Treasure Hunting: Secret Areas and Items

As you finish the final cutscene and smugly sit there watching the credits roll by, completely content with finishing the entire game, you go to view your save file and what’s this? This isn’t a shiny, gleaming, 3-digit 100% on there! That’s a big fat 98%!

Yes, you’ve forgotten about the secrets and hidden items somewhere along your journey to defeat the evil demon lord! Looks like it’s time to start from square one again…

Hidden items and secrets in games are a small yet satisfying little diversion for players to complete (especially it it was a long and frustrating way to get it) that can extend the time they spend on the game. Small rewards like a special-yet-useless Inifinty -1 Sword or a Badass Scarf can be well worth it to players, especially if it means completing that variant outfit. Even little things like a simple extra life would do, for those little nooks and crannies where noone really looks would work.

Of course, the journey to such rare and optional items wouldn’t be the same without it’s own hazards. Like earlier posts, ledges, traps, enemies and the like can make the player work for their reward. And let’s not forget creating a shortcut exit for them… or not.

Pick Your Poison: Status Ailments

Knees weak, palms sweaty, blood on your shirt- poisoned spaghetti.

You take a step- green flash. Another step- green flash. Suddenly your thief is unconscious while in the middle of the dungeon.

Status ailments are one of those really cool things that can be implemented in games that will always annoy your players to hell and back. It forces them to actually think about their own well-being and stop- Antidote Time. Mainly due to not actually being able to feel pain in video game (Physical pain. As for emotional pain- maybe), just throwing enemies at your player gets rather boring after a while, so things like poison gas clouds, pits of quicksand (be careful not to lose your handcarts), or flame-spewing pipes are different ways to harm your player while not necessarily  dropping them into combat.

Of course, status ailments during combat is also a fun way to kill your player. Poison aside, there’s the good ol’ slow status, rendering your players helpless as hordes of enemies line up to smack them.

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You can probably tell things didn’t work out very well.

Of course status ailments can also be added to players’ arsenals too, to give those enemies a taste of their own medicine, or vice versa. Nothing’s more relaxing than slowing a room of enemies down to a snail’s pace all while chopping them down one by one.

 

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Things got kinda busy, but here I am. Kevin out.

A Rite of Mastery

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Battlerite (pictured above) is a team based multiplayer action game, which focuses on 2v2 and 3v3 battles in small arenas. Like MOBAs and other multiplayer focused games, the difficulty comes from individual player’s skills and how they face off against each other and work together. But instead of talking about these person-to-person difficulty changes, a main concept of Battlerite is being able to use each character’s abilities successfully.

In Battlerite each character has a basic attack ability (M1) 5 special abilities (M2, Space, Q, E, and R) an ultimate ability (F) and two EX abilities (shift+specific ability key) in their arsenal. Being able to efficiently use each of these abilities determines how well you can perform and are in a way the difficulty bar that players must overcome.

Mastering a character that you want to play is the first difficulty hurdle, as recklessly picking a champion and expecting to immediately have success is a rookie mistake and can quickly turn into a Button Mashing scenario, where the player expects wonderful things to happen if every button is pressed. In Battlerite this is far from the fact and players must know optimal situations to use an ability and not be left helpless when an ability is on cooldown. Additionally understanding the best approach to dealing damage or assisting teammates in a given situation is fundamentally important. So after practicing and fully understanding the ins and outs of a specific character, one would think they are ready to get out into the arena and to start battling players right? Wrong.

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While this would work if there was only one existing character, Battlerite contains a current roster of 17 characters, which will continue to expand, each with their own set of different abilities and strategies they use. And each person playing them will (more than likely) understand how to play them and to a basic level understand the best way to play them. This adds another level of difficulty to the game, in which not only do you have to understand the character you have chosen, it is equally important to understand the opposition’s characters. What is their primary role? Are they a support, melee, or ranged? Do they have gap-closers or escapes? What are their defensive abilities? What abilities do they have that I should be careful about avoiding?

Understanding the opposition is important but just as equally important is understanding your teammates’ champions. Understanding their own roles and what they want to do against your opponents so you can change your own strategy accordingly. All these are paramount for succeeding in Battlerite and define its difficulty for players. Even if you have superb mastery over the character you are playing and understand them to a T, this whole advantage disappears if you have no idea what your teammates and enemies can do.

