A quick look at difficulty and it's presence in recent games (Analysis)

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So recently it's come to light in gaming media that games today are becoming very easy and have lost the difficulty that once made them fun to play. Why is that though? Surely if a game is easy, you can play it without a hassle and have more fun because of it. Right?

I think I can explain why it doesn't actually make it fun, and I can do it by relating to the other types of things we probably did in our childhoods specifically, family games. I'm talking about Monopoly, Scrabble and all the hard board games that tested your mettle. There are two types of parents/siblings that play these with you. There were the ones that let you win because you were a child, and the ones that didn't let you win. What does this have to do with video games?

Let's look at DmC for our easy game example and Dark Souls for our obvious hard game example. Combat in DmC requires you to be fast and alert so you can execute awesome combos against your enemies for score and to kill them. Unfortunately, a few spam attacks with mild weapon swapping can get you an easy S-SSS style rank, the highest style ranks in the game with just some spamming and maybe throw in an air combo. This is akin to the parent/sibling that lets you win at Monopoly. It's fun to win sure, but if you keep winning every time, does it really feel like you earned that win? If you put minimal effort in and still get victory that victory tune isn't exciting anymore, your big brother saying "Argh! You beat me you little bastard!" isn't gratifying, its just lame now. The difficulty also suffers from this, there is barely a punishment for dying. In the original DMC games you would generally go to the beginning of the level or the beginning of a boss fight but the checkpoints in DmC are way too generous. If there's no punishment for being reckless why NOT be reckless?

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You can get those A's with minimal effort, 3 hit Combo followed by an aerial combo is all you need.

Let's compare this to Dark souls, it's a game that loves you, but it's tough love, it's love that matters, the type of love that comes from a parent that wants you to grow up right... or a terrible metaphor. The point is the game wants to teach you and make you feel successful when you do succeed. It's not going to just let you win to make you feel good, the game challenges you and punishes you for doing bad. The reward for persisting and learning from your mistakes therefore feels a lot more satisfying in the long run. This is the parent that doesn't let you win, but challenges you. It doesn't want you to win every time, not because the game doesn't like you, but because if there is no challenge, the novelty of the victory is lost entirely. The feeling of success when you beat a boss in Dark souls is a lot more satisfying when it's been earned and not just thrown at you constantly to try and make you feel happy.

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Hello there, looks like you need an optician and my sword is more than willing to help in that field.

I hope you see my point by now but if not, I'll basically sum it up. Most easy games nowadays sometimes aren't easy, but the way they reward you is patronising, doing it often and making sure you're always being rewarded with something so you don't feel like you're not winning. The feeling of not winning really has to be there, it pushes you to succeed and makes you feel victorious when you do actually achieve victory. Dark Souls does an excellent job of providing this type of game play, meanwhile DmC just wants to reward you as much as possible to keep you happy.

I've never beaten my brother once at Monopoly, we've had some close matches but he knew how to handle his properties and all the luck in his right bloody hand, but I don't want him to let me win. Not once. If he did that, it would ruin the feeling, when I finally beat his ass as I charge him 2500 for landing on my hotel on Mayfair. The look on his face will be akin to the animation of a boss dying in Dark Souls in the dark of the night at 2AM, with your snacks and drink at your side as you've finally beaten it, jumping around with joy, before your mum comes in and takes your console away because you woke her up...

I'll get onto another review when I get a chance, until then, Leave some feedback and tell me what you think of the topic. You don't have to agree with me and that's fine too. With that, I'll take my leave.

I'll be seeing you.

Good points, but worth expanding on; there are plenty of people who'll say that they don't agree with the nature of challenge in Dark Souls being praised as good, for example.

Then again, that'd reduce a quick look to an extended analysis, and that's not what yer going for so I've just sort of cancelled myself out and I'm disappearing into ether.

Not that you don't make good points, I'll just touch further on them here.

