Monday, January 21, 2013


Another of the games I picked up in the big Steam bundle a few weeks ago was a game called Symphony. This is a top-scrolling space shooter with a unique approach to building levels. You feed it a music file from your computer and it builds a level with monster waves timed to the flow of the music. Soft period in the song, fewer enemies. Hectic period, tons of enemies. It's an interesting idea and I like listening to music so I gave it a go. The game is ok, but it has one fatal flaw that's kept me from getting hooked and I probably won't play it again: difficulty levels.

Having variable difficulty levels makes a lot of sense in a game, I think. You want people with poor motor skills, slow reaction time, or just a lack of desire to 'try hard' to be able to have fun and make progress in your game. You want hardcore people to have a challenge that really pushes them as far as they want to go. Symphony has 6 difficulty levels which seems like it should be a pretty reasonable spectrum of difficulty, and I suspect they cover most people with them. The problem is you can't access the harder difficulties without playing for a fair amount of time on an easier one first. I needed to play something like 15 songs on difficulty 2 in order to unlock difficulty 3 which is still way too easy for me. I'm pretty good at these sorts of games so it's likely I want to be playing on difficulty 5 and maybe even difficulty 6. But the prospect of needing to play another 30 songs or 4ish hours to get to the difficulty I want is daunting. I have so many games I want to play that the idea that I might need to spend a couple days playing a game I don't want to play in the hopes of unlocking a game I do want to play is a little silly. I'll go play a game I want to play the whole time, thanks.

This seems like such a stupid design decision. Why do I need to prove I'm good at a game before I can play it on hard? Trust me to know how good I am and make the decision on my own. Especially in a single player game with no DLC! You have nothing to gain by locking me out of the harder difficulties. I guess you have nothing to lose either since I've already bought the game. I guess all I can really do is shell out some bad publicity to the few people who read this. So consider this bad publicity. I don't recommend buying Symphony. It's an interesting idea but a flawed execution.


Neil said...

Thanks for the post. I was actually eyeballing this as I liked audiosurf so much. Locked difficulty levels is pretty much a deal breaker.

Brent Oster said...

I think a good reason to have un-lockable difficulty levels is so that people don't immediately jump to a difficulty they can't handle only to get frustrated and stop playing.

Taking this approach though, they should be careful about the barriers they set, and it sounds like they set them too high in this case. I would think doing well at one song on a particular difficulty should be enough to unlock the next.

On a side note, another set of people who would have real issues with this system would be people who have played the game a lot and become good at it, but who are starting fresh for some reason. (New install or whatnot.)