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Design Naming Difficulty Settings

Hey all! I'm currently in the process of making a bullet-hell game, and I eventually plan to create different difficulty settings that the players can pick from. However, there's a question that I've been thinking about when designing the difficulty menu.

Would calling the lowest difficulty setting "Easy Mode" be a turn off for new players? Should I just call it "Normal Mode", or something similar? I intend this difficulty to be for beginners, but still be somewhat challenging. Does the existence of both Easy and Normal make players feel like they should ignore Easy from the start? What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of different approaches to naming difficulty modes?
 

johnwo

Member
Naming the difficulty settings something like:
  • Normal
  • Hard
  • Extreme
Can actually affect the player such that he/she picks "Hard" from the get-go.

Naming the difficulties Easy, Normal and Hard, but adding a short description, that describes the modifications to each of them, is a better way to go, IMO.

Cheers!
 
Naming the difficulty settings something like:
  • Normal
  • Hard
  • Extreme
Can actually affect the player such that he/she picks "Hard" from the get-go.
Really? I would've thought that players would be drawn to normal in that line-up.

Regardless, I do think that having good descriptors for each difficulty setting is the way to go though, whatever the naming scheme is. I've already put that kind of thing in place for my game.
 
Really? I would've thought that players would be drawn to normal in that line-up.
It depends on what descriptive text you put in the difficulty selection. If you put something like:
Normal - For people who aren't good at bullet hells
Hard - Standard difficulty
Extreme - EXPERTS ONLY
A lot of players will play on Hard, since they don't normally want to be seen as "not good". Touhou 6 was the first danmaku I played, and the Easy mode description was something like the Normal text up there. I sprung for Normal mode. Essentially, this:
If, instead, it's more along the lines of this:
Normal - Standard difficulty
Hard - For seasoned bullet hell players
Extreme - EXPERTS ONLY
You can expect more Normal players.

In general, try not to belittle players who play on easier difficulties, even in small ways.
 

Yokcos

Member
Really depends on how hard the game is. Obviously most games do Easy/Normal/Hard. Some do Normal/Hard/Extreme/Insane... Super Hexagon does Hard/Harder...Hardestestest.

Difficulty settings I think are a bad idea (unless you can change it in the middle of the game). If you start a game and the first thing you see is 'Normal/Hard/Extreme', you've no context for what that means. If you see 'Normal - for seasoned bullet hell players/Extreme - Experts only', that has the same problem. Am I an expert? Am I merely seasoned? How seasoned do I have to be, etc.

My suggestion would be to start on a good middle ground difficulty and make the game harder the better the player does. Something like gradually increasing the difficulty over time, but halving it if they get hit. In addition, you could add options to lock the difficulty to a certain value if the player specifically wants to live on easy street or wishes to be dragged screaming through bullet hell.
 
Difficulty settings I think are a bad idea (unless you can change it in the middle of the game). If you start a game and the first thing you see is 'Normal/Hard/Extreme', you've no context for what that means. If you see 'Normal - for seasoned bullet hell players/Extreme - Experts only', that has the same problem. Am I an expert? Am I merely seasoned? How seasoned do I have to be, etc.

My suggestion would be to start on a good middle ground difficulty and make the game harder the better the player does. Something like gradually increasing the difficulty over time, but halving it if they get hit. In addition, you could add options to lock the difficulty to a certain value if the player specifically wants to live on easy street or wishes to be dragged screaming through bullet hell.
I don't see a player not knowing whether or not they're "good". If I play an RPG and it gives me difficulty options, I generally crank it to the max. Nothing else is very challenging for me. If I play an FPS, I wouldn't choose Hard because I don't know the first thing about FPSes. You also can't do adaptive difficulty in danmaku like you can in other games. Players are either dying or they're not. Sure, you can do a bit of adjustment when they die, but it's never anything major. It's to the point where adaptive difficulty is a gimmick in some games.
 

BLang

Member
You could drop the naming convention entirely to get rid of the connotations that the difficulty setting names drag with them.
How about having something funny, like:
  • Bullet Heaven - For players new to the genre
  • Bullet Purgatory - For experienced bullet hell players
  • Bullet Hell - For people with a deathwish
Or, if you wanna be a showoff, you could make 9 difficulty settings, each one to represent one circle of (bullet) hell (referring to Dante's Inferno).
 
L

leonfook29

Guest
Jamestown has a Normal as the lowest difficulty, and instinctively i choose Normal, as i thought that is how the game supposed to be played if you're new to the game. Usually if you're targeting people who kinda like bullet hell but not pro on it, Easy mode does not appeal to them, so it's pretty much a waste of time. The pro would just choose anything above.

Also Jamestown has level locked if you're playing it on Normal, so it's kinda like a little taste of the game difficulty.
 
