How should difficulty in a Sonic game be handled?

Discussion in 'General Sonic Discussion' started by Hukos, May 22, 2012.

  1. Palas

    Palas

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    It's easy to implement difficulty in a Sonic game. All you have to do is to induce despair.

    You see, obstacles only harm you in Sonic if you do something wrong. Generally speaking, of course. They are, most of the times, not directly aimed at you - it's your fault if you get hit. This specific type of difficulty is normally more subtle, even if it isn't really easier - just makes the gameplay far less based in trial and error. It integrates calmness to skill, and this is VERY interesting because it's Sonic we're talking about here. You have to build momentum, but the fear that of making the wrong move is doubled because of all the harmful elements that will only hit you if you screw up.

    The challenge is supposed to be diffuse. Notice that whenever there is a chain of threats, such as missiles or shots etc. can ALL be avoided with a single, simple move. The more half-assed is such move, the more upcoming threats you have to avoid. Difficulty is built by your own mistakes to the point of the unbearable and irreversible.

    Now, this is where I see the real difficulty in Sonic. The rest is skill tolls, challenge, but these don't bear intrinsic... how can I say it... desire to make you lose your lives and cry before the screen. Yeah. This.

    So if you can puzzle the player's mind as to make him lose his temper and make the wrong move, you have your difficulty that still isn't cheap. It was the player's fault after all. And this much you can do by testing one's reflexes to the point one breaks down the stream.

    Objects that come from nowhere are perfect. Well, take that section in Angel Island Act 2 in which a carrier drops bombs. If you keep running steadily, nothing will happen. But if you could add some obstacles that suggested that the player should jump (when he actually shouldn't), like missiles with horizontal trajectory that fly JUST over Sonic's head, the player would perhaps, in fact, jump. Then, a second missile would punish him/her for this and then the bombs would do the rest of the job.
     
  2. Lobotomy

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    Many, many alternate routes, combined with more than one difficulty setting. Simple as that. Oh, and Game Overs should push you way farther back than they do. Maybe back a full cutscene sequence even.
     
  3. XCubed

    XCubed

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    I would love to see this implemented. We have the technology, we have the power. I'm sure it wouldn't be hard to have something that sits in front of Sonic shooting missiles Sky Fortress Act 1 style (with slightly smaller missiles).

    I always found that area RIDICULOUSLY easy. But I guess it's understandable, being the first level and all. I just wish the Flying Battery (still the best name between Wing Fortress, Egg Carrier, Sky Fortress...etc.) made more appearances during the levels of the game. I guess they didn't want to overdo it. I wonder if the Flying Battery after Ice Cap would have looked like the Angel Island version or Mushroom Hill version. I wish there was a similar AIZ sequence with it in Mushroom Hill, instead of it being a cutscene.
     
  4. serpx

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    Off the top of my head, ways to make a Sonic game more challenging:

    • Ring Count in level
    • Time limit
    • Availability of Power-ups
    • Characteristics of Enemies (I.e. upgraded weaponry, faster movement)
    • Placement of items
    • Characteristics of Obstacles (I.e. speed of a trap designed to smush you as you run)
    • New Enemies/Obstacles
    • Amount of Air Bubbles available underwater
    • etc.

    I think a good level designer would utilize all of this to make a level more challenging for a player. I like the idea of reducing things that keep a player alive (rings, powerups), rather than placing obstacles in every spot on the map. Though, to make things even more challenging, I feel playing with the other variables would be needed. That's just a brief list -- there's a lot of room for more.

    If it's unfun to play, and is just cheap, that's just the fault of the designers.
     
  5. Valvatorez

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    Am I the only person who wants more difficulty on the bosses?

    I may have been spoiled by the DS games, where I actually remember the bosses and all the tricks they pull, rather than the classics where, outside the first and finals, they don't act too distinctive from each other. I happen to be of the opinion that if you haven't seen all of the boss's moves before you killed them (the first time), they're too easy.

    I do like the idea of the difficulty being from jacking with someone's patience—a boss launching multiple weapons could be easy to dodge, except when one hits you and sends you flying into the other shots.
     
  6. I always thought that in the classics, most of the bosses are Eggman going "haha I'll stick a random thing on my flying egg pod to stop you Sonic!", which is sorta why they're similar. And besides, a bit of familiarity is helpful, espcially to newer players.

