Thursday, November 21, 2013

The upside down difficulty curve















Wayforeward has done a lot to give the Ducktales remake a more modern feel but one quirky old school element remains, the upside down difficulty curve. This is a phenomena found in a number of NES games, designed in a more experimental age when the "rules" of video gaming were not yet set in stone. The most typical example of this backwards approach to difficulty is Kid Icarus, a game that starts out punishingly difficult and then gets gradually easier. Ducktales is much the same even if it doesn't start out at the same extreme level of difficulty, it is still a game that can be very challenging early on and then just gets easier. This quirky design choice is a direct result of the game's open ended nature, since you can tackle its stages in any order, by necessity no one stage is much more challenging than another. Add to this that each stage has a chest containing an additional heart container and you will understand why the game gets progressively easier.

In this aspect it is similar to Capcom's other big 8-bit franchise Mega Man. In which the player can chose the order he wishes to take on the robot masters and since defeating them grants Mega Man additional powers he gets progressively more powerful. Yet the lessening difficulty is not as pronounced in Mega Man as in Ducktales since it is Mega Man's array of weapons and not the health meter that grows, also Mega Man games always have a series of Dr Wiley stages after the robot master so it is not equally open ended. Still it seems a safe assumption that the inspiration for letting the player choose which order he wants to tackle the games stages in Ducktales came from Capcom's most successful series.

14 comments:

Edward said...

I was just thinking about this phenomenon a couple of weeks ago, but couldn't name it properly. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, "upside down difficulty curve" sounds nice enough.

I've never played Ducktales myself, but I've always thought of the UDDC as a design flaw. More health should come with tougher enemies!

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