DYNAMIC DIFFICULTY IN RPGS

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Somewhat related to the "Penalties for leveling up" thread, I was wondering if there were any RPGs that modify the difficulty of the game based on things other than your level. If it modifies something other than difficulty, go ahead and mention that, too. I'd look it up myself, but I figured it'd be better to hear from people who've actually played the games.
For comparison, I'm mostly thinking about the Rank in many STGs/shmups, where the difficulty (mostly enemy & bullet count/speed) is modified by a number of variables/actions, such as time spent not dying, number of shots fired, deaths and life stocks, collecting and using certain power-ups etc.
Yes, shmups do that a lot and I like it.

Making games harder for skilled players makes a lot more sense than making game harder as punishment for grinding.

I'd like to see that used more in RPGs. For example imagine they changed SaGa games so that not only the number of battles determines your battle rank (which determines how hard the encounters are), but also if you lose a lot of LP in one battle it will raise much slower than if you win battles without losing LP.

Also add a scoring system to RPGs. So that instead of rewarding good players by making the game easier, it will actually become harder but you get more points.
LockeZ
I'd really like to get rid of LockeZ. His play style is way too unpredictable. He's always like this too. If he ran a country, he'd just kill and imprison people at random until crime stopped.
6003
One fantastic example is The World Ends With You, the only legitimately original RPG to come out of Squaresoft in ten years. You can gain levels with experience, but the only thing levels give you is HP. However, in the menu screen, there's a slider you can slide down to lower your level. For each level you sacrifice, you increase the drop rate of badges from all enemies by 10% - and collecting these badges is one of the main challenges of the game. While this is certainly related to level, it's not how you typically expect levels to work. The faster you want to earn badges, the harder it gets.

Disgaea deserves a mention for the Demon Senate that you can pay to increase or decrease the levels (and thus exp rewards) of all the enemies in the game.

In World of Warcraft, some of the bosses and dungeons scale in difficulty to the number of party members you have. This method seems like it would also work in a character-recruitment type game like Suikoden or Wyrm Warriors(!), or a large-scale tactical RPG like Shining Force or Fire Emblem where you have a dozen characters at once. However, the side-effect is that adding more people to your team is often detrimental if they're not very strong, which is a weird situation. (though honestly thanks to XP being split between party members this issue also exists in plenty of games with normal leveling systems)

Devil May Cry games have one of my favorite approaches to difficulty - the game starts out in hard mode, and then gradually easier difficulties are unlocked by getting game overs. Elegant, really.

A lot of other games also have indirect benefits to getting game overs simply by making the world persist after a game over - enemies who were down to 40% health when you died will start out at 40% health when you return for another try. This lets you eventually pass the boss no matter how shitty you are.
author=RyaReisender
Also add a scoring system to RPGs. So that instead of rewarding good players by making the game easier, it will actually become harder but you get more points.
I know this is a bit off topic but, I've been thinking about a score based rpg for a while. It would kind of work like the Oregon Trail, in that you choose how much money you start with (the old farmer, banker or whatever choice) and buy initial supplies (hire party members, food, ammo etc). There would be a survival system with hunger, fatigue, thirst and wounds that needs to be maintained or party members would die. Scoring would be based on live party members, explored places, assets and so on.
It would have to be fairly short, maybe 1 1/2 to 2 hours long.
Also, set in a post apocalyptic world to rationalize the lack of supplies and stuff.

Basically I want to make the Oregon Trail and Fallout's love child.
author=RyaReisender
Yes, shmups do that a lot and I like it.
Making games harder for skilled players makes a lot more sense than making game harder as punishment for grinding.
Funny thing is, Rank in most shooters, especially ones designed by Shinobu Yagawa, are actually more difficult for new players because most of the things that increase Rank are things that noobies, and even veterans, will instinctively do. People get used to the later Gradius games, then go back and play the first (arcade) one, get all four Options and put up a shield whenever they can and are taken aback by the insane difficulty spike. So the skilled players are actually the ones who know how to avoid putting the game in murder-mode, in addition to being able to put up with the higher difficulty when they need to. Its kinda bass-ackwards if you ask me.

author=RyaReisender
Also add a scoring system to RPGs. So that instead of rewarding good players by making the game easier, it will actually become harder but you get more points.
I think most RPGs would be way too long for anyone to want to score in them. Also, most RPGs already have the broken mechanic of infinitely-grindable EXP, so I imagine they would probably end up with the same situation for score. I think it would make more sense to make the "scoring system" directly affect your EXP, money, etc, so that skillful play nets you more of it, but then having a Ranking system that increases the difficulty based on how you got it. So, power-leveling on tough foes would increase the Rank more than leveling up on weak slimes and rabbits, and other things like that.

