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How Hard Is Too Hard?
What balance of level difficultly should be present in a well designed Quake map?

Should mappers gear singleplayer maps played in 'normal' skill play as easy/hard as id's original maps? Or have we reached a point where everyone is a great Quake player?

Whose opinion should take preferance? The Mapper's love of 'tricking' or 'beating' the player? Or the Player's goal of defeating the map? Are mapper's who skillfully provide challenge to player's better? Or would you rather maps be walks in the park with action and fun and some simple skills? Is there a perfect mixture of the two worlds?

Discuss. [i](c) Shambler[/i]
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Oh My. 
fucked up italic tags :D 
I personally feel I did a decent job (not great, but decent) with the skill levels in RPGSP1, but I still had reports from people that they couldn't beat the map; even on easy skill setting! I don't know if it's a testament to the lack of skill in those players, or a testament to the difficulty of the map.

Err, so really I can't answer the question, but I personally feel that the difficulty should be bumped up a notch from the default id maps because there are lots of players who otherwise wouldn't be challenged. 
Okay, Good Discussion Question 
Scampie, your sm58_scampie was really hard there at the end. I had to run through the Spawns there after killing the Shamblers because I was out of nearly everything. I'm the type of player who likes to slay everything on the map and dice it into little bitty gibs (I guess I'm just mean that way). I don't begrudge that in your map though as it was quite challenging.

I have a half finished map in my inventory that I may get back to some day where I took an entirely different approach in setting the skill levels. Easy equaled puzzle base with very few monsters, but the puzzle factor was meant to be pretty hard. Medium and Hard were combat oriented and only varied in armor, monster numbers and health, and Nightmare was set up as a speed run obstacle course (this portion of it I completed, the others I haven't).

This kind of approach to Quake leveling I feel may be a means of livening up what all of us experience Quakers are used to. 
Skill Settings Should Be What They Are Meant To Be 
I wouldnt worry about benchmarks such as id maps etc.

easy is easy. No good player is going to play on this, so treat this as a casual player or newbie.

normal is normal. Most players would probably play this so it should be fair, make it challenging if you want, but probably in the sense of more monsters rather than less ammo/armor as the players are going to be reasonably skilled but still waste resources.

hard is hard. This is where you can make it for the hardcore/highly skilled players. If they think they can play hard, then make it hard. People who choose to play on hard shouldnt really complain about difficulty on this level unless it's blatantly unfair or deliberately and impossibly overwhelming.

my $0.02 anyway.

As for reviews, they should rate it according to how they found it on the skill level they were playing it at (probably medium or hard). 
I think that anyone still playing quake right now has been playing it for a while, and their skills probably reflect that.

So i think it's fair to bump each skill up by one, ie, id's normal would be a custom map's easy. 
Isn't There Room For Maps Of Different Difficulty Levels? 
What I Mean Is 
Isn't it best when we have overly-difficult and way-too-easy and well-adjusted maps? You're not going to please everyone. 
Veterans Of The Psychic Wars 
It is true that most of us who play Quake now know the monsters and tactics inside and out at this point.

I played Carved in Flesh by [Kona] a few months back and there is a great ending to the first map where you have to strafe dodge several sets of monsters that teleport when the fight is finished with the previous set and I know I would not have been capable of anything like that when Quake first came out.

One thing I could personally do is once I finally release my set of maps -- I'm dead set on getting that accomplished ('my other window is GTKRadiant!')-- is work on building a Progs.dat aimed at only improving the AI of standard Quake monsters and the fuctionality of the standard entity set, that way you could drop it into any map made for standard Quake.
You can already do this with Custent, of course, and get a bit of a improvement in the ai. 
This Approach 
I think that anyone still playing quake right now has been playing it for a while, and their skills probably reflect that.

I dont think that's a good approach. Sure most players can play well, but if you play a lot of games you dont become used to the one style & speed of playing. So if you fire up a quake map after playing lots of say q3, it takes a while to adjust. That's what skills settings are for and that's why I stand by my original statement.

Plus, you do eliminate casual players by making everything too hard. 
If You're Not Playing On Easy, It's Not Too Difficult 
I think an "add-on level" implies a step of advancement. Easy can be easy but mainly it should be completable by all or most, even if it takes a while. To me, it is normal for a mid-setting of skill to be bit hard. It should be within the range of how the level is intended to be played, which usually implies a challenge.

