Author Topic: Difficulty  (Read 34234 times)

Tycho

  • Newcomer
  • Posts: 2
  • Karma: +0/-0
    • View Profile
Difficulty
« on: August 03, 2009, 01:19:23 AM »
Where exactly is the line between "difficult and challenging" and "unbeatable"?

I was having a pretty good run in POWDER 111 today and met my demise in what I would call a "perfect storm" by the CPU.  It's not an isolated incident, either.  I would chalk it up to just having bad luck, but jeez, I must have broken more mirrors in NetHack than I remember, to get this kind of bad luck.  So many times now I have fled down a darkened corridor from a mob of very angry kobolds/what have you only to trip over a much deadlier monster that quickly deals a killing blow.  It's uncanny.

Also, water elementals and cockatrices are quite possibly the two biggest menaces in the game, because of certain EXTREMELY deadly special attacks they have (strangle and petrify, respectively) that a player has NO defense against unless he has had the good fortune of acquiring certain items, or in the case of the cockatrice, has accumulated sufficient items to counter the attack.  To constantly keep up one's defenses to the task at hand one FREQUENTLY has to quite literally juggle protective baubles of various natures, removing a counter-petrification one to wear a no-breathing one, and again to wear a poison warding one.  And this is assuming you have had the good fortune to find these critical items.

And so I started thinking to myself... at what point does difficulty turn into absurdity?

Don't get me wrong, POWDER 111 is great.  I waste lots of time on it on a daily basis.  But something seems fishy... after having ascended with two roles in NetHack and having been brutalized by IVAN, I would like to think I know what the difference between challenging and absurd is in a roguelike.

Z

  • Rogueliker
  • ***
  • Posts: 905
  • Karma: +0/-0
    • View Profile
    • Z's Roguelike Stuff
Re: Difficulty
« Reply #1 on: August 03, 2009, 11:20:08 AM »
I won legally both in IVAN and POWDER 111 (at least with a warrior), and NetHack is apparently also beatable. So, none of them is unbeatable.

Probably you just have not yet discovered the strategy to avoid strangulation/petrification.

Rya.Reisender

  • Rogueliker
  • ***
  • Posts: 85
  • Karma: +0/-0
    • View Profile
Re: Difficulty
« Reply #2 on: August 06, 2009, 06:56:00 AM »
What I'd consider "perfect difficulty" is if someone who is new to the game has a 0% chance to beat it and someone who has mastered the game has a 100% chance to beat it.

justinhoffman

  • Newcomer
  • Posts: 33
  • Karma: +0/-0
    • View Profile
    • Email
Re: Difficulty
« Reply #3 on: August 07, 2009, 12:59:48 PM »
What I'd consider "perfect difficulty" is if someone who is new to the game has a 0% chance to beat it and someone who has mastered the game has a 100% chance to beat it.

Set that to 15% for someone who has mastered the game and I agree.  An early item of key resistance, spell book, OOD monster, wand, vault, or named mob should have a large impact on the game.

Luck should play a large factor, but mostly in the first 5-7 levels.

Also I think the game should set up high risk high reward situations with the item game.

This is what makes crawl so good in my opinion.
« Last Edit: August 07, 2009, 01:03:41 PM by justinhoffman »

Rya.Reisender

  • Rogueliker
  • ***
  • Posts: 85
  • Karma: +0/-0
    • View Profile
Re: Difficulty
« Reply #4 on: August 07, 2009, 01:11:53 PM »
If you've mastered the game and can't beat it to 100% it just means the whole game's point is to have luck. There's not even a point in bothering with a game like that. Might as well just throw a dice and say I win if it's a 6, similar enjoyment.

Z

  • Rogueliker
  • ***
  • Posts: 905
  • Karma: +0/-0
    • View Profile
    • Z's Roguelike Stuff
Re: Difficulty
« Reply #5 on: August 07, 2009, 01:56:54 PM »
Lots of people find Backgammon and Bridge enjoying, although both games are based on randomness. In Backgammon, you can always lose if your opponent is lucky, but you aim for a strategy which gives you the most probability to win (at least I think so, I am not an expert on backgammon; but I've heard it is interesting from the strategic point of view). In Bridge, you have to make your bidding system be able to tell the partner as much information about your (random) cards as possible (for hands which do happen in practice, no reason for a rule "say 7 clubs if you have 13 clubs"), and your play to maximize the probability of victory.

I think Roguelikes are based on randomness and should also be like that. Being able to win consistently is a good thing, but it's better to make the game interesting (by using randomness) than to make sure that every game is winnable. 15% is OK if the chance is taken into account in an early phase of the game (I don't want to waste a day on a game which I could not win because it was one of the 85%... and in fact waste 5 days until I get into this 15%). But take care that there are no situations when the game is unwinnable for some obvious reason (for example if the dungeon might be unconnected or an essential item might not exist at all).

justinhoffman

  • Newcomer
  • Posts: 33
  • Karma: +0/-0
    • View Profile
    • Email
Re: Difficulty
« Reply #6 on: August 07, 2009, 03:15:53 PM »
If it was all luck, a bad player would win 15% of the time as well.  In a good roguelike only someone who has mastered the game ever wins and a 15% win rate is godly.

