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Stuff About DT, Finally

The DT trilogy isn't easy as we've all seen; The difficulty is one of its notable aspects. It's planned to have the finale be the hardest over all, though I hope for the right reasons. That aside, an interesting topic came up about things like the Death encounter in DT3. Based on fan input, it has been very well recieved, which I'm super happy about. It's the highlight of the DT3 demo. (To me anyway.) It's been said by pretty much everyone that the only way to get through that boss fight is through skill and practice, there really is no substitute. This is what I was going for. There has been one critique on the fight though, but it isn't about the execution, it's about what to do when you have a player that simply can't keep up with the precision it asks for. NegativeZero said one of the great things about DT1 is it had ways of getting these players through the game. The system and mechanics were more open to experimentation. There was the easy mode that was a good fallback if someone needed. Healing (while lame in my opinion :P) was an option mid bossfight. There were many other indirect ways in DT1 of getting around obstacles that DT3 does not allow.

It wasn't to say that DT3 was bad for this, nor was it that DT3 was limiting. However, DT3 was designed to be more focused than the first, and it does give the player less options in that regard. The discussion was leading to things that could be put into DT3 to assist with moments like the Death encounter that could be a major roadblock.

Jerry's day is about to suck.

And look what's back in the sand. No worries, your retribution will come... eventually.

Talking to Fans
I'm still trying to get the hang of this. I used to think it would be good to be transparent to the players, but I've found the more I talk with people, the better they respond to the game as well.

I found this talk to be really awesome and interesting. Not in how she makes money, but in how she interacts with her fans. It's really neat.

Side Bar
On the garbage section, 'Music Credits' has been added that takes you to the music credits list for all three games. These will continue to be updated.


WhattayaBrian said...

One suggestion that's fairly "clean" is to have difficulty settings that only effect checkpoints, similar to I Wanna Be The Guy. The default difficulty would be as it is now: zoning- and save point-based checkpoints. Easy difficulty would introduce more mid-area checkpoints.

One of the things I didn't like about the Death encounter is that there was the mid-boss checkpoint. When I first beat him, it didn't feel like I'd really beaten the encounter. However, that sort of checkpoint would make perfect sense in the aforementioned Easy difficulty.

This I feel is the best compromise for difficulty while simultaneously being the least amount of work to implement. All players get to overcome the same challenges, and no one is playing a "dumbed down" version. For example, I beat IWBTG on Very Easy, and I wore my bow proudly. I made all the same jumps and shots that everyone else had to make.

Also boss refight mode plx.

NegativeZeroZ said...

Unless plans have changed, there will be a place on the overworld to refight bosses, which will unlock as the game progresses. Time attack may or may not be a thing. I won't speak for Zeph on that one.

My "critique" isn't so much to do with Death, but he is pretty much the defining non-spoiler example of DT3's difficulty. With DT3 shaping up to be the best in the trilogy, it would be disappointing for people to miss out on it due to the lack of cheese options for the inexperienced players. When I say this, I don't mean the game should be "dumbed down" for the "bad" or "casual" gamers, I mean it should offer options for the competent ones who are just playing the game blind. The harder parts of DT3, I find, are sometimes outright hostile to new players, way more so than its predecessors. Others have mentioned this, but the game's expectations of what its player is supposed to do aren't always apparent.

ZephyrBurst said...

Zero says it way better than I do. Thanks for clearing that up. That's one of those things I'm saving for the end. Once it's all said and done, I'll take another look at it all and figure out how the game can be more accessible. (And yes, boss refights are in the plan. Everyone really wants time attack. That's really easy to implement so there's a fairly high chance that'll be in as well.)

For the mid-boss checkpoint on Death. There's no way I'd have anyone redo the first portion of that encounter. The first part is really what the fight is all about. When the player overcomes that, it doesn't need to be done again. If you've beaten the first part, consider the fight yours.

ano0maly said...

I think I'm going to disagree on the difficulty setting purely on checkpoints.

Playing around with checkpoints, in a way "player's mental lifeline", can easily become fake difficulty. This is a criticism that I see many times in romhack-evaluating communities, as well as a game called An Untitled Story. When we see certain hard romhacks get reviewed or let's played, I've heard several times (and even said so myself) feedback of the type "If only this level had a proper checkpoint at a proper place, it would be fun instead of frustrating." A single well-placed checkpoint can be the make-or-break difference.

Now it also depends on the level and game design. Sometimes it's just a convenience, making things a bit less tedious. It's because the player can sustain a marathon. But other times, the level is designed so that the player has just enough to reach the checkpoint, and taking it away is a disservice. In that case, having a place to rest and save the hard work is like finding an oasis, and taking that away really hurts the quality of the level. Overall, in a game like this where there's variation in gameplay, it wouldn't be a good idea to have a global effect of less checkpoints.

