Difficulty level

Difficulty level

In general usage, difficulty level refers to the relative difficulty of completing a task or objective.

In computer and video games, the term specifically delineates the ease or difficulty with which an average user may complete a game or a part of a game. Arcade games as well as many early console games included the difficulty level as an explicit setting. For example, games such as Tempest would prompt their users to choose "easy", "medium", "hard", or similar options before beginning play. Some games, however, maintain the former practice to a degree—often harder versions of the game can be unlocked after the player has completed the game once or fulfilled certain criteria.

The difficulty level controls various conditions in games; these conditions include the aggressiveness of AI characters, the amount of health the playable character has and the amount of weapons, power-ups, and other items provided to the player(s). A common puzzle game feature is to progressively increase the game difficulty as the user reaches higher levels.



An early example of difficulty levels was Taito's 1974 arcade racing video game Speed Race. It gave the player an option between two different difficulty levels: "Beginner's race" and "Advanced player's race".[1]

The Atari 2600 controlled difficulty levels using two switches directly on the console itself; there was one for each player, with two possible settings.[2] However, modern systems usually implement difficulty levels in the game's software, such as in a configuration screen where the player may also change other game settings.


The most common terms for level of difficulty are easy, normal (also seen as medium) and hard. It is common for game developers to invent their own names that extend or replace the standard difficulty nomenclature. Quake, for example, uses a "nightmare" level (accessible only through the use of a hidden portal) that is more difficult than the hard level.[3] In Halo the difficulty levels are called easy, normal, heroic, and legendary. The legendary difficulty level has been called "suicide" by the game's developers.[citation needed] Duke Nukem completely invented its own difficulty levels based upon Duke's common phrases such as: "piece of cake", "let's rock", "come get some," and "damn I'm good." The Devil May Cry series uses a combination of the two. The three difficulty modes are Normal, Hard, and the hardest difficulty, "Dante Must Die!". The third game in the series, Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening, has an additional one called "Heaven and Hell", where each and every inhabitant of the game can be killed in a single attack - including Dante. Most Metal Gear Solid games use the levels of "extreme" which have higher difficulty levels than hard mode, harder still is the "European Extreme" difficulty level (which is present in the European Versions of MGS2 and MGS3), where being seen results in a game over. WWE games have a "Legend" difficulty that's more difficult than "Hard", a reference to their "WWE Legends" branding of older, established stars.

Difficulty level by genre

There are other changes that are affected by the difficulty level chosen from genre to genre.

First and third-person shooters

In some first-person shooters (FPS) and general action games, the enemy characters aim more accurately and deal more damage. Some FPS games, such as GoldenEye 007 or Perfect Dark, require extra objectives to be completed on harder difficulty levels. In older games such as Wolfenstein 3D, each difficulty level added a number of new guards. More recently, Max Payne added a "New York Minute" mode, where the player has to complete levels against a time limit, where killing enemies extends the time available, and the game ends if the timer reaches zero. For side scrolling shooters such as Metal Slug, enemies may take more damage before dying.

Sports games

In sports games computer-controlled players are stronger, faster, and more accurate in harder levels. In some games the difference between beginner/easy and medium levels can be dramatic. FIFA 99, for instance, allowed players to beat the computer by unrealistically high numbers in easy, while games played in normal were much harder. There is also an inherent alternative way of increasing the difficulty level, which is playing with worse teams, which was the only way to change the difficulty level in earlier EA Sports games and in MicroProse' Grand Prix Manager series. Also, sliders can make games even easier, ultimately making it possible to reach a game set scoring limit, like "255" in football and baseball games. Such settings are called "AI Settings" in some Madden NFL games, "Gameplay Settings" in NBA Live, "Game Sliders" in NBA 2K, and "Gameplay Tuning" in the old MVP Baseball series.

Racing games

In racing games the main difference lies in the opponents' speed, but other settings can be changed, such as driving aids (usually braking and steering), player and opponent damage, or the length of the race. A common device in arcade racing games is to increase the "rubber band effect", where AI players are artificially allowed to catch up regardless of how fast the player goes. Arcade games based on time limited checkpoints decrease the time allowed for a player to clear each one, and usually no other setting (such as opponent speed) is changed.

Strategy games

In strategy games the difference often lies on the amount of ungathered resources the computer spends and its aggression level. On easier levels the computer players are less aggressive on researching upgrades and improvements and their attack parties are composed of few units. As difficulty goes up, however, so does researching and unit creation speed. Business-based strategy games, such as Transport Tycoon, typically change the profitability of human and computer-controlled characters, so on harder difficulty levels human players have less of an advantage compared to computer-controlled ones.

