Phasmophobia Suggestions — Difficulty

In my first brainstorm article for Phasmophobia, I talked about handling the predictability. I listed points such as more event and attack types, different reactions to actions and more actions they react. In this second part, I will first talk about some changes we can make to the difficulty, then add some general thoughts and points. If this article is interesting to you, I’d kindly suggest that you read the Predictability article as my ideas are interconnected at some points.

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Changing Difficulty Levels

Less sanity is surely a good way to keep the player on toes, but what if there was more in terms of punishment and gameplay?

Revisiting Objectives and Money. While money at first levels might feel like a grind, you will very quickly have money for everything and keep piling it, especially since the only time you lose money is when you die while you’ll make some amount of money each game. On top of that, the objectives are completely optional and the only motive to complete them is money. This creates a situation where players don’t care about rewards, which means risks are pointless (the actual difficulty of risks is also part of this article.) So here are my alternatives:

  • Finding the entity type (alternatively, any single objective) is the main objective and you have to complete this to earn any money at all. No main objective, no money. Higher difficulties will require a number of side objectives completed as well. Maybe the main and one side for an Intermediate game and the main and two sides for a Professional game. This means that the higher difficulty games need some commitment to profit (also considering the next points about items).
  • Depending on the difficulty, used items are lost even if you don’t die. It’s possible that in Amateur, you only lose the items that you fully used (3 drops of salt, a broken Crucifix etc) while in higher difficulties, even a single-use (e.g. 1 drop of salt) is enough to force a re-purchase. If you complete the main objective, you get a gear compensation from your contractor that’s probably at the same rate as your insurance per difficulty.
  • Adding to the above, maybe specific equipment needs to be brought back to the van. Any items left in the house has a 50% chance of being gone and they would be subjected to insurance (assumed that the ghost breaks it). I’m not so sure about this as it can be simply tedious but it can also prevent the whole fire-and-forget style and add to the immersion and give players another question to ask: Do we risk an item run or do we just leave? Due to my uncertainty, I added that 50% chance instead of outright losing the items. It also feels like a “realistic” risk. Sometimes the ghosts will destroy items, sometimes they won’t.
  • Another idea is that instead of everyone getting 10 $ per objective, each objective pays 40 $, split between players. This would mean that solo/duo/trio players are rewarded more. The ratio of money earned for higher difficulties can also be decreased — although that should depend on how much is being done to tweak the difficulty levels. These total rewards could be different per map size too, something like 10$ for Tanglewood, 20$ for houses, 30$ for high school and 40$ for asylum.

Now, let’s talk about some gameplay mechanics, especially regarding the how the tools and evidence works.

  • In Intermediate and Professional, the name of the entity is not revealed in the van. You need to find it through Ouija boards or items that belong to the entity, and through the spirit box (won’t say its name but will give you information —more about this under General Suggestions)
  • Electronics need calibration at the start of the game. For example, the EMF could have all buttons on and in blue at the first x valid readings, then start working. In Amateur it could be after 1 reading with more required in higher difficulties. Similarly, the thermometer may require time to adjust (or something like that)
  • There are other ideas listed under General Suggestion that would be tweaked per difficulty as well. Similarly, the different attacks and anger level would also be affected by difficulty. For example, some power combos could be reserved only for higher difficulties.

I think these sort of changes will first make money more important, which makes death more important and make people use their money and items more wisely; while forcing objectives means players will have to take risks, especially if you used some items already.

General Gameplay Brainstorming

From here on out, I list some points that does not fit under the previous topics directly.

Revisiting the Ghost Type Discovery. Right now, finding the entity type is mostly dependant on evidence found by tools. They have 100% accuracy and most of the time, pretty simple to use. Unless you get a roamer or a very large room, you can get readings before you lose enough sanity to be under risk.

However, when, for whatever reason, you somehow can not get evidence, you try to figure out the entity type and that feels more like a paranormal investigator: “Is this a demon? It attacked us pretty often. But then again, we were in the dark, maybe it was a Mare?” Another time: “This seemed passive so far, maybe it’s a jinn and we are looking at the wrong room. Or maybe one of us should try and explore alone to see if it’s a shade”. In my opinion, the most satisfying games have been when we had two pieces of evidence, narrowed the options down then started coming up with theories and testing them out.

