Change game difficulty during gameplay - pros, and cons?

Soulrender

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Over the past few weeks, I've been working on game balance in my project and I've decided to implement a feature that allows the player to change game difficulty at any moment during the gameplay, but soon after writing a proper plugin for that I started to think...

How it will affect the gameplay?
What are the advantages and the downsides of that?
Should I limit the changes somehow?

So I wanted to ask you what are your thoughts about such a feature.
 

KoldBlood

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I think the best way would be to incentivize players to play on harder difficultly levels by offering bonuses to them. That way players who just want the story, have trouble with the game, and/or are struggling in a certain part can use the lower difficultly levels safely while those who are seeking more challenge can try harder difficulties and receive some nice bonuses for doing so.

A good example of this system is in Tales of Arise. Basically, Normal mode starts at a x1.0 multiplier for Exp, SP, etc. and the multiplier increases the higher you pushed the difficulty. The only thing I wouldn't emulate is reducing the bonus below x1.0 for easier modes since I think that's kind of counter intuitive and most players don't like doing something that penalizes them without good reason because it "feels" bad. In other words: Paint it as a bonus instead of a penalty and players are more likely to use it.

As to which bonuses and how much to give, you'd have to figure out for your specific game obviously.
 

CardeMaker

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How it will affect the gameplay?
Levels of difficulty in games generally changes the enemies HP or his vulnerabilities, like, playing on Easy the enemy has an low defense and have an higher chance of taking criticals, on hard, his HP or defense (or even both, hard level does exists to test how much masochistic players are), or lowing down player's attacks, increase the enemy's damage, etc.
difficult changes could also affects random drops, like, giving an bigger amount of something in ease mode and an lower amount on hard, other ideia can be low and increase the encounters.
What are the advantages and the downsides of that?
well, as you can see, all those changes probably won't be easy to make, but writing an plugin for this can help the things up.
Should I limit the changes somehow?
Use the normal mode as base, making value changes can have an logical limit on it, like, you have an monster with 600 HP, in Easy it can be 300 (or higher if you think 300 is an big diference) and hard maybe 900 (or lower, or even higher, again, hard mode is supposed to be hard) the same goes for other parameters.

well, that's are my thoughts based on my gameplays experiences, i hoped that this was useful
 

Ahuramazda

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I used a system I called Player/Enemy advantage

it is a slide bar that can be changed at any point in the game if the player desires and it starts in the middle, which is "0".

If you take the value into the negative green side, the player will gain +1% attributes up to a max of +100%. The offset penalty for this is they also lower EXP, Gold, and Item Drop rates by 1% per point, and at -100 on difficulty they will always receive 0 EXP, 0, gold, and 0 drops.
This is meant to be used as a crutch if needed or as a challenge mode (level 1 game completion being a popular option in some circles, among making it so the party MUST reserve resources and makes the game more strategy based to keep going... "do I use my item now or try to finish the fight?" kind of situations.)

If you boost the difficulty into the positive red side of the slider enemies will gain +4% attributes up to a max of +400%, and the make this increased difficulty worth the effort (due to the scaling method I use for damage in my game even playing at +10 can be very hard) they also increase EXP, Gold, and Item drop rates by 4% per point.

The item drop rate does not mean all items will drop 100% of the time either, as its +4% of the base rate. The only way an item would ever drop 100% is if its drop was already 1/25 or higher.

Edit: Should also mention that while for the player advantage +100% attributes doesnt sound like a lot, my game uses formulas that are exponential, so doubling your physical attack might sound small, but it is actually a HUGE damage boost... same goes for magical damage.)
 

Milennin

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In an RPG, I just don't really see the point. Levelling already exists as a method for players to choose how difficult they want the game to be by grinding enemies they can easily kill for EXP. At some point, a line must be drawn at how much a player's hand should be held, providing you have covered your bases in terms of teaching the player how to play the game and showing them all the relevant information during combat itself. I don't think it's wrong to expect the player to try at least a little, but maybe that's just my mindset of wanting games to somewhat challenge me and having to learn to play, to not have everything handed to me in an instant. Even if a game is too difficult for me to overcome by skill, I can just grind extra levels (in the case of RPG's at least), it's no big deal if I like the game enough. It's not the ideal way to overcome a challenge, but at least you put in the time to earn it.
 

