Difficulty Levels

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Some games allow the player to select the degree of challenge he or she wishes to face while playing the game. This is generally called the difficulty level. The difficulty levels that can be chosen are usually described using words such as: easy, normal, hard, novice, expert. Difficulty levels are expected to be monotonically increasing. In other words, the difficulty levels can be ranked in order of increasing challenge.

Different games take different approaches to regulating the level of challenge that the player faces. These can usually take two forms, limiting the resources available to the player or increasing the challenges the player must face. For example, increasing the number of enemy entities on screen would increase the difficulty.


Strong Examples

Street Fighter III: Third Strike

In Street Fighter III, the player can adjust the difficulty of the single player "arcade" mode by sliding a "Diffuculty" setting from within the options menu. Fewer stars in the bar signals an easier mode, while more stars indicate a more difficult one. It should be noted that SF III gets exponentially more difficult as the slider moves up. The first level is hard, the second is harder, and the third is impossible. It has about thirty beyond this.


Tetris features the typical selection of difficulty levels before the player even begins the game. But difficulty also increases within each selected difficulty level. Regardless of the level, the player still faces increasing difficulty within that level. As the player continues to play, the game will speed up the rate at which the blocks fall as the player completes each numerical level. This maintains the challenge of the game and keeps players on their toes.

Guitar Hero

In Guitar Hero you are given the option of choosing between four difficulties. You can play the game through on Easy, Medium, Hard, and Expert. Based on your choice you will have a different amount of notes and a different amount of frets you have to play. Within each game difficulty, songs will still become progressively more difficult but comparing one song on all the settings it is clear what the difference in difficulty is.

Resident Evil 2

In Resident Evil 2 there are at least two difficulty levels. Initially there was just an easy and hard, but with the later version an easier Rookie mode was added. In this mode you could get a rocket launcher with infinite ammmo from the start of the game. There are distinct differences in difficulty in the different levels.

Gears of War

In Gears of War for the XBox 360, the player can choose at the beginning of any game session. The difficulties from easiest to hardest are Casual, Hardcore, and Insane. As the difficulty is increased, the enemies are tougher to kill and the player dies faster.

Madden 2007

In Madden 2007 there are four different difficutly settings, Rookie, Pro, All-Pro, and All-Madden. Each difficulty is significantly harder than the previous one, with All-Madden being the hardest. Although all the difficulty settings are progressively harder than the previous one, the difference between All-Pro and All-Madden is very noticeable. It is much faster and it is much harder to run the ball, read pass coverage, and even play defense. The difficulty settings make it easier for people who are not as good as others and it makes the game more enjoyabke for them becasue the game is not too hard fro their skill level.

Marathon Infinity

Difficulty levels range from Kindergarten to Total Carnage. Changing the level changes what class of enemy the player will enconter during play. The enemy will be the sametype with the same basic abilities, but there color will change, how much damage they give and recieve, and how accurate and frequent their projectile attacks are. The most difficult enemies often have heat sinking projectiles, and the easiest enemies only have melee attack. The difficulty of puzzels in the game stays incredibly difficult no matter what level is set.

God of War

God of War provides the player with the option to choose what level of difficulty the game play will have. The game has the option to choose from mortal, hero, Spartan, and god difficulties listed in order from easiest to hardest (with the god difficulty only being an option when the player beats the game on one of the three other difficulties).

Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth

Valkyrie Profile Lenneth allows you to choose a difficulty between Easy, Normal, and Hard. The difficulty changes the values of many aspects in the game such as, amount of exp, amount of characters, number of dungeons, possible endings, and so on.

Weak Examples

Super Smash Bros. Melee

In smash bros. you can choose the difficulty in either the classic, adventure or all-star mode. The difficulties range from very easy to very hard. The reason this is a weak example is because the difficulty change only effects the AI and not the level itself. When you turn the difficulty to very easy the cpu controlled characters basically just walk up and let you hit them, but the level doesn't change and the number of cpu characters stays the same.

Nexus TK: the Kingdom of the Winds

Nexus TK, The Kingdom of the Winds is a poor example of a game with settable Difficulty Levels. Provided by Kru Games, Nexus TK is an MMORPG, and thus does not have actual settable levels of difficulty that the player can access. What it does provide however, for the player, is a wide variety of areas that the player can engage enemies in. This provides the player with a choice of easy or hard caves, caves with high numbers of easy to kill monsters or low numbers of harder to kill (and more experience giving) monsters, but does not provide the player with settable difficulty levels per se.

Shadow of the Colossus

This game features different difficulty levels. However, these (hard and time-attack) only become available once you completed the game once. Since the difficulty levels aren't immediately available, we consider this a weak example.


This is a weak example of difficulty levels because they are so limited. The game world is enormous but there are only a select few zones, maybe 20/400, where a player can select or Normal or Hard mode for a dungeon.