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Difficulty.
Watch me make a pig's arse of what I'm trying to say here. Sorry if it doesn't make much sense but let's try.

Rpgslantedpeniscrate02 has got me thinking once again about difficulty, and skill settings and what-have-you. Going over thoughts I had a long time ago. Firstly two specifications: 1. I am talking about anything, games, maps, not just Quake 1 single player maps. 2. I am talking about things with skill settings. Everything and anything should have skill settings, there's no excuse not to and no justifiable reason against it.

So. One has a game/map/whatever. Perhaps maps are the most easily considerable. They have skill settings so any player can enjoy them.

But to what extent should there be consistency between maps or games?? Given the potentially vast range of player skills, isn't it inevitable that some games/maps will just be too easy for some and some will just be too hard for others?? Thus, when a game/map is too hard or easy, to what extent is that a valid criticism?? Even if you are in the middle range of skills, that game/map could be usefully catering for those who are highly skilled or very unskilled...

Consider the slantedpeniscrate map. It is harder than most other Quake maps on Hard skill. Yet I expect there are some (many?) Quakers who are bored with the mediocre challenge that other maps provide and relish something with a bit more bite. Thus it is hard to critise from that point of view - if it is too hard, chose a lower skill. One does expect some sort of consistency in skill (but obviously not in gameplay style), but why?? That expectation seems to be based on naught but vaporous imagings, perchance.

Thoughts??
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(_(__) Empty This 
People play on anything but the hardest? PUSSIES!

Kidding, but seriously.. I've always enjoyed the idea of multiple entry points into an environment, and depending where you enter, the difficulty varies - only you find out how much it varies - but also gives the map some replayability.

Always wanted to incorporate that into my maps when I attempted them. 
A3 Was Too Easy 
Yet I had some reports that it was too hard.

Go figure.

I'd rather make something that everyone runs through at least once though, rather than something that pisses 90% of the people playing it off & makes them quit before seeing it all.

Making things harder (and I can't remember if I did this in A3 or not) does not have to be just about adding more monsters - tweak ammo values, make players conserve, demand that they don't waste... 
Haven't Been Here All Summer... 
Do games need to be focused on competition/challenge in order to be good? After playing thousands of maps/games, do you, upon seeing a new one, say to yourself "Woohoo, a new challenge!".

Maybe you do; I make no judgements. I still enjoy a good challenge once in awhile. But I'm finding that my satisfaction from a game is becoming less and less despendent on overcoming the obstacles within. It might be interesting to take a look at the demographics (genres, target audience etc) of games, and compare which ones use skill settings and which don't.

On a topical note, nintendo has been saying that they dislike how hard games are becoming, especially wrt to interfaces, and how they're trying to elegantize controls. 
.* 
I've always enjoyed the idea of multiple entry points into an environment, and depending where you enter, the difficulty varies.

This is something I'd like to try at some point - a two-map unit or somesuch. Now that I think about it, I may have had something like this in mind for my abandoned Q2 project. (Which I may pick up again after Ontranto; by that time, I'll probably be thoroughly sick of Q1 medieval!)

Let's consider that as an example. The idea was/is that you have to find a way into the base, and there are several:

1) The front gate (easy to reach, hard or worse; mind you, this is the only way out)
2) Air ducts (middlin' resistance, if you can open the dang things)
3) Climbing down a crevasse and sneaking in through a plant room or something (hard to get to, but easy at first)

At least, that's how I understand what Phait said. 
Not So Much 
multiple entry points,
but one thing i'm dying to see in a quake map -- or any map for that matter, is different paths depending on difficulty...

