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Kest

Dynamic difficulty discourages success

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Kest    547
I don't want to go into a rant. I would just like to see some counters to this simple point. Every time I play a game that uses dynamic difficulty, I feel like a super hero that can't be caught kicking too much butt. If I'm caught, the game gods will bestow powers to my enemies, or worse, zap away my own. For each fight, I have to make sure I don't do too well, so I won't be tortured for it later on. In some cases, I might even want to lose an easy fight or two on purpose, so I won't have such a hard time with something that actually is tough for me. I hate having this kind of crap circling my head while I'm playing a game. My favorite thing to do in a game is to give it my all. I want to destroy my enemies, and not purposely barely win each fight. I'll wait for responses before I go into any more. Facts are unimportant. Opinions are welcome.

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Sneftel    1788
I've got good/bad news for you: Only game developers have this crap circling our head. It's the same unfortunate gaming trait that makes us quickload to check out the other branches of dialog trees. Pretty much everyone else just wants a decent but not overwhelming challenge. They don't minmax, and they certainly don't minmax by throwing fights.

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Symphonic    313
I don't get it;

This is (as I see it) the ideal play experience:

You sit down to play "El Game" and you're faced with a non-challenge to begin with, you utterly school it. The next fight is tougher, you beat it. The next fight is a solid challenge, you fail at it once, but get through next time taking a right bruising. The next fight is a good challenge, you don't die, but you get hurt and dish out plenty of hurt. The fights oscillate between slightly easier than your level, and slightly harder than your level. Overall you progress through the game. Whenever you begin consistently failing things scale back to help you get through. Your final score is based on the actual quality of your play, so you're still ranked higher than the lesser players. Overall you always play your best without holding back.

Where's the problem?

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brent_w    100
Quote:
Original post by Sneftel
I've got good/bad news for you: Only game developers have this crap circling our head. It's the same unfortunate gaming trait that makes us quickload to check out the other branches of dialog trees.
I always wondered why nobody else I know does that.


edit:
Quote:
Original post by Symphonic
I don't get it;

This is (as I see it) the ideal play experience:

You sit down to play "El Game" and you're faced with a non-challenge to begin with, you utterly school it. The next fight is tougher, you beat it. The next fight is a solid challenge, you fail at it once, but get through next time taking a right bruising. The next fight is a good challenge, you don't die, but you get hurt and dish out plenty of hurt. The fights oscillate between slightly easier than your level, and slightly harder than your level. Overall you progress through the game. Whenever you begin consistently failing things scale back to help you get through. Your final score is based on the actual quality of your play, so you're still ranked higher than the lesser players. Overall you always play your best without holding back.

Where's the problem?
Well for me, it's the exact same problem I have with level scaling difficulty. Oblivion is the very first game to come to mind ... level scaling difficulty absolutely destroyed my long term interest in the game.

By the end of a game I want to feel some level of accomplishment.

I've spent all this time leveling up, developing my skills, exploring the most dangerous and mysterious places, and gathering the most legendary and powerful equipment ... I kind of expect to feel 'powerful' at this point. But the immersion is totally destroyed as you notice that, for some unfathomable reason, every single enemy you encounter is now every bit as powerful and epic as yourself.


And, most jarringly in Oblivion, the very same type of "awesome", "rare" armor that I was so proud of myself for collecting from the depths of a deep dungeon just a few levels ago ... is now being worn by highway thieves who are considerably stronger than I recall the denizens of said epic dungeon being.

