148: Hard Times

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Hard Times

"Once upon a time, games were competitors. Now, primarily, they're entertainers. They aimed to beat you. Now, to be beaten. Our language says much, really. While we've talked about difficulty curves forever, the problems now are 'difficulty spikes.' No one ever critiques a game for a difficulty-trough - because the former stops you getting anywhere and the latter is just something you coast through."

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Anyone who accuses Portal of being short clearly never went for all of the achievements or played it with developer comments on :p

I dunno about this one. I've hread DMC4 is still ball-bustingly hard at the highest levels but accessible at lower difficulties, and Ninja Gaiden was a masochistic hardcorefest that did well.

I think what people should look at when it comes to challenge is what it is like to run a Dungeons and Dragons game. If you want your players to have fun, you need to encourage them to play smart, but at the same time you don't want them to die. It's no fun to take five steps and then die in the first encounter. You want there to be rising action. The first room has three or four guards in it capable of taking up 1/4 of the health and resources of the players if they run and gun, but if they instead explore and see that they can climb the rafters above and drop the chandelier on the guards, they can get by without a scratch. This will pay off when they have to fight the Minotaur capable of taking up 3/4 of their helath and resources, who is going to be next to impossible if they run and gun, and yet enough of a challenge even if they're at 100%.

Now, video games have checkpoints, and it is a good thing. Because I might go through running and gunning a room the first time, then die at the Minotaur, but when I start in front of the guard's room again I see I have more options open. Thus I learn that, later in the game, I should look for alternative routes.

I like the games best when I can get by with the skin of my teeth. The Halo, Gears of War and Call of Duty method of health and regeneration works pretty well for this, as it allows you to try, try again.

Some games, though, really do need to work on this. Devil May Cry 4's Human mode is a joke, but since I was new to the series it was necessary in order for me to complete the next difficulty mode. As I learn better ways to play, I find myself barely making it through some encounters, and it turns me into a better player.

Also, let's compare Mega Man 1 to Mega Man X. Mega Man 1 requires you to memorize each stage if you want to beat it, because otherwise it is impossible. Mega Man X doesn't, yet it still presents a challenge. Guess which game I love to pop in and kill an afternoon with even to this day?

While some games are too easy, I think people just need to suck it up and enjoy the challenge that's there. We're not all masochists, and even if checkpoints and recovering health make a game "easier" (let's see how many tries it takes for you to defeat General Raam on Insane), I get a game I can fully experience and extra immersion, too.

I dunno about Ken Lavines grandma, but my Grandad completed Super Mario World so I think thats a rather patronising take on old people :-P Besides if I dont like a game it doesnt matter how easy it is im not gonna play it through.

I dont mind games being "dumbed down" to an extent. But its true that given the option to play a game on easy or hard I do tend to go for easy. Once Ive completed it on easy/normal I really dont see the point of playing through it again on harder settings. Ive completed the game, I know what happens; I dont get any real thrill out of the idea of enemies taking more bullets to kill & me dying easier & the frustration taht causes.

Theres pleanty of games I havent completed, but I dont think I can say any of them I quit because it got too hard. Ive not completed any half-life game, Boiling point, Medievil 2 & others because in Boiling Points case the bugs were too frustrating: in Medievils case the game just gets monotonous & boring; & in half-lifes case I really dont find the games much fun after playing for a while. Story, variety & setting drive me to complete a game, & if I have enough reason to want to continue then I will do my best to get past harder parts unless they truely are impossible. But most of the games I found myself stopping playing didnt do this. It wasnt that it was too hard to progress to the end, it was that I really couldnt be arsed to do so.

I, for one, am glad that the game industry is no longer held hostage by those who want to "bottom" for their games.

