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As you probably know when designing a video game, you need to determine how the player interacts with the environment and how the environment pushes back.

Depending on the type of game, the player can either push or pull on the systems threads leading to interesting results:

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So, the question is how do you determine difficulty factors in stealth games?

One simple answer is that that you can play around with the parameters and simply make them harder to deal it:

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However, looking at all of these and playing games that have been doing these for years I cannot stop thinking that this approach does nothing to improve the actual experience.

In fact, the more you increase difficulty → and therefor gimp the stealth player the harder it becomes for the player to play the stealth game.

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This leads to him either being severally pushed (as he should be in a stealth video game) but for the wrong reasons:

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In traditional action games difficulty of encounters is usually determined by associating a degree of success to amount of health he still has at the end of the encounter. Harder encounters cause more stress on the players health, leading to situations where the player needs to:

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The balance of power is kept in equilibrium by physical player skills.

In stealth games the there is no balance of power, or more precisely it is scaled in favor of the challenge. The difference is that the system starts in a passive state giving the player a large degree of initial power.

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Success is determined by:

So, we can extrapolate that the difficulty of an encounter can be raised or lowered based the degree of systemic interactions that the player perceives as available in the encounter.

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Player success rate — determined by his degree of interaction with the systems in the game.

But does it really? Or does it just lead to a variety factor that can dictate how the encounter will change based on the conditions that are available to you at run time?

Having a city patrol in Assassins Creed 3 is fine.

Giving you an objective to go past the patrol is fine.

Giving you several ways to go around the patrol that you can identify is great (you get more options)

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Not giving you any and pushing you into direct confrontation is not great, and leads letting the combat system to dictate the encounter, and when thinking about the stealth scenario what this leads to is tipping the difficulty in the favor of the encounter, thus the player fails stealth and needs to be punished.

I guess the paradigm is all about how you tailor the encounter in such a way that the player has:

I am by no means dismissing the importance of skills such as Timing and Reflexes in stealth games, however it feels to my like they are not absolutely relevant when considering the : Scout, Plan and Execute paradigm.

· The execution should happen swiftly, unless the previous 2 steps have been borked. However, if the execution fails the player should be able to retreat, re-asses and re-iterate on the plan. The chaos caused by the systems should be interesting to experience.

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This leads me to Assassins Creed Valhalla.

I started playing the game the game on the highest difficulty levels possible and this led to the following experience to me:

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And this is a lot different that how AC Odyssey played out for me:

My point I guess is that upscaling the difficulty of the stealth/combat/exploration mechanics isn’t necessarily going to improve your game experience.

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On example of good game difficulties in stealth games are probably from the Thief Games:

So, you do not get a higher systemic difficulty per se, instead you get more explored to the systems themselves → Since the most difficult things to get are in the areas that are:

In these kinds of situation I could even argue that variety/quantity of options are a lot more important here then difficulty incrementation.

Written by

As a level designer I am not a creator, I am a facilitator. Lead LD @MachineGames. #Leveldesign. All my opinions are my own. @notimetoulose.

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