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Sneftel    1788
Quote:
Original post by brent_w
Quote:
Original post by Symphonic
Where's the problem?
Well for me, it's the exact same problem I have with level scaling difficulty. Oblivion is the very first game to come to mind ... level scaling difficulty absolutely destroyed my long term interest in the game.
Oblivion is terrible in this regard, but that's mostly a matter of (IMHO) them picking the wrong way to resolve paradoxes in the game they wanted. On the one hand, they wanted you to be challenged by the areas you do at higher levels despite being more of a badass than you were when you were lower level; on the other hand, they want you to be able to walk by any given Ayleid ruin, pop in on a lark, and find that the content is about the right level of difficulty. Their solution was to ramp up monster levels while keeping the rest of the content the same. The problem, though, is that the need to keep monster populations more or less constant led to them replacing, rather than simply adding, enemies.

I don't think this is an unsolvable problem. When a character goes into a dungeon, set its difficulty based on the character's level plus/minus some random amount. About 30% of the time, you should be utterly outclassed by the monsters you meet, and need to make a mental note to come back when you're more of a badass. And when you're up in the teens levels, quit just adding trolls and such to the main map, and let the player feel like a badass for not having to bother with the wolves nipping at Shadowfaxmere's flanks. I don't think that auto-ramped content by itself is a problem... it just needs to be carefully done, to still allow players to feel (a) underpowered, and (b) overpowered at times.

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Kest    547
Quote:
Original post by Sneftel
I've got good/bad news for you: Only game developers have this crap circling our head. It's the same unfortunate gaming trait that makes us quickload to check out the other branches of dialog trees. Pretty much everyone else just wants a decent but not overwhelming challenge. They don't minmax, and they certainly don't minmax by throwing fights.

I think you're underestimating the awareness of typical gamers. It's not that difficult to "feel" what's happening. Especially in games where each challenge is easy to compare to previous situations (fighting, sports, TBS, RTS, RPG).

Quote:
Original post by Symphonic
You sit down to play "El Game" and you're faced with a non-challenge to begin with, you utterly school it. The next fight is tougher, you beat it. The next fight is a solid challenge, you fail at it once, but get through next time taking a right bruising. The next fight is a good challenge, you don't die, but you get hurt and dish out plenty of hurt. The fights oscillate between slightly easier than your level, and slightly harder than your level. Overall you progress through the game. Whenever you begin consistently failing things scale back to help you get through. Your final score is based on the actual quality of your play, so you're still ranked higher than the lesser players. Overall you always play your best without holding back.

Where's the problem?

The first game, you stomp the AI and win. You feel slightly penalized on the next fight, but you overcome the hardship and stomp the AI again. Next time, your speed:99 player is being outrun by speed:77 characters, and your character feels pretty nerfed, but you still manage to bust the AI up really badly with pure strategy. Before you know it, the game has penalized you so badly that you can't compete with it normally anymore. Instead of fighting the characters, the only way to keep winning is to trick the game with really lame strategies that the AI can't figure out.

I stop having fun on the second attempt, where my character is penalized for winning. The penalty is usually difficult to ignore, since you have to change your winning strategy to overcome it (which I guess is the whole point). It's not a pleasant experience, so I expect most people will want to completely avoid stomping the AI the first time around.

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JasRonq    156
Symphonic, if the AI go better or worse instead of the enemies just getting a damage and health multiplier then maybe it would work that way. i wish it did. But isntead, you school a fight then the next one schools you. then the next three school you progressively less and less. Eventually you play timidly, creeping around corners afraid to walk in the light because 2 hits from out of sight will kill you. Playing this way you find you can get through the fights but barely, and so the difficulty gods are appeased, you are barely making it through, so it must be the perfect difficulty. Either that or it never settles at all and the difficulty of the fights varies wildly and constantly.

In oblivion, I found this wasn't quite true though. The difficulty grew with the player pretty accurately. So accurately that fighting the leveled zombies was the same at any level, 3 or 13 or 23 they were pretty much the same. You could level 20 times and the game didn't really respond to it. I can't say that actively discourages leveling (a measure of success) but it certainly gave me no reason to seek it out.

