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NewsFeb 07 2014 08:45 PM AdventWe've talked about what modding a game involves, but another huge misconception I find is what constitutes a good mod. For the sake of this article, we're going to be restricting this largely to difficulty mods, for obvious reasons.
To create a good difficulty mod, you have to look at the following:
- Difficulty Curve
- Difficulty Type
- Technical Limitations
Each of these must be managed and/or worked around appropriately in order to make a good mod, and to be honest, these are largely applicable to any type of mod, not just difficulty mods.
First and foremost, a difficulty curve is absolutely essential to any kind of mod, hardtype or not.
A mod that is really tough from the get go will quickly reach the point where strategical difficulty becomes statistical difficulty, or in other words, your well thought out strategies will become simply a numbers game. Or, failing that, will reach a point where the player simply isn't enjoying themselves anymore. A huge offender of this is Phantasy Star IV: Purgatory Mode. The difficulty is very high at the beginning (characters being one shot in the first dungeon) and does not let up.
It's also very possible for your mod to be too easy as well. Ideally, you want a difficulty curve that challenges the player to step up their game, but you don't want the game to beat them into submission either.
Just as important as the difficulty curve is the type of difficulty. I'm not going to say that any one type of difficulty is superior to another, because to be quite honest it's all subjective. What you find fun may not be what another person finds fun.
Most difficulty mods try to have a heavy emphasis on what I call strategical difficulty. The term is self-explanatory; the difficulty comes from the strategies you employ rather than your overall stats. Final Fantasy Tactics 1.3 and Final Fantasy VI: Brave New World are two mods that do this very well. This is generally a very fun type of difficulty that a lot of people who enjoy hardtypes enjoy.
Some people find enjoyment in the type of statistical difficulty I mentioned before, and there's nothing wrong with that. If your mod is targeting that crowd of people, have at it, just don't expect those outside of that group to find it very fun or entertaining.
There's another type of difficulty that you generally won't see emphasized too much in hardtypes, which are mostly RPGs: reaction-based difficulty. A really good example of this is our Megaman X Hardtype created by Hart-Hunt. The emphasis on your reaction time is displayed quite clearly in the very first level and sets the tone for the rest of the mod.
Then there are certain mods that combine all three of these: strategy, statistical, and reaction time. In this case, the statistical part of the formula is most often done through equipment choices and, if applicable, the game's job/class system.
As a side note, a concept regarding difficulty that is something of a golden rule is to never break an established "law" without telling the player. If the player has gotten used to playing a certain way (most of the time different from the original), you don't simply change that completely without giving the player some kind of clue. Teaching the player to use different strategies is well and good, but don't do something like emphasize highly aggressive play in the first 75% of the game and then completely nullify that playstyle in the last 25%.
Content in a hardtype is many things. It is the number of viable equipment and abilities, the new stuff you add to the game, and, to add onto the first, builds.
The best poster child for content I've seen has got to be, without a doubt, Brave New World. BTB and Synchysi have added a lot of things to the game, and in doing so made practically everything viable. Every piece of equipment and every ability is useful, niche or not. Every character is viable and has multiple builds, each of them with different strengths and weaknesses. This adds a lot of replayability to the mod as a result.
Something to always be cautious of, however, is overbalancing. There's a really good article on balance already that goes into it in detail. Ideally, you want to make as many things viable as you can, but also give the player the freedom to experiment. Pigeon-holing the player into using that one ability for a given fight over all others (not to be confused with an intelligent choice of abilities for a fight) is not a good thing.
Tedium goes hand in hand with the first two points about difficulty curve and type. If you want grinding to be a necessity, that's fine. Just don't expect a lot of people to be a huge fan of your mod, because let's face it, people generally don't like tedious, arbitrary, repetitive tasks.
The key word there is "arbitrary." I'll use 1.3 as an example: everything in the Deep Dungeon is level 99, but the Deep Dungeon is optional. You can complete the game without ever grinding a single point of exp or JP.
Brave New World (most mods that we host, really) does a very good job of this. If you fight every battle you get into, then you won't have to grind at all. If you run from battles, there's obviously going to come a point where you need to do a little grinding to keep pace.
