这是一个可怕的念头。作为设计师，知道自己永远不会像其他人那样体验自己的游戏，是很可怕的。当我玩《Blowfish Meets Meteor》时，我看不到潜水员探索水下城市是为了寻找他失踪的美人鱼女儿；我看到的是有效射击区，绿色、粉色和蓝色的色块，以及使它们移动的物理公式。我听不到音乐；我只是偏执地觉得它会突然停止或有一个循环播放的间隙，或者评估音乐是否合适。总之，我不觉得困难；我对这款游戏了如指掌。当你可以准确地预测时，游戏的某个对象就只剩下单一的像素了，无论它是玩家、敌人还是场景，没有神秘之处，也正因为没有神秘之处，也不会犯错误。
我对《Blowfish Meets Meteor》的设计感到内疚。我太希望游戏显得巧妙、平衡、公平和有挑战性了，所以我增加游戏的难度，因为我觉得这么做是对的。出于这种奇怪的观念，我把“邪恶”当成“高明”、“立即死亡”等于“礼貌的打招呼”。我没有认真考虑许多客观上看是糟糕的东西——如需要反复尝试才能避免失败的益智空间，或者在玩家发觉前就杀死他的陷阱。我知道这些是可怕、懒惰的设计支撑。但因为我对自己的创作产生了歪曲的理解，我认为它们很不错。
在《Blowfish Meets Meteor》中有一个关卡叫作“食人鱼之患”。不说它的真正优点，但它是并且总是我在游戏中最喜欢的关卡之一。它很可能是我为这个项目制作的第一个益智题型关卡；在一款关于快速爆炸和傻大个BOSS战的游戏中，加入这种要求玩家慢慢思考的关卡，确实让人觉得眼前一亮。
如果不算新手教程区域，这款游戏中可分为三大主要目标，玩家完成这些目标才能见到最后一个boss。首个目标是去敲鸣两个钟（每个钟都有一个boss守卫）。从Firelink Shrine（最初的中心区域）开始，玩家都有三个去向——The Catacombs、New Londo Ruins以及Undead Burg。
杀死The Catacombs守卫后，强大的骷髅就会复生，而New Londo Ruins则遍布着许多无敌的灵魂（除非玩家被诅咒或者使用了特定道具）。Undead Burg则有许多与新手教程区相似的敌人，显然玩家更容易从这一区域入手。在一开始，《黑暗之魂》就在巧妙的将玩家角色引向阻力最小的所在，在此则通过提供密钥将玩家引导玩家完成这一任务。
在这个设计师们都力图以更简单的游戏吸引玩家的年代，有些出色的游戏移除了关键路径上的难度障碍，有些游戏则向那些勇于挑战最困难任务的玩家提供奖励，还有些游戏则隐藏困难内容，让玩家自己探索发现这种挑战（游戏邦注：《Kirby’s Epic Yarn》就属于这种例子，这款简单的游戏将更具挑战性的路径设置成一种玩家难以轻易接触的自主选项）。
《忍者外传：黑之章》（Ninja Gaiden Black）以及《恶魔之魂》（Demon’s Souls）就是这种做法的典型。这两者都是备受嘉奖的好游戏，不少人都认为这类游戏从一开始就极具难度，在整个过程中从未降低水准。
但游戏半途中，设计师突然又引进一种“刀枪不入”式的敌人，“Witch Time”对他们的攻击豪无影响，而“Witch Time”正好又是玩家在多数时候仅有的两种可躲避攻击的途径之一，遇到这种敌人时，玩家只能束手无策，自认晦气。
有一款格斗游戏因为是个例外而显得格外突出，它就是《Marvel vs. Capcom 2》。在这款游戏中，各名玩家选择3名角色。在任意给定的时间内，屏幕是只出显一名可活动的角色，其余二名则在屏幕之外的地方恢复受损的精力。玩家可以召唤屏幕之外的角色来辅助主角色，之后再切换屏幕。主角色可以与辅助角色一起发动攻击，从而丰富进攻策略和技巧。玩家可以任意转换活动角色，但如果他已经损失了所有角色，就算是失败了。在这里，滑坡效应就出现了。当玩家只剩最后一个角色时，而其对方仍然有两个甚至全部角色无损，那么前者就明显处于下风。玩家的当前角色没有办法得到辅助攻击，胜算可谓微乎其微。恢复在这款游戏中相当少，游戏往往在玩家“技穷”以前就结束了。
带有“出圈即败”设计的格斗游戏，如《Virtua Fighter》和《Soul Calibur》就尤其不具有滑坡特征了。在这些游戏中，如果一名玩家的角色被推出圆圈，则玩家马上失败，无论此时角色的血条还有多长。从根本上说，无论你目前落后对手多少、无论你的血条还有多少，出了圆圈对你的造成的伤害都是100%的。很久以前，我曾认为这个概念并不高明，除了速战速决，不见得有什么好处，但事实上，“出圈即败”的危险给游戏加分不少。因为“出圈即败”的危险度太高了，无形中给游戏增加了一个“定位”的玩法；也就是，玩家必须在打击对手的同时稳住自己的位置，以免被推出圆圈。
这里我有一个想法，就是把完全的滑坡效应（通常是恶性的）变成有限的滑坡效应（通常是良性的）。双方玩家一开始均持有相当的资本去购买单位。当你的单位被摧毁后你的资本就会得到偿还。一方面，偿还需要一定的时间，另一方面，重新生产新单位需要一定的时间，这两方面意味着损失单位确实产生了消极影响，但这种劣势会渐渐消失，这与格斗游戏中的被击倒是一样的。即时策略游戏《World in Conflict》正是这么做的，不过我本人没有玩过。
我说这些的目的不是评判《World in Conflict》这款游戏好不好，或者讨论上述的“恢复系统”可取不可取。我只是想表明，如果你能努力研究一下，消除RTS中的滑坡效应还是可能的。那些非常乐衷于此的人可能会想出更高明的解决方案吧，然后一款更高深的游戏就此诞生。
by Muir Freeland
This past week saw the launch of a game called Mega Man Unlimited. As the name hints, it’s a fan game based on the Mega Man franchise, and one that’s been in the works for over half a decade. It’s an incredibly impressive project: it’s attractive, it’s clever, and it positively nails the classic Mega Man feel. For a small team spearheaded by a single person, it’s nothing short of a beautiful achievement, and it’s something I have nothing but admiration for.
