Kevin completed a PhD in Nanomedicine at McGill University before getting his start in the video game industry. As a Science Media Consultant for Thwacke, he worked directly with the developers of Wasteland 2 and Outlast to create a more authentic and immersive experience for their players. His work has also been featured in Gametrailer’s The Science Of Games and in Kotaku. Kevin is currently the Lead Game Designer at Tuque Games, an Independent Developer based in Montreal.
Podcast 005: Designing Difficulty
On today’s episode ‘Regular Kevin’ and I start by discussing the history of difficulty in games: how Nintendo’s (and the video game industry’s) technical and content difficulties in the 1980’s contributed to short, brutal games made by incredibly small teams (by today’s standards). I end up spoiling the news of the fate of the 1982 “ET The Extra Terrestrial” Video Game. Sorry about that. Kevin and I then move into ‘TLC’ territory and talk about his hoarding tendencies with codes for the original “Pilotwings” written on a sorry piece of paper. In case you’re wondering, he still has the paper.
Oh, how times have changed. Through the 90’s and into the mid 2000’s the amount of content in games exploded (and we figured out save games), yet difficulty decreased drastically. Why was this? Was everyone happy with this change? Listen to find out.
We move on to the sea change that happened in 2001 with the regenerating health feature from Halo, and the legacy it has created in games like “The Division” and “Grim Dawn”. We discuss the sticky topic of positive feedback loops vs negative ones. How does this play out in games like “Skyrim” and “Dead Island”? Which circumstances in your game dictate which loops are important for you?
We discuss the unpredictability of the ‘social’ elements in “Day Z” and how that affects difficulty, and save scrubbing in “XCOM 2” (I admit, I am WHOLLY guilty of this)
We agree that your game should feature as many difficulty levers as possible for the player to pick and choose their very specific difficulty. Kevin loved this feature in the 4th difficulty of Goldeneye 64 (now you can guess how old we are). I lament that fact that as a crappy gamer, can I have an easier Dark Souls? Would it destroy the mechanics? Does it take away from other gamers? I really want to play it more, but I’m garbage at it.
We wrap up by covering the concept of “Flow” (Kevin mangles the poor man’s name who brought us this wonderful idea – but to be honest, I couldn’t do any better), how that works it’s way into dynamic difficulty, and how fundamental it is to the overall enjoyment and difficulty of your game.