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Monday, January 19, 2004


Scott Miller

Yup, over 3000 hits today so far! www.ActionTrip.com also covered this site.


ADD made my day in Max Payne. It is probably my single favorite advancement in games in the last five years.

Pedro Faria

Greg Findlay:
"The health and damage that enemies do in Diablo 2 change based on the level of the character in the game, not just the number."

This is simply not true. The monster's health are fixed within certain ranges. In D2 they DO increase with the number of players in the game though, but that is it.

"The "boss modifiers" also change based on character levels."

Not true either. They are fixed or randomly picked from a pool of possible ones.

"The sets of monsters that spawn in also changes based on level. D2 does more then that too but you get the idea :). "

Not true either. Each area in the game has a certain set of monsters form which the game pick randomly (plus some areas having fixed monsters on top of that). The selection is not affected by player level at all.

All the above holds true for both Diablo 1 and Diablo 2. And yes, I consider myself to have good knowledge how the games work both, including the inner workings of them. There is almost nothing in the game of Diablo that is affected by the character level when it comes to difficulty or how the enemies are generated or behave. The few things I can think of is that items sold in town get better when your character raises in level. That is, as a low level character, you will be shown daggers with low level mods but as a high level character you will be shown might swords with super mods. There are a few other similar effects, None have anything to do about difficulty though.

The way a player can regulate the difficulty in those games are by choosing in what area or dungeon to play. One can pick a hard one (with high level monsters and such) or an easy one, (with low level monsters) and that is basically it. In addition, I would not say that Diablo have sold way due to NOT having a difficulty setting (it really don't need it as you can decide were to play and thus adjust your difficulty) or that it would have sold better/worse if it had had one. Actually, to be completely true it DO have three difficulty settings, normal, nightmare and hell difficulty, although for most players it is not really a true difficulty setting since they are meant to play once you manage to play the whole previous difficulty at ease since your character level is too high. They need them due to the fact that the game do NOT adjust itself (thank good).

Speaking of the main subject, I would have to say that I hate it when there is no difficulty setting in a game. I think one might perhaps need to distinguish two game types. The ones you play through once or twice and "finish" and the ones you play over and over and over. Difficulty settings is far more important in the last category. If for no other reason than for me wanting different game experience at different times. If I play a RTS or FPS type of game, at times I want to just fool around, and having an easy time, crushing the computer or perhaps mostly minding my own business and not having to worry about the computer players much. Other times I want to really test my skills and just see how long I can handle it. I want different difficulties at different times. I even want to be able to adjust individual aspects of the game individually (not common) instead of just an "easy, medium, hard" setting. One of my all time favourite games was Civilization. I would have loved to set up the difficulty of the game for the city handling part of the game, but lower it for the military/combat part of the game versus the computer. That was not possible.

For the games that you "finish", I could possibly see a reason to have it, yet, I ultimately things that the player is the one who can best judge how they get the most out of the game and if they want an easy ride or a hard one. Removing that option and thinking the players are to stupid to handle it and that the game designers know the best is just insulting your customers.


Nice article Scott.

I agree that ADD was a very nice implementation into the Max Payne games and I really hope to see it used alot more in future games.

I agree with you, the difficulty select screen is only a blockade between you and gameplay, you should be able to just jump straight in :)

Dan M

Sounds like Unreal Tournament. It had auto adjusting bots. If you set the game to auto adjust and got on a roll, then the next thing you know you playing on the godlike setting.

The problem with ADD is the effect it would have on linear (story driven) single player only games. If there are no levels, then once you've beaten the game, there is a much more limited replay value for the gamer. Whereas if they beat it on "normal", you may be tempted to try to beat it again on "nightmare".

Scott Miller

Dan, this is easily solved by having more difficult levels open up after you've beaten the game, as was done in Max Payne. Also, for hardcore players who want to bypass the system and adjust the difficulty level as they prefer, cheat codes can handle this.

So far, I've not seen a single concern verses ADD that does not have a sensible solution (and this includes the many messages in the Slashdot comments section where this topic was covered). The mindset of some people is to try to find faults with this sort of thing, rather than think in terms of solutions. These people would not make good game developers.

Dan M

I agree with you that elements of ADD should be used in as many games as possible as long as it adds to the experience. I wouldn't want it to replace the skill level screen. Ultimately the gamer should make the choice of what type of experience they will have no matter how lame it may be. If you look at the trend of some of the latest sports games, they now give you the ability to adjust almost all aspects of the game.

What I'd like to see is that the gamer still picks a level and then ADD kicks in to adjust the gameplay defined within the selected level. So if "easy" is picked on an FPS then the usual increased size healths/more ammo are available to the gamer. Yet unseen to the player if they're playing well then the bot's awareness, reaction time and accuracy slowly increase to a maximum point which would equal the bottom on "normal".

If say you were playing a RTS game, it would have a multilayered approach. If the gamer is building slowly, then the computer players may slow down its building to stay within a given range of the player based on the selected level. Then after each game a log file for the players profile should be updated with mini analysis of the game. That way the next time it plays you it can now "remember" that you always build tanks but never build rocket launchers.

What's the difference between having a gamer go to the option screen to set a level and opening the console and typing a cheat code in?


