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Should Computer Games Adapt To the Way You Play? 404

Posted by Soulskill
from the worked-for-commander-data dept.
jtogel writes "Many games use 'rubberbanding' to adapt to your skill level, making the game harder if you're a better player and easier if you're not. Just think of Mario Kart and the obvious ways it punishes you for driving too well by giving the people who are hopelessly behind you super-weapons to smack you with. It's also very common to just increase the skill of the NPCs as you get better — see Oblivion. In my research group, we are working on slightly more sophisticated ways to adapt the game to you, including generating new level elements (PDF) based on your playing style (PDF). Now, the question becomes: is this a good thing at all? Some people would claim that adapting the game to you just rewards mediocrity (i.e. you don't get rewarded for playing well). Others would say that it restricts the freedom of expression for the game designer. But still, game players have very different skill levels and skill sets when they come to a game, and we would like to cater to them all. And if you don't see playing skill as one-dimensional, maybe it's possible to do meaningful adaptation. What sort of game adaptation would you like to see?"
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Should Computer Games Adapt To the Way You Play?

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  • by Dr. Manhattan (29720) <sorceror171 AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @10:39AM (#29731743) Homepage
    What if the game taught you to be a better player? For example, it could slant the gameplay to teach you one strategy, then once you'd mastered that, move on to teach you a different one. If you do well enough, it starts to require combined strategies, etc.
  • Enchance the fun (Score:3, Interesting)

    by lymond01 (314120) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @10:47AM (#29731855)

    Players enjoy certain aspects of particular genres:

    1) In an RTS like Battle for Middle Earth, the draw is general defending large armies with large armies, the thrill of out-strategizing the enemy (AI), and the final devastating blow to your opponent's base. If you're playing well, and dominating the enemy, then make the game last a little longer: send out a large "backup" force from the enemy that really makes your main force struggle...but once your main force is weakened (or not), you're given time to rebuild. You may be prepared for these reinforcements to hit you and split your main force to flank them when they do arrive, etc.

    2) In an FPS like Quake or Doom, you might reward run'n'gun playstyles with simply more enemies to slaughter, or be slaughtered by. More strategic FPS players may actually get the same reward, or perhaps have enemies begin to spawn behind them to make them start watching their backs, heightening the tension that comes from playing an FPS slowly.

    3) World of Warcraft players might get the Amazing Sword of Brilliance if they actually attack two mobs at once instead of ganging up on one.

    It has a lot to do with what people decide is fun in a game, and one reward system won't work for each genre -- but it may work for the majority of players in that genre. Find what the players are looking for in that game, and give them more.

  • Both options (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Blade (1720) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @10:50AM (#29731915) Homepage

    I think there's room for choosing a difficulty level and having the game adapt as well. Didn't RE5 do that? You chose how hard you wanted it to be, but within that the game also decreased enemy health if you died over and over, and increased it if you survived fights without dying. So it was self adapting but within constraints you could choose yourself.

    There's also a clear difference between games in which you compete against other people which try to provide an enjoyable experience, and games in which you are trying to win by having more skill than the other players, and single player games that are intended to be enjoyable and what people enjoy varies from person to person.

  • by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @10:58AM (#29732029)

    I was intrigued by the concept of adaptable games until I played Oblivion. Granted, Oblivion made the worst possible decisions when it came to adapting Mobs to your level: it had an uneven leveling "curve" to the point where gaining a level could make previously easy monsters into a nightmare. It used obscure leveling mechanisms where you could gimp your character to an unplayable point if you didn't happen to pick the right class or jump often enough between leveling.

    Since then, I don't care about adaptive leveling, because it is a much harder problem than it appears to be on the surface. Part of the fun for me is to go from getting stomped by the computer to stomping the computer, just because I got better at the game. Sometimes I want the challenge, but then I select it, not the game. Judging from the amount of Starcraft games that are labeled "7v1 stomp the comp", I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in this.

    Adaptive difficulty should really come only in two flavors: select an overall game difficulty, so that you know what to expect; or enter some dungeon or bonus level/path that you know is much harder than what you've done so far. Don't force me into a harder game just because I've been doing so well so far. It could have been just a lucky streak, in which case I'll get really frustrated with the sudden ramp-up in difficulty.