-Michael

Mastering The Meta

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While difficulty in  competitive multiplayer games is almost entirely based off each player’s relative skill and how they play against each other, there still is a slight nuance in difficulty that the developer has a hand in influencing for these games. In most cases of MOBAs (multiplayer online battle arena), the entire infrastructure is based on a team based game where players battle against each other in an attempt to destroy the enemy’s base. This involves a plethora of different characters that players can choose to control for each game, each controlling radically differently from the next with there own set of goals.

While players are free to choose their favorite champion and have fun playing them, there is often a metagame that determines effective strategies within the game such as that of League of Legends. The metagame, or meta for short, is often built around a set of strategies and a select few characters within the game that are determined optimal for the current state of the game. These are often seen as the best characters to play as, to a degree that they over perform and overshadow other characters. While largely the meta is influenced by the player base and in a game like League of Legends the meta is often dictated by the upper echelon of players in the professional esports scene, the developers, in this case Riot Games, have a very large acting say in what the game’s current meta is.

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Most developers, including Riot Games, shake up and alter this game within the game by periodically updating and changing the game through patches. These patches will often buff champions who are deemed weak by Riot, and nerf champions who are too strong. Although often times Riot will also tweak certain champions to try and slightly alter them, sometimes resulting in a champion who all of a sudden receives tweaks that make them incredibly strong. This along with the very infrequent changes to items that can be bought, alter the state of the metagame and determine what are best picks. For example in one of the most recent patches, 6.18 (the world championship patch) they made slight changes to the game with the goal of not shaking up the foundation weeks before a major tournament. As a result the meta that had developed over the past few patches stayed, resulting in a handful of champions being determined optimal for each position. Anything outside of these 3-5 champions per role are considered risky picks that can easily flop miserably.

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In a large part the meta influences difficulty on the player, as they may struggle with not being able to play or simply not being comfortable on the strong champions, requiring them to overcome a learning curve and engage in a matchup that is working against them. In a way difficulty in these multiplayer focused games comes directly from how well the player can mold and adapt themselves to fit the metagame, and their inability to do so makes the game that much more difficult for them.

-Michael

Manage Your Anger

Chuck has three apples. If Chuck needs half a cheese wheel to defeat the Nameless King, then where did Jesus hide the prune juice? All these are very valid questions pertaining  to Dark Souls but more importantly, they represent resources that a player can manage to ensure the greatest reward. Although, in Dark Souls, the best outcome is probably just survival and to escape from the endless humiliation of the “You Died” screen.


In Dark Souls, the player is given three resources to manage during combat, it consists of health, stamina, and mana. While both health and mana are both depletable the stamina bar recharges with time, but when the stamina bar does deplete the player goes into a pathetic limping state of  being that couldn’t dodge the broadside of a moving tortoise. Dark Souls balances ease of combat with punishable restrictions that discourage reckless spamming of the attack button. As I posted in my last piece, Dark souls series are all about timing and smart decisions. Screw up and pay the price. However, it doesn’t mean the game doesn’t give the player the necessary tool to finish the job at hand. Health is depletable but items to restore health is abundant. They balance this mechanic by making the items also depletable until the player reaches a checkpoint, enemies hit hard, and the player starts the game with very limited health recovery items. This teaches the player the necessary skills to survive but forcing them to be cautious and gaining the tools to avoid, or diminish, the damage taken. FromSoftware goes even a step further because the health recovery items can be recharged the game doesn’t want to reduce the challenge so all the enemies you’ve slain are revived with the exceptions of bosses.

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Blue Flask restores mana. Orange Flask restores health.

Balancing the tools given to the player and the gameplay makes Dark Souls a true experience that not only challenges but stay fair in its mechanics. Furthermore, the game realizes if the whole game consists of swinging your weapon of choice, it would be both boring and a waste of their fantasy genre tag. Therefore, with the addition of the mana bar, the game can introduce a whole other set of tools for the player to incorporate into their own personal playstyles. Once again, FromSoftware balances the player’s actions by limiting their usage of special abilities in a certain amount of time frame before they require a mana recovery item. Like the health items, though, the mana recovery item is also rechargeable. Mana restricts melee orientated players on using their weapon’s special ability and creates an opening for enemies from the relentless assault of the magic orientated players.