The only thing I can’t get behind is the difficulty. The game is simply too spiteful; its enemies do too much damage, its instant-death spikes and bottomless pits are too numerous, and its checkpoints are too far apart, ensuring that when you screw up – and you will, often – you’ll have to slog back through the same huge, deadly stretches of terrain just to get another shot at doing things right. The game is cruel, even by Mega Man standards, and it drags the entire experience down.
And I’d wager that this was completely invisible to the game’s designer.
Everything is better with instant-kill spike ceilings.
This is a scary thought. As a designer, it’s terrifying to know that I will never, ever play the same version of my games as everyone else will. When I play Blowfish Meets Meteor, I don’t see a diver scouring an underwater cityscape for his lost mermaid daughters; I see hitboxes, all green and pink and blue and rigid, and I see the formulas behind the physics that make them move. I don’t hear the music; in its place, I feel a constant paranoia that it will suddenly stop, or that there will be a gap where it’s supposed to loop, or that a sound effect will trigger improperly. Above all, I don’t feel difficulty; I’m too intimately familiar with the bones and guts and impulses behind this thing. When you can accurately predict – or premediate, even — the behavior of every single aspect of a game down to a single pixel, be it the player, the enemies, or the environment, there’s no mystery, and without mystery, there’s no error.
When you see a game in this light, everything feels too easy. Boss patterns become child’s play to recognize: who needs a fancy windup animation to warn them that an attack is coming when you’ve internalized the exact time interval that precedes it? Levels become a cinch to navigate: even the most obtuse, gnarled maze feels like a linear path when you not only know where the exit is, but actively influenced its position. And your own character’s mechanics are the easiest thing of all to wrangle: spending hours or days fine-tuning the frames and numbers behind every motion, maneuver, and attack gives you a sixth-sense about how to best handle things when it’s finally time to pick up the controller and play the damn thing.
As a designer, I know, somewhere up in the more logically-wired part of my brain, that I want my creations to be fun and balanced and fair. I want the difficulty to be tuned just right. To me, that means being friendly and accommodating up-front, showing the player the ropes in a controlled way, and gradually making things more difficult to push them to get better and more comfortable with the game itself. To that end, I’m constantly fine-tuning both the levels and the base mechanics to try and hit that perfectly-balanced mark. I view this as a good thing, and an incredibly important thing. Designers should aspire for balance, and doing so requires constant tweaking and testing.
But then your sixth-sense interferes.
Blowfish Meets Meteor bares its hitboxes.
If you already know everything there is to know about a game, that makes you a master of playing it. And when you’ve mastered something, it feels easy. Too easy. And so, in pursuit of proper balance, you make it harder.
In a weird way, it feels like the responsible thing to do.
I’ve been guilty of this a lot with Blowfish Meets Meteor. I want so badly for the game to be clever and balanced and challenging-yet-fair that I’ll make things incrementally more difficult because it’s what feels right to me. From this bizarre perch I’m sitting on, “devious” simply looks “clever.” “Instant death” looks more like “polite punch in the arm.” I flirt with a lot of things that I objectively recognize are bad – things like puzzle rooms that require trial-and-error to avoid instant Game Overs, or traps that kill the player before they’ve even had a chance to get their bearings. I know these are horrible, lazy design crutches. But from up here, with this skewed sense of understanding of my own creation, they look amazing.
There’s this level in Blowfish Meets Meteor called “Piranha Peril.” Regardless of its actual merit, it is and always will be one of my favorite levels in the game. It was quite possibly the first puzzle-style level I created for this project; in a game about rapid-fire explosions and stupidly-big boss battles, making a level that focused on slowing things down and asking the player to think critically felt incredibly refreshing at the time.
The goal of the level is simple: there are a bunch of mermaids, and a bunch of mermaid-eating piranhas. The mermaids need to navigate to the bottom of the screen, where your underwater dome-house is. You, in the role of their deep-sea-diver father, have a meteor, which bounces around and destroys blocks (but, critically, not piranhas), and a bunch of TNT, which can be placed anywhere on the screen and will destroy pretty much anything. Go.
Piranha Peril, Mk. I
The mermaids move in a predictable pattern, walking left or right along solid ground until they hit a wall, which causes them to turn, or a piranha, which immediately devours them in a shower of blood and whatever the mermaid equivalent of veal is. If we take the game’s mechanics as canon and gospel truth, they’re simply not very smart.
Your options here are to break them out with the Meteor – which is possible, but not very fun – or to accrue TNT, and use it to destroy the terrain and/or piranhas impeding their progress. You get TNT by destroying blocks in rapid succession, and since there are only a limited number of blocks in your immediate vicinity, that means you’ve only got a few pieces of TNT to throw around, and you’d better use it carefully.
The first version of this level was terrible in a way that only a designer could love. Each of the two mermaids started the level by walking directly into the piranhas on their tier; players had a matter of seconds to start the level and flawlessly perform the exact right set of actions to liberate them or face a Game Over. When I asked friends to playtest it for me, most of them immediately lost, and their first response was often to ask “what killed them.” It was difficult in all the wrong ways, punishing players for not having superhuman reflexes or advance knowledge of the level and its hazards.
The weird thing is, it took a while for that to sink in. When I watched people play the level, I didn’t think “unfair;” I thought “devious.” I didn’t think “trial-and-error;” I thought “clever puzzle.” I didn’t see “Game Over screen;” I saw a goofy, entertaining animation of a piranha chomping up a mermaid. Even when people outright told me that the level was frustrating, it was hard for me to accept it; I chalked it up to them being inexperienced with the game, or poor sports who needed things spoon-fed to them.
What if listening to them was the wrong thing? And what if, in doing so, I made the level so easy that it removed the puzzle? What if people blazed through it so quickly, so painlessly, that they never got to see that wonderful, clever brain-teaser that I spent so long bringing to life? To me, the level felt perfect, and messing with perfection was a tough sell.
