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Game Difficulty As a Virtue 204

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 cbope ( 130292 ) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @04:53AM (#31020004)

    I'd have to agree that in many ways games today are easier than in the past, however I too have noticed a swing back towards difficulty in a few titles. Most recently in Dragon Age Origins. Even played on the easy setting, it can be brutally difficult in some parts, the spikes are enormous. I prefer to play my RPG's in real-time, provided the game has such a mode, and while the easy setting in DAO is supposed to allow real-time battles, it is not strictly true. In many cases it still takes a huge amount of micro-management, pausing and tactics to succeed in certain battles, and party selection can be a critical point. If you have somehow chosen the wrong party members, spells or equipment, you will be utterly crushed without mercy. Re-loading saves and re-grouping and re-arming your party are common, even on easy difficulty.

    To be honest, the game would be more enjoyable if the difficulty spikes on easy mode were not so severe; several reviewers have also pointed this out. I cannot see playing through this game on the most difficult setting, it would not be enjoyable to me. I'm not saying it should be a walk in the park, a good challenge is welcome, but being brutally beaten time-after-time and re-loading saves again and again is not a good gameplay experience. Adaptive AI is the way to go here, where the game will recognize you have been killed for the 10th time in a row in the last 60 seconds and ease up the difficulty a bit.

    Don't get me wrong, this is one of the finest RPG's in quite a long while, and it has a depth and character development that is very enjoyable. This depth and feeling of character development was missing from recent games like Fallout 3 and Bioshock. While these games have some characteristics of RPG's, they are missing a large chunk of what makes a true RPG, and that's what DAO delivers, despite the difficulty.

  • Well, after all... (Score:2, Informative)

    by WaroDaBeast ( 1211048 ) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @05:14AM (#31020094)
    "To vanquish without peril is to triumph without glory."
    — Pierre Corneille, Le Cid
  • by Dr. Hellno ( 1159307 ) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @09:37AM (#31021404)
    sleeper hit means it sold well, just not right away.
  • by Impy the Impiuos Imp ( 442658 ) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @01:07PM (#31023916) Journal

    Excuse me, stewardess. I speak Excited Nerdling.

    Making a game insanely hard "just because" does not teh fun make.

    1. Always have some way to move the game forward. For example, have several answers to "what do i do next??" available to the player at all times.

          Please note that enabling a wall decoration as a "grabbable item" only after a player reaches some other point, and has already passed it, is rather irritating. It was not "takeable" when they first encountered it, so it would not be obvious to them that they should re-scour that area.

    2. Special ways to kill particular opponents should be discoverable. For example, standard "houses of magic" enable various spell styles, some of which may have a greater effect than others. Also, don't forget about the rock-paper-scissors concept when designing different styles of attacks. It's also a good idea to have clues to what the more productive attacks or spells might be, rather than the player having to figure it out the hard way by trial and error.

    Note that obscure attack chains as a requirement to kill someone is difficult for the player when said chains are not an easy discovery. Adding the requirement for high skill or a lucky shot as an intermediate step is also infuriating since, when that step misses, the player must start all over again.

    3. Tools and upgrades should be findable, and in general, it's good to always have at least two ways of doing anything. Be careful not to cause the player to get de facto stuck because they have to plow through a "Get to da choppa!" number of baddies to get the required magic trinket to advance the game.

    4. Have plenty of ammo, health, and power packs available so players aren't chronically running on empty, but don't have too much so the players don't just run around ignoring the dangers because they can chain-chug dozens of healths and have nigh infinite ammo. This isn't to say you can't have a huge topping off station just before big encounters, where the challenge is just surviving in all-out mayhem.

    5. I know "hint guides" are profitable accessories for many games nowadays, and that therefore you have enticement to put a few goodies into them to justify the buy, and I'm fine with that. However, if you do have such hidden goodies, and do not produce a hint guide for sale, could you remember to include it in the in-game journal or something?

Information is the inverse of entropy.