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brent_w    100
Quote:
Original post by JasRonq
I can't say that actively discourages leveling (a measure of success) but it certainly gave me no reason to seek it out.
It certainly discouraged me from leveling. :-(

My first play-though, for some reason my character leveled very quickly ... halfway though the game it got to the point where everywhere you went, every piece of equipment was top tier. Every enemy was wearing it ... every box had it ... it was mind bogglingly annoying and boring.

I ended up just abandoning that file and trying to start over ... this time going out of my way to level up as slowly as possible in a desperate attempt to keep some semblance of variety in my progression through the game.

(Eventually I just grew too bored and un-immersed to care and gave up on the game entirely.)

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Kest    547
Quote:
Original post by Sneftel
I don't think this is an unsolvable problem. When a character goes into a dungeon, set its difficulty based on the character's level plus/minus some random amount. About 30% of the time, you should be utterly outclassed by the monsters you meet, and need to make a mental note to come back when you're more of a badass. And when you're up in the teens levels, quit just adding trolls and such to the main map, and let the player feel like a badass for not having to bother with the wolves nipping at Shadowfaxmere's flanks. I don't think that auto-ramped content by itself is a problem... it just needs to be carefully done, to still allow players to feel (a) underpowered, and (b) overpowered at times.

I think another improvement would be to just stop trying to hide the changes from the player. Acknowledge their accomplishment by making the game world visibly change to man up against them.

Have the enemies do something that makes sense in the game world. Have them bring in new vehicles, weapons, or armor, or mix up their strategy. Once the changes are made, and if the player still destroys them, then consider that enemy vanquished. Once they're useless, penalize the player's earned experience/money/points against them, or have them retreat and scatter into distant lands while bringing in something else.

Anything that can be stealthily modified in the background can be made to look realistic in the game world. Have the enemies boast about the change, and taunt the player with it. Give the player a sense of accomplishment for pushing them into the next level. Make it actually mean something to win.

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JasRonq    156
well, while you might be running into nothing but top tier at level 30, you run into nothing but bottom tier at level 5. there is rarely any variety. what you find is exactly what is keyed in for your level. The system then is basically the same picture at any level, there is almost no change. Thats why I said it doesn't discourage, it jstu doesn't encourage either. It really is quite boring.

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Symphonic    313
Quote:
Original post by Kest
...It's not a pleasant experience, so I expect most people will want to completely avoid stomping the AI the first time around.


Quote:
Original post by JasRonq
...Playing this way you find you can get through the fights but barely, and so the difficulty gods are appeased, you are barely making it through, so it must be the perfect difficulty...


Weeeell, I don't think these are fair counterpoints, they are cases of particular executions failing on the grounds of delivering an experience that is unsatisfactory. Ask yourself this; How could the developer of this game execute difficulty scaling in a way that would be fun and compelling for me?

Kest; clearly the game you're talking about doesn't deliver an experience that appeals to you, but maybe your desired experience doesn't line up with what the designer had in mind anyway. The designer is often responsible for delivering a very particular experience to the players.

Perhaps the goal was to make it a mad struggle at every turn (L4D), or an oscillatory easy-hard-easy-hard experience (Half Life), or a relentless assault (Alien Shooter), or a ponderous and well thought out battle of wits (Civ 4), or a mind-boggling expanse of things infinitely more powerful than you (EVE-Online). Whatever the experience you were aiming for, scaled difficulty is a way to deliver that same experience to players of different skill levels (not that you can scale difficulty in a MOG).

Maybe the honest truth is that you (personally) really do just want fights you can win. That's a perfectly fair thing to ask of a source of entertainment. I think this could be a new role for 'difficulty settings' -- if you choose 'easy' it shouldn't matter how bad you are at the game, it should still be easy for you, and likewise if you choose 'hard' you're asking for trouble no matter how godlike your performance. For some, 'hard' might be easier than 'easy' is for others.