It’s been nearly a year since I originally posted that first screenshot of Piranha Peril. It took until maybe a month ago for me to consider changing the level, and even then, I’m not sure what exactly triggered it; maybe that was simply the amount of time it took for me to distance myself from the original creation enough to be objective about it. Perhaps creating dozens of new levels, or playing the game from start to finish in its currently near-complete state, helped give me perspective. Or maybe I just became more critical of myself, or learned to listen more. Whatever the reason, today’s Piranha Peril is a much less masochistic affair. The instant-kills are gone; there are now blocks preventing the mermaids from walking straight into the piranhas, giving the player as much time as they need to initially process the level and figure out how to handle things. These new piranhas are all stationary, giving players one less variable to contend with. And the blowfish, who gives the player a useful power-up, has been moved to the center of the screen, where it’s much easier to utilize.
Piranha Peril Mk. II
I hope these things make a difference, and I hope they make the right one, but ultimately, I’ll never know. I can solicit feedback from people, but I can never experience what they do. My understanding of my own work is and always will be secondhand.
So when I play games like Mega Man Unlimited – games that ooze creativity and talent and passion but feel slightly spiteful, all the same – I understand. Difficulty is a fleeting, fickle thing, especially if you’re the one in charge of it. When I play someone else’s game, difficulty issues feel immediately obvious, but with my own, they hide away, beady eyes in the shadows, for months or even years. Ironically, knowing more about a design means that, in some ways, you’ll always know less; no matter how long you spend creating something, you’ll never know as much as the newcomer who just experienced it for the first time. That’s been an incredibly difficult lesson to accept and digest, but doing so has been and will always be one of the most important learning experiences of my game design career.
篇目2，Deep Dungeon: Exploring the Design of Dark Souls
by Robert Boyd
Robert Boyd, designer of Cthulhu Saves the World and Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 carefully explores the design of the popular but often misunderstood action RPG hit.
Dark Souls has gained a reputation for being an excruciatingly difficult game. Yet despite that, the game has seen a great deal of success, both commercially (selling over a million copies in the U.S. and Europe as of the end of the publisher’s last fiscal year) and critically (with a current Metacritic rating of 89).
Why has Dark Souls achieved mainstream success and has not remained merely a cult favorite? I’d like to argue that a major factor behind Dark Souls’ success is the disconnect between its perceived difficulty and its actual difficulty. Dark Souls presents itself as an impossible challenge to the player outwardly, but inwardly, the game is subtly designed in many ways to help the player achieve the impossible.
(Note: this article includes a few spoilers.)
The publisher of Dark Souls actively sought to brand the game as a difficult game from day one. Just look at the name of the game’s official website: PrepareToDie.com. Marketing the game as being extremely difficult increases the game’s perceived difficulty without changing the actual difficulty at all.
2. It lets the players make their own rules
After stacking the odds against the player (with a huge, hostile world), the game starts stacking the odds back in the player’s favor. First things first — Dark Souls doesn’t force the player to play the game in any particular way. Want to play a heavily armored knight, a light-on-her-feet warrior, a mage, a priest, or all of the above? Sure thing. The game lets you use the style of hero that you feel most comfortable with. Although the player chooses one of several set classes at the beginning of the game, class selection only determines the player’s starting stats and equipment; where you go from there is entirely up to you.
3. It’s difficult to truly mess up your stat progression
Dark Souls lets the player allocate their stats bonuses from level-ups however they wish. This gives the expert min-maxer a great deal of flexibility to create the ultimate Dark Souls destroying machine.
But what about the less experienced player who doesn’t know what they’re doing? No problem — the design has taken that into account as well. There are several effective tools available to the player that have little to no reliance on stats, like elemental weapons, armor (armor increases weight but doesn’t have specific stat requirements), and powerful fire magic called pyromancy, that the player can use to dig themselves out of the hole they’ve created with poor level-up choices.
All level-ups give a slight boost to the player’s overall defense, so no matter what you choose, you’re always getting slightly more resilient. And it’s possible to max out all stats eventually — so in the end, poor choices can be fixed with grinding.
4. We’re all in this together
Although it’s possible for players to fight amongst themselves, players can help each other, both through posting hints for other players and by joining other players’ games to help defeat Dark Souls’ many bosses.
Bosses give drastically more souls (the game’s currency) than normal enemies do, and helping another player is the only way to defeat a boss more than once — so the player has a definite incentive for helping out others. The game creates a feeling of “us vs. the game” and not just “us vs. us.”
5. A deadly non-linear world… except, not really
Non-linear worlds are inherently more difficult than strictly linear worlds because the player is less likely to know what they’re supposed to be doing and is more likely to run into areas that they’re unprepared for.
Dark Souls appears to be very non-linear at first glance, but in actuality it’s a lot more linear than it seems. To start, individual areas tend to be very linear — albeit with hidden treasures to be found in various side paths. But as far as the game’s overall progression goes, Dark Souls has a heavy reliance on gating. The game opens up a portion of the game to the player and then to access the next set of areas, a certain task or series of tasks must be undertaken.
Excluding the tutorial area, there are basically three major goals that must be accomplished in order to reach the final boss. The first goal is to ring two bells (each of which is guarded by a boss). Starting in Firelink Shrine (the initial hub area), there are three areas the player can travel to — The Catacombs, New Londo Ruins, and Undead Burg.
Powerful skeletons that come back to life soon after being killed guard The Catacombs, and New Londo Ruins is filled with ghosts that are invincible unless the player is cursed, or uses a certain item. In contrast, Undead Burg has enemies that are similar to the enemies in the tutorial area and is the obvious choice to start out with. Right from the start, Dark Souls is subtly funneling the character into the course of least resistance, and it continues to funnel the player through the entire two bells portion of the game, by giving the player keys that indicate where they should go next.
After the two bells have been rung, the second part of the game begins with a cutscene that shows the player that a huge fortress that was previously locked has now been opened. The player’s course is clear — explore the fortress and the area beyond it. This portion of the game is one of the most linear, with two areas that must be completed in succession and only one optional area. This section acts as an exam: If the player can completes these two areas (some of the hardest in the game so far), they’re deemed worthy for the third main portion of the game, where the entire world (minus the final boss area) is opened up to them.
By gating the areas of the game in this manner, it allows Dark Souls to have a more measured difficulty curve than a truly non-linear game would allow. The areas opened up in the third part of the game tend to be more difficult than the areas in the second part of the game — which, in turn, are more difficult than the areas in the first part of the game. This helps to prevent the player from getting truly confused and lost like they might if the entire world was accessible right from the beginning.
