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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Challenge versus resistance

    There have been several threads of late which have touched on the idea of challenge in tabletop games, how e.g. a percentage of failures is necessary for challenge to exist or things like that, with the implicit assumption that challenge is innately desirable. Those arguments felt hollow to me, and I think I've put my finger on why perhaps. There was a comment on how some portion of fights should be against much weaker opponents in order to make players 'feel' their levels, which I think gets at it.

    Basically, I think 'challenge' and 'resistance' are different things, and we may often conflate the desire for the one with the other.

    Resistance here is meant in the exercise sense - something to push back on so that it's possible to exert a level of strength or effort that could not be done without the pushback. But, in the exercise sense, a level of resistance which the person fails to overcome isn't constructive to exercise.

    So resistance in a tabletop context wouldn't be about success or failure, it'd be about feeling that there is a variable response to different levels of exertion or effort, different expenditures of resources, different tactical choices or builds, etc. Resistance is relative to where you are - if you make a small change to how you fight, does it feel better? Rather than large things like overall success or failure, resistance will be felt through the accumulation of lots of little feedbacks - what portion of rolls do you pass and by how much, how often do you feel pressured or that your action is a forced choice versus feeling like the world is responding to your pressure, how often do things go the way you'd predict versus not. And importantly - how does all of that change even when you make small shifts in your approach or intensity?

    In contrast, challenge seems more about testing against a baseline level. If you give enough or do things well enough, you pass; if you don't give, you fail. That baseline could be the world or another character or whatever. Training is resistance, public competition is challenge.

    So I think you could design a game entirely around the idea of resistance instead of challenge, such that the game is entirely challenge-free but provides high quality resistance consistently. What's more, I think this has actually become the unspoken design principle behind a majority of modern computer RPGs (excepting e.g. the Souls-like and rogue-like genres).

    An example of resistance-enabling game design is a zoned sandbox, where you can push into more difficult areas or grind easy ones as you please, without being forced to go to the hard zones by plot until you make the choice to do so, and with the ability to freely withdraw. That's not challenging (you can play with a hard zero risk of failure if you like), but it lets players push themselves and feel that the better they push the further they can get.

    It also explains something which is kind of oddly fun to me at least - why sequence breaking games to go to harder areas earlier than expected is more fun than just increasing the difficulty of the game as a whole. Knowing that you're able to push that far despite doing something unintended by the developers gives a strong positive signal from a resistance perspective. Whereas just scraping through an encounter that is part of the normal expected sequence (because of a higher difficulty for example) feels like a negative signal from a resistance perspective because all the micro feedbacks are pointing the wrong way, even if you still pass the overall test from a challenge perspective.

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    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: Challenge versus resistance

    For game design purposes, resistance, challenge and difficulty are synonyms. Your observations have more to do with how challenge interacts with player skill. Modern computer games aren't challenge-less, their learning curves and level of challenge are just calibrated so that even an unskilled target audience can pick up and play them enjoyably on some level. Neither your MMORPG example nor the town gym are challenge-less environments, they are choose-your-own-challenge environments. That's what makes those design schemas attractive: with enough options for challenge levels, a player can self-adjust to find a level they enjoy. If you play such cames without understanding them, it's very easy to make the challenge unmanageable for yourself, and in the case of the town gym, hurt yourself.

    Your point about sequence breaking is more complex. Basically, it approaches the distinction of effort-based versus skill-based challenge. Your example of resistance gym training is more of the former kind: once you have a basic gist of how to do a movement, you vary challenge by varying level of effort - more of the same with higher intensity. Sequence breaking is the latter kind: sequence breaks are typically high skill exploits where you change how you do things, chancing the dynamic of the game. Put differently, at the gym, going from benching 50 kilos to benching 100 kilos is effort-based challenge, while going from standard push-ups to knuckle push-ups and then handstand push-ups is skill-based challenge. For a game, grinding for XP to get bigger numbers to beat tougher opponents is effort-based challenge, while figuring out a new strategy to beat stronger opponents while underleveled is skill-based challenge.

    If a sequence break feels more satisfying than just adjusting difficulty level, it's probably because the standard difficulty slider only increases level of effort required, but the skills required, the things you do in the game and how, remain the same. While the sequence break actually requires changing what skill you're using and how.
    Last edited by Vahnavoi; 2021-07-09 at 04:35 AM.

  3. - Top - End - #3
    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: Challenge versus resistance

    Quote Originally Posted by Vahnavoi View Post
    For game design purposes, resistance, challenge and difficulty are synonyms. Your observations have more to do with how challenge interacts with player skill. Modern computer games aren't challenge-less, their learning curves and level of challenge are just calibrated so that even an unskilled target audience can pick up and play them enjoyably on some level. Neither your MMORPG example nor the town gym are challenge-less environments, they are choose-your-own-challenge environments. That's what makes those design schemas attractive: with enough options for challenge levels, a player can self-adjust to find a level they enjoy. If you play such cames without understanding them, it's very easy to make the challenge unmanageable for yourself, and in the case of the town gym, hurt yourself.

    Your point about sequence breaking is more complex. Basically, it approaches the distinction of effort-based versus skill-based challenge. Your example of resistance gym training is more of the former kind: once you have a basic gist of how to do a movement, you vary challenge by varying level of effort - more of the same with higher intensity. Sequence breaking is the latter kind: sequence breaks are typically high skill exploits where you change how you do things, chancing the dynamic of the game. Put differently, at the gym, going from benching 50 kilos to benching 100 kilos is effort-based challenge, while going from standard push-ups to knuckle push-ups and then handstand push-ups is skill-based challenge. For a game, grinding for XP to get bigger numbers to beat tougher opponents is effort-based challenge, while figuring out a new strategy to beat stronger opponents while underleveled is skill-based challenge.

    If a sequence break feels more satisfying than just adjusting difficulty level, it's probably because the standard difficulty slider only increases level of effort required, but the skills required, the things you do in the game and how, remain the same. While the sequence break actually requires changing what skill you're using and how.
    If you think in terms of resistance instead of challenge, you could easily design a game where there are no failure states or setbacks or for that matter any kind of actual goals or evaluations, but in which there's still a consistent feeling that the player is pushing against something. For example, a soft-collision 6-DOF flight simulator where you can modify your aircraft or avatar to exploit different flight models and modes of flight (impulsive flight, glide, swinging, etc) and explore various spaces. That would have resistance, but no challenge.

    Cities Skylines in infinite money mode is another example - things can work better or worse in some sense, but its totally decoupled from your agency as the builder. So you can have resistance in the form of micro-feedbacks about the elegance and space usage and so on of your designs, but there's no challenge because failure is literally impossible.

    Trying to get a spaceplane to orbit in Kerbal Space Program versus trying to get a rocket to orbit is another sort of resistance vs challenge example for me. With the rocket, you either make your window or you don't. With the space plane, you can keep trying for quite some time, angling your approach differently, trying to bounce up to the upper atmosphere in different ways, etc, getting a little more altitude when you do things better or a little less when you do things worse. But in general you're engaged in a push-pull with the simulation and you're feeling out how it moves in response to you, rather than focusing on trying to achieve an objective or goal.
    Last edited by NichG; 2021-07-09 at 05:14 AM.

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    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: Challenge versus resistance

    The actual good points you're making are hampered by weird semantics. Lack of evaluation, lack of explicit win and lose conditions etc., those are not resistance and they are not lack of challenge. Challenge is task difficulty, naturally arising from an activity requiring some skill and effort to do. Succesfully operating a flight simulator, building a city, especially building a working space ship in Kerbal, these are all challenges. A bunch of Legos with no instructions is a challenge: namely, the challenge are all the constructs implied by the blocks and rules of Lego building. These challenges are beyond some people and in absence of outside direction, get frustrated at not seeing what they're supposed to do or just do nothing beyond trivialities.