All this said, I get the sense that there is a distaste for games that fool around with your sense of progression. It is disheartening to feel like you're not getting better at the game because it's getting better with you... So I think the key is to scale difficulty in a way that is rewarding to the player. When things get harder, the enemies should be more numerous, and look tougher; this way I know I'm better if I can still beat them.

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Ravyne    14300
Keeping with the times, this is actually something the AI "Director" in Left 4 Dead does really well. When the team of players is doing well, generally because they are working well together (covering each other, sharing resources, calling out enemies, etc), the Director will throw more and harder enemies at the players and the zombies will be more aggressive as well as more strategic, provide fewer power-ups, and move weapon pick-ups further into the level. When the team does poorly together, the enemies are fewer and less aggressive, boss enemies are fewer and further between, power-ups and explosives are easier to find, and weapon pick-ups are nearer. Its also really good about penalizing stupidity, such as when one player gets separated from the group its not uncommon for the Director to meet them with a zombie rush or a Smoker (just try closing a door between 1 of the players and the others where there are no windows and have them take about 6 steps in any direction ;) )

This, for me, is exactly the type of dynamic difficulty adjustment that works incredibly well. I've never felt cheated by the game, nor have I felt invincible or unchallenged. My friends and I are often caught off guard and disabled or even killed, but you always feel like you got that way because you made a mistake, not because the game set you up.

The solution is not to simply buff or nerf enemies and/or the players (though that may play some part) but to instead change the experience of the game. As an added benefit, replayability is drastically increased and its easier for players of different skill levels to play the game together and still enjoy it.

With L4D love abound in the media right now, its almost been said too much, but it really is a game-changer in terms of dynamism of experience, and it opens a lot of doors that have remained closed until now.

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Kest    547
Quote:
Original post by Symphonic
Maybe the honest truth is that you (personally) really do just want fights you can win.

Unless you want to lose, what would be the point of a fight you can't win?

It's not about winning. I can win all of the time in a particular game, and still feel annoyed and cheated for being so artificially reduced by the game. It prevents me from playing the way I enjoy playing, just because I do so well playing that way.

I want fights that use an understood advantage against me. Something that seams reasonable in the game world, and something I can plan against, rather than hidden programmed gimmicks. If you can attach a real-world concept to the change that doesn't seem absurd, then it's fair and un-constant enough to use for difficulty adjustments. Otherwise, players are going to feel ripped off when dynamic difficulty is high, and laughed at when it is low, even as they win.

Quote:
So I think the key is to scale difficulty in a way that is rewarding to the player. When things get harder, the enemies should be more numerous, and look tougher; this way I know I'm better if I can still beat them.

You can only scale difficulty in a way that's visible and rewarding to the player so many times. Games have been doing this since day 1. The player finishes level 1, they reach level 2.

If it's rewarding to get to the next dynamic adjustment, what's it going to be like to fail that adjustment, then on top of that, have the enemies tie one hand behind their back because you don't have what it takes?

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JasRonq    156
From the sound of things in hear what we have isn't a problem with dynamic difficulty. It seems we are actually agreeing that is a good thing, allowing players of varying skill levels to enjoy the game. Those of use complaining here seem to have as our point that the dynamic difficulty is gimmicky, fake, and artificial. It is a facade of difficulty built on buffing the enemies stats and turning the player so frail they have to avoid every shot to live.

So... It's not that dynamic difficulty is bad, its that making the player take double damage and the enemy half is not a good solution to creating dynamic difficulty. Instead we should have an experience that changes in meaningful ways. We should see variation in what the enemies are, what tactics they use, where the resources that support our campaign are, and how the AI interacts with the player on the whole.

