One of the complaints that we have had while play testing Eterium was that the navigation hazards like asteroid fields and mine fields were too difficult for some players. Unlike the enemy AI, nav hazard difficulty did not dynamically adjust. Adjusting difficulty for a nav hazard is much more difficult than an enemy AI. The enemy AI can have its abilities updated in real time. Without major replumbing, nav hazards can only have their difficulty set at the beginning of the mission. Furthermore, enemy AI difficulty is not saved between deaths. When the player reloads a checkpoint, he also reloads his difficulty. The reason for this is that in the act of dying, the difficulty settings are basically destroyed. If difficulty carried over between reloads, then the game would become ridiculously easy. Since that AI adapts in real time, it really is not necessary to carry the difficulty over after death. But in the case of nav hazards, the only real way to determine success or failure is whether the player crashed into a hazard or not. In the case of asteroids, most collisions, especially at the speed the player is likely flying, are fatal. Nav hazard difficulty must carry over between missions. But we cannot allow the nav hazards to get too easy; sometimes the player makes a mistake and dies in an asteroid field, this does not mean that the nav hazards should get easier.
To help deal with nav hazard difficulty, I’ve come up with a point system. At the end of each mission, whether completely successful or as a result of the player’s death in a hazard, points are added or subtracted. Each mission that contains at least one navigation hazard that the player completes successfully adds one point to the difficulty. Each time the player dies in a nav hazard, one point is subtracted. There are five overall hazard difficulties that are selected based on the number of points the player has. One point does not necessarily correspond to a difficulty. The difficulty is also not allowed to exceed preset values determined by the game’s current overall difficulty (determined by the enemy AI difficulty system). That way players who chose easy, will never see themselves facing a hard asteroid field. This accounts for the case in which the player never dies in a hazard. If the difficulty was not capped to the overall game difficulty, then the nav hazards would get more and more difficulty until the player started dying. I do not believe in adjusting skill level based on number of times a player dies. I believe that this ruins the immersive feel of the game. It is my hope that for most players, the nav hazards will be balanced for the difficulty they chose and the infrequency in which they will die in a hazard will make this system unnecessary. But for players who are good at combat but just having a tough time navigating the hazards, the game will adapt so that everyone can have an enjoyable experience.