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Game Difficulty As a Virtue 204

Posted by Soulskill
from the all-hail-battletoads dept.
The Wii and various mobile gaming platforms have done wonders for the trend toward casual or "easy" games. But the success of a few recent titles, despite their difficulty, has caused some to wonder whether the pendulum has swung too far; whether a little frustration can be seen as a good thing. Quoting: "The evidence is subtle but compelling. For one example, look to major consumer website GameSpot's Game of the Year for 2009: Atlus' PS3 RPG Demon's Souls, which received widespread critical acclaim – none of which failed to include a mention of the game's steep challenge. GameSpot called it 'ruthlessly, unforgivingly difficult.' Demon's Souls was a sleeper hit, an anomaly in the era of accessibility. One would think the deck was stacked against a game that demanded such vicious persistence, such precise attention – and yet a surge of praise from critics and developers alike praised the game for reintroducing the experience of meaningful challenge, of a game that demanded something from its players rather than looked for ways to hand them things. It wasn't just Demon's Souls that recently flipped the proverbial bird to the 'gaming for everyone' trend. In many ways, the independent development scene can be viewed on the macro level as a harbinger of trends to come, and over the past year and into 2010, many indies have decided to be brutal to their players."
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Game Difficulty As a Virtue

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  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Thursday February 04, 2010 @03:24AM (#31019612)

    Emeril Lagasse suffers from the same problem as the article writer. They both think that one ingredient is the key to a winning formula. BAM! Just add some EVOO or in this case turn the difficulty all the way up.

    The secret, which isn't a secret at all, is that balanced gameplay is the true Sangreal of gaming. Pitting a newbie against a grizzled Korean veteran in Starcraft isn't going to give anyone a challenge or make them feel like they want to come back to the game again. It's only when the players are evenly matched or only slightly mismatched that gameplay becomes exciting. It is the thrill of being able to beat a game but with enough challenge that victory isn't guaranteed.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 04, 2010 @03:24AM (#31019616)

    doesnt matter if a game is easy or hard. it needs to be accessible with a good UI and entertaining with a good story.
    everything else is irrelevant. trainers are easily available as are cheat codes for those who want them.

  • Middle ground (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 04, 2010 @03:34AM (#31019650)

    It's like just about everything else in life...there is a nice middle ground between difficulty and accessibility. there is no point in playing a game that doesn't challenge at all, whether that challenge is a single player game, or a social experience; likewise there is no point in playing a game that is so difficult (I'm thinking of the lost levels on Super Mario All Stars) that it loses all entertainment value and becomes an exercise in frustration.

    a little bit of frustration isn't a bad thing, so long as it is used as a gameplay mechanic, rather than the point of the game.

  • Having fun (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Darinbob (1142669) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @03:41AM (#31019678)
    The point of a game is to have fun. Period.

    Some players find difficulty fun, and some players find that frustrating instead. Telling people that they must play on higher difficulties to have fun is like proclaiming that football is more fun than baseball or tennis.

    The problem really are those few players who seem to find fun in telling others that they're doing it wrong. People should worry about themselves, not what others are doing.
  • by Opportunist (166417) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @03:41AM (#31019682)

    People like to win, of course. But if that win is easy to achive, the achivement feels hollow. Anyone could have done it. People also enjoy the feeling of being "special". And I don't mean in the PC sense. They want to have the feeling they did something not everyone could do.

  • by PaganRitual (551879) <splaga&internode,on,net> on Thursday February 04, 2010 @03:47AM (#31019722)

    It started off as a cult game that looked really promising in it's original Asian release, then someone in the western gaming community got a hold of it and it became a real bandwagon game, being name-dropped everywhere. With a huge following of people that have probably hardly played it, claiming that they love difficult games, because that's what everyone else is doing. Also see : God Hand. Actually, Demon's Souls owes more than a bit to the Gothic games, for which it plays basically like a linear version of, except with bosses.

    Strictly speaking Demon's Souls isn't a hard game, as once you get into the hang of it you'll find that most deaths come from lack of carelessness. You can't simply rush head-long into everything and know that the game won't hurt you for it, like most games. It's just a very punishing one; when you do make a mistake it really does kick you in the nuts. And someone in the design team has confused flawed design with difficulty. No pausing? No ability to save, even to a single constantly overwritten slot, just in case? There is difficult, there is masochistic, and then there is just plain bad game design. I don't regard having to find a safe spot before being able to take a leak or answer the phone to be 'hardcore', just stupid.