-- Steve

Most games nowadays appear to come equipped with a 'I Win' button built into the game world - and I'm not just talking about those dodgy cheat packs you can put into your system. I mean, for instance, let's look at DMC4 which has been brought up in this very thread: Have any of you actually mastered Pandora yet? For those of you who don't know - Pandora is the gun that Dante acquires which has miscellaneous uses - one is that it can shoot missiles which cripple even the 100-foot last boss in a number of hits. Certainly, such numbers increase with difficulty levels - and it becomes harder to stay alive, but as long as you're agile, even the climax remains a piece of piss.

The Final Fantasy series is a great example of the decline in difficulty over decades: In FF8, its harder to actually gain the final summon than it is to use it. That is to say, there's little point going after Eden unless you're really dedicated to gaining its power. In FFX, you can simply get the Magus Sisters by opening a few chests on your adventure, and then sit back in the final battle against Jecht spamming 'X' to win.

What about the finale of FFX where it could have been an AWESOME knock-down-drag-out fight against the summons (that some people may have put dozens of hours into buffing. Instead you have auto re-raise on you for the whole fight. Think about it.. if you bothered getting all the summons, and then leveled the crap out of them. You would have been sealing your own demise, and the fight would have been far more satisfying.

As for the difficulty "curve," consider Ikaruga. Murderously hard, and yet with persistance you develop the skills to beat it. I like games that have that sort of arcade feel. That need to have a particular skill set mastered to progress.

-- Compare what happens when you say "Knights of the Old Republic," which practically beat itself, and "Deus Ex: Invisible War," which was nigh impossible --

I just finished DX:IW on whatever the second difficulty setting is (let's call it medium), and I kind of suck at games. Did I miss something in that statement?

oneplus999:
Anyone who accuses Portal of being short clearly never went for all of the achievements or played it with developer comments on :p

Yeah but is really trying to find every little pointless feature and listen to directors commentry (that nobody enjoys on a DVD, so why would they enjoy on a game). I find achivements a way of adding content via the cheapest and fastest mode possible.

I noticed that too. I don't think anyone can find Invisible War close to impossible on the easiest setting, and it's not too hard on the harder settings. Can anyone hazard a guess as to why he wrote that?
Anyway, on a more relevant note, I don't see what there is to complain about as long as there is a very easy and genuinely difficult setting, and a few things in between. If you can't beat a game then it's similar to being denied the last song on the album you bought. I find it odd that Mr. Gillen claims 'there's a problem with entryism: No one appreciates the top end, since everyone follows the path of least resistance'. That's not a problem with games, just with consumers, and feeling too much pity for those missing out on the harder settings is a bit strange; it's their fault for being
I'll stop there before I insult anyone.

I have never finished any Mario game on the NES/SNES ever.

But Halo on Legendary difficulty is easy as pie for me.

(that nobody enjoys on a DVD

I frequently listen to Developer Commentaries, depending on the movie. The Director's commentary on any Kevin Smith film is good fun, for example.

I too listen to developers' commentary all the time, for movies and games. Heck, the reason I bought the Legendary Edition of Halo 3 was for the extra discs; the helmet was an extra I could've done without.

(The commentary track for Apollo 13 by Mr. and Mrs. Lovell is amazing, by the way.)

And anybody whining about Portal being too easy obviously hasn't tried the challenges.

-- Steve

I dunno, plenty of games come with harder settings that actually are hard. Legendary setting on Halo, for instance, was nigh on impossible if you weren't playing co-op. And as Saskwach said, Ninja Gaiden was a tough pig of a game.

Yes, games on normal and easier settings are probably easier now than they were ten years ago, but I don't think that's a bad thing. If you're a hardcore gamer, you can launch straight into the game on hard mode and have a blast, and if you're new to games, you can go through on easy and learn the ropes. After all, isn't easy mode supposed to be easy?

adamandkate:

oneplus999:
Anyone who accuses Portal of being short clearly never went for all of the achievements or played it with developer comments on :p

Yeah but is really trying to find every little pointless feature and listen to directors commentry (that nobody enjoys on a DVD, so why would they enjoy on a game). I find achivements a way of adding content via the cheapest and fastest mode possible.