IE, Halo 2 and 3 (and probably 1 though I haven't played it) Has multiple difficulty levels. Legendary normally has more enemies, and those enemies take a lot more damage to down. On top of that, they fire more often and more accurately and it only takes a few hits to kill the player. On normal, the damage scaling is even, the accuracy and aggression of the enemy is moderate and the selection of enemies is at its base level. This is an ok solution but not great. While I appreciate the increased accuracy, aggression, fire rate, and number of enemies, the damage scaling, for me, ruins it by forcing me to hide behind rocks and peck at a group for five minutes because showing by head leaves 5 shots in my forehead. I don't mind five shots coming at me and would enjoy dodging them, but when it only take 2 shots to kill me, it makes most situations impossible to do anything but snipe from behind cover. In this case the problem is that the way difficulty is implemented is damaging to the basic gameplay that is present and expected at lower difficulties. On top of that, the AI works the same, fighting an enemy at one difficulty is the same as at a higher one other than fire rate, accuracy, and damage. It also doesn't help that I have to memorize sniper locations so I can take them out the instant they are within view just to beat them to the shot.

Its easy to think maybe I'm just not badass enough for legendary difficulty, but I beat it. I do better at it than the few friends I have played it with. So if I can do it, and within reasonable time, it stands to reason it's not to difficult. So why isn't it fun?

Another example; Oblivion. Oblivion's solution was to scale damage when you changed the difficulty slider, and as you played through the game, new enemies appeared that were equally tough to you until you out leveled the entire games content. You only start to feel badass when you are level thirty and you haven't seen a replacement to the lvl 18 Minotour Lords in 10 levels. Even then you don't feel badass, just annoyed that they are still there. When I ask the game for more difficulty, I am not asking for a more tedious fight, I am asking for a smarter AI that will challenge me with harsher, more aggressive tactics. When I level up, I want new enemies, yes, but I still want to feel like a badass stomping on the old ones, or better yet, see then run in fear so I don't have to fight them but I still feel powerful. About the only thing that runs in fear are deer.

In Conclusion
Dynamic difficulty is good, but it should represent a change in the way the AI interacts with the player, not a change in the scale of various stats to make fights more tedious or force the player to be more cautious.

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Nypyren    12074
Dynamic difficulty sucks. It's especially annoying in racing games because you can usually win by purposely staying in second place to slow everyone down, then blasting past the 1st place guy in the last 30 seconds of the race.

Need for Speed 3 and 4 didn't do this (at least I couldn't notice), and I was grateful. Unfortunately I don't remember there being a difficulty slider, so I often ended up being an entire minute ahead of the second place car during really long races. NFS5 might have had more noticable dynamic difficulty, but that game was much more difficult than 3 or 4, so I didn't notice as much.

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Kest    547
Yeah, it's pretty degrading to pass by a car on the track that you know should be going twice as fast, or to not be killed by two wounds when you know just one is fatal.

Not only does the game rub your face in your inability to man up against the real challenge, it also robs you of the chance to actually turn the situation around on your own. Win or lose, if you're after any sort of challenge, you feel cheated.

Standard difficulty settings should take care of player-balancing issues. It allows players who want a really hard time to keep having a hard time, regardless of how many times they lose. And it allows players who want it easy to keep having it easy, regardless of how much they win. In addition, it allows players to play on the normal setting, to compare their abilities with the game's projected audience.

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Kylotan    10008
Ooh, a topic close to my heart.

I hate dynamic difficulty. It breaks the game on several levels for me.

Firstly, on the story level. As soon as I notice it happening, it jolts me out of the fiction. I want to wander through an internally consistent world, and if it becomes plain the world is changing to match me, it feels ridiculous. I no longer feel like I know the safe areas and the dangerous areas, but instead feel like they're all the same. It's not a convincing environment.

Secondly, on the psychological level. In Oblivion, I would find that my supposed progress would make the game harder. I'd level up and improve my marksmanship and alchemy skills and magically find that fighting goblins in hand to hand combat had become harder. Apart from being inconsistent with the fiction as already noted, this is awful game design because I'm being punished for improving my character in ways that don't directly correlate to the way the designers have chosen to match my chosen career path. You end up considering playing a meta-game of either completing quests early while they're still easy, or deciding not to level up to keep the differential small.

