛意識)。

篇目4,遊戲難度設置在於挑戰性而非糟糕設計

作者:Corey Moore

在過去幾年的遊戲經歷中我注意到了一些有趣的事。即在面對一些早前遊戲時我總是很難打敗遊戲,但是當面對現代遊戲我卻總能輕鬆地贏得遊戲,或者很容易就對遊戲失去興趣。當然了,我也曾花好幾年時間去提高遊戲技巧,使那些曾讓我卻步的遊戲不再構成任何“威脅”。但是當我再次回首去玩一些早前的遊戲時卻仍舊很容易“死”在其中。比起DOS和NES盛行的時代,今天的遊戲似乎更加“寬容”。也許這只是我自己的看法,但你是否注意過如今有多少人是在說自己“完成了”‘遊戲而不是“打敗了”’遊戲?

Kids These DAys(from gamasutra)

Kids These DAys(from gamasutra)

我曾經聽過許多將今天的遊戲與早前遊戲相比的描寫。說到今天的遊戲我們腦海中總會浮現出“當機”,“休閒”,“主流”以及“簡單”等字眼。一款簡單的遊戲不一定是糟糕的遊戲,但是大多數遊戲都需要有一定的挑戰。如果玩家不能在遊戲中感到任何挑戰,他們很快便會覺得遊戲是無趣的,而玩家有可能選擇自願接受挑戰去添加遊戲樂趣。

根據不同遊戲類型,玩家想要面對的挑戰也有所不同。其中包括使用默認裝置,完成最低可能性的任務或毫髮無傷地完成遊戲等。自古以來許多遊戲都只意識到那些100%完成遊戲或完成最高難度遊戲的玩家,而忽視了玩家所追崇的挑戰。《Shadow Complex》便是一個典型的例子,它有完成最低可能性任務的挑戰,但玩家仍能夠徹底打敗遊戲。

儘管創造具有一定難度的遊戲就必須創造出絕佳挑戰,但與此同時難度的公平性也很重要。難度從來不是來自於糟糕的遊戲設計。當然了,如果遊戲將主要情節設置於隱蔽的地點,並要求使用一系列不合邏輯的觸發器去呈現並收集相關內容,那麼這也算是一款複雜的遊戲。因爲遊戲將讓玩家漫無目的地徘徊,並玩弄每一個按鈕以期望得到某些反應。讓我們想象如果《神祕島》未告知玩家該去哪裏或者該做什麼又會是怎樣的情況?如此人們應該不會再認爲它是一款經典遊戲吧,反而會將其視爲極端混亂的遊戲。

在Gamespot對於《銀河戰士3》的評價中有一點非常引人注意,也就是這款遊戲擁有極端出色的控制方式,好像Retro(遊戲邦注:該遊戲開發商)應該創造出更糟糕的控制方式以提升難度一樣。但天下沒有所謂的控制方式過於優秀的說法。控制方式也是區分好壞遊戲的關鍵因素之一,而故意創造糟糕的遊戲設計選項便是一種懶惰的難度設計方法。實際上我可以通過每三秒摑打玩家的臉龐去提高遊戲難度。這一點也不有趣,但至少具有挑戰性。

我們還需要特別避免的便是反覆試錯的遊戲玩法。在一款優秀的遊戲中,玩家將能夠收集到所有信息並一次性擊敗遊戲。而強迫玩家多次嘗試遊戲去找到最佳方法不僅是糟糕遊戲設計的表現,同時也將導致遊戲難度不斷消失。也就是玩家一開始會覺得遊戲很難,但是在之後的挑戰中玩家可能會覺得只是小兒科。並且這與通過訓練去穿越遊戲中的複雜部分的做法有所不同。這看起來就像一種試驗,儘管最終結果具有很高回報,但是當你完成遊戲並再次打開時會發現,戰勝遊戲仍然不是件易事。某些意外事件雖然能夠保持遊戲的趣味性,但是如果玩家每次都需要反覆挑戰一個任務,這便是問題所在了。

Dirk the Daring-trial-and-error-gameplay(from gamasutra)

Dirk the Daring-trial-and-error-gameplay(from gamasutra)

當很多人在抱怨當今的遊戲越來越簡單之時,我們也可以發現其實現代也存在一些極端複雜的遊戲。其中一個典型就是《怕死不是好戰士》,它的遊戲控制方式很有趣,並且能將我們帶回8位和16位盛行的時代,而遊戲難度也不減當年。幾乎在每個屏幕中都隱藏着一些能夠將你一擊斃命的敵人,並且它們都出現在你最意想不到的時刻。即使你知道陷阱在哪裏以及boss是如何移動,你也需要同時掌握控制平臺,射擊以及閃避等技能才能通過遊戲。這便不可避免地需要用到試錯法,但是即使擁有了先驗知識,遊戲也將保持一定的難度。另外一個典型的例子便是《光暈3》。除了殘忍的Legendary模式,遊戲中隱藏的骷髏也添加了更多的挑戰,如沒有一個檢查點和雷達,並且敵人能夠躲過你的射擊。

是不是所有遊戲都應該達到“怕死不是好戰士”這般難度?當然不是,因爲並不是所有玩家都想要玩這種遊戲。有些玩家更喜歡看到遊戲中的故事,也有些玩家不想看到過於殘忍的畫面。這當然是合理的,儘管也會出現一些人指責你用錯了方法。但是對於開發者來說,關鍵在於不要忘記那些打敗遊戲並希望迎接更大挑戰,但卻需要自己想法創造挑戰的玩家。通過提供這種挑戰,開發者不僅能夠與玩家緊密聯繫在一起,同時也能夠延長遊戲壽命。

篇目5,分析遊戲難度類型及其可能產生的問題

作者:Eric Schwarz

我們經常討論遊戲的難度,比如是否太難?哪部分會讓玩家感到麻煩?是否過於容易從而顯得乏味無趣?但是我們很少將注意力放在難度的不同基本類型上,正是這種種難度鑄就了我們的遊戲體驗,讓我們對遊戲所提供的挑戰有一定的認識。在這篇文章中,我想列舉某些最基本的難度類型以及與這些難度類型的執行等相關問題。闡述遊戲中重要的不僅僅是那些挑戰,挑戰的本質也同樣重要。

反覆嘗試尋找解決方法

遊戲中最顯而易見的難度類型就是反覆嘗試以尋找解決方法,這也是目前最爲普遍使用的類型。簡單地說,這種反覆嘗試貫穿在玩家開展任務的過程中,通過實驗(遊戲邦注:比如“沒有其他的路可以走了,或許我可以試試這條路”)或建議(遊戲邦注:“這些是你要執行的命令,士兵們,馬上前往執行吧!”)的形式。至少從理論上來說,這種方式爲玩家呈現的主要難度是挑戰的程度(遊戲邦注:比如敵人的類型和數量)往往會略高於玩家感到舒適的程度,也就是說玩家必須得到提升才能夠克服挑戰,這種提升包括嘗試新的戰術、冒着更大的風險做事和擁有強大的意志力或運氣等。

正如我們中許多人已經證實的那樣,反覆嘗試這種難度類型有着明顯的兩極分界線。通常來說,過多的失敗會讓玩家產生挫敗感,但是過多的成功又會讓玩家覺得好像遊戲對他們而言不夠難。除了基本的平衡性之外,這種難度的主要問題在於,難度對不同玩家有着不同的門檻。休閒玩家只是想要享受遊戲的故事性,他們並不喜歡遊戲中會出現猝不及防的死亡。然而,硬核玩家更爲喜歡那些“瘋狂的”場景,他們希望每個回合都能夠面對挑戰,依靠自己的努力去取得每個勝利。最後,開發者便會陷入如下情形:他們要平衡的是同一款遊戲中的3或4個願景,因爲不同玩家對遊戲難度的需求不同。

當然,步調也是難度衰退和流動中主要關注的東西,通常也是反覆嘗試的本質。玩家需要遊戲中含有各個步調不同的部分,這些部分之間切換迅速而且不會產生過多的問題,比如遊戲中讓人覺得不具挑戰性的戰鬥和緊張的遊戲體驗交替出現。在考慮不同的遊戲玩法偏好時,將這些構建到遊戲中是個很困難的過程。畢竟,雖然平衡遊戲中的某個事件並給予玩家他們希望獲得的體驗較爲簡單,但是在整個遊戲背景之下實現這個目標與前者完全不同。

