Dynamic difficulty based on player performance

Milennin

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Not really considering this for my own project, but just something random I thought about. So the idea is basically the combat system having an invisible grading system that gauges player performance during key encounters (could factor in a combination of things, like turns taken to beat, party members dying, party HP/MP at the end etc). Then, based on that, it'll slightly buff or debuff the encounters in the next area. Like if a player underperformed vs. a boss according to the grading, the next area will soften up the monsters a little bit (lowered HP, Def, Atk). This effect could stack, if the player continues to underperform.
The reverse would happen for players who roll over a boss with ease. The difficulty increase for the next area would be bigger in their case. And it would re-adjust with each new area. If a player gained a boost in difficulty for beating the first boss with ease, but then struggles against the second boss, the difficulty gain would be reset to normal afterwards.

This would eliminate the need for a difficulty option at the start of the game, and ensure players get a reasonable experience regardless of skill level (assuming everything works as it should, and all the encounters and systems are fairly balanced.)

Thought?
 

Lornsteyn

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That sounds actually very good.
I always criticize many rpgs nowadays for being too easy, since I love a challenge.
With your idea both factions would be happy, the easy goers and the hardcore ppl.
 

caethyril

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I think automatic difficulty adjustment mid-game is generally a bad idea. I suggest making it optional and/or putting difficulty options in-game so the player can adjust it themselves.

I've encountered full-on "adaptive difficulty" before, and found it annoying more than anything else. The difficulty increased as I progressed until I failed several times in a row, causing it to fall back down and making it very easy to progress. After this happened several times I remembered I could turn it off in the options, which made the rest of the game feel much more playable/challenging. Maybe it's just a matter of balancing the difficulty increments? (Game was Epistory.)

Note that players may well play their first attempt at a difficult-looking area using very different tactics (defensive/exploratory) than normal. They may discover helpful information (e.g. path through a maze, boss weakness, etc) but fail before passing the area, making their next attempt much easier without any sort of internal difficulty adjustment.

There are also many successful games designed around the "die and retry" principle, which adaptive difficulty essentially opposes. It depends on what you want to offer with your game.

If the player is over-/under-performing, I suggest asking the player whether they want to bump the difficulty up/down. Ever played a game where you fail a lot and it asks if you want to play on easy mode [for this section]?
 

Kyuukon

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Lol no. Why punish the player for being good at the game (or hand held for being bad)? >.> If anything he should get rewarded! I personally like optional hard modes.
 

AfroKat

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I feel like it's a horrible idea. Some people just want an easy ride and to breeze through stuff while alot more want a challenge and to be pushed.

Why should the game tell me if I'm gonna have a easy or hard time with it? Let the player make that decision.

Imagine if Mario levels added more platforms / covered gaps / removed enemies if you died twice in a level. It doesn't make you feel better it's just a middle finger to the player
 

Lornsteyn

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If the player is over-/under-performing, I suggest asking the player whether they want to bump the difficulty up/down. Ever played a game where you fail a lot and it asks if you want to play on easy mode [for this section]?

Uh, I hate something like this. Had this in some games and found it very annoying.
It ruins immersion in my opinion.
As if people are to dumb to change difficulty by themself if they loose over and over.
---
Additional difficulties are an option but only if you can change them midgame.
Many games are badly balanced nowadays anyway, even if they come with additional difficulties, the Persona and Kingdom Hearts games, despite being awesome games, are a good example for that.

@Kyuukon
You really shouldnt see it as punishment.
Not much would change, enemies just get stronger on the players performance, which is actually normal for a game that enemies get stronger.
Also nothing would stop people to grind a bit, if the difficulty is adjusted after a boss.
If it works how Milennin is describing it, the game could be perfectly balanced for any player.
 

Kyuukon

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So if you are having troubles with a boss, you just go and die quick a couple times on purpose and then try again "for real"? At that point I'd rather just have a difficulty option in the Options Menu available at all times..

This reminds me of when the clueless retail WoW devs made the world monsters scale with your "power level" a few years ago.
You know what the players did? They started removing pieces of equipment.

Sorry, but that's just bad game design in my book xD
 

Lornsteyn

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@Kyuukon
Dying over and over wouldnt help you if the boss level is only adjusted after beating him.
The next enemies getting tougher or weaker, depends how you performed in the boss fight before.
I dont know what plans Milennin has exactly, but there is still the option to grind, I guess.

I didnt play WoW, but I played Final Fantasy 8.
It had Level scaling, too and at least in case of Final Fantasy 8, it was good and I personally enjoyed the battles.
 

ShadowDragon

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I agree with caethyril on this.
the idea is nice, but if they do it on purpose, it can be a really easy game
to beat, but you should also lower al the item that can be gained during
gameplay/map items/battles etc.

best way is just add difficulty "easy", "normal", "Hard", (when unlocked) "very hard"
or even "veteran" or "true hero" as the most difficult setting.

where easy, normal can be changed, hard is locked to changes same as very hard
and the others which would be the best approach. but during gameplay
on performens is a big No-No to me though.
 
