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CaptnGlitch

Difficulty - Walk in the Park or Daunting Survival?

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Hello!

 

One of the most important aspects of any game is how difficult is it. Some games are, at their core, easy, which it may be designed to be and that is okay. Games which are more story centric and less gameplay focused are often this way. Most games however are built around the concept of challenge which drives the player to progress, do better, learn the mechanics, be more careful, and eventually win and complete the game.

 

We Happy Few falls in the latter category. Though story is important to it, gameplay is what keeps us playing (and the gameplay is good). When I first started playing, I died several times. Part of this was my own stupidity and the other part curiosity which got me into trouble. By my fourth or so life I realized something though–I wasn’t dying anymore–ever. This is when I began being less enthralled with the environment around me and more taken out of the game and its story. This wasn’t because I was just that smooth or anything (I don’t consider myself to be that good at games) and it wasn’t because I had any sort of environmental benefit of the outfits (at the time). What it came down to is that it was simply too easy.

 

Before I get into why it was too easy, I want to give reasons why it wasn’t too easy because one of the biggest failings of RPG’s that I’ve played is that they think difficulty = more enemy health, more enemy damage (I’m looking at you, Fallout). The combat is good. It’s fun, fast paced, and balanced. I rarely ever could fight off three Wellies without taking serious damage, and one Bobbie was enough to take me down if I wasn’t prepared for him. It also wasn’t too easy because there were too many health options for me to use (though it would make sense to make consumables take time to use). Even the outfits which I got later on didn’t make it too easy, though some balancing/tweaking might make them a bit more suitable...excuse my terrible pun...

 

So why do I think its too easy then? Simply put, there aren’t enough consequences.

 

If I break into a house, kill a man, then the alarm gets tripped and one Bobbie comes to investigate, he looks around, and if you’re careful, doesn’t find you. Then what? He just leaves. He doesn’t call for back up. The body of the husband is still there, wife cooking and lounging like nothing happened. The house now only has one person protecting it, and is easy pickings. Nothing of mine is lost–they don’t even lock up their house.

 

You’re walking in the streets, suddenly grandma recognizes you as a downer (maybe if she would make chocolate chip cookies instead of oatmeal raisin I wouldn’t be so down...) and you’re being chased by Bobbies and town folk alike! Quick, you dodge into an alley, you walk around the corner and...and...! You’re free. You look around, no one notices you. You go into the street, things are normal as ever.

 

Find the exit hatch? Great! Oh no, the (only two) Bobbies are chasing you away! Look a phone booth, take your joy, suddenly back to normal! Guess what? Those Bobbies walk more slowly than you! Get over to the hatch, unlock it easily with a lockpick, you’re home free!

 

I really enjoyed gathering up resources to try and improve myself, but when you can lose the guard without using half your stamina, when you can dupe the Wellies and the Bobbies without losing anything, when you can lure the guards away and escape the dangers of the city without a hitch, you don’t need to gather up resources. You don’t need to be careful or even skillful. I even did a test run yesterday where I sped to the exit and within twenty minutes the game was over.

 

I don’t want this post to come across as overly negative because I really enjoyed my time with We Happy Few so far–and though I do think the game is too easy, I have some ideas on simple fixes that will make the game more enjoyable and more enthralling.

 

The fixes I had in mind:

 

-Bobbies chase you much longer, line of sight improved so you can’t stand across a clearing and have them stop chasing you.

 

-Stamina drains other stats when it runs out. Have you ever been for a long run? Have you ever been chased? I have. I was thirsty afterwards. Like, really thirsty. Adding drain on your other stats when your stamina reaches zero would completely change the dynamic of being chased–you wouldn’t want to anymore because the resource cost would be well, more costly. You would have to be more careful to look like a Wellie so that you don’t drain your resources due to being chased.

 

-Alarms tripped and bodies need to raise alertness of everyone in the area and call in many more Bobbies for a longer time. There should never be a situation where an alarm can be tripped and, in the same day, I can go back to the same house and loot it some more. Jimmies and lockpicks are expensive and if they would just lock up completely after being broken into it would make breaking in much more costly if failed.

 

-Regional consequences to actions should be built in. This may be more difficult than what I listed above and I understand the constraints of game design/programming costs that goes into these things–but wouldn’t it be great if, even if you didn’t trip any alarms, after breaking into a house/murdering those inside if the whole town went on higher alert? More Bobbies would spawn, people would detect downers more easily, and maybe even Uncle Jack could talk about a break-in on his show? That would really draw me in as a player.