Hard and beyond can be of use in increasing replayability but only if it's not the way to play the map first time.

One way to set up difficulty is first make the level hard even for the mapper first, and then kind of mechanically back off a bit, and then a bit more for easy. Makes things calibrated to the only real reference, death ;) . I think these are the levels that impress me in gameplay, I'm thinking "is this really even possible?" and of course it is. Eventually.

The mapper should say so if the difficulty needs mention. "Ramping" of difficulty is also a factor.

"The Mapper's love of 'tricking' or 'beating' the player? " ... with traps there needs to be at least some possibility of the player just botching it. Traps should be typically survivable if they're easily avoidable on replay, to avoid quicksave syndrome. On the other hand something more like a full-scale ambush still isn't going to be home-free second time around so this would justify more chance of dying. What might be considered worthwhile depends on if it's interesting. 
Another Way Of Looking At It 
Think the END of easy on an original game being comparable to the START or at least middle of the original game on medium, or the start or middle of an add-on on easy. 
One Thing I May Add 
and I believe Nitin is infering is that it always seemed to me when playing maps that those with well defined skill levels were the most well made in general. 
yep, generally speaking that's what I think. There are maps where going from hard to medium is hardly much of a difference from the POV of what the mapper's implemented (obviously monster damage etc is changed by default), making the skill settings almost redundant. 
What Do I Know? 
Difficulty is always such a diff.. tricky subject. A map should be completeable without finding any secrets, but still challenging if you do find all the secrets. It's a fucking tightrope. To quad or not to quad.

There was also another thread recently (or did I dream it?) about environmental changes tied to skill level which is closely allied to this topic. Personally I think that monsters + environment is where the real skill in skill lies. See the end of e2m2 for example.

As for the question "how hard is too hard?", that really comes down to having a team of talented beta testers of various skills sat behind every good mapper. One man that knows exactly what's going to happen at every turn is not going to be able to tune a map as well as one who has testers that say more than "nice arkytekchewer".

Bear in mind though that I don't know how to map and so my opinions mean nothing. NOTHING!

Oh, Thumpy. If you decide that you're not going to finish that map you mention in your post above (the one with the speedrun course on nightmare skill) I'd be very interested to see it... :-) 
Welcome To Teh UBB Qmap... 
I prefered this topic when it was simply called "Difficulty" - 
You Know... 
I totally missed that thread the first time round. woops. 
Since I Haven't Posted On Any Of The Threads So Far... 
Post 1.

My general opinion on the implementation of skills is that the jump from one skill to the next should be broad and obvious. An example of how this wasn't done is Dario Casali's Prodigy SE pack. Now I appreciate the quality of the maps in themselves - I enjoyed them a lot and they were some of the best for their time; Valve were obviously impressed enough by Casali's mapping to let him loose on the Black Mesa facility - but his treatment of the Quake skill divisions was characteristically egotistical of the little twat. His start map offered the skill settings as:
skill 0 - Normal
skill 1 - Hard
skill 2 - Really Hard
skill 3 - Nightmare
So, no Easy skill for you peasants; if you need to play on easy skill, find another pack. This mentality, I believe, comes from a mistaken, though depressingly common, notion that runs approximately thus:
My map is really hard to play => only really hardcore players can play my map => my map is really hardcore!
This is bullshit, and exactly what skill settings are there to obviate.
By narrowing the range of skill settings available, all the mapper does is reduce the potential audience of his map; or at any rate, reduce the entertainment potential for those trying to play it.

Easy skill should be easy - as a rough definition, anyone who has played any Quake 1 map on any skill setting should be able to complete the map on skill 0; including your mom! Normal skill should be an obvious step up from this, by a mixture perhaps of the number of monsters, the type of monsters and the methods available to defeat them. Hard skill should be many degrees of separation away from what is offered on Easy skill.
To me, the difference in skills is marked by 2 things:
1. the speed at which the player has to deal with confrontations and
2. the severity of the consequences should they fuck up
What shouldn't<i/> be drastically reduced with increasing skill settings are the options available to succeed; gameplay where only a precisely timed maneuver coupled with killing of monsters in a precise order or the use of only one weapon against a given opponent is not only hard, it is boring. It requires that the player learn an exact sequence pre-determined by the mapper, and the interactive quality that all games are supposed to be about is ultimately the loser. 
Post 2.