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The wonderful thing about RPGs is that they already do this by default! The levelling and EXP system accomplished something similar to this naturally. If the player is good they will be able to push through the game at a lower level, which will be more challenging. I'm not sure an extra system on top of that would be nessecary.
 

caethyril

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Uh, I hate something like this. Had this in some games and found it very annoying.
It ruins immersion in my opinion.
Yes, I generally prefer manual difficulty selection. However, if the difficulty is going to be auto-adjusted, I feel it's better to give the player control over it. You could have it show up only once, like a tutorial hint, and/or allow disabling the messages via the in-game options, etc. Depending on how the game is presented, players might be unaware that there are any difficulty settings.
 

gstv87

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thoughts?
the logic behind that approach escalates exponentially based on the number of base stats to calculate.
because, you need to cover every combination of it, so the number of results approaches N!, factorial, if not N^x
 

bgillisp

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Madden has tried this for years. And it doesn't work. The players there just throw games that don't matter or play poorly on purpose then the difficulty will go all the way down to the easiest for the key playoff games which they will then dominate.
 

Aesica

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I remember playing some game like long ago. It started out easy and got harder and harder until it wrecked you, at which point it got easier again. Not really a very fun experience because if anything, it just encourages the player to game the system by performing in a mediocre fashion in order to keep the difficulty from spiking out of control.

Edit: Besides, the whole point of a manual difficulty slider is to set the difficulty to something you, as the player, want the game to present you with. Person A may went it easy even though they're a good player just so they can casually enjoy the story. Person B might want it way up to make the fights very challenging. Adapctive/automatic difficulty takes this away from players.
 

gstv87

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It started out easy and got harder and harder until it wrecked you

I remember playing a racing game a long time ago that literally had no end: Sega Karts.
it had three or four difficulty levels, and once you won the tournament it'd take you to the next level, which was the same thing except all the AI karts reacted quicker.
after beating "pro" level, I was taken to "manic" level.... took me a good two or three hours to win, but I beat it.
after beating it, I had already forgotten what difficulty I was playing on.
then I see the plaque: "You've won in level Pro. Next level: Manic"
and I was ".....ok... let's try it."
and I beat it again.
and again at the end I was waiting for the big "Congratulations!" banner and "game over".... but yet again I saw "You've won in Pro. Next level: Manic"
and I was like ".......whhaaa?"

nobody had programmed an endgame to it! XD
and we're talking Sega! easily the king of the 90's gaming!
 

Milennin

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I remember playing some game like long ago. It started out easy and got harder and harder until it wrecked you, at which point it got easier again. Not really a very fun experience because if anything, it just encourages the player to game the system by performing in a mediocre fashion in order to keep the difficulty from spiking out of control.
That's not how I described it would work. It would only increase the difficult if the player beats a boss with ease, and it'll continue to do so each time they do. When the player performs with an average grade, there would be no increase in the next part. Thus, ideally, the game's difficulty would naturally balance out for each player after the first couple of areas.
 

Aesica

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That's not how I described it would work. It would only increase the difficult if the player beats a boss with ease, and it'll continue to do so each time they do. When the player performs with an average grade, there would be no increase in the next part. Thus, ideally, the game's difficulty would naturally balance out for each player after the first couple of areas.
Right, but I was just stating my experience with dynamic difficulty. It quickly taught me to play horribly to keep the difficulty where I wanted it. Is the boss easy and you want to keep the game easy? No problem, just...slack off. Let somebody die a few times. Use sub-optimal attacks. Don't use defensive buffs. It's close to impossible to determine whether you have a good player intentionally playing stupid or a legit-inexperienced player struggling with the content in this case, so ti's best to just stick to manual difficulty.

That's just my opinion, anyway.
 

RCXDan

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I know everyone's talking about difficulty sliders, but fundamentally for me...

For action games I'd rather not have the game activate easy mode if I perform poorly. It'd be pretty stupid since it's my fault for not [insert relevant comment].

For RPGs I feel having enemies that level up with you can make encounters blend together unless you are a master class in enemy design. It makes EXP redundant, and in worse cases it can cause inconsistent encounters.

I dunno, I've always preferred having bosses be like puzzles to solve, so if they had to be buffed in any way it's to be able to keep up with an overleveled player so they can stay alive long enough to have their gimmick mean something... but even then, doing it for everything would get tiring after a while.

@alice_gristle said it best. I'd rather blow through encounters if I've put in the work or have chosen easy mode myself.
 
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Tai_MT

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I love systems like this! They're so easy to exploit! Basically, don't level up at all, have the bare minimum amount of equipment needed to pass... and then the game gets easier for you.

I use this to great effect in fighting games with "dynamic difficulty". Lose 15 times in a row, the game chills out to allow me some very easy wins, and then complete the campaign and learn nothing about any of my movesets while still winning.

This one sounds like it would be pretty easy to game too. Kill my other party members somewhere before the boss and have them dead for most of the game while one of my characters has all the levels and power. Game would register that I'm "having difficulty" and become much easier. I could even spend like 30 turns just using defensive skills and items that do no damage to make the game easier. Maybe even allow all my HP and MP to dwindle to practically nothing before dealing the finishing blow...

Sounds like a pretty good time to me.
 

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