Thus, I think that a combination of making evidence harder to get and adding additional options for interpretation would be interesting.

Revisiting the Evidence: Following on that, here is how I think evidence-hunting can be changed:

  • EMF: This is kind of okay as you have to find the entity and get close. With calibration and the entity potentially de-calibrating it, I think the difficulty of it will be okay.
  • Freezing Temperatures: This requires literally no work at all if the ghost is around and very hard otherwise, making it annoying with roamers and/or large haunted rooms (as a note, I’m not 100% sure how it’s supposed to work — sometimes it just feels like thermometers and breathing is bugged.) I think each room can have a starting temp and the presence of the ghost can drop it slowly but increase when it’s gone. The difference of the haunted room would be that it never goes up, meaning the room gradually becomes colder and colder, ghost events increasing the speed of it. This would mean that the actual freezing temperatures would take time to manifest unless the players and the entity are in the room and active. I’ll mention this under sanity, but I also think lower temps can increase sanity drain too.
  • Spirit Box: Right now, hearing any single word works. Sometimes they even talk by themselves and you hear it from outside the room! Instead, I think any ghost should be able to talk into the Spirit Box. However, a “regular” ghost and even a spirit-box-ghost that is aggravated will not communicate properly and instead, say things like “Leave” “Attack” or “Death.” However, if not agitated, maybe after some questions or declaring you are friendly etc. will they actually answer questions such as “How old are you?”. This would synergize greatly with my “different reactions” suggestion. Maybe you need to take an action that calms this particular entity to get any answers.
  • Ghost Writing: I have a few ideas. They can require to be asked (only responding the same way with Spirit Box, no lights and alone/everyone). Some of them may require you to hold the book (fun, right?). Writing may be a ghost event that drains sanity. Alternatively, any ghost can write something but you need to take a picture of it and check that. If it’s a regular ghost, then you don’t see anything. If it’s a ghost-writing ghost, you see it in the photo as well. Or something like that.
  • Ghost Orbs: I think they are fine considering you have to set the cameras up in the room, especially if the entity can “disable” them. I thought, maybe the ghost orb can require an activity level so one person needs to be in the van and at least another outside but that would impede solo players.
  • Fingerprints: I think they are fine overall, although new types of prints might be welcome — if they are in a large room or a windowless one, this can get really annoying. One thing I would add, especially with more types of prints, would be a fade-time similar to EMF, but probably slower.

Location and Circumstances. Adding further to the first point and my idea of the name not being revealed right away, I think exploring the location should be beneficial in some, if not most cases, especially as difficulty goes up.

In addition to asking via the Ouija, there could be clues in the house. A child’s name is spelt in the nursery (is it the child’s ghost though? you may need to see it first.) Maybe there is a letter or something hidden in a drawer somewhere or maybe a name written on a wall in blood.

Alternatively, we could receive a report about the names and ages of the people who were recorded to die in the location, similar records of murders and some notes.

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Sample report

If someone died, it could be their spirit. If there was a murderer tied to here, it could be an evil ghost type (like a wraith) of the murderer or the innocent ghost (like a spirit) of the deceased. Further notes could be anything from “lights flickering” to “Resident kids are said to do seances in this asylum”, where the latter could indicate a summoned evil entity (like a demon)

Imagine that you get a report of a house with a murder. If you just say the murderer’s name in the house and if it’s the spirit of the murdered person, the ghost may become irrevocably angry right from the start — you don’t want that. So you might want to find an ouija board. If none is around, maybe you should ask its age through the spirit box. You know that the murderer was young and the murdered was old so if it says it’s old, that’s a clue! Or maybe you find a drawing of a child with a bunny toy. Try to take the toy out of the room, does the ghost react? That could be a clue. Once you deduct who it is, now you have a better idea! Of course, maybe the murdered person came back as a revenant or something.

