Revamp: Post-Mortem (Difficulty)

Posted by (twitter: @tayl1r)
April 23rd, 2016 9:43 am

My game is too hard.
[Credits roll]

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To elaborate a little more: the main piece of feedback I have been receiving is that the game is nails. Even friends I’ve linked the game to have been vocal about the difficulty, and one threw in the towel to boot up Dark Souls 3. Although, I’ve received a positive feedback from people who enjoy games like Super Meat Boy and I Wanna Be The Guy in the comments and I’m very glad it’s reaching an audience. In truth I don’t think the same is actually that hard, but rather it doesn’t do much to make its difficulty appealing to people who aren’t attracted to challenge.

Frustration

I think a lot of my games are pretty difficult, but have ways to alleviate the frustration of the game being too hard. For instance:

  • Left-leaning (LD34) has you trying to control a fast car that can only turn one direction. You will crash into walls a lot, but those deaths are pretty fun (camera shake, lights, debris) and your next car flies out of the gate almost immediately. You almost don’t have time dwell on it because you’re already rocketing into a different wall.
  • Walpurgis Night is a bullet hell dodge ‘em up with escalating difficulty and fairly long sessions (2-3 minutes) with no checkpoints, but by doing well you accelerate time and skip parts of the level. This means as you get good at the game you’re getting much further in the same time period.

With Revamp there isn’t really any mitigating mechanics to the frustration of it being difficult. You either do it or are unceremoniously spat out of a checkpoint, so it lacks any kind of granularity. And these checkpoints are very spread out meaning each sequence of challenges feels very intense.

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Tutorial

Another factor is the lack of onboarding. The area immediately after the tutorial level (above) is basically the test-bed I used during development that I was very good at, because I had been playing it straight for over a day by the time I was putting the level together. This disproportionate spike would be a bad enough if the game was simply a traditional platformer, but this section requires pretty good use of the bat and wolf transformations. And while the wolf form is fairly simple the bat has all sorts of unclear rules:

  • It moves in a sine-wave and always starts going down-right to avoid you getting significant height out of spamming it.
  • You need to hold the button to keep travelling.
  • It drains blood rather than taking a flat amount.

Doing the second jump in the game requires you to be very aware of this, you need to time your bat form so you will arc under some spikes and that means starting as you’re level with them. Anything else means death by spikes or lava. There is no sandbox area for you to test once you enter the door, and the bat tutorial doesn’t require you to use these mechanics! You can actually do the bat part of the tutorial by using wolf and jump cancelling over the ledge (a mechanic I implemented but is never used as part of a jumping puzzle). This is a huge fail.

Sucker Punch

As soon as you land from this jump there’s an enemy directly in front of you. This enemy, thanks to the spikes on its head, can only be killed by charging it as a wolf. But each transformation takes blood and upon landing you will not have enough to claw its face off. At this point some players are still not aware there is even a resource associated with transformation, so the idea of neutral jumping waiting for it to refill is not one they’ve been thinking about.

I’ve had a couple of people compare this positively to the start of Bloodborne where there is a huge spike in difficulty around a bonfire surrounded by enemies and there is nothing you can really do but grit your teeth and get through it. Even after beating the area you’ve no idea where the next shortcut or lantern is, and the area after is inhabited by a new giant enemy who is scripted to punch you in the back if you avoid him and head up the natural route. But I don’t know if I completely agree with this and honestly it’s not what I really wanted to do. There is a tutorial for a reason! It’s just bad…

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A similar problem occurs later as the players are not directly shown that killing enemies gives them full blood immediately. Bouncing off enemies to get full blood and fly over obstacles is pretty important later…

Oh well, you live and learn.

If you’re not too deterred by all that, feel free to play Revamp!


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