Say, on easy, certain hallways connect to certain rooms, and on medium, some of the rooms on easy mode are completly inaccessible, in place there is another room which is even harder, and same for hard...

not sure how this would work out though... and players wouldn't be able to see the whole map without playing it multiple times on different skill levels... but it could still be cool... may even up the replay value... 
Necro's Plans 
can't you give plain func_walls skill spawnflags? If so it would be very easy to do something like that. 
That's True, 
but imagine the work involved with effectively creating three seperate maps all curled up into one. 
Excellent Topic Shambler 
This is a great topic and one that definately impacts how the player experiences the game. I'll try and write some coherent comments on the subject but here are some key points to start:

- A game/map is something that people load onto thier machine because they want to have fun. Frustration is an enemy of fun. Frustration is consistent with being too hard or unfair. Fun is associated with challenge followed by reward.
- There is not enough uniformity in what attracts people to FPS games for any game designer or mapper to know with high confidence that thier work is too hard or easy. A player who loves combat is likely to be more skilled and happier with 'hard' gameplay then a player who is into FPS worlds for immersion and puzzle solving (including secrets and NPC interaction.) The combat players want adrenaline - the escapists may want relaxation with a more moderate challenge (since no opposition or cheat runs are simply too boring.)
- IMHO, I like the 4 descrete choices for difficulty with these objectives: Easy - Just that - relaxing and suitable for someone to either learn the game or goof around with not a lot of risk. A good way to introduce non-gamers to gaming. A nice way to do some sight seeing. Normal - A good challenge for casual gamers and a modest challenge for more experienced gamers but the main goals and elements of the game design should be present. It should feel complete and should be a skill level that a game or map could be judged upon for quality. Hard: A good challenge for experienced gamers - should punish carelessness and force players to use strategy. Should be fair but challenging. Nightmare: Should abuse experienced and tough talking gamers. May not necessarily be fair (eg. respawn) but it's done for sheer mayhem.

Next post, I'll discuss examples. 
Examples 
I love FPS games but I also hate becoming angry at the game designer or mapper because something frustrated me. Have you ever wanted to frag a mapper or game designer more then the enemies in thier work? I'm sure you have. Before I give some examples, I'll mention the type of gamer that I am. I play FPS games for escapism - to be in fascinating worlds that take me somewhere else. I like to soak up atmosphere (settings, sound, lighting) and I like exploration and secret searching. I like combat but I'm in no way elite but I play Q1 on hard and all others on normal. Here are some good and bad experiences I've had with respect to difficulty in games. A bad experience with difficulty means too much time is spent loading saved games and the immersion aspect of FPS gaming is lost because of too little time spent between save points. Example time:

Good - Operation NaPali (UT SP mod) - This could be found to be too easy for combat centric players but I actually found the less brutal gameplay and beautiful settings to be very enjoyable. I really had a good time playing this mod.
Bad - Spearhead (MOHAA Mission Pack) - Considering that I chose normal, I found the hitscan enemies and brutal scripted sequences to be frustrating in too many spots. Gameplay forced me to load and save way too many times. I should have picked easy. Really well made settings spoiled by frustrating gameplay - I was relieved when it ended.
Good - Thief - Difficulty levels incorporate a progressive addition of tasks depending upon what skill level you chose. Nice concept.
Bad - Thief - Perhaps I'm not patient enough but I'm having a hard time finishing this game. It seems too hard for me.
Bad - Poke646 (a Half-Life mod) Keep in mind, I'm only giving my views and experiences on these games - I'm not saying these comments as global truths. I played this mod on normal and had numerous moments of frustration. I was saving and loading an awful lot. This was too bad since it has very well designed and built settings.
Good - UT Boss level - This I found to be hard but it was also a lot of fun. I beat him finally with a score of 14 to 15 (or something like that). This was a case of combat feeling fair but also pushing my skills to the limit (my limited skills.)
Good - Deus-Ex - This game had tough moments but the broad variety of options (as compared to most FPS games) allowed me to tackle problems in more then one way. I was able to use stealth and passive means to avoid combats that would have been too hard for me.

Once again - the topic of difficulty is one that really warrants careful thought in game and map design and the goal should not be raising the bar in how hard a game can be but in how you provide a broad range of players the opportunity to select a level of challenge that provides satisfaction upon completion of a mission. 
Is That You There, Shambler? 
I am wondering about nothing than Quake1, and I want to rely on the different states of game or map.

As I am just a freakin foreigner, who hardly knows what the talk is about...
While constructing on the "Abandonned", it became quiet clear to me, that the skillsetting is a kind of sensible instrument.
I remember reading on Qmap: don't put too much monsters in your level, for people would like to enjoy your game with pleasure. Not get beaten in the first moments.