    There's merit to building on self-directed and self-motivated behaviours in games, but what you call "resistance" is still just another word for challenge and the positive feeling is born from matching appropriate level of challenge to appropriate level of skill.

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    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: Challenge versus resistance

    Quote Originally Posted by Vahnavoi View Post
    The actual good points you're making are hampered by weird semantics. Lack of evaluation, lack of explicit win and lose conditions etc., those are not resistance and they are not lack of challenge. Challenge is task difficulty, naturally arising from an activity requiring some skill and effort to do. Succesfully operating a flight simulator, building a city, especially building a working space ship in Kerbal, these are all challenges. A bunch of Legos with no instructions is a challenge: namely, the challenge are all the constructs implied by the blocks and rules of Lego building. These challenges are beyond some people and in absence of outside direction, get frustrated at not seeing what they're supposed to do or just do nothing beyond trivialities.

    There's merit to building on self-directed and self-motivated behaviours in games, but what you call "resistance" is still just another word for challenge and the positive feeling is born from matching appropriate level of challenge to appropriate level of skill.
    In the other thread on flaws you claimed that all games have to have failure conditions in order to have challenge. But for the concept I'm calling 'resistance', there's no need to have failure conditions. So I'm pretty sure we're talking about different concepts, even if they interact, because they seem to have different necessary sub-elements for us.

    Or to go back to the exercise example, walking up a shallow grade for an hour can provide good quality resistance even for someone for whom it isn't challenging or difficult.
    Last edited by NichG; 2021-07-09 at 07:41 AM.

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    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: Challenge versus resistance

    Let's see if another version of the diagram helps explain what I'm getting at. The example of walking around for an hour exist at the area labeled "relaxing" - it's a case of low level of challenge interacting with moderate level of skill, creating an effortless repetitive activity. Imagine someone with bad health and it becomes obvious that it is indeed a challenge and has its own set of failure conditions that you have to accept for doing it. Even purely self-motivated behaviour in absence of outside pressure and regulation has failure conditions arising from the nature of what you're doing.

  7. - Top - End - #7
    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: Challenge versus resistance

    Quote Originally Posted by Vahnavoi View Post
    Let's see if another version of the diagram helps explain what I'm getting at. The example of walking around for an hour exist at the area labeled "relaxing" - it's a case of low level of challenge interacting with moderate level of skill, creating an effortless repetitive activity. Imagine someone with bad health and it becomes obvious that it is indeed a challenge and has its own set of failure conditions that you have to accept for doing it. Even purely self-motivated behaviour in absence of outside pressure and regulation has failure conditions arising from the nature of what you're doing.
    But it's not a challenge for the person in question, and I'd argue that it has no 'moderate' level of skill involved either as part of what makes it successful as an exercise. Skill or even mental states like boredom or relaxation don't factor in at all - the health maintenance benefits don't come from the cognitive aspects of the endeavor. If someone were challenged by that walk and had a non-zero failure rate, it would actually become a bad exercise for them.

    So the point being, I think you can design games where the thing you're calling challenge is aggressively minimized whenever it can be detected as part of the design without that game being boring for at least a subgroup of players, by maintaining high quality resistance as a constant while decreasing the challenge. To me, that's clearly not an inconsistency and its pretty clear how to design for it, and it comes down to that idea of having micro-feedbacks and responsiveness without having any kind of testing or tasking or failure states.

    A game where e.g. you can equip different kinds of fancy shooters which interact with material in different ways - some bore straight through, some charge up material and cause it to detonate when it takes subsequent damage, some split into psychedelic wave patterns, some which cause the material they hit to grow and spread, etc - and where you basically have a 3d etch-a-sketch world where you can use those things to carve whatever you like into the landscape has resistance - you can do different things and feel how the environment responds to the different things you do - but not challenge. An idle game where you have RPG characters who develop stats and skills spontaneously, where you can form parties of those characters and have them fight each-other, and the game makes combo sequences from the way that the moves of one character chains into the next has resistance, but no real meaningful success or failure.

    The point being: challenge might exist in a given environment, because you haven't (or can't) completely removed it. But the thing I'm calling resistance isn't created by that challenge - you can vary them independently.

    An example of this within a single game would be handicap Go. The more skilled player gives the weaker player a number of free moves. Lets say the stronger player gives too much of a handicap - they give 12 stones when they should give 9 for a fair game. The weaker player then has less challenge than the stronger player, but the weaker player will feel more resistance than the stronger player does.
    Last edited by NichG; 2021-07-09 at 09:27 AM.

  8. - Top - End - #8
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Challenge versus resistance

    I feel like this is more of a sematic argument than anything else.

    The important element here is the freedom of choice. Can I choose to take the next step into higher difficulty/challenge/resistance, or can I choose not to?

    This is denied in certain games like you mention, mostly souls-like and rogue-like games. D&D has often denied it too with "random encounter tables" by leaving high-level (but rare) challenges on the table in areas that would otherwise be considered "safe". So people are pushed externally (rather than by an internal desire, not to be confused with an internalized drive) to go into the "higher level areas" for simple survival reasons (an arguably boring reason). They've got no guarantee of surviving anywhere so they must "choose" to put their survival on the line because their survival is always on the line. (it's almost like some kind of gameplay loop!)

    The reality is, they don't really have a choice of course. Random tables, rogue-like, souls-like, whatever be the case, they don't really have a choice. Which I think really gets to the heart of the matter more than "resistance" vs "challenge".

    The problem is now "adventures", "campaigns" or "modules", whatever whoever wants to call them. The traditional PC-RPG formula (as seen in games like Neverwinter Nights, KotOR, and such...) the game is essentially linear. You can't go back, back often doesn't even exist anymore. If you don't follow the mission, there is no game. If the party starts off hunting Strahd and decides to just kick around for a while, the game either has built-in-systems that will bring Strahd to you (to encourage you to get back on track or kill you), or the clock runs out and the game is over. You have the "choice" to not engage Strahd in the manner the game assumes....or essentially not play.

    ---

    Sure, you can design a game the way you suggest. One that supplies players with the ability to choose their level of "resistance". To foray into the high-level zone or to kick around in starter forest. It'll have to be some form of sandbox (can be achieved by saying "areas near the city are patrolled and therefore safer") or theme park (where we just handwave it and have level-specific zones). It'll probably provide the characters with some very simple "meta"-premise(the premise can be given as both meta instructions on how to play the game, as well as an actual in-game quest) like "go out and explore" where they will encounter other quests that will, if they choose to follow them through take them into more difficult areas, areas that then become easier as they get stronger, and provide them with new quests that take them if they choose into more difficult areas. (Word of Warcraft says hi)

    Of course what your game also needs that WoW and other such games don't have is the option to stick around a lower-level area and continue to do things in that area. Some element of random quest generation (as opposed to random encounter generation) since we're keeping the primary element of "choice" here. Based on their actions and how they affect the zone. The zone could become more difficult based on their choices, or less difficult so you'd need a way to do that as well.

    You'd probably require some level of build-in opportunity opposition, both active bad-guys who want to do bad-guy things to safer areas, and active NPC parties who are opposing the bad-guys (and have the ability to succeed!) among other "living world" elements.