ATT_Turan

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In an RPG, I just don't really see the point.
So this doesn't happen all the time, but I agree with Milennin :wink:

The caveat is:
Levelling already exists as a method for players to choose how difficult they want the game to be by grinding enemies they can easily kill for EXP.
The problem with this can be in how the rest of the game is written. The game might have (and I'll reference the Etrian Odyssey series off the top of my head) a fairly difficult combat system with a low EXP curve.

That means if the difficulty is hard for you, as a player, deciding to grind extra levels might be really tedious, to the point of it being more efficient to quit and play something else. So if you choose not to have difficulty levels, that's a consideration.

I am a personal fan of having difficulty come less from a disparity in numbers and more from tactics - that is, it doesn't make a huge difference whether you're in, say, a 2-3 level range, but the skills you choose to use in specific situations can make fights easier or harder to survive.

If you're going with that design method, you don't need difficulty levels, you just need to make sure your skills and their effects are explained well.

If you're not doing that, and you have a bit more of a traditional JRPG system that refers heavily to your level, then I still don't think you need to have difficulty levels, you just need to make sure that grinding is viable if the player chooses.

The big occasion where difficulty levels makes sense from a design perspective is something like the Mass Effect games, where the real-time shooter combat relies heavily on player skill, not just decisions. In that case, you can't really teach a player to have better reflexes or aiming dexterity, so it makes sense to be able to make the enemies flat out easier to defeat (or nonexistent, per "story mode").

I think the best way would be to incentivize players to play on harder difficultly levels by offering bonuses to them.
It's not an objectively bad thing to do if you want, but I don't think it's necessary. Most people choose to play on a harder difficulty because they want the challenge and the accomplishment of overcoming that challenge.

I don't see why you need to incentivize it because, well, it shouldn't matter to you how your players are playing. The ones who want the challenge will choose that option, and why would you care to entice the players who don't want the challenge?
 
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poorrabbit

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As I get older, I've come to appreciate the easier difficulty modes. This is especially true with Action RPGs, where quick reflexes are required. I'm just getting too old for that. There's also the fact that I have less time for grinding and practice than I used to, so I greatly appreciate options that make my life easier.

Was playing Xenoblade Chronicles 2 the other day - they have difficulty sliders for things like enemy health, enemy damage, "party gauge" decay rates (the charge level of your supers), and all manner of other things, including whether or not enemies will initiate battle. That's right, you can completely turn off enemy aggro. There's no penalty or bonus in either direction. The game is as hard or as easy as you want it to be.

I feel like lowering drop rates and XP basically nullifies the effects of making the fights easier - fewer drops and less XP means the player has to do more fights just to get to the same place. Don't punish the player because they have don't have the skills or reflexes to fully enjoy the game "as it was intended".

While I can respect the idea that the game developer has made a game and wants to provide a specific experience (and this is why I don't play Soulslike games), there's a lot to be said for letting the player tailor their experience so that they can enjoy the game. Difficulty options widen your potential audience, they don't narrow it.

If Elden Ring had an actual pause button or a difficulty slider, I'd buy it.

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When the power balance between players does not exist (such as it does in MMORPGs or Battle Royale type games) then who cares if the player is OP? If that's what they want?

On the other hand - as a developer - adding difficulty options midway or late into development -well, that can be really, really hard and time consuming. So - plan ahead!
 

bgillisp

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Personally I'm of the group that you got the game now, you want to put it on super easy mode and manhandle everything why should I stop you? Or if you find it too hard mid game and want to lower the difficulty (or the other way around even, want to raise it) go right ahead.

Personally these days if I know I can't change my difficulty mid game I'm now likely to pick the easiest one just because I've played too many RPGs with really really bad balance as the game progresses to want to put up with that anymore.
 

Sword_of_Dusk

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While I can respect the idea that the game developer has made a game and wants to provide a specific experience (and this is why I don't play Soulslike games), there's a lot to be said for letting the player tailor their experience so that they can enjoy the game. Difficulty options widen your potential audience, they don't narrow it.