6. Provide hints to the player, but don’t be too obvious about it
Probably my favorite example of how the game provides hints to the player is early on, at the beginning of the Undead Parish. The player runs into an armored boar enemy that proves to be much more powerful than anything the player has had to fight so far. A frontal assault is likely to prove ineffective, but there’s a set of stairs to the side that the player can escape to.
After a few relatively easy fights up the stairs, the player discovers several monster lure items on a ledge directly above the armored boar. What the player should do soon becomes obvious — throw a few monster lure items into a nearby fire, and watch as the armored boar commits suicide by running into the fire.
A lesser game would have had given the player a message like “Try throwing the monster lure at the fire to kill the armored boar!” when they picked up the monster lure items. By not explicitly telling the player what to do but by leading them towards the answer, Dark Souls allows the player to feel clever for figuring the solution out.
7. Combat is a replenishable resource
One of the smartest changes Dark Souls made over its predecessor was the switch to the bonfire system. The previous game, Demon’s Souls, uses a traditional resource system where the player can restore their health and magic points (MP) with items that they can find and purchase. However, in Dark Souls, the player is given a set number of heal potions to use. Additional potions cannot be found; however, the player’s potions are restored every time the player rests at a bonfire. Likewise, the player is given a set number of spells they can use each time they rest at a bonfire.
The replenishing resources bonfire system has a number of advantages over the way that Demon’s Souls did things. It encourages the player to use all of their magic arsenal instead of just the spells with the greatest return-on-MP investment. It prevents the player from stockpiling huge quantities of health and MP items, thus rendering the resource system largely irrelevant. And it removes the need to grind out money and item drops when you’re low on potions. Through the bonfire system, the player is encouraged to use all of the resources at their disposal, since they know they’ll recover them next time they rest rather than having to worry about hording resources.
8. Exploration is a limitless resource
Zelda has bombable walls. Dark Souls has fake walls. The difference? In the Zelda games, you can only test walls as long as you still have bombs left in your inventory — but in Dark Souls, any kind of attack (even just a harmless roll) is enough to test if there’s a hidden passage behind a seemingly solid wall. The player is thus encouraged to search for the game’s many secrets — because there is no penalty if they guess wrong.
9. Their bark is bigger than their bite
An easy way to make a game feel harder is through appearances. A great example of this is the classic horror game, Silent Hill 2. Mechanically speaking, Silent Hill 2 is a pretty easy game, but by making the monsters and locales in the game look horrendous, the game feels a lot harder than it actually is.
Dark Souls enemies are almost universally grotesque and are frequently much bigger than the player character. But Dark Souls takes it even further with many of its early bosses appearing above the player before crashing down in front of them. The implication is clear — the player is insignificant to these monsters and they won’t hesitate to squash him or her like a bug.
However, the experienced player will soon realize that many of the scariest-looking bosses in Dark Souls are also some of the easiest bosses, with easy-to-read tells and attacks that are easy to dodge and counterattack. By making the bosses and monsters look intimidating, their perceived difficulty is increased even if their actual difficulty isn’t.
10. Combat doesn’t require fast reflexes
Most difficult games require lightning-fast reflexes. Not Dark Souls. Combat in Dark Souls is a methodical affair: Block then attack. Dodge then attack. Attacks are slow, and easily punished if missed. Even drinking a health potion takes several seconds (unlike most action-RPGs, where it’s instant). The game rewards the players that can keep their wits about them and actively punishes mindless button mashers.
11. The stakes are high… for both sides
Yes, enemies in Dark Souls can deal massive damage to the player. But you know what? The smart player can deal massive damage to the enemies as well. From massive swords that can kill a group of enemies with a single strike to arcane spells that can decimate bosses from a distance in next to no time, there are many ways the player can become the scariest thing in the entire Dark Souls world.
One of my favorite “tricks” to breaking the game early on is through the use of the 2-handed button. Equip the easily obtainable hand axe (a few other early game weapons will work as well, but the hand axe is the best for this strategy). When you see an enemy with a shield, switch to the two-handed stance and then just go to town on them. The hand axe has a high stagger stat so, in no time, your assault will knock the enemy’s shield out of the way, allowing you to defeat them easily. In a typical game, enemy shields would be impenetrable, but in Dark Souls, the enemies play by the same rules that you do (at least, until the enemies start to dwarf you in size).
Observant players can find even more tricks to break the game, like powerful weapons hidden just off the main path, and shortcuts that allow access to areas long before they are traditionally reached. Dark Souls rewards the player who isn’t afraid to fully explore and then break the rules.
12. Death is punished… some of the time
At one end of the death/punishment spectrum, you have your typical roguelike with perma-death, where a single death means you need to start the entire game over. At the other end of the spectrum, you have your average game these days, where death sends you back to a recent checkpoint.
Dark Souls finds a happy medium between the two extremes. If the player is killed twice in succession, they lose their current souls and humanity, an important (but renewable) status. But if they can successfully return to the place where they died last time, they don’t lose a thing. Also, both souls and humanity can also be obtained via certain items that are not lost upon death, allowing the player to safely save them up for when they need them (like for the next new merchant). The player also spawns from the most recently used bonfire, meaning that even physical progress isn’t necessarily lost.
Dark Souls is a difficult game; there’s no question about that. However, by making the game appear even more difficult than it actually is and then by subtly lowering the difficulty in a variety of ways, the developers have made the difficulty in Dark Souls manageable — and fair. And when victory is achieved, it is made all the more sweet for appearing to be more difficult than it actually was.
篇目3，Fixing the “Impossible (Auto Save) Scenario”
by Matt Christian on 08/03/11
One of the most aggravating things a player can experience is the “impossible (auto save) scenario”, a situation where the player finds themselves in a portion of the game where they’re presented with a challenge that is either extremely difficult or actually impossible due to the game auto saving in an unfortunate spot.
Sadly for the gamer, this isn’t their fault and is completely an issue with game design. Here are some experiences I’ve had in recent games and the solutions presented by game development professionals.
