How do you Make Computer Games Challenging?

So, you’re designing a computer game. You want some sort of challenge for your player(s) to face. How do you design that challenge? We’ll assume some sort of single player game for now, but most of the things we’ll talk about should easily translate to multiplayer.

Almost[1] all games have a goal[2]. Most of the time, this goal is imposed by the game creators, some of the time this goal is invented or imposed by the player themselves.

For example, in Candy Crush, the goal is to match enough candies in a specified time period to gain points to pass a threshold (‘obtaining one star’). In Skyrim, the quest (at least at the start of the game) is to escape an area and survive.

As you attempt to reach these objectives, the game designers have provided you with various positive and negative obstacles.


Terrain is an excellent example of an obstacle that can be positive or negative. In Skyrim, you can hide around corners, or you can fall down a mountain. In Candy Crush, the shape of the board can make certain portions easier or much more difficult to match.

Offensive Items:

Special Candies can be classified as offensive items, compare them to a sword which allows you to do more damage with a single blow.

Defensive Items:

In Candy Crush, the candies can be encased in ‘jelly’, which acts as a shield that must be overcome. In Skyrim, you have various types of armour which you and your adversaries can wear. (Sometimes, only they can wear it.) There are also magical defenses.

Miscellaneous Items and Magic:

In Candy Crush, you can obtain a ‘Lollipop Hammer‘, which helps you by removing or triggering single candies.

In Skyrim, there is a wide variety of special purpose items and magic. The line between these is often blurry.

AI Adversaries:

I don’t think there are many AI adversaries in Candy Crush, unless they decide to tinker with the random candy generation algorithm, or if you count level design. Skyrim is populated with hundreds, if not thousands of NPCs who will interact with you in various ways.


An uninteresting way to make a game more challenging is to make it more repetitive[2.5]. You could make your player battle the same enemy 35 times, or solve minor variations on the same puzzle 50 times, or make them walk through an endless samey forest.

Ideally, you want to give a feeling of exploration and small but noticeable differences along the way.

Next time, we’ll compare two more games which are even more distinct. Suggestions in the comments below!

[1]I say almost, even though I can’t think of any games which don’t have a goal, and/or can’t have one created by the player. Inventing one sounds like a fun challenge. I don’t mean a game with an impossible challenge which always seems almost possible, I’m talking about a game which aggressively has no goal, and cannot, to the greatest extent possible.

[2]Or goals plural. Multiple interlocking[3] or interrelated goals are out of scope.

[2.5]Than usual…Most of these games are quite repetitive.

[3]Sometimes I think I write just because I enjoy using words such as ‘interlocking[4]’.

[4]Not to be confused with Interlochen[5].

[5]S: “Or Interleukins.”

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