If Elden Ring had an actual pause button or a difficulty slider, I'd buy it.
I understand where you're coming from, but I think we should absolutely have games like the Soulsborne games and others like them. I salute studios who have a specific creative vision and don't want to compromise it for any old reason. Some folks are just looking to appease the audience they already have, and that's okay.

Besides, I think Elden Ring may have reached new audiences anyway, because it sold quite well.


I am a personal fan of having difficulty come less from a disparity in numbers and more from tactics - that is, it doesn't make a huge difference whether you're in, say, a 2-3 level range, but the skills you choose to use in specific situations can make fights easier or harder to survive.
This is why just increasing enemy stats across the board is lazy. Better to improve enemy A.I. or giving foes additional or more troublesome moves on a harder difficulty is better.
 

ATT_Turan

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Personally I'm of the group that you got the game now, you want to put it on super easy mode and manhandle everything why should I stop you? Or if you find it too hard mid game and want to lower the difficulty (or the other way around even, want to raise it) go right ahead.
Definitely. I think the thread got kind of derailed from the actual OP question, because that question is perhaps poorly thought out: I don't see how there can be any cons to changing difficulty during gameplay. If you already programmed in different difficulties, it changes pretty literally nothing to add the option of changing between them.

All of the answers have been about the pros and cons of offering difficulty levels at all, and I was guilty of that also.

So I guess I missed the point... @Soulrender, what exactly are you asking? What kind of con is there in your opinion? If you give an example, perhaps other people can help provide others or help you evaluate it...I guess I just don't see the relevance of the question.
 

woootbm

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In an RPG, I just don't really see the point. Levelling already exists as a method for players to choose how difficult they want the game to be by grinding enemies they can easily kill for EXP.
Except if you are making an RPG with a level cap. A lot of games out there are like this. Games that expect you to just grind are kinda lazy because as a dev you should be worrying about things like pacing and encounter design. Letting the player grind endlessly is just throwing those out the window. Grinding should be more a tool for other systems and less of a band-aid.

The idea of giving bonuses based on difficulty is contradictory. I get more levels and better gear for playing on hard? That makes hard easier! This concept is supposed to be for games like Diablo or Destiny where the difficulty system is actually a progression system.

Anyway, the cons of a difficulty you can change at any time are NONE. Ideally, your difficulty system is purely a choice for your players to determine how they want to play the game. To incentivize or penalize any of these settings is nonsensical. Players should use difficulty to make the game FUN for them. An elite player isn't going to want to play on easy because it's not fun to them. Likewise, a casual player doesn't want to play on hard because it is not fun to them. Don't try to push people into a difficulty they do not want!
 

KoldBlood

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At some point, a line must be drawn at how much a player's hand should be held
I see your point and agree with you 110% on the handholding thing but I think there's an important distinction to be made between "Handholding" (literally telling the player what to do, where to go, and how to do it every step of the way) and "Difficulty Modes" (scaling the challenge of the game up or down to improve a player's experience).

I don't see any harm in offering some easier (or harder) modes for players who want or need them. That is of course, if having additional difficulty modes doesn't clash with the style of the game you're trying to make. I'm not saying that every game needs a difficulty slider only that including one isn't a bad thing by default.

Levelling already exists as a method for players to choose how difficult they want the game to be by grinding enemies they can easily kill for EXP.
I'm probably biased since I'm not a fan of grinding in RPG's in general but I feel like Levels are a poor substitute for a difficultly slider. Just my opinion though.

I am a personal fan of having difficulty come less from a disparity in numbers and more from tactics - that is, it doesn't make a huge difference whether you're in, say, a 2-3 level range, but the skills you choose to use in specific situations can make fights easier or harder to survive.
This is actually my preferred approach as well. My own game project doesn't feature any difficulty modes and focuses heavily on proper skill usage and party synergy.

It's not an objectively bad thing to do if you want, but I don't think it's necessary. Most people choose to play on a harder difficulty because they want the challenge and the accomplishment of overcoming that challenge.

