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Difficulty Level - Where is my Easy Mode!


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1 minute ago, Camel said:

You said that you didn't know to choose hard because you had no basis on which to choose. 

Yeah the point is I shouldn't have had to make a choice. 

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Because everybody has exactly the same skill level and ability. Right, gotcha.

 

EDIT: I think I'm done with this topic. People are just selfish basically.

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8 minutes ago, Camel said:

Because everybody has exactly the same skill level and ability. Right, gotcha.

 

EDIT: I think I'm done with this topic. People are just selfish basically.

 

Essentially.  "Because I can't be trusted to not breeze through a game on easy and then complain it was too easy, people who aren't shit hot at games should be prevented from playing them". And yet if you suggested people who can't tell red from green should also be prevented from playing games that would somehow be different.

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This is completely ridiculous now.

 

It's taking a reasonable starting point: Returnal is built a certain way because that's the developers intention, it's meant to offer a level of resistance, they need players to die repeatedly for the story to work, it's a roguelike or run based game so there's some degree of tradition there. Fair enough, I don't agree that a difficulty setting breaks that, but I understand the argument.

 

But if your defence for why Returnal is like that eventually breaks down to "difficulty settings are bad and people shouldn't have to choose". That's nonsense.

 

Returnal or Dark Souls shouldn't have easy modes because of developer intent and that's sacrosanct, but a developers intention being to offer difficulty modes is bad because someone shouldn't have to choose?

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We should always respect the developer's vision.

 

Unless their vision is to include difficulty modes, in which case their artistic vision is wrong.

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I was reading a great article somewhere, somewhen, which (paraphrased) the developers talked at length about the risks of players spoiling their own enjoyment by finding something boring that works.  It was basically if you’ve designed a really complicated deep system, and the players find that doing one tactic works, but takes ages and is really boring, them a huge proportion of players will stick with it.  Just mashing 'a' or whatever. Players need sheparding. 
 

the majority of easily difficulty levels in games, make it so that simple boring strategies work with no learning or improvement required. I think that’s a real disservice to those players. I think games can be accessible and still have interesting mechanics.

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Debates over game difficulty always result in shite strawmanning, deeply selfish gatekeeping, and a clear lack of simple empathy, often compounded by a bizarre absence of personal willpower on behalf of the gatekeepers. It’s bemusing and a little sad.

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23 minutes ago, jonamok said:

Debates over game difficulty always result in shite strawmanning, deeply selfish gatekeeping, and a clear lack of simple empathy, often compounded by a bizarre absence of personal willpower on behalf of the gatekeepers. It’s bemusing and a little sad.

could you please give us an example so we can strawman it?

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Not a whole lot of nuance to this discussion and there's something of a false dichotomy at the heart of it - that games either have conventional difficulty modes to cater for different skills or they have no means to vary the difficulty and assume everyone is of the same level of skill. This just isn't the case, to use the most widely cited example, the Soulsborne series, there are several ways the player can manipulate the difficulty to cater for their skillset - using consumables, leveling up and co-oping being the most obvious. This allows the player to vary the difficulty at specific points where they find the game too challenging rather than crudely altering all of the worlds relevant variables in order to make the whole game easier.

 

There's a number of issues with a difficulty slider at the start of a game, it requires a degree of prescience on the players part as to how hard they'll will find to find the game. You can fiddle around with settings in game to some extent but it's almost impossible for the player to know whether them dying a lot in an area is due to the developer trying to teach them a significant skill set for the rest of the game or whether it's simply pitched too hard, nor is trying to gauge the right difficulty much fun for the player. It's not surprising that 'what difficulty should I play on?' is one of the most asked questions on forums.  Equally it's really hard for the developer to communicate what the difficulty modes actually do, in reality a vast array of variables are tweaked but that would be incomprehensible to most and even then wouldn't be meaningful to anyone who's not yet played the game.

 

I've made this point before but if the Souls series was some uber hard experience that assumed everyone was some sort of gaming savant and a conventional difficulty slider was the absolute answer to this issue you'd see tiny numbers of people completing the Souls games relative to other titles. That isn't the case at all. Comparing games of similar length and challenge shows that the Souls games have amongst the highest completion rates which, to my mind at least, fatally undermines the notion that the only effective tools developers have at their disposal to alter difficulty is a slider at the start of the game.

