New Year’s Progress! (The Difficulty of Difficulty Modes)

Just a little bit late, but Happy New Year everyone! Welcome to the Year of the Ninja!

We’ve been too busy to say much over the holidays — we started 2016 with a bang at the Young Innovator’s Fair in Pennsylvania on January 2nd and 3rd, where hundreds of kids played Sneaky Ninja for the first time.

This was easily the most amount of feedback we’ve ever gotten from younger players, since most events we go to are filled with more experienced gamers. One thing we’ve tried to focus on is accommodating players of all skill ranges with our different difficulty modes (Easy, Normal, Hard, and Very Hard), so we relished the opportunity to get all this valuable data about Easy mode and how it could be improved to be better suited towards its intended audience. Designing difficulties can be very, well, difficult — as very experienced gamers ourselves, we realized that we simply made it too hard for most kids!

So how did we fix that?

We took a good long look at all of the features we painstakingly created for Sneaky Ninja to help craft the challenging experience we wanted for ourselves… and then we yanked a lot of those features out of Easy mode. It was painful, but it’s the only way to accommodate both audiences. Typically, for a game to be playable for both kids and adults, it has to be simplified so kids can play at the expense of more skilled gamers. With the way our difficulty modes each radically change the game, however, everyone gets to play at their own skill level! That’s the most important thing to remember: some of the changes we made to Easy might horrify skilled gamers, but it doesn’t affect their experience at all — the blessing of difficulty modes!

The changes between modes range from tiny to massive, but some of the big changes to Easy include:

  • health increased from 3 to 6
  • enemies made even slower and less perceptive
  • number of items you start with increased
  • enemies don’t leave behind helmets when you take them out
  • number of enemies reduced, tougher enemies removed
  • … and much, much more!

One other aspect of difficulty we’re addressing is the platforming, which can prove pretty tough for little kids — now the levels themselves actually change based on difficulty as well! Here’s the sort of thing Easy mode does to the level design:

  • shortens gaps so you never need to run and double jump to make it across
  • removes bottomless pits that punish your mistakes with death
  • adds platforms to sections that would require tricky jumps or walljumps

Here’s a good example, from a pure platforming level:

Here’s what it looks like on Easy mode, a fun little playground with mushrooms, vines, and easily reachable platforms, with the only hint of danger being the thorns that you can swing over. On the other hand…

… here it is on every other mode, a huge death trap by comparison. Bottomless pits everywhere, with almost no safety in sight. On the right side you might be able to see the tricky walljump you need to make to be able to grab the hanging grass in the corner without falling to your doom — but on Easy, a friendly platform makes it much simpler.

We’re hopeful that all of these changes will allow everyone to be able to play the game, but best of all, no one has to lose out. The door is opened for less experienced players with the new Easy mode, but skilled gamers still have the challenge they want on Hard and Very Hard. Redesigning levels for everyone isn’t an easy task, but it’s worth it so we can all play together in harmony!

Now that the fair is done with and the new Easy mode is in place, it’s right back to making new environments. We have two new ones almost ready to show off, so stay tuned!

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