Honestly if you have even a passing interest in game design, you will find the commentary interesting. I'd highly recommend it. However, I'll admit this still doesn't add that much to the length or difficulty of the game.

Really its all about getting the Aperture Science achievements on the bonus levels :) That took me a while and had a very enjoyable difficulty curve.

whups i don't know how to delete a post...

Well if you want your game to succeed in the mainstream, you need adjustable difficulty minimum. If you're prepared to consider a niche game a success, you can go ahead and make a hard game. I wanted to be challenged for awhile but I found the rush of finishing a hard game is far too fleeting for me to justify doing it. I want the pleasure to come as I go through the game, not when the last boss finally dies. I think more people feel the same way. A game that isn't bring them pleasure isn't a game, it's a chore that they paid money to do. Food for thought.

The results of the entryist movement have been mixed. Compare what happens when you say "Knights of the Old Republic," which practically beat itself, and "Deus Ex: Invisible War," which was nigh impossible, in a room full of gamers.

Compare what happens when you say "Ico" which is basically a button-masher.

Which is all well and good, but there's a problem with entryism: No one appreciates the top end, since everyone follows the path of least resistance. If "Grandma Mode" is available, hardcore gamers are more likely to waltz through the game than attempt a harder difficulty. There's no point to putting yourself through a tougher experience if the end result is the same.

I think this is totally untrue--if the game is any good I'll replay it at a harder difficulty. Heck, I'm still trying to get my time on the cargo ship mock-up in _CoD4_ down.

And then there are the people still trying to work their way up the ladder in _Civilization_. If you want hard, play Deity level and get Isabella and Montezuma as neighbors. I think when you talk about 'hard' games you're really talking about hard games *only in certain genres.* For lack of a better term I'd call them 'character combat' games--FPSes, RPGs, etc.

What I'd *really* say is happening is that games for "competition" as you put it and games for "entertainment" are splitting off from each other only in 'character combat' games with the latter dwarfing the former. Both _Madden_ and _Wii Sports_ are commanding huge chunks of the video game market even though _Madden_ has been getting even *harder* to play over the years.

I think the better music analogy would be when punk split into post-punk and alternative on the one hand, and hardcore on the other. _BioShock_ is not the mainstream. _BioShock_ is New Order to _System Shock_'s Joy Division. Oddly enough, metal-heavy _Guitar Hero_ is the mainstream.

Finally, before we get too nostalgic about the old days, let's remember the original stab at a "Grandma Mode": _Contra_ with the Konami Code.

I too disagree with the "hardcore games will play on easy" opinion - I always play any of the Half-Life games on hard first time through, otherwise there's no point - this is partly due to the fact I've played the series for so long I know what to do to not die repeatedly. That said, I'm not a big fan of the method of making the game more difficult, i.e. making your guns really weak and your enemies really tough and having the same guns do more damage to you. Not sure how I'd do it, but the SMG shouldn't take a whole clip and more to kill a normal soldier!

I did find it somewhat irritating that Mass Effect forces you to unlock harder difficulties, especially since it suffers from that almost ubiquitous RPG syndrome of getting to the tipping point where you basically become indestructible and all enemies just fall over in front of your magical god-powers/ridiculous mega-cannon pistol.

The growth of "shock damage" (a.k.a. the demise of the health meter) is also a major contributor to ease of games. The shield+health system from the first Halo game was so much better than the latter two. Legendary difficulty in the Halo series was pretty tough, but the sections I tended to die on a lot where just where there were a billion flood jumping on me and shooting me full of spikes when I had no long-range weapon, where I couldn't just run away and hide for a second or two and then come back and shoot some more. Not the best way to make a game a challenge, it just gets a bit dull.

QmunkE:
Not sure how I'd do it, but the SMG shouldn't take a whole clip and more to kill a normal soldier!

