Setting the difficulty through the game world itself

Usually when it comes to difficulty levels games offer variations of Easy, Normal or Hard etc

I’ve been thinking of having the difficulty set by the world(game) itself.

For example let’s say you choose to play “Zombie Survivor Game”.

At the very start of the game you get to choose how far into the zombie outbreak you are. Which determines how hard the game is.

“Day One” for example you face fewer zombies and see more survivors and have more supplies to find.

“Month One” you face more zombies and there are fewer survivors and supplies are harder to find.

“Year One” has more zombies even fewer survivors and supplies are scarcer.

Do basically the thought it to tie the difficulty into the story and world itself.

I’m just curious what people think of the general concept and see if anyone can think of other ways to do this. Could be a fun thought exercise.


I was having the exact same thought the other day.

My mechanic was morale, where if your morale gets too low you lose. Then you can set how much morale you start with. I discarded it because it would be hard for new players to know what the choice meant and I am trying to make my choices natural and didn’t want an explanation of a game mechanic there.

But I think the idea in principle is really good. I always favour finding ways to weave choice into the narrative as long as you can make it clear to the player what that choice means.

I really like this idea.

In a way, I do something similar in my WIPs, when I don’t artificially equalize the character creation.
No “you can only choose 3 of these, even though there’s no reason a person shouldn’t have all of them”.
No “the child of a rich merchant, with a good education and tons of money, must have the same amount of pros and cons as a street urchin”.
Why does having magic powers have to mean that the character can’t tell a sword from an axe?

If the reader wants to play as the most privileged, overpowered person in the world, let them!
If they want to be an underdog, who has to fight for every success they ever achieve, let them!

I always love when a game just lets me choose to be good or bad at some random thing, without it having a negative impact on some skill, or baring me from being good at something else.


One way that I have seen it done is that by selecting different difficulties, it opens up different options in the world that might not be available in other difficulties. It’s some extra work, but it will mean the modes different from each other instead of having simple increases to how tough enemies are.

For the example, increasing how far you are into the infection could drastically raise the rarity and the demand of supplies. That thug that’s threatening you may be more willing to negotiate if you know, or deceive about, the location of a cache the further you are into the infection.

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I like the sound of that.
You could even make extra paths open up for different difficulties, or perhaps entirely new NPC’s:

You scramble into the darkness of the alley, desperate to escape the outstretched arms of the zombies behind you. Leaping over crates rotten from dampness, you come face to face with

(if you chose easy) A bulky man, rifle in hand. He looks past your shoulder and gives you a nod. You dash behind him as he shot down the incoming horde, kicking crates in the way of any that remain alive(?).

(if you chose medium) A young woman, eyeing you with vigilance. You note that she has a suspicious gash across her thigh. She holds a short pistol with pale, shivering hands.

(if you chose difficult) A rusty iron barred door, likely a hideout. A piece of metal slides open, a pair of eyes peered out. Focusing on you and the horde behind, the person shuts the piece, and you hear the door locking.

If the people were given skill specialization, like charisma, strength, agility etc. There could be probabilities for the choices to work, so they could fluctuate based on the difficulty chosen. Continuing with the scene above:

(if you chose easy)
[Join him in beating back the impending horde] (has X[low, dependent on stats] chance to get scratched, will raise relationship with the man or something)
[Wait until he’s done, then give him your thanks] (No risk, no reward)

(if you chose medium)
[Console the woman, and explain that you need the pistol to fight off the zombies] (has X[medium] chance to work depending on charisma/speaking.)
[Forcefully wrestle the pistol from her hands] (Once again, dependent on Strength stat)
[Take her hand and run] (Speed, Strength, dependent on author)

(if you chose difficult)
[Pound on the door, begging to be let in]
[Look for a weapon to beat off the zombies]

Even different item interactions could work as well:

(easy) You take the pistol in hand, and notice a full chamber. The woman hands you a handful of bullets, resigned.

(medium) You take the pistol in hand, and notice a full chamber. The woman explains that those are the last bullets.

(hard) You take the pistol in hand, only to be dismayed that there’s one, single bullet inside.

Anyway, I’m just throwing ideas around here, but I really do like the difficulty change idea.

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That would be amazing! Sounds like a ton of extra coding/writing, but that would be really cool. I’d love to see that

The game Paradox Factor by @Lucid does something related. Every action has an impact on what you can see as you explore the game. It requires A LOT of discipline to manage all the conditions.

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Its a good concept in general and Sabres of Infinity has something similar but with choosing your age is effectively choosing the early difficultly levels.

One of my next projects Daemonglass handles difficulty in the order the player chooses to hunt the four daemons the first one you choose will be at its weakest with each subsequent daemon getting stronger until eventually you face off against the main daemon for the hardest fight.

The four daemons can be done in any order it does mean however each daemon hunt can potentially have four variations due to their power at the time you hunt them.

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That would be too much work for the author. Heck, already having a difficulty setting is work to do. I normally prefer them to just give us the classic
" normal" or “hard”. Making normal a tad bit hard if you make bad choices ( now here is a conflict between what a bad choice is. Making evil choices or making choices not appropiate at your given situation? )

In any case, i have to say no. Better for author to focus in quality stories and not get dragged too much in codes for sothisficated difficulty settings.

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Gilded Rails did something like this, and people thought that the flavour text wasn’t clear enough and it wasn’t obvious that it was actually a difficulty setting. So I’d say if you’re doing something like this make sure that it’s unequivocal that a particular choice affects the difficulty.

It does sound silly when you put it like that :face_with_hand_over_mouth:, but in general I think “you can’t be good at everything” is both a sound game design principle, and true to life.


Luckily its not part of an actual project just an easy example to show what I meant. I like thinking of game systems even if they aren’t tied to an actual game.

But yes choices should let know what a choice like that does.