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Games

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 Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdotNO@SPAMhackish.org> on Thursday February 04, 2010 @02:37AM (#31019664)

    There are certainly hard games I've enjoyed, but difficulty isn't really a single-axis thing, so I don't find it that useful to talk about in the abstract, and I certainly don't see any benefit to games that are "hard" just for the sake of it. 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.

    Plus, it's not even really something to set in opposition to casual games. It's really hard to get the kinds of low times on Minesweeper that aficionados get, and there are pretty hardcore communities based around such things.

    I do agree that not every game has to be for a mass market. But surely, if you're given the luxury of designing a game that doesn't have to appeal to everyone, there are more interesting niches?

  • Fake Difficulty (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Idiomatick (976696) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @02:43AM (#31019694)
    Difficulty is different than fake difficulty. I actually hated the xbox360 because all the games were fucking easy. Or they had fake difficulty. And fake difficulty fucking sucks.

    What I mean is when they use things like... Computers get psychic powers. Or they can 'cheat'. Like bots in a shooter that know where you are at all times. Or bots that have guns that deal double damage. It is a bit hard to define... but generally speaking, any time the game becomes more about w/e coded in cheats the computer gets than about the goals set out in the game then fake difficulty has been taken too far.

    AI can game break in the opposite direction as well. For example... max handicap disadvantage in smash bros melee vs a computer. You are no longer having a match. You are playing a game of fucking with the ai so it falls in a pit (yoshi sucks at this). In many cases, especially games that shoot for some degree of realism this sucks balls. In shooter, base infiltration games higher difficulty should not be merely adjusting their hp level. It should be tightening up their AI, their aim, their placements, hell number of troops and their weaponry. Otherwise the game plays like crap. (Nearly all games do it the crap way)
  • Difficulty (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ShakaUVM (157947) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @02:47AM (#31019718) Homepage Journal

    I consider a game to be a failure if I can play through the whole thing the first time through without dying. Final Fantasy VII was this way - I only died and reloaded when taking on the optional challenges like Wrong Number or Ruby.

    A problem I've noted more recently is uneven difficulty levels in a game - they're easy hard at the beginning and then trivial by the end (Dragon Age, Mass Effect 1) or games that appear easy in the first couple levels or your first time through so you kick up the difficulty level to give yourself more of a challenge, and they become ridiculous (Halo 3 Legendary Mode).

    Some games also conflate higher difficulty settings with "being higher level", and make the game impossible if you think "Difficult" could possibly be played by an experienced player with a 1st level character. Dark Alliance 2 was this way. Sacred 2 and Diablo 2 were as well, but at least they made you beat the game once before you could turn on Nightmare difficulty. While you could still be underleveled for it, at least you couldn't stumble into it with a 1st level character, like you could in DA2. Even still, I hate game mechanics that have a "you must be this tall to play" mechanic in place, like in Diablo 2.

  • by creimer (824291) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @03:03AM (#31019788) Homepage

    When I was a lead tester at Accolade/Infogrames/Atari (same company, two different owners, multiple identity crises), I was responsible for Men In Black (Playstation). Sony had a submission requirement where they wanted a videotaped play through. Normally, it took me eight hours to get through the whole game. The developers made a change for one level just before the final level that made finishing the game impossible. I told them to change it, they told me to screw off.

    I spent eight hours playing that damn level before I could advance to the final level and sent Sony two videotapes with 16 hours of video. My request to duplicate the last videotape and send it to the developers was denied. No one cares about the pains that a video game tester must suffer.

  • by bertok (226922) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @03:55AM (#31020014)

    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.

    I totally agree. One of the brilliant things about Supreme Commander is that it matches you against players of equal skill. When I played RTS games before, games were always one of two types: I rolled over the enemy effortlessly, which is boring, or I got crushed like a bug, which is just as boring, and frustrating too. In SC, once it learns your rank, every game is a constant uphill struggle against an opponent you can almost but not quite defeat. It's brutal, but that's what makes it a fun challenge!

