Random Difficulty Setting

26th August 2007

Single Player First Person Shooter Maps and Mods for Half-Life 1, 2 and Episodes 1, 2 and 3
The Right Question!

In Poll Question 045 I asked “Would you buy and play a game that only had one difficulty setting?”. It was a badly worded question because I meant that the only level available was the HARD setting. Whilst posting a reply comment I had a flash idea….

Random Difficulty Setting!

In comment 19 I thoughtlessly suggested a random difficulty setting but immediately after posting it I reconsidered it. Perhaps it would be interesting to see how it would play.

Here’s some thinking behind it:

  • The player still sets a base difficulty setting as normal – probably Easy, Mdeium and Hard.
  • The game engine assigns the setting to approximately 70% of the game (This figure could be user configurable).
  • The remaining percentage is randomly assigned difficulty levels.
The Details

Not being a game developer myself I’m not entirely sure how this would be accomplished. I suppose adjusting individual enmies’ settings is difficult or perhaps currently impossible. Perhaps sections of levels could be assigned difficulties and these would include:

  • Number of enemies
  • Skill level of enemies
  • Placement of enemies
  • Placement and amount of ammunition
  • Placement and amount of health
  • Placement and amount of cover

Perhaps there would be other variables, like maximum speed of vehicles.


Back in January 2005 I wrote a post entitled Replayability and Difficulty Settings. In it, and I had forgotten about it completely until I researched PP for this post, I mention randomness but didn’t go into details.

I believe replayability is very, very important and developers should do more to make their games replayable.

What do you think?


  1. cubedude89

    In the source engine you can script individual NPC’s “difficulty”, How much health they have, where they can/cannot walk.

    difficulty is basically just how much health an NPC has. Probably with some thinking and the power of hammer someone could randomize npc’s health without having to touch c++ coding.

  2. Darth Marsden

    Another site I frequent, FullyRamblomatic.com, has a point about enemies taking damage that I think would be very much in line with what you’re thinking. Lemme see if I can find the post…

  3. Darth Marsden

    Which leads us tentatively to the subject of today’s blogligation, because I’m going to put on my game designer hat. I want to talk to you about character damage systems in games, and why none of them have even attempted to be realistic.

    I’m not talking about Soldier of Fortune-esque damage models so you can make realistic yawning wounds burst open in an enemy NPC’s screaming flesh, or pump round after round into their crotch until nothing remains of their wedding tackle but a shredded curtain of mutilated tissue. I’m talking about a system of taking damage and dying that bears any semblance to the real world.

    Read the rest of this piece…

    PlanetPhillip Note:
    I removed the rest of the piece and inserted a link to the archive page because I felt copying the whole piece without permission was wrong.)

  4. Luke L

    What I’d rather see is a game that changes its difficulty dependant upon your performance. For instance the game would see how easily you are dispatching enemies and perhaps increase the number of enemies, their health, damage etc accordingly. That way both an experienced player and a noob would be able to both feel like they’ve completed the game at a challenging, but overly so, difficulty.

  5. hydra9

    There are quite a few games that claim to have “adaptive” difficulty/AI, so that if you keep getting shot up, the game will become easier, but if you’re cruising through, it will become harder.

    Of course, I can’t actually remember any examples right now. But I know they exist!

  6. Of course, I can’t actually remember any examples right now. But I know they exist!

    Unreal Tournament definitely include it.

    I know that adaptive difficulty exists but the idea for the Random difficulty was to encourage more replayability.

    I personally like separate difficulty settings because it gives me some set standard to aim and beat.

    Imagine a pole vaulter who had no bar to aim for. He or she would run up pole and a laser would measure the lowest point of their body across the two uprights.

    We might see a record broken but with that bar they have something to aim for. For me, it’s the same with the settings.

  7. It is nice isn’t it? When you’ve thoroughly explored a game to be able to crank that slider up to 11 and get battered to Hull and back, just for sordid entertainment. People who play RPGs regularly have mixed views about the random nature of battles. I like it. If there was a “Random” FPS, some sort of mad abandoned defence complex (GunHed?), I would be interested.

  8. I forgot to mention how much I still love to play Doom, on UltraViolence, with the Super Shotgun.

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