 

What are your thoughts? I would love to hear them from other players along with developers because I’ve browsed around the forums a bit and people seem pretty split on the subject. Is the game too easy? Too difficult? Let’s talk about it.

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I think this is a great subject to discuss. Keep in mind that it doesn't have to be either or - with this game we're likely to have multiple difficulty modes (one easier one focused on the story, and one more hardcore version focused on, well, challenge). We've said from the beginning that our primary goal is to cater for more hardcore players, but we also want to make sure people can finish the story if they want to (sometimes you just want to finish a game, especially when you don't have as much time for gaming as you used to).

 

So with that in mind, it'd be interesting to know what people find difficult currently (@CaptnGlitch your perspective is a really great start), and what they don't find difficult. This can relate to absolutely anything in the game, and would be very helpful to us.

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I find the game very easy now. I completed it the first time in 102 minutes and have done 3 runs after this. The game needs to be harder once you found a security keycard and the multi tool you just need to get to the maintenance tunnel and escape I don that usally in an hour or less.

 

The difficulty still needs a huge ramp up.

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as someone who's been keeping up with the game ever since i found out about it, i'd have to say i agree with what you say for the most part. at the moment the game is very easy to cheese if you know what you're doing. i'm not certain that's a bad thing though? the point so far of the pre-alpha seems to be just testing the logic of the game - is everything spawning correctly in the right location, are the triggers hitting properly, are the roads on the ground, do the npcs see you and trigger a basic reaction set to you based on these variables, etc.

 

your suggestions for rebalancing the world seem really well though out though, and i would love to see them implemented in the game. especially the stamina drain -> stat drain, because i agree, it should have a sharper cost than just having to speedwalk for a moment and catch your breath

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Heh, with the Fallout reference there... I've actually spent the past few weeks modding the hell out of Fallout 3, and the version of the game I'm currently playing handles a lot like how I'd imagine We Happy Few might play. With my current character I end up running from wild dogs, of all things, not because I can't kill them or because I think they might kill me, but just because dogs can consistently get a hit in before I can kill them. This chips away at my health, and with the game modded as it is I have virtually no chance of getting that HP back before something bigger and meaner comes along to kill me.

 

So I spend most of my time hiding from radscorpions and squealing in fright over cockroaches, cause every single hit is another tick of life I can't get back without risking life and limb to find a stimpak. That's the kind of gameplay I find really engaging. Feeling like you're the weakest, saddest little insect, and everything else in the whole world can and will instantly crush you. That way when you find things that would otherwise be mundane (a stimpak!! and holy crap, some breakfast cereal!) it feels like an amazing accomplishment. And when you finally start finding helpful things to improve your fighting abilities every improvement makes you feel like the Terminator. Until of course you get killed because you've overestimated how much a stick is going to help you in a fight.

 

What I don't like at all is the kind of artificial difficulty of things like Grannies being able to sniff you out immediately for no reason, or the Wastrels not liking you just because you've got a semi-okay suit on. Because yeah, right now it's difficult to get through a town without raising the alarm, but only because I have no defense against the clairvoyant little old ladies. And it's a mild challenge to find a torn suit at the beginning, but only because my character can't pick up a bit of sharp metal and tear the one he's already got on.

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I guess I am a casual gamer now. I have 3 kids and not as much time as I used to. I keep seeing a lot of people say how they "beat" the game already (what is up of course). I haven't even seen half of my map and I've died multiple times. I haven't found a sewing kit. I haven't found ingredients to make anything other than a few lockpicks, a bandage, black powder, healing powder, and a single banger (that I never got to use before I died so I don't know how).

 

There is some learning curve there. I like to explore every inch of the map and see what is there. I am the type of person that reads the text from every single quest. I don't just accept and rush out to grind my numbers- I want to see the little jokes and watch stories tie together. Every time I hear the NPCs say something I haven't heard before I am very happy. I also like to have a little home base with storage to go back to so I can regroup and think about what I want to do next. I haven't been reading forums too much other than bugs, etc. because I like to figure it out myself- even if it takes me longer because I have to pause the game after 30 min until I can sit again a few hours later and play again.

 

I like the ideas of longer searching if you kill someone or break into a house- including a harsher lock-down for a few days after a break in.