    Speaking of God Hand, it is a much better example of proper difficulty. In Demon's Souls, if you tip-toe around, you'll go okay most of the time, and most lessons you learn once and you're okay from then on. God Hand kicks your ass early on, and you wonder how it got released in such an unworkable state (also, if you're an IGN reviewer, you'll likely go off and start writing at this point), but if you pay attention to the combat system and start out on an easy level, you'll become comfortable with the combat system, and then eventually you'll start tearing up the place, ready to advance in difficulty, and things that once seemed impossible will now merely present a fun challenge instead of sending you back, tail between your legs. Urban Reign did the same thing. They are great games.

  • by Balinares (316703) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @04:00AM (#31019772)

    > The Wii and various mobile gaming platforms have done wonders
    > for the trend toward casual or "easy" games.

    Yeah. Care to cite specific examples? Because this, here, until proved otherwise, sounds like gamer nerd handwringing over their hobby's new mass popularity, no more.

    Have you played the new Super Mario game? Care to name some other Mario games that are harder? Take your time, I'll wait. Heck, has there ever been a Mario game where failing one time too many on a single level, no matter how many lives you have, means you can't reach 100% completion unless you trash your save game and start over from scratch?

    Hell, have you played the Wii poster child, Mario Kart? How are those mirror cups going? Unlocked the Rainbow Road expert staff ghost yet? Beaten it?

    Just because it's easy to get into for newbies does NOT make it unchallenging. Seriously, guys, this is the same line of thinking that gives us people who seem to think that user friendly and powerful GUIs are mutually exclusive. It's a real design challenge to reconcile both, I know. This makes it all the more important to recognize and laud those attempts that succeed.

  • by Noodlenoggin (1295699) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @04:23AM (#31019856)

    A game might be hard because it has complex puzzles, or because it requires highly honed twitch skills, or because it requires non-obvious inferences, or because it requires acute observation, or any number of other things. Sometimes those are useful, sometimes not.

    I totally agree with this. I've played PC FPS's for years and I don't consider them hard by any means, but the same game on a console with a gamepad makes them impossible. I wouldn't consider them 'fun' on the console just because the difficulty for me personally is way up there.

  • by Rennt (582550) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @05:39AM (#31020190)

    Or designers making the games to be a struggle in the misconceived idea that people will play it more because of all the retrying and struggle.

    Sometimes they are dead right. Nethack, Dwarf Fortress, Mega Man, I Wanna be that Guy etc are all games of this type.

  • Re:Middle ground (Score:3, Insightful)

    by montyzooooma (853414) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @06:54AM (#31020504)
    Sure, a middle ground with the option to go go left for harder or right for easier. I don't usually get much fun out of games without difficulty settings. As a kid there were games I was never going to complete. Now I'm in my forties there are probably fewer games like that but it still irks if I spend forty quid on a game and can't get out of the first few levels. Honestly I don't want to be challenged so much as I want to be entertained. And it helps if I feel like a mighty god. My job challenges me already and improving my hi-score at work has more material benefit. Games, for me, are to unwind. YMMV.
  • by Idiomatick (976696) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @06:56AM (#31020518)
    Yeah, nethack is a game of knowledge. While one of my peeves with games is when you die until you figure out w/e they needed you to do as difficulty... Nethack is sort of designed with that in mind from the beginning as it is a knowledge based game rather than one of skill. Like... something a stats major would do well in.

    As a side note wow also hasn't figured it out. Mobs from level 1~80 (excluding bosses) have these strats for each time it can attack:
    - If humanoid and hp under 20% flee randomly for 7 seconds
    - If - Target highest aggro player (each attack or heal builds agro)
    - If in range hit it else run to it
    - When picking attack roll die, 1~3 regular hit, 5~6 use a special if available

    That is literally it. Bosses are generally scripted to do different things at different percents. They have more of a metroid boss feel though so its ok..... (you kind of solve the boss with a strategy... metroid bosses you learn the boss and work against it). But a tinnnnny bit of intelligence would be nice, mobs would probably need more tools available to them though. I mean... a lvl10 human charging a lvl 80 orc in full epic gear is pretty retarded.
  • by am 2k (217885) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @07:58AM (#31020778) Homepage

    Overall, the single player mode for most games are getting too short. Thirty hours of game play for a $30 game was the norm ten years ago. These days you get 20 hours or less for a $60 game.

