The best things (at least I feel) that I've made for DT3 have always come after I have internal battles with myself about it or a big decision regarding it. I've typically found the harder decision to make to be the better one. I don't mean in terms of hard to execute, but something that has potential to be controversial. To go more in-depth with that word, I don't mean culturally or socially controversial, but simply within the game itself. (Though it does dive into a few harsh things from time to time, unlike its predecessors.)
The end of the game, not the ending itself, but the entirety of the final sequences has been a fight for me since the project began. There has always been a specific way that I've wanted to end the trilogy. Both in gameplay and story. Now that I've been actually making these final bits and I see that original plan going through, I'll be honest and say I'm super happy with keeping with my first thoughts. There's been many times the past few years that I've thought to end the game another way because another idea would be more what's expected and better received. DT3's development has been more mindful of the end user than DT1 ever was, and that's not bad at all. But when it came to big decisions, and deciding to go with what could be better received, I preferred to go with my way.
While DT1 is super flawed in many respects, doing things my way worked out pretty well for the game in a lot of ways. Some of its more odd decisions had some of the best responses. That's not in itself a justification for it. I've found that if I'm happy with it, regardless of how it's received, I like it.
Something I did give in on, was including easy mode into DT3. And almost immediately after, I thought, 'I should disable easy mode for the Nightmare levels.' I've fought with that idea. Even some of the testers mentioned that could be a thing. I don't think the conversation itself needs to be cited, but I did turn it down, despite already thinking I should do that anyway to preserve what I initially had. Easy mode isn't something I really wanted to include in the game, however it is staying and I understand its utility. That said, it is going to be off-limits for the Nightmare gates in the final version, including what they lead up to.
In the decisions for the game when I was conflicted, nearly all of them came down to how I felt about it and no other metric. I made DT1 for fun and to be this thing that was mine, I've always felt my best stuff is when I go with that. The game is, in the end, something I want to make and nothing else.
I'd like to make a note that this isn't against my testers or critique/feedback from them. That's a whole separate thing from what this post is going on about. They've provided a countless amount of help. There's a TON of little things, nagging things that would annoy the player, that if the testers weren't around, would still be there. And in some cases, big things that have impacted the game in a huge way have come from them.
I don't know about disabling Easy Mode for the Nightmare Gates. They're pretty challenging the way they are, but for players that prefer casual play in Easy, it's going to be even more difficult for them to adapt to the challenges in those gates. That means you're essentially shutting them out altogether from Nightmare Gates.
I expect that there will be players that would like to stay in Easy Mode instead of switching to it once in a while at hard parts. To them Easy isn't a cheat, but a valid difficulty setting. Since this game is intended to be pretty hard while also more accessible to a wider group of players, it is a good idea to have at least two modes of difficulty.
Games that are too easy stop being games and start being toys. See Tic-tac-toe. As long as people remain unchallenged, they will not learn or develop willpower.
That's... a really unfair comparison. Easy still has the same challenges, just with a more generous cushion in damage, and less rewards for it. My point is that Easy Mode is a legitimate option and there's no shame in the game having it, given what it's trying to be, an improved sequel to the predecessors and therefore more appealing to the players.
This isn't a recommendation or suggestion to do it this way, just wanted to bring it up...
I really liked how the Kingdom Hearts games handled difficulty settings. Each game has a secret movie that you can unlock that provides hints and teasers about plot details for the next game that will be released.
If you play in easy mode, you either will not be able to unlock the movie, or you will have to get a full 100% completion, including some minigames or side-bosses that are still insanely difficult to where if you can beat it in easy mode, you're ready to skip normal mode and go straight to hard.
Playing in normal mode gives you a bit more leeway on what you want to do. You still have to do a lot of the side-quests, hidden bosses, and minigames, but you're allowed to skip the most difficult ones, so you have a bit of an easier time unlocking the hidden movie.
Playing in hard mode gives you much more leeway, to where you only have to do something like complete all of the levels including the optional ones (in the original game, there were two levels that you could choose to do one or the other and finish the game). After doing so, you were free to watch the secret movie.
Finally, if you were to play Critical Mode, which was so far beyond difficult that KH2 would give you something like twenty free ability upgrades and fifty free points to spend on them at the start of the game, and would still be far more difficult than the previous setting, you only had to beat the final boss to get the hidden movie.