It's always good to see that a modder has put up safeguards to deter the brute force (beating a fight with levels, not strategy) approach to a given boss fight. as well. For example, when my mod, Breath of Fire III: Dragon Trial, was going through one of its first betas, a certain tester brute forced his way past the first boss. To curb that urge, I made the ability (that he was grinding for) do significantly less damage. You can also spin this another way, and make a boss counter a particular ability with an attack that almost wipes out your entire party.
Ah, technical limitations, the bane of a modder. Anyone who has ever modded something knows all too well what these roadblocks feel like. However, all is not lost; these roadblocks are expected. As a modder, you have to find a way to work around them, as we all do.
Sometimes you work around them with mechanics, sometimes you cut to the root of the problem and change it with an Assembly hack, but regardless, you still have to get past it or your project is doomed.
Do not be afraid to ask for help. That's what we're here for.
Feb 07 2014 05:30 AM AdventLet's talk about modding. No, I don't mean stuff like Skyrim or New Vegas mods, I mean the kind of stuff we host here on Insane Difficulty: modified versions of your favorite old school games. Modding isn't simple, but it's not impossible either, as the downloads section shows. I've been seeing a lot of threads pop up lately, each with their own misconceptions about how modding is done, so I figured now would be a good time to talk about it.
Before I go any farther, this is something that has to be said. No one will make your mod for you. All of us who mod or hack these games do so because we love the game in question. Most games are pretty simple nowadays, and others have a few imperfections, but if polished could have shined like a diamond. We do what we do in order to shine these games to something closer to perfection. We do not do it for attention, or for recognition.
First and foremost, you need to figure out the scope of your mod. There's a pretty good article on this already, so I'll keep this part fairly brief. You need to figure out what kind of mod you want. You have to have some kind of vision. Do you want a difficulty mod? Do you want to rebalance the game and get rid of that one ability (or bring it more in line with the others) that makes everything really easy? You need to be able to answer these questions. You may not know exactly what kind of mod when you start. This is okay, just keep in mind that the lack of a vision will spell death for your project in the long run. Scope Creep is a very real concern, and something you always need to be aware of.
This next one is possibly the most important thing to understand: Time. Modding a game is a huge time commitment; it's not something that will be finished quickly. Any good mod has months, sometimes years of work put into it. Taking breaks is fine; no one will fault you for that, but this is something that needs to be understood. As a result, burn outs are a very real concern. Take breaks.
Alright, now that we have that out of the way, let's get into how you're actually going to mod your game. I'm going to list off the different tools you can use to accomplish this from the simplest to the most complex.
Thankfully, we have a wide range of tools at our disposal. The simplest and most popular of these are game editors. These are not universal, as no two games have exactly the same code. The quickest way to find one would probably be to use Google. For your benefit, I'll list off some popular games that we know to have functioning editors.
- Final Fantasy Tactics
- Final Fantasy [I-VII]
- Chrono Trigger
- Golden Sun
- Golden Sun: The Lost Age
- Dragon Warrior [1-4]
- Megaman [1-6]
- Ghosts n' Goblins
- Pokemon [Various]
- Fire Emblem  – The Sacred Stones
- Super Mario World
- Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
There are, of course, more than I've listed here, but you can do some research and find them rather easily. Zophar's Domain has a ton of them.
There are, however, times when a game does not have an editor, like Breath of Fire III for example. What do you do then? Well, at this point it's a lot more difficult if your game doesn't have documentation. Either way, at this point you need to rely on a few other tools.
Hex Editors are basically what you're going to be hacking the game with. It basically opens the ROM or ISO and allows you to go in and edit the bytes of data (displayed in hexadecimal form) contained within. I won't go into this too much, as there are many, many resources available to you via Google. My preferred hex editor is HxD, if you're curious.
Tile Molester is more for palette editing than tweaking the actual game. It essentially converts hex values to a color map. Each hex value corresponds to a different color. You can import palettes to make it easier. I'll be the first to say that editing color palettes via Tile Molester is a massive pain, as some of our modders can attest to.
See how that has "Patch" and "X" to the left and right of the usual title? That's done with Tile Molester.
Another thing to note is that you cannot load an ISO itself into Tile Molester, only ROMs. You can, however, extract files from the ISO and load them in Tile Molester. That's how you edit item icons or World Map Ramza in Final Fantasy Tactics.