author=LockeZ
Devil May Cry games have one of my favorite approaches to difficulty - the game starts out in hard mode, and then gradually easier difficulties are unlocked by getting game overs. Elegant, really.
Wait, what? I nabbed the first three PS2 DMCs out of a bargain bin a couple years ago and haven't played them too much yet, but I thought, at least for the first one, you initially had a choice of "Normal" and "Easy Automatic" mode, and then unlocked "Hard" and "Dante Must Die" mode in that order by beating the game.
Either way, I honestly think that every difficulty mode should be selectable from the start. Even the "Super-Crazy-Harder-Than-Your-Dick" modes. Not being able to choose a difficulty that suits you right away can make for a bad first impression.

author=LockeZ
A lot of other games also have indirect benefits to getting game overs simply by making the world persist after a game over - enemies who were down to 40% health when you died will start out at 40% health when you return for another try. This lets you eventually pass the boss no matter how shitty you are.
That sounds... really unrewarding, actually. Like, I can imagine someone just running at the boss, mashing all the buttons, dying, and repeating the process until they win, and then they go and post a 2.464/10 review of GameFAQs or whatever.
LockeZ
I'd really like to get rid of LockeZ. His play style is way too unpredictable. He's always like this too. If he ran a country, he'd just kill and imprison people at random until crime stopped.
6003
author=turkeyDawg
author=LockeZ
A lot of other games also have indirect benefits to getting game overs simply by making the world persist after a game over - enemies who were down to 40% health when you died will start out at 40% health when you return for another try. This lets you eventually pass the boss no matter how shitty you are.
That sounds... really unrewarding, actually. Like, I can imagine someone just running at the boss, mashing all the buttons, dying, and repeating the process until they win, and then they go and post a 2.464/10 review of GameFAQs or whatever.
On the one hand, you feel like you didn't really beat the enemy.

But on the other hand, no one will ever be barred from progressing in the game, no matter how badly they deserve to fail.

It's the kind of thing AAA games do in order to reach a wider crowd at the expense of having less satisfying gameplay for the people who would have played anyway. See also: easier difficulty modes in general (to a lesser extent).
That depends on what your vision for your game is in terms of audience. In games like Grand Theft Auto V, the vision is to tell a compelling narrative with awesome gameplay, but they want to make sure that everyone sees the narrative they pained to make. Therefore, if you fail a mission too many times, you can skip it.

On the contrary, in Dark Souls, although the game expects you to fail because it's insanely challenging, you have to actually get better at the game to proceed. You don't get a game over from dying, you just lose some progress and some 'Souls' unless you can get them back where you died. That is the reward, beating the game at its own game by getting pummeled until you 'get it' through skill and character management. If you can't hack it, fuck off, the game isn't for you.

Both games are fantastic games, but both have a different vehicle on how it approaches its difficulty.
I've played a lot with dynamic difficulties. You can either make common battles take 1 minute on easy or 5 minutes on hard. I'd much much rather have 2 minute battles than 5. When the battle takes so long that I forget what I was doing in the map, that's not a good thing.
In my opinion higher difficulty should only affect enemy offense and not enemy defense. Unless it's action-type combat, then having to use more complex attack combos to defeat the enemy is fine. But it should never just be more HP and DEF.
author=ShortStar
I've played a lot with dynamic difficulties. You can either make common battles take 1 minute on easy or 5 minutes on hard. I'd much much rather have 2 minute battles than 5. When the battle takes so long that I forget what I was doing in the map, that's not a good thing.

I think, in general, a battle should never take very long at all for a regular, run of the mill battle, no matter the difficulty. Thirty seconds on normal and a minute on hard would really be about the max for a normal fight if I'm encountering more than a handful in any given area - don't make a fight just drag on because you can; if it's clear I'm going to finish a fight with no trouble, I want it done as soon as possible, not drag out to three minutes of no-strategy-mash-the-attack-button slogging.

Hell, difficulty increase shouldn't just make the battle longer - it should make it harder. Enemy just uses an attack and a fire spell that hits one guy on normal? Well, now on hard it uses an attack and the fire spell, but it also now inflicts "burn" status with the fire spell and hits all your characters when it uses it. This works best in games that let you push the limits of individual battles (you're healed to full after each fight and statuses are cleared, so every fight can drain a lot more resources) than games with persistent states where the difficulty is in taxing your resources between refills.
It can work in games that don't heal you after every fight, but you'd have to give the player options for strategically avoiding damage without zapping your other resources. Mario RPGs do this with Action Commands, but a purely turn-based game would have to be a lot more clever.

- - -

In other news, I tried Googling this subject myself, and one of the first things that came up was this very thread, no matter how I worded it. There were also a lot of abstract essays on college websites, e-zine articles talking about Skyrim or Oblivion in a similar manner to LockeZ's thread, or briefly mentioning Max Payne. Some other games were thrown out there, but I never came across an RPG whose dynamic difficulty was based on your actions rather than your level. Granted, my Google-fu is extremely weak, but the severe lack of responses in this thread, and the puniness of TV Trope's RPG segment compared to the others' suggests that maybe this is just something that doesn't really happen. I guess just using the player level by itself (or occasionally party headcounts as LockeZ mentioned) gets the job done well enough as far as most people are concerned.