Just go for the goddam head. Always works. Even on hard.

How in god's name do these people come up with the accompanying art for this stuff?

I can only guess the banner art for this article is a reference to God Hand, mentioned throughout the second and third pages =P

Regarding 'the path of least resistance'.. No? I cannot speak for others, but I tired of easy games a long time ago, and find myself far more likely to quit an easy game due to boredom than a hard one.

For many years, throughout my younger and mid teens, I was the kind of individual who considered cheat codes -part of the experience-, who enjoyed a game far more if I could just eliminate all challenge and resistance and run around playing with the game mechanics.

Ghost mode in Unreal to let me explore the beautiful enviroments and not experience cardiac arrest when the Skarjj jumped on me.

Spawn cheats in Half-Life to watch Barneys fight masses of Zombies.

The same in Baldur's Gate, pitting armies of demons and the undead against a legion of the flaming fist, on the streets of Candlekeep.

Grand theft auto? Give me all the weapons and god mode, I want to see just how many cars I can blow up before I get bored.

Oh my dear Hitman; absolutely everything, especially ip_timemultiplier 0.3, let me watch those early, beautiful ragdolls fly.

Now..?

I play all of my games on the hardest possible difficulty setting just to keep myself amused.

It's.. Immersion. Having spent years playing games against real players, AI becomes increasingly unconvincing, and aside from it's unpredictable behaviour is relatively easy to defeat. To feel like I'm really there, in the world created by the developers, I need the game to be as punishingly close to realistic as possible, and to force me to concentrate, to focus.

Otherwise, I'm usually too bored to continue by the end of the second act.

Am I the only one?

Toss some realism mods onto STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl if you want to know the meaning of difficulty *grins*

AI that know how to flank, how to sneak, how to aim for the head, where one shot kills.

Ooh. Joy.

I unfortunately fall into the category of the "plays on heroic every day because he dies often on legendary", but recently I've been trying to get out of that (particularly with "I want to be the guy", one of the most obnoxiously hard freeware games out). It's more fun, but I also fall into a sense of frustration pretty often, which is how games should be (not controller throwing frustration, mind you).

I like hard games. Sorry, let me correct that statement: I liked hard games. This was back in the days when I had more time to play. With practice came mastery, and the challenge was its own reward. These days, I don't have as much time to play games, and so the worst thing a game can do is waste my leisure time by forcing me to repeat something I don't want to repeat. Unskippable cutscenes are by far the worst offender, but having to repeat a tedious gameplay sequence is just as bad. Maybe this just reflects poor design, since the gameplay itself is supposed to be the reward. If the reward only comes at the end, I'm going to find the most time-efficient way to get there, and if that means playing on "easy," so be it.

- Alan

The cropped image for this article on the front page is unfortunate.

This is why I devote most of my gaming time to TF2, despite the fact that I have yet to finish Half-Life 2 or any of its sequels, all of which I have paid for. I just don't have time to devote to a difficult game which requires repeated attempts at a segment before you can move forward, especially an on-rails shooter like Half-Life 2 where you don't have any real choice as to how to deal with a situation.

Last time I played HL2 a few months back, I ended up with low health at the square where you have to fend off several waves of Combine soldiers while Alyx takes her sweet time hacking some shield generator (near the end of Anticitizen One). I got so fed up with replaying this segment (and yes, I kind of suck) that I turned the game off and haven't gone back yet. It just wasn't any fun.

So, while I feel a bit guilty, and am resolved to actually FINISH HL2 and its sequels someday, I just can't be bothered right now. TF2 offers a great mix of frustration and exhilaration, is frequently hilarious, and is never quite the same from round to round.

EDIT:
Also, Okami. Not a particularly hard game most of the time, but it's so LONG that I got to the point where I just wanted to finish the darn thing. So when I got stuck about a year ago on one of the game's incredibly irritating jumping puzzles (the platform spiders where you have to use the ice brush to freeze them at just the right spot to land a difficult leap), I just stopped playing. I'll finish it at some point, but ... but TF2 calls me!

