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Examining Subjective Difficulty: How Plumbers Can Fight Demons
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Examining Subjective Difficulty: How Plumbers Can Fight Demons


January 4, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3
 

Handling Optional Content

Before we talk about the pros and cons of Subjective Difficulty, we need to take a look at how post-game content worked in Super Mario Galaxy 2, and how it plays off of the concept of Subjective Difficulty. Fitting into the theme of developing level design for different skill levels, there are special coins hidden in each level, most often placed in harder-to-reach areas.

Each coin found will unlock a comet challenge, which sends players back through older levels with modifiers to make them more difficult. For example, in the first world, the comet challenge requires the player to run through the first level with a timer counting down, requiring the player to use the shortcuts to win.

Novice players will not have access to these challenges, as they are not good enough yet to reach the special coins, but the expert players should find them relatively quickly. The comet challenges aren't required to beat the game, as players will earn more than enough stars through regular play to reach the final stage, but they are there for expert players who want more.

As novice players become more skilled at the game, they will start to find the hidden coins and unlock comet challenges. Like with the regular game content, novice players should eventually reach the same point as the expert players, allowing them to tackle the additional challenges. Expert players, however, don't have to wait, and if they are good enough at the start of the game, they can begin comet challenges relatively early in the game.

The Advantage, and the Challenge, Of Designing For Subjective Difficulty

The advantage of Subjective Difficulty revolves around accessibility. Games like Super Mario Galaxy allow the designer to have their cake and eat it too, in a sense.

On one hand, the game starts out simple enough, easing new players into the game without throwing them right into the thick of things. On the other hand, this design style allows expert players to be rewarded with areas suited for them from the beginning, and offers additional content to test their skills.

Now, the problem is that Subjective Difficulty is that it's hard to pull off and requires a different kind of design. In a normal game, the designer will look at each challenge progressively, with one group in mind. You know that a challenge in the beginning of the game is going to be easier than one found later on, but Subjective Difficulty is different.

Essentially, the designer will have to design each level for different skill levels at the same time, requiring more time to create the content. Because of this, there are usually more shortcuts and hidden areas in games with Subjective Difficulty which allow gamers to fully use the mechanics. Creating this additional content requires an extensive understanding of the mechanics of the game, to set up challenges that can be handled in multiple ways at different levels of skill.

As a designer, you also need to rank your mechanics in terms of complexity to understand the best order for the player to understand them. Going back to Super Mario Galaxy 2, the designers slowly introduced each mechanic officially to the player through set challenges, giving ample time for the player to understand one mechanic before introducing another. This leads to asking questions like, "What is more complex to use, a triple jump into a wall jump followed by a spin jump, or a sideways flip, into a spin, followed by a wall jump?"

Subjective Difficulty, like Darwinian Difficulty, requires an expert touch to achieve. When pulled off, it allows gamers to enjoy the game regardless of skill level, while seeing improvements in their skill over the course of the game. By keeping multiple groups of gamers engaged, the game will attract a larger audience without having to simplify the design of the game. Ultimately, the goal of Subjective Difficulty is that the novice players should achieve a full circle of play, after finishing the game they can replay the game again, but using their improve ability to see the game in a different light.


Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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