This morning I stumbled upon an article by Mark Green of Nintendo Gamer magazine that discusses whether “unfair” difficulty, that is, giving weaker players certain advantages blocked out for better players (he uses the place-based item randomization of Mario Kart as an example) or using things like rubber band AI (computer players seeming to move much faster than should be possible to catch up to a player in racing games) to balance things out when players gain a particularly strong lead. There are plenty of other genre-specific forms of AI “cheating.” Mark seems to rule on the issue favorably, though, believing that it’s important for two reasons.
First, that there needs to be a way for inexperienced players to get some kind of edge over players whose skills put them on a Higher Plane. Not everybody abuses the Maka Wuhu glitch, for example - but that doesn’t stop the people who do. Second, that succeeding in the face of unfair odds makes victory all the sweeter.
I’d like to extend the topic to you folks. What do you think about “unfair” difficulty balance in cases like this? What about the Blue Shells and Bullet Bills of Mario Kart infamy? Rubber band AI? Scroll on for a direct quote from Mark and to leave us your thoughts.
“Take Mario Kart. On the one hand, there’s the spiky blue shell, with its literally unstoppable pursuit of justice for slowcoaches. On the other, there are the cheaters who snake their way through Mario Kart DS or exploit that upsetting shortcut on MK7’s Wuhu Mountain Loop track - while Nintendo shrugs benignly from the trackside.
“The Psychology of Video Games blog (read it: it’s good) recently talked about the Dunning-Kruger effect: the tendency for average gamers to believe they’re more skilled than they actually are. It’s why online gaming can be a shock: you go in cheerful and confident, and emerge all battered and muttering darkly about the hollow futility of life’s ceaseless struggle.
“So in online terms, making things nice for newbies while placating the pros is a pretty tough balancing act. Skill matching is nice, but I honestly think a bit of manufactured luck (MK7 producer Hideki Konno has said he wants races to feel like “checking your horoscope”) is helpful for stopping that one smug git going on a winning streak that only ends when the sun explodes.”
Source: Computer and Video Games