And the difference between what players say, and what they really mean.
I am a game designer and, while more of a generalist these days, a few years ago I specifically worked as enemy designer. The misconception that "good enemy design = smart enemies" is surprisingly common even among game devs. I always tried to reframe it in terms of choreography: what we want, as developers, is for players to be engaged and feel almost like in a dance or as actors in a theatre piece. Players try to do things, and the game responds in interesting ways. Whether a single enemy feels smart is irrelevant; you want the *whole game* to feel smart. Elden Ring is a good example: the enemies behave like the zombies and monsters they are. Their senses and wits are not exactly sharp. But this is what allows players to play and engage with the systems, make hypothesis and see what works, try to find synergies. If enemies saw you holding a dagger with bleed effect and never came close to you, would they feel smarter than they are? Yes. Would it be fun, though?
As for the difficulty: I feel in part it's an issue of extensive and highly organized playtesting. Big games these days are playtested to death. And when you get report over report that x% of players have issues in this part of the game, the temptation to just fix it is strong. But if you do the end result is something like Forbidden West, in which every little bump has been leveled and the game won't let you take ten seconds to think before the character says what you need to do. I am not saying FW is a bad game, but for sure it feels less special and brilliant than something like Elden Ring.
Anyway, not sure what I wanted to say with all of this long rambling. I am a fraud too.
Thanks for the insightful article!
Great read Nathan...are From using some form of enemy scaling though? ...like when I co-op for boss battles it feels like they take more damage and deal more damage (AND have a more varied move set??) Perhaps I am dreaming this... if true it makes me feel good about myself - a friend of mine who only plays offline thinks I am cheating when I summon assistance... :(
I really like the Hearthstone devs approach to balance. Basically, cards and combos are nerfed based on what it 'feels' like as a player to get smacked with it. They freely admit when a card/combo is doing fine statistically (and is therefore not actually overpowered), but has a universally bad feeling associated with it from players. How they figure the feel bit out I'm not sure, but aren't Dev comments in patch notes a lovely thing?