Rule 4: Difficulty should cover all abilities

This rule stems directly from my original inspiration, Simon’s column about game difficulty. You can call it plagiarism if you want, but it’s a valid point so we think it should be included no matter.

Difficulty levels in games are tricky things to balance and can take absolutely ages to perfect, but when a game is properly balanced then it shines through as if the whole game had been given a mirror polish. Turning speeds, firing rates, build times – these little tweaks can make or break a game.

The perfect example is the Halo series. To some, the adventures of Master Chief are derivative and lacklustre at best, while to others the game is a modern masterpiece that blends an epic story with a gloriously smooth campaign. What very few people disagree on though is that the game caters for all niches of the gamer market.

Those who want a nice, easy console FPS that they can run through on multiplayer are catered for just as adequately as those who want to slog through on Legendary difficulty.

The Rules of Game Design Difficult Multiplayers
BioShock's vita chambers made the game more a case of perseverance than skill... some loved it, others hated it.

As technology has progressed, it seems as if developers have moved away somewhat from the original prototype of FPS gaming, though the rule is applicable to all genres. The original Doom games had a wide selection of skill levels, while Quake even had the extra Nightmare difficulty which was very well hidden.

Compare that to a game like Half-Life 2 and the difference is obvious – Half-Life 2 has only three difficulty settings and none of them make much difference. The only things which seem to be changed, and I have completed the game on all three settings, is how easily enemies die and how much damage they do. To an experienced FPS player though, dodging enemy fire isn’t all that difficult and Hard is indistinguishable from Normal.

Rule Obeyer: While Sin: Episodes and Thief are games which excellently balance themselves by using adaptive A.I and extra objectives at higher difficulties respectively, Serious Sam is still my favourite.

Essentially one big arena battle after another, Serious Sam catered for all skill levels by having lots of settings ranging from one extreme to the other. At one end there’s the Tourist difficulty where health automatically regenerates, while at the other is the Mental setting – which makes you easier to hurt, limits your ammo and makes all the enemies invisible. That’s rough stuff, obviously.

Rule Breaker: BioShock may have been a masterpiece on many levels, but the one thing that ruined it was the Vita-Life chambers that automatically revive the player. With these in place it doesn’t matter how hard the game is, the experience just becomes a matter of persistence and endurance.

Rule 5: Multiplayer isn’t always required

Multiplayer gaming is something that I personally wasn’t interested in for the longest time. When I was first getting into computer games quite heavily, I didn’t particularly care about being able to defeat my brother in Street Fighter or Soul Calibur – to me it was more interesting to prove that I was faster than a computer.

Fast forward things two decades and I’m still into my games, but multiplayer is now massively important to me. Between monthly throw-downs on Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 with some chums and almost daily matches of Team Fortress 2, multiplayer has become massively important to me. So important in fact that a few years ago I even made the long pilgrimage from the numpad to a WASD configuration.

Multiplayer has taken off massively in the last few years and, although it was once an added bonus to games—tacked on almost as an afterthought—it now seems obligatory for modern games. That’s fine in itself; gamers are all the better for it. Where it gets a problem though is when the multiplayer side is added on to the detriment of the singleplayer mode. Developers have only a limited amount of resources at their disposal and to redirect those resources into a multiplayer mode that will never take off at the expense of an extra singleplayer level is something we see too much.

The Rules of Game Design Difficult Multiplayers
Call of Duty 4's multiplayer is incredibly popular, but there's not room for lots of mediocre multiplayers.

Multiplayer games are a dime a dozen nowadays and, while some games like Call of Duty are an exception, its mostly very unlikely that the multiplayer side of a game like Kane and Lynch will prove successful enough to merit the effort. Face it guys, nothing is going to be Team Fortress 2 for a long time, so don’t bother unless you have extra time on your hands or something legitimate to add.

Oh, and this rule works both ways too – multiplayer games don’t need tacked on singleplayer modes.

Rule Obeyer: The Ship was a game designed by guest columnist Simon Hill, and shows just how multiplayer and singleplayer should be done – as totally separate entities. If you want to play the multiplayer version, you buy the multiplayer version. If you want to play the singleplayer, you buy the singleplayer. Dividing the two into different games isn’t where the genius lies though, that’s in the fact that Outerlight worked on one at a time to create the best experience possible for each.

Rule Breaker: Unreal Tournament 3 mixes it up by just tacking on an awful singleplayer mode, but it’s the same idea. The singleplayer segment itself is great as a tutorial for newcomers or a timewaster, but the flimsy storyline and plot workings mean that the game could have possibly done better without it – either way you just end up fighting bots.
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Mod of the Month November 2020 in Association with Corsair

December 11 2020 | 17:30