How Hard Should A Video Game Be?

Indie game developer Edmund McMillen has written a fascinating article on the difficulty of determining the difficulty level of a game like Super Meat Boy, complete with plenty of helpful illustrations like this one.

When the members of Team Meat aren't busy getting ready for the summer release of Super Meat Boy, they like to help educate players and fellow designers on the process behind doing what it is they do. At least I assume they like it. I mean, they've got pictures and everything.

This time around, Edmund takes a look at the process behind determining how difficult a video game should be. He explores the evolution of difficulty in platforming games, using this easy-to-remember formula:

(% chance the player will die) X (Penalty for dying) = Difficulty.

For instance, the penalty in most early arcade platformers was one quarter. As games evolved and consoles came into power, the penalty changed accordingly. Perhaps dying would bring you back to the beginning of the level you were playing, with a set number of continues in place to keep the sense of desperation going.

McMillen follows the idea through to the early 2000's, when indie game developers struck on a winning formula: Infinite lives, with chapter restarts.

Removing lives all together let the designer base difficulty more on the actual level design and challenge and less around the penalty of losing lives and restarting, in doing so the formula for difficulty changed. The player no longer had to worry about dying, penalty for death basically turned into the amount of time you took to restart after death and the length of the current level.

It's this formula that forms the basis for Super Meat Boy's difficulty, but that was just the beginning for Team Meat. How did they take that formula and tailor it to fit Super Meat Boy?

If only there were some sort of link you could visit to find out. I'm sure you'd enjoy reading the behind-the-scenes look at the process that goes into creating an eagerly anticipated indie title.

Oh wait, here we go.

Why am i so... hard? [Team Meat Blog]