A Solution for Difficulty Curves and Power Creep

Most games portray you as a hero of some sort. A common trope is for the hero to be either inexperienced at the beginning of the game, or lack his equipment. This gives a reason for why the hero does not just plow right up to the main baddie and kill him at the beginning. In any case, a lot of games suffer from a strangely shaped difficulty curve. The game starts out fairly easy as the player learns the ropes, then the enemies get harder. Finally, you max out your stats and the game begins to get easier again.

Granted, the best games suffer from this less, but a lot of games have trouble with this type of power creep. Spore is a prime example of a ridiculously easy endgame (the space stage was essentially a sandbox). Some developers solve this by making enemies more powerful as the player progresses. This can work in games where, for instance, the enemy starts to realize just how much of a threat you are. In open-world games like Skyrim, though, this makes little sense.

Yahtzee, of Zero Punctuation, mentioned in one of his Extra Punctuation an inkling of an idea for a game that is designed with this problem in mind. I have taken the liberty of gripping the nebulous concept by the horns and fleshing it out.

The game is based around the power suit you wear. It is a magnificent piece of High Technology. Unfortunately, this means that nobody is quite sure how it works. The machining of the piece is much too fine to replicate, in any case, which means any replacement parts have to come from other pieces of High Technology, which are few and far between.

At the start of the game you escape from the main fortress of the Bad Guys with some sort of Valuable Item (perhaps information). You raid the armory and steal the suit before plunging yourself deep into the wilderness around the citadel. You spend the game running from a cadre of pursuers, trying to make your way to the border. At every encounter with an enemy, it is up to you to protect your suit as much. Each blow is physically simulated and, depending on where you place armor, where the hit was, how hard it was, etc. a component on your suit has the potential of breaking. Parts also wear down over time.

The most critical part of the game is deciding how to keep your suit in working order. Some systems are critical, like the pneumatics that let you move (damage to arm parts may impair aiming speed, damage to legs may reduce speed or jump height, etc), and some are dispensable, like weapons. If a critical system receives a hit and becomes in critical danger of breaking down, you have to stop and either fix it with any spare parts you find, or scrap a non-critical system on your suit to get the essential parts.

This meta-game with the suit solves the problem of power creep. You are at maximum power at the beginning, but enemies are also at the greatest density. Slogging through the wilderness and fighting enemies wears your suit down, so by the end you are barely limping along. As time goes on, you have to choose which weapon or system to scrap for parts. This means that you get a sample of all abilities at the beginning, and can keep the ones that best suit your play style. One of Bioshock’s biggest problems was that there was no incentive to try new plasmids. I’m sure the majority of players just improved the starting set, because buying new powers was too much of a liability.

I like the idea of having the game being mostly free-world. You can choose the best path through the different types of terrain to avoid encounters. Cold environments, wet environments, and sandy environments all have different types of wear and tear on the suit. Roads are easy to traverse (meaning less food consumption and lower likelihood of suit failure) but are more likely to find troops on them. Towns and other population centers are more likely to hold supplies (food and maintenance items are critical for survival) and spare parts, but the citizens will raise the alarm if they see you, and there are likely to be troops in towns.

The catch is that any alarms you raise will alert the search parties to your general presence and means a higher chance of encountering troops. Same goes for any military engagements in which an enemy scout or survivor escapes. The game is part stealth (avoiding conflict), part tactics(managing the suit, choosing your world route), part combat (winning conflicts you get into). At the end, instead of a boss fight, you have a final battle at the border of the kingdom as the search parties converge on your position and a friendly militia comes down from the other side of the border to help you across.

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StackOverflow

<3 StackOverflow

This is my homage to that wondrous site. Well, it usually helps. To quote Shamus Young from his dev blog.

Right off the bat, I can see something is wrong here. These docs on GLSL are an absolute mess. The wiki is even worse. If you ever Google something and find forum posts listed above the official documentation in the search order, you know you are sailing right into the inky black void near the edge of the map, a place that would be labeled “here be dragons” if not for the fact that the link to the map itself is a 404.

Searching for example programs isn’t very helpful either. There are two kinds of example programs:

Ultra-simple test programs: Here is how to create a flat-shaded, un-textured, colorless, unlit polygon. These little three-line programs can’t teach you anything because they don’t DO anything.
Super-complex programs for a very specific purpose: Here is how to do toon shading on a bump-mapped, multi-textured, reflective surface with a specular map and fresnel shading. These programs are just pages of un-commented equations and are too advanced and specific to be used to learn how to do anything.

Which leaves us with forums. Here is how things work on programming forums:

ALLEN: Hi, I’m new to driving and I need to move my car back around 5 meters. How can I move the car backwards?

(2 days later.)

ALLEN: Hello? This is still a problem. I’m sure someone knows how to do this.

BOB: I can’t believe you didn’t figure this out yourself. Just take your foot off the gas and let the car roll backwards down the hill. Tap the bake when you get to where you want to be. Boom. Done.

ALLEN: But I’m not on a hill. I’m in my driveway and it’s completely flat.

CARL: Dude, I don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish, but you should never be driving backwards. It’s dangerous and will confuse the other drivers. See the big window in FRONT of you? That’s your first clue. Don’t drive backwards.

ALLEN: I’m not trying to drive backwards. I just need to move back a little bit so I can get out of my driveway and start driving forwards.

CARL: So just drive in circle until you’re pointed the right way.

ALLEN: I don’t have enough room to turn around like that. I only need to move back a few meters. I don’t understand why this has to be so hard.

CARL: Sounds like your “driveway” isn’t compatible with cars. It’s probably made for bikes. Call a contractor and have them convert some of your yard into driveway to be standards-compliant with the turning radius of a car. Either way, you’re doing something wrong.

DAVE: I see your problem. You can adjust your car to move backwards by using the shifter. It’s a stick located right between the passenger and driver seats. Apply the clutch and move the stick to the “R” position.

ALLEN: But.. I don’t have a clutch. And there isn’t a stick between the seats.

CARL: Sounds like you’re trying to drive in Europe or something.

ALLEN: Ah. Nevermind. I figured it out.

“Hold on, Matt,” you say. Or maybe “Hold on random Internet guy,” if you feel so inclined. “You haven’t actually written anything yet in this post!” True. You know what? I have a bunch of half-written blog posts, and they all SUCK. So this is the best you are going to get for now. Also:

Punctuation shouldn’t go inside quotes. That is STUPID.

He could say “Stop!,” or “Eat cold steel!,” or “If you move, the planet will explode.;” instead he chooses to scream incoherently and spazz out on the floor. Wait, maybe that wasn’t a choice. The other guy is holding a taser.

That sentence looks retarded. It should be:

He could say “Stop!”, or “Eat cold steel!”, or “If you move, the planet will explode.”; instead…

Doesn’t that just look so much better? Obvious solution: start an Internet petition to change English.

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