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1 hour ago, LaveDisco said:

 


I was reading a great article somewhere, somewhen, which (paraphrased) the developers talked at length about the risks of players spoiling their own enjoyment by finding something boring that works.  It was basically if you’ve designed a really complicated deep system, and the players find that doing one tactic works, but takes ages and is really boring, them a huge proportion of players will stick with it.  Just mashing 'a' or whatever. Players need sheparding. 
 

the majority of easily difficulty levels in games, make it so that simple boring strategies work with no learning or improvement required. I think that’s a real disservice to those players. I think games can be accessible and still have interesting mechanics.

I don't really agree with this from watching playtests. This is more that happens when you have someone playing at a difficulty that's too low for them. Complex strategies are less key to the player in easy modes, but at least in part, that's the point: one of the goals is to decrease cognitive as well as motor demands. Like, for a simple example, if the mechanic was to match enemy colour to weapon selection, you might cut the number of colours from 5 to 2.

 

In any case, the answer is better implementation of difficulty settings. Difficulty modes are probably one of the worst options compared to control over parameters and/or assist modes, but better than nothing and they're quick and dirty to implement.

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As an example of how not to do it, I recently installed the old King Arthur RTS from a decade ago. Options include:

 

Strong archers yes/no?

 

And a walking speed slider.

 

Like they just could not be arsed to sort those out before they shipped it.

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11 minutes ago, petrolgirls said:

Not a whole lot of nuance to this discussion and there's something of a false dichotomy at the heart of it - that games either have conventional difficulty modes to cater for different skills or they have no means to vary the difficulty and assume everyone is of the same level of skill. This just isn't the case, to use the most widely cited example, the Soulsborne series, there are several ways the player can manipulate the difficulty to cater for their skillset - using consumables, leveling up and co-oping being the most obvious. This allows the player to vary the difficulty at specific points where they find the game too challenging rather than crudely altering all of the worlds relevant variables in order to make the whole game easier.

 

There's a number of issues with a difficulty slider at the start of a game, it requires a degree of prescience on the players part as to how hard they'll will find to find the game. You can fiddle around with settings in game to some extent but it's almost impossible for the player to know whether them dying a lot in an area is due to the developer trying to teach them a significant skill set for the rest of the game or whether it's simply pitched too hard, nor is trying to gauge the right difficulty much fun for the player. It's not surprising that 'what difficulty should I play on?' is one of the most asked questions on forums.  Equally it's really hard for the developer to communicate what the difficulty modes actually do, in reality a vast array of variables are tweaked but that would be incomprehensible to most and even then wouldn't be meaningful to anyone who's not yet played the game.

 

I've made this point before but if the Souls series was some uber hard experience that assumed everyone was some sort of gaming savant and a conventional difficulty slider was the absolute answer to this issue you'd see tiny numbers of people completing the Souls games relative to other titles. That isn't the case at all. Comparing games of similar length and challenge shows that the Souls games have amongst the highest completion rates which, to my mind at least, fatally undermines the notion that the only effective tools developers have at their disposal to alter difficulty is a slider at the start of the game.

I think we've been through quite a few of these earlier in the thread. Just quickly, none of those features in the soulsborne games are especially helpful until the player is some way into the game and already deeply invested: I'm sure I've tried to convince a friend who bounced off Bloodborne that these options existed, and his response - using limited consumable resources, relying on multiplayer that isn't unlocked for ages and in archaic ways - was a hearty 'are you fucking kidding me', and fair enough.

 

I think the selection bias at the heart of the completion rate stats fatally undermines that as a final argument, too. There are also plenty of other ways to allow players to modify difficulty other than sliders at the start of the game.

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34 minutes ago, jonny_rat said:

I think we've been through quite a few of these earlier in the thread. Just quickly, none of those features in the soulsborne games are especially helpful until the player is some way into the game and already deeply invested: I'm sure I've tried to convince a friend who bounced off Bloodborne that these options existed, and his response - using limited consumable resources, relying on multiplayer that isn't unlocked for ages and in archaic ways - was a hearty 'are you fucking kidding me', and fair enough.

 

I think the selection bias at the heart of the completion rate stats fatally undermines that as a final argument, too. There are also plenty of other ways to allow players to modify difficulty other than sliders at the start of the game.

 

Such as? 

 

Contrariwise I've known the most of casual of gamers with limited skills get into and complete various Souls games as many on this forum have attested.

 

You've asserted there's a selection bias with no meaningful evidence. The Souls games sell in massive numbers, cumulatively over 27 million, and are completed by nearly half. That's huge numbers by any measure and strongly suggests there's no meaningful selection bias. 