Dark Souls has a system in place that required the players to manage their resources wisely or face the heavily punishing consequences. Of course, managing the increasing levels of frustration from losing over and over again can be considered a game mechanic, but it is more likely the player just needs to stop and take a break. Go smoke a cigarette or something. You’ve been cursing for hours now and I think your neighbors are calling the cops because of their pretty sure that you’re beating your wife and you know how the last time a police officer showed up at your doors when you beat Dark Souls 1. Anyways, see you all next post.

Signing off,

John

Changing up Combat: More Zelda Talk

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One of my favorite Legend of Zelda games is Skyward Sword, something that quite a few players don’t necessarily share with me. There are a lot of reasons for this division, from the story structure to the graphics to the over-world system it uses, but I’ll be focusing on what I think is one of the biggest talking points: The motion control based combat.

What does this have to do with difficulty? The way Skyward Sword handled a mast majority of its difficulty is with motion “puzzles” formed around swordplay. Link’s sword is controlled by the wiimote and his shield by the nunchuck, and parries, lashes, and spin attacks were all mapped to actions. This allowed for a new kind of combat curve where players needed to learn how to angle and properly time their sword swings and blocks to get past an opponent’s guard, deflect projectiles, and cut objects. This buttonless attacking system threw people for a loop as they adjusted to how fast or slow they needed to move (along with a few technical difficulties for others), but after learning the basics, the way you can design fights truly opens up.

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Standard enemies each became their own challenge, requiring fake outs, dodging, and guarding to defeat them, and bosses also evolved to match the flexibility of your sword.

The first main boss even acts as a gatekeeper of sorts, forcing you to master each direction you can swing in, and how to quickly change directions on the fly. And from there, you jump from standard duels between blades, to countering a giant scorpion’s claws, to even cutting a sea monster’s tentacles apart to hit it’s eye.

Some players found this sword system tedious or unreliable, but on a personal level, I really did feel immersed with what I was doing when I swung the wiimote. Like I had really earned that victory beyond just pressing A to hack at some monster. It was one step closer to actually holding the Master Sword, and I think that’s the kind of emotion that Zelda as a series really shines at, no matter what direction they take the controls afterwards.

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-Alyssa

Difficulty Scaling: The Legend of Zelda

When it comes to difficulty settings in games, the majority have options clearly labelled as some form of Easy, Normal, Hard, and other settings on a scale like that. The differences between them were usually just easier or harder versions of the regular content, vial altering the enemies or the puzzles faced by the player.

There are a few games that take difficulty settings in a slightly different direction than this linear path, and one series that has been implementing this is The Legend of Zelda.

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An example of the methods they use to create extra difficulty in Zelda games is The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Originally for the Nintendo 64 system, it was rerealeased multiple times over the years, and during it’s GameCube release, added a second version called the Master Quest. Ocarina of time-Master Quest was the equivalent of its Hard mode, something that hadn’t existed at all in the original game.

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It flipped the entire in-game world’s map to a mirrored version, and then redesigned all the dungeons to have harder sets of puzzles and tougher enemies. But the most noticeable change was introduced in the final re-release for the Nintendo 3DS. in this version of the Master Quest, all damage taken from enemies is doubled. And when poor Link stars out with only 3 hearts, double damage can kill him in about two hits in the very first dungeon.

This sudden vulnerability really makes the player think during puzzles and combat. There aren’t nearly as many times one can use trial and error when it’s so easy to die. You’re placed on the defensive, using your shield and trying to do damage as efficiently as possible without risking yourself.

Later Zelda games like Skyward Sword and The Wind Waker (HD version) also implement this double damage system in what they call Hero Mode, where naturally occurring healing items are removed at the same time. This form of difficulty feels different to me because it doesn’t quite mess with the AI of enemies, but forces the player to take what was once a simple enemy more seriously by decreasing the mistakes they are allowed to make.

I don’t necessarily think this method is the best form of difficulty I’ve seen, but I do think it’s a slightly fresher application of what Hard Mode should be.

-Alyssa