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Should Computer Games Adapt To the Way You Play? 404

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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  • Configurable (Score:5, Insightful)

    by i.r.id10t ( 595143 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @10:35AM (#29731683)

    I'd like to see it configurable. Check box that allows adaptation, with sub-items that define what type of adaptation will occur.

    • for a game to achieve a given level of revenue at a given price then you can compute the number of items you need to sell. if you make it too hard, your demographic won't support it. if you make it too easy then you bore the hard core and also may lose the demographic size you need.

      the question is does medium hard work?

      if not then you need to have variable difficulty to capture the area under the demand curve.

      Also if lets freinds and guests compete on the turf of an expert. the expert may enjoy having mo

    • Re:Configurable (Score:4, Insightful)

      by bl8n8r ( 649187 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @11:08AM (#29732185)

      I vote for that one too. The "adjust skill" option is nice when you are doing multiplayer, like Unreal Tournament, so the bots just aren't easy frags. Quake3 Arena lets you add bots (on the fly) at different skill levels so newbie players have something to kill (co-op), but there are still some targets running around that you can't just run down with a shotgun.

      Some games simply suck-ass when the game adjusts to your level: Guild Wars: beating a map, gaining several levels, and then getting a quest later that takes you through the same map. All the monsters are now the equivalent of chuck norris and it takes you two more days to get through the same stupid map.

      Best thing I can suggest is make your game mod'able and offer an editor for download. You gain enthusiasm/publicity that can carry the interest in between releases, and there is a lot of creativity and fun being built in your user base.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by MoriaOrc ( 822758 )

        Guild Wars: beating a map, gaining several levels, and then getting a quest later that takes you through the same map. All the monsters are now the equivalent of chuck norris and it takes you two more days to get through the same stupid map.

        FYI, Guild Wars has static maps (well, nearly-static, the classes of the mobs get shuffled a little each time). Although there are two difficulty modes for each map (normal/hard), the player has control over which mode they play in.

        What you said sounds more like Obliv

    • Re:Configurable (Score:5, Insightful)

      by v1 ( 525388 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @11:10AM (#29732213) Homepage Journal

      I'd like to see it configurable


      Specifically for games that have multiplayer and solo. Solo gaming usually has this where you can set your difficulty level. This allows you to play through it once or twice until it becomes easy, and THEN crank it up a notch. This allows you to play the entire game through at a set pace, so that even the "final boss" is easy until you turn it up. Games that auto-adjust NEVER have an easy boss because by the time you get there the game has already adjusted itself to your skill level.

      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. Either they just smack you around the entire game, or it becomes a matter of who happens (sometimes by chance alone) to get the drop because everything is instakill. No fun for anyone.

      There needs to be a separate setting for each player, or even a single slider that shifts between the two players, for a "balance of power". So it could start at 50/50, and if player 1 is just more experienced, maybe set it to 40/60 or 30/70 etc.

      I think part of the frustration in games that auto adjust is that sometimes the game plays in unexpected or infuriating ways. If the game decides that you need to be nerfed, suddenly that combo that always was just enough now doesn't work quite as well anymore. Seen plenty of people scream at a game because a move they did that had always worked for them in the past, didn't work or didn't work as well. Makes you feel robbed. Now if you deliberately have set the level up, it's understandable, you did it to yourself.

      • Re:Configurable (Score:5, Interesting)

        by PhilHibbs ( 4537 ) <> 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.

        • Re:Configurable (Score:5, Insightful)

          by tsm_sf ( 545316 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @12:15PM (#29733031) Journal
          It seems to me that a lot of the older first persons really took advantage of a 3d environment, and that modern games go in for a more earth bound or "realistic" approach. Quake, UT and Tribes were all about rocket jumping, grappling hooks, and skiing. CoD has a 'crawl' button.

          DEVELOPERS: Which of these modes of travel sounds like more fun?
          • Re:Configurable (Score:5, Insightful)

            by mrdoogee ( 1179081 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @12:34PM (#29733265)

            Both CS and CoD seem to descend into sniper contests. It may be more realistic, but I've always preferred the "run & gun" method that UT, Quake ect have. The only FPS I really play anymore is TF2 mostly because that with a few notable exceptions (2fort!) there is no way for a sniper style player to own everybody on the opposite team. Sure snipers get kills, but it's not like in the more realistic FPSs where no matter what I do, I'll get headshotted within a minute of leaving the spawn.