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3 hours ago, LaveDisco said:

I was reading a great article somewhere, somewhen, which (paraphrased) the developers talked at length about the risks of players spoiling their own enjoyment by finding something boring that works.  It was basically if you’ve designed a really complicated deep system, and the players find that doing one tactic works, but takes ages and is really boring, them a huge proportion of players will stick with it.  Just mashing 'a' or whatever. Players need sheparding. 

 

I was watching a streamer play Mario 3D World once and whenever he got to a hit-all-the-panels section he just immediately used the touchscreen to flip them all. It wasn't a speedrun or anything. There's walls and enemies there so it's more fun/challenging to do it "manually" and it's not the kind of game where you need the extra help, but that's what he did. Baffling. 

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Don’t forget guys, if you don’t want to have to deal with difficulty sliders and would prefer one option you’re lazy and selfish and have no empathy but if you just can’t be arsed with the five options to mitigate difficulty in Dark Souls that’s definitely on the developers. 

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What is this thread at this point? 

 

Are we pretending that difficulty settings are some baffling ordeal now and haven't just been standard practice for 40 odd years?

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I’d love to see how you guys handle going to purchase a musical instrument. I’m assuming there’s a lot of incredulous questions about whether the people selling you your piano are going to make sure you do your lessons, demands that you should be allowed to play any song you want because you paid for it and then you close out with “don’t you know disabled people exist?! Do you have no empathy?”. 

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3 hours ago, Oz said:

could you please give us an example so we can strawman it?

 

5 minutes ago, Broker said:

I’d love to see how you guys handle going to purchase a musical instrument. I’m assuming there’s a lot of incredulous questions about whether the people selling you your piano are going to make sure you do your lessons, demands that you should be allowed to play any song you want because you paid for it and then you close out with “don’t you know disabled people exist?! Do you have no empathy?”. 

 

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Edit: botched the multi quote. I did buy a MIDI controller keyboard / hardware sequencer the other week though. Looked at what was on the market, downloaded the manual to check it would interface with the rest of my gear first, bought it online.

 

Was a fairly painless process.

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13 hours ago, petrolgirls said:

 

Such as? 

 

Contrariwise I've known the most of casual of gamers with limited skills get into and complete various Souls games as many on this forum have attested.

 

You've asserted there's a selection bias with no meaningful evidence. The Souls games sell in massive numbers, cumulatively over 27 million, and are completed by nearly half. That's huge numbers by any measure and strongly suggests there's no meaningful selection bias. 

I'll come back to the rest of this later, but a 27m sales total across the whole series puts it at around the same as the walking dead and nintendogs lines, so as base numbers go it's pretty modest and not at all big enough to remove doubt around selection bias. And while my suggestion of selection bias is low on evidence, that's no more so than your original claim that the numbers and completion ratios were somehow indicative that the situation couldn't be improved. You know FROM's goal with Sekiro was to widen their player base and create a friendlier overall experience, right?

 

Edit: actually to expand on that last point there's disagreement whether the greater focus on onboarding and in game UI was from Miyazaki or a mandate from Activision - either way Miyazaki has said in interviews that FROM's internal team isn't good at this stuff and praised the use research team that they worked with.

 

Edit 2, as I said I'd come back: the 'half' completion rates don't appear to pan out. We only have public stats on Steam achievements so we'll have to go by those (IIRC these count people who have started the game), but the only one that figure could even apply to is DS3, where adding all the route completion rates is around 50%. I suspect that's wrong however: show me someone whose only completion of the game is the Usurpation of Fire. upper 30s, 40% seems more reasonable, and in line with the figures from DS2 (39%), DS1: PtD (25% if you add up the two routes, so very optimistic), and DS1 remastered (40% if adding the two routes, optimistic again). 40% isn't an uncommon completion rate, we see the same for games like RE4 and the Uncharted games. A metro article I spotted highlighted a game with a properly astonishing completion rate for comparison: What Remains of Edith Finch has 73%. (Wait, they publish them for playstation trophies as well! PSNprofiles.com suggests that only 25% of bloodborne players defeated the wet nurse, yikes - you need to hover over to get the PSN-wide percentage)

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Re some of the recent posts in here, it's strange and a bit sad that in most places nowadays there seems to be pretty good acceptance of the spectrum of disabilities: of hidden disabilities, very mild impairments, both physical and cognitive, and the fact that as we get older we're all going to experience cognitive and motor impairments, probably more so than many of the people we look at today and consider disabled. And yet in here people are keen to draw the lines: you're disabled or you're not, don't let your arguments about disabled people interfere with my games.

