Normalizing Enemy Difficulty

| Thursday, November 17, 2011
Why do RPGs so readily allow us to create stupid builds? For example, that person has a stupid build.

What if they're not stupid, but creative? Why shouldn't the heavily armored mage who uses magic to stealth be unable to beat the game? This build would probably fail in a typical RPG. But it doesn't have to.

Add a system to measure the effectiveness of a build and adjust the game accordingly.

Think up your excuse plot as you like, but the general idea is to have the player fight a series of enemies which are representative of what they will encounter in the game. So they'll fight some armored melee, some flimsy casters, some archers who refuse to stay in place, and mixes of them, with varying strength. From these fights the game can determine approximately how well your build handles each of those enemies and adjusts their strength relative to each other. Now your build which is great against casters thanks to a quick attack from stealth does not need to be utterly useless against other melee. This will adjust both up and down, so that you'll still be stronger against certain types and weaker against others, but you won't ever fight an enemy which is trivial or impossible because of your build choices.

After the initial tests it would continue to adjust enemies for a bit longer, to ensure that if you got crushed by a certain archetype it was due to the build and not just ignorance of how to handle them. If you start rolling over a certain type of enemy, it will adjust accordingly.
For arbitrary numbers, let's imagine that against your build (and skill at playing it) a melee has difficulty 10, a mage difficulty 2, and an archer difficulty 6. Melee would be reduced in power, mages increased, and archers left about the same, so that when you venture out, melee might be at 7, mages at 4, and archers still at 6. You'll still see melee as harder than mages, but not so dramatically. This might be the difficulties at the "normal" setting, so dialing up to "hard" would make them 10, 7, and 9, while "easy" would be 4, 1, and 3. These examples aren't on any particular scale, just that bigger numbers are a harder fight.

Note that all this does is adjust the relative power of enemies. There is still an overall difficulty setting which can shift all of them up or down.

Coming tomorrow, an uninspiring, uncreative opinion piece on game difficulty.


kirwoodd said...

I don't like it. :D
Being able to create creative and unique builds is awesome, I just don't think that the game should adjust.

When I first started playing WoW I refused to read any guides, I wanted to figure it out for myself, that is the fun for me. :D So my mage would sometimes favor armor over int. :| My thought was "in case anybody gets in melee range". After doing some reading and playing for a few years I think "nobody will EVER get into melee range if I have enough int"

My point is that I don't want the game to adjust for my bad decision. BUT, I would like to see the game more... versatile? So that a plate wearing mage wont have a lot of mana, and the plate will hinder her spell casting, BUT, she will have some melee protection/ability. Sounds horrible to me, but maybe some other player likes that style. I feel like Blizz says "you MUST do this, or you will fail" Let users be creative and try sub-optimal builds,rotations, armor, it could be fun.

I guess that overall, I would prefer more of a sandbox, and less of a theme park.

Ephemeron said...

Why do RPGs so readily allow us to create stupid builds?

It's an atavism left over from tabletop RPGs.

Turns out that traditional character-building models don't work so well in the absence of:

(a) other players, who can cover your character's weaknesses with their own strengths;
(b) the GM/DM/Storyteller, who can change the power of enemies as they see fit to ensure that encounters are interesting, but doable.

scrusi said...

Frankly, I wouldn't want that. A huge part of the fun of trying new builds is, to me, figuring out new things that work well. (And determining what doesn't work.) If the game made it so that my "talent" choices didn't matter, tinkering with them would feel pointless and boring.

Klepsacovic said...

@PaulC: I wouldn't look at this from a multi-player perspective, since balance issues are multiplied by a million.

@Ephemeron: I will called it "Virtual DM"

@scrusi: I was hoping for "different by not better (by much)", but a lack of better does cause some lack of difference.

My motivation was thinking back to Oblivion and how my stealthy archer had ended up ruining himself once enemies lived longer than two shots and being unfamiliar with the leveling system I slept too much and leveled up a lot on marginal skills.

Michael said...

Why not just make enemies become more difficult as you progress through the game, but allow people to go from area to area at their own pace? Then no matter how powerful or underpowered your build is, you'll end up right at the edge of what your capable of.

You only realize that your build is underpowered if you're having trouble at the place the game tells you that you _should_ be at. If a superoptimized build can clear an area in 2 hours, while a 'lesser' build takes 5 hours, then as long as both players are still enjoying playing their builds, what's the problem?

It's only when the game forces you to the next place (ran out of quests, mobs stopped granting xp, mobs stopped respawning, storyline pushes you to next quest hub, whatever), that it matters for your build to be able to tackle the next area.

Anonymous said...

It seems like your solution is to scale the relative difficulty of mobs according to your build. In that case, does the build really matter at all? One mob will always be a 7, one a 4, and one a 6. The only difference might be which is a 7, and which is a 4.

There's really no optimizing, just changing (for that matter, there's no sub-optimal either). If I learn a better way to kill the skill level 6 mob, the system makes the mob harder to kill.

Isn't the point of optimizing finding better ways of doing something? This would just provide a different (but not better) way of doing it.

Why do RPGs so readily allow us to create stupid builds?
For the same reason they allow us to create ridiculously overpowered builds (at least once upon a time). If everything's supposed to be moderate, why give the choice at all?

LifeDeathSoul said...

I'm not so sure about it, but I think diablo 2 has a mechanic like that actually. The Broken builds in diablo 2 still work because they literally break the game. *cough* hammerdin *cough* but, the game actually floods you with enemies that are you typical nemesis. For example, if you play a sorceress, the game will spawn more magic resistant enemies, as well as more hordes. If you were to play as a Barbarian, you tend to see more ranged enemies then if say you were to play a amazon

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