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Infinite Mario With Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment 103

Posted by Soulskill
from the there's-always-another-castle dept.
bgweber writes "There's been a lot of discussion about whether games should adapt to the skills of players. However, most current techniques limit adaptation to parameter adjustment. But if the parameter adaptation is applied to procedural content generation, then new levels can be generated on-line in response to a player's skill. In this adaptation of Infinite Mario (with source [.JAR]), new levels are generated based on the performance of the player. What other gameplay mechanics are open for adaptation when games adapt to the skills of specific players?"
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Infinite Mario With Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment

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  • But not a whole lot of fun in practice.

    Spelunky http://www.spelunkyworld.com/ [spelunkyworld.com] is a way better example of a platformer with randomly generated levels.

    • by mldi (1598123)
      Seconded. Super Mario Kart in single player mode on the hardest difficulty was already next to impossible. I can't imagine playing unfamiliar tracks on top of that crazy shit. Would have cost me more than just 1 busted controller if there was dynamic levels...
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by gorzek (647352)

        Anyone here play Warning Forever? It's a shoot-'em-up consisting entirely of boss battles, but it has an interesting twist: the next boss adapts based on how you defeated previous bosses in terms of its body configuration, weapon placements, and weapon types. So, you're forced to change up your tactics or you'll be wiped out. I love it.

        Link for anyone interested: http://www18.big.or.jp/~hikoza/Prod/index_e.html [big.or.jp] (Yes, in Japanese, but the game is in English and not hard to download from the page.)

        • I'm not sure why this is modded insightful, but I did find it both interesting and informative (but unfortunately can't use my mod points to mark it as such and also post). I'd never heard of it before, but I just gave it a try, and it's a pretty neat idea. I haven't quite figured out how it determines what to change in the next level, but it definitely does proceed differently depending on what I do. Even after only playing a few times, I found some interesting things, like approaching it differently in
      • That made something potentially even worse occur to me: the random track generator of F-Zero X combined with the difficulty level of F-Zero GX (the hardest parts of which are possibly responsible for more controller throwing incidents than any other Nintendo game to date and make anything from any Mario Kart game look easy (unpredictable blue shells and lightning bolts and whatnot aside)). Just thinking about it makes me preemptively frustrated without even having to play it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @03:40AM (#33506092)

    One of the fun part of video games is playing the same level as someone else then talking about it, sharing frustrations and strategies. Once every level is different, this becomes much less easily done.

    Thus, if infinitely adaptable levels *do* exist, they should exist as an extended option or potentially an expansion pack to existing games rather than having an entire game based on that.

    Whether the level itself needs to change, or if just spawn points, etc, should cause different things/amount of enemies to spawn is another option. I'm reminded of Left 4 Dead and its sequel with the Director system that alters the spawning of zombies and types of zombies based on difficulty and the apparent skill of the players.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by noidentity (188756)

      One of the fun part of video games is playing the same level as someone else then talking about it, sharing frustrations and strategies. Once every level is different, this becomes much less easily done.

      You mean where it allows you to save the level you played and replay it? Not hard to do, just save the RNG seed state (see SimCity classic for example).

      • by Altrag (195300)

        I've attempted this kind of thing before. Its really REALLY hard. The addition or removal of a single call to your RNG function changes the entire thing. That means in order for this to be work with any great deal of reliability, you have to be absolutely 100% certain that you will never ever need to make the game/program more or less random in the future.

        It might have worked in the pre-internet age, but in the modern world with online updates/bug fixes, user-generated content and whatever else, controll

    • You can have randow generated maps + repeteable.

      Using the same seed for the random generator, you could make all the copys generate the same levels. If thats your win.

      So you can have to option "Standard Campaing" and "New one", with the first option using a fixed seed, and the new one using a fresh seed taken from the OS or the clock.

