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Topics - Bells

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Design / Adaptive Difficulty
« on: November 10, 2014, 02:33:32 PM »
One of the things I've always found frustrating about roguelikes (or some roguelikes at least), is how difficult it can be for a beginner to make progress in the game. It takes a large amount of trial and error to get to know which monsters you can attack safely without losing too much health, how long to spend on a dungeon before descending so as you don't run out of food or miss any important items you need later etc.

For some people this is part of the fun and indeed I find it quite satisfying to spend a few days casually playing and learning the basic mechanics of a game and seeing my increasing progress, but having begun designing a roguelike myself with a heavy focus on intelligent and adaptive AI, I'm wondering whether the concept of adaptive difficulty would play well in a roguelike setting or not.

For those that aren't familiar, adaptive difficulty usually works by assigning the player a score based on how many times they die during a set amount of time. So for example, if you die lots throughout the entire game, you will end up with a low score, whereas if you die over and over on a particularly difficult part of a level but are fine through most of the game, you will still have a higher score (and thus a more challenging game).

Obviously, with permadeath, the score would be calculated not on how many times you die but instead on hp. So for example, if you lose a large amount of hp every time you go into combat you will end up with a lower score, than someone who is more skillful in combat and loses fewer hp (speaking theoretically here, an actual technical implementation would be more complicated I imagine).

Anyway, what I'm getting at is the overarching goal of reducing player frustration. So let's say a player isn't very good, we reduce the health of some of the more powerful monsters or spawn fewer of them to make combat 'lighter', the AI is less likely to use powerful attacks, or it neglects to take certain factors into consideration when deciding which action is 'optimal', so for example, the smart AI might notice a door and a corridor (slightly further away) which it can escape to and choose the corridor because that is the most familiar path (anything could be on the other side of the door), whereas the less intelligent AI might choose the door, only to find that it's locked, giving the player more time to attack, more chances to attack.

Just some ideas that have been floating around in my mind anyway, thought I would share them as I'm interested to hear peoples thoughts on this. In reality, I think it would be difficult to implement and I'm thinking that if I did include it as an option in the game, it would be limited to boss battles or strategic fights which can be controlled and balanced at different difficulty levels, with the appropriate difficulty level being selected based on the players 'score'. Although they would still have the option of 'taunting' the monster which would anger it and increase the difficulty level (good for players who'd done the fight before but wanted more of a challenge the second time around).

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