Game Design Theory Level 4 – Advanced Game Mechanics and HUD / GUI Elements

Games Should Be Challenging But Not Excessively Difficult



Each game is an individual project with different goals in regards to the level of challenge that players should be / will be up against. Things like the age range of players and how simple the core gameplay is will determine the appropriate level of difficulty you should be striving for, but just remember your audience and your goals for the player experience. Do you want a grueling and hard journey that some players may never finish? Is that amount of difficulty necessary for the player to truly experience the character or story? There are multiple ways to increase difficulty, including adding time limits or other constraints, limiting power-ups, “buffing” enemies to make them stronger or harder, making the characters themselves weaker or slower (not a good idea to downgrade the player even though it may be an easier fix; it’s better to “buff” everything else) or even having different bosses, enemies, obstacles, challenges or entire sections that aren’t accessible in the lower difficulties. Generally you don’t punish players who aren’t skilled by denying them access to content, but it’s an incentive for a “game-plus” mode where the player beats the game and then plays through again with their progressed character but the game itself being more difficult in the new mode or with additional content.


Can you justify making multiple difficulty levels for your game? If you decide to make more than one difficulty level make sure you are consistent with the difficulty throughout. You want hard standards for things like the number of enemies, the speed of enemy attacks, the positioning of hazards and obstacles, etc. Make a chart describing what game mechanics are used in each section of each level for every difficulty. Line them up for easy comparison so that you can track changes from one difficulty to the next and balance the challenges that players face at each level of difficulty.




Don’t Punish Your Players With Harsh In-Game Consequences for Losing


You want to keep players playing and have them feel powerful and challenged throughout your game. It can kill a player’s motivation and knock all the wind out of their sails if after a long journey or mission, or even just a harder-than-normal section they lose before saving and have to go waaaaay back to some checkpoint and start all over again. Some games add further insult to this restart by having the player depleted of items that they used during the previous failure. Unless you just hate players and love making mean games don’t bash the player over the head with extensive consequences after they lose. Make several checkpoints, have an auto-save feature, a “save-whenever-you-want” feature (which can be tricky or limited in order to get right) or just make sure to give the player back their previous status instead of making them start from the bottom after every failure.


Make Losing Matter to the Player. Do It With Visceral Effects

game-over conditions 

This point is the counter-element to the previous point about not punishing players with harsh “in-game” consequences for losing. However, you can make the player feel the effects of losing in plenty of other ways. Many games use visceral effects like graphics depicting fatigue, blackout, blood or death through the players character’s eyes to give a realistic impression. You can have the player character have an animated “loss” sequence showing the player character quitting, losing, dying, etc. You can have big words appear on screen like “GAME OVER” or “YOU LOSE” with various visual effects. You can even use the vibration feature of some controllers to give the player a jolt and communicate the failure in this physical way. Of course there is always the tried and true sound effects and music that play when the player loses. Whether it’s a simple “Womp-Womp-Womp” sound effect or more elaborately themed music you want the player to get that sinking feeling that they want to avoid, and then give them the opportunity immediately afterwards to keep going. If you play your elaborate “losing” sequence with music, graphics, etc. and then show the player characters in a position to bounce back and redeem themselves (or some other scene that depicts an opportunity to continue) then it gives the player motivation to continue or at least plants to seed for them to come back later.


Think outside the box and use all kinds of elements like previews of things to come and taunts from other characters to entice players to continue and add to the visceral effect of the failure. In a way, failure has to be interesting and even fun if possible. You could have the player character do a crazy dance or blast through the screen in some wild display after the player chooses to continue. Make it worth their while to press that button.