Nioh director makes a case for designing difficult games

Team Ninja's Fumihiko Yasuda sheds light on how he and his team are tuning the design of their upcoming game Nioh -- and how they balance game difficulty in general -- in a new Eurogamer interview.
"We're not servants, we're game creators! Regardless, whatever we decide, we will sincerely heed those words from our fans first. But then again, it all eventually comes down to that the game should not lose its spirit, its essence."

- Nioh director Fumihiko Yasuda, reflecting on receiving player feedback that a game is too difficult.

This week Eurogamer published an interesting interview with Team Ninja's Fumihiko Yasuda, conducted at the Tokyo Game Show last month, which sheds light on how he and his team are tuning the design of their upcoming game Nioh.

The game's development has been interesting to watch, as it was first announced over a decade ago by Koei as Oni, an adaptation of an unfinished script by film luminary Akira Kurosawa. In the years since, Koei merged with Tecmo and the project passed through multiple developers' hands before landing in Team Ninja's lap as Nioh.

Speaking to Eurogamer, Yasuda (who serves as a director on the game) outlines how the game changed shape multiple times before solidifying as a character action game designed to be difficult, a la Dark Souls or Team Ninja's own Ninja Gaiden games. Yasuda has himself served as director on Ninja Gaiden, and game devs may appreciate the details he shares with Eurogamer about how Team Ninja balances the difficulty level of a game like Nioh.

"We have a few different approaches in our game testing as well. One that I can definitely tell you is that we'll basically fight a boss unarmoured," Yasuda said. "And if the tester can beat the boss, then it's fair. And with some of the toughest stages, if somebody can beat it, then it's beatable. Because it's meant to be tough."

He also notes that he doesn't believe games should have different difficulty settings for different regions, even if player testing suggests that players in one region (say, Europe) might be amenable to a higher level of difficulty than players elsewhere (in say, Japan.) This is intriguing because it gnaws at the heart of a tricky game dev problem: how do you know when to accommodate player feedback that a game is too difficult, and when to trust that it's just difficult enough?

"In the past there have been games that would only incorporate Easy Mode for the Japanese version. In my mind, the game shouldn't change into a different thing just because it's in different regions," said Yasuda. "I do respect if it's a religious matter, or if it's different expressions of sexuality. I think the expressions could be different, how we express the game could vary. But in terms of difficulty, a different difficulty would lead to different feelings. A different level of satisfaction."

You can read the rest of his comments on the game's development in the full Eurogamer interview.

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