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8-14-2010 @ 2:22AM
There's a lot of contention in the game design world about what "difficulty" and "fun" are and how they relate to each other. It's generally agreed that great game design results in something which is easy to learn and hard to master. Static difficulty selection is the simplest way to try and achieve this, but it's almost impossible to do without it being terribly clunky. There have been some great attempts at adaptable difficulty that have gone incredibly well.One of the reasons FPS games have become so popular in the last decade is that they are innately based on the "easy to learn, hard to master" paradigm. This is also why they can get away with the ridiculous lack of innovation that the genre is guilty of. Interestingly enough, one of the greatest advances in FPS gameplay in recent years has been the AI Director in the Left 4 Dead series, which is a take on the aforementioned adaptable difficulty, but it also mixes it up with pretty much adaptable everything.I could see a system where an MMO gives you better loot depending on numerous factors such as time to take the boss down, damage taken by the raid, people still alive, etc. etc.. This would automatically adapt itself to min/maxers, possibly without hurting everyone else by default as long as there was a floor on rewards. WoW came close to this in Ulduar, but it was again very clunky and too static.There is a saying that basically goes something like "Players want freedom until release day, then they want balance". This is probably the truest fact in all of game design. People will opine all day about how they want things to be incredibly difficult, or more sandboxy, or whatever, but the reality is that these same people are the first to call for balance which is the antithesis of those same elements. I think the simple fact is that when it comes to player combat or competition based games, incredible difficulty and too many sandbox elements just don't work, because they counter balance.
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