David Baakman

Difficulty levels of games

After our monthly meeting at work I was tricked (after a beer of course :)) to play a game of Antigrav. To those who don’t know: Antigrav is a game that uses EyeToy: a camera that is connected to a playstation 2, so you have to to behave as an idiot in front of the TV in order to move your in-game character.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t even able to complete the tutorial. My ducking and jumping technique was fantastic, but my arms are probably too short (hey, you need to have some kind of excuse :)) for grabbing the ‘bonus’-items I needed for clearing a rail. But, anyway, it was a great laugh. But for serious gaming, I’d prefer a normal gamepad.

We’re playing that game almost after every monthly meeting for quite a while now, and no-one has ever completed the first level. So, we’re already stuck at the first level for half a year or so. This is something that is quite a problem for a game, and it really makes it less-good-than-it-could-be (to put it nicely). I had the same experience with Battlestar Galactica (on my Xbox): after playing for several hours I was still at the first, or the second level. This really sucked, and I’ve never played that game before. Maybe I’m too old to play games anymore, or maybe the game is too hard, but a good game should have difficulty levels that are so easy that even the worst player is able to make enough progress and at the same time have difficulty levels that are that hard that even the best player has difficulty completing the game. In that way, it is almost always possible to paly at your own level. A game in which this is superbly done is for example Project Gotham Racing 2. You have a lot of cars, a lot of circuits and 4 or 5 selectable difficulty levels. You just start racing for the steel medal which is really easy. But you also don’t get much credits, so you don’t progress that quickly. After a while, when you get better you can race the same challenge again at a higher difficulty level (the only thing that changes is the goal to achieve), gaining much more credits. In this way you have the following advantages:

  • Replayability: replaying the same circuit again is not that boring, because at a higher difficulty level you need to stay sharp, so the same track doesn’t become dull after you have played it before
  • Each player can play at his own pace: one will be happy to complete the game at steel (presumably, this also gives you an answer whether Battlestar Galactica is too hard, or I am too old :)), the other won’t rest until every track is completed with a platinum medal.
  • Because you can replay the same level again after you have completed it at a higher (or at the same, or lower (but that doesn’t really give you much credits)) difficuly level you don’t have to start a complete new game when your skill level advances, you just need to start a new game once)