      • by NemosomeN (670035)
        We could call it Toejam and Earl
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I think that's a bit simplistic.
      Nethack and the like are the most obvious examples of games that rely on randomly generated levels to keep players playing, and there are many more.
      The levels in this game aren't that great, but that doesn't mean an enjoyable randomly generated platformer is impossible

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by hairyfeet (841228)

      I have to agree that while totally random can be a pain, it can also be fun. If you have ever played a PC game called Nosferatu [gamespot.com] you'd know, as the fact that BOTH the levels and enemy spawns are random (and if you save? It randomizes the spawns AGAIN, so rooms you may have cleared can bite you in the ass) really keeps you on your toes and makes you be conservative with ammo. Another good one is SWAT 3 & 4, which will randomize both the good guys and bad guys so you never know walking into a building what

    • by zwei2stein (782480) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @06:53AM (#33506862) Homepage

      On contrary, your experience is still easily shared, frustrations voiced and strategies discused.

      Few examples:

        * Ever talked to someone about your Diablo session? How you like to use skill X against oponent Y, how that Z item dropped?

        * YASD - Yet Another Stupied Death (in ADOM or your roguelike of choice) stories. Thats about as much frustration sharing as it can get.

        * Dwarf Fortress - no two "levels" are alike, hell, everyone gets their personalised game world so one can easily play on dead planet where only few titan colosi and demons roam looking for sentiend beign to kill while someone else might be playing in populated and developed world. Yet people talk about their strategies, share tip and tricks.

      Given that there is actually more to talk about (two people talking experienced game differently) and it is more personal (when someone tells you about their experience, you will hear his unique story), i'd welcome that.

      • First Person Shooters at one point started doing this - the sliding scale of enemy difficulty. Since in FPSs, the difficulty is mostly accrued by the skill of the AI. How fast they move, how accurate they are, how much damage they do... All that can be changed on the fly and adjusted to the player's difficulty.

        This ended up causing a problem though, sometimes a player would end up on a huge lucky kill streak, and then the AI would be ramped against him, and he'd find the next section frustrating and difficu

    • by morari (1080535)

      Yeah... I recall that Diablo game, with it's random levels. No one really seemed to like it because they couldn't talk about making the same jumps and finding the same weapons.

      Left 4 Dead makes such minimal changes that it's not even really worth mentioning. The sequel shows hints of altering pathways, but never really makes full on the promise.

    • by neolith (110650)

      Totally agree. As we talked about on my podcast [baldmove.com], I want to know people were in the deep shit with me. When I talk about NES-era Ninja Gaiden with a fellow aging geek, and I see the look of pain flash on his face? I know. I know he knows. And I know he knows that I know. You know? That experience has currency.

      If it had some kind of sliding difficulty scale, and he says "what do you mean? I thought the game was easy." What does that mean? Is he a god of gaming? Does he suck and the game took mercy o

      • And you're totally sure you can't have the same experience if the content is procedurally generated why?

        Playing both Zangband and Dwarf Fortress, which are both totally dominated by procedurally-generated content*, I've commiserated in the same way that you mention with many other players of the same games, because the same situations emerge, even if the precise content and layout of the game changes from play to play.

        Similarly, people are able to discuss and bond over experiences in multiplayer games, wher

        • by neolith (110650)

          Good point. I actually had a counter argument in the back of my mind RE: Left 4 Dead, which uses a director system to ramp up the difficulty of the game, by playing with the size of and timing of the zombie hordes, and supply of health and ammo. A person that sucks at FPSs and a veteran can play the same game with wildly different difficulties, with the same end result: having to fight through a massive amount of zombies and just barely surviving to the safehouse.

          I can imagine the same could be said for D

    • by gid (5195)

      Randomly generated L4D maps would be awesome. The problem with the coop in that game is even with randomly spawning zombies, it still gets pretty predictable as the level format doesn't change, you know where all the hiding spots are, where ammo or guns are likely to be, etc.

    • Thus, if infinitely adaptable levels *do* exist, they should exist as an extended option or potentially an expansion pack to existing games rather than having an entire game based on that.

      Or this tech could be used by developers to aid in level creation. Instead of needing to start from scratch for each level, you could generate a bunch of levels, play through them, pick the best ones, and tweak/perfect them. Maybe some fluke in the procedural program will create a design that inspires the level designers.

  • Play more games (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Yuioup (452151) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @03:40AM (#33506098)

    The implementation of some of the monsters is wrong. I died when I tried to jump on a creature which I know can be jumped on.

