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I have a game with 4 difficulty levels (or levels of AI) and I'm wondering what to name them instead of the boring Easy, Normal, Hard, Impossible.

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Byte56 Nov 14 '13 at 6:38

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

    
I'd be careful naming something Impossible unless it's really impossible. I use "Very Hard" myself because a good human will eventually beat it in most cases. –  mmyers Jul 29 '10 at 14:25
    
Thanks, some great ideas –  Steve Tranby Jul 29 '10 at 16:11
    
@mmyers, Naming it "impossible" might motivate a few more users to try it, because of the challenge, even if it's not really impossible. –  finnw Aug 7 '10 at 12:10
    
@finnw: That's true. I guess it also depends on the genre; a FPS might have an "impossible" setting that only a few will ever beat. –  mmyers Aug 8 '10 at 3:18
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7 Answers 7

up vote 31 down vote accepted

Naming is one of those things that people can spend a lot of time tossing around. A little comedic value always makes it more memorable - for instance, the difficulty levels from Rise of the Triad were more descriptive phrases that gave it a little more character.

Rise of the Triad difficulty screen

Sean's advice is spot on too - theme them after something related to your game. Here are some examples:

Street racing game using import tuner-type cars:

  • I use auto-only
  • Where's third gear?
  • There is no speed limit
  • The Flash eats my dust

The intended audience is probably the type of kid who likes cars but can't drive yet, so a little attitude to goad (I mean, encourage) them wouldn't be out of line.

Puzzle game using blocks:

  • First time on the block
  • Blocks are my friends
  • Blockhead

Here I use some fairly simple tie-ins with the puzzle type and the descriptions.

Farm-building whatever:

  • Mouse
  • Piglet
  • Horse
  • Cow

A simple way to have the user correlate difficulty with the size of the animal. Much more memorable than "easy" etc. You could sneak in an unlockable "There is no cow level" if you feel snarky enough. This goes back to one-word descriptions too, if you're sticking to that limit.

Side-scrolling platformer with very wacky theme

  • Ooze-ball
  • Magic fairy
  • Toaster
  • Spinach

I'm thinking of something like Earthworm Jim, although I don't think there were more than 2 difficulty levels and I don't remember if they had names either, but this is with that in mind. In this one, my idea was to be completely nonsensical, and try to use names for which there ARE NO correlations to difficulty. The desired affect is to make it more memorable by being silly, and if the players talk to each other, they know immediately what they're referring to which makes it an inside joke and thus more memorable.

Anyway, from these examples hopefully you get idea how to approach it. If you're really stuck, grab a thesaurus and find synonyms for "easy", etc. At least it would be different. =)

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+1 for "Where's third gear?" :) –  falstro Jul 29 '10 at 9:58
    
Absolutely agree with this, my latest example would be "Smashed, drunk, tipsy and sober" The game involves beer. –  Toeofdoom Jul 29 '10 at 13:13
    
I would have gone with "What do you mean Manual?" For easy :P –  Noctrine Jul 29 '10 at 13:32
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I'd say match it to the way you want your game to be perceived. If you want it to come off as a casual game, name them something like casual, normal, tough, hard, etc. If you want the game to come across tougher, name it like gears of war--casual, normal, insane, etc. It's really up to you. Keep in mind that how you name your difficulties will also somewhat affect how the player feels after finishing them. It's much more rewarding to complete "insane" than "hard".

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+1 - I can still remember seeing the "Legendary" difficulty in Halo and thinking how awesome it would be to legendarily kill platoons of aliens. As opposed to "Difficult", which certainly fits the puzzle game genre better. –  Smashery Jul 29 '10 at 5:59
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I would avoid "Easy" as that has a negative connotation, and some people who really should choose that setting will avoid it because they don't want to think of themselves as poorly skilled. (Mega Man 2 named its difficulty levels "Normal/Difficult" instead of "Easy/Normal" for that reason.)

Themed level names (as others have mentioned) work in some game contexts, typically when you're working in an established genre where you expect players to be familiar with conventions like difficulty levels. This can backfire if you're not careful; for example, I could never remember which one was easier in Viewtiful Joe's "Child/Adult" difficulties (is Adult harder because adults are older and more skilled, or is Child harder because children always seem to kick their parents' butts at video games?).

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Yeah like drink sizes are Medium, Large, Extra Large - there is no small. So for games: Normal, Hard, Insane. –  Iain Jul 29 '10 at 17:39
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I used military ranks in a game I developed, from Private (Easiest) to General (Hardest).

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That feels somewhat contradictory though, a general is rarely that close to the combat, and a private is rarely involved in planning.. What type of game is it? I guess at least one of them doesn't fit. –  falstro Jul 29 '10 at 10:09
    
Sorry, I missed your reply. It's a first person shooter/tactical action game called "Derelict" with a Sci-Fi horror theme. I used the wide range of ranks primarily for indicating difficulty rather than roleplay, but since the game is set during a surprise attack on a military space transport there are both Privates and Generals present. –  earok Nov 19 '10 at 3:20
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I think it's been mentioned several times, but theme it around your game. It could be all nice and inventive to have 'Dumb, Normal, Smart, Genius' but not so great for a racing game.

If you want to go generic, try using a thesaurus to find symonyms:
Casual, Easy, Basic, Child's Play, Simple, Pushover.
Normal, Fair, Medium, Mediocre, Passable.
Hard, Difficult, Tough, Challenging, Not-So-Easy.
Insane, Very Hard, Very Difficult, Impossible, Extreme.

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I've always been a fan of the naming scheme Conker's BFD had: Inbred, Crap, Normal, Bastard, and Einstein, although like others have said it really depends on the theme of the game.

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You could use icons instead, e.g. smileys, but better something closer related to your game. It should remain easily interpretable and maybe still offer a tool-tip.

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I always liked how the little portrait in id software games would change his face depending on the difficulty level you were looking at. –  CodexArcanum Oct 20 '10 at 21:43
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