I am working on a menu to select from various (3) game variants shown from top to bottom, each variant offering different difficulty levels.

The difficulty will be selected by swiping (touch input mobile) on one variant to left or right.

Now I am stuck how to indicate the difficulty level graphically as I want to avoid labels such as easy/medium/... I have a bar display in mind, which will show stacked bars, each bar representing a higher level still being able to show max. difficulty level. Stacked bars also will only work if arranged vertically (not to mix up with progress indication).

So what are other options to show a difficulty level on limited screen space?

5 Answers 5


How about each button showing a different number of daggers/guns/bombs? One for easy, two for medium and three for hard. The actual weapon/icon would depend on the context of your game.

Or, if you don't have a lot of room have a different weapon/icon for each level.

Obviously this only works if your game involves combat of some kind.

As always icons don't have to be representative as long as their meaning can be easily discovered and they are distinct from each other.

  • 2
    a flash game used this method with skulls. Meaning was clear from the start :) Nov 25, 2010 at 14:14

Since you've mentioned the swiping movement, I think I might have just the thing:

Make the movement itself move difficult as the level increases (along with its indication):

Let's say each level has a kind of lever or hatch to move from left to right. You can indicate some resistance, for example a spring. In that case, you can make the springs look bigger and tougher as the level is higher.

If you think it's a worthy idea, I'll gladly try to throw more ideas around or see some sketches.

  • I have to think about using such elements. I like that direction as it breaks with the usual indicators.
    – marcus
    Nov 21, 2010 at 18:21
  • I like the idea, it's creative and breaks norms. I have a problem with making UI harder to use, though. It feels similar to the AI being harder (good) vs. the AI cheats (bad). Maybe in the form of a game-related mcrogame.
    – peterchen
    Nov 22, 2010 at 6:44

Perhaps use smiley faces:

  • Easy - smiling, green
  • Medium - yellow
  • Hard - frowning, red
  • color encoding somehow was not on my list. That way I could stick with limited space. Thanks!
    – marcus
    Nov 21, 2010 at 18:22

My first thought were sketches of the user, in the spectrum of Forever Alone / Troll / Ffffffffffuuuuuuuu Common game-related grades are e.g. military ranks, social status (peasant to king), etc.

Putting them on a slope might help if the icons themselves aren't to obvious. (You do want to label "difficulty level" itself?)


I might consider using one of the sprites from a mob/creature/opponent in the game itself, and making three (or more if needed) versions of it. Each version of the creature, as you increase in difficulty, could look more daunting. You could even have the sprite morph as you swipe, from peon level creature to arch nemesis level creature.

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