    To wrap this up, totally doable, but I think your issue here is between Real Choice and False Choice, not difficult/resistance. Can the party choose to challenge themselves and to a large degree, control the level of challenge no different than at the gym?
    Knowledge brings the sting of disillusionment, but the pain teaches perspective.
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  9. - Top - End - #9
    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: Challenge versus resistance

    Quote Originally Posted by False God View Post
    I feel like this is more of a sematic argument than anything else.

    The important element here is the freedom of choice. Can I choose to take the next step into higher difficulty/challenge/resistance, or can I choose not to?

    This is denied in certain games like you mention, mostly souls-like and rogue-like games. D&D has often denied it too with "random encounter tables" by leaving high-level (but rare) challenges on the table in areas that would otherwise be considered "safe". So people are pushed externally (rather than by an internal desire, not to be confused with an internalized drive) to go into the "higher level areas" for simple survival reasons (an arguably boring reason). They've got no guarantee of surviving anywhere so they must "choose" to put their survival on the line because their survival is always on the line. (it's almost like some kind of gameplay loop!)

    The reality is, they don't really have a choice of course. Random tables, rogue-like, souls-like, whatever be the case, they don't really have a choice. Which I think really gets to the heart of the matter more than "resistance" vs "challenge".

    The problem is now "adventures", "campaigns" or "modules", whatever whoever wants to call them. The traditional PC-RPG formula (as seen in games like Neverwinter Nights, KotOR, and such...) the game is essentially linear. You can't go back, back often doesn't even exist anymore. If you don't follow the mission, there is no game. If the party starts off hunting Strahd and decides to just kick around for a while, the game either has built-in-systems that will bring Strahd to you (to encourage you to get back on track or kill you), or the clock runs out and the game is over. You have the "choice" to not engage Strahd in the manner the game assumes....or essentially not play.

    ---

    Sure, you can design a game the way you suggest. One that supplies players with the ability to choose their level of "resistance". To foray into the high-level zone or to kick around in starter forest. It'll have to be some form of sandbox (can be achieved by saying "areas near the city are patrolled and therefore safer") or theme park (where we just handwave it and have level-specific zones). It'll probably provide the characters with some very simple "meta"-premise(the premise can be given as both meta instructions on how to play the game, as well as an actual in-game quest) like "go out and explore" where they will encounter other quests that will, if they choose to follow them through take them into more difficult areas, areas that then become easier as they get stronger, and provide them with new quests that take them if they choose into more difficult areas. (Word of Warcraft says hi)

    Of course what your game also needs that WoW and other such games don't have is the option to stick around a lower-level area and continue to do things in that area. Some element of random quest generation (as opposed to random encounter generation) since we're keeping the primary element of "choice" here. Based on their actions and how they affect the zone. The zone could become more difficult based on their choices, or less difficult so you'd need a way to do that as well.

    You'd probably require some level of build-in opportunity opposition, both active bad-guys who want to do bad-guy things to safer areas, and active NPC parties who are opposing the bad-guys (and have the ability to succeed!) among other "living world" elements.

    To wrap this up, totally doable, but I think your issue here is between Real Choice and False Choice, not difficult/resistance. Can the party choose to challenge themselves and to a large degree, control the level of challenge no different than at the gym?
    I do think choice factors into what I'm calling resistance, but its more than just choosing a difficulty level (though that is part of it). I used the word resistance because it suits what I'm thinking of in a lot of non-game settings - if you're cutting some potatoes and feel resistance, its not necessarily that its difficult to cut, but the fact that what you're cutting is resisting the blade is what lets you know that you're cutting something and not e.g. missing the potato and maybe on a path to cut your finger instead. It's the feeling that whichever way you're trying to go, there's something there to go through which is both exerting its presence on you, but also giving way. So the important thing with regards to choice is the idea that resistance is always something that happens in response to doing something, and the 'direction' of resistance is directly related to the direction you tried to go, not in some other random direction. And I guess this is more philosophical than literal, but just because it's resistance doesn't mean that it thwarts you - the resistance of a fluid when I push against it is what allows me to swim or paddle a boat, the resistance of the ground when I push off of it is what allows me to jump, etc. If I want to port that to game design, it'd be the idea that e.g. testing a build against a dummy target that doesn't strike back gives me resistance (in that the dummy has an AC which I can try to hit, a hitpoint pool that I can try to get through, etc) which can let me improve the build, but its not challenging.

    There's also a much more micro-scale immediateness of what I'm thinking of. Cutting a potato is about resistance, but making a bunch of potato slices to perfectly tile a baking pan is about challenge.
    Last edited by NichG; 2021-07-09 at 09:55 AM.

  10. - Top - End - #10
    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: Challenge versus resistance

    Quote Originally Posted by NichG View Post
    But it's not a challenge for the person in question, and I'd argue that it has no 'moderate' level of skill involved either as part of what makes it successful as an exercise. Skill or even mental states like boredom or relaxation don't factor in at all - the health maintenance benefits don't come from the cognitive aspects of the endeavor. If someone were challenged by that walk and had a non-zero failure rate, it would actually become a bad exercise for them.
    Everything about this is incorrect. Walking is a skill and doesn't have non-zero failure rate even for majority of perfectly healthy people engaged in routine movement. The cognitive state and benefits go hand-in-hand with bodily state and benefits - the chief reasons why people don't walk enough to reap the health benefits is because they find it too boring as an activity or too uncomfortable due to their physical limitations. For any given person, there's a pace and intensity of walking that's too low to have any positive effect, a pace that's too high to have any positive effect, and specific sweet spots between those for various goals a person could pursue.

    Quote Originally Posted by NichG
    So the point being, I think you can design games where the thing you're calling challenge is aggressively minimized whenever it can be detected as part of the design without that game being boring for at least a subgroup of players, by maintaining high quality resistance as a constant while decreasing the challenge. To me, that's clearly not an inconsistency and its pretty clear how to design for it, and it comes down to that idea of having micro-feedbacks and responsiveness without having any kind of testing or tasking or failure states.
    For any given activity you could name as a basis for a game, there's a minimum level of challenge you can't do away with. You can aggressively minimize towards that - it's called making an easy game. It will be interesting to a particular subgroup of players, namely those who don't have skills to trivialize it. Maintaining high quality resistance is synonymous with increasing challenge to keep pace with rising skill of those players so that the game doesn't become boring - the first version of the diagram describes this. The second diagram tells you that you can decrease relative amount challenge compared to skill to make, say, a game that strives for relaxation instead of arousal, but you can't constantly drop challenge without making a game boring.

    Replacing top-down task assingment with micro-feedbacks that can serve as hooks for self-motivated, and explicit victory and failure conditions with implied conditions, are perfectly valid ideas.

    Quote Originally Posted by NichG
    The point being: challenge might exist in a given environment, because you haven't (or can't) completely removed it. But the thing I'm calling resistance isn't created by that challenge - you can vary them independently.
    You really can't, not without using weird semantics for "resistance" that does not make sense from perspective of real physical resistance training and games. We're in less disagreement about your design goals than the amount of text indicates. What I'm trying to hit you over the head with is that there's an existing framework for discussing your ideas, it's described by the diagrams, you don't need these special definitions of "resistance" and "challenge".

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    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: Challenge versus resistance

    Quote Originally Posted by Vahnavoi View Post
    Everything about this is incorrect. Walking is a skill and doesn't have non-zero failure rate even for majority of perfectly healthy people engaged in routine movement. The cognitive state and benefits go hand-in-hand with bodily state and benefits - the chief reasons why people don't walk enough to reap the health benefits is because they find it too boring as an activity or too uncomfortable due to their physical limitations. For any given person, there's a pace and intensity of walking that's too low to have any positive effect, a pace that's too high to have any positive effect, and specific sweet spots between those for various goals a person could pursue.

