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Customizable Difficulty Settings in Video Games

Forza motorsports 5 introduced me to the concept of customizable difficulty. I most likely have encountered it before, but it was Forza 5 that gave me such an extensive list of options. I’ve always had the opinion that gamers enjoy nothing more than to have options. A PC gamer expects a game to have graphics options coming out of its ass and around the block. Is it possible to also expect options that allow us to tailor our gaming experience?

The other day I landed on a YouTube video by ‘Bethesda’ youtuber, MrMattyPlays. He mentioned that Bethesda has stated that they make games for the hardcore gamer. Yet, ever since Morrowind, it can be argued that, they seem to have made strides to have their games be more accessible to a wider audience. Bethesda games also handles increased difficulty settings in a very simplistic way. Both Skyrim and Fallout 4 decreases or increases player damage taken and received by margins of .5 or .25 depending on the difficulty.


Fallout 4 introduced survival mode, although it’s more accurate to say that it was modified via patch after the game’s release. It gave us the standard damage dealt and taken difference, but also kept the increased chance for legendary enemy encounters, stimpacks heal over time, disabled quick save, and much more. But that last thing I mentioned kept me away from it for some time. A mod was created to remove that one feature, as not everyone has the time to die after progressing for an hour. Perhaps such a thing shouldn’t have been left up to a mod.

I am in no way a programmer, so I may be talking out of my ass, but could a clever individual make all these added difficulty modifiers, options that we can tick up or down? I’m not advocating that we do away with preset difficulty settings from say, easy to hard. But what if I wanted the survival experience sans certain settings, or what if I wanted the game to be even more challenging? Make every enemy I encounter be legendary, or make it so my enemies are better equipped, or make it so they don’t have unlimited ammunition, or all of the above? Maybe then things like this wouldn’t be possible. These are of course options that make the game harder or different for its own sake, but Forza 5 rewarded the player for ticking options up. I suspect certain games would be more difficult than others to include such options, let alone figure out a way to reward the player.


Borderlands is a game that I believe can benefit greatly from customizable difficulty settings. I’ve been playing Borderlands 2 lately and sometimes I would farm for better weapons. I play alone, but I use a neat little tool that tricks the game into believing that I’m playing online, with more players. The tool allows me to emulate a game of 2, 3, or 4 players. It makes the game more difficult, and I am rewarded with better loot drops. Borderlands would benefit significantly from the ability to gather friends into a server and decide together to tick some options up and tackle a boss. “Let’s see what this boss will drop if we give him a health regen, make his attacks add elemental damage, and have his ultimate attack always be a one-hit kill.”

Among the problems that could arise from options like these include compromising the creator’s vision of the game. In a world where video games are now also capable of telling highly compelling stories, it makes sense to also have the ability to allow people tick difficulty options down, progress faster and experience the story in the short amount of free time that many people are cursed with. But if we take a super mario game, would Shigeru Miyamoto really want to add an option that allows Mario to jump higher and further? Older games in particular relied heavily on supplying gamers with a challenge. I suppose that’s what cheat codes were really for back then.


But modern games don’t shy away from this. A game like Armored Core made winning or losing certain battles alter the story. Coincidentally, Dark Souls, another game by the same developer made dying a core aspect of its universe. But with the release of a new “difficult” game, stories keep developing of people beating the game using only a vibrator. It’s only a matter of time before someone finishes Nioh using a 1967 Volkswagen beetle. Perhaps when it comes to difficulty modifiers, certain games have nowhere else to go but up.

Rumor has it he can beat the first few bosses with nothing more than happy thoughts and a cucumber

I loved Deus Ex: Human Revolution, but the one thing it really needed was a difficulty setting beyond “Give me Deus Ex”, where health and energy regeneration was disabled. If that were the case, then it would have made sense to carry boxes full of candy bars around. Instead I could simply find a corner, hang out until one energy bar fills up, throw a brick against the wall, and knock out the poor bastard who walks over to investigate. I repeat this process until I can build an Illuminati pyramid out of unconscious bodies.


Could/should AI manipulation be a thing in more games? Real time strategy games regularly come with options to make CPU factions be more defensive or aggressive. But again, that’s in an RTS. I suspect implementing such a thing in a first person shooter would be more complicated.

I’ll tell you what I know: I wish that the original Deus Ex gave me the ability to fight my way out of New York, instead of always having to be caught by Unatco one way or another. I also know that I played a lot of Batman Arkham City challenge mode, and regularly chose the options to remove the enemy counter sign and make the enemies faster, hit harder and have more health. What do you think humble reader? Let me know in the comments what you think. I believe this is something worth discussing.


TL;DR - Too Long, Didn’t/Can’t Read? Now in video with some extra content:

Papito Qinn is the winner of the 2016 SpookTAYcular Scary Story Contest, and is a twitter incompetent, social media in general seem to scare and confuse him.

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