Monday, August 04, 2014

Gridiron Solitaire #116: Difficulty

A user in the Steam forums was very frustrated last week. He said that he had put 60 hours into the game (very good), but the gameplay patches had made things progressively more difficult, and he wasn't having fun anymore (bad).

I've always been concerned about difficulty, particularly on the Rookie setting. People need a somewhat gentle introduction to the game before they reach Veteran level, which is quite hardcore (and exponentially so compared to other card games).

I've put so much time into rewarding players who spend the most time with the game. The problem, though, is that the game needs to be the proper mix of enjoyable and challenging. To me, and to some other players, highly challenging IS enjoyable. There's another category of player that I need to capture, though, and they are quite a bit more casual. Having a ton of reward content isn't much of a reward if no one reaches it.

Rookie level is the right place to tweak this balance, and I'm experimenting with a few changes.

It would seem straightforward, to change the difficulty, but it's not. I don't want players to develop a playing style on Rookie that will get them killed on Veteran. That means that changing event frequency to be more forgiving is not a good option, because that would be a transparent change to the player. They would become totally dependent on the Big Play button, and when they progressed to Veteran level, that same style would fail miserably.

I also considered giving a Rookie team a +2 ratings boost in every category. That would get them more Big Play presses on defense, but it would also reduce event frequency on offense. Oops. I just caused the same problem.

Okay, so the change can't be transparent to the user. What kind of change can I make that is clearly spelled out? I realize that the easiest thing to do was just change yards per match. Currently, yardage gained is 3 yards per running match and 8 yards per passing match (after the pass is "completed").

Now, on Rookie difficulty, that may change to 4 yards and 10 yards, respectively. It's currently being tested.

Will that allow people to run the ball too often? Probably, but at least that is an explicit variable, And I can explain in the options screen when the user changes difficulty to Veteran that the yardage gained per match is changing, and what that implies.

It's possible that the gap in difficulty between Rookie and Veteran will be too large, but that is a better problem than Rookie being so difficult that people become discouraged and no longer want to play. That's just not acceptable.

Plus, this is just a different kind of game. Yes, it's a card game, but it has deep simulation and strategic aspects. In terms of complexity, it's much closer to a deck builder than a simple solitaire game.

Hmm. That gives me an idea that I don't need to have right now.

I made a change last week to the test build that is being well received. Now, when the user is playing defense, the max gain for the CPU can't extend past the end of the end zone. Previously, playing down the gain with card matches was almost impossible when you were backed up against your goal line.
Now, the change has resulted in several goal line stands, which almost never happened previously (and was a substantial flaw in the gameplay, in my mind).

I can feel this all coming together, even though sometimes it feels like I'm trying to pick up 100 marbles at the same time.

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