I don't see why you need to incentivize it because, well, it shouldn't matter to you how your players are playing. The ones who want the challenge will choose that option, and why would you care to entice the players who don't want the challenge?
Good point and well made. No incentive other than the player's desire to be challenged or enjoy a more laidback experience actually matters. I guess I just like getting bonuses. :guffaw:
 

Milennin

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I see your point and agree with you 110% on the handholding thing but I think there's an important distinction to be made between "Handholding" (literally telling the player what to do, where to go, and how to do it every step of the way) and "Difficulty Modes" (scaling the challenge of the game up or down to improve a player's experience).

I don't see any harm in offering some easier (or harder) modes for players who want or need them. That is of course, if having additional difficulty modes doesn't clash with the style of the game you're trying to make. I'm not saying that every game needs a difficulty slider only that including one isn't a bad thing by default.

I think a difficulty setting at the start of the game by itself is perfectly OK (though still kind of unnecessary if the game allows you to grind to make things easier), but to also make it accessible in the middle of a playthrough is too much, in my opinion. It comes to a point where you have lost all faith in your player's abilities (or your own ability to properly balance your game, I guess) once you feel the need to include an option like it. If a player selects to play my game on the normal difficulty setting, if I had one for my game... then I'd still expect them to try to understand the game mechanics to progress.

It's a developer's job to teach the player how to play the game, and also to provide them with sufficient information to make informed decisions in gameplay, as well as to balance the game's difficulty so it's just right for the kind of game it's trying to be. If all those are taken care of, then the rest is up to the player. If, at that point, the player still fails, then it's a skill issue on their side and you would expect them to either try to get better at the game (if they like it enough) or for them to quit (if they didn't like it enough). If you just keep handing them solutions every time they might face some kind of challenge, you're teaching players they don't need to understand how to play your game. That nothing in your game matters and they can just do whatever because you're giving them ways to make it easier for them without requiring anything on their end.

I'd rather have 1 out of 10 people finishing my game because they learned how to play it and stuck with it because they liked overcoming the combat challenges than having 10 out 10 people finish it, but only because I made it so easy a literal toddler could roll through it. But I also like to put most of my effort into the actual gameplay, rather than just wanting to tell a story. So to me it matters that people get invested in specifically that part of my games.
 

TheoAllen

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As a developer, you should consider the variety of players including the ones who have pride over the difficulty mode they pick and how the game treats the difficulty setting. Some people consider changing the difficulty mid-game is cheap. Your game might not be worth bragging about. You can't live with your choice and stick with it.

As a player. I see no harm in changing the difficulty mid-game in a single-player game. I play short-session games or at least replayable games. So, changing difficulty doesn't make sense. I can just restart and play in higher/lower difficulty. However, for RPGs with a long session, grinding, and/or linear type of games. You don't have time to go back, restart, and change the difficulty.

In this case, I'm pretty much like bgillisp. Although instead of the easiest mode, I pick the normal mode (I want to play the game that the game intended to be). Being able to change difficulty mid-game is a godsend because I often find myself don't agree with the game design or the experience they want to deliver. It is not necessarily the developer fails to balance the game. I just don't agree.

For example, the dev wants the player to sneak pass through, carefully planning about consumables, and enemies are tough. But I want to go killing spree. And you can only do that in the easiest difficultly. What happens if I can't change it mid-game? I put the game down and maybe gonna touch that later when I'm in the mood, instead of continuing the game. For me, it is just a different game mode. It is not different from cheating in a single-player offline game. And it is not wrong.
 

KoldBlood

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I think a difficulty setting at the start of the game by itself is perfectly OK (though still kind of unnecessary if the game allows you to grind to make things easier), but to also make it accessible in the middle of a playthrough is too much, in my opinion.
I can see where your coming from but I still feel like you're worrying about something that is very edge-case. I doubt there are very many players who are going to bother turning the difficultly up and down over and over throughout a game just to get by certain parts. It's more likely that they would use the feature to adjust the difficultly mid-game if they miscalculated the difficulty level they can handle at the start or the overall difficulty of the game itself. Usually, players are made to choose an ambiguous difficultly level at the start of the game before they've even gotten the chance to try or learn the game at all. What is Normal? How hard is Hard? Is Easy too easy? They don't know until they've actually started playing the game so it's mostly guesswork.