    For any given activity you could name as a basis for a game, there's a minimum level of challenge you can't do away with. You can aggressively minimize towards that - it's called making an easy game. It will be interesting to a particular subgroup of players, namely those who don't have skills to trivialize it. Maintaining high quality resistance is synonymous with increasing challenge to keep pace with rising skill of those players so that the game doesn't become boring - the first version of the diagram describes this. The second diagram tells you that you can decrease relative amount challenge compared to skill to make, say, a game that strives for relaxation instead of arousal, but you can't constantly drop challenge without making a game boring.

    ...

    You really can't, not without using weird semantics for "resistance" that does not make sense from perspective of real physical resistance training and games. We're in less disagreement about your design goals than the amount of text indicates. What I'm trying to hit you over the head with is that there's an existing framework for discussing your ideas, it's described by the diagrams, you don't need these special definitions of "resistance" and "challenge".
    I suspect there's either a fundamental difference in tastes here, so you can't perceive some experiences which are familiar experiences to me, or an over-commitment to a particular framework which isn't well-suited to describe some things.

    For example, I find something like playing Doom with god mode on to be fun. Or becoming so OP in Morrowind or Skyrim or Fallout or whatever that I'm actively dismantling whatever challenge the game was supposed to have. Having a character that is able to AFK-clear Lv86 maps in PoE is something I am capable of enjoying. At the same time, there are other games where being that powerful is not fun or quickly becomes boring. The concept of 'resistance' allows me to understand what the difference is, and to look at for example some games in which I've enjoyed New Game+ modes and other games where they just didn't work for me.

    Those observations go directly against what those graphs you're posting are trying to argue are hard constraints. So it seems obvious to me that those graphs are describing a particular kind of enjoyment one can derive from a game, but not the only kind of enjoyment one can derive from a game. The point of the new terminology is to be able to speak more clearly about those things without bringing in the aspects of 'challenge' or 'difficulty' which are unimportant to that other direction of enjoyment.

    Or to put it another way, the factual evidence that can't be denied is: I know that I can enjoy games where my skill trivializes them. The framework you're presenting has a hypothesis: 'games are only enjoyable within a tuned band of difficulty related to the player's skill'. Given the evidence I have, your hypothesis is manifestly false, so saying 'But this graph! People design this way!' isn't going to go anywhere.
    Last edited by NichG; 2021-07-09 at 10:25 AM.

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    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: Challenge versus resistance

    Quote Originally Posted by NichG View Post
    I suspect there's either a fundamental difference in tastes here, so you can't perceive some experiences which are familiar experiences to me, or an over-commitment to a particular framework which isn't well-suited to describe some things.
    None of the types of games and none of the anecdotal experiences you describe are obscure to me, so I doubt its the former.

    Quote Originally Posted by NichG
    For example, I find something like playing Doom with god mode on to be fun. Or becoming so OP in Morrowind or Skyrim or Fallout or whatever that I'm actively dismantling whatever challenge the game was supposed to have. Having a character that is able to AFK-clear Lv86 maps in PoE is something I am capable of enjoying. At the same time, there are other games where being that powerful is not fun or quickly becomes boring. The concept of 'resistance' allows me to understand what the difference is, and to look at for example some games in which I've enjoyed New Game+ modes and other games where they just didn't work for me.
    All this suggests, in the framework I'm using, is that there's an aspect to some games, such as Doom, that's not trivialized by having overwhelming power in them, such as that attained by IDDQD. I doubt the concept of "resistance" is doing all that much work for you. I suggest you look closer at what skills you are actually using in those games. I also suggest you take a look at emotional concepts such as catharsis. I remember cheating at Doom too when I was a kid - the appeal of that was to turn a game that was then too hard for me into something manageable, and there's appeal to release of emotional tension when a game goes from causing anxiety to causing relaxation.

    For factors that are independent of challenge, there's aesthetics - the visual and aural experience offered by a game, etc.

    Quote Originally Posted by NichG
    Those observations go directly against what those graphs you're posting are trying to argue are hard constraints. So it seems obvious to me that those graphs are describing a particular kind of enjoyment one can derive from a game, but not the only kind of enjoyment one can derive from a game. The point of the new terminology is to be able to speak more clearly about those things without bringing in the aspects of 'challenge' or 'difficulty' which are unimportant to that other direction of enjoyment.
    Redefining "resistance" as something independent of "challenge" and "difficulty", when in common use and pretty much all physically meaningful fields they are correlated or outright synonymous concepts, is not a great way to build new, clearer terminology.

    Quote Originally Posted by NichG
    Or to put it another way, the factual evidence that can't be denied is: I know that I can enjoy games where my skill trivializes them. The framework you're presenting has a hypothesis: 'games are only enjoyable within a tuned band of difficulty related to the player's skill'. Given the evidence I have, your hypothesis is manifestly false, so saying 'But this graph! People design this way!' isn't going to go anywhere.
    Your evidence consists mostly of poetically described anecdotes.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Vahnavoi View Post
    None of the types of games and none of the anecdotal experiences you describe are obscure to me, so I doubt its the former.

    All this suggests, in the framework I'm using, is that there's an aspect to some games, such as Doom, that's not trivialized by having overwhelming power in them, such as that attained by IDDQD. I doubt the concept of "resistance" is doing all that much work for you. I suggest you look closer at what skills you are actually using in those games. I also suggest you take a look at emotional concepts such as catharsis. I remember cheating at Doom too when I was a kid - the appeal of that was to turn a game that was then too hard for me into something manageable, and there's appeal to release of emotional tension when a game goes from causing anxiety to causing relaxation.

    For factors that are independent of challenge, there's aesthetics - the visual and aural experience offered by a game, etc.

    Redefining "resistance" as something independent of "challenge" and "difficulty", when in common use and pretty much all physically meaningful fields they are correlated or outright synonymous concepts, is not a great way to build new, clearer terminology.
    On the contrary, I find it to be a pretty standard way to escape implicit assumptions that have been baked into fields because they grew from a particular starting point and then ossified around that starting point. You lose some ability to speak with people who are committed to those frameworks, but you also gain the ability to make new things that just wouldn't make any sense under those frameworks or seem like paradoxical pursuits. If e.g. we obsess about how a game must have a win or loss condition, which I've seen pushed in many definitions of 'game', then it becomes a lot harder to understand the potential of creativity-driven open-world games like Minecraft or things like idle games.

    Can you honestly say that a challenge-centered formalism is the best way to predict the success of Cookie Clicker?

    Your evidence consists mostly of poetically described anecdotes.
    My explanations and examples might be poetically described, but the evidence part is simple: there are games I enjoy that your framework would not predict that I would, whereas my framework correctly identifies those and makes predictions which so far I haven't seen falsified about what other things I might enjoy in the same way, and how to design to it. So your framework is basically useless to me, why should I give it any air? It's either outright incorrect at worse, or at best it's obscuring the information and analysis that would tell you that those games could be enjoyable by heavily centering something which is irrelevant to those cases.

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    Quote Originally Posted by NichG View Post
    On the contrary, I find it to be a pretty standard way to escape implicit assumptions that have been baked into fields because they grew from a particular starting point and then ossified around that starting point. You lose some ability to speak with people who are committed to those frameworks, but you also gain the ability to make new things that just wouldn't make any sense under those frameworks or seem like paradoxical pursuits.
    Questioning existing frameworks is fine and dandy, in this case I think you just didn't invent something that's truly distinct from the existing one.