 

I kind of understand how people leave you alone once you take Joy, they assume you're good now and they fall back into not worrying- because that wouldn't be happy, now would it? Heh.

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@ceruleanspiral Oh, nah man that's actually pretty close to what I've done so far. I've been wandering around getting my butt kicked by various NPCs and traps and such. (I got stuck in a maze which then subsequently gassed me to overdose, how hilarious is that??) And my crafting repertoire so far consists of a single lockpick that I subsequently forgot I had. I've not really been interested in investing a lot of time into the game at this point though since we're essentially just running through a cardboard cutout of what the real thing will look like. And especially without a solid story on the protagonist I find it hard to care one way or another whether he gets out. In fact I lean towards not wanting him to escape right now, if only because the violent bastard keeps murdering folks over clothes.

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the point so far of the pre-alpha seems to be just testing the logic of the game - is everything spawning correctly in the right location, are the triggers hitting properly, are the roads on the ground, do the npcs see you and trigger a basic reaction set to you based on these variables, etc.

 

That is entirely possible and if it is the case its even better. That would mean that the developers are testing systems and have plans on how to improve difficulty, but since I don't know what their plans are, I have to give feedback on how the game is now and not what I expect them to add. Based on what Sam said, it seems like that is the case.

 

 

Heh, with the Fallout reference there... I've actually spent the past few weeks modding the hell out of Fallout 3, and the version of the game I'm currently playing handles a lot like how I'd imagine We Happy Few might play.

 

That is the kind of fallout I want. If only we didn't have to mod it to make it work that way--but I guess it wouldn't have as much mass appeal if it were more realistic. I personally haven't experienced the grannies being too much of an issue but...that might be because I do stupid things and run around all the time, and since I can just disappear in an alley it doesn't matter that I do this.

 

 

I kind of understand how people leave you alone once you take Joy, they assume you're good now and they fall back into not worrying- because that wouldn't be happy, now would it? Heh.

 

I agree and I like the concept--but practically I can use it to cheat the game and get through any obstacle. An easy fix would be not including these near areas of interest, especially the escape hatch.

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i've been thinking on and off about this for a few days now and i thought of a potentially interesting idea re: regional reactions , with things already in the game - the uncle jack bit about recognizing a downer could trigger after you've been in the village for a while (or randomly), setting the npcs on higher alert for a brief period of time.

 

maybe higher aggro range, more bobbies around, or just an overall density of people on the street gathering in potential angry mobs, looking for a reason to hurt you. even now in the game, whenever i run into more than a few people on the street or in buildings and they all start turning and staring at me, i start getting an immersive, anxious feeling. in a good way!

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Thanks everyone, this is really helpful.

 

As you can see, even from these brief few responses, designing difficulty in a game is pretty challenging because people play in different ways, at different speeds, for different reasons. One person's easy is another person's "god damn it". It was one of the big challenges on Contrast, because if you make puzzles too hard, many players give up and not finish the game, too easy and it shortens the game and takes the challenge away from others (we tried to tread the middle ground on Contrast).

 

I'd be keen to hear from the rest of the forum, too. Specifically what people find easy (the simplicity of the ending, as mentioned above, is a good example) and/or difficult, will help us better design the different difficulties. When we get to that, of course :)

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Difficulty is sort of up to the player I think, at least at the moment. When I was playing stealthy and avoiding being suspected and violence, the game became more challenging. When I said screw it after I died right at the end, the game became easy. Takedowns seldom have repercussions, I can outrun everyone. I can make people gang up on each other (wastrels vs bobbies/wellies). The only problem is when you are spotted. Then it can lead to a difficult situation, where you end up being surrounded, but it is still escapable (you can just OD on Joy at any time). I like having the choice of limiting it for myself, or taking the easy way out.

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Hey guys!

 

We've spent many of the last few days tied up in the support / technical issues forum, and haven't had as much of a chance to read the feedback forum, but now that we're pulling our heads out of the sand, I'm seeing all these threads and it's absolutely awesome to read your feedback!

 

Difficulty (in the game) is something that we've been very carefully discussing in the studio. There was - in fact - a commonly shared opinion in the office that the game as it currently stands was tuned "too easy". It's - in fact - significantly easier to survive than the build we brought to PAX East.

