Making your project tough but fair.

BloodletterQ

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Worried about making my project become too difficult or easy to break. Wondering what are some thoughts in this board regarding the ideal level of difficulty in an RPG without being too unfair. Any RPGs I should look into?
 

bgillisp

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I find the best way to make it tough but fair is to not make a game that you find hard personally, because anything you find hard the players are going to find impossible. This is because you know the ins and outs of the battle system and your game, and the players do not, so they will not always use the optimal moves.
 

Andar

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there is no ideal level.

On the easiest of all RPGs you'll still find players that call it too tough, and on the toughest of all RPGs you'll still find players who consider it too easy.

The only thing you can do is to make the game for a level you want, and then have players who consider that level to be fun playtest it.
 

TheTitan99

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I've all but given up ever understanding what people will call easy or hard. The feedback I've gotten has varied so wildly, calling the exact same event anything from being comically easy to soul crushingly hard depending on the player.

The best advice I can give is to get a LOT of testers, document everything they say, and look for trends. If 10 people say this one spot is too hard, look into it more closely than 1 person saying something is too hard.
 

CleanWater

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Any RPGs I should look into?
Play Phantasy Star II, then play Phantasy Star IV (in that order). You will come to your own conclusions quickly. :wink:
 

Wavelength

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I think that the best thing you can do as a designer is not to try to strike the perfect balance between easy and difficult (this is astoundingly hard to do), but rather to give yourself a wider balance target to hit. I talk extensively in this post about how to design systems where gameplay should still be satisfying even if your estimation of a battle's difficulty or the player's expected power level turns out to be a little bit off.

Since this topic goes beyond the scope of "how do you handle difficulty" and also touches on "what is unfair or painful to the player", I'll add a few more hints in addition to what I mentioned in that linked post, which will help you ensure that even a too-difficult battle or segment won't ruin the player's experience:
  • If possible, avoid completely gating progression with the need to win specific battles. Allow the player to go somewhere else and do things that feel like they are progressing the adventure (or at least important objectives) even if the player gets 'stuck' on a particular boss battle - or offer ways to bypass the battle entirely.
    • If your story is so linear that this isn't feasible, and you feel your story wouldn't work in a more nonlinear structure, then err on the easy side for most boss battles, and fill the areas around harder boss battles with high-EXP monster encounters to give players who are having trouble a good grinding opportunity.
    • Alternatively, consider allowing the player to make boss battles easier once they've lost once or twice. This doesn't feel great for the player, but it does feel a whole lot better than trying and failing twelve times.
  • Offer the player some sort of limited "trump card" mechanic or items that they can use when they need a little boost to get them over the edge. It could be something like BoF Dragon Quarter's Transformation mechanic where you take on a very powerful dragon form but a danger meter permanently rises (doing something bad if it reaches 100%), perhaps recovering a bit as you complete primary objectives, or it could be something like very powerful one-use items found in limited quantities throughout the game like Super Mario RPG's Red Essences that make the party invulnerable for a few turns. What's nice about these "trump cards" is that it will allow the player to weather a single battle that's particularly hard for them, without forcing you to tone down the difficulty of the entire game in fear that any given battle might be too hard for a certain player.
  • Don't make the player retrace their steps (for more than a minute or two) from the last save point if they fall in battle. It's okay for a player to lose progress if the narrative and/or gameplay they encounter on a second try will be fundamentally different from what they did the first time - but forcing the player to tread the same exact ground they've already walked, after the disappointment of losing a battle in the first place, is one of the best ways to sap a player's motivation for playing your game.
  • Offer ways for the player to "master" your battle system. Mastery can come in a lot of different ways - learning reliable enemy patterns, developing skill at timing/action mechanics, finding creative skill combos, and making tough decisions using lots of information, to name a few - but importantly, it revolves around the player getting better at the battle system (or a specific battle); it does not revolve around the characters getting stronger. Not only does this concept of Mastery make for fun, rich combat systems in general - it also reduces frustration because it allows the player to feel like they are working toward success even when a battle ends in defeat.
 

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