            Yes, I'm 30 and my reaction times have increased somewhat, and I'm sure that's a determining factor.

            tl;dr: I'm old and slow, and snipers piss me off.

    • Resident Evil 5 has a difficulty that adjusts based on how well you play. There's a difficulty slider that ranges from 0-10. There's hard min and max caps on how far up and down the slider can go based on chosen difficulty. As you play better and better the enemies you face take less damage from your weapons and deal more damage when they hit.

    • Re:Configurable (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Gorath99 ( 746654 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @11:14AM (#29732249)

      I prefer just simple "Easy", "Normal", "Hard", "Very Hard" settings. Ideally with "Normal" being a little easy, so I get to feel good about myself when I choose "Hard" :-). (Only half joking here. The psychology really does matter.)

      The problem with letting the computer decide what the challenge level is, is that it doesn't have a clue about my preferences. It only knows how well I'm doing, not whether or not I enjoy being challenged. This is not enough information to determine if I'm having fun or not. Doubly so if the system is flawed. For instance, Oblivion takes only your level into account, not your skill, or even your character's skills. This means that if you level up by, for instance, trading, you are constantly hounded by all kinds of nasty critters that you have no hope of defeating with your puny combat stats. Obviously, that's no fun at all.

      Also, in some games it's really inappropriate to change the world for no apparent reason, other than that the player is doing well or poorly. Morrowind (sans expansions) was a remarkable consistent world, and that helped to make it incredibly engrossing. In Oblivion, where you were effectively never getting ahead, and where eventually even the highway robbers were equiped with a king's random in magic items in order to challenge you, I never felt close to having the same level of immersion.

      • Re:Configurable (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mikael_j ( 106439 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @12:03PM (#29732887)

        Seconded on "normal" being best when it's a little easy, I always get annoyed at games that are too easy on "very easy", still too easy on "easy" and way too hard on "normal" (especially when they pull tricks like making specific parts harder, like having the enemy in an RTS suddenly get reinforcements right next to your base on "normal" but not on "easy".

        There's also the issue of "normal" being playable but still too hard (as in, having to replay every level a whole bunch of times before beating the game after way too much time). The difficulty levels I'm most happy with are (I mostly play RTS and "god" (Civ-like) games):

        • Very easy - Almost sandbox, computer is inept and makes stupid mistakes.
        • Easy - Playable by just about anyone although a few people may find it a bit hard
        • Normal - Anyone with some experience of the genre should be able to play through the game without too much trouble, may have to replay a few levels once or twice.
        • Hard - This should be pretty hard, as in, most people who beat the game on Normal should have some difficulty but it shouldn't be impossible.
        • Very hard - Like playing against one of those guys who sit around playing Starcraft every day, really tough even for those who beat Normal easily and Hard without too much trouble.

        That said, when it comes to RTS games I always get infuriated when I see the computer clearly giving orders to several groups of units at the same time, while also placing buildings in its base, the computer should be forced to act as a human "commander", one command at a time with each command taking a certain amount of time (with the time being shorter for higher difficulty levels).


      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mqduck ( 232646 )

        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 [] or, better yet, FCOM: Convergence [].

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by purpledinoz ( 573045 )
      Personally, I would like to see computer AI to adapt. Otherwise, you find one flaw with the AI, and you can exploit it all you want. That's why I stopped playing single player games. Either the computer AI was too good, too easy, or too predictable. I still love playing Counter-Strike because playing against other human players is just more rewarding and challenging. If I find a hiding spot where I get 10 kills, the next round that same spot won't work. The fun is adapting to the other players, and the chal
      • Yeah, I remember thinking that about fighting games. One of the main reasons people are fun to play against is they'll change their attacks when something doesn't work well or you change if it is working. Computer players generally don't it would be cool if it kept track of your attacks and blocked high when you only attack high or countered low or similar things.

        ESPN NFL 2k used to record many of your decisions so you could play yourself or friends profiles using the computer. If you or they had a t
  • Rubber-banding (Score:5, Insightful)

    by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @10:36AM (#29731695)
    Rubber-banding is no different than a golf handicap, tennis ladder, or beginner/expert/pro leagues in most sports. It's simply not fun to play too far out of your skill range. The talk about "rewarding mediocrity" is misplaced in an activity that exists only for fun - it should be rewarding for everybody, otherwise players would (and should) quit.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Ruberbanding in some games is fucking annoying. Need For Speed? Yuck. You crash into a wall and then they slow down so you blam past them. Now they come zooming up and leave you in the dust. It doesn't make the game more fun, it just 1) teaches you how to race the wrong way 2) makes winning levels an aggravating game of chance.