    Meanwhile, games like Valve's TF2, L4D, and L4D2, which are highly dependent on not just your own player skill, but the skill of your teammates has zero in the way of skill level based match ups. There's nothing worse than a game with some 13 year old idiot in it. There's always that one prepubescent who got the game 10 minutes ago, but thinks he can do whatever the fuck he wants, including run the wrong way, ignore his team, etc...

    I like to think of this analogy: imagine how stupid it would be if the world championship game of, say, football, had one team member replaced by a fucktard who just does "whatever he feels like", because, you know, "it's just a game", and there would be absolutely nothing the other players could do about it. Does that sound like a good game to you?

    Unfortunately, this is the state of almost all team PC and Console gaming right now. Players with literally 10 years of experience play side-by-side with mouthbreathers who struggle to tie their own shoelaces in the morning, and have difficulty in grasping advanced concepts like "pressing a button fires the weapon". It's common to see 50:1 point ratios on TF2 servers between players, which is just insane, if you stop and think about it.

    Many people would argue that this is what clans are for, but clan games are usually very small, are played only on a subset of the maps, and are few and far between. There's just no opportunity to play, say, a 32-player game for 4 or 5 hours straight with clan-level players only.

  • Re:Fake Difficulty (Score:4, Interesting)

    by CrazyJim1 (809850) * on Thursday February 04, 2010 @04:00AM (#31020036) Journal
    Warcraft3 AI only was charged like 1 gold per unit or something so you couldn't starve the AI.

    Starcraft always knew all your units and built counter units.

    Starcraft2 they say is supposed to have really keen ai that even needs to learn through fog of war, but we'll see.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 04, 2010 @05:16AM (#31020332)

    That's why I love Nethack. The permadeath gives you plenty of difficulty, but the challenge doesn't feel "false" because there's so much tactical depth. Yeah, sure, there are plenty of monsters that are pretty brutal ("go team ant!"), but if that stupid orc has a wand of death, you *get* that wand of death if you manage to kill him without him killing you first and he doesn't have infinite uses of it. And there are usually a dozen ways you could have survived that last death. Contrast this with, say, Angband (or many MUDs, for that matter), where the trend in many variants has been that "we want a harder monster, so let's give it 50% more HP and make it resist *everything*!" But the only way you could have avoided dying was having more heal potions handy or retreating.

    I used to be an immortal on a MUD, actually. Nobody knew how to write a mobprog except for random drops, or so it seemed at times, so almost everyone who made hard mobs just set them to aggro and cranked up their HP and armor so that you had to heal via potions for 3 hours while they dropped 1% at a time. I made the first actual mob that used intelligent spell selection to target player racial weaknesses and which used debuffs in a reasonably tactical manner, forced the player to solo it, kept the HP, armor and damage reasonable, gave it a limited number of low HP cohorts that allowed for a flanking bonus, and limited the player's ability to gulp potions so you couldn't just set an autoquaff trigger and watch TV while waiting for it to die.

    People had a lot more fun inventing clever tactics to use against it and watching their use of mana for healing vs. damage over a relatively short (~5 minute) fight, vs. other critters where the main challenge was making sure you had enough potions in your bag before attacking and chatting or something while you waited for it to die.

  • by creimer (824291) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @05:47AM (#31020472) Homepage

    Keep in mind that a video game tester will know every aspect of the game after four months and can play through the entire game rather quickly. The MiB title probably had 20 hours of game time for a "normal" player for the first time. When we had Neverwinter Night in test, we never did test the entire game. A complete play through that included all the side quests took up to 500 hours. Bioware had one programmer who tested the entire game in two weeks.

    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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 04, 2010 @06:47AM (#31020732)

    As someone who's currently playing and enjoying said cult game, I have to disagree here. Main point being the autosave feature. This is one of the things that really makes the game, since every single choice you make will have an irreversible consequence. In Demon's Souls, if you kill that NPC, he really is dead, there's no rewind button. This makes every choice you face a hard one. This isn't a design flaw, it's part of the game mechanic and, for lack of a better word, feel of the game. Constant saving and gaming using multiple save slots is something western players have gotten so used to, they've forgotten there's an alternative.

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