  • by argent (18001) <peter.slashdot@2006@taronga@com> on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @11:01AM (#29732091) Homepage Journal

    When we developed Tracers back in the '80s we tuned the reward system so that the game would just run at a higher speed (voltage, in the circuit-board language of the game)... every time you won a level, the voltage would ramp up, when you lost a life it would ramp down. Most people found themselves in a cycle where the game would get harder until they started losing lives, and then it slowed down again until they started winning levels again.

    The higher the voltage, the more points you got for blocking off and killing an opponent... but we found that the best players quit paying attention to the score. The challenge in the game was pushing the voltage higher and higher. That number was the thing to beat.

    I don't like games that try and hide the mechanics of the process from people, but when it's exposed like this it can be extremely effective.

  • by EXTomar (78739) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @11:01AM (#29732097)

    Although these advanced systems can be done in single player, stand alone experiences, I predict we will see a lot of progress made in the MMO space where it is easier introduce dynamic content. One thing sorely missing from MMOs is custom built challenges. The game has access to all of that information on the character and how to play...why not start using it to change the things prsented to them?

    - Using general terms for an example: If you enter an instance with a Warrior, a Thief, Wizard, and a Cleric but you kill the dragon and get some Ranger bow everyone goes "BOOO!". The game knows what classes came in so instead of just tossing out static loot from a static table, start considering who walked in and what improvements they need. Instead of forcing players to grind content for drops they know a monster has, they should come back for a chance on loot they know will be useful to someone.

    - Since the game knows what classes came in, why not start seeding the instance with challenges configured for them? Each of the classes in the example are strong and weak to attacks and monsters, like for instance this group is a little weak on "ranged attacks" but stronger on defense. This group would avoid any static content they know would have a preponderance of stuff that flies or run around them. How about have them go into an instance that configures it to have less fliers, less stand back but features stuff that hits a little harder than normal?

    - If the group is working well together and is stomping everything, why not up the difficulty a little till they aren't stomping everything? If the group isn't doing well, why not ease the difficulty so they aren't wiping every turn?

    The basic idea is that the game should be smart enough to see at least the game/character data and evaluate what should be easy and hard for them to beat. This isn't so much "hand holding" but crafting a more interesting experience. If you swap the Thief for a Ranger and go into the same area you get a different mix of monsters and a guarantee that someone is going be rewarded. If you come in with a weak group you get a challenging experience. If you come in with a strong, expert group you get a very different but still challenging experience. The game designers should want you get through the quest handed to the players, to experience the story of the content, but still provide enough of challenge to feel accomplishment. Right now this is done with carefully crafted static content that involves a bit of statistical analysis that can be easily memorized or grow out of.

  • Re:Configurable (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PhilHibbs (4537) <snarks@gmail.com> on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @11:18AM (#29732295) Homepage Journal

    For multiplayer, all I've seen in the past are ways to set the overall arena difficulty, not to set the players separately. It's no fun as a new player playing against a seasoned vetran - no matter where you set the difficulty it's not a fun game for either player.

    Quake 3 did. When I played it against my friends, they put me on a 30% handicap (so I had 30% of their health and did 30% of their damage) because that's the only way they could avoid me from wiping the floor with them. There was something about that game that just clicked with the way I play - I wasn't nearly as dominant in Counterstrike, in fact I was regularly thrashed by one of them, but I tore through opposition in any id game like soft fruit through an old granny.

  • by RivenAleem (1590553) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @11:19AM (#29732301)
    I've played quite a few racing games, and I believe them to teach you to rush, and not crash into corners. The problem with a lot of racing games is that if they become a simulator, then they are not a racing game. Those that succeed well at becoming very close to reality, start becoming less of a quick thrill for those not wanting to perfect the driving mechanics of the game.

    Those like Wipeout and Gran Tourismo were more about getting nice graphics and a rush of excitement when you hammer through bends at impossible speeds. These games had the different difficulty levels (or progression to harder races) to allow for cutoff points in skill and enjoyment.