有適應力的難度設置是種可以解決這個問題的方法。在最基礎的層面上,通常的做法是改變提供給玩家的資源(遊戲邦注:如生命值和彈藥等)數量,或者根據玩家的行爲來協調強大和弱小道具的出現頻率(遊戲邦注:比如玩家在困難環境中會拾到更多“生命值全滿”的道具)。這種功能在遊戲中極爲普遍,原因或許是開發者不願意去設計不同的難度等級(遊戲邦注:作者認爲這不是個好想法),或許是因爲玩家總有好奇的想法,會選擇並不適合他們的難度等級(遊戲邦注:每個玩家對“普通”難度等級的理解都各不相同)。

半條命2(from orange.half-life2.com)

半條命2(from orange.half-life2.com)

可適應性難度既可以清晰明顯,也可以隱藏起來。比如,《Prey》將可適應性難度選項添加到遊戲的選項界面中,這樣玩家可以根據自己的偏好決定是否啓用。而《半條命2》在提供三種不同的難度等級(遊戲邦注:簡單、普通和困難)的同時,還設置了一層可以用來分析玩家在遊戲中的行爲過程、資源層次和某些事件完成的簡易程度等方面的代碼,隨後遊戲會調整敵人掉落的道具和打破箱子後獲得的資源數量等,確保玩家總是能使用數量剛好的生命值和彈藥完成遭遇戰,但是在此過程中資源的數量又不會讓玩家覺得自己完全是安全的或者讓玩家的武器裝滿彈藥。有些遊戲以更微妙的方式執行這種設計方法,比如在玩家瀕臨死亡時讓其更快地擊敗BOSS,創造出一種動態的緊張感。

對我而言,可適應性難度可能產生的最大問題是,當作爲內置功能添加到遊戲中且不可關閉時,玩家就對遊戲失去了控制力。儘管我時常從那些單純爲了提升難度而設計得較爲困難的遊戲中獲得極好的體驗,但是我完全理解某些玩家並不希望自己希望獲得的東西掌控在別人手上。而且,可適應性難度還能夠讓人產生可預測和內容貧乏的感覺,遭遇戰就失去了人爲製造的感覺(遊戲邦注:人們對《上古卷軸4:湮滅》的批評主要是這個方面)。這樣看來,我認爲可適應性難度最好的設置就是像《Prey》那樣,做成選項菜單中的可選項或者只在某個難度等級中使用這項設置,在最高難度的模式中去除所有的幫助,這會使上述問題得到緩和,讓玩家對自己所選取的難度有更爲合理的理解(遊戲邦注:比如玩家會產生“我選擇了最困難的模式,我應該知道這個模式對我來說過於困難”的想法)。

忍耐和消耗

另一種測試玩家的方式着眼於長期而不是短期。從最基本的層面上來說,所有形式的忍耐都圍繞資源管理來開展,玩家被給予數量有限的有價值或重要道具,其分配的控制極爲精細。在所有遊戲中,資源的控制主要通過以下三種方法:

1、“隨機”掉落。慣常用法是敵人被打敗時會掉落貴重物品,或者玩家打開箱子獲得補給品等。根據難度、玩家在遊戲中的經歷、玩家已經擁有的資源數量、玩家的能力、角色等級、隊友數量來控制補給,這樣就可以精確地調控遊戲的難度,從而提供某種挑戰。

2、消耗率。在不同的遊戲中,玩家消耗補給的速度也大不相同。比如,在射擊類遊戲中,戰勝較爲困難的BOSS或許無需耗費過多的彈藥,但是可能需要消耗大量的生命值。相反,在面對大量較小的敵人時,玩家可能需要消耗大量的彈藥,但是生命值卻不會大幅下降。學會預測玩家繼續遊戲所需的東西很重要。如果遊戲使用的是可適應性難度系統,這或許並不是個大問題,但是即便如此,細緻考慮玩家消耗某些資源的速度也會改善遭遇戰設計,使得遊戲顯得更爲鮮活,並且能夠滿足玩家的娛樂需求。戰略性地消除某些資源與戰略性地提供資源同樣重要,因爲這可以構建起緊張感,調控玩家進程的步調。

3、玩家的智慧。這種方法較常用於角色扮演類遊戲中,聰明的玩家通常會在面對困難的遭遇戰之前先期購買藥物和彈藥等有用的道具。玩家在野外逗留的時間很大程度上受玩家自身的行爲影響,以及玩家在購買補給後外出所遇到的事件。遊戲很難對這個方面進行控制,坦誠地說,也不應當對其進行控制。應當關注的是玩家能夠和不能夠做什麼事情,然後圍繞這個方面來構建挑戰,比如負重和疲勞系統,這會輕微限制玩家能夠攜帶的道具數量。但是,強制使用不合理的硬性限制(遊戲邦注:比如規定玩家每次最多隻能攜帶3個生命藥劑)並非合適的管理方法。

長期消耗可能對許多遊戲並不適用,但是以不同的方式來審視消耗可能揭露處某些遊戲機制中的有趣成分,或許之前並未察覺到。比如,《俄羅斯方塊》之類的解謎遊戲中有很強大的消耗元素,玩家的行爲、難度等級和提供給玩家的方塊會導致遊戲界面中可用的空間逐漸減少。在此之上,遊戲的速度也是玩家必須細心掌控的資源,因爲在遊戲過程中方塊的掉落會越來越快。儘管沒有生命值和彈藥等內容,但是《俄羅斯方塊》對空間和時間的掌控確實很獨到。你應當意識到,消耗和忍耐可以應用的方面不僅僅是實物資源,這種設計會讓現有的機制更有深度。

“僞造”難度

這種難度屬於反覆嘗試難度的範疇內,我所說的“僞造難度”普遍存在於遊戲行業中,但是頗爲依賴遊戲題材。僞造難度使用方式多種多樣,但總結起來通常都是通過欺騙玩家或者扭曲遊戲規則以達到產生挑戰性的目的。無論玩家是否在意這些欺騙,這種設計通常都會讓玩家產生極大的挫敗感和憤怒。

僞造難度最爲普遍的形式也可以歸到可適應性難度類別,也就是說,通過改變遊戲情形中的規則來向玩家提供更大的挑戰,通常被稱爲“橡皮條選擇”。關鍵的區別之處在於,可適應性難度偏向於玩家的喜好(遊戲邦注:比如玩家在生命值較低時獲取生命恢復道具的可能性提升50%),但是僞造難度更偏向敵人或玩家的對手。然而,因爲敵人很少以公平的狀態與玩家進行戰鬥,事實上還經常使用完全不同的規則,這意味着玩家的對手總是瞬間變成了超人,比如突破限制提升速度、攻擊力暫時大幅提升、施展出原本無法剋制玩家的技能等。

Mario Kart(from nintendo.com)

Mario Kart(from nintendo.com)

《Mario Kart》便是這種類型難度的絕佳例證,事實上,該系列作品正是因此而備受詬病。儘管遊戲橡皮條選擇的目標是爲玩家提供緊張且令人興奮的體驗,確保每次競速結束時對手都很接近玩家,但是對於那些更有經驗的玩家而言,這種形式的難度帶來的只有輕蔑。遊戲所產生的錯覺足以愚弄技能較差的玩家,因爲這些效果都很微妙而且通常會迎合玩家的喜好,但是當同樣的系統被應用到足以凌駕於高難度遊戲之上的玩家身上時,爲跟上玩家的速度,電腦就要被強迫做出令人難以置信的舉動,比如使用無恥的作弊、獲得比玩家更厲害的道具和能力甚至違反物理學原理。

還有種僞造難度的形式是不真實的挑戰。在不真實挑戰中,玩家通常被要求做出標準的行爲——打敗某些敵人或者在規定的時間內跑到終點等。但是,剛開始屬於相對常規的任務迅速轉變成對玩家反應和能力的測試,因爲玩家會不斷地被各種無法預測的障礙、陷阱和強大的敵人所困擾。關鍵在於,在所有這些情形中,玩家毫無防備,根本無法做充分的準備。通常,最後的結局是快速和令人沮喪的死亡,因爲玩家認爲自己即將取得成功而毫無防備。更爲糟糕的是,通常克服這種類型挑戰的唯一方法是再次嘗試,時常都是從關卡的起點開始,玩家需要銘記前方隱藏的挑戰。當這些挑戰重重疊加時,最終可能導致玩家極爲憤怒。

