Tag Archives: difficulty settings

The Axes of Difficulty

As always, I am generally writing to and from the position of FPSes.

There are three axes for skill settings, broadly speaking, which can change (non-exclusively) to adjust the difficulty, they are:

  • Behavioral – Enemies gain or lose abilities, display different reaction times, change tactics, and vary in accuracy and prediction. A simple illustration of this is in the original Unreal where the combat capability of the monsters was modified by the difficulty level you selected.
    • Nightmare difficulty deserves a special note here, as it often increases monster attack speed, general aggressiveness, and may include elements such as respawning. Nightmare was created for Doom in a patch, a response to player complaints that Ultra-Violence was too easy. You may want to read my small article on┬áDuke Nukem 3d’s higher difficulties.
  • Economical – Health, armor, and ammo are more scarce, inventory may be limited. This can engender an anti-completionist attitude, or drive the secret hunter all the further.
  • Circumstantial – This one is a bit broader and can include changing level layouts, though less common due to technical and labor reasons, but more often involves Economical changes on top of enemy positioning, quantity, and composition changes. This method was commonly used in FPSes and can be seen extensively in Quake for the wide shifts in level density and battle complexity depending on the difficulty.

These increase the cognitive load on the player, asking him to factor in more at a time for decision making, thus asking the player to use their existing education about the game in a more strenuous form, while mentally juggling changing data points, which takes us back to the simple notion that learning is fun, when focused and applied. Continue reading

Duke Nukem 3d and Higher Difficulties

For someone who loves classic first person shooters so much, I’ve never been a fan of Nightmare modes. Doom had enemies respawning, Quake had faster attack rates (and a faster Vore firepod), Blood had substantially healthier enemies, and Duke3d, like Doom, went with respawning enemies. I didn’t care for these because they tended to mess with the rhythm of the game. Quake doesn’t feel like Quake with monster attacks spamming, Doom can’t build its sly creepy mood if you’re forced to keep moving like it is a deathmatch session, and the robed cultists in Blood should not require four shotgun shells.
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I recently dropped by GalleyUK’s YouTube channel, home of some of the finest playthroughs of first person shooters, and saw he had somewhat recently re-recorded his playthrough of Duke3d, all secrets, all monsters, all four episodes. But this time he did it on Damn, I’m Good, the game’s equivalent to Nightmare. Damn, I’m Good respawns the monsters, but only if a solid corpse is there. And Duke has corpses which react to splash damage. Immediately the pipebombs and laser trip bombs gained value beyond toying about (and in Dukematch). Galley would toss a pipebomb amidst corpses and detonate, or lace the room with lasers before leaving.
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Explosions are somewhat obvious, but this also inflated the value of the Shrinker and Freezer, elevating them beyond gimmick – they didn’t leave solid corpses either. Killing an enemy in a doorway would result in the corpse getting squished, also preventing a respawn. But my favorite was the HoloDuke, a toy copied straight out of Total Recall, I never found a use for it. But Galley, without any explosives to his name and an abundance of corpses, left the hologram running in a thoroughfare as he continued his exploration of the level. He later returned, and all of the enemies had respawned, but instead of fanning out in search of Duke, they were preoccupied with the hologram. He kept them in check.

Where other games, excellent games which I love, lose something from their highest difficulty level, Duke Nukem 3d gained an additional layer, and turned the trinkets into tools. We need more games like that.