Infact, if winning is assured as long as you understand the game mechanics.  What's the point of playing besides just experiencing the game once?  Just read some online spoilers and you win.

« Last Edit: August 07, 2009, 03:19:08 PM by justinhoffman »

Rya.Reisender

  • Rogueliker
  • ***
  • Posts: 85
  • Karma: +0/-0
    • View Profile
Re: Difficulty
« Reply #7 on: August 07, 2009, 05:07:02 PM »
With mastering I meant being able to perfectly play the game, not only understanding all of its mechanics.

There's really no point in playing a game that might be impossible to win to begin with because of bad luck. Whether bad luck creates too strong monsters or bad luck doesn't connect a floor at all doesn't really matter, it's impossible either way.

AmnEn

  • Rogueliker
  • ***
  • Posts: 51
  • Karma: +0/-0
    • View Profile
Re: Difficulty
« Reply #8 on: August 07, 2009, 09:55:44 PM »
Difficulty is a funny topic. I personally don't think a game is ever too easy or too hard. To me, instead its all about the implementation of difficulty. A game can be challenging and brutal as hell and still have that "right" feel about them.
For difficulty to be well implemented it needs to increase from start to finish in a steady way. Even more important, it must not fluctuate between different levels of difficulty for no reason. Most games have that down pretty well. Frustration mostly occurs when the difficulty suddenly spikes or fluctuates. Humans are mostly creatures of habit and those fluctuations tear them right out of their comfort zone. Some might argue that this is a good thing. In general I agree.
In terms of difficulty however I don't think it is. Sudden spikes frequently turn into insurmountable obstacles with no possible way to prevent one distinct outcome: Death of your character. Frustration is born from the feeling of having been treated unfairly. Frustration in return leads to diminishing interest in a game and further more lowers the fun in playing it.
There's another nasty side to difficulty-spikes and that is the fall back onto normal difficulty levels. You've beaten the tough guy and suddenly the game shifts back into its normal gear. Killing the lesser mobs turns into tedious boredom. You already know you can take on much stronger enemies so why does the game toss you back into the newbie pit? It's like someone allowed you to drive in a real fricking tank and after you had a lot of fun with it, he shoves you back into kindergarden to play with boring Toys. Yawn. A good hands on example would be Siegfried in crawl. For those that never played it (what? seriously?): Siegfried is a more or less random boss that appears quite early in the dungeon.
He's a real monster. He's generally far too strong for you to take on and his strength is just so completely out of balance that even if you've progressed several levels further down and turn back to knock him out, you still have a pretty good chance of ending up dead. Still, if you get a couple of lucky items and have a strong character, it is actually possible to take him down the moment he shows up. And once you have killed him, you instantly know that your character is strong enough to survive the next 10 levels of the dungeon without even breaking a sweat. Yawn.

Challenging games are good, it's no problem if it becomes nigh unbeatable at the end, as long as the difficulty progression is steady.
« Last Edit: August 07, 2009, 10:02:53 PM by AmnEn »

Z

  • Rogueliker
  • ***
  • Posts: 905
  • Karma: +0/-0
    • View Profile
    • Z's Roguelike Stuff
Re: Difficulty
« Reply #9 on: August 07, 2009, 10:20:38 PM »
Um, that's Sigmund, not Siegfried... strange that you misspell the name of such a frustrating guy :)

Vanguard

  • Rogueliker
  • ***
  • Posts: 1112
  • Karma: +0/-0
    • View Profile
Re: Difficulty
« Reply #10 on: August 07, 2009, 10:46:30 PM »
There are a lot of different types of difficulty, and I think that in a discussion like this it's important to distinguish between them.

I consider a game more difficult as the more perfect my play needs to be in order to win.  Another way to put it would be to say that a game is more difficult as the number and size of mistakes I can make before losing decreases, the game can be seen as more difficult.

I consider a game cheap if I can lose due to factors completely out of my control.  Since roguelikes are as random as they are a "perfect storm," as Tycho put it, will inevitably come up from time to time.

My preference on randomness is that the game never presents the player with an unwinnable situation, but it should present them with interesting and difficult situations, requiring them to constantly adapt and change their plans to survive.

Then there's the subject of spoilers.  In Nethack in particular, there are a lot of ways you can die off that you would have no way of knowing about, but once you know about them, you can avoid that death in the future.  Is this a challenge or is it just being cheap?  I'm torn because I don't like dying to a circumstantial thing that I could never have known about, but on the other hand I do like experimentation and discovery.

I would say that Mage Guild is a good example of a game that has difficulty, but is fair, and IVAN is a good example of a game that is both difficult and unfair.

I have to disagree with AmnEn's assessment on difficulty curves.  In a more traditional game where a player can save and pick up from the same spot when they die, gradually increasing difficulty is generally viewed as good design.

Roguelikes aren't that way though.  They're designed to be replayed a lot.  Especially the beginning.  It seems tedious if the start is too easy for you, but the middle game is at about your skill level, so every time you want to take another shot at that mid-game boss you have to slog through an hour of content that you know is too easy for you.