    Quote Originally Posted by NichG
    If e.g. we obsess about how a game must have a win or loss condition, which I've seen pushed in many definitions of 'game', then it becomes a lot harder to understand the potential of creativity-driven open-world games like Minecraft or things like idle games.
    I agree that obsessing over explicit win and loss conditions for defining games is silly, but if anyone thinks Minecraft doesn't have implied win and loss conditions or challenge, they need to check their eyes. Minecraft is homologous to the example of Lego bricks I gave earlier.

    Quote Originally Posted by NichG
    Can you honestly say that a challenge-centered formalism is the best way to predict the success of Cookie Clicker?
    If you mean economic success, the answer is "of course not", because there are lot of confounding factors beyond game quality. If you mean, does the framework explain why it works as a game, well duh. It's a very easy effort-based challenge that can be used for effortless repetitive action as form of relaxation by some subset of humans, just like walking.

    Quote Originally Posted by NichG
    My explanations and examples might be poetically described, but the evidence part is simple: there are games I enjoy that your framework would not predict that I would, whereas my framework correctly identifies those and makes predictions which so far I haven't seen falsified about what other things I might enjoy in the same way, and how to design to it. So your framework is basically useless to me, why should I give it any air? It's either outright incorrect at worse, or at best it's obscuring the information and analysis that would tell you that those games could be enjoyable by heavily centering something which is irrelevant to those cases.
    And I'm not convinced you've created a different predictive framework, you are just using words weirdly, creating illusion of incongruence. I would expect a person who independently came up with a congruent framework to prefer their own terminology, and find it hard to use terminology or make predictions using terminology of others. It's a translation problem, basically.

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    Default Re: Challenge versus resistance

    I think I get what you're going for here, but I think you're coming at it from the wrong direction.


    What we need to be discussing here is less the nature of the challenge, and more the question of What Are The Significant Failure States.

    And I want to bring up the idea of Significant Failure States because you mention this:
    So I think you could design a game entirely around the idea of resistance instead of challenge, such that the game is entirely challenge-free but provides high quality resistance consistently. What's more, I think this has actually become the unspoken design principle behind a majority of modern computer RPGs (excepting e.g. the Souls-like and rogue-like genres).
    Which I think is true, but only because a lot of games, INCLUDING Souls and rouglikes, have effectively eliminated the idea of the Significant Failure State.

    If you fail to beat a boss in, say, Final Fantasy, you reload your previous save.

    If you fail to beat a boss in Dark Souls, you respawn at the campfire.

    If you die to the Dragun in Enter the Gungeon, you start the run over.

    In all three cases, the "Defeat" is a failure, sure, but it's been incorporated into the standard gameplay loop to the point that it's kind of expected. Losing is part of the game. Because a game where "You lose" and you lose 20+ hours of progress wouldn't be any fun. In all three cases, death doesn't' represent a significant failure state.

    An example of a game that has a solid failure State is Darkest Dungeon, where a TPK can mean losing high-level party members and valuable equipment, even if the game encourages you to just pick back up and keep going.

    Now what you describe as "Resistance" speaks to me more of defining a game around grades of success, rather than the success/failure dichotomy.


    "You encounter a gang of Ogres! guarding the bridge!"

    1) If you get absolutely trounced, the Ogres make you hand over all your gold and dump you back in town, or they kill you (Failure)

    2) If you barely win, you have to expend healing items to get back up to fighting trim.

    3) If you win soundly, you don't need to spend extra resources since the ogres didn't get much chance to damage you.

    4) If you trounce the Ogres, the survivor surrenders and shows you to their secret treasure stash!


    It's less about defining "This thing has Challenge" vs "This thing has Resistance" and more about "What are the potential outcomes here".
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vahnavoi View Post
    Questioning existing frameworks is fine and dandy, in this case I think you just didn't invent something that's truly distinct from the existing one.

    ...

    And I'm not convinced you've created a different predictive framework, you are just using words weirdly, creating illusion of incongruence. I would expect a person who independently came up with a congruent framework to prefer their own terminology, and find it hard to use terminology or make predictions using terminology of others. It's a translation problem, basically.
    So in that case, please define 'challenge'. But if you do that and its missing things which I'm including in 'resistance', please recognize that I'm not just talking about challenge.

    Quote Originally Posted by BRC View Post
    ...

    Now what you describe as "Resistance" speaks to me more of defining a game around grades of success, rather than the success/failure dichotomy.

    "You encounter a gang of Ogres! guarding the bridge!"

    1) If you get absolutely trounced, the Ogres make you hand over all your gold and dump you back in town, or they kill you (Failure)

    2) If you barely win, you have to expend healing items to get back up to fighting trim.

    3) If you win soundly, you don't need to spend extra resources since the ogres didn't get much chance to damage you.

    4) If you trounce the Ogres, the survivor surrenders and shows you to their secret treasure stash!

    It's less about defining "This thing has Challenge" vs "This thing has Resistance" and more about "What are the potential outcomes here".
    Yeah, emphasis on the 'grades' bit there maybe. But also a focus on the immediate rather than the long-term. This is sort of what I was saying about micro-feedbacks. The particular feeling of resistance doesn't tie at all to the long-term outcomes of things, its really in the moment. So that lets you hold as constant 'there is no consequence to this bit of gameplay that persists beyond the next 10 seconds' but still have the feeling that the game is responding to you within those 10 seconds. Its kind of meaningfulness without meaningfulness in a way - interactions which feel good and where the way you approach the interaction matters to you, but which aren't at all about a greater context or consequence.

    An example of this would be the various ways of getting around in Satisfactory. There's a power cable zipline, a jetpack, speed boots, and a jump-slide pattern (outside of things like vehicles and hypertubes which are more passive). If you're going between two points, they'll all do the trick more or less, and the speed differences aren't really huge over long distances (the jump-slide + speed boots can outrace the zipline going downhill, but not uphill). Those movement types all involve different behaviors from the player, be it jumping from powerline to powerline or timing the slide or whatever and if you miss the timing, the consequences are more about the instantaneous feeling of losing your pace rather than those 1-2 seconds of slowdown actually impacting anything in the game.

    So those movement mechanics each give you a different feeling of push-back in addition to the various challenge elements. I'm interested in separating that push-back feeling from the challenge bits, because I think that's the key to creating experiences which are satisfying even if there's no uncertainty about the outcome and even if there's nothing at all at stake. That fills a missing element in tabletop design - normally one might think to design around amplifying the consequences of choices in order to make those choices meaningful. But if you have more tools, you can better do things like mix in low intensity experiences which still feel satisfying. The simplest form of this is the 'popcorn fight' - utter punching bag opposition which is there so that players can feel their characters' movesets and abilities.

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    Default Re: Challenge versus resistance

    Quote Originally Posted by NichG View Post
    So in that case, please define 'challenge'. But if you do that and its missing things which I'm including in 'resistance', please recognize that I'm not just talking about challenge.



    Yeah, emphasis on the 'grades' bit there maybe. But also a focus on the immediate rather than the long-term. This is sort of what I was saying about micro-feedbacks. The particular feeling of resistance doesn't tie at all to the long-term outcomes of things, its really in the moment. So that lets you hold as constant 'there is no consequence to this bit of gameplay that persists beyond the next 10 seconds' but still have the feeling that the game is responding to you within those 10 seconds. Its kind of meaningfulness without meaningfulness in a way - interactions which feel good and where the way you approach the interaction matters to you, but which aren't at all about a greater context or consequence.