The system in Fallout 3 doesn't fix this because you just go the first route of visiting places early on to anchor them to your current level. It's pulling you out of the normal game mechanic and imposing a meta-game onto you.

It's not just game developers that got annoyed by this; plenty of typical Oblivion players spotted the system and got frustrated at how it made certain character classes almost unplayable at higher levels.

Is the problem merely with the implementation, then? I'd argue not, and that it's a fundamental flaw of the system. In RPGs it's a staple of the genre that you can specialise your character in one or more of several directions, taking your abilities further and further from the average or normal person. The further up you go, the more mismatched you are against someone of the same level but different skills. You can think of it as skill vectors pointing out of a common origin; as you progress, the vectors each grow in length by the same amount but the different direction pushes the end points further apart. A level 1 magician and a level 1 warrior might be roughly comparable in melee combat and indeed in magical combat, but the level 20 magician would usually destroy the warrior swiftly if only magic was an option, with the reverse being true if hand-to-hand was the only option. In group-based RPGs, the group works together to overcome foes so the specialisation is a benefit, not a hindrance. But in single-player RPGs, what you don't want as a 20th level Thief is to forever be assailed by 20th level Warriors.

At least in games with static difficulty you can go away and either level up or work on your combat skills, coming back when you are up to the task. But a dynamic difficulty system will always attempt to keep pace with you to a degree, and by definition it will either (a) fail to keep pace, making it mostly worthless, (b) keep pace exactly, making your progression pointless, or (c) exceed your pace, making your progression actually punish you.

There's also an argument against it being bad for people who like to explore; the 'freedom' of being able to go anywhere and fight anything takes away some of the excitement and reward of exploring. The idea of a place being challenging, and hiding some secrets that you can't unravel yet, is tantalising. It encourages you to improve your abilities so that you can go back and unlock it later. It's a classic gameplay feature, in presenting something but making it hard to get to, yet providing you with a promise that you can get there eventually. Take away these barriers and you have a shallow environment that you can dip into and out of anywhere without any real concern or sense of achievement.

And stealth: what's the point of featuring stealth skills if you know that foes will be roughly on a par with you anyway? Surely one of the reasons people would study stealth skills would be to use those abilities to get around tough fights. But if their combat skills are matched to yours, there's not much point. And if their combat skills are instead matched to your average or your maximum skill level, then your stealth might work out ok, but any time you can't use stealth, you're stuffed as a result. Your thieving skills now mean you get battered more quickly in the open.

I still firmly believe that the best way to ramp up difficulty is by geography. Put tougher monsters in areas that are clearly 'tougher', and let players graduate into those areas as their character's skills allow. Reducing the massive power differentials can help to avoid weaker content being useless if bypassed early on.

And I think those who say it allows players of different skill levels to enjoy the game are perhaps talking about games with varying degrees of player skill (eg. shooters and the like) rather than games using character skill (eg. RPGs etc). I think it's far more acceptable in the former type of game, but even so it comes across as pandering to the mass market to try and make it so that every player can beat your game. What happened to allowing people to learn and improve as they play? Manually set difficulty levels at least allow people to complete a game, if they so choose, while still making it clear that they have not met the highest challenge available to them. That seems a lot more 'honest' to me.

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Kest    547
Quote:
Original post by Kylotan
I still firmly believe that the best way to ramp up difficulty is by geography. Put tougher monsters in areas that are clearly 'tougher', and let players graduate into those areas as their character's skills allow. Reducing the massive power differentials can help to avoid weaker content being useless if bypassed early on.

I agree. This is simply the best implementation of varied difficulty for open-ended RPGs. It lets the player decide how much they want to take on, in a very realistic way. And if or when it's too much, they can decide to go somewhere else or keep pushing until they get it.

