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Old April 16, 2012, 23:15   #21
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Thinking about likelihood of death as a function of depth reminds me of Super Meat Boy. If you haven't played it, it's a platforming game with very short levels; typically you could think of a level having at most 10 obstacles that would need to be dodged/navigated past/ridden/etc. It's a very long level that takes even 30 seconds to beat. It's also a very hard game, though, so your actual time spent trying to beat each level is significantly longer. Moreover, when you beat a level, you get a replay that shows all of your attempts playing out simultaneously, which gives you a good idea of where most of your corpses ended up.

So I found myself thinking "Okay, my odds of passing obstacle 1 are 90% now, but my odds of passing obstacle 2 are only 50% (it's really tricky). Having passed #2, I'd say my odds of making it to the obstacle that consistently kills me are probably 66%. So how hard should that obstacle be to be fair?" Of course the numbers here are made up, but they aren't that unrealistic, and the upshot is that I'd have only a .15% chance of making it to the part that's actually still "giving me trouble" and thus presents the most interesting challenge. Most of my time on any given level is thus spent replaying sections that I'd already "solved". Fortunately the replaying was brief because the levels as a whole were brief.

Sil may be much shorter and harder than Angband, but it nonetheless has a much bigger time commitment and lower instantaneous challenge level than one level of Super Meat Boy does (of course, the type of challenge is also completely different). But I think a similar thought process applies here.

1) The difficulty of beating the game can be roughly described as the product of the difficulty of passing each section.
2) Any given experienced player will have far more practice passing the early sections than the late ones, because the early ones must be passed before the late ones can be attempted. They won't have a 100% success rate but their rate will be much higher than that of a newbie.
3) Interest in a game depends roughly on challenge and novelty. You need a minimum level of challenge to keep the player from zoning out; a minimum level of novelty to keep them from getting bored.
4) The early game will eventually become low on challenge (due to practice); the late game inherently has strong novelty (because the player sees it less often).
5) Ramping up the early difficulty to keep veterans interested early on risks alienating newbies (though you may not care). Ramping up the late game difficulty serves relatively little point so long as a base level of challenge is maintained to keep the player interested.
6) Adding novelty requires significant dev effort.

I don't have any answers for you (I'm avoiding playing Sil for now because I don't want to get distracted from other things), but I thought perhaps this perspective would be interesting. Vanilla of course "solves" the early game issue by making it flyover territory -- an experienced player can basically skip it while freefalling through the dungeon. This does kind of work, but it's not without flaws. Meanwhile, the lategame isn't a walk in the park, but it's also typically not as prone to wild swings as the early game is -- the player has multiple contingencies and far more control of the situation in the late game than they do in the early game. Again, mostly works, not without flaws.
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