Escalating Challenge

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Progress toward a goal increases the difficulty of further progression.

Also Known As

Escalating Progression


A positive feedback loop between player progress and the game’s difficulty makes the game increasingly harder for players as they get closer to achieving their goals. This way, the game quickly adapts to the player’s skill level, especially when the good performance allows the player to progress more quickly.


Use escalating challenge when:

  • You want to create a fast-paced game based on player skill (usually physical skill) in which the game gets harder as the player advances; his ability to complete tasks is inhibited as he goes.
  • You want to create emergent mechanics that (partially) replace predesigned level progression.



  • Targets represent unresolved tasks.
  • Progress represents the player’s progress toward a goal.
  • A task either reduces the number of targets or produces progress.
  • A feedback mechanism makes the game more difficult as the player progresses toward the goal or reduces the number of targets.


The task reduces targets, produces progress, or does both. The feedback mechanic increases the difficulty of the task as the player gets closer to achieving the goal.


Escalating challenge is based on a simple positive feedback loop affecting the difficulty of the game. Its mechanism quickly adjusts the difficulty of the game to the skill level of the player. If failure at the task ends the game, escalating challenge ensures a very quick game.


The task in a game that implements the escalating challenge pattern is typically affected by player skill, especially when the escalating challenge pattern makes up the most of the game’s core mechanics. When the task is a random or deterministic mechanic, players will have no control over the game’s progress. Only when the escalating challenge pattern is part of a more complex game system and players have some sort of indirect control over the chance of success does a random or deterministic mechanic become viable. Using multiplayer dynamic mechanisms is an option but probably works better in a more complex game system as well.


Space Invaders is a classic example of the escalating challenge pattern. In Space Invaders, the player needs to destroy all the invading aliens before they can reach the bottom of the screen. Every time the player destroys an alien, all other aliens speed up a little, making it more difficult for the player to shoot them.

Pac-Man is another example. In Pac-Man, the task is to eat all the dots in a level, while the chasing ghosts make it more and more difficult to get to the last remaining dots.

Related Patterns

  • By combining escalating challenge with static friction or dynamic friction, a game can be created that quickly matches its difficulty to the ability of the player.