《俠盜獵車手》系列遊戲在這個方面尤爲突出。儘管遊戲基於任務的架構暗示即將面對的挑戰是獨立且相對直觀的,但是遊戲中設置的難度很經常出乎玩家意料之外。以《俠盜獵車手:罪惡都市》爲例,我經常提及的一個任務就是玩家需要在規定的時間內到達一連串的檢查點。這不像是個很難的任務,不是嗎?看起來似乎如此,但是事實上游戲設置其他的卡車等車輛會忽然出現在街道拐角處,如果玩家以全速通過,那麼勢必會撞上這些車輛,從而導致任務失敗。玩家只有預先放慢速度讓這些車輛先行通過,纔有可能完成。這種情況並非只出現一次,在這次競速任務過程中會出現5到6此,也就是說即便玩家的做法完全正確,遊戲的設計仍然讓玩家有失敗的可能。《英雄本色》中也有同樣的情況發生,敵人會精確地向玩家投擲手榴彈,如果沒有經歷過幾乎不可能避開攻擊。

坦誠地說,雖然僞造難度的形式多種多樣,但是對玩家而言並不有趣,即便其是以最好的意圖構建到遊戲中。儘管如此設計的目標通常是爲了提供無視玩家技能程度的不可預測或充滿挑戰的體驗,但是往往產生的卻是適得其反的效果。最糟糕的情況是,這有可能讓玩家覺得遊戲中的競技不合常理,從而離開遊戲。與多數難度形式不同的是,開發者應當避免使用這種類型的難度,除非你的目標是讓玩家討厭你的作品。

隨機數值

儘管這種難度類型通常在戰略和角色扮演遊戲中使用,但是隨機機制也出現在其他的遊戲題材中,包括敵人在戰鬥中的行爲、武器的影響範圍和精準度等。

我偶爾會遇見某些被衆人嘲笑的基於隨機元素的機制,這些人聲稱此類設計將成功寄於不可預測的可能性而不是玩家技能之上。需要理解的關鍵之處在於,利用隨機數值生成器來構建難度時,挑戰並非被“運氣”所替代。反而,難度的增加迫使玩家需要對那些完全無法預測的新情況擬定更爲睿智的反應,重要的是整個過程的行動而不是個別行動。反覆嘗試通常測試的是玩家的反應和協調能力,但是構建於隨機元素之上的系統測試的是玩家對改變做出響應和新情況的能力。

正如之前所提過的那樣,隨機元素會出現在所有類型的遊戲中,無論這些遊戲的難度來源於反覆嘗試、可能性掌控還是僞造難度。比如,在競速模擬遊戲中駕駛汽車,車輛的操作或者路況中總是有些隨機的效果。如此設計並沒有什麼錯,因爲通常情況下玩家的技能足以應付任何情況下的隨機元素。而且,隨機並不一定意味着不可預測,它的意思只是遊戲過程中可能出現某種程度的干擾,防止每次發生的事情都完全相同。否則,我們在玩《俄羅斯方塊》時就會看到方塊總是以同樣的順序重複出現,這就會讓遊戲顯得乏味。

不幸的是,使用隨機數值生成器構建系統很容易產生一個問題,尤其是在角色扮演遊戲和戰略遊戲中,這個問題不在於機制本身,而在於玩家對機制的認知和理解。這種事情通常被稱爲賭徒的誤解。最簡單的例子便是拋硬幣。儘管硬幣正面或背面朝上的概率都是50%(遊戲邦注:假定硬幣按照合理的方法拋擲),但是我們仍然會想象這種相同的概率只適用於系列事件的結果,而不是單獨的某個事件。換句話說,我們認爲隨着硬幣一遍遍地被拋出,我們不會將硬幣的拋擲當成某個獨立的事件,而是看做整體事件的一部分。正因爲此,我們也會認爲之前的事件對將來可能發生的事件會造成影響。或者簡單地說,硬幣正面朝上的次數越多,我們就越認爲下次拋擲背面朝上的概率會越大。

在遊戲行業中,可以將這種情形套用到基於回合制的角色扮演遊戲中。某技能使用成功的概率爲70%,但是當我們發現技能連續數個回合失敗之後就會產生挫敗感,我們最終會因嘗試改變這個問題而浪費時間和資源。究竟爲什麼會這樣呢?我們可能會認爲遊戲機制篡改了數值!事實上,情況並非如此。玩家的想法時,由於技能成功的機率是70%,所以使用10次就應該會有7次成功。當然,情況並不一定會如此準確。每次使用技能成功的概率都是相同的,因而有可能出現上述連續數回合都失敗的情況。

這個問題並沒有簡單的解決方案,因爲你的對手不是數值,而是玩家的願景。對於這個問題的解決,許多開發者採用的方式是制定度量,確保隨機的概率更具預測性。比如,如果我設定技能的成功率是70%,那麼我會在遊戲中添加某個技能必定會擊中的時間短,即便這在數學邏輯上根本與隨機概念不符。情況確實如此,通常情況下,多數玩家會覺得他們所依賴的隨機可能性完全不具有隨機性,這種隨機性被操控來滿足玩家的願景。而頗具諷刺意味的是,如果首先確保數學邏輯的正確性,那麼玩家只會認識到遊戲可能存在問題。很顯然,這是個頗具爭議的決定,或許並非所有人都能夠認同這種做法,但是滿足玩家的願景總比讓這些玩家因遊戲不公平或者可能性不正確而產生挫敗感要強。

展示是最重要的東西

這個章節的標題可能會引起某些人的憤怒,但是我覺得這個部分在遊戲設計中並沒有爲人所關注,但是這卻是需要學習的最重要的方面。就像我已經說過的那樣,難度有着各種各樣的形式,而且極具主觀性。但是,重要的是還要認識到,將難度展示給玩家的方法同樣很重要。如同賭徒的誤解一般,有時出現問題的並非機制本身,而是玩家認知難度的方法出了偏差。

dead money(from blackcheezegaming.com)

dead money(from blackcheezegaming.com)

讓我們以近期發佈的遊戲《Dead Money》爲例,這是《輻射:新維加斯》的最新可下載內容。遊戲受到了玩家和媒體的攻擊,他們認爲其難度曲線並不合理。在《Dead Money》中,奴隸凌駕於《輻射》系列作品原本無盡的自由之上,玩家被爆炸物驅趕到某個非常特別而且幾乎是線性的路徑中,如果玩家過於深入人跡罕至的地區,就會不斷遭到傷害。遊戲中的許多挑戰是摧毀不斷播放爆炸聲波的廣播發射機,而這些東西通常隱藏在桌下、壁櫥中和許多難以企及的地方。如此設計的目標在於爲玩家創造出某種緊張感,玩家需要在自己被炸彈炸死之前迅速找到廣播發射機。

從局外人的角度來看,可以很清晰地明白爲何這個機制會讓玩家產生挫敗感。在即將爆炸時,炸彈線圈會產生某種高音調且持續的嗶嗶聲,玩家需要迅速學會避開。還有個讓玩家覺得特別卑微的是,他們被對手以這種方式奴役。其他使用這種設計的遊戲通常會讓玩家可以迅速地重獲自由,儘管培養玩家對對手的怨恨是個很不錯的做法,但是如果處理不當,這種怨恨反倒會轉移到開發者自己頭上。最後,這種強迫性的限制與多數玩家對新《輻射》遊戲的願景(遊戲邦注:即開放性的角色扮演遊戲,每個情形都可以有多種解決方案)相反。而在《Dead Money》,很多關卡只有唯一的解決方案,而這往往是玩家不喜歡的東西。

但是,《Dead Money》的問題並不在於機制本身。從基本層面進行分析,遊戲的任務僅僅是玩家同時間賽跑,去移除環境中的威脅,即在角色被炸死之前關閉開關。就故事線路而言,爆炸循環機制固然很有效,但是本可以被許多相似的機制所替代,而且能夠發揮同樣的效能。更爲重要的是,替換之後就不會像這樣讓玩家產生挫敗感。比如,輻射和毒素威脅在《輻射》的世界中極爲常見,那麼,爲何Obsidian不選擇使用輻射的形式在表達同樣的威脅呢?有趣的是,這種解決方式確實有在《Dead Money》中使用,但是使用的次數很少。用功能相似但較符合《輻射》設計方式的遊戲機制來替代爆炸,我想抱怨遊戲難度的人就會少得多,因爲在這種情況下,玩家會認爲挑戰與《輻射》的遊戲世界契合度更高,而且從整體上來說限制性更小。

看看周遭熟悉的遊戲,我覺得你還會找到更多難度認知成爲比難度本身更大問題的實例。我馬上就能想出幾個來,比如《殺出重圍:人類革命》中BOSS不斷髮出的刺耳譏笑聲給對玩家神經的挑戰已經超過了BOSS戰鬥本身。事實上,當將角色與某種類型的難度聯繫起來時(遊戲邦注:比如Boswer和《超級瑪麗兄弟》中的城堡),如果角色令人煩惱或者當遊戲機制本身並不有趣,就會迅速讓玩家產生挫敗感。

結論

儘管並不完整,但是這個分析應該會讓大家瞭解不同類型的難度,並且理解爲何人們在不同類型的遊戲、不同場景和不同難度種類中會變得煩躁不安。創造和精緻難度總是處在不斷髮展中,讓所有的玩家都接受設計是件特別難的事情。即便如此,我也希望這篇文章能夠讓衆開發者明白爲何會出現這種情況,要在基礎設計中採取何種步驟才能夠確保遊戲有趣且充滿挑戰性,同時避免讓玩家產生挫敗感。

篇目1篇目2篇目3篇目4篇目5(本文由遊戲邦編譯,轉載請註明來源,或諮詢微信zhengjintiao)

篇目1,How Tough Is Your Game? Creating Difficulty Graphs

by Rafael Vázquez

[Having trouble figuring out how difficult your game really is? Xibalba Studios lead game designer Rafael Vázquez devises a method for plotting difficulty — and uses three popular sidescrolling action games to test the theory, in the process explaining how difficulty meshes their overall design.]

