The keys to making a highly challenging game that’s still fun to play
For most game designers, homing in on the right degree of difficulty is akin to discovering the Holy Grail. Make a game too easy, and players breeze through its forgettable challenges with little sense of accomplishment. Make it too difficult, and players may quit out of frustration or feel too intimidated to pick up the controller in the first place. Finding the right balance is an art form in its own right, and for most modern games, the perfect difficulty setting blends seamlessly into the background as players steadily and successfully fight their way to victory.
Not every designer follows this playbook, however. Over the years, a growing number of games have opted for the punishing difficulty old-school games used to dole out with impunity, and a particular segment of players have embraced these demanding titles with open arms. From the tortuous locales and towering bosses of the Dark Souls series to the deadly labyrinths of Super Meat Boy, we spoke with a number of modern-day difficulty masters to find out how they maintain the player’s enjoyment while still plying them with sinister challenges.