To illustrate the point about skill gaps, and my opinion in general, here is how I thought of the skill settings while buidling Contract Revoked:
I took as my baseline, for no other reason than it was really the only baseline I had, my own skill level. I know that I am not a piss poor Quake player, but at the time I was also aware that I was not in any way 'leet'. So I imagined a sort of amalgam player, and their journey into the Fodrian city libraries on their first attempt at the pack <- this is significant.
skill 0 - the player should, unless utterly stupid and suicidal in their attack, be able to complete the map on the first attempt
skill 1 - the player will not be driven into serious backtracking or be reduced to red-number health unavoidably, but are likely to die at some point simply because they do not know the map; but on reaching that point after loading-from-save or starting over, they should fair much better because of foreknowledge
skill 2 - the player will die at some point in the map, even if they know what's coming, simply because of the number and variety of challenges they have to deal with at certain confrontations; however, there should be some flexibility in the tactics they could use to overcome this and a little practice, and prudent saving, should see them through. The intention behind this thinking is to increase both the challenge to the player, by demanding they draw on different tactics and 'think on their feet' and also to increase the repeat gameplay potential
skill 3 - the player is not expected to complete the map on the first attempt, or to complete the pack at all; but the number of secrets available and the rewards therein might just tempt before, the ambition here is to provide a reason to play through the pack yet again

Secrets, of course, should never be required to complete the map on skills 0 - 2. But skill 3 is different, because it cannot be separately implemented - it's just skill 2 but the monsters fire twice (?) as fast. So I don't think any mapper should worry too much about Nightmare! I imagine that id have always incorporated a 'omfg I'm gonna die!' skill setting into their games for much the same reason I stated above: no matter how good a player gets, no matter how well they know the maps, there's always something to challenge them. Thus, a reason to keep playing is dangled enticingly in front of even the leetest :P As an example, an old friend of mine who was one of those guilty of introducing me to Quake, was a major Doom fan: he was always rather proud of the fact he could complete the first three maps of Doom on Nightmare! Okay, the Doom engine was able to make the monsters respawn indefinately, whereas Quake cannot, but you get my point.

The confrontation in Contract Revoked that seemed to cause the most wringing of hands was the metal-beam walk to defeat Cthon. The combination of precipitous, movement-based hazard plus a boss monster constantly venting its grievances plus the odd mothafucka appearing right in your path, was a lot to deal with at once. But the main problem was, I think, the fact that Cthon actually leads his target on skill 2, so even if you keep running you're still in danger of being blasted off the beams. I didn't know this until well into the build :(
Still, UWF wrote in his review, "I find the map challenging but sometimes frustrating (especially in terms of replay value). Make no mistake this is a difficult level which requires much patience and skill to complete, (and frequent saving as well)."
Which, I suppose, is more or less what I was aiming for.

I guess my mistake in configuring Contract's skill settings was to assume that players who wanted a reasonable chance to complete the maps first time would select Normal skill, then go back and play on Hard later. I am, however, quite satisfied that those of you who immediately jumped into the Hard skill selection arch got exactly what is says on the tin :)
Bloody Tags 
^ Nice Posts Kell 
(all I have to say right now :D) 
The map is #3 in the project order of what I plan to get to, I'll keep your request in mind if I decide not to develop it further. 
Yeah, Basically What Kell Said. 
if i have 1 comment [you may have noticed i dont go for long posts] it would be:

Hard SHOULD be hard, i mean a real challenge. Insomnia is a classic example of this beimg implemented correctly.

This links to the related idea of playing maps more than once on hard skill, becuase even though you know whats coming in advance its still a challenge and hence enjoyable. 
I will definitely keep those notes by my side as I populate the entities in my current project. Very valuable. 
Man Are You Guys Ever Dorks 
a thread with a title like this, and no one has made any sex jokes yet? 
Dang, You're Right 
I feel like South Park's Butters right now on account of your remark, Tronyn. 
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