    If a racing game would be able to design tracks based on your driving style, either to challenge you, or play to your strengths for a more enjoyable ride, I think that it would be really cool.

    btw, any of you notice the expert use of the car analogy?
  • by swanzilla (1458281) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @11:28AM (#29732407) Homepage

    Basically WoW has it right.

    I disagree, it's a very good game, but I think Donkey Kong is the best game ever.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @11:50AM (#29732699)

    ... and few things irritate me more than when computer "AI" gets to simply cheat to beat me.

    If you're developing ramping skill difficulties, like previous posters, I'd recommend giving players options:

    1. Turn off ramping difficulty, or set it at a specific point (x.5, x.75, x1, x1.5, x2.0, etc)
    2. Set a base difficulty (Wussy, Easy, Moderate, Hard, Hellish)

    Other things you may want to look at would be how fast the AI can react and function. Example... in some RTS games, AI will settle a new colony and then *bink* it's up and running - 12 buildings and 100 miles of road appear as if by magic. This is a clear advantage and frustrating to the player. If the player "sees" AI building - slowly or quickly - at least they feel like the AI is trying to win, not just being given the "win button".

    As a turtler myself, I do understand that you shouldn't just build AI that can be killed with simple patience. Games that grant automagical bonuses to AI are frustrating, but needed sometimes.

    Ultimately, it really depends on the kind of game you're building. Sit down and look at your mechanic and think about it... better yet, explain it to a set of non-programming gamers and ask them if the challenge response sounds like fun. People play games for fun - not to be tormented by increasing difficulty and ultimately impossible scenarios (unless they're some kind of sick in the head).

    And for the love of Bob, whatever you do, don't make the game dumbed-down AND increasing in difficulty.

  • by knarfling (735361) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @12:12PM (#29732995) Journal
    Wizardry 8 did this well. You could start with fresh characters or imported characters from Wizardry VII. I started with fresh characters and the monsters in the first area were pretty hard. I started a new game with imported characters thinking that I would have a big advantage. Nope. Although my characters were more experienced and able to fight better, the monsters were also stronger. After making my way past the first area, I moved to an even harder area. Realizing I had forgotten something, I went back to the first area. Sure enough, the monsters that showed up were even more powerful. Later in the game, after I had moved my characters up several levels, I had an occasion to go back to the first level. Although the monsters were even harder than before, they were no match for my characters and I breezed through with no problem.

    The game was divided into areas and each area had different types of monsters. Each monster type had different levels as well. The neat thing was that there was an upper and lower limit to each monster's levels. For example, the first area had different slime creatures from a wimpy green slime to a very tough emerald slime. Slimes were not seen in other areas and an emerald slime could never do the same kind of damage that a giant wolf that was found in another area could do. Each area was tough, and if you went into an area before you were ready, you could be killed quite easily. Even if you were ready, you could be killed if you weren't careful. Rare was the time you could enter an area and say, "Wow. That was easy."

    I really liked that game, and the way it pushed you in each area. Grinding was almost counter-productive, since the experience gained for each type of monster was dependant upon its difficulty. Grinding away in one area only made the next area that much more difficult. I could sit and grind in one area for hours, or I could move the the next area and play for 10 minutes and get the same experience. Unlike other games, it was a great balance between playability and difficulty. Other people I talked to had similar experiences even though we had different playing styles.
  • Re:Configurable (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SQLGuru (980662) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @01:57PM (#29734437) Journal

    The big problem with the implementations of adaptable I've seen is that it's just "more".

    Too easy to beat up a squad of 5 baddies? Throw in three more. Still not enough? Let's take it to 11.
    If not more enemies, then more AI options. At level one, they don't strafe. At level 9, they strafe and jump both.

    A real adaptable challenge needs to adapt like a human would. And that's HARD (computer implementation hard). But more power to you if you can accomplish it. You'll get lots of kudos from the gaming industry.....at least until they all rip you off. ;)

  • by Orbijx (1208864) * <slashdot,org&pixelechoes,net> on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @02:02PM (#29734513) Homepage Journal

    I thought I was the only person who had the issue of wanting to explore a new area, but getting slaughtered by the first thing [popping out of the ground|falling from the sky|warping in out of nowhere] was a major irritant.