Fighting games

Generally, the computer at harder difficulties blocks more, reacts quicker, adapts quicker to cheap or repetitive tactics, and executes more complex combos. In some cases, the computer controlled player may have advantages such as increased hit points, a faster fill rate of a super combo gauge (for Capcom and SNK based fighting games), or some other advantages.

Level specific events

In some games the player is rewarded for beating the game on higher levels. Some common rewards are special cut scenes, unlocked maps or higher difficulty levels. Such games include Gears of War, Uncharted, Halo, and Metroid Prime, among others. Similarly, kart racing games—Mario Kart: Double Dash!! being one—often offer mirrored versions of the game's tracks to players who clear all of the regular courses. Others, such as Streets Of Rage 3 have an ending for each difficulty level. The "good" ending is only presented in the hardest setting. Another example is when someone completes "Earthworm Jim" on the easiest difficulty, the player would get a segment where Doug TenNapel would criticize the player for finishing on the lowest difficulty, then say various facts about worms.

There have been games that prevent players from completing the game in the easy setting. Castlevania for the Nintendo 64 gives easy-mode players a game over message after finishing the fifth level, requiring them to restart with an increased difficulty level. Twisted Metal 2 is the same, unceremoniously ending after the first boss in easy mode by showing a stop sign with the words "no losers allowed beyond this point." And in Alien Hominid, it's not possible play past the first few levels on very easy setting. Double Dragon II is the same as some of the games listed above. On the easiest difficulty settings, only the first two levels are playable and with each increase in difficulty level, more levels can be accessed, but in order to beat the game the difficulty level must be set to the hardest level, thus allowing the player to access all of the stages. Mario Party 2's Mini-Game Roller Coaster is set up in a similar fashion, forcing the player to end the game after World 3 on easy and World 6 on medium. One will have to play on hard to go all the way to the end, playing against the toughest AI each step of the way.

In Warcraft III, the easier difficulty level is not available by default. Should the player fail a mission, the game over menu presented offers the choice to "Reduce Difficulty", giving the player a better chance to complete it upon restarting.

In the open source video game, Blob Wars : Metal Blob Solid, on easy skill, the player will not be required to fight any of the game's bosses; but they will not see the game's true ending either. In order to experience the full game, including the final level and extra mission requirements, the game must be played on normal or hard difficulties.

See also


  1. ^ Speed Race at the Killer List of Videogames
  2. ^ "Atari 2600 1978 Six Switch (CX-2600)". Videogame.net. http://www.vidgame.net/ATARI/sixer.htm. Retrieved 2006-07-19. 
  3. ^ Al Giovetti (1996-09-01). "Quake". The Computer Show. http://www.thecomputershow.com/computershow/reviews/quake.htm. Retrieved 2006-07-17. 

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • difficulty level — noun a) The relative difficulty of completing a task or objective. b) One of the difficulty settings in a video game …   Wiktionary

  • Level (video gaming) — This article is about video game settings. For character levels, see Level up. For other uses, see Level (disambiguation). A level, map, area, or world in a video game is the total space available to the player during the course of completing a… …   Wikipedia

  • level — {{Roman}}I.{{/Roman}} noun 1 amount/size/number ADJECTIVE ▪ elevated, high, significant, substantial ▪ record ▪ Industrial output has reached record levels. ▪ …   Collocations dictionary

  • difficulty — noun ADJECTIVE ▪ considerable, enormous, extreme, grave, great, major, real, serious, severe ▪ We had enormous difficulty …   Collocations dictionary

  • Difficulty — This article is about the word. For the song by Uffie, see Difficult (song). Difficulty may refer to: a problem the difficulty level in a video game Countermajoritarian difficulty Fictional Hill Difficulty, in Pilgrim s Progress …   Wikipedia

  • Level of consciousness — (LOC) is a measurement of a person s arousability and responsiveness to stimuli from the environment.cite book |author=Kandel ER, Jessell, Thomas M.; Schwartz, James H. |title=Principles of neural science |publisher=McGraw Hill |location=New York …   Wikipedia

  • LeveL — is a computer and video games magazine originating in the Czech Republic with branches in Romania and Turkey. These three brother divisions occasionally exchange content. In addition to publishing the magazine, LeveL also organizes many yearly… …   Wikipedia

  • level — [[t]le̱v(ə)l[/t]] ♦ levels, levelling, levelled (in AM, use leveling, leveled) 1) N COUNT: with supp A level is a point on a scale, for example a scale of amount, quality, or difficulty. If you don t know your cholesterol level, it s a good idea… …   English dictionary

  • Level (video games) — In video games, a level (also known by many other names) is a discrete subdivision of a video game s virtual world or set of challenges.Each level almost always has an associated objective, which may be as simple as walking from point A to point… …   Wikipedia

  • level of difficulty — degree of difficulty, grade of difficulty, rate indicating the difficulty of something …   English contemporary dictionary

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.