A few months ago, during the prototype stage for a new project, I noticed a problem starting to brew. We were having lots of trouble identifying the ideal difficulty for our game, as different members of the team had very different ideas on what is the perfect challenge.

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I know this is a common issue for small, diverse teams, as what one member might think is a walk in the park another will find more akin to torture. The problem was that everyone had different skill levels, and because of this we weren’t going to reach an agreement anytime soon.

After thinking about this issue for some time, it came to me that difficulty in a game should not be related to player skill, but to the game itself. Instead of looking at the game’s difficulty as a static, all-encompassing threshold, we would do better to discuss how it changes throughout the game.

With this in mind, I tried to develop a method to measure and compare how challenge rises and falls across a game, independent of the player’s skill. This article tries to explain this method. It might still be a little rough around the edges, but I believe it’s a good start, and I hope it encourages discussion in the community so the method can be perfected.
Enter Difficulty Graphs

Getting difficulty right is tough. It might seem redundant, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Make the game too difficult, and people will get frustrated; make it too easy, and they get bored. This is common knowledge, and so designers typically strive for the middle ground. Most of the time, we do this by gut feeling, which is fine.

As it is, the game’s difficulty really depends on the type of game and the type of response we want to get out of the player. A calming social game and an adrenaline-pumping FPS are worlds apart in challenge. The problem comes when you try to talk about this challenge to your fellow team. Long hours pass, and no one seems to agree if that game section is just the right amount of tough.

This is because difficulty is subjective; it depends a great deal on an individual’s skill. To make things worse, the right difficulty also depends on what each person finds fun; some people like masocore games like Super Meat Boy. So when you’re trying to create a game, it’s a real problem to find common ground from where to start discussing.

There is a solution, however — a method to find a common base which we can all agree on: difficulty graphs. Before we dive in though, a quick disclaimer. This method is not for creating difficulty (that’s still up to the designer’s gut, I’m afraid), but for difficulty analysis, and as a means to start meaningful conversation with the rest of your team about it. These graphs don’t show you how a difficult a game should be — only how difficult it is.
So What Are They?

They are graphical representations of how difficulty changes throughout the game. This is to say that they plot how challenge changes over time. There are two main types, time-based and distance-based. The first places the spikes in challenge according to the time spent played (taking away paused time and death); while the second places them depending on where the challenges appear (assuming a direct route from start to goal).

Both have their advantages, and some work best depending on which type of game you’re testing. For arcade games like Asteroids or Geometry Wars, time-based is really the only way to go, as there is no real displacement towards a goal.

On the other hand, most FPS use location-based triggers for their enemies, so distance-based graphs work very well. Personally, I like time-based graphs better, and we’ll get to why in a moment.

Nitpickers might have already noticed that both of these still depend on the player. How fast the player goes through a level and how much time it takes him to get from one challenge to the other depends on how good he is at the game, and also at his play style (if he likes exploring, you can kiss time-based graphs goodbye).

The truth is that our medium is experienced differently by each and every one of us, and this is something we have to live with. The best we can do is get data from multiple playthroughs from different people and average them out. As a matter of fact, difficulty curves can only be applied after playtesting the game several times. After enough testers have tried the game, you’ll get a pretty good idea of what the average player experience is.

As you might recall, difficulty is subjective, and asking all the testers if they felt the game too difficult might give you wildly different answers (you should still do it, though). How then can we measure a game’s difficulty if it depends on the eye of the beholder? The trick is we compare it onto itself.

Say we have a basic enemy that deals x amount of damage. Let’s say he has a threat level of 1; this will be our base enemy. The threat level is basically how difficult an enemy is compared to the player. If, on the other hand, we have another enemy with twice the amount of firepower but the same in all other aspects, we can go ahead and say that it is twice as dangerous and give him a threat level of 2.

I know this might seem to oversimplify things, and that other factors like location, position, and the presence of other enemies matter… We’ll get there. The point is that, by taking the easiest challenge present as a standard (your base enemy), and comparing it with other challenges in the game we can quantify how tough each one is independent of skill. No matter how good you are, an enemy that is three times faster is tougher than the standard.

Recap

So, let’s recap the steps:

* First, you have to determine what the game’s standard conditions are. This is the minimum power level the player has during a determined segment of the game (be it a stage, a level or the whole game). This can vary often due to permanent power-ups.

* Find the base enemy (generally the weakest or most generic enemy) and set its threat level to 1, and adjust the threat level of all other enemies in accordance to its stats.

* Playtest. A lot. Have different players with different play styles move through the level so that you can get the average time (if doing time-based difficulty charts) or average distance (if the chart is distance-based) of each enemy encounter.

* Check which situations you find the enemies in, and assign values to those situations depending on how the mechanics and enemy behaviors allow you to fight them.

* Determine how the encounters work. Figure out how many waves there are in each encounter and what enemies they are composed of.

* Ʃn=0 = (Etn)(ESn) Multiply each enemy’s threat level by the situation multiplier and add them all up for each wave.

* Plot them in a graph according to the time when they appeared or the distance from the starting point where you meet them.

Examples

Just to show an example of how they look, I followed this method to plot three different 2D sidescrolling shooters using time-based difficulty graphs. The games chosen come from different consoles and different eras just to show that this method is universal (and because they’re the ones I had easy access to).

GameLoft

The example games are Metal Slug (published by SNK in 1996 for arcades), Shank (developed in 2010 by Klei Entertainment; this test is based on the PC version) and Hard Corps: Uprising (created by Arc System Works in 2011 for Xbox Live Arcade and PSN).

Now, they might seem quite similar on the surface, but they have several nuances that make them different. This is important to mention, because the difficulty graphs do not actually show which game is harder. Remember that the difficulty is measured based on the game itself; a 1 in Shank is not the same as a 1 in Metal Slug.

What the graphs do show us is how the difficulty changes throughout the game, and this in turn gives us clues on the pacing and tension building of the game. Lots of spikes and you can bet it’s a fast-paced, tense game; lots of plateaus and it’s likely it is calmer.

Note: A great method for directly measuring pacing is Ben Cousins’ method of counting player actions. He describes it in his article Elementary Game Design, which you can find at his personal website, http://www.bencousins.com.

These graphs show the first level of each game from start to right before the boss. I’m leaving out boss encounters because they generally change the rules, requiring specific mechanics for victory. Comparing them directly with the rest of the level can cause gargantuan spikes in the chart that are not really representative of how hard the game is overall.

First up, Metal Slug, the shortest of the bunch (clocking at around 1:20). We can see that it presents enemy encounters every two to three seconds. Besides your standard pistol, the game starts you with some grenades, which are a hard-hitting, though limited, weapon. Unlike the other two, it features one-hit-kills (another way to say all enemies do the same amount of damage) and hefty temporary power-ups, including the titular Metal Slug (a tank, basically). As an arcade game, death isn’t a big deal, as each continue will respawn you at the point of death. This is, of course, until you run out of quarters.

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We can see that the basic trend is quite close to the horizontal axis, with a smooth rise throughout the level. There are two large spikes which represent helicopters. Under standard conditions they are quite tough (taking around 40 shots from your basic pistol to take down). The camera freezes and stops your movement until you kill them, making sure you can’t just skip ahead, explaining the plateaus.

To help you out, the game provides you with power-ups (red vertical lines) right before facing them. As all power-ups in Metal Slug are temporary, the game makes sure you have at least one by dropping a bunch of them really close to one another.

