How Hard Should A Video Game Be?

Illustration for article titled 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]



I hate the old school mentality of game difficulty. Absolutely abhor it.

Old games were difficult because most of them started out in arcades, so the arcade game was made difficult so people would sink all their quarters into the machine.

Old games were difficult because they had shitty bare bones mechanics. You were limited to what you could do superficially or you were just...a really shitty character to control. That's just how gaming was in it's infancy. There are some exceptions, but even some very revered games had crappy controls.

Old games were difficult because if you didn't have to restart a thousand times in the same level til you "perfected" it, you'd realize that the game was extremely short and you'd be able to finish it in 45 minutes or less.

Just because games used to be difficult doesn't mean they always have to be. I guarantee you that if every game released since Megaman was as hard as Megaman, videogames would be the smallest niche ever right now, or it wouldn't exist at all anymore. People need to realize that the reason to play games vary from person to person. I personally don't like insultingly easy games, but I also don't like retardedly difficult games.

I have nothing to prove, I don't care for my accomplishments or achievements. I don't care that I'm the worst or the best or that i did something few people have in one game. Once something stops being fun, I stop. It's that easy.

I play games for the ingenuity of it's gameplay and mechanics, it's creative visuals, it's (sometimes) well written story that can tie each level to the next, and it's always unappreciated music. Videogames are a amalgamation of a lot of things. A lot of ideas. It's not about difficulty. It hardly ever was and it hardly ever will be, so stop being fooled. Making games more accessible is a great thing.

Not everyone has the patience, reflexes, or attention span for a difficult game, and they shouldn't be punished for it. I think everyone should enjoy a NG game, or a Contra game. NG is such a fun game, but gets bogged down by it's completely unfair difficulty. Even the easy setting on that is difficult. Easy should be "easy." Something someone who has never played a videogame can grasp, not some "lol youre a ninja dog pussy, im a real man cus i designed this game and its awesomesauce!" bullshit.

I just think you have to expose your art to as many people as possible, no matter who you are or who the people who are being exposed are. Not discriminate against those that aren't as "hardcore."

Videogames are interactive media, not quite a film, not quite a puzzle. Its like something else, but at the same time like neither. You cant substitute one with another. I think everyone should play videgames, and "hardcore" gamers need to respect that. Its not like most games dont have a difficult setting anyways. I think a lot of gamers(and some developers) think in an outdated antiquated sense that when they see the "normal" difficulty setting they think that means average gamer difficulty, when the game really means average human being difficulty. There's a big difference and I hope some day developers will see it too.

As long as there are difficulty settings that actually make sense, I will be happy. People looking for difficulty can crank it up to hard, and people

looking for a regular videogame experience can keep it on normal, while new gamers can try easy. It's sad that there's people out there that bought a 60 dollar game and only saw about 10% of it because it was too difficult. It both burns the creator and the buyer.

So in closing: ease up on people who just want to have fun, guy. Not everyone thinks games are serious business like you.