Author Topic: What makes a roguelike easy or hard?  (Read 1125 times)

SomeGuy

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What makes a roguelike easy or hard?
« on: September 08, 2016, 02:52:17 PM »
Trying to develop a roguelike-like game.

But I came up with a serious problem: what makes a roguelike game hard or easy?
I mean with that, which *fair* factor should increase or decrease a roguelike game difficulty.

For example, having overpowered enemies is not a fair feature. That is something that the player cannot control or even participate in any decision.
But if we think about limited number of spells casts, or weapons durability or similar factors, they can make the roguelike easy or hard if the player doesn't make the correct decision.

Or anything similar to that, which is a feature of the game that the player has to take into consideration, since it is a necessary but limited resource/mechanics/<whatever>.

So then, which features do you think are worth considering when trying to establish a difficulty for a roguelike?

AgingMinotaur

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Re: What makes a roguelike easy or hard?
« Reply #1 on: September 08, 2016, 07:24:25 PM »
Hi, that is a very broad question :P :)

Try to get a prototype that you can play as soon as possible. It's near impossible to assess how difficult a given system will be in advance (especially if you're not an experienced game designer already). And when you get to the point where you're testing your own game, keep in mind that you're a lot better at it than most players. Ie. enemies that are windshield kills to you, will be a challenge to a newbie, and the stuff that you find difficult will be unbeatable to some.

Difficult features in games should of course always be interesting. As you note, putting in overpowered enemies (or just scaling enemies' HP as you get deeper in the dungeon) isn't very fun at all. Enemies with special abilities, on the other hand, can be fun. Most RLs feature one or more basic enemies (aka "giant rats", "zombies") which will usually just charge the player and attack in melee. A step up from this is any enemy with a single special trait: One that is fast, or uses ranged attacks, or is slow but super strong, etc. It doesn't always have to be "special attacks" either. Mixing in enemies with different behaviour patterns can give rise to a lot of challenging game positions. It goes without saying that any enemy you normally encounter should be beatable (or avoidable/manageable if you play well). Strictly speaking, a game can be said to be broken if it ever generates unwinnable positions (given perfect play from turn 1), but you'll have to at least partially rely on your gut instincts.

If your game depends on limited resources (potions, mana points, power cooldowns, whatever), the right balance is usually that the player will find/have just enough to get by.

In the end, it all depends on what you want. Some games use procedural lock+key puzzles (Brogue and Ultima Ratio Regum spring to mind), some require intelligent usage of spells/abilities (like Caves of Qud or Legerdemain), others go for a more pure tactical tension (check out PrincessRL and Hoplite, and a plethora of other 7DRLs). Rogue itself is a notoriously difficult game, and yet supremely well designed. It more or less invented typical RL systems like hunger and identification, and stands still as a shining example of what these systems are really all about.

You can also have strategic decisions which are "hard" in a sense, such as whether to invest skill points in weapon mastery or magic, or which wand to leave behind if you have a limited inventory space. If you like to play RLs as well, take note of how your favourite games implement systems to be difficult/interesting/whatever-it-is-that-like-about-them. Also, read up on which games are out there and check out the ones that seem interesting. Steal and adjust the ideas that you like.

Hope some of these stray thoughts can serve to inspire in one way or the other.

As always,
Minotauros
This matir, as laborintus, Dedalus hous, hath many halkes and hurnes ... wyndynges and wrynkelynges.

Krice

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Re: What makes a roguelike easy or hard?
« Reply #2 on: September 08, 2016, 08:53:37 PM »
That is something that the player cannot control

You need to learn about the concept of random number generator before even asking that kind of question. Of course player can't control everything, what kind of game would that even be? Even Tetris throws random blocks without the player being able to control that part of the game.

SomeGuy

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Re: What makes a roguelike easy or hard?
« Reply #3 on: September 08, 2016, 11:37:35 PM »
Hi, that is a very broad question :P :)

Try to get a prototype that you can play as soon as possible. It's near impossible to assess how difficult a given system will be in advance (especially if you're not an experienced game designer already). And when you get to the point where you're testing your own game, keep in mind that you're a lot better at it than most players. Ie. enemies that are windshield kills to you, will be a challenge to a newbie, and the stuff that you find difficult will be unbeatable to some.

Right.
The prototype is a roguelike-like, like the aforementioned Legerdemain.
Non-random maps, easy to die, and when this happens, the player can choose to "die" or to be resurrected with a penalty (losing gold, decreasing attributes, losing one random object from inventory, or whatever), so death is something to be avoided.
He cannot save whenever he pleases, only like "Save and quit".

Difficult features in games should of course always be interesting. As you note, putting in overpowered enemies (or just scaling enemies' HP as you get deeper in the dungeon) isn't very fun at all. Enemies with special abilities, on the other hand, can be fun. Most RLs feature one or more basic enemies (aka "giant rats", "zombies") which will usually just charge the player and attack in melee. A step up from this is any enemy with a single special trait: One that is fast, or uses ranged attacks, or is slow but super strong, etc. It doesn't always have to be "special attacks" either. Mixing in enemies with different behaviour patterns can give rise to a lot of challenging game positions. It goes without saying that any enemy you normally encounter should be beatable (or avoidable/manageable if you play well). Strictly speaking, a game can be said to be broken if it ever generates unwinnable positions (given perfect play from turn 1), but you'll have to at least partially rely on your gut instincts.

But monsters' special attacks or abilities are something limited, and once you know how to deal with a monster with such ability, the game difficulty will difficulty and so the challenge it represents to the player.
Also, due to the nature of the game I'm developing, magic is a very limited and scarce resource or skill, but powerful.

If your game depends on limited resources (potions, mana points, power cooldowns, whatever), the right balance is usually that the player will find/have just enough to get by.