      Take a game without ruberband racing like Gran Turisimo, there you learn how to race just fine (if you're in a comparable car). If you make a mistake you start the level again because

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Chabil Ha' ( 875116 )

        On top of that, what's wrong with teaching a player new skills? I appreciate the Valve approach in games like Half Life 2. They first *teach* you how to use a tool, game mechanic, etc, then leave it up to you to combine your existing skills with the newly taught ones in order to bring about a successful result. It is very satisfying (to this gamer) to overcome a challenge when given the right skills/tools. The game would have been very bland if they had merely expected me to play in the same manner I ha

      • by vlm ( 69642 )

        Take a game without ruberband racing like Gran Turisimo,

        GT1 did not rubberband, GT2 did rubberband. Version 2 sucked. Of course that was about ten years ago on my PS1 so I may misremember. In GT1 you could optimize your car to leave competitors in the dust. That was half "the game". In GT2, the competitors were magically always 99% your speed, no matter how optimized or unoptimized your car. That made it just another race game.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Watching the computer make 23 3-point shots in a row in one game, and then watching star runningbacks fumble every carry and star quarterbacks throw an interception every throw in another, just because you're 20 points ahead, makes a game aggravating, not fun. It doesn't increase the sense of accomplishment when you squeak by mediocre competition. Your sense of accomplishment comes from demolishing mediocre competition, and then toughing it against the tough.

        Players who seek difficult gameplay want it t
    • I agree with this; similarly if a game is too hard then a player might find they have purchased content (later levels) to which they are denied access. Granted, this is through their own mediocrity or lack of commitment to attain the relevant skill level, but i think that every player should have the opportunity to play through all the content that they have paid for within the context of how much work that particular person are prepared to put in to achieve it.

      Dara O'Briain makes the same point on Charl
    • I'd specify that "rewarding mediocrity" is a misleading term in a single-player game. In multiplayer games you can and should pick who the player competes with based on previous results. In a single-player game I don't see a reason not to make the game harder for better players. Ideally, if you can adjust difficulties or change relative occurences of separate elements of gameplay, you should be able to trickle out content to a player at a predetermined rate. This avoids problems of breezing though interesti
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by tepples ( 727027 )

        I'd specify that "rewarding mediocrity" is a misleading term in a single-player game.

        Single-player games are not as single-player as you might think, with online high score boards and achievements and the like.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Traditional rubber-banding isn't really like that. The problem is that it only takes in to account what you've just recently done. It'd be more like adjusting your handicap every couple holes, based on your score on those last few holes (though not again at the very end after the last hole). What ends up happening is that poor/good performance at the beginning is mostly wiped away so that a tiny mistake at the end can cost you the race/game/etc no matter how well you've done the rest of the time.

    • by Zelos ( 1050172 )

      Rubber banding is really annoying in racing games. Race really well for the first 2 laps and it makes no difference, you don't build up a lead. Make one mistake on the final lap and all your good driving is wasted as the AI shoots past you.

      Personally I really don't like adaptive difficulty. Sure, let me select what difficulty to play on, but once I've chosen the difficulty don't do some hidden calculations in the background and change my selection.

    • Nope, not really (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @11:27AM (#29732405) Journal

      Except that's yet another case of talking out the arse without knowing what the real problem is.

      The problem is: in many of those games with rubberbanding, there is already another mechanic for those tiers you describe. And the rubberbanding is nullifying the other mechanic. _That_ is what some of us complain about.

      E.g., in the Gran Turismo series (and many similar games), the focus isn't on just jumping into a random race and having your 15 minutes of fun. You have to earn the car and the upgrades to qualify for the next league, and then even more upgrades to win in it. There is already a mechanic to simulate those leagues, and to justify why you should spend several days grinding your way through them. (Read: why you should play each of the few race tracks more than once.) Throwing in rubberbanding is nullifying all that, and turning it right back into a kiddie kart game. Suddenly it's hard not to notice that the whole tuning and upgrading aspect is bogus, since the opponents really are just tied to your car with rubberbands. What's the point in grinding to upgrade your engine HP by 50% when, effectively, every single opponent just got the same upgrade?