    • The implementation is correct. It's just the game dynamically increasing the difficulty to make sure you died within a reasonable amount of time :)
    • by Mhtsos (586325) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @05:31AM (#33506586)

      No, you're just that good, that was a disguise!! The game is messing with the sprites to make you loose!
      A friend of mine was so good, the game started feigning door knocks and phone rings to distract him. When that didn't work, it threatened to delete his files if he didn't commit suicide ingame.
      He, for one, welcomes his new Mario Overlord..

    • I though I am not *that* bad at Super Mario World, after playing this implementation...

      First and foremost, I found it strange to move with the right hand and jump/run with the other (A,S keys).

      Second, as you say the "physics" are not completely the same. For example the jumping on the turtles for a second time won't have the same effect as in the real game.

      And you can do a "ninja Gaiden" jump when you fall in a pit... that is also not in the original.

      Nevertheless the idea is interesting...

      • by zoidran (1632151)

        And you can do a "ninja Gaiden" jump when you fall in a pit... that is also not in the original.

        Wall jumping has been possible in every game of the series since Mario 64. For instance, it can be done in New Super Mario Bros DS and Wii, which are 2D platformers just like SMW.

      • by tepples (727027)

        And you can do a "ninja Gaiden" jump when you fall in a pit... that is also not in the original.

        Wall jumping was in the original; it was just a bug that required frame-exact timing. You see it a lot in tool-assisted speedruns. But you're right that Super Mario 64 was the first that made wall jumps doable by ordinary players.

  • by VincenzoRomano (881055) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @03:46AM (#33506126) Homepage Journal
    If you adapt too much, then the player won't feel challenges anymore. And in games challenges are the things that will demand players to push forward the efforts.
    • by c0lo (1497653) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @04:08AM (#33506228)

      If you adapt too much, then the player won't feel challenges anymore. And in games challenges are the things that will demand players to push forward the efforts.

      Adapting for the level of the player or adapting against it: can work both ways. A careful [wikipedia.org] approach can actually maintain the level of interest (frustrate the player, but not too much... rather tease) as well as driving up the level of skills

      • by btrain21 (1896518)
        But games are about entertainment, not necessarily teaching a skill. Its not only about what skill level a player is capable of, its about what level of challenge they find enjoyable. Two gamers of the same skill level may want different experiences. One may love a difficult challenge that pushes their skills to the limit, where one may want a more casual experience. When a game scales just to the player's skill level, the player loses the ability to chose what kind of experience they enjoy the most.
        • by Moridin42 (219670)

          Uh.. what?

          For the player seeking a difficult challenge, the game keeps adapting to his improving skills giving him that challenge. For the player seeking a casual experience, don't exert yourself. The game won't ramp up difficulty and thus you'll get the casual experience you want. If the game can't deliver on either one, thats a failure in implementation not principle.

          Its games that don't adapt to skill that removes player ability to choose the experience. You get what was coded and no more (or less). Maki

          • by btrain21 (1896518)
            As long as a game has pre-defined difficulty levels, you can pick what level of difficulty you want, both in terms of what you're capable of, and what you enjoy. If its adaptive, then then game decides what level of difficulty you should be playing, based on your skill. My point was that a player's preferance of difficulty may not be based solely on skill.
            • by Moridin42 (219670)

              And the pre determined difficulties are all we ever need. Rock Band on hard is okay, but generally easier than I care for. Expert, on the other hand, is usually too much for me. Neither setting is suitable.

              If I were playing say.. Bioshock, and all I wanted to do was run and gun and not give a damn.. I could. Even if the game had adaptive difficulty, I could. Because the difficulty would respond to the fact that I was playing in a fashion that involved high volumes of fire and little care about damage taken.

              • by btrain21 (1896518)
                Alright, I agree with you that how adaptable difficulty is implemented is really the key to its success or failure, but I'm still not 100% convinced that a game will always be able to interpret what difficulty the player wants just based on their style of play. If you're running and gunning in Bioshock, you're playing in a distinctly different way that the game can detect and adjust to.

                But what if two players are playing the same way, with the same skill level, but have a different threshold of how many
                • by Moridin42 (219670)

                  There isn't any reason to eliminate difficulty settings in an adaptive game. Easy may have a different algorithim than hardcore.. or it may just have more lenient limits to the adjustable parameters. So.. for instance, damage taken by players has a lower minimum, damage dealt has a higher minimum, enemy accuracy has higher minimum variance. And, if nothing else at all, having difficulty settings gives the game a starting point, so it doesn't have to learn that I'm not a rank rookie at FPS every time I pick

    • by glwtta (532858)
      If you adapt too much, then the player won't feel challenges anymore.