I actually have personal experience with this myself playing Tales of Arise which does let you change the difficulty mid-game and I actually did end up needing that feature. I chose Normal at the start because I was unsure of the base difficulty of the game. I ended up cranking the difficulty up to max shortly after starting because I loved the combat so much and wanted more challenge from it. After that I never touched the difficultly again. Thanks to the feature I didn't have to restart my entire game just to up the difficulty which as a player I felt was very convenient and respectful of my time.

If a player is that desperate to cheat the system that they willing to waste their time going into a menu to switch the difficulty over and over then this player is probably willing to do anything they have to break your game. Difficultly option or not. This goes back to the handholding thing. At that point it's the player's fault if they want to ruin their own enjoyment. It's no different than a player who spends hours grinding then complains the game is too easy and the combat is boring: Yeah, of course it is, you're level 50 in a level 5 area. But, for some players that IS fun so, you know, more power to them I guess.

Options are options for a reason and shouldn't be considered a replacement for proper balancing. The power button is an option too but that doesn't mean the player has to press it during gameplay and the developer shouldn't need to account for it either because why would you ever do that? And if they do; who's fault is that?

It comes to a point where you have lost all faith in your player's abilities (or your own ability to properly balance your game, I guess) once you feel the need to include an option like it. If a player selects to play my game on the normal difficulty setting, if I had one for my game... then I'd still expect them to try to understand the game mechanics to progress.

It's a developer's job to teach the player how to play the game, and also to provide them with sufficient information to make informed decisions in gameplay, as well as to balance the game's difficulty so it's just right for the kind of game it's trying to be.
If you just keep handing them solutions every time they might face some kind of challenge, you're teaching players they don't need to understand how to play your game. That nothing in your game matters and they can just do whatever because you're giving them ways to make it easier for them without requiring anything on their end.
Difficulty Modes and Handholding are two different concepts not the same thing. Making the game easier for a player with a difficulty Mode should not involve removing the game's mechanics or requirements for play all together. I'm not suggesting that you take a game that requires you learn to use Fire and Ice properly to win combat just suddenly allow you to win by using only basic attacks on easy mode. That is just poor balancing and falls squarely at the developer's feet.

When I think of easier difficulty modes I think of slightly increasing the margin of error allowed in combat or small reductions in the amount punishment if the player makes a mistake. Sometimes all a struggling player needs is a tiny push to help them get the hang of things.

Having an easier difficulty mode doesn't mean you can't have interesting mechanics or make players actually learn how to play your game to make progress. You can (and should) still have the game require the player to learn and play the game and if they can't, well, then maybe the game just isn't for them and they can drop the game if they want.

But, on the other side of the coin, you might succeed in better teaching a struggling player how to properly play your game and they may end up later playing your game on Normal and even Hard if they do improve. It could even end up being a replay incentive for these types of players or even turn them from "on the fence" players into full on fans of your games.

(BTW, I'm not trying to convince you that you should be adding difficulty modes to your own games. I'm just defending the idea of using them at all.)

But I also like to put most of my effort into the actual gameplay, rather than just wanting to tell a story. So to me it matters that people get invested in specifically that part of my games.
Dude, right on, I'm the exact same way! I'm a mechanics and gameplay guy first and foremost. Heck, as I mentioned earlier despite my defense of them I don't even have a difficulty mode selection in my own game.

My issue is the trend I see where developers seemingly want to suggest that other developers are lazy or incompetent just because they don't agree with a certain feature they use.

I dislike Save Anywhere systems and use a Save Point system in my game. Should I start claiming that developers that use Save Anywhere systems are likely just too lazy to balance a proper Save Point system?

Game design is too expansive to just broadly declare entire features as good or bad. Everything is subject to context and redesign. You can use features as is, take the time to refine them to be even better, or even create something entirely new. That's what I love about this field.

I really hope I'm not coming off as antagonistic. I just really love game design as a subject of conversation and we're actually in agreeance more than it might seem.
 
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Soulrender

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I wasn't expecting to get so much info about my concerns, moreover, I get some extra info I wasn't expecting to get, wow.