      E.g., in Oblivion and generally an RPG, there's already a mechanic for simulating those leagues and tiers. It's called xp and levels. (Or skills, if it's skill-based a la Oblivion.) If your skill is too low to beat this opponent, you're supposed to go raise it somewhere else, and if it's too low, well, then just go fight something higher level instead. Do you understand that crucial aspect? There is no need to simulate those leagues and tiers in a game which already has another mechanic for just that. And adding some form of rubber-banding just makes the other mechanic a pointless waste of time. Why bother grinding your character to level 50, when effectively it gave you no advantage at all?

      And it doesn't help that all too often it's done _badly_ too. E.g., since we're talking about Oblivion, the end opponent is actually a lot easier to beat if you somehow manage to get there as a level 3 character, than if you did all the quests and have a level 30 character. Effectively, you're better off if you skip 90% of the game and just do the absolute minimum that gets you through the short main quest arc. It's not that all that grinding and exploring and getting equipment doesn't give any advantage, it's that it actually becomes a disadvantage.

    • A post below this one complains about Need for Speed, as an example of this adaptation done poorly. I'd agree, because it's so obvious, it's kind of insulting to the player. It cheapens the experience if you're trying to best to get through a game, and you obviously see the rest of the game "slow down" to accommodate a big mistake you make.

      Ideally, I'd like to see games strike a balance where as you get better, they keep "pushing" you a little bit harder, but do it in such a gradual and unobtrusive way th

    • by AP31R0N ( 723649 )

      Excellent post. i wish i had karma for you.

      i've the eye hand coordination of a blind snake, which makes FPSes very difficult for me. Some flavor of adaptive difficulty would be great for me because i wouldn't be as inclined to use cheat codes. Give me more health or help me with some aiming assistance.

      i also like to think and read as i play games which makes RTSes very difficult for me. While i'm thinking, the guys who have played Star Craft for 1000 hours or so are madly clicking away. (i'm also a ca

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Moryath ( 553296 )


      A golf handicap works to change the game. At the top levels (about 5 or below) it's primarily about skill. Competition between low-handicappers is amazing to watch.

      Between other players, the handicap isn't about "leveling" the playing field, it's about rewarding improvement. The same is true in bowling, which uses a similarly designed handicap system. Your overall team wins not by merely playing the same game at the same level every time, but by getting better consistently. It's not even close to a "r

  • by Dr. Manhattan ( 29720 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `171rorecros'> 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.
  • Others would say that it restricts the freedom of expression for the game designer.

    First, the question I feel stupid even asking: How would that restrict the game designer's freedom of expression?

    And, the one that doesn't make me feel stupid: Are you serious? Can I get a "who fucking cares" ? "Selling out" is what happens when you have bills to pay. Get used to it.

  • by Tei ( 520358 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @10:41AM (#29731765) Journal

    Most games already have a option to choose how hard or easy you want your game. This works better than autoleveling, because If I set the game to be hard, and I die too much, maybe thats exactly what I want, and If set game too easy and I kill everything, maybe thats what I want.

    Good games, like World of Goo, have options to skip night imposible levels (since is a puzzle game, you could be stoped totally to experience the whole level). This is like these ols space games with "megabombs" that clear the screen. But that "megabomb" is limited.
    Challenge is good wen you want challenge, havin games that kill challenge would be fatal. And this one of the reasons Oblivium was a bad game, and Morrowind was a much better game.

    Also, dificulty is not that all important. Fun is important. Games sould be fun. The dificulty is not the reason. But since we are talking here about dificulty, I have talked about it, and what it means.

    • Most games already have a option to choose how hard or easy you want your game. This works better than autoleveling, because If I set the game to be hard, and I die too much, maybe thats exactly what I want, and If set game too easy and I kill everything, maybe thats what I want.

      I couldn't agree more. There seems to be continuing trend in game design towards making games where the player is never frustrated. The way I interpret this, we're headed towards the philosophy of "don't make the game too hard, and if the player is still having trouble, make it even easier by dynamically adjusting the difficulty."

      Now obviously for some people that's great. If you're a casual gamer, you still want to be able to play through games without getting stuck on the first level. However, I think the

      • However, I think there's a real hole in the market right now for games that cater to hardcore gamers.