    For the DS games I always found that I died a lot on the bosses, and not because they were hard, moreso they'd throw a brand new attack when you've got their health down by a lot that can instakill or atleast completely throw me off, since I didn't expect it at all. Atleast with the classics, you gotta figure out how to beat the boss, then next time try to beat the boss quicker/with more rings. Challenges that are set by the player, not the designer, giving freedom to choose how you'd like to do it; You can lose your rings to smash the boss quick, or try and learn the attack patterns, dodge his attacks, and beat him with no damage.

    While yes, having difficulty is good, having a selection on how the difficulty is going to be for you is even better, it allows bad player to still enjoy what the game has to offer but dumbed down, which in turn gets them to practice to try for harder difficulties.
     
  7. I actually preferred the Genesis-era bosses more than the DS ones. The newer games have you wait through the pattern of attacks until Eggman does one specific move that provides an opening for you to hit him. Afterwards, you're stuck waiting for the next occurrence of the same attack in order to hit him again. For an example, look at the first boss of Sonic Rush. You only get to hit Eggman after his headbutt attack, and until he does that particular attack, you don't get a chance to hit him.

    The classic games allowed you to hit him any time he was within reach. You still had to dodge his attacks and learn the patterns, but once you had them learned and you were skilled enough to dodge them, you could beat him in a matter of seconds. Because each boss was a series of modifications to the Eggmobile, it provided more of a sense of Eggman thinking "Oh shit, this isn't working. This is all I've got, so I guess I'm stuck with it." and not simply waiting for him to repeat an attack that he would have to be absolutely insane to think of using again. I mean, the Sonic Rush example again, if he simply stopped using the headbutt attack, realizing that he gets hit every time he does it, he'd never lose a fight. At some point, eventually, Sonic would fail to dodge the other attack and he'd win the fight.

    On an unrelated note, the boss battles in the first Sonic game seemed to feel more like Eggman was using whatever happened to be at hand when Sonic showed up. Think about it. Green Hill Zone had him using the wrecking ball that he was busy using for demolition when Sonic showed up. He didn't have a better weapon, and had never seen Sonic before and didn't know to expect him to show up, and fought with what was already at hand. Marble Zone was a machine he was using to burn away the foliage and plant life to get to the ruins, either for construction or excavation. Spring Yard Zone was a machine for moving blocks around and construction. Eggman wasn't really doing much in Labyrinth Zone, possibly using the time to repair the Eggmobile in a location he figured Sonic wouldn't show up in, and he didn't have anything he could conceivably use as a weapon close at hand, so he had to run away. Star Light Zone was probably just being used for putting the launchers together. Finally Scrap Brain Zone was a trap he managed to cobble together at the last moment, possibly explaining how it was so close to the core of the factory. He simply didn't have time to build it somewhere safer, Sonic was approaching far too quickly. After Sonic escaped and continued fighting, Eggman was forced to use the pistons powering his own factory in a last-ditch attempt to get rid of Sonic.

    If you think about it this way, every boss battle in Sonic has a natural flow to it and explains why the bosses acted the way they did. It also helps explain the boss battles in later Sonic games. Now that Eggman knows about Sonic, he started building actual weapons for his Eggmobile specifically to stop him or at least slow him down. (Honestly, what practical purpose would the Aquatic Ruin boss have. He just didn't think of Sonic using the arrows to climb up, and was back in the "Oh shit, this isn't working. This is all I've got, so I guess I'm stuck with it." You could say that he could try something different like attacking directly with that hammer, but that would be even worse suicide. Sonic could just as easily attack him directly and it would be a repeat of the quick defeat at Emerald Hill. That one at least has the excuse of it being his first ever time fighting Sonic at equal terms - high speed offensive battle) It's still more natural than the "wait for a specific pattern and hit him at a pre-determined occurrence."
     
  8. Jayextee

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    Where difficulty is inversely proportional to the length of the window of time in which the boss can be damaged. Fuck that, gimme some patterns to penetrate.

    Perfect boss is, in my eyes, Metropolis Zone's - especially as Knuckles with his lower jump (so that spamming ring-loss invincibility to hit him when he's high is not an option). Granted, the boss' pattern does have that 'window' where he's completely vulnerable; during which his 'bubbles' settle and you can knock him atop the bonce. But you can hit him at all other times -- and there's nothing more satisfying than waiting under Robotnik (and slightly to the side) and cracking him on the underside with a well-timed jump in harmony with the way those bubbles move, remaining unscathed. The average player can let Robotnik's pattern play out for safe hits, the better player will risk the timing to get faster hits earlier on in the pattern. Perfect.
     