    An example of this would be the various ways of getting around in Satisfactory. There's a power cable zipline, a jetpack, speed boots, and a jump-slide pattern (outside of things like vehicles and hypertubes which are more passive). If you're going between two points, they'll all do the trick more or less, and the speed differences aren't really huge over long distances (the jump-slide + speed boots can outrace the zipline going downhill, but not uphill). Those movement types all involve different behaviors from the player, be it jumping from powerline to powerline or timing the slide or whatever and if you miss the timing, the consequences are more about the instantaneous feeling of losing your pace rather than those 1-2 seconds of slowdown actually impacting anything in the game.

    So those movement mechanics each give you a different feeling of push-back in addition to the various challenge elements. I'm interested in separating that push-back feeling from the challenge bits, because I think that's the key to creating experiences which are satisfying even if there's no uncertainty about the outcome and even if there's nothing at all at stake. That fills a missing element in tabletop design - normally one might think to design around amplifying the consequences of choices in order to make those choices meaningful. But if you have more tools, you can better do things like mix in low intensity experiences which still feel satisfying. The simplest form of this is the 'popcorn fight' - utter punching bag opposition which is there so that players can feel their characters' movesets and abilities.
    I mean, there you're talking into feedback methods that TTRPG's don't really have. That sort of visceral "Feel" is dependent on the direct impact of the control scheme. A good DM can do this sort of things with narration and keeping up a steady flow of combat, but it's a skill, and not something you can really build into a system.


    Like, one way to do it is to have a secondary, simplified "Popcorn fight" set of mechanics to be used when the enemies don't really provide any real challenge, as mid-level characters hack through hordes of basic skeletons, where rather than going blow-by-blow you just kind of say "Okay, everybody tell me what you're doing to look cool killing skeletons this round and what you're rolling to do that". But I don't think that gets the same effect that you're looking for.
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    Quote Originally Posted by BRC View Post
    I mean, there you're talking into feedback methods that TTRPG's don't really have. That sort of visceral "Feel" is dependent on the direct impact of the control scheme. A good DM can do this sort of things with narration and keeping up a steady flow of combat, but it's a skill, and not something you can really build into a system.
    That makes it an interesting design challenge to me. I think the character-building mini-game can have this kind of visceral feel, to the extent that people will go and play that game on its own without an accompanying campaign.

    Like, one way to do it is to have a secondary, simplified "Popcorn fight" set of mechanics to be used when the enemies don't really provide any real challenge, as mid-level characters hack through hordes of basic skeletons, where rather than going blow-by-blow you just kind of say "Okay, everybody tell me what you're doing to look cool killing skeletons this round and what you're rolling to do that". But I don't think that gets the same effect that you're looking for.
    The interesting thing is, I think that's exactly how you remove the feeling of resistance from the popcorn fight, because in some sense you're creating a separation between the character the player wields when doing serious fights and the character they wield during the popcorn fights, which becomes a sort of generic 'can do anything' character, and there's no feeling of feedback in response to choosing to kill the skeletons differently.

    On the other hand, consider things like Cleave, Great Cleave, area attacks, some of the stuff for fliers (forgot the feat name but it lets you attack everyone on a line based on your flight speed), etc. With those kinds of mechanics you actually can kill hordes of basic skeletons per action, but what's more depending on how you combine things you cap out at a different amount per round. So if you e.g. find a way to get your movement speed up by 50ft, you kill more skeletons. And if you can get that to 30000ft/round, you kill that many more (until you deplete the horde), and so on. In the end the story goes 'X hours later, you've eliminated all the skeletons' but a player who figures out how to kill 30000 a round will remember that number and how it came about, and I suspect they'll feel more ownership over the feat.

    It's a tricky balance because in some sense the number is arbitrary. So its kind of like, how do you make the numbers and how they connect feel intrinsically meaningful even when you're way outside of the expected ranges for things in which there are actual consequences. That's kind of why I brought up Cookie Clicker - one of its tricks was leveraging an inherent fascination associated with exponential growth compared to linear growth, so that it maintained a sense of progression or advancement even though really you're just looking at a counter tick up.
    Last edited by NichG; 2021-07-09 at 05:55 PM.

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    Default Re: Challenge versus resistance

    I think I understand where @NichG is coming from. I don't think I'd call it "resistance", personally, because it seems to me to be more about feedback that doesn't involve failure or even setbacks. It's the sense of "I have improved", despite going from successful to successful (but going from beating it in 100 minutes to beating it in 10 minutes, where "it" may be a single sub-section of moves).

    I don't run challenging games of D&D at all. I fully, 100% expect (and plan for as the default) the party to succeed at whatever they're really trying to do. Success is the default, failure is the exception. I've killed...3?...characters in over 14 parties over 6 years. One because he was terminally hard headed (trying to solo a CR 9 as a level 2, despite being given ample IC and OOC chance to run, and there not being a need to even engage at all), one because he failed like 3 saves in a row (including his good saves) and then got a crit brain extraction from a mindflayer. A regular hit wouldn't have been enough, but a crit was. The third was from a Power Word: Kill spell and he got raised right afterward.

    Yet there is still "resistance" (to use the proposed term). They see the feedback of the things they do, they see how taking this approach changes the world that way, while taking a different approach gets what they want easier and with fewer drawbacks.
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    Quote Originally Posted by PhoenixPhyre View Post
    I think I understand where @NichG is coming from. I don't think I'd call it "resistance", personally, because it seems to me to be more about feedback that doesn't involve failure or even setbacks. It's the sense of "I have improved", despite going from successful to successful (but going from beating it in 100 minutes to beating it in 10 minutes, where "it" may be a single sub-section of moves).

    I don't run challenging games of D&D at all. I fully, 100% expect (and plan for as the default) the party to succeed at whatever they're really trying to do. Success is the default, failure is the exception. I've killed...3?...characters in over 14 parties over 6 years. One because he was terminally hard headed (trying to solo a CR 9 as a level 2, despite being given ample IC and OOC chance to run, and there not being a need to even engage at all), one because he failed like 3 saves in a row (including his good saves) and then got a crit brain extraction from a mindflayer. A regular hit wouldn't have been enough, but a crit was. The third was from a Power Word: Kill spell and he got raised right afterward.

    Yet there is still "resistance" (to use the proposed term). They see the feedback of the things they do, they see how taking this approach changes the world that way, while taking a different approach gets what they want easier and with fewer drawbacks.
    Yeah, I think it really is about feedback fundamentally.

    An example from one of my old campaigns was that there was some kind of metaphysics where damage was literally related point for point to energy and if you would normally exceed 500 damage in a single blow, it'd cap the damage and change the energy type of the damage to an exotic (D&D meets grand unified theories...) which nothing had resistances to and which had special effects if it constituted the killing blow to something with a cosmological association. Basically it'd randomly recast the cosmological alignment into something at angles to the normal system (so if you killed a Chaotic Evil outsider with it, in the moment of their destruction they might instead be a Conflict + Sorrow aligned outsider instead, with whatever you could do with that). For the most part it was flair, but once the players knew it was there they started to go for it and find uses for it.
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    Quote Originally Posted by NichG View Post
    So in that case, please define 'challenge'. But if you do that and its missing things which I'm including in 'resistance', please recognize that I'm not just talking about challenge.
    I recognized that from the start. My second sentence in this thread was: "Your observations have more to do with how challenge interacts with player skill." The diagrams have two axes, my point never was that what you talk about would be captured by only one of them.

    I already told you what challenge is: for each activity, it's the threshold of effort and skill required to do that activity. I then explained, with examples, that for practical purposes you can split challenges into two groups based on which of skill or effort you scale.

    Every part of your argument that boils down to talking of feedback, is synonymous to talking of how a challenge feels to a person engaged in that challenge, something the diagrams describe in terms of a few emotional states. You can make a distinction between a challenge and the feeling of being challenged, but obviously these are correlated qualities, not independent ones. As far as feedback goes, your design goal can be described by specific challenge and learning curves mapped on a diagram such as I linked to.