PS: ShortStar - Details, man, DETAILS! I want the juicy DETAILS!
It might not be applicable in the same way that shmups use their dynamic difficulty, "Rank". Rank was invented as a way to keep playtime down as players became better at the game, enforcing player rotation in the arcade environment and a steady stream of income for the arcade operator. It's the polar opposite of the RPG play environment. Interesting gameplay from the incorporation of Rank was only a side-effect.

With an RPG, I think a "hard mode" is better suited to the playing environment.

Although, if dynamic difficulty were truly the goal, it also brings up the issue of the pains of coding an adaptive AI, and how sensitive it should be made. "What would the triggers be? Just how difficult should it get, and how?" Interesting questions..

The player doesn't have direct control over the action, so "skill" is more of an abstract concept. It's not like in Battle Garegga, where you're either bad at playing, good at playing and suddenly facing tougher Rank, or good at playing and managing the Rank. For example, an RPG Rank based on how many hits the player takes. How could the player control that?

The SaGa series already employed a version of Rank based on player strength. A version based on a player's tactical skill would be tough to make.
I'm generally not a fan of "healing after every fight" implementations unless the game has *very* diverse battles, or some other setup to ensure that you never really fight the same battle twice. Otherwise, the challenges end up being redundant. A battle which uses up 80% of your characters' resources is just as mindless as one which you can finish just by mashing the "attack" button if you can apply the same sequence over and over again, and not worry about what you're using up for successive battles.
author=Zachary_Braun
With an RPG, I think a "hard mode" is better suited to the playing environment.

No reason you can't do both, actually. For the STGs I intend on doing, I'm actually having both. Essentially, the Rank will be a very wide band of difficulty ranges, and the difficulty modes selected at the beginning constrict you to a specific band of that range.

author=Zachary_Braun
"What would the triggers be?" ...
Interesting questions...
The player doesn't have direct control over the action, so "skill" is more of an abstract concept...
For example, an RPG Rank based on how many hits the player takes. How could the player control that?
The SaGa series already employed a version of Rank based on player strength. A version based on a player's tactical skill would be tough to make.


Well, some things have been mentioned above, like the amount of health lost in a fight (assuming LP means Life Points), or the kinds of monsters you level up on. Also, I played the demos of Final Fantasy XIII-2 and Lighting Returns, and they seem to have some kind of battle ranking system. So, just imagine if the stars contributed to an overall "battle rank" that determined the difficulty of the encounters.

As for the toughness in gauging "skill" in an RPG, it probably wouldn't be such a difficult exercise if more games allowed for varied strategies. As Desertopa is kinda hinting towards, too many games rely purely on War of Attrition. "Skill" in the turn-based game would be making the right choices, which would require there to be wrong choices, which in turn requires there to be plenty of choices in general. The effects of these decisions could then be measured in terms of turns taken and resources lost, and maybe some other things.
LockeZ
I'd really like to get rid of LockeZ. His play style is way too unpredictable. He's always like this too. If he ran a country, he'd just kill and imprison people at random until crime stopped.
6003
I will note that, if you can track it, the number of times the player has gotten a Game Over is an excellent indicator of player skill in an RPG.
There are some games I know of that do track the player's number of Game Overs; the PS1 action platformer RPG Alundra had an extremely powerful weapon that you could only get if you'd gotten enough of them, for instance. If you hadn't died enough times, the talking statue that carries it would tell you that it didn't think you needed it anyway.

If there's any disadvantage to getting Game Overs though, players are quite likely just to reload over them, which can be a real hassle to prevent.
author=Desertopa
I'm generally not a fan of "healing after every fight" implementations unless the game has *very* diverse battles, or some other setup to ensure that you never really fight the same battle twice. Otherwise, the challenges end up being redundant. A battle which uses up 80% of your characters' resources is just as mindless as one which you can finish just by mashing the "attack" button if you can apply the same sequence over and over again, and not worry about what you're using up for successive battles.


If it's only pushing 80%, you're missing the advantage to healing to full after every battle. Sure, it might hit 80% sometimes, but if it's that close, it should be possible for the battle to push it closer - and possibly finish you off (if you're doing battles like this, you need to either a) have save spots very frequently; b) have a restart option that starts them not too far back; or c) have avoidable combat. With the ability to push the player's resources, current content (that which you don't outlevel/outgear, not in the current area) should run the risk of defeating you - especially bosses - if you're just mashing through or it should have enough variance to actually be interesting and not a mindless drone.