In the end, it all depends on what you want. Some games use procedural lock+key puzzles (Brogue and Ultima Ratio Regum spring to mind), some require intelligent usage of spells/abilities (like Caves of Qud or Legerdemain), others go for a more pure tactical tension (check out PrincessRL and Hoplite, and a plethora of other 7DRLs). Rogue itself is a notoriously difficult game, and yet supremely well designed. It more or less invented typical RL systems like hunger and identification, and stands still as a shining example of what these systems are really all about.

I kinda like this more. It looks like the player must manage the difficulty at all times. Using consumables early on could lead to problems later, while reserving these resources from the beginning could make hard to reach deeper dungeon levels since you are making the game harder in the begining.

But in this case, both low level mobs and high level mobs should represent a rather similar challenge for the player, otherwise there is no reason why the player should use potions or spells at the beginning. I mean, if a rat is not a challenge at all, then the player will just save these potions since he doesn't need them at all, so the logical decision is not to use them.

Nothing bad about this, but the problem could come if the player saves a huge amount of resources for later levels, then these later levels would be too easy.

You can also have strategic decisions which are "hard" in a sense, such as whether to invest skill points in weapon mastery or magic, or which wand to leave behind if you have a limited inventory space.

Limited inventory space is something that I have been working on already. I am more inclined to think about a weight-managed inventory.
In this case, the player again must manage how easy he wants the game to be now and in the future:
saving potions in the inventory for later will not allow him to carry one extra weapon for low level monsters (a problem if your current sword breaks). But if you have a pair of sword and do not pick up potions, these swords might become to weak when fighting dragons instead of rats.

So either drop the sword or drop the potions... Or find the best balance.


If you like to play RLs as well, take note of how your favourite games implement systems to be difficult/interesting/whatever-it-is-that-like-about-them. Also, read up on which games are out there and check out the ones that seem interesting. Steal and adjust the ideas that you like.

Hope some of these stray thoughts can serve to inspire in one way or the other.

As always,
Minotauros

Actually I have several favourite RLs, and their approach to difficulty is different, such as Nethack or DCSS.

Yes, your thoughts are really useful. Thank you.
I think I will experiment with the limited resources and volume-managed inventory by now.

AgingMinotaur

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Re: What makes a roguelike easy or hard?
« Reply #4 on: September 09, 2016, 10:02:17 PM »
[…] Enemies with special abilities […]

But monsters' special attacks or abilities are something limited, and once you know how to deal with a monster with such ability, the game difficulty will difficulty and so the challenge it represents to the player.

"the game difficulty will difficulty"=?

Anyway, I think I get what you mean :) This can also be affected by stuff like healing and experience, though. Taking as an example my own old, abandoned game Squirm: One of the things I'm pretty content with, is the monsters (at least the low to mid level ones). The basic "windshield kill" (goblin aardvarks) are quite easy to take down once you learn the basics of the game. But there is no "wait to heal", so even if you encounter a goblin aardvark that you expect to beat and lose only 1 or 2 hp, you're still better off avoiding the fight, if you can (you don't get xp from killing). Then there are situations where a few goblin aardvarks appear together with a more formidable enemy, which makes things more complicated. There were also critters which could pose a threat or be used to your advantage, like nightswarmers, which simply move randomly and attack anything in their path: A single mob of this type can be run around or hacked down, but a whole swarm in a cavernous room will either be a threat (for instance if you're running from a group of dangerous nothingarians) or a boon (if you have mapped it already, you can lead your enemies to it).

Also, due to the nature of the game I'm developing, magic is a very limited and scarce resource or skill, but powerful.
It doesn't have to be "magic", though. Consider that the exact same ability could be labeled as "blink" or "jump", depending on setting and such. You may not want jumping in your game, of course, I'm just saying you shouldn't restrict yourself unnecessarily.

If your game depends on limited resources (potions, mana points, power cooldowns, whatever), the right balance is usually that the player will find/have just enough to get by. […]

[…] But in this case, both low level mobs and high level mobs should represent a rather similar challenge for the player, otherwise there is no reason why the player should use potions or spells at the beginning. I mean, if a rat is not a challenge at all, then the player will just save these potions since he doesn't need them at all, so the logical decision is not to use them.

If that turns out to be a problem, you haven't managed to balance the game so that the player finds "just enough to get by", though, have you? ;) See Rogue for an exmaple of this done well. Also, loot tends to scale along with monsters. In the first levels, you might find flashbang grenades, which are useful to take out basic zombies, or might come in handy later if you manage to save them. For tight spots in the late game, though, you'll probably also have found better equipment, like a plasma gun to blast away the spawn of Nyarlathotep, or whatever – even if a spare flashbang grenade might be what spells the difference between life and death in the end.

As always,
Minotauros
This matir, as laborintus, Dedalus hous, hath many halkes and hurnes ... wyndynges and wrynkelynges.

Xecutor

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Re: What makes a roguelike easy or hard?
« Reply #5 on: September 12, 2016, 01:53:58 PM »
IMO difficulty is defined by the cost of an error.

mushroom patch

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Re: What makes a roguelike easy or hard?
« Reply #6 on: September 14, 2016, 02:02:19 AM »
Roguelikes that are easy are ones where the player has a lot of control and where things are very predictable. Angband is a good example.

Beyond that, there is not a lot you can say since it depends on specific mechanics. As the designer you want to create a system you understand and can analyze so that you can tune it to a difficulty level you want and re-tune it when players show you you were wrong about what the best way to play is, etc. The worst thing you can do is introduce a lot of complex formulas and nonlinearities that will resist your attempts to re-tune things. You can see this phenomenon in crawl, for example.