      Depends on how you adapt. I remember Wizardry 8 scaled the difficulty of every (unscripted) encounter such that it was an all out fight for survival, leaving your whole party barely hanging on in the end (and there were a lot of random encounters). Even when you went way back to beginning areas, you would get your ass kicked over and over again.

      Actually, that got annoying pretty quickly, too.

      (then again, maybe I was just crap at
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by homb (82455)

        That's because you didn't use the features of the terrain and the party players' positioning correctly.
        When you move in a fight to place a wall behind you (or better yet a corner) and place the tanks in a front line, then it becomes very manageable.

        The thing with Wizardry 8 is that there was significant tactical expertise necessary, something "real" RPGs didn't use to require.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Ender's Game...but applied it to a simple Platform Jumper instead of a complicated psycho-analytic roleplaying scenario.

  • New enemies (Score:3, Informative)

    by El_Muerte_TDS (592157) <elmuerte@REDHATd ... com minus distro> on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @03:56AM (#33506166) Homepage

    These new enemies are a bitch.

    A bullet bill with wings? Horizontally moving piranha plants you have to jump on to kill?

    • by ZackSchil (560462)

      They confuse me! I played the mario where the bullets didn't blink and you couldn't jump on the piranha plants because they are biting upwards with their sharp teeth!

      Also, how does Nintendo feel about this? Seems like they wouldn't be thrilled about some low-quality proof-of-concept java game using their sprites and sounds.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by El_Muerte_TDS (592157)

      Ok, the worst encounter so far was a flying spiny.

      The level generator also creates levels which cannot be completed. It generated a level for me where I started in front of an enemy.

      • Yeah. Flying spiny got me when I first encountered him. My one of my most hated enemy from Mario games... WITH WINGS.

        Didn't help that the little bastard started right next to me either. :(

      • by tepples (727027)

        It generated a level for me where I started in front of an enemy.

        So did Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. If you don't move Kevin within two seconds, he loses a life. It's probably a reaction test. But at least SMB1 had the sense to erase all enemies on the first 16 meters of a map when spawning Mario.

      • Worse than spinys are the bullet bills with wings. They are just like spinys, in that you die when you jump on them. But in addition, they flash, so they are tougher to see.

        The toughest part for me is when I would just spontaneously die. Maybe it was a bullet bill appearing out of nowhere, or maybe it was an invisible enemy. But that is when I stopped having fun, after about 10 minutes of playing.

        I also dislike the controls. Not the button layout, I could change that easily with a new keymap or even use my

  • it's when things get boring. one of the earliest examples of adaptative difficulty is ironmans offroad, but in it is too obvious, as you very soon realize that no matter how fast you drive the gray cpu car will always drive according to your speed - so there's no point in trying to make up a gap, just steady driving untill the last lap and then nitro nitro nitro. one thing I massively don't like is if monster level is just adjusted from your current level, makes leveling up feel like a scam.
    • The earliest example I know of was a direct predecessor of Ivan Iron Man -- Supersprint.

      It was a bit more subtle, though. The enemy cars got faster from track to track, but they did so based on the time it took you to complete each track. The trick to completing the game was therefore to get a good lead, come to a halt in front of the finish line, wait for the other cars to catch up a bit, then win by a small margin. The enemy cars stayed slower and each subsequent race was easier.

      AFAIK, this tactic was

    • You mean like hanging back to get a red shell?

      Somewhere in that adaptive curve, there's a sweet spot. Players will find it, because they're also adaptive.
  • Strange game... The only way to win is not to play.
  • by Yvanhoe (564877) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @04:44AM (#33506410) Journal
    ...and watch the difficulty exponentially rise to reach singularity :-)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DlkMs4ZHHr8 [youtube.com]
  • Lotus esprit 3 [wikipedia.org] on the Amiga had a course generator. I didn't find it that much fun though. Especially, for example, when compared to Wipeout on the PS1 where the course designers spent months on the design (they needed to because they had to avoid pop-up).