Let me just say right now that disassemblers are currently out of my league. I don't use them, because I don't know Assembly, the language that these games are coded in. If you don't know Assembly, you're not gonna get anything out these. Essentially, a disassembler allows you to track the data being called by the game so that you can find the bytes you're looking for easier. They're highly advanced.
I'd like to also add that if your game doesn't have an editor or extensive documentation, a disassembler is really your only option, because unless you know what bytes to change in a hex editor, you're not going to be modding anything.
As you can see, modding isn't something you can get done in five minutes with no effort. It's a process. You will never know everything when you begin; you will learn more modding your game than you ever could by playing it. Anyone who has a mod on here will tell you that.
Modding is fun, though. It's like breathing new life into a piece of your childhood to share with others. Always remember that no one here started modding knowing exactly what to do. We all started from the same place: with that one desire to make a clouded diamond shine.
Feb 02 2014 05:00 AM BTBWe are proud to announce the release of Brave New World 1.4.0, which features:
- An overhaul of Edgar's tools, including two brand new ones
- Balances and tweaks to many enemies based on player feedback
- Quite a bit more, much of which I'm not at liberty to share
Special thanks to Anima for all of his help, as well as all of you guys in chat who provide feedback and pretty much just put up with me in general. I seriously could not have done it without you.
(NOTE:1.4.0 was initially released as 1.3.1; we have since retroactively renamed it as it was a major update)
Jan 20 2014 04:06 AM ArchaelWe need to talk balance. Yes, that terribly overused word in video game culture. Balance is important for the creation of entertaining and engaging titles. Intelligent balance—which rewards experimentation, knowledge, and skill—immortalizes single player campaigns and spawns eSports communities.
Game critics pinpoint lack of balance as a terrible design flaw, and rightly so. Many games are indeed poorly balanced, to the point where these imbalances take away from a player’s ability to derive fun. But the reverse is also true. It is entirely possible to sacrifice fun and positive emotional experiences on the altar of balance.
From a design perspective, game mechanics receive the “balanced” and “working as intended” seals of approval if they fit into a predetermined vision. Fortunately for today’s developers, the games-as-a-service model allows for the rules of a game to change after it has shipped. This puts less pressure on designers to finalize their intended design by launch day, since the holy grail of “balance” is now turned into an always moving, adjustable goal-post. From that point onward, a developer’s philosophy for balancing games is exposed;
Kill the Dissenter
This occurs when designers are reluctant to support creative experimentation or are unable to accept innocuous imbalances that appear after the game is in the hands of the consumer. This usually leads to changes which stifle creativity that comes from players.
Consider Riot Games’ League of Legends. When fans talk about the League of Legends meta-game (adaptations and strategies that transcend the prescribed rule-sets), they think about what players are commonly doing when they play. However, Riot’s philosophy towards balancing their game does not allow a true meta-game to emerge. Instead, characters and mechanics which deviate from the norm are reduced in effectiveness through a process known as nerfing.
Master Yi, a League of Legends champion designed to play the role of “Assassin” and “Fighter”, is a perfect example. Fighters are traditionally played in the top lane of the League of Legends world, while Assassins are sent to the jungle area. Players figured out how to build Master Yi for deadly effectiveness in the middle lane, which is reserved for characters of the “Mage” role. Instead of letting a true meta-game response occur, Riot knocked out Master Yi’s customized middle lane build, thus enforcing a vision of how the character must be played. The League of Legends meta-game was never given enough time to evolve or for players to develop a countering strategy.
This type of balance process can result in players feeling strangled. The psychological rewards for theory-crafting and exploration within the game’s framework are lost, replaced with a constant struggle between game developer and user for what the “allowed” way to play a game is. The designer will tell you what is fun, and what is fun might change next week.
Not “Balanced”, Just Different
In the same genre as League of Legends stands DOTA2 by Valve Corporation. DOTA2’s Naga Siren has all the skills expected of a “Support” hero, but possesses a powerful ability called Song of the Siren. Song of the Siren proved to be overwhelmingly effective in letting the Naga Siren fulfill other roles, such that of the team’s “Carry”— a hero destined to grow powerful in the later stages of the game—by accumulating in-game gold and objects. Instead of destroying the versatility created by Song of the Siren, DOTA2’s designers made the character’s weaknesses more apparent by adjusting her effectiveness during the early game with a nudge to her other skills. DOTA2’s approach to balance allows true shifts in the meta-game to occur unrestricted, even if these lead to gameplay not originally built into the game.
