Contrast is commonly used for visuals and sometimes for music but you can also use it for game difficulty. The usual pattern in nature is slow rises and sharp falls.

  • The stock market tends to slowly go up and occasionally drop dramatically.
  • When you build a sand castle on the beach, you slowly make it larger, and then suddenly a wave destroys it all.
  • Forests grow slowly, and once in a while a fire will wipe out large sections of forest.
  • Stress slowly builds up in rock faults, and then an earthquake will suddenly release a large amount of stress.

In games we see this same pattern. Think of how many games you've seen that start off slow, build up, and then have a “boss” fight, followed by the relative calm of the next area. The difficulty or excitement might look a lot like a stock market plot.

One major difference between games and the patterns in nature is that you can't always predict the falls in nature. I've seen some games where a boss is unexpectedly followed by another boss, but usually you roughly know what's going to happen after a boss fight. In games where encounters are dynamically generated, it might be interesting for the encounters to follow a pattern like those seen in nature. More randomness with slow increases and sudden drops could make games more exciting.

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Anonymous wrote at April 11, 2010 11:32 AM

Don't forget games where you fight levels after levels filled with same enemies, and then suddenly arch-enemy appears. You take him down, thinking "woah I kelled the boss" but then it turns out he appears again and again, now playing "your typical enemy" role in another set of levels. This doesn't match the pattern you describe.

axcho wrote at April 12, 2010 1:34 PM

I did something like this for my recent game Flydrill. It has an AI Director of sorts that tries to create a periodic rise and fall of tension and relief. Even though the system is really rough and rudimentary, it makes the experience a lot more interesting. It doesn't have to be perfect. :)

Scott wrote at April 14, 2010 12:26 PM

It would be interesting to have a system in place where a boss or some other dramatic event "weakens" your character, so that the difficulty does not drop immediately after he's defeated. The difficulty level would take a sudden drop once your player comes across a lucky break like reaching a town or receiving reinforcements.