    Human designed levels are much more interesting. Define why, codify, profit.
    • by LanMan04 (790429)

      Ah, Wipeout XL (or Wipeout 2097 in Europe), the best game ever. Seriously.

      Never played the first one.

  • What's the bet that...

    10..9..8..7..6..

    site gets slashdotted

    5..4..3..2..1

    site gets a DMCA takedown notice

    • by tepples (727027)
      Romhacking.net would probably get a DMCA takedown notice first. It has a fully commented disassembly of the first Super Mario Bros. for NES ("SMBDis" by Doppelganger).
  • What about learning? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Max Romantschuk (132276) <max@romantschuk.fi> on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @05:15AM (#33506524) Homepage

    One of the joys (for me) of playing 2D Mario games is learning how a level progresses and eventually being able to beat it though enough practice. If the level keeps changing this is taken away. I think it would be frustrating...

    Then again, I did enjoy Diablo II.

  • challenge (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tom (822) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @05:54AM (#33506658) Homepage Journal

    Adaptive monster levels is one of the reasons games are becoming boring excercises in flat-out grinding.

    Where is the challenge? Challenges consist of you having to adapt - to learn a new skill, to become quicker, smarter, better. That is one part of the equation. The other is drama. Drama consists of changes in suspense. If everything is equally easy or equally hard, there is no drama in the story, it all becomes flat.

    So a game that is always "at your level" or even always "just ahead of you" is neither challenging, nor interesting. This is doubly true for free-exploration games like Oblivion (one of the earliest mods available was to remove the auto-levelling).

    In a railroaded game like most sidescrollers or FPS, a certain level of adaptation might save the player from the frustration of having to try the same sequence for the 100th time. But most current auto-adaptation fails in picking out when the player needs some help and would enjoy a reduced difficulty and when he is enjoying the challenge and doesn't want the game to be dumbed down.

    So, until the time we get true AI, an explicit difficulty setting (bonus points if it can be changed mid-game) is still much preferable.

  • This adaptive mario could never think up a level as evil as Tubular. I pulled my hair out on that one many-a-time. This game is actually pretty hard to play, though; partly, because I don't have an SNES controller, and partly because there is no natural flow to the levels as there would be with manually created ones.
    • Once you learn the path to follow, Tubular is a piece of cake. Yes, many lost lives and much profanity is used in the finding of that path. Also, don't grab the second P balloon right away -- Wait until you're about to lose the one you have. That will give you the extra 10 seconds you need to properly dodge those stinking footballs.
  • Um... we've kind of had this kind of difficulty adjustment in some form or another for last thirty or so years. Think back to games like Pac-Man that became faster and more difficult as the levels got higher. Heck, even Tetris did the same thing.
    • by mattack2 (1165421)

      But that's not really the same thing at all. (I admit, I didn't RFTA.)

      I suck at the driving parts of games... or at least the "cartoony" driving parts of games. If I played a real driving game, I could possibly get good at it.

      But in two Ratchet & Clank games, as well as Sly Cooper, I'm stuck at the driving parts.. In the first Ratchet & Clank, I have finished EVERYTHING else in the game (at least the missions), and am stuck on winning in the two races. In Sly Cooper, you're just driving a van wa

  • It's a bad idea I think because it encourages the player to perform worse in general than he would otherwise. I remember the shoot-em-up SWIV on the Amiga did this. It was actually a good idea to lose a single life just before the really tricky bits. In the end, you saved more lives this way.

    Instead, how about we use these things called "difficulty levels"? You know, like easy, medium, hard etc., and then it's up to the game creator to make sure a consistent challenge is maintained throughout the game.

  • Was this not on windows 95 with that game diablo already, self changing levels so no 2 runs are ever the same, therefor you theoretically never get bored...

  • by bynary (827120)
    Because we all know how real life adapts to each persons abilities. Now, it would be pretty sweet if my grocery store would learn which items I buy (they have this info because I use those damned rewards cards) and would rearrange itself so that all of the items I wanted were in one place. This, of course, would suck for everyone else that shopped there.
  • Well it has to stop getting harder at some point. If it was me playing it, I'm pretty decent so it'd either have to spawn something unbeatable like a floor to ceiling brick wall or stop getting harder.

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