There is another rather large spike near the end, once you start facing other tanks. Provided that you still have your Slug, they should be no problem; however, if you lost it to the helicopter, you could be in a tough spot. The game balances this by giving you health for your tank (the green vertical lines) right after the second chopper and just before the tank section, again trying to make sure you don’t miss out.

Next we have Shank, whose first level is around five and a half minutes long. Contrary to Metal Slug, you have a health bar in the game, so enemy attacks aren’t so devastating. Also the game starts you out with four weapons (pistols, knives, a chainsaw, and limited grenades) allowing you to take on several enemies at once. On the flipside, there are no power-ups except health and more grenades, so what you start with is what you get.

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At first glance, we can see that the game is a slower-paced than Metal Slug, due in large part to having clearly-defined encounters in which the player can’t move ahead. We can also see that in most encounters, enemies appear drip by drip, leading to the stair-like form of the curve. The obvious point of this is easing the player into combat, instead of presenting the challenge all at once.

Between large encounters (which can be distinguished by the high plateaus), we find that the game always presents a couple of enemies, so that the challenge never gets too low.

Just like in the previous example we have a spike near the end — however, this is an absolute spike, presenting the hardest part of the level. After this we see a steep decline until we get to zero, the complete absence of enemies and obstacles, in preparation for the boss battle.

Interestingly, we see that health packs are commonly found in the middle of the encounter (usually because they are enemy drops) and tend to be found more frequently at the later stages of the level. On the other hand, only once can we restock grenades; this is most likely due to the game trying to get the player to learn to use his three main weapons.

Lastly we have Hard Corps: Uprising. In this game, the player has a segmented health bar, with the base enemies taking a full segment with each hit. Though the player only starts with a weak machine gun, she is able to pick up several power-ups which are lost when hit. The first level (minus the boss) clocks in at around 6:20 and is easily the longest of the bunch.

Despite having an Arcade Mode (no character building), the game’s star attraction is the Rising Mode, which allows the player to gain experience and permanently upgrade her character even if she dies. In other words, it allows for grind.

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First off, you’ll notice the off-the-chart spike; I intentionally left it there. This is the miniboss (the typical Contra wall). Clearly its power is off the roof — it takes many hits to bring down and has powerful attacks. However, once you battle it, you’ll notice the terrain gives you a great advantage against it, so in the end it’s not really that tough. This is why it’s recommended to treat your boss fights as special cases. They work differently, often with different rules and game mechanics — hence, they don’t really relate with the whole level.

Putting the miniboss aside, we can see that the game has a very spiky difficulty curve, with short plateaus and lots of ups and downs. This is decidedly a fast-paced game. Despite its ups and downs, the mean does tend to go up throughout the level, with longer confrontations and more enemies being faced at a time.

While encounters near the beginning of the level are at around seven, near the end they reach 30. This is a massive slope in difficulty, perfect for a grind-friendly game. Near the end we once again find a major confrontation followed by a brief respite before fighting the boss. Notice that power-ups are evenly distributed throughout the level, as they form an integral part of the game mechanics. On the other hand, health is much rarer, though it is also found at equal intervals.

Conclusion
We can compare all games’ graphs by simply normalizing the time (dividing it by their total length) and plotting them together. Once more, this is not a measure of how difficult a game is, but how that difficulty changes. Here we can see that in all three games, the difficulty curve’s mean is below 10, which is quite usual for first levels. Hard Corps is the one with the highest change in difficulty, while Shank is a lot more constant. Metal Slug is also quite constant with few (though large) spikes.

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If we start thinking about the overall design of each game, we see that these differences make a lot of sense. The grind and permanent power-ups of Hard Corps allow it to have a steep difficulty curve throughout the level, and actually encourages the player to start over several times to pass it. Meanwhile, arcade Metal Slug, which is trying to suck you out of quarters, depends on minibosses to provide challenge, allowing you to beat them in multiple tries (as long as you pay). Shank, on the other hand, seeks accessibility, having a smooth curve, which allows new players to ease into the game.

Analysis by difficulty graphs tells us a lot about a game — not only about the way it’s structured, and the way it looks for engagement, but also about the design philosophy behind each game. It’s also useful while designing your own games as an analytical way to find spikes and valleys that shouldn’t be there.

Of course, this is not the only method of measuring difficulty; however, this has been very useful as it is independent of individual player skill. Once the results are in, everyone in a team can easily see where the trouble spots are, and it makes tackling them together a lot easier. I really recommend you give it a go. You’ll be surprised how much this makes difficulty easier.

篇目2,Difficulty: Challenge vs Frustration

04/10/2013 Despain Game Design 7 comments

Today’s topic is one that is important for all sorts of game design: difficulty. There’s lots of ways to make your game difficult, but unfortunately most of those ways are shortcuts that don’t lead to appealing gameplay.

Lots of game developers will feel the need to make their game more difficult, so they add all sorts of “features” that only end up making the game more frustrating. “But the player is dying more often,” they say, “it’s a challenge.” Well, kind sir—is it really a challenge? Or is your gameplay just hard for no real reason?

Today we’re going to look at the difference between challenge and frustration, and how to add to your game’s difficulty curve while avoiding making your players feel bad about it.

Difficulty Curve

People overlook the importance of a difficulty curve. Sure, most people understand the basic idea: the game starts easy, and it gets harder as it goes. Unfortunately, there’s more to the idea than that. It’s not just about how hard the game gets, but in which ways it becomes more challenging to the player.

I could easily write an entire article about difficulty curves and training the player (and maybe I will!), but for now, I want to cover some important ideas about how to establish a difficulty curve that makes sense for your game, and won’t annoy your players.

I’ve seen a lot of games that start out smoothly and easily, but then you get past that “beginning”—and wham!, the game becomes incredibly difficult as soon as your turn that corner or enter a new area. What happened to the idea of curve? Keep it natural and gradual, and do so by putting the player in situations where his ability is tested.

That’s the most important thing to keep in mind when trying to create a difficulty curve for your game: a game’s challenge lies in the way it tests the player’s skill at that game. Simply making enemies have tremendous amounts of HP usually isn’t the best way to do that. The player should feel like he is overcoming obstacles, that he is getting better at the game the further into it he goes. A good difficulty balance is one that tests the player’s ability, not his patience.

As the game progresses, it’s easier to feel the need to artificially ramp up the difficulty, by doing things like giving enemies ridiculous amounts of HP, or giving them moves that kill player characters in a single hit. Sometimes these things make sense—but if you don’t have a reason for them other than to make things “hard”, then think about other ways to add to the challenge.

Build on the gameplay that has come before, and throw new situations at the player. Give him a reason to use the skills that he has developed in new ways.

There’s a reason that most players prefer RPGs that encourage strategy in battles over level grinding, and that reason is because they like a good challenge, not frustration.

Frustration

So what exactly is frustration? What causes it? What makes a player want to turn off the game and never play it again?

Frustration occurs when the player feels as if his time has been wasted, and that the game is at fault.

There are two important parts to that statement, so let’s break it down. The first part has to do with the value of a player’s time, which is an important concept to understand in modern gaming.

Thirty years ago—or twenty—or hell, ten—players valued their time differently. Games back then were a lot harder (and a lot more frustrating) than they are today. This isn’t to say that players’ time was less valuable. Accessibility to videogames was different, and gamers didn’t have the luxury of thousands of games available to them at a moment’s notice. In today’s world, if someone doesn’t like your game—maybe because they feel that it’s not worth their time—they can just delete it and find another one within moments. Twenty years ago, if a game frustrated a player, they didn’t really have that option, so they kept pushing through until the game was beaten.

Gaming culture has changed, and game design changes to accommodate the lifestyles of games. You can’t get away with wasting your player’s time.

So what is a waste of the player’s time? Think about the times that you have gotten mad at a videogame. Maybe you died and were forced to replay a huge area—maybe you were forced to sit through that long cutscene again and again. Maybe you were just about to land the final blow on a boss that you’ve been fighting for an hour, and he hits you with a cheap shot, leaving you to do it all over again. Or maybe you find yourself in a random battle every other goddamn step you take.

ONE MORE STEP

No Zubat… no Zubat… please no Zubat…

The second part of my definition of frustration is key for a game designer to understand and constantly work into his gameplay. When something goes wrong, the player blames the game, not himself.

Obviously, the biggest example of this is a glitch. If the player’s going along, having a good time, and gets stuck in a wall, he isn’t very happy, and he did nothing wrong. Those aren’t intentional, though. What about aspects of gameplay that leave the player howling at their monitor?

Camera problems are a common cause of this in 3D games. It happens all the time—you miss a jump when the camera suddenly rotates, or a wall is blocking your view of your character, or enemies are attacking you and you don’t know where they are coming from. The player feels like he has no control, and the last thing you want your player to feel is that he isn’t in control.