This is the one item I haven’t experienced first hand, but is definitely a precursor to the ideas presented in the next sections. A major point of interest reviewers had for Devil May Cry 3 by Capcom was the fact that the game was very difficult. Capcom knew this and after dying three times in Normal mode the gamer was given a congratulatory pat on the back and told they’ve unlocked Easy mode!
Capcom’s solution provided the player with the option to continue the game after hitting a difficulty wall. It may not have been the most elegant solution (we’ll see some great ones coming up) but it definitely was one of the most publicized inclusions of this design a game has had in recent years.
Bungie’s Halo: Reach implements an auto save system that fires in the game at certain points, similar to the previous Halo games. Sometimes the save seems possibly triggered by the player progressing through a level, a certain event completed (such as killing all enemies in a room), or even time-based as you can run around a single spot for a long time and sometimes are granted with the saving icon.
At one point in Reach I found myself cruising along a road in my trusty Warthog with my dedicated team beside me. Without warning, a hairpin turn appears and we all go hurtling off the cliff in the most horrifying of space-marine related auto deaths known to man (or SPARTAN).
Little did I know, the game had recently autosaved… about 1-2 seconds before the turn. Over and over the game would respawn my band of crash test dummies only to shoot us off the cliff. Due to the design behind the Warthog and the included physics system, it was physically impossible to turn that sharp or stop fast enough to prevent this situation.
This issue is really a ‘loophole’ (or logic hole) in the design. The design of the core game is rather solid and the save system is solid, but the way the two work together just creates problems that need to be solved through additional design.
In my opinion, the developers at Bungie solved this extremely elegantly and is one of the best design decisions I’ve noticed in a game. After dying between 5 and 10 times, the game seemed to revert to a previous checkpoint which happened to be only a minute or so before the turn. This solved my impossible scenario without feeling like I was overly set back in the game.
The Devil is in the Details
A recent game rental provided me with a copy of Visceral Games’ “retelling” of Dante’s Inferno. Feeling confident in my gaming abilities I started a new game on hard mode (note, there is one higher difficulty but is locked the first play through). Everything was going well for a few ‘levels’ until I hit a trigger section, a spot where I was supposed to pull a lever which would extend a bridge and, to no surprise, spawned 6 enemies. I only had a sliver of health at this point so I was quickly killed. Thankfully the game spawned me just before the lever pull but still with that sliver of life.
Over and over these demonesque beasts would take me out until finally after respawning several times the game popped up a little tooltip: “You know, if you suck this bad, you can change the difficulty in the pause menu” (loosely translated). It wasn’t until dying again that I noticed the game had done something else, it actually had filled my life bar a bit when respawning me. Every subsequent respawn would provide me with more and more health until eventually my life bar would be completely full.
In the context of this style of game it was a good solution to a problem with the auto save loophole. The Bungie solution would possibly have worked but without that extra life I might just be stuck in a longer area and dying over and over.
But, maybe it’s my gamer ego talking, this solution irritated me because the game was giving me more than just a little helping touch on respawn. Later in the game I knew I could complete a section but by the time my skill was there I was already being handed free life gain. In reality, in some areas it felt like I was somehow cheating by taking a boost in life when I didn’t feel I needed it only to beat the system.
In the end, every game has a different way of dealing with difficulty and with implications with auto save. The design choice for solving this issue should be appropriate for the game and the audience. In most cases this kind of loophole fix will probably even expand your audience as you’re trying to make the game more accessible to more ability levels. Keep in mind how other companies have provided solutions for these issues and even try to leverage them with some added changes. Sure you can just ignore it and make your game hard, but how many players are going to give your game a fourth and fifth chance after dying in the same manner over and over and over and….
篇目4，Darwinian Difficulty: How Throwing Players In Headfirst Can Work
by Josh Bycer
Game difficulty is a very subjective topic, as many of the best-crafted games strive to deliver a balanced difficulty curve.
In an age where designers are attempting to attract more gamers with easier games, some of the best games move their difficult moments off of the critical path. Some games offer achievements for those that brave the hardest setting, while others hide the difficulty for the players to discover (see Kirby’s Epic Yarn as an example of an easy game that hides its more challenging paths in optional, hard-to-reach areas).
However, there are games that throw the player into shark-infested waters from the get-go — and that can be a good thing.
How Does It Work?
Ninja Gaiden Black and Demon’s Souls are two such titles. Both games are considered by many gamers to be among the best out there, garnering numerous awards. One area that everyone can agree on is that these games are hard from the minute they start and never let up.
The first group battle in Ninja Gaiden Black can easily take apart a novice player, and many gamers couldn’t even get past the first level. Demon’s Souls was kind enough to give players a 10 minute tutorial… before introducing them to an enemy who kills them in one shot.
From the outside, this sounds unfair — maybe even cruel. However, there is a method to the madness, and that method is “tough love.”
Both Ninja Gaiden Black and Demon’s Souls, from the very beginning, are designed around several key mechanics. With Ninja Gaiden Black it’s constant movement, reading enemy tells, and knowing when to attack and when to move. Demon’s Souls is similar, with the added mechanic of keeping track of the character’s stamina, which allows them to block and roll out of the way.
If the player doesn’t learn these mechanics at the start of the game, there will be no way for them to finish the game, as both games’ combat models are designed around these concepts.
Starting the game at a higher than normal difficulty introduces the concept of “Darwinian Difficulty”, which can be summarized by the motto “adapt or die.” Button mashing doesn’t work with either title, nor does standing still and holding the block button down all day. Both titles rely heavily on telegraphing strong attacks, cluing the player in that if they get hit, it could be fatal.
Putting players through a “trial by fire” does several things. First, is that the difficulty curve for a game like this is different from other titles. The following chart shows the differences:
Normal game difficulty starts out on the easy side and gradually gets harder. There may be a lull here and there, but for the majority of the game, the challenges will be getting progressively more difficult. The difference is that in a game with a higher starting difficulty, such as the games mentioned in this article, the difficulty curve looks like the green line.
Darwinian Difficulty starts out harder, and there aren’t any lulls. However, the difficulty of the game doesn’t curve up as a normal game. The reason is that as the player improves at the game, the game will becomes easier for them, lowering the curve over the time. This act of basing the difficulty off of the player — otherwise referred to as “Subjective Difficulty” — will be looked at later on in the article.
