Solving For The Subjectivity Of Difficulty

In Gamasutra's latest feature, Xibalba Studios lead designer Rafael Vazquez describes how he devised a method to mea
In Gamasutra's latest feature, Xibalba Studios lead designer Rafael Vazquez describes how he devised a method to measure difficulty to settle disagreements among he and his team over whether their game was too tough. "We were having lots of trouble identifying the ideal difficulty for our game, as different members of the team had very different ideas on what is the perfect challenge," Vazquez writes. 
 "After thinking about this issue for some time, it came to me that difficulty in a game should not be related to player skill, but to the game itself. Instead of looking at the game's difficulty as a static, all-encompassing threshold, we would do better to discuss how it changes throughout the game." To that end, Vazquez devised the concept of a Difficulty Graph, in which he plots enemy encounters in a level, and then measures how difficult they are by contrasting player character ability against enemy strength. In the feature, Vazquez takes a look at three sidescrolling action games -- Shank, Metal Slug and Hard Corps: Uprising -- and plots their difficulty. "Analysis by difficulty graphs tells us a lot about a game -- not only about the way it's structured, and the way it looks for engagement, but also about the design philosophy behind each game. It's also useful while designing your own games as an analytical way to find spikes and valleys that shouldn't be there," concludes Vazquez. To learn all about his methodology and what lessons he learned about these three games, be sure to read the full feature -- which is live on Gamasutra now.

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