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Incidentally, Rock Band 3 and Rocksmith are probably the complete antithesis to Dark Souls in terms of difficulty options. I had the 102-button Mustang controller for RB3, and so I had access to everything from basic tunes in the five button mode to actual real chord shapes and melodies in Pro Guitar mode. The Pro Guitar mode has difficulty scales as well - you can play the general gist of a song and rely on power chords, or up the difficulty, play every note, do five-finger chords and use the whole fretboard. So yeah, developers have already made difficulty levels "work" for guitar playing. ;) 

 

(inb4 "but it's not the same as a real instrument!!!" - I play acoustic at a hobbyist level and started when I was a junior, and RB3's Pro Guitar mode literally taught me tunes that I didn't think I could play before, so...)

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Apologies for not responding to individual replies. Not enough time. Just generally, I hope I haven't come across as some 'but the vision' fundamentalist here, because that's not my intention. For what it's worth, I think in almost every game I've played it would compromise little or nothing if it allowed you a whole suite of difficulty options, level selects from the off, etc.

 

But I am also interested in the fringe cases, where creators might use a certain level of challenge to work through narrative themes, where that challenge becomes integral to the experience. And sometimes perhaps you can't have it both ways. I don't think it's fair to say to a developer, yes, on one hand craft these interesting experiences and try to do something different, and on the other just let us ditch all that and play it like any other game.

 

That feels like a small grey area to me. And I wonder if you try to apply blanket regulations you might not get the next Demon's Souls or Returnal at all.

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I'm not convinced by the vision argument because nobody has really addressed the fact that two players of different ability levels can experience equivalent levels of challenge on two different difficulty levels outside of "what if you pick the wrong difficulty level", and that quickly degenerated in to "difficulty levels are bad in all games", "difficulty levels are overly complicated" and "what if you bought a guitar"? None of which are massively compelling arguments for me, if I'm being completely honest.

 

And what happens at the opposite end, if someone is just really good at the game and breezes through it have they compromised the developers vision? Shouldn't the developer make the game harder for them as a result? And then if you do that doesn't it basically serve the same function as an easy mode? Giving a set of players the appropriate level of challenge.

 

The argument seems to slant one way.

 

I also think, if there's a game with a truly unique vision, Returnal's storytelling for example, it's bad for the medium as a whole to gate who gets to experience that.

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3 hours ago, BadgerFarmer said:

Apologies for not responding to individual replies. Not enough time. Just generally, I hope I haven't come across as some 'but the vision' fundamentalist here, because that's not my intention. For what it's worth, I think in almost every game I've played it would compromise little or nothing if it allowed you a whole suite of difficulty options, level selects from the off, etc.

 

But I am also interested in the fringe cases, where creators might use a certain level of challenge to work through narrative themes, where that challenge becomes integral to the experience. And sometimes perhaps you can't have it both ways. I don't think it's fair to say to a developer, yes, on one hand craft these interesting experiences and try to do something different, and on the other just let us ditch all that and play it like any other game.

 

That feels like a small grey area to me. And I wonder if you try to apply blanket regulations you might not get the next Demon's Souls or Returnal at all.

 

I think outside of a few moments this has been a good-natured discussion so far, and it's really nice to get well-laid out views like yours that are.. well, not the other 'side' of the discussion but coming in at a different angle. For developers and the developer-adjacent staff and communities who are looking hard at this stuff, preserving the vision, core experience, intended experience, whatever we call it (though NOT the normal experience @Popo, haha) is generally paramount. The goals are usually to maintain that experience while suggesting alternative options that are easy to implement (and won't take up dev time) and high impact (beneficial to the most people).

 

I suspect at some point, accessibility options will have blanket regulations applied, but by that time they should be much more well known, easier to implement early on in development, and maybe even enabled through turning them on in Unity/Unreal (that.. might actually be true now? Can't remember). I don't think that will ever be the case with difficulty and approachability, though as said before we might see guidelines and good practice from one of the big platforms.

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28 minutes ago, matt0 said:

I also think, if there's a game with a truly unique vision, Returnal's storytelling for example, it's bad for the medium as a whole to gate who gets to experience that.


Better to just remove it so nobody gets to experience it in order to ensure nobody who doesn’t actually want to play it feels left out. 

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