        It's not just the hardcore gamers, I'm a casual gamer that likes a challenge. That usually means I only play for a couple hours a week, and a challenging game can take months or even years to finish, depending on how often I play.

        I LIKE having to avoid certain areas, or run like hell because I'm not good enough yet. Seeing some baddie and going "Oh shit! He's gonna eat my lunch!" and having to get out of dodge is fun. What is NOT fun is running into a muskrat that I was able to kill three months earlier

    • Racing games need the rubberbanding - if it were like real life, one crash and you're toast- hopelessly unable to catch up with those who haven't crashed, where's the fun?

      Same thing applies across the board in strategy, FPS, etc., though I do like having the option of "turning the realism up" where there's less adaptation to skill, and another "knob" for overall difficulty. Lately, I'd like to have another "knob" for complexity - something that would dial back the number of available options, like playi
      • Racing games need the rubberbanding - if it were like real life, one crash and you're toast- hopelessly unable to catch up with those who haven't crashed, where's the fun?

        It's a challenge, if it's a short race a small fender bender should take you out of the running completely. A long race you might be able to recover. If it's a devastating straight-into-the-wall crash you should definitely not be able to finish the race.

        Re-start the race, it's what the games always did before and they were still fun. Where's the fun in being able to win no matter what? Where's the challenge?

        Most modern games have some variation of a tutorial that starts you off on "easy," "simple," and "adaptive," and works up to the "full blown" game. Having direct control over these three variables would allow the player to customize the gameplay to fit their personal preference, and hopefully would broaden the appeal of the game.

        I hate to break it to you, but up until 5-10 years ago (depending on the genre) that's how almost

  • by Anonymous Coward

    If I just keep sending Kasumi to the pool to watch her rock back and forth on an inflatable dolphin in the pool, you might as well remove her swimming suit completely.

    I don't know what you'd call that, I would call it a reward for not exhausting my character in volleyball matches under extremely hot temperatures.

  • ...because it provides, at least for me, a challenging game experience while at the same being in line with the market trend of games that are more accessible. Accessibility these days often comes in the form of significantly reduced challenge, which leads to uninteresting games for me. At least this way, I still have something to play.
  • by JSBiff ( 87824 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @10:43AM (#29731797) Journal

    One problem, potentially, if you 'adapt to players skill level' *too* well, is that as they get better (or as their character gets more powerful in an RPG type system), they might feel like they never get to enjoy the increase in either their skill, or power. It can feel like treading water, if as you get better, the game gets so much harder that you never get any feeling of accomplishment, no sense that you are any better or stronger than you started out, even though you *know* you've gotten better, or have more powerful abilities.

    However, at some point, you do want more challenge. The trick will be, adapting to the players, while still giving them some opportunity to experience their increase in skill or strength.

    This could be applied to almost any game genre, btw. I mean, consider an FPS. If you've gotten better at managing your economy, strategizing attack tactics, etc, but the computer remains in lockstep with your real skill increase as a player, then it can be very frustrating. At some point, you want the satisfaction of just slaughtering the AI player that used to beat you on the same 'skill level', because your skill has actually increased.

    • That's what pissed me off about matter how much you leveled, it didn't feel like you accomplished anything because the bad guys were harder to kill.
      • It makes you a permanent noob, getting better doesn't actually mean anything because had NOT gotten any better you would be doing just as well.

        What's the point of a skill increase if a beginner monster that was challenging but beatable at the very beginning of the game can suddenly kick your ass when you're 3/4 of the way through the story line? That just makes you feel like shit.

        It would be a hell of a lot easier to just do away with the skills altogether and turn it into an FPS, since it is about the sam

    • 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 thisnamestoolong ( 1584383 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @11:12AM (#29732237)
        Yeah, I got completely bored with Oblivion because of the same thing. I think that they should have made the world completely open, but have various areas that you simply will not survive in and enemies you simply cannot defeat until you get to a high enough level -- this would give you a real feeling of accomplishment, and let you stomp all over lower level enemies as well as giving you places to go if you want to be challenged -- which leaves it entirely up to you.
    • Whose brilliant ideas about having the difficulty increase based on the parties level in fact made the game easier to beat with Lvl. 10 characters that had been dead for half the game then with a Lvl. 99 party.

      This of course made it somewhat interesting, but as a novelty rather than a design element I wish to see continued.
    • by Yvan256 ( 722131 )

      The game difficulty should be like a stairway instead of a straight line. That way, you struggle a bit a the beginning of each step and feel more powerful toward the end of each step.

