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The Kiwi's TaleWitchBlasterDerelict Blow Stuff Up

A method for creating difficulty levels

In many homebrew games the difficulty level is exceedingly high. This is because during the course of creating the game, the developers themselves become experts at it and base the difficulty around their own abilities.

Without a large number of dedicated playtesters, it can be difficult judging how hard a game is. This article covers the methods I use for creating difficulty levels in games.

Given the wide range of abilities and experience of people who play games, a series of difficulty levels is important for most types of game to be accessible and fun to the majority of gamers.

Generally, there will be players outside of the development team who will be as good as, if not better then the developers of the game itself. These players will be so few that the game cannot be aimed exclusively at them, but they should not be ignored either.

On the other end of the spectrum, there will be players that lack the time, patience, experience or reflexes to play the game at an expert level. And those who are impaired by limited mobility should not be forgotten either.

And there are also gamers in the middle of the spectrum, who will find easy games to be dull and difficult games to be frustrating.

When I was making Derelict, I knew that my abilities would resemble that of the top echelon of it's players. After extensive experimentation I tailored the parameters for the hardest difficulty level (Such as monster spawn time and movement speed) around what was fun for me.

Then, I simply extrapolated the values downwards for the easier difficulties. It's difficult to know how much they need to be extrapolated down, but playtesting will help - for Derelict I was told that the easy difficulty levels weren't too hard, but still provided enough challenge for the game to be fun.

But unfortunately, even though that method may work for balancing the difficulty of the general gameplay, it does not help balance the difficulty of individual levels within the game.

As the primary designer of Derelict, I not only had to judge whether my own levels were the right difficulty, but those developed by the other two level designers as well. So for any level that I couldn't beat on the hardest difficulty, I toned it down until I could. This ensured that it's reasonable to expect that almost anyone else, if they put in enough time and effort, could also beat that level on the hardest difficulty.

In summary:

  • Don't forget that you'll be one of the best players of your own game.
  • If you can't beat your own game, it's too hard.
  • Offer a range of difficulty levels to make the game fun and accessible for as many gamers as possible.