I dunno, maybe I just like the difficulty a little higher after playing a number of games recently where the difficulty on "normal mode" wasn't up to snuff.
author=Travio
If it's only pushing 80%, you're missing the advantage to healing to full after every battle. Sure, it might hit 80% sometimes, but if it's that close, it should be possible for the battle to push it closer - and possibly finish you off (if you're doing battles like this, you need to either a) have save spots very frequently; b) have a restart option that starts them not too far back; or c) have avoidable combat. With the ability to push the player's resources, current content (that which you don't outlevel/outgear, not in the current area) should run the risk of defeating you - especially bosses - if you're just mashing through or it should have enough variance to actually be interesting and not a mindless drone.


Unless the results in battle are significantly randomized though, once you've made it through a particular battle with 20% of your health once you can generally make it through every successive instance of that encounter just by doing the same thing you did before. There might have been some chance of your losing the battle the first time, but if there's no cumulative challenge due to loss of resources, then the player is probably just going to repeat the same sequence for every iteration of that battle.

Here's a bit from a review which addresses how this can turn out.

author=Pitchfork
In Final Fantasy XIII, your team is automatically revitalized to full HP and status neutrality after every battle, nullifying the whole "resource management" angle of the game. And without that, there is absolutely no point in fighting the same battle ten times in a row between one cutscene trigger spot and the next. In a game set up like Final Fantasy XIII, once you figure out how to beat the "two wolves and a soldier" enemy group, that should be it. You've solved it. But Final Fantasy XIII forces you to push through The Tube and do it again. And again. And again.
Actually, XIII (and XIII-2, which kind of improves on it) is what I'm basing a lot of the reasoning on. You don't just fight the same group over and over unless you're stopping to grind - as you move forward, the game presents you with different groups of enemies and you rarely have to fight the same pack of enemy more than 1 or 2 times (and even then, those 1 or 2 times are generally enemies that do push you for the area).

Yes, XIII in particular is a game I complain about having a lot of battles that drag out unnecessarily - there's a number of fights where, with no effort at all, I can sit in Diversity and tap the X button while talking to my friend and paying no attention to the screen. It's particularly bad on Pulse where the game expects you to stop and grind (and complete about 1/4 to 1/2 the area's content before you finish fighting Orphan) because otherwise you're gonna have a bad time finishing the rest of the game. But it also has a number of cases where the normal enemies push you right to the edge and RNG having the AI do an attack that effects the entire group instead of hitting a single target can make a huge difference in how the fight goes. Indeed, an enemy attacking at an inopportune time can throw off your sequence; FFXIII tends to address this by eventually giving you the ability to ignore these interrupts, which... is weird, since those interrupts are actually what make the fights less predictable.

I call it a failure in design and failing to live up to the possibility of the system if players at the intended power level are able to repeatedly clearing an enemy in the exact same health position. Yes, doing the fight enough times (without actually increasing in power level) could eventually average out to 80%, but that's pretty much how RNG works - it eventually averages out over a large enough range to an expected set of values (ie. generating a number between 1 and 10000 will, with enough iterations, prove every number has the same chance of being generated). You balance around the expected set but understand that there's going to be swings either way.
There shouldn't be any disadvantages in getting Game Over other than having to "try again" (whatever that means depends on the game structure). But advantages on Game Over are a good idea.

I mean in my opinions RPGs should be designed you never get a game over if you play the game perfectly assuming you have no prior knowledge about the game. If you get a game over you must have done a mistake. Getting a game over usually is frustrating. In my case, I usually stop playing the game out of frustration, for others it's not so severe, but they are certainly are not happy about it.
If however after the game over, the game would be easier, then you had a reason to go and try again because there's a chance that now you might make it. It would certainly help with me not quitting a game so soon.
(But what I usually do in an RPG is grinding if I give it a second try. More grinding also means better chances.)

I'm generally not a fan of "healing after every fight" implementations unless the game has *very* diverse battles, or some other setup to ensure that you never really fight the same battle twice. Otherwise, the challenges end up being redundant. A battle which uses up 80% of your characters' resources is just as mindless as one which you can finish just by mashing the "attack" button if you can apply the same sequence over and over again, and not worry about what you're using up for successive battles.

I disagree with you there. How interesting and fun the battles are is completely unrelated to whether the game is resource-management-based or skill-per-battle-based. So that's not really a reason to be against healing after every fight.

The real difference is short-term challenge vs long-term challenge. The advantage of healing after every battle is that a single battle is the challenge itself. Do it right and you win, do it wrong and you have to try it again. In resource-management based games even if you do mistakes you will not die. You will lose more resources however. It can lead to that you only notice much later that your remaining resources aren't enough to complete the dungeon. I think this is a big disadvantage because you get punished for errors you did much earlier.

But of course there are people who particularly like long-term challenges over short-term challenges.
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