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Hi, this is Mark Brown with Game Maker's Toolkit, a series on video game design.
Resident Evil 4 does something really clever.
I mean, that's an understatement: the game's a masterpiece. But I'm talking specifically
about the way the game dynamically shifts its level of difficulty to meet your skill
level.
Perform well at the game, by avoiding attacks and shooting accurately, and the game will
get harder as enemies do more damage and become more aggressive. But if you suck, and keep
dying or just keep getting hurt, the game will ease off and the Ganados will go down
more easily, and wait around longer to get shot before rushing at you.
Also, the contents of the crates and barrels shift from being generous to being stingy
as you become more skilled. And, sometimes, enemies will completely disappear from existence
if you're really struggling.
Here I've been playing really well...
...and I enter the notorious 'water room', and get set upon by nine cultists - seven
on the ground, and two crossbow snipers up high. But then I die a few times and
suddenly, the snipers are gone, making this room slightly easier to tackle.
Because the game keeps pace with your own skill as a player, Resident Evil 4 helps you
slip into a zone that psychologists and game designers call "flow", which is the fabled
middle ground between a game being so easy it leaves you bored, and so hard it makes
you anxious or frustrated.
While the gradually rising difficulty curve of most linear video games will try and keep
players in that flow state, it can't account for every type of gamer. And if the player
picks the wrong difficulty option at the start, they may instantly rob themselves of a satisfying
experience.
That's the advantage of a dynamic difficulty setting, which constantly corrects itself
to provide an experience that challenges the player, without overwhelming them. And it
stops them from getting stuck in a rut, but it doesn't let them waltz through the game
either.
This is, however, not the most clever thing about Resident Evil 4's dynamic difficulty.
The smartest thing is that many gamers watching this video right now are saying to themselves
"Wow! I didn't even know the game did that!"
And that may be the point. Capcom never officially stated that the game altered its own difficulty.
It's not an option in the menu, and it's not in the manual. It wasn't in a trailer or a
bullet point in a press release, and designer Shinji Mikami - who would later turn this
system into an entire game in the brilliant PS2 brawler God Hand - didn't gab about it
in interviews.
The only real source for the feature's existence, other than the experiences of Resident Evil
obsessives, is from an official strategy guide that came out almost a year after the game.
You see, a number of games offer to help out if you're struggling, like the Super Kong
in Donkey Kong Country Returns, which clears a tricky level for you if you fail too many
times.
But many hardcore players are too proud to accept the helping hand, and would rather
beat their head against the wall in frustration than suffer the indignity of getting a free
pass.
Especially when the game actually mocks you for reducing the difficulty. If you die too
often in the upcoming Metal Gear Solid 5, you'll be given the option to wear a goofy
chicken hat, which reduces the challenge but makes Snake look like a complete burk.
However, by making the effects subtle and not advertising them to the world like it
did with Resident Evil: Darkside Chronicles, Resident Evil 4 gives players all the advantages
of dynamic difficulty adjustment without making them feel patronised.
Plus, if they don't know about it, players can't game the system by intentionally killing
or injuring themselves to drop the difficulty setting, which is exactly what speed runners
do.
Here's a top Resi 4 speed runner, Robert 'Sunblade' Brandl, getting hit on the ski lift and purposefully
failing QTEs, to reduce the difficulty and therefore make certain sections easier to
dash through.
Resident Evil 4 did not invent the idea of a sliding difficulty scale, of course. NES
and arcade shmups like Zanac and Xevious were doing it back in the eighties, and Remedy
applied the idea to a third person shooter in Max Payne, a few years before Capcom had
the chance.
Left 4 Dead made particularly good use of dynamic difficulty, to modulate dramatic tension.
Here's Valve's Gautam Babbar on the subject:
"We created a system that tracks each survivor's stress level by watching for events like 'how
much damage are you taking?', 'how many zombies have you killed near you?', and so on."
"If a survivor's stress level gets too high, the system will step in and forcibly throttle
back the zombie population system to make sure the team gets a break every now and then".
Kid Icarus Uprising and Super Smash Bros have an interesting system where you essentially
place a bet on the difficulty level you think you'll finish the stage at. If you succeed
- you get a big payout. But if you fail - you lose a bunch of your stuff and get knocked
down to an easier difficulty level, until you can beat the game.
And Flow, which is named after that psychological zone, lets you manually moderate your level
of difficulty, by choosing when to delve into deeper waters - by chomping on a red organism
- and when to retreat to safety by munching on a blue one. It's a bit like deciding whether
or not to grind for a while in a RPG.
But the number of games with dynamic difficulty adjustment is pretty small, and most of them
advertise it to the world, like SiN Episodes, which made a big song and dance of its 'Personal
Challenge System' right there on the Steam description.
But I think this is something that game designers should keep on the down low. Don't make it
a press release or a blog post. Keep it a secret.
You want to let players reap the benefits of a sliding difficulty scale, that keeps
perfect pace with their skill level and helps remove areas of boredom or frustration. But
you also want to avoid the drawbacks, of hardcore gamers getting cranky, and others spoiling
their own experience by cheating the system.
And yes, I do realise that there may be many games that use this system but have done it
*so* subtly that no one has actually noticed. In which case, bravo mysterious game developers.
Thanks for watching! Think you've spotted a game with a secret sliding difficulty scale?
Whack it in the comments below. Plus, please like the episode, subscribe to the channel,
and consider supporting me on Patreon.
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Game Maker's Toolkit - What Capcom Didn't Tell You About Resident Evil 4

3138 Folder Collection
阿瑪迪斯 published on September 7, 2015    JasonDiego translated    Mandy Lin reviewed
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