Since this game is more combat-oriented, I prefer having stat-based changes, kind of like in DT1. But I sometimes find limited creativity in seeing pure hard mode that is only a disadvantage. Maybe it can be a mode where you get some benefits for higher difficulty. Like doing more damage for taking more damage.

Kurtis Haren said...

Have you seen the Final Mix versions of the Kingdom Hearts games? They did something really interesting with the difficulty. It added a "Critical Mode" where the player had half HP and severely reduced stats. All the enemies and bosses moved faster, hit harder, and were made much more difficult to defeat.

However, to keep things fair, the developers gave the player some extra things in their favor. The player was given about 50 free Ability Points as well as a rather large assortment of abilities to distribute them to. (The player is able to turn abilities back off and re-gain those points to activate other abilities at will, and customize their character for each moment) It made things MUCH more difficult for the player, but gave them many more tools to adapt to the difficulty and complete the game. Even further, one of those abilities they were given was a free one called "No Experience" which, needless to say, made them gain absolutely no experience points so they couldn't level up and gain stats and new skills and forced them to play entirely using the default stats and whatever storyline-based skills they earned through the game. (There was a damage floor set so they were guaranteed to deal damage to enemies when hitting them)

Doing something like that could help. Have an Easy Mode that gives the player more things like mid-battle healing and the ability to save at the entrance to each room (unless it would cause an impossible situation in some way), a Normal Mode that plays like the game does now, and a Hard Mode that makes things more difficult for the player but gives them new skills to use to help with the challenges. For instance, enemies deal much more damage, but dodging moves grant a couple additional invincibility frames. Meanwhile, Easy Mode would have slight tweaks like having bottomless pits deal a hit's worth of damage and placing the player back on the ledge they were at before falling to try again. I recently played an old Genesis game called "Dynamite Headdy" for the first time, and it had bottomless pits deal a small amount of damage and launch the player back upwards so they could try and land back at a safe location. Maybe you could do the same so that they could reach some power-ups or items through the launching effect while harder difficulties force the player to use a more difficult alternative method to reach said item/upgrade.

WhattayaBrian said...

"There's no way I'd have anyone redo the first portion of that encounter."

And yet we have Extra Gate B's boss? It's optional, but that little "fuck you" was way more frustrating for me. It's probably equal parts "I'm bad at bombs" and "the lasers were bugged", but still.

"Playing around with checkpoints, in a way "player's mental lifeline", can easily become fake difficulty. This is a criticism that I see many times in romhack-evaluating communities, as well as a game called An Untitled Story."

AUS is sort of a weird case because it (to my knowledge) only changed two save points out of the entire game, removing one in the Deep Dive and one in Black Castle on harder difficulties. This always struck me as odd.

I think your point has games for which it is valid, but I don't think DT3 is one of those games. To summarize my opinions:

DT1 is a game of attrition.
DT3 is a game of perfection.

DT1 is about playing skillfully enough that your HP doesn't hit 0 before the enemy's does. No-Damage is certainly possible for some parts, but it's not really "designed" for that. You've got healing spells and a vamp accessory, and playing skillfully will generally cause you to take *minimal* damage, but not *no* damage.

In this fashion, stat-based difficulty makes perfect sense, since it directly influences the speed of HP loss, both for you and your enemy.

In DT3, you have far less health, relative to the amount of damage you receive from enemies and traps. You generally don't get 4-shot in DT1, even on Distorted difficulty, but that's entirely par for the course in DT3. But this is fine because everything feels designed much more *deliberately* and *knowably*, where perfect play isn't only in the realm of TASes, but can be achieved by a sufficiently skilled human. I've generally found that if I don't "get" an area (my perfect example is the rock-fall segment after you complete the mountain palace place), I will just keep getting hit in the same way and die. A combination of a short invulnerability window and the classic knock back mechanic make "powering through" simply not an option, whether I had 6 hearts or 12. I need to take a step back and "figure out" the area/boss.

If we talk in terms of "costs", then, for me, the cost for me as a player playing DT1 was about 20% analysis and 80% execution. For DT3, it's closer to an even split between the two, perhaps with analysis even taking the majority.

This is why I think checkpoint changes worked for IWBTG. There weren't many platforming challenges that were significantly difficult in that game, once you knew what you were supposed to do.

tl;dr DT3 is a thinkin' man's game

ano0maly said...

I'd say that Extra B boss was not as well designed as Death, but also not as hard or stressful. Then again, a checkpoint when the "second form" appears could definitely help.