These things are never certain, but this kind of deduction should be able to narrow options down and give you a better idea of how to act. Important to emphasize here is that this circumstantial information doesn’t feel as useful as evidence, it is by design. It isn’t supposed to be cold-hard facts that directly nail something down but rather supplementary information that can be useful, especially with the increased difficulty of gathering evidence. It may not sound great in terms of direct puzzle-solving, but this is supposed to be a ghost hunting game and dealing with the unknown can add value to it.

Larger Maps. The High School and especially the Asylum can use not only wider interaction ranges but possibly some environmental clues on what happened. Maybe the bone is always in a certain radius of the ghost (I think it’s random at the moment). Or maybe some props are placed around the haunted room — not just outside of it, but around it. If you see a more or less “peaceful” environment on the east wing and more toppled down beds and spilt blood on the west wing, you know where to focus. And to me, that’s better than just keeping an eye out on the thermometer.

Sanity Revisited. From what I understand the sanity has two modes right now. Setup and Regular, each of which is modified by the difficulty.

  • I think there should be more modifiers, maybe effecting the frequency of ticks as well. For example, being far from the entity might lower the frequency (this frequency may not be perfectly in sync with the panels in the van to prevent people from checking that) — something that probably only visible in larger maps.
  • Having someone close by, having someone talk from B (and/or talking from the van) could also decrease sanity drain. Possibly something like “After x seconds of not having anyone in y meter range (or not hearing anyone), decrease sanity drain rate by z (not a stacking effect).” This could add some value to people in the van other than quietly checking orbs, plus having to be quiet (or the new attacks shutting down voice/walkie talkies) can put people in a higher sanity drain. Do players split and cover all areas with more sanity drain or stick together to move slower?
  • I think this is already planned but lower sanity can cause some fake effects, plus maybe increasing the intensity of heartbeats. Maybe low sanity manifests some behaviour such as constant blinking, sudden, reasonless (ie even if the ghost isn’t in a hunt/event) heartbeats, etc.
  • Being in the cold sucks. Cold rooms could decrease your sanity level, meaning being in the room with the entity, especially one with freezing temperatures, is more dangerous.
  • Sanity pills could work differently. I have three ideas
  1. They restore less sanity. This is an outright nerf without touching functionality.
  2. They increase your sanity drain for the rest of the game (ie you get +X when consumed but from then out, you get a -Y sanity drain, stacks for multiple pills.) This means you probably want to go on without a pill as much as you can and take them as a last resort as you’ll be in a bad shape if the game drags.
  3. Only temporarily increase sanity and drop the same amount gradually (ie +X sanity when consumed, wait x minutes, then drop -1 every second for X seconds.) This is pretty obvious — a temporary boost. You can use that to go in and do something a once or twice but that’s it.
  • Another way to die could be too low sanity. This could happen when you are subjected to a “strong attack” when you are at very low sanity. You might still avoid these attacks with a Crucifix, but it won’t be as reliable as “Oh if it hunts I’ll just hide in a closet.”
  • Alternatively, the hunt may still be the only way to die but sanity manifestations can put you to risk. Maybe when a reasonless (ie only due to low sanity) heartbeat happens, you just stop moving. Maybe if you see the ghost when you are at low sanity, you freeze for a second. There could even be ghosts that trigger this at higher sanities.
  • While this isn’t necessarily about sanity, I’ll add this here. Maybe you can only take the heartbeats for a while and the more intense the heartbeats, the harder it is to take it. When you reach your limit, you just stop moving. This may stop people running around a couch forever. I think it’s fine if they manage to do it once or twice then run to a door, but not too long.

Conclusion

I think these difficulty changes and additions to gameplay mechanics can make the game more challenging and immersive by making risks and rewards more meaningful and adding challenges to straight-up evidence gathering. Combined with the changes to the predictability as noted in the last article, the gameplay can be enhanced.

In my final article, I’m going to talk about potential game modes. If you liked the content, feel free to drop claps and follow and please share your thoughts, I’d love to hear them!

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Gamer, gaming industry wanderer, development and design enthusiast. Current WIP: TBD

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