    • Damn good point. Maybe make some hard steps between levels doing the skill level stuff, instead of trying for a smooth leveling?
    • I agree completely with this. Another problem with upping the AI "skill" is that AI simply isn't good enough yet, leaving the player with the feeling the computer is cheating (because it is). Take Civilization for example, on the higher difficulty levels the AI players simply get access to technology and units impossibly fast. If your AI has the advantage simply by violating the in-game rules players have to follow you will end up with an unrewarding experience.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by knarfling ( 735361 )
      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
  • Adapting the game is just tech, its how you use it that makes the game better worse.
    Notice that I kill the grunts like noobs, unless you send more than 5 in at a time, then decide to send them in in groups of 6-10 = good
    Notice that I'm simple too much of a noob to kill 11, stop sending in 11 = questionable but it will make the game more enjoyable for many (maybe in hard mode just make me suffer)

    Some people would claim that adapting the game to you just rewards mediocrity (i.e. you don't get rewarded for playing well)

    So easy mode makes the game worse? IMO no, it lets players choose the game THEY want to play, only so many of us c

  • Some people would claim that adapting the game to you just rewards mediocrity (i.e. you don't get rewarded for playing well).

    Are you kidding me? So freakin' what? It's a game. It's not real life. You play it for fun. Should a person be "not qualified" to play a game if they're not good enough? And if so, by whose standards?

  • by Pvt_Ryan ( 1102363 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @10:45AM (#29731829)
    Basically WoW has it right. Oblivion was annoying as as soon as i level those "bandits" suddenly had very very good gear. I don't like that it's no fun, sometimes it is nice to walk to an area you have been before with your gear and butcher the low level stuff for fun.
    Bestheda also fucked up Fallout 3 with this, you can pretty much complete the game in under 3hours (iirc) with hardly any leveling as the monsters are pretty much all scaled to the player.

    I do like rubber-banding as long as it is managed (eg a lvl 4 monster, depending on my skill, can have the stats of say a lvl 5 monster but never any higher) this allows for a small degree of rubber-banding so good players will have a harder time but can still return to low level places.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by swanzilla ( 1458281 )

      Basically WoW has it right.

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

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by zippthorne ( 748122 )

      The underlying issue with fantasy games is that they continue the legacy of D20 based systems.

      You get an *exponential* progression of "skills" with level so there is a narrow window of enemies with close enough levels to yourself to be challenging but possible. Everything past a couple levels lower will be so easy that you won't care to bother, and everything above a couple levels higher will be able to easily beat YOU, no matter how clever you are. (you probably even have a "cleverness" stat that goes in

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by IorDMUX ( 870522 )

      Oblivion was annoying as as soon as i level those "bandits" suddenly had very very good gear. I don't like that it's no fun, sometimes it is nice to walk to an area you have been before with your gear and butcher the low level stuff for fun.

      And that is why, months after the game was released, some very sophisticated mods began to be released which fixed this "feature". Oscuro's Oblivion Overhaul is one of my favorites, and has undergone a massive amount of development work in the past few years. It makes Oblivion feel like a new game each time I return to it, update the mods, and play again.

      To explain, the 'vanilla' Oblivion has an unusual feature where the enemies you face are generated either a few levels up or down from the PC's level,

  • Adaptive gameplay doesn't need to be complicated. Take chess for instance. Most computer chess games let you choose your initial opponent (level), and based upon how you do, it changes your opponent (up/down a level) to the point where you can play without destroying the computer or the computer mangling you in gameplay... and you still get the same out of the game, regardless.
  • 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.

  • All I can say is that the original Starfleet Command had a similar 'we match the challenge to your power' and it got old VERY quickly. In fact, due to scaling issues, it was far easier to progress in the campaign if you simply kept to the smaller ships, where the opponents then stayed as smaller ships and repair costs were always low.

    Rank up to an uber-dreadnought? Your AI opponent would have one too.

    It actually got old very quickly.

    Part of the fun is NOT KNOWING if this 'next challenge' is going to be to

    • by Yvan256 ( 722131 )

      Have you tried to simply reprogram the simulator? I don't believe in the no-win scenarios.