In RPGs, these kinds of problems are harder to pinpoint, but no less frustrating. Here’s an example that seems to come up a lot. Picture the classic block pushing puzzle, and the player somehow gets a block stuck in a corner. Uh-oh. He has no choice but to leave the room, reset the puzzle, and start all over again. “B-b-but the player shouldn’t have done that”, you say. I counter with “he shouldn’t have been able to.” Design your maps in such a way where blocks can’t get stuck in corners, or (preferably) allow the player to pull them as well as push them. Avoid situations where your gameplay allows your player to get trapped.

Here’s another example, going back to the idea of random encounters. Say that your player has fought his way through a tough dungeon, and his party are all sitting at a dangerously low HP. The end is in sight, so he goes for it. But nope! The screen flashes, and he’s in a battle. He tries his luck, chooses to flee, and fails. The monsters kill the player. These kinds of things can be avoided with some simple gameplay tweaks. For one, maybe monsters don’t attack on the same turn when a player tries to flee. Sure, it makes the game easier, but it prevents situations that cause frustration. Or maybe you could just drop random encounters altogether.

Even without random encounters, your player can find himself blaming the game for out-of-nowhere deaths. When working with visible enemy encounters, think hard about where the enemies spawn and how they move. You want to allow the player to dodge them (most of the time), and you don’t want to clutter the screen to the point where he panics. Incorporate your encounters into your level design, rather than just plopping them here and there.

Scour your gameplay for areas where the player dies and it isn’t his fault. Push yourself to find ways to give the player control of his fate.

Challenge

So we know what causes frustration. That makes for bad difficulty. What makes a game difficult in a good way? Challenge.

Challenge is a test of the player’s skill. Any failure feels like the player’s own fault.

I’ve talked about testing a player’s skill. That’s what a player wants as a game gets more difficult. They don’t want to grind their way through hours and hours of the same things. They want to be put into situations where they can use the skills that they have been developing, and often in new ways. Think about the mechanics of your RPG. RPGs are thinking games, for the most part.

Encourage your player to think, to use strategy. To make the most out of the mechanics in front of him. Don’t throw everything that you have at the player from the beginning. As the game goes on, present the player with a new type of problem that can be solved with the same tools that he’s been using. In a battle, in a map puzzle, the idea is the same. And as the game continues to go on, mix the problems together, and introduce more. Sure, make the enemies harder, make the puzzles more complicated, but remember to challenge the player to think.

An RPG doesn’t get more difficult when the enemies have higher HP. It might be harder, but the difficulty dwindles. If all the player has to do is grind and then he can just bash his way through the battles, then he’ll get bored quickly. Challenge the player’s mind.

The second part of my definition is, again, about blame. When the player messes up, in a good challenge, he has nobody to blame but himself.

The final level in Super Mario Galaxy 2 was hard, but rewarding—every time you died, you felt that you made a mistake and you learned something for your next try.

Now, I’m not saying that the player should be getting mad at himself—that’s easily frustrating. But instead, every death should be a learning experience for the player. He should be able to pinpoint the mistakes he made so he can improve on the next time. If a player dies, it should give him the chance to change his approach to the challenge. Maybe he’s tackling a boss from the wrong angle, and his death teaches him to try another strategy. Deaths should lead to learning.

That’s the important point: a good challenge can be overcome by the player’s ability to adapt to the situation. A good challenge encourages the player to do his best. A good challenge makes the player want to keep playing the game.

And frustration just makes him want to give up.

篇目3,Game Difficulty

by Corey Moore

Of the games I’ve played over the years, I’ve noticed something. Very rarely did I end up beating my older games, yet with more modern games I either beat them or lose interest. Of course, I’ve had many years to improve my technique and some games where I was too scared to progress don’t scare me as much today. However, I’ve gone back and played some old games and they ended up killing me. Games today are a lot more forgiving than they were back when DOS and the NES reigned supreme. Maybe it’s just me, but have you ever noticed how many people today say they’ve finished a game rather than they say they’ve beat a game?

“That’s the way it was, and we LIKED IT!”

I’ve heard a lot of descriptions of games today compared to games of back when. “Dumbed down”, “Made for ****ing casuals”, “Mainstream” and “Simplified” all come to mind. An easy game isn’t necessarily a bad game, but many gamers demand a challenge. Games quickly become boring if the player isn’t sufficiently challenged, and eventually, the player may elect for a self-imposed challenge just to spice things up.

There are several kinds of challenges that gamers like to perform, depending upon the game’s genre. Some of them include only using the default gear, getting the lowest completion percentage possible, or go through the game without taking any damage at all. Many games throughout the ages recognize players who complete the game 100% or complete the hardest difficulty, but only few recognize those challenges that fans come up with. One notable example is Shadow Complex, which has an achievement for getting the lowest percentage possible and still beating the game.

While creating a sufficiently difficult game is vital to creating a good challenge, the difficulty should still be fair. Difficulty must never come from bad game design. Sure, a game where the vital plot coupons are in obscure locations that require a series of illogical triggers to even make visible and several more to collect may definitely make a difficult game, but a good challenge it does not. All it does is force the player to wander around aimlessly, fidgeting every button at everything hoping for a reaction of some sort. Imagine if Myst didn’t provide any ingame clues as to where you are supposed to go and what you are supposed to do. Instead of being remembered as a classic, it would be remembered as an incoherent mess of a game.

In a Gamespot review of Metroid Prime 3, one of the things the reviewed marked the game down for was that the controls were too good, as if the Retro should have purposefully made the controls worse to up the challenge. There is no such thing as controls that are too good. It’s one of the prime factors that separate a good game from a bad one, and purposefully making bad game design choices is a lazy way of creating difficulty. In fact, I could easily make any game harder by smacking the player in the face every 3 seconds while yelling, “boogity-boogity-boo.” It wouldn’t be fun at all, but still challenging.

Another thing that should be avoided especially is trial-and-error game play. In a good game, the payer should be able to collect all of the knowledge needed and beat the game in one clean run. Forcing the player to play through multiple times just to find the correct path is not only an example of bad game design, but also an example of difficulty that disappears over time. Although it’s hard the first time, it becomes an absolute joke the next time. Note that this is different than simply needing practice to get through hard sections of the game. It does seem like trial and, though the end result is much more reward and even after you complete it, it still isn’t easy the next time. Some unexpectedness can keep a game interesting, but if every task is overcome by playing through over and over, there is a problem.

Dirk the Daring: Patron saint of trial-and-error gameplay and using quicktime events before it was popular.

However, for all the complaints about games becoming easier these days, there are still some modern examples of extremely hard games. One of the more famous ones is I Wanna Be the Guy. The game controls well and provides a nice throwback to the days of 8 and 16 bits, but it is also extremely difficult. On almost every screen, there is something hidden that can kill you in one hit, and it often comes from where you least expect it. Even if you know where the traps are and how the bosses move, you will still need all of your platforming, shooting and dodging skills to make it through the game. True, it relies a lot on trial and error, but it still remains hard even with prior knowledge. Another good example is Halo 3. In additional to the brutal Legendary mode, there are also hidden skulls which add even more challenges, such as having no checkpoints, no radar and enemies being able to dodge your shots.

Should all games strive for I Wanna Be the Guy-level difficulty? Certainly not, simply because that is not what every gamer wants. Some people would rather enjoy the story and others don’t want the game to be absolutely merciless. This is all perfectly fine, despite several people who would proclaim that you are playing it wrong. The main point is not to forget about the gamers who’ve already beaten your game and want a bigger challenge, but have to create their own. By providing these challenges, not only does it show a connection to the gamers who have invented them but will also add longetivity to the game.

篇目4,Understanding Difficulty

Eric Schwarz

Although we frequently have discussions about difficulty in games – is it too hard? which parts did you have trouble with? was it too easy and therefore boring? – we rarely direct our attention to the different fundamental types of difficulty which make up our experiences and colour our perceptions of the challenge a game provides. In this article, I’d like to go over a few of those most basic types of difficulty as well as the problems associated with implementing them, as well as bring out that it’s often not just the sheer challenge of a game that matters, but the nature of those challenges that matter.

Trial and Error

The first, and most obviously identifiable type of difficulty that we find in games, and by far the most common, is trial and error. Put simply, trial and error revolves around getting the player to perform a task, either through experimentation (i.e. “I don’t have anywhere to go, maybe I’ll try this”) or outward suggestion (i.e. “these are your orders, soldier, now move out!”). At least theoretically, the main difficulty this presents to the player is that the degree of challenge (types and numbers of enemies, for instance) will always be slightly higher than what the player is comfortable with, meaning that he or she will have to rise to the occasion in order to come out on top, either by trying out new tactics, by taking greater risks, or through sheer force of will and/or dumb luck.