I agree with Zephyr: I really didn't want to redo the first fight immediately after I cleared it, and I don't wish that on other players, either. As simple as Death's second phase is, at that point you're mentally drained, and not in a position to adapt to a completely new phase and play properly. You really need a mental reprieve, as well as the minimum health/ammo from restarting. Generally if you beat a tough boss like that, you earn the opportunity to save your progress. Now if the difficulty goes up in a second phase, it's workable, as long as the first phase is not so tedious that it feels like a waste of time.

Regarding your other point, I still felt that I had to rely on survival rather than being able to sustain a perfection. Not an attrition like in DT1 but rather a speed approach like in Shroud Lord. It was finishing off bosses quickly before they can finish you. I know I couldn't keep it up if the fight was too long.

And actually, now that I think about it, most of DT3 allows anytime save, so checkpoints only come into play in long rooms or a challenge sequence.

@Kurtis Haren

I don't know much about Kingdom Hearts, but the analogous concept in DT3 would probably the AP upgrades or items? That should be handled carefully because some of those upgrades give you better defense or recovery, largely negating the difficulty.

I was basically thinking of a more aggressive playing style. Like the Death Ring from Order of Ecclesia, though not that extreme. Other examples I know of doing this are Proto Form from Megaman Zero 2, or Great Force from Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga.

Of course, that's just one way to have a trade-off. There could be other ways.

WhattayaBrian said...

@Kurtis Haren

I think I've done...3 L1CM runs of KH2 at this point? My current run is No Allies, No Summons, No Items, No Drives, which is incredibly difficult--I highly recommend it. The hardest part of the non-optional part of the game is, without a doubt, the flaming building segment of Timeless River; having no allies there is

Anyway, it should come as no surprise that I'm a huge fan of KH2FM. However, I'm personally not a huge fan of dividing difficulties in that way. Being able to do more as some sort of payoff or compensation for playing on a higher difficulty just makes the lower difficulties feel bad. For me, there are only two options for KH2 runs: L1CM and Any Level CM, because CM gives me the most horizontal bandwidth. (Look up "horizontal game progression" if you are unsure of what that means.)

If a mechanic is fun, it should be in every difficulty; if a mechanic is not fun, it should be in no difficulties.



To put it another way...

There are some bosses in DT1 for which the best strategy is to stand inside of them and take damage while doing much more damage to them. Spire Guardian, Data Collector, Mecha Guardian, Fourth Wall Crusher, etc.

YMMV, but for me there exists no such boss in DT3.

In this sense, succeeded against DT3 bosses will always have me trending toward perfection. For DT1 this is not the case (where perfection is loosely defined as being able to avoid damage for an indeterminate amount of time, against all various forms of the boss etc etc).

Shade said...

I haven't played the DT3 demo so far because I don't want to spoil myself until I can experience the full game, but I feel like adding my two cents on the difficulty thing.

In my opinion, a good way to "reward" the player for choosing a higher difficulty is to give them new content (that makes the game harder). Not whole new levels or anything, but little extras. For example, a boss that may not be a problem in Normal difficulty may gain an extra attack in Hard difficulty that makes it much more difficult to deal with.
Basically, add a few bits that make the game actually feel a little different, not just harder.

In case anyone has played it, the original Castlevania 64's Hard Mode, while it was a very rough and somewhat unfinished game, did a very fine job at this, I feel. Not only does it (over)do the obligatory damage increase (to the point where many bosses and even normal enemies that are hardly a threat on Normal will kill you in a mere one or two hits on Hard), it also replaces many healing items and subweapons with gold (which could be considered a score of some sort if you don't use it to buy healing items instead), shuffles enemies and items around, adds additional obstacles and enemies, messes around with savepoints (some are just moved, some are added, some are removed completely) and changes the behaviour of some enemies and bosses, generally making them more aggressive and more threatening.
Ah, good times... Sure, some of those changes were pretty frustrating (the magical nitro segment in Stage 5 was absolute hell), but I pulled through, and finally kicking Dracula's ass and beating the game felt so damn good.

In the same way, Easy Mode should not outright remove content, but spare the player from some of the more threatening obstacles and make enemies' weak spots a bit more accessible. Lowering the enemies' stats won't help a player that keeps falling into pits, for example. A player that has trouble with the game will most likely not only need weaker enemies, but less obstacles in general, more leeway in how to do things and solve puzzles and less ways to die instantly. (That suggestion about making pits just do damage on Easy instead of instantly killing the player is a very fine idea, by the way!)
For boss fights in particular, another way to make them easier without outright removing anything is changing up their pattern. Make them more likely to do something that isn't very threatening and is easy to avoid, so that they'll not do the more dangerous attacks as often. This way Easy Mode players will still get to see all the impressive attacks the boss has to show, they'll just see the easier attacks more often. In Hard Mode, do the opposite, obviously~ any case, what I'm trying to say is, difficulty should not just affects stats or checkpoints. Change up everything a bit!