  • by electrosoccertux ( 874415 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @10:54AM (#29731965)

    The enemies did not "Increase in skill", as if they matured and became better fighters, they simply leveled up as you did.
    That's not adaptive AI :/

    There are 2 things that need work in games-- AI and facial animations. It's been 10 years since UT99 and in UT3 the computer basically rolls a dice that determines if it's going to kill you. If it's going to kill you, it usually kills you on the first shot. Which never happens in real life. Something as simple as this, which would be so easy to get around, makes the game feel so cheap. Yes, I play with people online, but when there's only 3 and we need a 4th for iCTF, having a bot ruins the fun.
    Facial animations-- see Half Life 2 [], in my opinion. Even though the character animations themselves are a little stiff, the lipsyncing is top notch, and the Gman can display emotions such as confusion, malice, irritation, etc. Combined these all work together for a great suspension of disbelief.

    • If it's going to kill you, it usually kills you on the first shot. Which never happens in real life.

      ... Did you think about this before typing.. Most head or heart shots with a gun do kill people in real life in one hit. If you want to test that on yourself and get back to me feel free to do so..

      1 hit kill in games can be frustrating but sometimes it actually suits the game and just means you have to be careful. (e.g. 1st sniper mission of commandoes III; Battlefield 2, play as a sniper and score a headshot. )

      You are correct about Oblivion and as I said earlier (or perhaps later depending where it

  • Adaptive games (like Oblivion) definitely increase replayability.
    In Oblivion you actually fight different mobs on different quests depending on what level your character is when you do it.

    The Mario Kart example with the blue turtle shell - that is just annoying.
    I wish there was an option to turn it off - (or even turn off all the items).

    But ultimately the most fun games are the ones that test intellect and/or reflexes against other real people. Because its not that much fun to beat a computer.
    Thats what ma

    • by Tridus ( 79566 )

      The adaptation in Oblivion was terrible. When I first played it, I had no idea it would do that. So I'm in some crypt smaking around thieves. Hey I can level. So I do.

      Suddenly these thieves I had been beating got levelled up as well as new gear (which I didn't), and they beat the snot out of me. That was such a WTF moment that I never played the game again.

      Its telling that Oblivion's most popular ones are rebalancing mods that either change or scrap the adaptation entirely.

  • I don't want to get a reward for playing well, I want to get a reward for my 60Eur I paid!

  • 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.

    • by brkello ( 642429 )
      This problem seems simple because you are thinking on one side of the problem. What you fail to think about is how people will exploit whatever system you put in place. That makes the problem much harder.

      As far as loot tables, I agree with you there...drops should be based on what classes are in the instance.

      As far as your other ideas, if a group knows some hard instance becomes easy if they die x number of times they will die that number of times to make it as easy as possible to get their loot. Mak
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rotide ( 1015173 )

      You're missing the point of an MMO. If you walked into a dungeon knowing you're going to get an upgrade (if you haven't farmed it all already), you're going to quickly realize that you'll get everything you need in X runs. At that point you're going to get bored and leave the game.

      The developers _purposely_ make it all random in the hope that you'll keep coming back for more, month after month. If they give you what you want too quickly, you'll get bored and leave.

      The same thing goes for difficulty. If

  • New add-on device (Score:3, Insightful)

    by NotQuiteReal ( 608241 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @11:04AM (#29732137) Journal
    Heh, how about game difficulty set via Breathalyzer!
  • It's called 'difficulty levels'. *I* want to decide how hard the game will be. If I am getting my ass kicked, I want to be able to dial back the difficulty. I think we've all played games where the difficulty curve spikes sharply, and sometimes we just want to pass the level and get back into the flow of increasing difficulty so that we can pass the mission without having to go into training. Anyone who hasn't probably isn't qualified to contribute to this conversation, although they are permitted to feel d

  • There are quite a few points to consider how the game should adapt. Besides the simple fact that the main focus should always be on the fun aspect of the game I have two examples on my mind of good and bad adaptation. In neither cases "rewarding mediocrity" is a real concern.