Darwinian Difficulty also forces the player to learn all the tools in their arsenal. One common pitfall of action titles is offering an elaborately-designed combat system that goes completely underutilized. Players will often rely on simpler actions (button mashing, for example.) This leads to two results: the player will find the game boring because it’s not challenging, and they’ll eventually face a fight where they don’t know what to do, because they didn’t explore the game’s mechanics.
Games like Ninja Gaiden Black offer the player the majority of gameplay actions available from the start, which is one of the reasons why these games are so daunting for newcomers. Within the first level of the game, the player will be asked to make use of all the available gameplay mechanics. In a game like this, the gameplay doesn’t change as much over the course of the experience as compared to other games. The player is not going to find an item or power-up that completely changes how the game is played halfway through.
How Do You Design For Darwinian Difficulty?
In order to design a game around Darwinian Difficulty, there are several considerations that the designer needs to keep in mind. First, in order to build a game around this concept, the game has to be predominantly skill-based. The reason is that in order for the player to be motivated to improve, they need to realize that they are the biggest factor to their success or failure.
Design-wise, there need to be as few abstractions as possible for the player to deal with. In a traditional RPG, the character’s level and attributes determines who wins a fight. Darwinian Difficulty requires a specific type of challenge that RPGs don’t have. Even roguelikes, which are known for their high degree of difficulty, don’t fall into the category of Darwinian Difficulty. The reason is that the aspects that make a roguelike challenging are randomization and character attributes, not player skill.
The next consideration is that there still needs to be gameplay growth. If the player is doing the same exact thing from beginning to end, then the game will become boring. There are several ways to introduce growth, such as improving the character’s abilities. In Ninja Gaiden Black, players can increase their maximum health and upgrade their weapons, which in turn improve damage output and combo durations.
New enemies and situations are the easiest way to implement growth, and they must be implemented in the design. The boss variety seen in Demon’s Souls is one of the best, with each boss providing a unique challenge for the player — such as the two-against-one Man-eater battle, or fighting the Old Hero boss, who is blind and can only detect the player via sound.
Even though there should be gameplay growth, there is a danger in adding too much — which leads to the next consideration.
The player should not earn any upgrades or abilities that supersede player skill. Because the player’s skill is the main factor in the game, giving the player something that undervalues skill can break the game. In Ninja Gaiden, the developers gave the player the ability to counter-attack after the first few stages. By timing their blocks, players could avoid all damage and deal it back to the enemy. The developers saw that this was making the game too easy and removed the feature for Ninja Gaiden Black, as they wanted the player to see that constant movement was required to win.
That is why health upgrades are the safest bet; they give the player a greater buffer between life and death, but don’t get in the way of player skill. Many of the bosses in Demon’s Souls can kill the player in a few hits; having a greater health bar may give the player a little more of a chance to survive, but if the player doesn’t learn how to avoid the attacks, they’ll lose no matter what.
The flipside of this consideration is that you should never change the game in a way that negates previous mechanics and skills. Getting rid of a mechanic that the player spent time learning and improving at will make the player feel like that wasted their time — and this hurts the design.
You can find an example of this in Bayonetta. At the start, the player is introduced to the concept of “Witch Time”. By dodging attacks at the precise moment of impact, the world slows down for the player, allowing for an increased window for attack. Slowing down time also allows players a chance to hit enemies which are more agile then the player.
However, halfway through the game, the designers introduce “gold-plated” enemies, whose attacks will not trigger Witch Time if the player dodges them. Because Witch Time is one of the only two ways of avoiding damage for much of the game, players are left severely handicapped while fighting these enemies.
The last consideration is that even though these titles are harder compared to other games, it is alright to throw the player a bone by implementing a difficulty selection system. Granted, an “easy mode” in a game with Darwinian Difficulty is still harder than in normal games, but it does give less experienced players a chance to “pump up” before trying the higher settings.
Ninja Gaiden Black featured multiple difficulty levels, ranging from very easy to experts only.
It’s All About Defense
Putting all the considerations together, we can take a closer look at Ninja Gaiden Black and Demon’s Souls, and what makes them challenging.
Ninja Gaiden Black’s enemy design is built around forcing the player to keep moving. The way the designers did this was giving just about every enemy (including bosses) a grab attack. Grab attacks are unblockable and do immense damage. Some grab attacks are telegraphed, while others are used immediately once the player blocks a few attacks by an enemy.
The sooner the player masters the dodge roll, as oppose to regular blocking, the better. As the game goes on, enemies will become faster, and the challenge of “sticking and moving” will become greater.
The challenge culminates in two ways. First are mirror battles. Players who are skilled enough to play on the higher difficulty levels will run into battles with their doppelganger. The doppelganger will use one of the player’s weapons, and all the same tactics and techniques the player has, and it will be up to the player to deal with an enemy who is their equal.
Second, regardless of the difficulty level, before the player can fight the final boss, they will be put through a gauntlet of boss fights and arena battles. Taking too much damage early on will leave the player in a bad position to finish the fights, forcing the player to get as close to a “perfect run” as possible. On the harder difficulty levels, the gauntlet is extended with more battles and bosses, including one that was never shown to the player until now.
The unique boss is easily one of the toughest enemies in the game, as mastering the timing needed to dodge attacks is required for both offense and defense. Her main attack is a beam of energy that can only be avoided by dodging just before she uses it. To complicate matters, only attacks issued after dodging her moves will connect. Getting through this fight without a scratch requires “master level” play, and is a sign that the player is good enough to finish the game.
Moving onto Demon’s Souls, the game also requires players to understand all defensive options available. To avoid damage, players can block attacks, dodge out of the way, or attempt a riposte to counter. Blocking and dodging will consume stamina, which also affects how often the player can attack.
When the player blocks, the strength of the shield will determine if any damage “leaks through”. The stronger the attack, the more stamina is drained. Dodging uses more stamina with each individual use, but its cost remains fixed. The other benefit is that dodging guarantees that the player will not take any damage, and it can be used to set up a follow-up attack from the enemy’s blind side.
The final option is the riposte, which requires the player to time the move just before impact. Pulling this off uses no stamina, and the following counterattack will do extra damage.
Missing the timing will punish the player — the full hit from the enemy will connect.