    There are aspects of your argument which might require expansions of the framework, but I suspect those have to do with aesthetics and internal versus external motivation, and the distinction you are making between "challenge" and "resistance" doesn't touch on those any more than my diagrams do.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vahnavoi View Post
    I recognized that from the start. My second sentence in this thread was: "Your observations have more to do with how challenge interacts with player skill." The diagrams have two axes, my point never was that what you talk about would be captured by only of them.

    I already told you what challenge is: for each activity, it's the threshold of effort and skill required to do that activity. I then explained, with examples, that for practical purposes you can split challenges into two groups based on which of skill or effort you scale.

    Every part of your argument that boils down to talking of feedback, is synonymous to talking of how a challenge feels to a person engaged in that challenge, something the diagrams describe in terms of a few emotional states. You can make a distinction between a challenge and the feeling of being challenged, but obviously these are correlated qualities, not independent ones. As far as feedback goes, your design goal can be described by specific challenge and learning curves mapped on a diagram such as I linked to.

    There are aspects of your argument which might require expansions of the framework, but I suspect those have to do with aesthetics and internal versus external motivation, and the distinction you are making between "challenge" and "resistance" doesn't touch on those any more than my diagrams do.
    Are you familiar with Shepard Tones or the way a Fresnel lens or bas relief is constructed? What I'm talking about is to learning curves like a Shepard Tone is to a musical scale.

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    No, I wasn't. On cursory examination, it seems to me you're saying you want to create an illusion of getting ever better at something without actually getting better. This kind of illusion may or may not be possible. It still sounds like the way you'd go constructing these is by matching specific difficulty curve with specific learning curve.

    (As a curiosity, I listened to some examples of Shepard's tone and the illusion doesn't sound like it happens for me. I don't know why.)

    However, I'm fairly sure most of the named example games don't have a quality like this. F.ex. the ability to self-motivatedly make constructs of growing complexity out of Lego or Minecraft blocks isn't an illusion, you are actually increasing in a skill that has a very high ceiling. Similarly, ever-increasing amount of cookies in Cookie Clicker isn't an illusion, there's a variable that goes up with certain amount of effort, so all multiples of that variable are proof-of-effort.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vahnavoi View Post
    No, I wasn't. On cursory examination, it seems to me you're saying you want to create an illusion of getting ever better at something without actually getting better. This kind of illusion may or may not be possible. It still sounds like the way you'd go constructing these is by matching specific difficulty curve with specific learning curve.

    (As a curiosity, I listened to some examples of Shepard's tone and the illusion doesn't sound like it happens for me. I don't know why.)

    However, I'm fairly sure most of the named example games don't have a quality like this. F.ex. the ability to self-motivatedly make constructs of growing complexity out of Lego or Minecraft blocks isn't an illusion, you are actually increasing in a skill that has a very high ceiling. Similarly, ever-increasing amount of cookies in Cookie Clicker isn't an illusion, there's a variable that goes up with certain amount of effort, so all multiples of that variable are proof-of-effort.
    You could also try a Risset Rhythm for another version of the illusion.

    Cookie Clicker is the better example of this sort of thing than Minecraft, because the game is basically the same game at 10^10 cookies as it is at 1000 cookies. You can always grow faster and the game strongly establishes an expectation that you can't use normal numbers sense to expect a particular ceiling - you might think 'wow, 100000 cookies is a lot' at the start, but you're quickly disabused of that when the multipliers start accumulating. So with that uncertainty, its possible to make the transition from 10^8 cookies a second to 10^9 cookies a second feel meaningful even if earlier you used basically the same mechanics to transition from 10 to 100 cookies per second. The player has or needs no more skill at the end than at the start to experience those transitions. Furthermore, early effort is basically erased in a few seconds whenever the next tier of auto-clicker or upgrade comes online. And if you describe the game to someone it sounds really dumb. But the experience of it is surprisingly addictive. I don't know if I'd say its the best example of what I'm calling resistance, but it does capture that Shepard's Tone type of illusion.

    The tricky thing is to maintain that feeling without ending up in a red queen situation where it feels like you're running just to stay in place. So I'd say that rubber banding is an attempt at this kind of thing, but one which actually fails to deliver.

    Anyhow, what I'm actually looking for isn't necessarily the illusion of getting ever better (so that a player would e.g. misjudge their absolute skill - not the point), but its more about the specific sensations that people use to get better at things, kept separate from the question of whether the player is actually getting better or not. Basically the idea is that the system is responding and the visceral feeling that small variations in how you do things have corresponding variations in what happens in a way that can be intuitively sensed. I don't think its used only to get better at things anyhow. You're probably using something like this whenever you for example lift a lop-sided object and manage not to fall over. It's not that you're learning 'the skill of walking with this particular lopsided object' and that's why you don't fall, but rather it's that you already knew how to walk with a variety of objects and that policy fundamentally is a closed-loop control policy rather than an open-loop one: it's adaptive, even when the policy itself is fixed.

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    I have read everything but haven't quite absorbed it. Do you think you could boil it down to a definition for challenge and resistance? It seems to be tied up in separating ideas like: chance of failure from consequences for failure or difficulty as in skill required vs. relative to your current skill with an element of character stats. Am I on the right track?

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    @NichG: Your analysis, especially the last paragraph, suggests that this type of illusion is easier to create with some skills than others. As a corollary, complex games that utilize many skills would probably find it harder to maintain this kind of equilibrium for long. For roleplaying games, I think the closest examples are games with "number threadmills" where experience points and stats on the character sheet go up but gameplay stays largely the same.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cluedrew View Post
    I have read everything but haven't quite absorbed it. Do you think you could boil it down to a definition for challenge and resistance? It seems to be tied up in separating ideas like: chance of failure from consequences for failure or difficulty as in skill required vs. relative to your current skill with an element of character stats. Am I on the right track?
    That sounds like it's getting there. For me, this is how I'm thinking of them:

    Resistance: The feeling of responsive push-back. This could be push-back to effort, skill, numbers on a character sheet, whatever.

    Challenge: The way in which the effort, skill, numbers, etc applied lead to success or failure outcomes, whether finely graded or binary.

    So resistance is about how it feels to act in the game, whereas challenge has more to do with the degree to which the choice of action lets you get where you want to go.

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    Default Re: Challenge versus resistance

    Quote Originally Posted by Vahnavoi View Post
    For game design purposes, resistance, challenge and difficulty are synonyms.
    I haven't read the preceding threads, but I think there is a problem stemming from this particular bit. The fact of the matter is that synonyms aren't identical, and I get the feeling multiple different concepts are all being labeled "challenge," even when they aren't the same thing.

    Since this is the internet, I feel the need to break out an example: Big Brother is watching you. Watch what happens when I start swapping in synonyms.
    1. major Amigo is following you.
    2. The Dictator is eyeing you.
    3. Enormous Sibling is viewing one.