    The bad example of adaptation can be seen in quite a few FPS. Before adaptation there were different skill settings from beginner, easy, normal, veteran, nightmare. Now the game constantly assesses how well I am doing and as a somewhat

  • In WoW, you can play at the edge of new content, high difficulty rating, or just play casually through the game, low difficulty rating. You both end up at the same place. Those playing hard mode just get there a bit faster.
  • I think in the Mario Kart example, it's a good thing, in Oblivion not. In the Mario Kart example, it makes the game more challenging if you're doing good. In the Oblivion example, it means stats are meaningless, which sort of ruined the "leveling up" gameplay.
  • Zanac anyone? (Score:2, Informative)

    by meadowsoft ( 831583 )
    I seem to remember in the promotional materials for the NES game Zanac (by FCI) that the game was supposed to get dynamically harder the better you played. When I was playing, I specifically remember this being the case, and that I enjoyed the game more as a result. I used to be able to play straight through to the 10th (out of 13) levels without dying once, and then I would die multiple times in a row. As if sensing my desparation the game would scale back the number of baddies it was throwing at me, an
    • Randomly generated content is a decent way to increase playability. (Fresh new content is usually better, but not always. Sometimes a fun level is fun to play over and over.)
    • Scaling the difficulty to the player is a decent way to ensure the right challenge level. (But not always. Sometimes the player wants to know that they defeated the level on their own merits, not because it was scaled down for them.)

    Putting the two together, I'd say, the first time the player goes through an area, they get a "fixed

  • It's not about rewarding mediocrity, it's about keeping it challenging. If the game is too easy people stop playing. If the game is too hard people stop playing.

  • One - Most games are not sophisticated enough to alter their actual play to match that of an actual player. Most just cheat by increasing stats (health, speed, number of, etc...) arbitrarily to make it more difficult. This bugs me a bit. It is the cheap easy stupid way to do it, so it is common. If someone can design a computer game that will alter its strategy or tactics in order to best me, that is the game I want to play. If it only gives itself 150% health, or 175% speed, or spawns 100 more extra guys,

  • by GarryFre ( 886347 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @12:42PM (#29733379) Homepage
    Having to struggle against myself does NOT sound relaxing to me.
  • I'd say (Score:3, Insightful)

    by OpenSourced ( 323149 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @01:54PM (#29734391) Journal

    There is a big difference between man-vs-machine and multiplayer games. In multiplayer games, there is certainly the need of a certain handicap to make the game fun to everybody. In man-vs-machine, I'd say that yes, the game can get more difficult, but also that the rewards must increase. So if the enemies get stronger, you have to at least have the option (if you are skilled enough) of getting better weapons or whatever. Also if the measure of the game is the score, for example, then the score should reflect that you have walked a more difficult route.

  • by evilWurst ( 96042 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:24PM (#29735551) Journal

    "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."

    What, their freedom to guess wrong and alienate a large chunk of their playerbase? Player skill is going to be on a bell curve, and the best you can do without some dynamic adjustment is to hope to hell you've nailed the difficulty perfectly at the top of the curve; that way you're the least wrong for the fewest number of players... but even then, you're still going to be unplayably wrong for 10% and irritating to another 20%. And this will only reward skill for that narrow slice of players for which the game was initially slightly too hard (and then becomes pefect as the player improves).

    The flaw in rubberbanding is only that it still can't read your mind. The developer's idea of "normal" may actually still be too easy or too hard, and then the game guarantees that it stays too easy or too hard throughout, no matter what you the player do. Really what we need is a hybrid between the old "easy/normal/hard" choice and dynamic adjustment. That puts enough wiggle room back in that the developer can be wrong yet the player can still fix it and have fun. And the holy grail here is to have it require minimal interaction - if you implement this right, it's correct by default for the largest reasonably attainable number of players, and for the rest it's correctable through the simple and well-understood easy/normal/hard mode choice.

  • 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 ...

  • by Draek ( 916851 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @05:15PM (#29737319)

    Let me explain: what I want is a game where not only the world doesn't adapt to how I play but, also, that it's not even designed to how the developers *think* I'm gonna play. Things like Final Fantasy VII, for instance, where even the strongest bosses in the first few areas would be killed in a single hit from the random encounters you get at the final dungeon. I want a game where I feel I was just thrown in a different world, that I'm merely a participant in something bigger, rather than The One True Hero around whom the whole world is built.

    STALKER did this, to a degree, where in the beginning with your trusty pistol and simple jacket you're forced to run from mere bandits, while in the end-game you can hunt military soldiers for fun and profit with your customized AK-74 and bulletproof suit. It did have an "NPC difficulty curve" (mostly due to quests leading you to more dangerous areas as the game progressed), but it was flatter than most and that worked to the game's favor, IMHO.

  • 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.

I've finally learned what "upward compatible" means. It means we get to keep all our old mistakes. -- Dennie van Tassel