A

Aura

Guest
The best names for difficulty options that I can think of are Easy, Normal and Hard for most games. Don't make it over-fancy as it might make people take your game less seriously.
 

Yal

GMC Memer
GMC Elder
I very rarely play anything labelled less than 'normal'... unless I like the game but suck on it; I'm not ashamed about playing Imperishable Night (Touhou 8) on Easy, for instance. (Still haven't beaten the final boss, but at least I've reached it now x3)

Having too many difficulty settings just confuses the player, so I'd recommend just sticking with 'Easy', 'Normal' and as many hard levels as you feel you can get away with... and maybe make all the hard ones locked until the player clears the game once so they get a taste of the difficulty.
 

ShaunJS

Just Another Dev
GMC Elder
Like most things, it depends!

So lets assume you're committed to a design that includes 3 difficulty settings. This is a very traditional, rather old school design. Let's presume you've already considered why you have these difficulty settings. Therefore, what you call them should generally reflect the message you want to send to the player about the game experience to let them make an informed choice.

No matter what, you're wrong about the difficulty level. Because it varies from player to player. "Easy" and "Hard" are subjective.

However, "Normal" is a bit different. Normal makes a statement about what you as the developer see as the standard, and see as the intended experience.

If your "Easy" mode has elements designed to make the game easier than what you intend as the preferred experience, then it should probably be named as such.

If however, your game includes difficulty adjustment variables for the sole purpose of increasing replayability and challenge, then it makes sense for "Normal" to be your baseline.

The most important thing is to give your player a choice that informs them of the intent behind your design.

EditPS: There are of course exceptions to everything in design. Sometimes you can use "Normal" to simply make players feel good about quickly exceeding it, but even in these cases (Diablo, Jamestown, etc) normal still represents the baseline and the first thing the average player is intended/expected to experience.
 
Normal makes a statement about what you as the developer see as the standard, and see as the intended experience.
I do agree that "Normal" should be used as the standard experience, since that's what normal basically means. I've beaten a couple on normal, but I usually play Touhou games on easy mode, since I'm mostly there for the story and characters. I personally think easy is a misnomer in those games though. Still haven't beaten Mountain of Faith.

My suggestion would be to start on a good middle ground difficulty and make the game harder the better the player does. Something like gradually increasing the difficulty over time, but halving it if they get hit.
While adaptive difficulty might be really cool, I don't think it really fits with my design, and could royally screw up the difficulty curve if I don't balance it very carefully. I'm creating the level difficulties manually, not through variables, so making more than three settings is more work than I'm willing to do. Three settings doesn't exactly allow for a lot of granularity.


I'm probably going to end up going with some sort of variation on Normal, Hard, Expert. Probably gonna give them different names, but that's basically what I think would be best. Normal will be intended difficulty for the first playthrough, and harder difficulties will be an option for more skilled players.
 

Yokcos

Member
Sometimes there are in games a difficulty setting called 'impossible'. What if you had one that was literally impossible?

(Also please let the player change difficulty mid-game)
 
Sometimes there are in games a difficulty setting called 'impossible'. What if you had one that was literally impossible?

(Also please let the player change difficulty mid-game)
I don't consider impossible difficulty to be good design, since it is inherently unfair to the player. The only way I see it working is in the context of a hidden extra mode after you've cleared "Expert" with no continues.

I'll do some testing with allowing the players to change their difficulty once the difficulty settings are actually implemented. Right now, I'm focusing on getting Normal difficulty to a level of polish that I'm comfortable with, since as mentioned, that's the intended experience for the first playthrough. It wouldn't be hard to put in, but I wonder if it would change how the game is played, especially considering that end of level scoring is going to have a difficulty-based multiplier.
 
M

Morumotto

Guest
I sometimes will not pick easy, because I AIN'T GONNA BOW DOWN TO NO GAME. I AIN'T NO FILTHY CASUAL!

But yeah, joking aside. I think something representing the game, but something that maybe will push a player to pick a more difficult setting is best. I always like to think of the Doom difficulty settings. Something that makes fun of me for picking something too easy is my motivation to try to play a harder setting! I always liked that! Maybe that will give you something to think about? Hope it was helpful!
 
F

Fodderbot

Guest
Consider the atmosphere your trying to create for the players to experience and use the ui and naming of things to help reinforce that aesthetic.
 