    I'd love to see an MMO that allows one to explore, with some logical limits. Like a real person, you can't just run all over the world in 5 minutes. You actually need to build up your endurance (hooray for stat gaining without a level, preferably -- someone who explores a lot and carries lots of stuff would likely have more endurance than a flabby something or other that's just wandering around the outskirts of town), buy equipment for exploring some areas (mountain climbing means you need pitons, rope, carabiners, etc; safari exploration means you might need some type of insect repellent, a machete, and a prayer to protect you from [insert random creature here]) and make money by bringing things back from your explorations to sell.

    Of course, this kind of an idea would be hard to apply adaptive skill levels to, honestly.

  • Re:Configurable (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mqduck (232646) <mqduck AT mqduck DOT net> on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:12PM (#29735395)

    I agree absolutely about Oblivion. You felt like you were achieving nothing by leveling up. I want to eventually get so powerful that the world around me whimpers when I walk past, or so that I can kill things I was never able to before. That's the whole damn point of leveling.

    Oblivion is tons of fun, though, when you use mods that create a static game population (that is, mods that disable the world leveling up along with you). I recommend Oscuro's Oblivion Overhaul [sweetdanger.net] or, better yet, FCOM: Convergence [sweetdanger.net].

  • by jc42 (318812) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @04:22PM (#29736401) Homepage Journal

    My first thought on reading the summary was that it sounded a lot like the local chess and go competitions when I was in high school (a few decades ago, before computer games were common). I was one of the top players. I didn't much get that way by reading a lot of chess strategy books or by beating a lot of novices. I did it by consciously deciding that I liked losing better. That is, I challenged players who were better than I was. They usually learned to try each trick on me just once, because the second time I'd have worked out a reply. Also, from then on, they had to look out for the same trick from me.

    Nowadays, I don't play many computer games. But if I decide to take it up, it'll be because of access to slowly-increasing challenges. If a game doesn't behave as described here, I'll get bored with it fast and go looking for something that's more interesting.

    Actually, part of the reasons for getting out of games is that I realized that software development is a kind of game that you can get paid well for. The basic setup is: When you get the recalcitrant little beastie to do what you want, you get points (and possibly a raise for the next project). When the designers of the system (OS, runtime libs, compilers, data designers, whatever) trick you and the machine interprets your code differently than you expected, the people responsible for the system code get points (and possibly a good position building the next release of the system ;-). A good programmer is one who can win at this game against the system designers.

    So as a programmer, you're constantly challenged by the new challenges that are hiding out in the latest releases of the systems that you're programming for. You really are playing against some of the brightest human opponents on the planet. It's a much more interesting and challenging computer game than anything actually advertised as a game.

    I've described this theory to a number of bosses in the past. One of them chuckled, and explained that this was probably why I hadn't ever "graduated" into management. He'd seen my code, and it was too clear and well-documented to ever be a good player on the "system" team in the game. The other programmers wouldn't face the challenges they expected from my code, so it was obvious that I wouldn't be welcome on the other team. So I chuckled to, and told him that I was happy playing for my current team. I got to build things that users actually use, which was a nice bennie. Sometimes they've even paid me for copies of my code, while people only pay for "systems" code because they have to for the machine to be usable. We both thought it was all pretty funny. But maybe this was partly because we were both paid pretty well to play.

    For some reason many "system" programmers don't seem to appreciate this characterization of the software industry ...

  • lawn, etc (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Eil (82413) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @09:24PM (#29739929) Homepage Journal

    Call me old-fashioned but I've always believed that one of the pre-requisites of calling something a "game" is that it should challenge you. Give you something to learn and get better at. There was no adaptive difficulty on Mario, Zelda, or Metroid. If you wanted to advance in the game (or even beat it), your only choice was to practice, explore, learn from your mistakes, and hopefully get better. A game that automatically makes itself easier when you do poorer isn't a game, it's just a time-waster. In the same class as the click-on-the-pretty-pictures web games and every board game that boils down to sheer chance.

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