Sure is true. I've been playing Zerstorer, and
in stead of a good game they said, I ended on the churchyard, blowing all my grenades to open a door, which didn't. Hard to cheat, when
so much time has spent to make a good game.

But by beta testing so much, it soon overtook me, that skill in one map is totally something else, than hold that same strength over cascades of maps. Than the id changes completely. It is not just a case of enough ammunition and health, but all these things together, that in easy-normal and hard triggers the cumulative effect.

It has really beaten me to Nightmare level, and I could go on for houres, if I hadn't chequed it over & over again.
But it sure is a case of study worth, which in single maps of course can be peaked to the top. 
Scragbait: 
I agree with what you said. Your description of skill levels goes well with mine.

I also agree that the quake1 community is far too varied to know for sure what the response will be. No community is immune to variety. Outside FPS, I thought Xenosaga, Armored Core 3, and Final Fantasy Tactics to be very enjoyable, but many people I've talked to said they were terrible games because they were insanely hard.

The best way to gauge whether your difficulty levels are correct is to get a composite. If 10 people played the map, 3 felt it was too hard, 3 felt it was too easy, and one whined incessantly about the textures, then those are pretty good overall results. 
Some Other Recent Threads About This: 
Gamegirladvance 
really is quite a cool site.

might get lynched for saying such an unmacho thing here. :P 
Lynches Uwf. 
:D 
Not My Lynch, David 
Try 22 in 3 several stages, and you see skilltools everywhere... 
I Think I Have Said This Already.. 
Problem with maps (and less with games), that players dont switch skill if they find the level too hard/easy. Not many bother restarting with increased/decreased skill settings, instead they prefer to whine.

Ofcourse there is no consistency between toughness of gameplay of different custom maps and even more so of games. And why should it be, when they are made separately by different designers (who mostly rely on their on game experience and skills)

IE RPG02 is dead easy even on hard compared to some recent spacemaps (from the contest), or IKSPQ blue maps (remember 5 shamblers in a row ?) 
Humm 
Hear what you're saying about whining, Speedy ;) -- also I don't think many will play on a skill called easy, even if it's right for them.

I think add-on levels should generally be more difficult than the original levels for the game. Beyond a point, add-ons don't even need skill settings at all, just one suited to someone who's played at least a fraction of what's there already, unless the level adds some new broad-based appeal. One personal peeve is "pacing" where the difficulty progresses is not necessarily desirable for harder skill settings, let the player know what he's in for right away. Still can work for the easier skills of a game's built-in levels though.

I like it challenging, but not like a brick wall.

A question is is it good to make it so a player can figure out ways to make it easier with persistence and patience. This could be considered bad in some ways, including encouraging save-load gameplay, and in some cases can make it too easy, and in others isn't really possible. 
Uhmmmm... 
Part of the fault of some games being frustating (and not really difficult) it's the kind of "realistic" game with a lot of hitscan enemies and one-shot-snipers. While this games aren't really hard, It is just frustating. start the level you are killed by a sniper, you know his position now, load, kill the sniper, you are killed by a sniper and so on... It doesnt promote skilled play or a go use of your ammo, weapons, and pick-up items, it ends as a trial and error game. 
Gah... 
or a go use of your ammo,...

It should be: or a good use og your ammo. 
Og... 
damn :P 
Auhsan 
You've describe my main beefs about Spearhead. The tank and half-track sequences and much of the on-foot stuff consisted of memorizing the staged attacks and trying to take them out first. There was no flexible strategy. Trial and error is right. 
Spearhead 
sucked in more than one aspect, the only thing better compared to MOHAA was the turned down accuracy on the snipers. 
Replies... 
Daz: Interesting. I've been using the "always adjustable" skill setting in the DS demo occasionally, depending how bored I am.

UWF: Well done for missing the point.

Gilt: Some nice points there. With new games I choose fairly low skills as I need to explore and experience them more than I need to be challenged. I think there is sometimes - or often - a skewed balance towards challenge rather than fun or creativity or whatever (perhaps to cover up for a lack of the latters).

