1. Which one of the above ([A], [B] or ©) is the best in your opinion? Why?
I don’t really have a preference because you can make a great game with any scheme, or combine them. I’m fine with B because I just stick to one mode anyway unless it’s increasing difficulty for more rewards.
2. Assuming I use [A]:
2.1. Should any part of content be locked out on easy mode? Or should those content be adjusted accordingly to be suitable for easy mode?
It depends on how long the game is. If it’s a long game, then don’t leave stuff out, but if it has a pretty high replay value and a quick play-through time, then having there be bonus events for higher difficulties can work. Generally this isn’t the case for rpgs, with the exception of NewGame+ scenarios, where it’s totally fine to have as many extra things as you want.
2.2. Should each difficulty setting have its own separate leaderboards?
Three thousand percent yes.
2.3. So, let’s say it’s some RPG game with level grinding. Harder difficulty settings makes it so that monsters are more powerful. Should rewards (EXP gain, item drop rate, etc.) be higher, lower or the same on harder difficulty levels?
For the A setup, they should not drop extra loot. The game isn’t much harder if you get better stuff because it balances out the difficulty change.
3. Assuming I use [B], should there be any penalties for switching to an easier difficulty level?
Almost never. The reason for B is to make it easier if you find that the game is just too hard, and any penalties would make that silly.
On B’s note, don’t use B and give more rewards at higher difficulties. It’s just a bad idea. And don’t have a leaderboard system with B.
4. Again, let’s say that the game is some kind of RPG that involves killing monsters, and when you kill monsters, you gain EXP, level up and become stronger.
4.1. Should I use [A] or [B] in that kind of game at all, or should I use only ©?
I would like to see A in conjunction with C. That is, set a difficulty at the start, and then also have optional harder battles.
Using B with C works as well, for people who want to experience the extra stuff but aren’t good enough to go at it. And then people who like A could just use the B setup as if it was A and not change anything.
4.2. Assuming I do use [A] or [B], which of the following should be done in easy mode to make it “easier”? (Pick one or multiple)
(1) Reduced grinding – monsters give extra EXP, more loot, etc.
Not usually, them being weaker already reduces grinding. You can make it work though.
(2) Reduced monster stats – monsters are weaker, and thus, easier to kill
Yes, this is the main thing people look for in reducing difficulty.
(3) Reduced penalties – lower death penalty, etc.
Can be promising if used well.
(4) More checkpoints, more navigable maps, more hiding places, etc.
Again, can work well if you use it cleverly.
I think for easy, normal, and hard, stick to mostly just monster strength. Then you have a very easy mode with other things made easier, like higher loot and less penalties and everything is just nice and easy. And also have a very hard mode/impossible mode, where you start making mobs stronger AND start affecting other parts of the game as well.
4.3. Assuming I use ©, should I make it so that you unlock harder versions of the same “missions” after clearing the original easy version (similar to some games like Gemcraft, Kingdom Rush, Cloudstone)? Or should hard content be completely different and separated from easy content?
With C by itself, unlocking harder difficulties is great. If you’re going to separate the easy and hard content, I wouldn’t go with C and instead pick A or B.
5. Is it a good idea for the game to auto–adjust difficulty (and reward) based on the player’s performance?
Yes, it’s a great idea, but probably not for the entire game. Having that system for repeatable parts and keeping it to small use when something isn’t repeatable would be pretty cool.
It’s just risky if you apply it to an entire game. Games can get really frustrating when they keep getting harder as you do better, but gaining access to a different story path or something for doing well is really cool.