The toughest lesson for the player to learn is to master dodging and only use blocking as a last resort. Blocking should be avoided at all cost against bosses and larger enemies, as the stamina drain is intense. When fire and magic attacks are introduced, normal shields will not absorb either damage regardless of their strength, signaling the player even more that dodging is needed.
Like Ninja Gaiden Black, this lesson culminates with a final battle. The last boss in Demon’s Souls does immense damage with each attack — along with a major stamina drain if the player blocks. Taking its full combo attack is fatal. One of its most frequently used attacks is a dash that requires the player to dodge just as it reaches the player; dodging too soon or too late will result in the player getting hit.
The boss also has two powerful attacks that it uses rarely. The first is an explosion with an area effect that is fatal to all but the most heavily-armored players. The only options available to the player are to get as far away as possible, or to hit the boss, canceling the attack.
The second is a close range telegraphed grab. If it connects, the boss will permanently remove one experience level off the player. Beating the boss requires players to have mastered dodging and fully understand when there is an opening to attack. Both games are clear examples of Darwinian Difficulty and highlight the advantages and disadvantages of the design.
The Advantages of Darwinian Difficulty…
There are several advantages to Darwinian Difficulty. Let’s return to the concept of “Subjective Difficulty”. Because the majority of the mechanics are available from the start, as the player improves their skills, the game should become easier the longer they play.
The reason is that all the enemies, bosses, and situations are based around the core mechanics. The only changes that happen in the game are the encounters the player will face.
By learning the core mechanics of the game, players will learn to adapt to the new challenges the designers throw at them. Sections that gave the player a lot of trouble at the start of the game should no longer challenge the player once their skill has improved.
Developing the game using Darwinian Difficulty gives the designers a greater understanding of the skill level of the players, allowing them more freedom with their design. In a normal action game, the designer can have a hard time determining how good the players are at specific points in the game.
One player may have mastered all the combos by the halfway point; someone else may still be button mashing. With games designed with a Darwinian view, the designers know that anyone who got past the first level knows all the mechanics at hand, and can design around that.
The other advantage is motivating the player. Overcoming hardships or challenges brings a sense of a satisfaction. That sense of satisfaction can be felt by gamers who got through a game by their own skill. That satisfaction is a great motivator, as it is intrinsic to the player.
Replayability is another plus, because of the high degree of skill required; coming back to a game with Darwinian Difficulty after a long time can be a fresh experience. Similar to how if someone lifts weights, then stops for a long time, the muscles will atrophy, requiring the person to start small again and work their way up. This can also happen with games based on Darwinian Difficulty. Someone who beats the game, then stops playing for several months, will come back to find that they’ll have to relearn those skills again.
…and the Disadvantages
With all this said, however, there are a few problems with Darwinian Difficulty that the designer has to keep in mind. First, is having such a high degree of difficulty early on hurts the appeal of the game. Games these days are being designed around having as much appeal as possible, which in this case means having a lower difficulty. A game where the player can die at any moment is not something a lot of people enjoy. Demon’s Souls and its sequel, Dark Souls, may have created a lot of buzz, but they aren’t truly mainstream hits.
Second, requiring the player to improve their skill is a great motivator, but there is a risk involved. The concept of “Subjective Difficulty” is just that: subjective. A challenge that one player breezes through without any effort can be a brick wall for another, stopping all progress. Losing a game because of issues with the design is easy to take. Losing a game because the player themselves was not good enough is a harder pill to swallow.
Getting completely stuck in a skill-based game is easier than in an RPG, due to gameplay abstraction. With an RPG, the player has other options of getting out of a tough spot, such as grinding levels or buying better gear. In a skill-based game, however, those options are not available, forcing the player to keep trying until they get past the section.
In this scenario, it’s quite possible that that the player will get discouraged and stop playing. Stopping because of a brick wall will leave a bad taste in the player’s mouth that will discourage them from playing again — or outright quit the game — which can leave a negative impression for future games from the developer.
Darwinian Difficulty is a hard mechanic to design around, requiring the designers to put in extra time fine-tuning the gameplay. The design is less about creating an imbalanced experience, forcing the player to climb out of a proverbial pit, and more about giving the player all the tools they need to succeed. Whether or not they’ll be able to use them, however, is the big question. When designers successfully pull off the balance of difficulty, players will get an amazing experience few games these days deliver.
篇目5，Game Design Profile: Slippery Slope (Part I)
by Brice Morrison
[Editor: In this guest post from David Sirlin, he discusses a common design that shows up often in games called the slippery slope, and how it works.]
If a game has slippery slope, it means that falling behind causes you to fall even further behind.
For example, imagine that every time your team scored in basketball that the opponent’s team lost a player. In that game, falling behind is doubly bad because each basket counts for score AND it makes the opposing team less able to score points of its own. The actual game of basketball does not have this screwy feature though, so real basketball does not have slippery slope. Scoring in real basketball puts you closer to winning but does not at all hamper your opponents’ ability to score.
Slippery slope is another name for positive feedback, a loop that amplifies itself as in a nuclear reaction. Because people confuse the terms positive and negative feedback so easily, I prefer the more descriptive term slippery slope.
Slippery slope is usually a bad property in a game. If a game has a powerful slippery slope effect, that means that when one player gets a small early lead, he is more likely to get an even bigger lead, which in turn makes him more likely still to get yet an even bigger lead, and so on. In a game like this, the real victor of the game is decided early on, and the rest of the game is futile to play out (or to watch).
StarCraft and Chess do have slippery slope. They manage to be good games anyway, despite this anti-climactic property. In Chess, when a player loses a piece, his ability to attack, defend, and control space on the board is slightly reduced. Sure, there are many other factors in Chess–positioning, momentum, pawn structure–that determine if a player is actually “losing,” but losing a piece does have an effect. Clearly, losing a lot of pieces, say 8, puts a player at a significant disadvantage. It’s pretty hard to make a comeback in Chess, and a game is usually “won” many, many moves before the actual checkmate move.
This is why there are a lot of forfeits in Chess. Good players don’t actually play out the pointless part of the endgame when they recognize the opponent will definitely win. Chess players would say that forfeits being a regular part of the game is fine and not awkward, but it’s a disappointing quality compared to games without slippery slope. Still, Chess is a pretty good game anyway.
This guy just lost a Chess piece.