    Well, that's why I buy games only after they've been out for about a year. That way I get 20h of gameplay for $20 instead. I don't see the point why I absolutely have to play a game right when it first ships.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 04, 2010 @08:28AM (#31020928)

    Would any game be enjoyable if it had an "I win" button?

    Blackjack at the casino?

  • Re:IWannaBeTheGuy (Score:2, Insightful)

    by KDR_11k (778916) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @09:07AM (#31021160)

    I got annoyed at the first boss because I didn't manage to get past the third part and every death meant I had to repeat the first and second parts which were pure puzzle parts that are trivial once you know how to beat them. Hard is fine, wasting my time with piss-easy stuff before the parts that actually challenge me is not.

  • by Wildclaw (15718) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @09:23AM (#31021290)

    People complain that the game is too easy (even if they never tried the hard modes).

    The problem with World of Warcraft is that the last expansion truly made the game too easy in several ways.

    Outside of dungeons, mobs have simply become ants. Annoying but 100% non-lethal. You almost have to disconnect while fighting multiple mobs to even have a chance of dying. In normal dungeons as well as heroics to some degree, the preferred strategy has become to basically collect as many mobs as the tank (and healer) can handle, have him keep them occupied (which is very simple nowadays) while the rest of the party uses multi target effect to kill them all at once. You have mages who have leveled all the way to level 80 and don't even know how to use the Sheep spell in dungeons, not to mention more advanced skills such as counter spell.

    For leveling characters, they have made leveling easier, not only by reducing experience needed (which is a good thing to reduce boring grind) but also by improving gear rewards and reducing effort needed to clear a dungeon while simultaneously nerfing any challenging mobs outside of dungeons so that a monkey could level a character to level 80 using only his tail. This wouldn't be so bad except if you could only challenge yourself by fighting more difficult mobs. But the experience as well as level system in WoW highly encourages people to fight mobs that are at most the same level as yourself, or preferably one or two levels below if they want to level quickly.

    Right now I am not subscribed, but depending on what I hear about it, I may join a month once WoW:Cataclysm comes out to see if it is fixed. But I don't have high hopes. The Blizzard WoW team has lost touch with reality when it comes to providing difficulty in many aspects of the game.

  • DNAS Error -103 (Score:2, Insightful)

    by tepples (727027) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {selppet}> on Thursday February 04, 2010 @10:37AM (#31022064) Homepage Journal

    Well, that's why I buy games only after they've been out for about a year. That way I get 20h of gameplay for $20 instead.

    True, but in that case, you get only 20 hours. After that point, if you try the multiplayer mode, you'll likely get something like "DNAS Error -103: This software title is not in service" after the publisher pulls the plug on the matchmaking server.

  • by jinushaun (397145) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @01:19PM (#31024086)

    Or did he just read some reviews about how difficult it was?

    The game isn't difficult as so much as it is sadistic. No pausing at all, not even when checking inventory. On screen elements that totally block 80% of your screen during battle—effectively making you a sitting duck until it goes away. Remember, no pausing during all this. WTF?! No real story or purpose, so only the masochists will continue to play through if only to prove to themselves that they can beat it. The lack of plot elements mean you really have to rely on the PSN feature of the game whereby players on PSN leave you clues about what to do next. You can kill any NPC, including ones critical to the game such as the girl that levels up your character. It's just a poorly designed game. The whole time I was playing, I was like, "Seriously? WTF?"

    However, despite all of its flaws, all the reviewers are right about the game having a strong sense of achievement. There were a lot of comparisons made to the old cartridge days when the only way to beat a game was all the way through in one go. Or where you had to collect more 1-ups to prevent death. Demon's Souls is kind of like that. No save points and if you die, you start back at the beginning of the current level and lose all your unspent money/souls.

    Dying in modern games isn't as big of a deal as it used to be. You often start off right where you died with all your items and full stats. A lot of games nowadays have auto-regen health so you just wait it out and you're good as new. Demon's Souls makes player really adverse to death.

    And lastly, casual doesn't mean easy or unfulfilling. A game doesn't have to be "difficult" to be challenging. For example, my favourite game is and always will be Tetris. Easy to learn, but challenging to get really good at. I can spend hours trying play the perfect game, get the highest score or see how fast I can play, etc.

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