    Now, I'm creating statements that have entirely different meaning on purpose. But my point is that I get the feeling you're referring to multiple different concepts as "challenge," by accident. An example of that:

    Quote Originally Posted by Vahnavoi View Post
    Your point about sequence breaking is more complex. Basically, it approaches the distinction of effort-based versus skill-based challenge. Your example of resistance gym training is more of the former kind: once you have a basic gist of how to do a movement, you vary challenge by varying level of effort - more of the same with higher intensity. Sequence breaking is the latter kind: sequence breaks are typically high skill exploits where you change how you do things, chancing the dynamic of the game. Put differently, at the gym, going from benching 50 kilos to benching 100 kilos is effort-based challenge, while going from standard push-ups to knuckle push-ups and then handstand push-ups is skill-based challenge. For a game, grinding for XP to get bigger numbers to beat tougher opponents is effort-based challenge, while figuring out a new strategy to beat stronger opponents while underleveled is skill-based challenge.
    I don't know a videogame where "grind to higher numbers" is a challenge. Not while leveling in MMOs (or collecting better gear from dungeons I can already do), or in any game where you collect creatures to fight with (Pokémon, Fossil Fighters, Dragon Quest Monsters, ect.). IRL this is a reasonable example, because your muscles will atrophy as you don't use them, but going from level 15 to level 20 in a videogame is very stereotypically something that lacks "challenge." Its literally just going through the motions until you've gone though the motions enough times. I realize that in your definition(s?) this is a state of "low challenge," (as shown on the linked diagrams) but it doesn't seem to have anything to do with "effort-based challenge." If there's effort involved, I don't see it.

    Even with a toddler whose still learning to walk or someone in bad health struggling to they're still developing some skill by trying that I don't see replicated in grinding out under leveled enemies for 15 minutes until you level up or they drop you a more powerful item. And I like the walking example here, because it seems to be the challenge equivalent to an inferior good, where people feel less arousal/flow/control as their skill improves because they can switch to more challenging activities.

    Quote Originally Posted by Vahnavoi View Post
    As far as feedback goes, your design goal can be described by specific challenge and learning curves mapped on a diagram such as I linked to.
    Whether it can be mapped this way doesn't mean such a mapping tells you anything useful.

    Now, this diagram is provided with text claiming it is looking to create flow even at low skill levels and the other diagram assumes apathy at the same point of the graph. So, again, it doesn't look like "challenge" has a consistent definition here, even if we do use it. But just from the description, it does appear that "high resistance, high skill" play results in something other than flow, so it doesn't look like the "challenge" axis on either graph is particularly relevant to "resistance."



    Actually, for going in more depth, I think it would be useful to map out high and low resistance. If we have part of the chart, it might be easier to see if the axes are different (or not).

    Probably best to start with low/high cases:
    1. What does high resistance and low skill play feel like?
    2. What does low resistance and low skill play feel like?
    3. What does high resistance and high skill play feel like?
    4. What does low resistance and high skill play feel like?


    Note that I'm not sure skill level is a useful second axis, and I'm not sure it should be low/high resistance. It could be positive/negative resistance, for instance, where "positive resistance" feels like the game is throwing challenges at you," and "negative resistance" is when the game seems to be speeding you to later in the game instead of making you feel like you need to work to do things.

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    Default Re: Challenge versus resistance

    Quote Originally Posted by sandmote View Post
    Actually, for going in more depth, I think it would be useful to map out high and low resistance. If we have part of the chart, it might be easier to see if the axes are different (or not).

    Probably best to start with low/high cases:
    1. What does high resistance and low skill play feel like?
    2. What does low resistance and low skill play feel like?
    3. What does high resistance and high skill play feel like?
    4. What does low resistance and high skill play feel like?


    Note that I'm not sure skill level is a useful second axis, and I'm not sure it should be low/high resistance. It could be positive/negative resistance, for instance, where "positive resistance" feels like the game is throwing challenges at you," and "negative resistance" is when the game seems to be speeding you to later in the game instead of making you feel like you need to work to do things.
    I'm not sure what negative resistance would be exactly. I used 'high quality resistance' rather than 'high resistance' to refer to what I thought would be ideal, and those might actually be different axes.

    High quality resistance would be something like resistance where the direction of push-back is aligned to what the player is doing regardless of what the player is doing. Low quality resistance would be if the push back is incoherent with what the player is doing.

    High resistance would mean that the player feels like the environment doesn't give much in response to what the player tries to do even if it gives a little. Low resistance would mean that there's a lot of give in response to small adjustments in approach.

    Negative resistance might mean that the world actively exaggerates a player's actions, making it hard to bound their effects - like a game where everything you do sets off an exponential growth process repeating that action. But I'm not really sure that it makes sense to call that 'negative'. Another take would be something like a game which somehow anticipates what a player is trying to do, and even when the player intentionally tries to hold back or slow down, those things happen anyhow on their own. I guess there's a lot of isekai anime with that theme like 'I asked to be average' -> ends up OP anyhow, or Overlord with Demiurge interpreting hesitation or uncertainty as brilliant planning or testing the minions.

    If I were to get mathy about it, resistance should be something like the Jacobian of the response function of the environment. 'If I change how I push in the X direction a little, how does the force I'm receiving on the Y direction change?'. In which case negative resistance would mean something like a negative eigenvalue... So that would suggest more the exponential explosion picture.

    Anyhow, going with 'quality':

    High skill, high quality resistance: Even though you understand the game well, every time you play the small flaws where you could improve are obvious in retrospect, and it's clear what you could do to be better or what tradeoffs would be made if you shifted your style.

    High skill, low quality resistance: You play the game so well that further improvement feels like hitting a wall. You make adjustments which seem like they should be better, but find that those adjustments make you worse elsewhere in unexpected ways. Or, you simply can't feel any change in what happens even if you play lax, not even at the level of moment-to-moment evolution of the game state. An example not using skill but using numbers would be something like in Earthbound where if you outlevel a monster group enough then you just auto-win combat when touching them in the field - getting a new psi power in that case feels meaningless because you don't even get the chance to use it

    Low skill, high quality resistance: even though you're blundering around and not really using everything the game provides, when you get an idea to try something a different way you can clearly feel and understand what changed. If you're losing every time, you can still feel when you lose differently and reliably reproduce that.

    Low skill, low quality resistance: you get trounced every time or can't achieve what you want, and despite seeing other people succeed nothing you try seems to get you closer or make any difference. It's hard to see how you could even try to work out how to do things. Determining the difference between luck and skill becomes difficult. Imagine playing a text adventure puzzle game in a language you don't speak.

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    Default Re: Challenge versus resistance

    @Sandmote: there's literal, physical effort involved even when you're just pushing a button. There is also mental effort, such as willpower, involved, which ultimately boils down to physical effort.

    It directly follows that grinding for XP or playing involve challenge - the challenge often has just deliberately been set so low that it's trivial for typical end-user. Which is why grinding is often considered a very boring game mechanic, exactly as the framework predicts, and is frequently skipped by skilled players if a game allows for it. You are right that there's an issue of semantic confusion, namely that people often use "challenge" and "challenging" without specifying whether they're talking of the actual thing being done or how they feel about it - a topic I addressed a few posts back.

    (Oh, and you're right the second diagram has an error, as it swaps boredom and relaxation around in low portion of the graph compared to other graphs of the same type.)

    So the error in your type of thinking, and possibly others, is that when you conflate challenge and the feeling of being challenged and then try to look at the graphs I posted, you end up with a recursive definition of challenge where the absence of feeling challenged makes you conclude there is no challenge, and then the model gives you wrong outputs. Related, it looks like to me that when people wrongly conclude a thing has no challenge due to lack of feeling of challenge, this stops them from looking at what the actual activity is and what the requirements for it are. This in turn keeps that wrong conclusion from being checked, because it stops them from noticing the evidence for why that activity would feel challenging (and thus, in their recursive framework, be a challenge to) to other agents. Attempting to point this out is why I chewed out NichG for the walking example.

    (Your observation of walking as inferior good is a valid one.)

    As for how you'd draw a graph like that using NichG's special definition of "resistance", I have nothing for now.

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