There's nothing degrading or discouraging about it, because just about every player that retreats from this area is going to put it into their long term goal list. It's something to look forward to - something to measure up against - another incentive to progress the player character toward toughness.

It also allows each player to choose their own level of discomfort. On one side, it allows players to play ahead of their assumed skill level to accomplish something great or obtain upper-level rewards. On the other side, it allows players to play below their skill level to get guaranteed wins. Personally, I have fun on both ends, and dislike the middle.

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mrbastard    1577
Quote:
Original post by Ravyne
Keeping with the times, this is actually something the AI "Director" in Left 4 Dead does really well.


I have to disagree - I find L4D almost unplayable, simply because as far as I've been able to tell it's impossible to lose. Talking to people who play it more regularly than myself, this seems to be the consensus - it's really quite difficult to die. The idea was to fool the player into thinking they're being challenged and that their skill has kept them alive, when in fact the director will try to balance things so that you're pretty unlikely to die.

No challenge makes for an unsatisfying experience IMHO.

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Ging    181
Quote:
Original post by mrbastard
Talking to people who play it more regularly than myself, this seems to be the consensus - it's really quite difficult to die.


That depends entirely on what difficulty level you're playing it on - if it's below advanced, than yes, it is pretty tough to die... but expert? zombies do 20 damage a hit, so you'll go down with only a couple hitting yet, let alone the swarms that generally happen.

At that point, it's all about who you're playing with.

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mrbastard    1577
Quote:
Original post by Ging
if it's below advanced, than yes, it is pretty tough to die... but expert?


Thanks, I'll try that and see how it changes my opinion.

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Galliard    128
Dynamic difficulty frustrates me as well.

For example, I suspect that Motorstorm sets the difficulty of your opponents based on your first lap. At least, I find that if I make a mistake on the first lap, I can usually catch up during the second. But if I make a mistake during the second lap I often can't recover, regardless of how far ahead I was when I screwed up.

I'm not even going to get started on Oblivion either.



I'd like to see a game where the dynamic difficulty doesn't automatically kick in, but rather asks you if you want to change.


For example:

Normal to Easy (or Hard to Normal)
"Things are going a bit rough. Would you like to stick it out or swap to Easy (Normal)?"

Normal to Hard (or Easy to Normal)
"Wow, you're doing great! Want to give Hard (Normal) a try?"

Easy to Hard
"Have you done this before? You would do great on Hard. Want to give it a shot?"


It would never ask you to go to Easy straight from Hard, since that's just insulting (see Ninja Gaiden Sigma).

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SiCrane    11839
Quote:
Original post by Kylotan
The system in Fallout 3 doesn't fix this because you just go the first route of visiting places early on to anchor them to your current level. It's pulling you out of the normal game mechanic and imposing a meta-game onto you.

I actually found Fallout 3's implementation to be rather well done. My first two times through the game I didn't even realize there was a dynamic difficulty mechanic involved at all. Of course, with regards to Fallout 3, I lived in a deliberate bubble about the game before playing it, avoiding any mention about the game or its mechanics so I could play it without spoilers, and I regard things that could get me into the meta-game mindset to be spoilers.

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I agree that dynamic difficulty hurts the gameplay experience. Maybe if you're just looking for quick, painless fun, a sort of auto-balance would help you get the right dose of backflips and explosions, but for a game that asks the player to really get into the nitty-gritty of the mechanics and immerse themselves in character customization and rules-based situations (Oblivion, Fallout 3, etc.) it punishes anything other than the most systematic, metagamer's approach to the system. Final Fantasy Tactics was the worst offender of them all, in my opinion. There was so much to do with character growth and skill training and party customization that just levelling up and trying new things was a real pleasure. But the stronger you got, the more powerful the random encounters became, even though the plot-driven battles were fixed. So you could be defeating demons and monsters with ease, but then on your way back to town be set upon by a group of wandering monks that were ten times deadlier than any dragon.

Ruined the game for me, really.

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