Basically, you could choose to play the game at an easier difficulty, but you were going to have to put some serious work into unlocking the last of the plot stuff compared to busting your ass to beat the more difficult modes.
Easy mode won't even be available right away in the final version. It unlocks once the player has spent a certain amount of time dying repeatedly on the same visit to the same map, at which point its intended utility is presumably explained in some way. Even a "casual" player will have to make some genuine effort first to even reach this discovery.
It's designed to be a tool to reduce frustration and to ease practice, to beat something on normal mode so that you can get rewarded for it, or to forgo in-game rewards temporarily to get past a section that would normally cause you to get stuck. It is by no means a "mode" that one should just "settle in" to, and aside from halving damage taken, none of the challenge is watered down in the slightest. You're heavily encouraged to conquer the game's challenges for real, as doing it on easy mode results in no money drops from enemies (no, this does not increase heart drops), and no experience from boss fights. This means that you only get money from chests, and only get experience from enemies (which is halved).
The reason easy mode is in the game is not to make the game as a whole "easy" for "casual" players. DT has its audience and we gain nothing by watering down its appeal to its niche for a wider audience when the game isn't about making a profit. Easy mode is in the game because sometimes DT3's challenges can leave an initially overwhelming impression, to the point that it might make someone want to give up on the game. Even I've felt that at a few different points. The Gate 3 boss was the event that prompted discussion of putting an easy setting into the game, though it was neither the first nor the last time I felt it. It's not something we want. But with regard to the nightmare gates, we want the player to have that overwhelming feeling, and having an easy mode just gets in the way of that effect.
It's not uncommon for retro games to force the player to replay on hard mode for some extra stuff. But this game doesn't need a harder difficulty, and it's a bit too long to demand a second playthrough for something like that. Having the player do the nightmare gates, which are required for said extra stuff, on the harder of the two settings, rather than having to play the whole game that way, is much more reasonable to ask, especially when the kind of player who would already put in the extra effort to play an extra-hard optional level probably won't mind being asked to play a handful of maps without easy mode as a crutch.
On the contrary, the players used to Easy Mode would get the impression that those optional levels are impossible for them, because the rise in difficulty is too high. The reward should be decided by whether you decide to pursue the challenges in the first place, not require them to play it in the harder setting. Keep in mind, the gates have been presented as less "optional" than before since their rebranding as Nightmare Gates.
I would say this should depend on what you gain for beating them all. I suppose I wouldn't mind if the outcome is normal without the gates, so it still feels like you at least beat the game, if you know what I mean. But if the outcome of skipping them is actually bad, then players would not feel satisfied even if they clear the main game. They would no longer think the optional gates are optional, and it's too hard for them.
Why is it such a bad thing if not every person clears every video game? Is everyone a special snowflake who is never allowed to fail at anything? Should every video game be tailored to exist for everyone, even games that are made for reasons other than selling as many copies as possible?
You're exaggerating things. All I'm arguing is that having the somewhat optional levels be fixed to hardest difficulty can be counterproductive.
True though keep in mind that a player can come back with more hearts if he thinks he cannot clear a Nightmare Gate. He can do it with more life. That could help against the bosses in particular.
The only thing they might really struggle at is the Gate G boss that you recently beat but I think one hard boss wouldn't justify a decision like that.
That was the intent with allowing players to bring additional hearts into the Nightmare Gates to begin with. (Not with easy mode in mind.) With each one getting progressively harder due to it being a later level and with less of the above to be allowed for padding. And yeah, the Gate G boss is really the only one of the Nightmare levels that wouldn't allow for such padding.
There's a lot of penalties to hopefully have players avoid using easy mode for most things and really only use it if they feel they really have to. I've been close to just removing it entirely at some points, but I do feel it's perfectly fine for the main game. To me, it makes the Nightmare Gates stand out that much more when they're confined to the standard difficulty. Most players probably won't even have easy mode unlocked until about Gate 3. (Unless they attempt Nightmare Gate A and die a bunch to the second map, which easy mode can't even help.) :P
Unlocking it will come with an explanation of what it does.
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