As designers, we must differentiate between actual game bugs and harmless but emergent forms of play. We must learn to let go of our brainchildren and accept that the people experiencing your game might enjoy it in a way you did not anticipate. The wrong approach to game balance breaks the spirit of immersion and fun that many designers claim to desire. Game balance should facilitate emergent fun, never destroy it.
Nov 22 2013 06:30 PM ArchaelAll the teams are in and we've begun playing out the actual fights between participants! You can check out the matches and their results as they are posted in the ID Youtube Channel and discuss them in the Tournament Thread. Big thanks to Crimson Avix, Stann, and FFTA for hosting the tournament!
Here's the first two matches:
Nov 07 2013 07:00 PM ArchaelScope Creep, for those not familiar with the concept, is a project management term that refers to out of control changes or goals within the scope of a work plan.
You might ask yourself; what does a term from the project management world have to do with the mods we create here purely as a hobby?
Good question. The answer is simple: projects that people carry out on their spare time, such as game mods, are usually not restrained by deadlines, project managers, budgets, or similar constraints that lower the risk factor for professional business endeavors. Because of this, scope creep is a huge risk for modding projects.
From the Wikipedia article: Scope creep can be a result of:
- Poor change control
- Lack of proper initial identification of what is required to bring about the project objectives
- Weak project manager or executive sponsor
- Poor communication between parties
Insane Difficulty's modding projects have the advantage of already having a pre-defined goal in place for most games: Increasing the level of challenge for the player and making the gameplay experience more interesting overall. However, even on this site we face the problem of scope creep frequently.
Keep this in mind whenever you are working on a project that seems to have new goals added on a weekly basis, where no matter the amount of work you put in, the deadline never seems to get closer. Scope creep and lack of proper planning could be the thing keeping your project from being enjoyed by a lot of anxious players.
Nov 02 2013 05:00 PM ArchaelHere's the setup:
- DOTA2 is a competitive multiplayer game produced by Valve Corportation.
- DOTA2 has a large, passionate fan base.
- DOTA2 fans lovingly refer to Valve as "Volvo" in the style of bad-internet-grammar-humor.
- Last year, Valve established an exclusive Halloween event for DOTA2 called Diretide, where users could access Halloween-themed game modes, rewards, and in-game goodies.
Now here's what happened this year's Halloween in the DOTA2 world: Nothing. Fans became furious on the night of October 31st, when DOTA2 offered no Halloween content patch or any word on the status of the in-game holiday from Valve. A massive 400+ page, 4,000+ comment thread on the DOTA2 development feedback forums was created, with fans expressing their displeasure over Valve's lack of communication with the community. The news even made it to Forbes and a petition on Change.org was created.
The running text gag this year:
༼ つ ◕_◕ ༽つ Give DIRETIDE
After Valve did not answer their pleas for help, DOTA2 fans turned to the (obvious) next best thing, the actual Volvo Car company. Volvo's Facebook page was immediately invaded with ༼ つ ◕_◕ ༽つ Give DIRETIDE posts.
However, in an unexpected move, Volvo's official Twitter responded in a positive way to the invasion of their company Facebook page:
By recognizing Valve's DOTA2 fans and their outcries, Volvo might have just gotten themselves free advertising. What started out as completely misguided complaints could very well turn into DOTA2 players buying Volvo cars! To find out more about this year's DOTA2 Halloween drama, check out the Diretide/Halloween 2013 Event Withdrawal Thread over on the DOTA2 subreddit.
Nov 01 2013 02:00 AM BTBAfter several months in development, Brave New World 1.3.0 is now available for download!
- A complete overhaul of how stamina works to bring it more in line with the other stats
- A rewrite of the dialogue to remove gratuitous swearing and an optional "clean" patch
- Updated bonus/unlockable content for players who've beaten the mod
- Much, much more
Thanks to Stann and everyone who played through the beta and gave feedback.