It's a little difficult to answer due to your focus on realism. It really depends what realism means to you. I'll give a few examples of things that could be used to control difficulty, but may fail your reality test depending:
- Change ratios of different types of animals, e.g. more benign ones, less dangerous ones.
- Provide more resources, e.g. shelter, things to make tools out of.
- Have other friendlies (or at least non-hostiles) so there are more opportunities for trade or that someone will help you out in a fight.
- Make resources available in the context they're needed, e.g. healing herbs near poisonous creatures.
- Change the season or climate, e.g. temperature, availability of water, etc.
the reality test used up to now has been pretty harsh:
if it ain't real, it ain't in there!
according to that acid test:
* easier encounters would work against the balance of animal types for any given terrain.
* additional resources would go against things like the realistic frequency distribution of rock shelters and caves (natural shelters) - the mere calculation of which required days of research)
* increased frequency would go against the realistic frequency distribution of humans during paleolithic times (there weren't many of us, but we moved around a lot, so encounters were not infrequent).
* resources in context where they're needed seems rather scripted and contrived, one thing i absolutely want to say away from in any game i make.
* change the season - now there's one i use already . i start the game 90 days into the year, so the player starts in spring, and has 6 months to prepare for winter. then again, the weather engine still isn't quite right (not realistic enough a model i suspect)., so in playtesting i'm getting freezing temperatures, cold exposure damage, and snow in sandy deserts in april-may! <g>. don't worry - ill fix it ! <g>.
but as you say, if one was to bend reality a bit, those would be excellent candidates for adjustment (well, except maybe the context thing - a matter personal tastes there)
considering each as the game now stands:
* you are able to flee most encounters while weak, and its only occasionally that you'll get an unwinable encounter that kills you, forcing a re-load of a savegame - despite realistic encounter types and frequencies. after all, if the real thing was too hard, we never would have made it! <g>. so easier encounters is probably not necessary, except perhaps to filter out those rare "instant death - no saving throw" type encounters. the game already balances encounter strength to player party strength, but what are you supposed to do when a 1st level noob randomly encounters a saber tooth? make it a lost cub? <g> fact is, sometimes, we got eaten! <g>.
* resource depletion is modeled, but not something that's too hard to overcome. once again, if the real world weren't sufficiently bountiful, we never would have made it! <g>.
resource frequency is a concern though, i suspect it may be too low in general for some basics like wood and stone. i think i need to do more research on that issue. just how many trees are there in the world? and how many rocks? how hard should it be to find this stuff? god! the questions i've had to research for this game! <g>
* as i said before, caveman encounters are surprisingly somewhat frequent. all non hostile cavemen will instantly attack any nearby threat (or flee if injured), so only the badguys are not on your side. odds are more npcs aren't required. fact is, i usually try to move on when i encounter npc's or animals. once i move far enough away, they are removed from the simulation, and accelerated time runs faster, allowing me to get on with healing, sleeping, crafting, learning skills, gathering resources or whatever i'm trying to accomplish. its only when i want to hunt or trade that i seek out encounters.
the major "difficulties" in the game so far only seem relate to:
* long healing times
* low hit points vs tough animals
* finding resources (not much wood in the Great Plains of North America, the Sahara, or the steppes of Asia, for example)
* finding natural shelter (now i understand why rock shelters and caves were occupied for long periods - high demand real estate! <g>).
All difficulties one actually encountered back then.
As for gameplay:
* long healing times for the sake of realism are a definite gameplay breaker.
* The deadly encounters aren't that big a deal, i get the same thing in Skyrim, playing at expert, master, or legendary, then all of a sudden i run into an ancient dragon or a master vampire and it all over before i can even reset the difficulty level.
* resource frequency may be an issue. further playtesting is required to confirm the balance is correct. but this is the 3rd version of the game, and resource frequency hasn't changed much since v1.0, which was well balanced and did quite well.
* natural shelter is uncommon (as per reality back then), but you have the full gambit of man made shelters to choose from as well.
Edited by Norman Barrows, 11 March 2014 - 10:02 PM.