Monday, December 26, 2011

The Niche For Single Player Games

One of my Christmas presents was a copy of the old PSP game Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep (when will they start making titles that make sense in English?).  I immediately set the game to "proud mode", the third out of four difficulty settings, because I have played some of these games before and because the title screen informs the player that the "secret" ending is much easier to unlock at higher difficulties. 

The result has been an experience that we don't often get in MMO's - the content starts out tuned significantly above the player's head.  However, the power curve is intentionally set in a way where going off to farm up even one or two additional levels will allow the player to overcome a previously tough challenge.  My experience with MMO's of late has been that the content starts out at "too easy", but the power curve tends to be flatter - if you actually are stuck on something, one or two levels aren't going to help, and you're probably going to have to come back when it's grey (or with a better dungeon PUG, if that's the problem). 

Overall, it's an odd challenge that MMO's face as developers aim a larger portion of leveling content as solo players, but that content continues to be the prerequisite for endgame grouping.  It's hard to balance one set of content for two very different demographics, and much easier to accidentally end up with a situation where the solo player feels like Werit "drinking from the XP fire hose" as the devs struggle to find the balance with not forcing the poor aspiring group player to endure every last solo quest in the game.  I suppose this is the remaining niche for the single player game, until someone comes up with a better solution.


Bhagpuss said...

Developers could allow the MMO player to adjust his or her own difficulty.

Some MMOs do this with experience gain, to a degree. I can think of several that allow you to turn off xp altogether, to boost it with devices or potions or to split it between different pools.

These options could be applied to the difficulty setting itself. Mobs in the world could sit at given default difficulties until agroed, when the difficulty would auto-adjust to a difficulty matching a choice set on the character that pulled them.

I don't think all players would set everything as easy as possible. Some would, and good luck to them. Many would leave things on the default and just twiddle with the sliders when they ran into a roadblock. Others would set things to make life hard for themselves.

Personally I'm quite happy to play in a one-difficulty-fits-all world but that's largely because I've been playing long enough to have learned the ropes when that was the only game in town. Taking off my nostalgia-colored spectacles I can see a lot of merit in giving players much more direct control over the difficulty of the content they are paying to consume.

Yeebo said...

COX allows you to directly set the difficulty of your solo adventures (group stuff gets set by whoever starts it if I remember right).

DDO lets you decide what difficulty to run encounters at. You even get XP bonuses for running consecutive hard and elite mode missions. However, if you aren't subbed you have to unlock difficulties higher than normal by running instances multiple times.

Alaron said...

Birth By Sleep is a quite good PSP game, though I just saw it as a traditional JRPG, with optional level grinding to decrease challenge, etc. Makes me wonder how an MMO with "infinite" levels would do (of course, the amount of xp required to level increases exponentially).

Since we're discussing PSP, btw, see if you can find a copy of Half Minute Hero. Excellent RPG sendup and probably the most memorable game I've played on the PSP.

*vlad* said...

I got the other half to buy me Fire Emblem (Wii) for Xmas, which I used to play on the gameboy years ago. It's a single player turn-based tactical combat game where you control various units in an rpg setting.

It plays very well, and even on Normal setting can be quite harsh, so Hard mode must be seriously tough.

No grinding levels to come back and make things easier in this game, and also, if you slip up and one of your characters dies, that's it, you don't get them back.