Yal

GMC Memer
GMC Elder
I like when games point out exactly how the difficulty settings differ from each other... that makes it a lot easier to make an informed decision. For instance, Mibibli's Quest points out that 'Easy' doubles your maximum health and removes some of the enemies (almost always the most annoying ones), and that 'Double Easy' adds in additional platforms in places (removing some bottomless pits and simply letting you walk back and try again if you fail certain jumps). The game still mocks you if you select the lower difficulties (the 'stage select' music removes instruments when you hover a lower difficulty, and Double Easy's single square wave track sounds ridiculously underwhelming) but it's a lot easier to figure out which one you'd prefer... not to mention you can change the difficulty whenever you want (or, well, only when selecting a savefile). The game has more anti-frustration features as well, such as filling up your extra lives to max at checkpoints so making a mistake in the first section isn't detrimental to your progress near the end of the stage.

I actually copied that system for Daemon Detective Gaiden because I thought it was so good, and I made the double-easy platforms have a distinct graphical look so that it's very clear what has been added and what is part of the "intended" challenge. Beating the game also unlocks Hard mode, where enemies get changed into more difficult ones... most enemies have pretty clear tiers, such as armored minotaurs acting like normal minotaurs, only they're spiky so you can't jump on them; Hard mode just increases all enemies' tier one notch, and introduces new top-tier enemies that don't show up in the normal game.

I also recommend checking this video out, even though it doesn't really apply to a completely linear game with static characters... it has some nice insights on the notion of selecting a difficulty.
 

Snail Man

Member
I agree with Yal; the actual names aren't as important as describing exactly how the difficultly levels, although that can be impacted by phrasing as well.
For example

Normal: The base game
Hard: More enemies, less starting health, rarer checkpoints
Intense: Enemy speed +50%, no checkpoints!

vs

Easy: Fewer enemies, more starting health, more checkpoints
Normal: The base game
Hard: Enemy speed +50%, no checkpoints!

People are more likely to pick normal in the first situation than easy in the second one, even when two are technically identical; it's just a matter of which ones are easier and harder than what is arbitrarily designated as "regular" difficult. Whether you want the player to pick the normal or easy difficulty by default is a choice you have to make based on the audience for your game. If you have a more hardcore audience, I'd pick the first option, but for a more casual audience, they might prefer an easier setting if they get stuck on the middle one
 
N

nujumkey

Guest
Good old normal hard extra hard is better IMO, to give the player an ego boost. The way deux Ex did it is pretty cool too.

Controversially, am i the only one who thought that Extra Credits episode was BS? So if you want to play Dark Souls on easy mode you have to find a secret OP ring and use magic and get help from friends? So glad new players have the option to know all that when they start a game. EC has some great episodes, but that wasn't one of them
 
M

metateen

Guest
Super Easy or Super hard... Ain't no room for Easy,Normal, or Hard
 

Yal

GMC Memer
GMC Elder
I guess @nujumkey has a point about the ego boost... nobody plays 'easy' because it's a too big blow to their ego, so it's better to call your lowest difficulty setting 'easy'....and putting any real effort into an easy mode isn't worth it, so it's better to just double your health, halve enemy health, and call it a day.
 

Yal

GMC Memer
GMC Elder
Psy
Lady Gaga
Demon Hammer
Downvote!
  • First of all, it won't match the theme unless the game is a modern music rhythm game thingie.
  • Secondly, using artists' names like that could get you into trouble.
  • Thirdly, it's PSY with all caps.
 

iMilchshake

Member
What if you had one that was literally impossible?
Thats why makind invented cheats... Well no not really xD.

Well. Difficulty names relating to the game are cool. Game with Water?
-Bubble (sounds cute, tho :3)
-Flood
-Tsunami
(Example)

Just a quick idea.. ^^
 
Last edited:

mariospants

Member
This was a big discussion on the interwebs in the last week due to an indie gamer article titled "why difficulty settings are a bad idea" or something like that. Several bloggers posted their own takes, Gamasutra and Kotaku, among others, covered it... there was an argument to be made that somehow all games should be playable by everyone... some argued that letting players change difficulty mid-game basically made that the most powerful weapon in the game... and some argued that when you try to make a game automatically balance versus perceived player performance, there's usually some kind of trade-off.

I currently have "Easy, Normal, Hard, and Insane" difficulty settings, but I might pare that down to a more difficulty "Normal" mode, make "Easy" more of an outrageous cheaty mode for those who just want to see pixels fry, and Insane will be just that. If you play thru the game to completion, you start from the beginning, but all enemy stats get multiplied slightly higher. Kind of like Borderlands2 does it.
 
This was a big discussion on the interwebs in the last week due to an indie gamer article titled "why difficulty settings are a bad idea" or something like that. Several bloggers posted their own takes, Gamasutra and Kotaku, among others, covered it... there was an argument to be made that somehow all games should be playable by everyone...
Personally, I see that as the entire point of difficulty settings. If people want to enjoy the game at their own pace, that option is there for them. A one size fits all approach to game difficulty is overly idealistic, and is incredibly difficult, if not impossible to implement in practice. Some people like a good challenge. Those that don't shouldn't hinder the enjoyment for those that do.