As many of us can attest, trial and error difficulty treads a very fine line. Typically, too many failures, and players will become frustrated, while too many successes and players will feel as if the game isn’t going hard enough on them. The main issue with this, aside from basic balancing, is that different players have different thresholds for difficulty. Whereas a more casual player who’s just enjoying a game for its story will find that more than the occasional death is a turn-off, the hardcore player who plays on the “insane” setting will want to be challenged at every turn and made to work for every single victory. Ultimately a developer might run into a situation where they’re balancing not just one, but three or four versions of the same game, due to the different needs of different players.

Of course, pacing is also a chief concern by and large governed by the ebb and flow of difficulty, usually of the trial and error nature. The player needs to have portions of the game which fly by quickly and without too much issue, breaks in combat to absorb the world and feel unchallenged, and nail-biting experiences that are tense and have a feeling of urgency to these. Building these into a game when taking different gameplay preferences into consideration is a difficult process; after all, while it can be easy to balance a single encounter out to give the player the desired experience, doing so within the context of a full game is another thing entirely.

Adaptive difficulty settings are one way to get around this problem. On the most basic level, this will typically change the amount of resources (health, ammo, etc.) provided to the player, as well as the proportion of powerful versus weak items based on the player’s performance (i.e. more “full heal” pickups if the player is struggling). This feature is actually extremely common in games, either because developers want to avoid providing separate difficulty levels (a poor decision in my mind), or because players have a curious habit of selecting difficulty levels that aren’t appropriate for them (everyone has a different understanding of what “normal” should be).

Adaptive difficulty can be both explicit and hidden from plain sight. Prey, for example, has adaptive difficulty as a toggle option in the game’s options screen, and so it can be disabled based on the player’s preferences. Half-Life 2, on the other hand, while providing three difficulty settings (easy, normal and hard) also has a layer of code dedicated to analyzing the player’s progress in the game, level of resources, the ease at which certain encounters are completed, and so on; the game will then adjust the items enemies drop, the amount of resources available in breakable crates, and so on in order to make sure the player is always kept on edge by having “just enough” health and ammo to get through an encounter, but never quite enough to feel completely safe or fully-loaded. Other games will implement it in still subtler ways, like allowing the player to finish off a tough boss monster just a little bit more quickly than normal if the player’s death is imminent, creating a dynamic feeling of getting through by the skin of his or her teeth.

The biggest issue for me with adaptive difficulty is that, when left as a built-in feature that can’t be disabled, it removes control from the player’s hands.

Although I’ll usually take an entertaining and engaging experience over one that’s simply difficult for the sake of difficult, I also fully understand that some players don’t want hand-holding provided that they explicitly ask for it. Furthermore, adaptive difficulty can also lead to a feeling of predictability and sterility, without a hand-made feel to encounters (which was a major source of criticism for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion). To this end, I feel that adaptive difficulty is best left as it is in Prey – a toggle switch in the options menu – or specific to a difficulty level, with the hardest mode taking off all assists, which mitigates the problem of too much challenge by allowing the player to rationalize it as his or her own choice (i.e. “well, I picked hardest, I should have known it would be too much for me”).

Endurance & Attrition

Another way to test the player focuses on the long term rather than the short term. All forms of endurance, at their most base level, revolve around resource management, with the player given a limited quantity of a valuable or vital item, its distribution carefully controlled. Resources are controlled in three main ways in just about every game:

1) “Random” drops. It’s quite common for enemies to part with valuables when defeated, or for the player to uncover supplies in crates, chests and so on. By tinkering with the tables that control those supplies, based on difficulty, the player’s progress, the amount of resources the player already has, and the player’s level of ability, character level, number of party members/companions, and so on, difficulty can be precisely controlled and monitored in order to provide a degree of challenge.

2) Attrition rate. Depending on the game, the rate at which a player burns through supplies can be highly variable. For instance, in a shooter, going up against a tough boss monster might not consume too much ammunition, but may consume a huge amount of health. Conversely, going up against many smaller hordes of enemies will end up with a player ill-equipped to proceed, but chances are, a healthy one. Learning to anticipate what the player needs in order to continue in the game is important. If a game uses an adaptive difficulty system, this might already be handled, but even so, careful consideration of how quickly the player goes through certain resources will lead to better encounter design and a game that feels more alive and responsive to the player’s needs. Strategically denying certain resources can be just as important as strategically providing them, too, in building tension and pacing the player’s progress.

3) Player ingenuity. Most common to role-playing games, smart players will often stock up on useful items like potions and ammunition before heading out into a difficult encounter; the duration the player can stay out in the wild before returning to stock up on supplies again is by and large controlled by the player’s prior action, as well as whatever the player might uncover during his or her outing. This is one thing that is hard to control in a game, and frankly, shouldn’t be. Keeping aware of what players can and can’t do, and building challenges around that is a good thing, as are systems, such as encumbrance and fatigue, which can provide a soft limit on how much the player can carry. However, imposing unreasonable hard limits (i.e. “you can only hold three health potions at once”) rarely feels like a fair way of managing this.

Long-term attrition may not be suitable for many games, but looking at attrition in different ways can actually reveal interesting opportunities for mechanics that may go unnoticed with a casual glance. For example, a puzzle game like Tetris has a strong element of attrition in the sense that the available space on the game board is continually shrinking based on the player’s performance, the difficulty level, and which puzzle pieces the player is provided with. On top of that, game speed is another gradually-depleting resource the player must carefully manage as things move quicker and quicker over the course of the game. There is a veritable economy of space and time in Tetris, even though there is no health bar, ammunition counter, etc. to speak of. Recognizing that attrition and endurance can exist as more than just basic physical resources will help flesh out and provide depth to existing mechanics.

“Fake” Difficulty

A subset of trial and error difficulty, what I’ll term “fake difficulty” here is something which is actually quite common in the games industry, but depends a good deal on the genre in question. Fake difficulty is a fairly broad spectrum of difficulty, but in common with all of the various permutations is the fact that they typically revolve around tricking the player or bending the rules of the game in order to provide their challenge – often causing significant frustration and annoyance for players, whether they’re keen to those tricks or not.

One of the most common forms of fake difficulty actually fits within the category of adaptive difficulty – namely, it revolves around manipulating the rules of a situation in order to provide the player with increased challenge, usually referred to as “rubber-banding”. The key difference is that while adaptive difficulty works in favour of the player (for example, you’ll find 50% more health kits if you’re low on health), fake difficulty tends to work in favour of the enemies or opponents.

However, since enemies rarely compete on fair terms with the player, and in fact tend to use an entirely different set of rules, this usually means that the bonuses given to the player’s opposition fall into the realm of super-human – increased speed beyond normal limits, temporary damage boosts, the ability to negate the player’s own abilities when normally they can’t, and so on.

A great (and persistent) example of this type of difficulty can be found in Mario Kart – in fact, the series is somewhat infamous for it. While the goal of the game’s rubber-banding is to provide a tense and exciting experience for the player, making sure that each race is as close a finish as possible, and that enemies are able to always keep players on their toes, in the long run, or for more experienced players, this form of difficulty tends to only breed contempt. While the illusion created is often enough to fool players who are of a lower skill level, as the effects are much more subtle and can often work in the player’s favour, when that same system is put up against players who are able to make a mockery of even the high difficulty levels, the computer is forced to go to incredible levels to try and keep up with the player, to the point of blatant cheating, gaining items and abilities far in excess of the player, and even defying the laws of physics (or whatever analogue exists in the Mushroom Kingdom).

Another form of fake difficulty that rears its head is that of the false challenge. In the false challenge, the player is typically asked to perform a standard feat – defeat some enemies, race to the finish in the allotted time, etc. However, what starts out as a relatively routine task quickly turns out to be an extreme test of reflexes and ability, as the player is beset with all manner of unpredictable obstacles, traps and powerful enemies. The key thing is that in all of these situations, the player is caught off guard, and unable to sufficiently prepare. Usually, this results in a quick and frustrating death, as the player likely felt he or she was successful up until that point. Worst, usually, the only way to surmount this type of challenge is to try it again, often from the very beginning of the sequence, armed with the foreknowledge of the hidden challenge ahead. When these are compounded one after the other, it can lead to rage-inducing moments for the player.