A common pitfall I see in games is the idea that increasing difficulty involves only enemy HP and damage. This is the worst and laziest way to handle difficulty settings, increasing the difficulty should increase enemy options and the frequency of their more dangerous attacks. A boss that dishes out an AOE status effect every four rounds is going to be a very different fight if he starts doing it every three rounds, especially if that ailment can stack with itself.
Well, in my game difficulty level not only affects enemy damage/defense (only those traits, HP remains the same no matter the difficulty) but also the amount of time in quests that are required to complete within a given time - harder difficulty, less time to complete, gold drop rate / exp, MP/TP cost of skills/regeneration of MP/TP and many other important aspects of the game. So here I wouldn't worry about "taking the laziest approach. " :)

@ATT_Turan
At first, when I designed and calculated params for difficulty levels I wasn't that much concerned about difficulty levels, I always told myself "it's a single-player game, let the player play whatever it likes". But one night I thought about one problem I didn't include in my sheets with calculations:

"What if the player starts the game on high difficulty, but before approaching the boss changes to easier difficulty to win, and after a win, switch back to high".

Right now I'm thinking of two possible solutions:

Disable change difficulty on maps where bosses are located.
Time limit between difficulty levels changes, not big time delay, 1 minute or 2 minutes, no higher.

Or, just leave it as is and do nothing with it - except keep on testing, and further balancing game.
 

bgillisp

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Keep as is. Honestly most players will not do that unless they find the boss too hard or the boss takes way too long to defeat due to HP bloat. Both are things you can control anyways in dev.
 

KoldBlood

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"What if the player starts the game on high difficulty, but before approaching the boss changes to easier difficulty to win, and after a win, switch back to high".
@Soulrender Can I ask why you are offering optional difficulty modes in the first place? Does it include an easy and hard mode for struggling players and players craving more challenge? Or is it only normal mode with the option to play harder modes for hardcore players?

This matters because if you aren't offering easier modes at all then this changes the context from a Difficulty setting to more of a "Challenge Mode" of sorts. In that case you could be better off having it be a single setting at the start of the game and unchangeable during gameplay. Also, if your game is short enough it could even be used as an unlock after completing the game as a new way to play (kind of like the old school "Great job beating the game! Now try hard mode!").

Another question is are you offering anything to players for playing (and completing the game) on the harder modes? Like unlockable features, game modes, special items/equipment, or achievements? Or is it simply for bragging rights or a player's personal desire?

This affects how much it matters that the player changes the difficulty. If you aren't offering anything to the player then it honestly shouldn't matter how the player wants to play it unless you have a very specific experience in mind for the player at which point you might be better off ditching difficulty modes altogether and just focus on crafting a single well-made experience and wishing players good luck.

If you are offering unlocks or an achievement-like reward then you'll definitely want to limit the player being able to change the difficulty mid-game. You could also pop a warning up when starting the game telling the player that if they adjust the difficulty at any point during gameplay they will forfeit the hard mode reward(s) at the end.

Another option is removing the ability to change the difficulty mid-game completely and just have them to set the difficulty at the start and then maybe after the tutorial ask the player one last time if the difficulty is satisfactory to them (give them a final warning that they can't change it after this) and go from there.

I'm just throwing ideas out there. I'm not sure what kind of game you're going for so none of this may apply.
 
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ATT_Turan

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"What if the player starts the game on high difficulty, but before approaching the boss changes to easier difficulty to win, and after a win, switch back to high".
Okay...what if? I just don't see why you would care.

If the player wants to play the game at a constant difficulty level like you intended, they will.

If they want to change difficulties back and forth, how does that affect you?

If they figure out how to hack the save game and alter their level and parameters to god levels, what difference does it make in your life? :stickytongue:

I don't understand, as a general principle, questions or concerns that have to do with controlling how a player plays. You've done your part by designing the game and getting the sale.
 

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By far, the weirdest flex I've ever seen on the internet is "I don't have the attention span to read what you wrote, but I REALLY want the world to know I don't have that attention span!".
Why... the FACK... do I work in customer service?!?!
Excuse me while I go question allllll my life choices.
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Sometimes I wonder why I still try and recruit others to help with my games. It never works.

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