Escalating Complications

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Player progress towards a goal increases the difficulty of further progression.

Also Known As


A positive feedback loop on 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.


Escalating complications is well suited for fast-paced games based on player skill where the game needs to adjust quickly to the player's skill level.



  • Targets represent unresolved tasks.
  • Alternatively, progress represents the player's progress towards a goal.
  • A task that either reduces the number of targets or produces progress.
  • A feedback mechanism that makes the game more difficult as the player progresses towards the goal or reduces the number of targets.


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


The task in a game that only implements the escalating complication pattern is typically affected by player skill, especially when the escalating complications is makes up the most of a 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 complication pattern is part of a more complex game system, where players have some sort of indirect control over the chance of success, a random or deterministic mechanic becomes 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 complication pattern. In Space Invaders the player needs to destroy all invading alien 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 further increase the difficulty of the task and adding to strategic decision to eat an 'energizer' to get rid of them.

Related Patterns

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