StarCraft also has slippery slope. When you lose a unit, you are penalized doubly. First, you are closer to losing (having no units at all is so crippling as to be virtually the same as the actual loss condition of losing all your buildings). Second, you are less able to attack and defend because the unit you lost was not just part of a score, but also part of the actual gameplay of attacking and defending.
In basketball, the score is completely separate from the gameplay. Your ability to score points doesn’t depend at all on what the current score is. You could be ahead by 20 points or behind by 20 points and have the same chances of scoring more points. But in StarCraft (and Chess), the score is bound up with the gameplay. Losing units pushes you closer to loss AND makes it harder to fight back.
StarCraft has even more severe slippery slope when it comes to the game’s economy. Imagine that your opponent rushes you (sends an early attack to your base) and you fend it off. Let’s say you each lost about the same value of units in the exchange, except that you also lost one worker unit. In a different type of game, this might equate to being one “point” behind. But in StarCraft, that can be a crippling loss because gathering minerals is nearly exponential. Your opponent is ahead of you in the resource curve, increasing his earnings faster than you are. You’ve fallen down a very slippery slope here, where an early disadvantage becomes more magnified as the game goes on.
Fighting games don’t usually have slippery slope. In Street Fighter, for example, your character still has all of his moves even when he’s about to lose. Getting hit puts you behind in life totals (in “score”) but doesn’t limit your gameplay options in the way that losing a piece in Chess does or losing a unit in StarCraft does. An unusual example of a fighting game that does have slippery slope is Bushido Blade. In that game, getting hit can cause you limp around or lose the use of an arm. This is extremely rare in the fighting game genre though, and for good reason.
While it might be “realistic” for a nearly dead character to limp, move slowly, and have generally less effective moves, it’s not fun. (At least in Bushido Blade’s case, this part of the game lasts only a couple seconds, then you lose.) Meanwhile in Street Fighter, comebacks are frequent and games are often “anybody’s game” until the last moment. Street Fighter does have some very minimal slippery slope aspects (if you’re very near death you have to worry about taking damage from blocked moves which aren’t a threat if you have full life), but overall it’s pretty “slippery slope neutral.”
There is one fighting game that stands out as an exception: Marvel vs. Capcom 2. In this game, each player chooses 3 characters. At any given time, one character is active and on-screen, and the other two are off-screen, healing back some lost energy. The off-screen characters can be called in to do an assist move, then the jump off screen again. The main character can attack in parallel with the assist character, allowing for a wide variety of tricks and traps. The player can switch the active character at any time, and he loses the game when he loses all three characters. But here, slippery slope rears its bitter head. When one player is down to his last character and the other player has two or even all three of his characters, the first player is at a huge disadvantage. The first player has can no longer attack in parallel with his assists, which often means he has no hope of winning. Comebacks in MvC2 are quite rare and games often “end” before they are technically over.
Fighting games with “ring out” such as Virtua Fighter and Soul Calibur as especially devoid of slippery slope properties. In these games, a player instantly loses if his character is ever pushed out of the ring, no matter how much energy he has. Basically, no matter how far behind you are, no matter how close you are to losing, you always have a 100% damage move: ring out. Long ago, I thought this concept was “cheap” and served only to shorten games while adding little benefit, but actually the threat of ring out adds quite a bit to both these games. Since the threat of ring out is so great, another whole element of positioning is added to the game. A player must fight both to do damage to his opponent, and fight for position to avoid ring out.
Limited Slippery Slope
Fighting games do have very localized, limited kind of slippery slope that’s actually a good quality. If a game truly has no slippery slope whatsoever at any point, then it can feel like a series of disconnected decisions. It’s interesting though, if a decision you make at one point in a game echoes forward through time, and can influence later moves in the game. The problem is if this influence is allowed to snowball into a greater and greater advantage.
In limited slippery slope, there is a cap on how far you can slip and the effect is temporary. In Street Fighter, getting knocked down (hit by a sweep) does have a bit of slippery slope. You lose health (“score”) but you also have temporary limitations on what your character can do. Your character falls down, then gets up into what is usually a disadvantageous situation. The two things that are important about this are: 1) after the knockdown is over, you regain all your moves and 2) you cannot get doubly knocked down.
Ken is at a temporary disadvantage here from being knocked down, but the disadvantage can’t snowball into deeper levels of knockdown (there aren’t any) and it fades with time.
Hitting the opponent with a sweep does echo forward through time, but this advantage is reset soon after and can’t snowball into “getting REALLY knocked down” because there is no such thing as degrees of knockdown. If you are already knocked down, you can’t be knocked down “even more.”
Another example is backing the opponent into the corner (the edge of the stage). If you do this, you have a natural advantage because the opponent has fewer movement options. But again, there’s a limit here. Once the opponent is in the corner, he can’t be “more in the corner.” There’s a limit to how disadvantaged he can get.
An even more basic example is anytime you block a move that has a fair amount of recovery. In these case, you recover from your block stun before the opponent recovers from his move, so you have a few frames to act first. This gives you an advantage because if you both try to do a move of the same speed, yours will win (it will start first). Your good decision to block echoed forward into the future, but the effect is very fleeting. Even one second later, this advantage fades.
So fighting games are full of small, temporary slippery slope effects that actually help the game. And yet, on the macro level, they do not have the real kind of slippery slope, the permanent kind that snowballs until the game ends. Compare this to Chess where you don’t just get your captured pieces back a few turns later.
And RTS Without Slippery Slope
Here’s an idea for turning the full-on slippery slope (usually bad) into the limited kind (usually good). Both players start with the same amount of resources to buy units. When your units are destroyed, your resources are refunded. A delay in the timing of this refund combined with the build-time for making new units means that losing units really is a disadvantage, but that the disadvantage fades over time, similar in nature to getting knocked down in a fighting game. The real-time strategy game World in Conflict does exactly this, but I’ve never actually played it.
My point here isn’t about whether World in Conflict is a good game, or even whether the exact refund system stated above is good. It just shows that it is possible to remove slippery slope from an RTS if you try hard enough. Someone very dedicated to that problem could probably come up with an even better way to remove it that results in a deeper game, rather than a shallower one.
Readers, have you used a slippery slope in a game you’ve developed? How might you use (or avoid using) a slippery slope?