  9. Strife

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    Quite true. It doesn't matter how interesting or creative your gimmicks are; If you don't place them correctly in your stage, then it's going to come across and cheap and convulted. It's always a good idea to understand exactly how your engine works and the various ways that players can interact with your badniks and gimmicks, because then you'll be able to piece together all sorts of interesting situations.

    For example's sake, I'll refer to a section of level that I recently built for Relic Maze Act 2 of Freedom Planet:

    [​IMG]

    Notice the tank-like enemy at the bottom. It moves back and forth on that platform while spitting fire like a flamethrower every now and then. Also notice the crystal item box just to the right of it; that's the game's equivalent to Sonic's speed shoes. Now, in the engine I'm using, enemies can destroy item boxes like the player. With this particular setup, if the player doesn't reach the speedup box in time, the enemy will destroy it with its flames and it'll get the powerup instead, making it move and attack twice as fast. So, the player can choose to run past the enemy and get the speedup themselves, or they can spend time grabbing the card item to the left of the ladder, but at the expense of having to deal with a slightly more dangerous enemy. This is the kind of stuff that I wouldn't mind seeing more of in modern Sonic gameplay.


    I think that another way difficulty should be handled in Sonic games is by having the level's geometry guide the player rather than some on-screen textbox or annoying sidekick. Human beings can communicate in other ways besides the written and spoken word, afterall. I'll use another FP example since I'm too lazy to pull up level maps for official Sonic games. xD;

    [​IMG]

    This piece of level originally didn't have those hanging bars: What I wanted players to do in order to clear the spikes was to jump on the left spring, then pull their character to the left so that they'd "cling" to the sloped corner and run along the ceiling to the other side. However, I realized that this would actually be kindof an unfair move, since I realize that many players wouldn't understand that particular aspect of the physics engine. So to make it more fair, I offered a more obvious alternate solution: Jump on the left spring, then pull right and use the hanging bars to jump across the spike pit. It actually works out pretty nicely because the hanging bars method is a bit slower than the cling-to-ceiling method, so for players who know how to pull it off, it's a good way to shave off a few milliseconds of their time.

    If Sonic games had multiple-choice solutions to tackling certain obstacles like this, then the level would also feel less linear even though it technically still is. It's like a really miniaturized version of the multiple-paths concept.
     
  10. Jayextee

    Jayextee

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    Strife, it's that kinda thinking that makes me glad you're making games. Seriously. <3

    EDIT

    A way to make it apparent to the player how the running-on-ceiling-curves will work is to lay a trail of collectibles to show the path, but your 'two methods' approach is one I favour anyway, so it's all good. Just looked at the Relic Maze video for FP and noticed that you do the collectible-trail thing anyway, so it's all good. Dang (and I know I've said this) but I can't wait for Freedom Planet.
     
  11. Palas

    Palas

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    What a wonderful and inventive level design I'm seeing, Strife. I really liked the dilemma imposed on the player. This is risk vs. reward at its best - even moreso because the player will most likely get the card.

    About the geometry guiding the player, I agree with Jayextee completely - rings serve many purposes and one of them is to show to the player that there is something to do there. If there is a ring - the player ill think - it's possible to collect. It's the "how do I get there" issue at its simplest and, at the same time, finest.
     
  12. Jayextee

    Jayextee

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    I'm actually a big big advocate of risk/reward in games. Simply put, higher-level play should be more difficult, and 'safer' play always the option for the poorer players.

    One of my absolute favourite risk/reward mechanics is in F-Zero X (and subsequent games) where the boost gauge, activated in the second lap, depletes shield. Go faster, and the effect is stackable meaning some crazy speeds are possible. However, at higher speed collisions will do more damage; and you're likely to make more of them. It's a wonderful mechanic, and makes me wonder why Sonic's boost move didn't, from its very inception, use up rings. That would make for an interesting dynamic right there.
     
  13. Knucklez

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    I think a Sonic game should have difficulty modes for playing the entire game in which each difficulty gives you a specific time limit on each level. The difficulty should also determine the amount of rings and badniks spread across a level.

    So, if you're playing on easy mode, you practically get all the time in the world with an abundance of rings and very little to no badniks. But as you pump up the difficulty, your time gets more constrained with less and less rings at your disposal while being swarmed by a horde of badniks.

    It's a pretty basic way of handling the gameplay difficulty, as well as testing a player's skill.
     
  14. Candescence

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    Fantastic examples, Strife. Still can't wait for Freedom Planet.