Back to the topic though, I do think that there is a place for easy mode, as long as it's presented to the player in a way that isn't insulting.
 
This was a big discussion on the interwebs in the last week due to an indie gamer article titled "why difficulty settings are a bad idea" or something like that. Several bloggers posted their own takes, Gamasutra and Kotaku, among others, covered it... there was an argument to be made that somehow all games should be playable by everyone... some argued that letting players change difficulty mid-game basically made that the most powerful weapon in the game... and some argued that when you try to make a game automatically balance versus perceived player performance, there's usually some kind of trade-off.
This topic isn't about whether or not difficulty settings are a good idea or not, though. It's about naming difficulty settings.
 

chance

predictably random
Forum Staff
Moderator
I do think that there is a place for easy mode, as long as it's presented to the player in a way that isn't insulting.
Using the term "easy" isn't insulting. It's labeling the gameplay -- not the player. Some players who aren't familiar with that genre will choose "easy" to get a feel for the game. And players in the mood for a casual diversion may choose "easy", even if they've played the game before.

Personally, I always play in "easy" mode, no matter what game it is. In fact, if games had a mode labeled "so simple even Chance can understand", I'd select that.
 

The M

Member
Using the term "easy" isn't insulting. It's labeling the gameplay -- not the player. Some players who aren't familiar with that genre will choose "easy" to get a feel for the game. And players in the mood for a casual diversion may choose "easy", even if they've played the game before.

Personally, I always play in "easy" mode, no matter what game it is. In fact, if games had a mode labeled "so simple even Chance can understand", I'd select that.
I'll remember that for the next GMC jam. :p
 

mariospants

Member
Using the term "easy" isn't insulting. It's labeling the gameplay -- not the player. Some players who aren't familiar with that genre will choose "easy" to get a feel for the game. And players in the mood for a casual diversion may choose "easy", even if they've played the game before.

Personally, I always play in "easy" mode, no matter what game it is. In fact, if games had a mode labeled "so simple even Chance can understand", I'd select that.
why is that? I sometimes choose easy mode during times in my life when I just don't have time and I need to get quickly thru a game I know will be a slog but will have visuals/vistas/experiences that I am interested in...
 

Yal

GMC Memer
GMC Elder
Personally, I see that as the entire point of difficulty settings.
I guess the idea is that for someone that has never played the game before, it is impossible to make an informed decision about the game difficulty, yet most games have you choose the difficulty the very first thing you do.
 

The M

Member
To be honest, I don't think it's really that big a deal. Like people pointed out, normal is the baseline and if you have easier or harder difficulty levels it's up to the player to decide what kind of experience they want. I think most players have an idea of how skilled they are compared to what's "normal" and what kind of experience they want. If I've played the game before, I increase the difficulty, same if I know I'm good at similar games or feel I want a challenge. Otherwise I stick with normal (or easy in the case of bullet hells, because I suck at those ;)). Is it a perfect system? No. Is it good enough? Yes. Yes, I think it is.
 

bdmarvel

Member
I personally believe that a Normal difficulty should almost always be the standard difficulty for someone with at least a bit of experience on the genre. If you call an easy mode "normal" you're telling your audience that you don't expect them to be able to handle anything more difficult right away. Easy mode should be for players new to the genre or to games in general, or for people who wish to focus on story and aren't seeking a challenge. When I play a game, I expect it to be balanced for Normal difficulty and I always start with normal and adjust from there if need be. The one exception I can think of is with games like Diablo and Phantasy Star Online where the design is to play each difficulty in order as the progress carries over.
 
L

Latté

Guest
To avoid confusion, you can put a description with each of the different difficulty settings so that people don't have to ask themselves something like "Hmm, am I more cut out for the prince difficulty setting or should I bump it up to grand duke? How much harder is grand duke than prince anyway? Shouldn't a duke be lower than a prince?"
Xcom 2 provides a good example of this
xcom.jpg
Some games simply call their difficulty settings (very) easy, normal, and (very) hard, and I like that. It works pretty well, but every now and then people who want a harder or easier difficulty won't realize it's an option because the settings are easy to miss. Also, if players set the difficulty when they start a new game and it can't be changed, they might unintentionally choose a difficulty that's not right for them because they think "Oh, I don't know, this game looks pretty hard." or "Well, I heard this game is pretty easy, so I guess I'll leave it at normal" and not realize until they've spent a while playing it that it's either not actually that hard, or that they aren't good enough at whatever kind of game it is to beat it on normal.
 

KriLL

Member
You could do
Hard
Harder
Hardest!

But in actual game play terms its easy, normal and hard - you just fool the player so they think they are better than they are :D
 
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