One game series which is notorious for this is Grand Theft Auto. While the game’s mission-based structure suggests that the challenges faced are relatively self-contained and straightforward, it’s very common for the games to prey on the player’s expectations in the worst way possible. One example from Grand Theft Auto: Vice City I frequently cite is a race sequence where the player has to reach a number of checkpoints in a set time. No big deal, right? That would be the case, if it wasn’t for the fact that other cars, trucks etc. are scripted to pull out around difficult corners and immediately as the player passes by at full speed – the player is almost guaranteed to hit these cars and ruin his or her attempt outright, unless he or she is able to slow down and let them pass instead. This just doesn’t happen once, but close to five or six times throughout the race, meaning that even if the player does everything right, there’s still a huge statistical probability that he or she will fail anyway, solely due to the designers pulling a fast one. A similar occurrence can be found in Max Payne, where enemies are scripted to throw grenades at the player at certain triggers, and these are literally impossible to avoid without prior knowledge.

Suffice is to say, fake difficulty, no matter the variety, isn’t fun for players, even if it’s built into the game with the best of intentions. Although often the goal is to provide an unpredictable or challenging experience regardless of the player’s skill level, more often than not it just comes across as mean-spirited, and at worst, can completely turn a player away from the game by rendering attempts at competition null and void. Unlike most forms of difficulty, this type is actually best avoided altogether, unless your goal is to make players hate your guts.

Random Number Gods

Although this is typically a type of difficulty reserved for strategy and role-playing games, random mechanics do exist in a wide variety of genres, whether they manifest in terms of how enemies behave in combat, the spread and accuracy of weapons, or whether or not the player is able to sneak by a foe successfully.

I’ve occasionally seen mechanics based on random elements derided by people, claiming that it takes away from the skill of the player to hinge success upon unpredictable odds. The key thing to understand about building difficulty out of a random number generator is that challenge is not substituted for “luck”, as some might claim. Rather, difficulty arises as the player is forced to respond intelligently to new developments that aren’t entirely predictable – it is the culmination of actions over a period of time that are important, not the individual actions themselves. Unlike trial and error, which typically tests reflexes and coordination, systems built on random elements test the player’s ability to respond to change and to cope with new situations.

As mentioned above, it’s also important to mention that random elements are often a staple in all types of games, regardless of whether or not difficulty is provided by trial and error, by manipulation of odds, or, ahem, fake difficulty. Driving a car in a racing simulation, for instance, there’s bound to be some random effect in the vehicle’s handling, or on varying types of terrain, even if it’s only a small piece of the overall picture. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, because usually player skill is able to account for random elements anyway. More to the point, random doesn’t necessarily mean unpredictable – it just means that there can be a certain degree of noise or interference in playing the game, to prevent things from playing out exactly the same way every single time. Otherwise, when playing Tetris, we’d see the same blocks always become available in the same order, and that wouldn’t be nearly as fun to play, as the game itself is based wholly around bringing a degree of order to that randomness.

Unfortunately, building systems out of random number generators, particularly in role-playing games and strategy games, it’s easy to fall prey to a problem – not in the mechanics themselves, mind, but in the player’s perceptions and understandings of them. This usually manifests as what’s commonly called the gambler’s fallacy.

The simplest example is a coin flip. Even though a coin only ever has a 50/50 chance of landing heads or tails (assuming it’s a fair toss), we tend to assume that the 50/50 probability applies to all instances of the event in sequence, rather than the isolated event. In other words, we form a narrative as we flip that coin over and over again, perceiving each coin toss not as a single incident, but part of a larger whole – and as such, we also tend to assume that prior events have an influence on future events, or, put simply, that the more the coin lands heads, the greater the chances we think it has of landing tails.

In gaming terms, this can be described in the context of a turn-based role-playing game. A skill might have a 70% chance of success when used, yet we become frustrated when, turn after turn, the skill misses and we end up wasting both our time and resources trying to rectify the problem. What just happened? Surely, the game is fudging the numbers! Well, no, not really. We assume that, because the skill has a 70% chance of working, it should (or will) succeed seven out of ten times, like clockwork. This is, of course, not at all the case, as each individual attempt has the same odds as the last, and therefore, it’s possible to chalk up a huge string of losses despite what should be good odds.

There’s no easy solution for this problem, because you aren’t battling the numbers, you’re battling player expectations. Many developers actually get around this problem by instituting measures to make sure that random odds are, in fact, more predictable. For instance, if I have that 70% chance of success, I might program a clause into the game where it’s impossible to miss more than one time in a row – even if ultimately the math is completely off. That’s right, often, the random odds most players feel they rely on aren’t actually random at all, but instead manipulated to fulfill the expectations players have. The irony of all this is that usually the player only ever notices that there’s a “problem” if the math is correct in the first place. Obviously this is a controversial decision, and not everyone will agree with it one way or the other, but in the end it’s probably better to fulfill player expectations than it is for those same players to wind up frustrated over what they feel are unfair and incorrect odds.

Presentation is Everything

The header here might draw some ire, but I think that this is a lesson that is very much unsaid when designing games, and yet at the same time one of the most important to learn. Difficulty, as I’ve outlined, comes in many flavours and is highly subjective – however, it is also important to recognize that the way difficulty is presented to the player is also just as, if not more important. Similar to the gambler’s fallacy, sometimes it’s not a particular mechanic that’s the problem, it’s the way that players perceive it that’s at fault.

Let’s take a recent example in Dead Money, the Fallout: New Vegas DLC add-on. The game came under attack from both players and press alike for what they perceived as a steep difficulty curve. In Dead Money, the normal endless freedom of Fallout gives way to slavery, as the player is thrust into a very specific and mostly linear path through the game by way of a bomb collar, which will instantly kill the player if he or she strays too far for the beaten path. Many of the challenges in the game rely on destroying the radio transmitters that broadcast the detonation frequency, which are often hidden underneath tables, inside closets, or are otherwise difficult to reach. The goal in this situation is to create tension for the player as he or she desperately rushes to find the radio transmitter before his or her head is explosively removed.

It’s pretty clear, from an outsider’s perspective, to see why this mechanic would be frustrating to players. The bomb collar produces a high-pitched, persistent beeping when under threat of detonation, which players quickly learn to avoid like the plague, for one. There’s also something particularly demeaning about being enslaved in such a way by the antagonist. Other games that do this typically do so in such a way as so that the player regains his or her freedom quickly – while it’s a good way to breed contempt for the villain, draw it out too long and that contempt falls onto the game developer instead. Last, this kind of enforced limitation goes against what most players take the newer Fallout games for, namely, open-ended role-playing games with a variety of solutions for every situation; in Dead Money, frequently there is only one solution, and it’s often the one players aren’t happy with.

However, the problem with Dead Money isn’t the mechanic itself. Analyzed at a basic level, all it is a simple race against time to remove an environmental threat – turn off the switch before you die. The bomb collar mechanic, while effective in terms of the storyline, could have been replaced with any number of similar mechanics and still would have been just as effective. More importantly, it wouldn’t have been nearly as frustrating to players. For example, radiation and toxic hazards are extremely common in the Fallout world – why, then, didn’t Obsidian choose to instead implement the same threat in the form of radiation and, say, vents to clear it up? Interestingly, this variation actually exists in Dead Money, but is used to a much lesser degree. Had the bomb collar been replaced with a game mechanic which was functionally identical, but less at odds with Fallout’s design tenets, I think there would have been far fewer complaints about the game’s difficulty, because in that case, the challenge would have been perceived by players as fitting far better into Fallout’s world, and less limiting overall – after all, if it’s just radiation or acid blocking your way, that’s a much more incidental threat than the villain’s scheming, which if anything comes across as deliberate griefing.

Looking around, I think you’ll find more and more examples of perception of difficulty being a bigger problem than the difficulty itself. I can already think of a few off the top of my head – the jarring and repetitive taunts made by the bosses in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, for instance, are extremely grating on the nerves even if the boss fights themselves aren’t overly challenging with a little preparation. Usually, in fact, associating a character with a given type of difficulty (say, Boswer and his castles in Super Mario Bros.) can quickly cause players to become frustrated and annoyed in situations when that character is either already rather annoying, or when the game mechanics themselves aren’t enjoyable – it gives people a face to yell at.

Conclusion

This analysis, while far from complete, should have given a pretty good overview not only of a few different types of difficulty, but it should also have made understanding why people get upset at different types of games, different scenarios, and different sorts of difficulty a bit clearer. Creating and fine-tuning difficulty is always an ongoing process, and it’s extremely difficult to get it right for all players. Even so, hopefully this piece has shed some light on exactly why that is, and what steps can be taken at a more fundamental design level, in order to ensure that your game is fun to play, and challenging, without being frustrating as well.