I’m currently out of town, and thus online less than usual. But I’ve been spending time on my shmup, working on various programming and game design issues. In particular, friend/co-creator Jeff and I have been playing through part of the game over and over, making sure each little detail behaves as expected. This constant repetition of playing our own game creates a game design challenge of its own:
How accurately can we balance the difficulty of our game after playing it so much that we have everything memorized?
This Must be What Happened to Touhou
I have a humorous mental image that ZUN began developing his Touhou Project shmups with only the Easy and Normal difficulties. Then after so much play-testing he was breezing through Normal and added Hard for fun. And then a few months later was beating that handily and tossed in the Lunatic difficulty ‘just because’.
I do not actually believe that is what happened. But I can honestly imagine something like that for my own game. Tweaking a few variables here and there can increase the difficulty by arbitrarily adding more enemies, more bullets, faster and/or larger bullets, more boss life, and so on. In the first place, Jeff and I are not trying to make a bullet-hell shmup like CAVE, nor is ours a shmup where you die after a single-hit; so our metrics for difficulty are somewhat different. That said, there is no reason why we couldn’t have such a crazy, ‘maniac shmup’ difficulty level. And when it comes time to release the game I would not be surprised if we can beat it so easily that we add a ratcheted-up difficulty as a challenge for ourselves.
The core problem is that we can no longer fairly judge the challenge of our own game. There is an obvious way to address the issue: get play-testing feedback from people who haven’t played the game nearly as much, or at all; and of course we plan to do just that, rendering this article a moot, blatant point.
To be honest, the only reason I felt like writing about it is because in retrospect it sounds like such an obvious, unavoidable development, and yet when beginning work on the game it was not a scenario that ever crossed my mind: that I would play my own game so much prior to release that I would lose perspective on the difficulty setting. Sounds natural when spelled out, but it’s one of many aspects of game development which I would not have predicted nearly two years ago.