 

My thoughts on this topic are mixed. There are quite a few things we need to balance when it comes to difficulty. One, we need to give enough breathing room at the very beginning of the game for players to get their bearings, learn the game, and fall in love with the world we're creating without creating a drudge loop of "oh, I've got to go through this stupid part of the game again" for veteran players who are starting a new game.

 

Two, the consequence of death is quite punishing to the player, so getting into trouble and risking death means a great deal of your time investment into the game. To do so, we need to give sufficient tools for the player to be able to "get out of trouble" if they make a genuine mistake (or if the game - which is never perfect - creates an unfair situation), or - on the flip side - develop mechanics that reward the player's time investment into the game across deaths. Unlocking characters (Don't Starve), secret stashes you can put items in for your future lives (Borderlands), crafting blueprint that stay between lives (Rust), unlocking new items/objects that appear in the world ( Binding of Isaac ), or having your characters derive traits from previous lives (Rogue Legacy) are all good and different examples of games that tried to solve this problem by offering a meta-progression on top of the successive replays you make through the game. I'd love to hear more ideas on how you think we might make the game enjoyable to replay, while respecting the time you invest in the game even if you die suddenly and unexpectedly.

 

Three, you are correct to assume that the game is currently more of in a sandbox mode for us to test all our mechanics. We do intend to stage difficulty properly both geographically and over time. By this I mean that we plan on making it harder to get into certain areas of the city, and we have some design ideas for making existing areas more dangerous over time.

 

In all - your feedback is essential in crafting an amazing experience. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts with us!

 

Guillaume.

 

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@Guillaume

 

Regarding replayability and frustration, it may be worth considering something like Sunless Sea's Legacy system. SS is also a roguelike, and while it does have an escalating stats system it's also about resource/financial management. The Legacy system allows players who've reached a certain level (money or quest completion) to transfer some of their earned advantages to their next life.

 

As it stands, the two legacies I'd suggest for WHF are any earned Inventory slots or a specific number of non-plot related items in your inventory on death. Not both at once; maybe one after X days survived and another after Y days.

 

If you went with carrying over items I'd suggest anything that fits in a 2x3 grid. This would allow for either one suit -- which takes time and resources to craft -- or a handful of other items like a weapon, water, first aid kits, food, etc. Depending on what you had in your inventory before you died this would make the early areas easy to work through quickly. For that reason I'd suggest keeping this option pretty late in the game's time-limit, and restricted to the life immediately preceding the new one.

 

Stat bonuses after you've finished the game once might be interesting if there's a good way to balance it against the game's difficulty levels. Maybe you can pick from a selection of needing less food/water or a heightened tolerance against Joy overdose. I'm inclined to think Joy resistance is the easiest one to implement without completely cheesing the survival element, and may be useful to players who want to wander around engaging in social stealth.

 

Lastly, perhaps after all three character scenarios have been completed you can unlock a sort of New Game Plus where any character stats/bonuses are reset to base but you now find more lore-related documents, like journals and newspaper clippings, that weren't available in the first playthrough. There's a lot of mystery surrounding the initial premise, and consequently I'm guessing the information made available will need to be staggered. It would be great to get some additional story elements from before, during and after whatever caused the town to resort to Joy once you've beaten the game and know what's actually going on.

 

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I like the idea of a limited inventory carryover, but fear that that might take too much of the tension out of possible-death situations for my own taste. Besides, if you get pummeled into bloody unconsciousness by the police, why would they let you choose what they don't confiscate off your body?

 

What might be interesting (and maybe even lore-friendly) would be "caches" - a few limited-capacity containers scattered and semi-hidden throughout the world that have a chance (depending on difficulty level/hidden-ness of location) to carry over items to your next playthrough. Not anywhere convenient like in "your" underground base - you'd have to re-find them on subsequent playthroughs (matching the "memory loss" of the map on overdose/death). To prevent cheesing (or maybe just to be extra-cruel on harder difficulties), the chance of a cache successfully carrying over might be inversely proportional to the quantity and value of the items in it (i.e. stuffed full of end-game goodies = most likely to be looted by wastrels before you get to it, just a few potatoes and a syringe = probably overlooked by looters).

 

This would effectively give players a way to give themselves more "scavenged loot" in future runs, at the cost of giving up those items in the current run and having to hunt for the caches on their next life - with a chance that they're gone for good, or in the hands of NPCs.

 

Because a roguelike just isn't roguelike without trade-offs and risk. :)

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