While ADD is a great idea, I would already be satisfied if you could change the difficulty setting during the game. Most of the FPS I've played don't let you do this, meaning you have to start all over again if the difficulty setting you chose proves too hard mid-game.


I posted much of this at Slashdot just now, but I'll repeat it here:

Good: The idea of dynamic situations. That a level can be different on multiple plays. This isn't tied to the game automatically getting easier or harder, but to it being different.

Player abuse. Doing badly on purpose in an unimportant area in order to make the game easier in the important places. Worse, the possiblity that gaming the difficulty system may be required for a player to win the game.

The possibility of "Mario Kart 64 syndrome," that the player is penalized for doing well, perhaps enough so that victory is impossible if you play as well as you can as long as you can.

The idea that the game is a "test" of the player's skill, something to be overcome, is lost. Saying you beat a game carries less meaning when it could be because the game's been coddling you. Furthermore, it's a game, not a movie. I've been playing a fair amount of Viewtiful Joe lately, and although the difficulty is brutal for new players I've still stuck with it. What I'm saying is, a well-designed game should be hard, but allow the player to realize it's possible to proceed if he just does a little better. The player wants to improve his skills, not have the game give him a pass.

However, it may be possible to design an auto-adjustment system that satisfies my concerns. I'd say the player should be notified of the level of adjustment at the end of the game, where it could make for a kind of final score.

Nathan Cushman

I'm not sure if anyone reads these posts anymore, but I have important things to say.

First, I'd like to say that Scott Miller's original e-mail was brilliant, and his suggestions should be the standard for story driven games like Max Payne. The player should NOT know that ADD is working in the background, at least not until the end of the game. Scores at the end of levels would take away from the immersion.

I'm not completely sure about the idea that ADD should only work between levels. It is then possible for someone to do very well on an easy level, but go insane when the already difficult next level has it's difficulty ramped up. Ideally this shouldn't happen, but we've all seen that difficulty in games isn't strictly a linear progression, rather it is a wavy upward trend.

The problem with changing difficulty mid-level is that players are far more likely to notice, so some work would have to be done to make it less noticible. The first solution that comes to mind is to add random elements which are given a higher probabilty of aiding the player if they are stuck on a level. This way the player will just feel lucky that they got extra painkillers, a better gun, or that they caught the guard sleeping.

Last, for all those who want to know exactly how well they did, and are seeking a greater challenge, I'll expand on Miller's graph idea. Rather than needing a cheat code to see the graph, I would suggest that a new option opens up on the main menu after you beat the game. This would let you see all the numbers recorded for each level by the ADD system (on various graphs), and allow you to pick any level to replay it, and try to improve your ratings, then you could try the next level on the new higher difficulty.

As Scott Miller said, "So far, I've not seen a single concern verses ADD that does not have a sensible solution."

Dustin Westphal

"The first solution that comes to mind is to add random elements which are given a higher probabilty of aiding the player if they are stuck on a level. This way the player will just feel lucky that they got extra painkillers, a better gun, or that they caught the guard sleeping."

That would be a perfect way of handling ADD without changing damage levels or enemy intelligence. Having a guard that is caught sleeping if the player is performing poorly would add variability to the gameplay without having the player feel that the game is dumbing itself down. Increasing ammo drop rates would be another way. If a player is having a hard time killing enemies, increase the number of grenades that each one drops. Once the kill count rises, start lowering the number of grenades available. If you notice the player relying too much on weapon you could also vary the amount of ammo available for that gun.

Changing the amount of damage or health, or the level of enemy intelligence should be a last ditch option, as it might be too noticeable by the player.

Alex Saveliev

I want to bring up the way ADD is implemented in Half-Life: if you get hurt badly you’re starting to crush wooden boxes obsessively to find extra painkillers, at least that's what I did :)
It takes time, but you are able to restore your health and move on to the next area. If you are skilled player you won’t spend your time smashing all boxes around. So we have a kind of auto-adaptation here without too much extra coding.

BTW, the boxes contain not only painkillers, but extra ammo too.

Tim Wallace

An old thread but if someone reads this they may get something out of what I will briefly say. Have the ADD system that changes frequency of beneficial item drops, adjusts accuracy/damage of enemies, tweaks the AI. Have a skill level as well. Make EASY only provide you with tweaks that make the game easier, NORMAL adjust the game to be easier/harder, and HARD to only make the game harder through tweaks. I would also encourage game designers to make it a bit more random than sweeping changes to all enemies though, the game should play as if the computer is restricted to the same rules as the player


Also for ADD some games will likely lend themselves to adjusting monster ai/difficulty the first time the monster/npc is introduced. For example lets take doom3. If the player is doing well the first time they encounter the mancubus then the mancubus could prove to have extra hp/dmg. All mancubuses after that would keep the same stats. Changes would be moderate to prevent players falling into too much trouble but would prevent players from noticing ADD since the monster would only change previous to the player's first encounter with it.

Cool Guy

I say just skip ADD in games and stay with the conventional easy, medium, hard mode. ADD doesn't work very well to begin with. Even in the conventional modes the AI causes another problem in itself. Adding ADD doesn't necessarily improve the AI of the game.

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