One way of handling it that I like is by rewarding the player not just for completing a section of the game, but for how well they completed that section of the game.

I'll choose Angband as my counterexample.  In Angband you can replay any dungeon level as many times as you want, getting money, equipment, potions, and experience until you're satisfied and move on.  Anything that doesn't kill your character you can fix with time, and the only things that really matter are that your character is alive, and that they and their equipment are up to date.

I'm going to use Mage Guild again as a contrast.  In Mage Guild you cannot replay old content, and so it's important to balance the preservation of your early game resources with your character's survival.  Do well and you'll be stocked with a good supply of potions and abilities for the late game, but if you come across difficulties, you may have to learn a weaker spell for the short term or use a valuable potion early that will make things more challenging later on.  That way the beginning can still be fairly easy to survive, but almost as important as survival is surviving while expending as few of your resources as possible.

justinhoffman

  • Newcomer
  • Posts: 33
  • Karma: +0/-0
    • View Profile
    • Email
Re: Difficulty
« Reply #11 on: August 10, 2009, 03:31:10 PM »
With mastering I meant being able to perfectly play the game, not only understanding all of its mechanics.

There's really no point in playing a game that might be impossible to win to begin with because of bad luck. Whether bad luck creates too strong monsters or bad luck doesn't connect a floor at all doesn't really matter, it's impossible either way.

 I think maybe we are talking about two different things in discussing luck. I see risk as luck.  To me a roguelike intentionally hides information from the player through item identification and FoV, adds a dice roll to combat, and randomly generates gear/enemies to create risk.

Now if luck means there is a 50/50 chance the game will give you enough resources to win or that the levels will be connected or the enemies you are faced with are beatable, then yes this is poor design.  However, risk is created by providing situations where success cannot be determined given the knowledge provided to a player.

For example, say you enter combat with an enemy and another joins the fray from outside your FoV.  A smart player may weigh his odds and determine fleeing is the best option.  He might use a teleport scroll and randomly find himself in another area.  This isn't without risk however, as he might find himself in a worse situation and die.

If you always have perfect knowledge of the game and the outcome of each action, such as in chess, than yes a good player should always win.  However, I think withholding the game state leads to more interesting play, say as in poker.

You have no way of knowing if the next blow will hit, you only know the odds.  You don't know if retreating into the next room will leave you in a worse situation or not, only the odds.  You have no idea whether that un-id potion will benefit you or hurt you, only the odds.

As the game progresses and the player accumulates resources and develops their character, they should have more control over the game and find themselves less forced to play the odds.

But ideally there cannot be perfect play, as perfect play requires perfect knowledge of the game state.  To achieve perfect play you'd need to know the state of the RNG.  If you could achieve perfect play then winning should be 100% assured.   Perfect play would require counting the cards, barring that you are left playing the hand you are dealt.
« Last Edit: August 10, 2009, 03:45:05 PM by justinhoffman »

Rya.Reisender

  • Rogueliker
  • ***
  • Posts: 85
  • Karma: +0/-0
    • View Profile
Re: Difficulty
« Reply #12 on: August 10, 2009, 07:01:26 PM »
I suppose we play out of different reasons then. What I like about roguelikes is that they are skill-based in contrast to RPGs which are mainly 'grinding' based.
For me the only purpose of the randomness is to create replayability.

Clearability based on luck is just bad design. I understand that it makes sense in a game like poker, a game where a player plays against another player and is only short. But in a videogame where one round can take several hours an unclearable game is just wrong.

justinhoffman

  • Newcomer
  • Posts: 33
  • Karma: +0/-0
    • View Profile
    • Email
Re: Difficulty
« Reply #13 on: August 10, 2009, 07:55:03 PM »
I suppose we play out of different reasons then. What I like about roguelikes is that they are skill-based in contrast to RPGs which are mainly 'grinding' based.
For me the only purpose of the randomness is to create replayability.

Clearability based on luck is just bad design. I understand that it makes sense in a game like poker, a game where a player plays against another player and is only short. But in a videogame where one round can take several hours an unclearable game is just wrong.

  I think it depends on your definition of skill and whether you want players to make high risk/reward decisions or to solve puzzles.  Nethack and Crawl seem like the two extremes on that.
« Last Edit: August 10, 2009, 07:58:25 PM by justinhoffman »

Ex

  • IRC Communications Delegate
  • Rogueliker
  • ***
  • Posts: 313
  • Karma: +0/-0
    • View Profile
Re: Difficulty
« Reply #14 on: August 10, 2009, 10:20:19 PM »
I personally don't believe in developing games that the player can't win. To me, the player should never lose. If the player dies, he might quit, and then he might never play my game again. Also, I don't like playing games I can't win.

However, I highly respect that others like to develop games that kill the player quite frequently. There's nothing wrong with developing a game this way, I just wouldn't do it personally. Nethack IMO would be far better if the player died significantly less, but I still love Nethack. It's a matter of style, some games and developers like killing the player a lot, others don't. Nothing wrong with either approach, but I like the latter.

I really believe every time you kill the player, there's a chance he never plays your game again..