Dynamic difficulty based on player performance

CraneSoft

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Dynamic difficulty is a mechanic that is a testament of a player's skill, the purpose is to provide casual players some mercy while the good ones get the challenge they seek. Keyword here being player "skill". In action games that utilizes this, it is not immediately apparent that such a mechanic even exists, and a player can usually compensate by simply getting better at the game. Even then, these games still feature difficulty options that limits how far the scaling can go because otherwise it could easily spiral out of control. Under no circumstances can dynamic difficulty replace standard difficulty options for ANY reason.

On the other hand, it is absolutely dysfunctional in an RPG because turn-based combat centered around numbers doesn't demand skill - but rather foresight and trial/error. Battles too difficult? Just grind some more. Rinse and repeat. There is no incentive to get stronger or play competently if the enemies are simply going to scale with me and provide me a challenge regardless, after that it becomes a matter of knowing "what" causes the scaling and how to not screw yourself with the dynamic difficulty rules. Final Fantasy VIII did this, and the system has been abolished ever since because of the atrocious ramifications it could result speaks on its own - how good you are at the game are entirely dependant on how well you could game the system, instead of you know, actually making the game easier for playing it wrong.

A difficulty option that can be toggled at any point in the game achieves the same thing if you want the player to experience it the way they want to, without jumping through a thousand hoops. As a player, if I want to have an easy time through the game, I would pick Easy mode or overgrind myself, else I'll be playing the harder difficulties. Please do not deny me the experience I want to have.
 

Milennin

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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...
This would first require you to know there is a dynamic difficulty at all, and second you'd need to know how the grading system works. Unless you play the game multiple times or dig through the eventing code, you'd not find out about it.
 

Wavelength

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I can see advantages and drawbacks to such a system.

On one hand, if the effect is subtle, the game's balance is already good (no severe spikes or valleys), and the tactics you'd use to beat each area/boss are fairly similar, then this kind of system can ensure more tight, exciting battles that keep the player engaged.

On the other hand, if any of the above are not true, your attempt to rubberband the experience to a desired level of difficulty could actually throw it off in the other direction. For example, during an easy stretch, the player dominates enemy after enemy. Cut to the next dungeon, a larger-than-intended difficulty spike which is compounded by the dynamic difficulty adding even more power to enemies. Additionally, if the nature of battles tends toward tactical puzzles to figure out rather than more general gamesmanship to play and counterplay, then you will end up with a very occluded picture of a player's skill in relation to the current difficulty. They may be very good against one type of enemy and very poor against another, and if they run into a lot of battles that they're good against, they're going to have an unfairly hard time against that latter type of enemy.

Combined with the amount of effort it would take to develop a fair and comprehensive picture of the player's skill (did the player take a lot of damage because they struggled, or because they just wanted to finish the battle quickly?), I would tend to shy away from trying to implement such a system, despite its good intentions - it's time that would be better spent tightening the game's balance and clarity.
 

Tai_MT

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This would first require you to know there is a dynamic difficulty at all, and second you'd need to know how the grading system works. Unless you play the game multiple times or dig through the eventing code, you'd not find out about it.

Not really. It would only take getting the buffs the first time for anyone to figure it out. Or, in the case of the way I usually play RPG's, getting rofl-stomped at the second boss because I'd gone and over-leveled myself.

Or, there's always visiting the steam page or the forums to find out about the system when you've got a bunch of players talking about how inconsistent the boss fights were in terms of difficulty.

You're talking like this system would be "a big mystery" or "a complete unknown" when the reality is after about the second or third boss of the game, pretty much everyone would've figured it out.

And, if you've got a grading system that shows the player the grade, it's not hard to figure out how that works through simple trial and error (which is usually how most players figure those out). If the grading system is hidden, then the players aren't going to care about doing well or bad in combat at any point until they've been slammed with a difficulty spike.

See, I played Dead or Alive 4. A game I didn't know had "dynamic difficulty". At least, not at first. I figured it out pretty quickly once the fourth enemy curb stomped me with a massive difficulty spike that frustrated me so that I would just let the computer beat me again and again while trying to study its moves. After about the fifth loss in a row of me doing nothing, it "chilled out" and difficulty suddenly dropped back down so that I could win again. At that moment, I discovered the game had "dynamic difficulty" and it became incredibly easy to "game the system".

When you have a dynamic difficulty system like you're talking about here, it isn't going to be any sort of secret like you think it is. Even if you don't advertise it exists, your players will figure it out. They'll probably figure it out before you even think they would. Most video game players are actually far more clever than devs give them credit for. It's how game players break games, destroy difficulty, get out of maps, discover cheats, exploit glitches, and break the AI of the game.

Video game players are adept at spotting patterns.
They are adept at noticing trends.
They typically explore everything.
They will spend hours to accomplish something they think is impossible.\
And when they're done, they will tell everyone else how it was done.

If you think your audience is going to be so stupid that they wouldn't figure out an RPG had a dynamic difficulty system... Then you're not putting enough stock in video game players. You must also have a very poor opinion of people who play games if you think they're that stupid.

One of the most common rules to being a dev is:
"If it can be broken, your players will find a way to do it, and before you anticipated them to do so."
 

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