    Kid Icarus: Uprising also has a risk/reward mechanic with its difficulty system, the Intensity Gauge. The Intensity Gauge allows you to increase the difficulty by paying hearts, which results in harder/more enemies, but better rewards, and there are doors with rewards behind them that only open with certain intensity levels or higher. If you die, the gauge goes down a level. Though, I wish you could pay hearts to keep the gauge up if you die, kinda annoying that you have to restart the stage if you want to keep your intensity.
     
  15. Jayextee

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    These are a few ways in which the gameplay could be altered slightly to include a mechanic that would add more challenge for higher-level players. I'm not advocating any of them, nor suggesting they be implemented.

    BOOST EATS RINGS -- Sonic Rush boosting, with the top speed and enemy-killin', but it eats rings. Maybe three a second (the actual balance of this, I don't know without trying it). How this works is that faster times may be achieved by utilising the boost, but since it eats rings there will be fewer extra lives earned and potentially more danger of enemy/obstacle death when not boosting.
    FULL SPEED DAMAGE -- at top speed, enemy collision could penetrate through a shield so that not only is a shield lost, but so are rings. No death, that would be a dick-move. But this would be a further challenge to those who manage to maintain a constant top speed.
    BOSS PINCH TIME -- bosses should have a 'pinch' phase (think more like Sonic Advance 3 and how the speed and intensity of the boss are ramped up, instead of Sonic 4's pattern change). Risk/reward added by making the 'pinch' phase activate in fewer hits if they are close together; for example, if the last 4 hits are normally 'pinch' phased, then a boss attacked quickly might activate this earlier, like with 6 hits left or something.

    There will be loads of ways to do this.
     
  16. Thousand Pancake

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    Now I'm scared. :ohdear:
     
  17. Strife

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    Thanks everyone! ^_^ I'm really excited at all the interest the project has been getting. I'm hoping that the ideas themselves translate well into the actual gameplay; I won't really know for sure until it's ready for testing.

    Anyway, balancing risks and rewards is definitely the way you want to go if you want the game to appeal to as broad an audience as possible. Hardcore gamers make up a significant number of players, as do casual gamers, and of course people who fall somewhere in between. If you can provide optional risks and challenges of varying degrees, and apply them correctly, then people of all skill levels will be able to appreciate what the game has to offer in slightly different ways. The most cost-effective way of achieving this is usually with Easy/Normal/Hard modes, but it definitely pays off to have something more organic.
     
  18. TheInvisibleSun

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    I feel like the Super Sonic 1/sec ring loss rate (or maybe even 2/sec) would be sufficient; 3 could work, but might be a bit too much.

    As far as full speed damage, I think that what you wrote should apply to the boost, but not when simply running at full speed. This way, players are discouraged from spamming the boost, but encouraged to get better and faster at the game without it. Basically, use the boost when you're good enough to use it well and dodge the consequences and risks.
     
  19. Jayextee

    Jayextee

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    I would be totally fine with this, you know? It would be like, first playthrough and boosting becomes the Suicide Button in a way. But subsequent playthroughs would be a different story as the layouts are learned; I'd be like Neo and shit. Only not Neo, but Sonic. But Neo. You know what I mean.
     
  20. Mosqui

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    I am a firm believer in the motto that games should be mastered in order to be completed as opposed to the current hand-holding that current games push upon you. It doesn't help that developers are handed a set of guidelines that the game has to follow in order to be accepted for release to the mass market. I understand that no-one reads the manuals anymore (did they in the first place?) but putting the controller functions in a window or making the first level a tutorial of sorts is really dis-heartening to me.
    Difficulty should rise as the game progresses. There are a few exceptions to this rule, but most games should follow it. Sonic 2 does this rather well, I think. The levels themselves seem to be more difficult as the game progresses.
    The thing that stands out to me as "wrong" in the current games is the constant force of the homing attack in 2D. I know there was a discussion about this before (I won't bring it up) but I still don't see the need for homing gattack in a 2D setting. It also hinders the difficulty by going along with the hand-holding of newer games as players don't even need to time a jump anymore; just spam the jump button. And don't get me started on death pits. Putting a sign above them does not make them less frustrating, it just makes the levels look stupid and is a poor attempt at creating artifical difficulty in level design.
    In summary, I may have gotten really good at the sonic games over the years and as a result, something I would have found challenging is now not too hard. But I don't play games that often anyway which does lead me to believe that difficulty in the series really isn't there... or handled that well.