Scraggy - Good second point there.

Speedy: Well personally I can't speak for people who whine. But as you noticed my entire post was pretty much about the first point you raised. Well done for repeating it. As for the last part of what you posted, once again you've completely missed the point. Picking a few counter-examples to RPG02 is completely pointless (and factually wrong in the case of the IKSPQ maps, remember they are a series). Yes there are a FEW harder, but the vast majority are easier. Anyway that's irrelevant.

Spentron: Don't understand what you're trying to say, but clearly ALL add-ons REQUIRE skill settings otherwise they will make the whole issue I am highlighting much much worse. 
Re: Replies (and New Points) 
Warning, long ramble, but that's what this is for right?

Shambler, one of my points is that add-ons have less need for skill settings than an original game -- because it is a reasonable assumption players have played the original game. In some cases that's not true, for example if you made a RPG that ran on Quake, some RPG fans would play it (hopefully) without playing Quake. On the other hand, if you're making plain-old Quake level #1439, it's a safe assumption almost no one will be playing that hasn't played at least 100 other add-on maps before. In this case, the only reason to include a true easy setting is to cater to those who want to play tourist mode.

I have to add that in the case of Quake, I think of the maps with no really good skill settings (usually all too easy), more of them implement skill settings than not.

In the case of a new-yet-old game, there is a question raised if one should assume the player has already experience in the genre. If someone comes out with a new FPS in 2010, it's not reasonable to say "play Quake first." On the other hand, most players will find a Quake-easy-equivalent useless. There's certainly genres right now I'd have trouble with playing the average new release (though I probably don't care).

I'm slightly unsure what your "whole issue I am highlighting" actually is, I think you're just talking about variation in skill settings.

My other point was that, since add-ons are unpredicatable, it's preferable that they let you know what you're getting into right away. A graduated skill can make sense as part of an original game, especially at the easiest setting -- for example if the end on easy is about the same as the beginning on normal. I think a few games have had too much a sudden increase, though, for example about the 5th level of Duke3D or the Valley of the Jaguar in SS:SE after the first level being a cakewalk. The player then has to choose whether to start over, get up to speed (mainly what I did), or keep playing on too high a skill level. ...And these are professionally made games, where you presume they know what they're doing -- fortunately they mostly did, and it didn't get that much harder on the next level too. If a user level doubles in difficulty at the 4th room, what's the player to expect of the 8th room?

Now on to what I wanted to talk about... I think there is some absolute reference with regards to skill. A mapper should know how to play his level best, obviously. Therefore, "reference" occurs when even the mapper starts to have serious problems completing the level. There is some dependence even here on playing skill, but for most mappers this ranges from decent to just short of amazing, and I'd hope they have some idea of where they stand. I'd say this is the more precise part. The imprecise part is taking this reference level and detuning it to make it easier for mass consumption (possibly needed even for the hardest skill). Then one gets more into the area of estimation. I don't know if anyone else uses this method of tuning, but I've been moving towards it.

Another issue is what's we're aiming at. Personally, I like FPS games to be as follows: most of it isn't burdensomely difficult where you want to reload a savegame every time you get hit or miss a shot. If you screw up bad, yeah, reload, maybe even once or twice you need to go into careful mode for a scenario or two to get caught back up, but that's it. There's some room for variation, but mainly the difficulty needs to be kept between boringly easy and boringly difficult. On the other hand, there's major battles and finales. There should be some cue that hints the player it's probably a good idea to save before such a scene. It can be fun to retry such a scene over and over until you beat it, but that doesn't mean you want whole games to be that hard. It's also no coincidence that such scenes tend to be finales, because some players just won't make it past.

There is another side to my "let you know what you're getting into right away" though, in that it becomes problematic when the gameplay is made unconventional. Some players will decide the difficulty is just too high instead of grasping that they need to adapt to the terms of the level or game (if they'd even be willing to do so if they knew what to do). Yes, I'm talking about my own levels here ;) . 
Spentron 
When can we expect Cliffs Notes to release a summary? 
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