One of the hardest things for a developer to balance out in their own game is difficulty. This is because developers are almost generally pretty good at actually playing games. This comes as no surprise, considering that if you actually want to make games for a living, then you probably spend a good amount of time playing them already. This also means that you’re going to eventually be very efficient at playing your own game, since you’ve been working on it and testing it for months, if not years.
Thus, it is very important to have beta testers check out your game. Since they are new to the game, and didn’t spend hours upon hours developing it, they’ll be the key to discovering if it has a balanced difficulty curve or if it needs some adjustment.
More importantly, you as a designer, should strive to find fun ways of making sure players are being tested at the level that they want to be.
However, a lot of times developers tend to forget that there are, in fact, a lot of gamers out there looking for a challenge. Instead of applying simple changes like making a boss stronger, or giving the player less health, here are various ways of making sure talented gamers find your game fun, while avoiding frustrating your casual audience…
Add Optional Collectibles
Collectibles that players don’t have to pick up to complete the stage or game are very common in games, and for good reason: they work. Whether you’re talking about finding treasures in the Uncharted series, going for the green stars in Super Mario 3D World, or grabbing all the golden KONG letters in Donkey Kong Country, a lot of big games have optional collectibles because they not only offer a new challenge, but add replay value as well.
More importantly, no one is forced to collect them. This is vital because these collectibles tend to require more skill on the part of the player to find. Of course, you should also consider providing a cool prize to players who do take the time to collect whatever you scatter across your game’s levels and world.
Present A Harder Way To Play
If you’ve ever played the original Bioshock, you know all about “Little Sisters”. They are always accompanied by large “Big Daddies” that serve as some of the toughest enemies in the game. Once you defeat these brutes, the Little Sisters’ fate rests in your hands: be harvested or be set free. The former gives the player more ADAM than the other choice, and having more ADAM makes the game easier since, you’ll be able to utilize more Plasmids in combat.
Bioshock puts this choice completely in the hands of the player every time they come across one of the 21 Little Sisters. While harvesting them makes your life easier, saving them makes you feel like a better person, and earns you a much more satisfying ending. At the same time, having less ADAM means the game will be slightly more difficult. In other words, players can choose to do things the hard way and get rewarded for it.
Include Optional Bosses
Another way of allowing players to really see if they have mastered your game is with the optional bosses. These powerful enemies are usually much stronger than the ones players will face in the main story, but do not have to be defeated to complete the game. A few memorable optional bosses that come to mind are Sephiroth in Kingdom Hearts, Culex in Super Mario RPG, Pokemon Trainer Red in Pokemon Gold/Silver, and Ruby/Emerald Weapon in Final Fantasy VII.
Super-hard optional bosses are great because they’re not meant to be for everyone, and players know it. Those with lower skill levels will have no problem avoiding these strong enemies, while those who want a greater challenge will certainly see if they’ve got what it takes to bring them down.
As always, it doesn’t hurt to reward players with something cool for their efforts.