When asked why a game's combat, like DmC's, is unsatisfying, it's tempting to simply say "it's too easy." But that's a lazy way to describe a game's problems, because it implies there's something inherently wrong with easy games in general. There isn't. DmC's problem is that it touts a Style meter but rewards what essentially feels like variety mashing. Bad players will get S rankings, and mildly creative players will get SSS. It isn't engaging you in the problem solving process it presents, it's simply letting it run its course. And that digs deeper into your experience as a whole -- you feel less and less like a demon slayer and more like a tester for some tech demo. When Dante tells a boss to go fuck itself, you feel like you're talking down to something very powerful, only to realize you're not. Everything falls apart from there, not just combat mechanics.

But then is PoP 2008, for example, also bad because it's easy? No, in fact I think the few parts of that game that work benefit from the cushion of safety. You fall and the girl saves you, it's an arresting platforming experience for that feature alone, it builds a relationship. And yet people will unfairly say it isn't engaging because there isn't a Game Over screen.

Which goes double for people who say Dark Souls is challenging because it has lots of Game Over screens. Here's a shocker -- Dark Souls isn't the least bit hard. Dying is just the mechanism you use to beat the game. The idea is that you will face unknown patterns that will kill you. Some things in Dark Souls you cannot react to, it just happens and you say "oh ok, a simple dodge roll here and I win." This isn't Korean Brood War, it's a dodge roll and a stab. Dark Souls is popular because it conditions the player so well with this psychology that it's almost a zen experience. Every corner of its world becomes that much more haunting because you value the learning potential of your current life.

tl;dr the difficulty of a game should reflect its goals. there is no easy mode epidemic going through the industry, games are just becoming more interesting.

holdthephone:
Snip.

You do provide some good counter arguments and I agree with them, but I still feel like an absence of difficulty can lead to a game losing some of the potential fun. When i played DmC a few days ago I enjoyed it to the point where I first died. I thought, "Agh! Back to the beginning of the level I go", but I didn't go back there, I only went to a checkpoint about 1 minute back. I no longer felt like the game was much of a challenge, throw what you want at me but if I'm only going back to 30 seconds ago, why should I be worried? I still enjoyed the game (I don't want to talk about what I didn't enjoy about it but I am a classic Devil May Cry fan, let's leave it at that) but felt that the lack of punishment made everything have less weight. I hope you can understand where I'm coming from, if not, maybe I'm just seeing things in a strange or different light. Either way thanks for the reply, you definitely made some good elaborations on what I had already put.

DiceeciD:

holdthephone:
Snip.

snip

Holding up a new game's features to another can lead you astray when searching for the reasons you aren't enjoying it. Right now you're blaming checkpoint placement because you recognize two things: (A)Previous games you enjoyed had punishing checkpoints and (B)DmC does not have punishing checkpoints. But to say DmC would be fixed if Ninja Theory just restarted levels after each death is dodging the actual problems of the game, and in a way, is an unfair platform to criticize it on. Considering that all of DmC's platforming and combat is autopilot anyway, what would be the point of a punishing check point other than to add tedium? Much of the environment traversing is actually entirely scripted, so there's no point in seeing it again. Ninja Theory knows DmC isn't hard, and they've wisely accommodated that fact by not intentionally annoying the player. Did rough checkpoints work for DMC3? Perhaps they did, but that is an entirely different experience.

EDIT: [Had an example here, snipped it out for the sake of shortening this lol.]

And as I said, this also leads people to praising games in odd ways, too. Dark Souls isn't hard by any stretch of the imagination, but people assume it is simply because 'You Died' symbolized a difficult experience of past games. Dark Souls is great, but I don't really hold anyone who beats it in high esteem. It's simply a game of patience, which hey, maybe is hard given the ADHD nature of reward centric designs lately.

...

You know, I don't know if you guys have heard but they made this new thing in games called DIFFICULTY LEVELS. Yeah, isn't that awesome? Any time a game is too easy, you can just (Gasp!) turn up the difficulty!

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Now, if we're talking about difficulty QUALITY, that's something else.

 

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