Jumping puzzles are THE biggest game-enders for me, with pointless level bosses coming hard on their heels. I actually enjoyed the boss battle at the end of Portal, but most of them just seem like they're there because that's what games do.

Saskwach:
I dunno about this one. I've hread DMC4 is still ball-bustingly hard at the highest levels but accessible at lower difficulties, and Ninja Gaiden was a masochistic hardcorefest that did well.

Yes DMC4 was stupidly hard on DMD mode after playing each level a minimum of 20 times each it finally got done. That for me was as far as i was prepared to go difficulty wise.

ccesarano:
I think what people should look at when it comes to challenge is what it is like to run a Dungeons and Dragons game. [snipped for brevity]

So very true. A game needs progression and challenge, otherwise frustration or boredom set in.

Saskwach:
I dunno about this one. I've hread DMC4 is still ball-bustingly hard at the highest levels but accessible at lower difficulties, and Ninja Gaiden was a masochistic hardcorefest that did well.

DMC4 on Devil Hunter is tough. The first real boss fight with Dante, I'm not talking about the begining, was button smashing hard. I havent tried on easy because I played the first three on easy and thats what they were, easy. Plus the fight with the priest guy was agrivating.

Igoram78:

Saskwach:
I dunno about this one. I've hread DMC4 is still ball-bustingly hard at the highest levels but accessible at lower difficulties, and Ninja Gaiden was a masochistic hardcorefest that did well.

DMC4 on Devil Hunter is tough. The first real boss fight with Dante, I'm not talking about the begining, was button smashing hard. I havent tried on easy because I played the first three on easy and thats what they were, easy. Plus the fight with the priest guy was agrivating.

For the Dante fight spam pistol fire while moving in close and then when he's in range grab him with buster. Works on Son of Sparda too, works occasionally on Dante Must Die but most of the time you'll take a shotgun to the face. DMC is really just figuring out the best way to exploit all the situations and from then on it's cake on any difficulty.

But yeah, as for the general topic, I'm a fan of difficult games. God Hand is in my collection, a game I loved every finger blistering second of. Third person beat em up is my favourite genre probably because what I like most about games is finding a way to abuse their mechanics, and it's one genre built entirely on that principle. God of War, DMC, Godhand, Ninja Gaiden, there's just a certain thrill about beating these sorts of games on their highest difficulties that you can't get anywhere else. I just wish they made more of them, instead of the unending spam of FPS games that want to hold your hand the whole way.

Hmm. I was hoping for more of a discussion of the actual intrinsic value of difficulty in games in the first place. There are always going to be people who play for a challenge, and always those who just want to see the game, but is it really a shame that games have got easier? A good discussion of the various types of gamer that have emerged is at http://insultswordfighting.blogspot.com/2008/01/new-taxonomy-of-gamers-table-of.html and it makes all this talk of the hardcore v.s. the not-hardcore look a bit old fashioned.

As for me, I like my games easy enough to not demand a lot of do-overs due to failure, but difficult enough so that it actually engages my attention. Which, it turns out, is not particularly difficult. I'll tend to select 'normal' difficulty even if there is an easy option, except for Halo because the 'Hardcore' difficulty level just seems to play better.

i think games are often too easy nowadays, thats why i loved God Hand, frustrating in a good way. it's also why i praised the DMc games, not afraid to be hard, you have to beat them and it feels great when you do. i never get that type of satisfaction from games that are baby simple cause i feel like i should have done it rather than i worked for it.

oh and the article image is from God Hand's original box art, see no one even knows what God Hand's box art look like, that proves next to no one bought it!

I clicked around for a good while trying to figure out which article was using the God Hand art. All hail God Hand, beautiful love of the world.

But, I again agree with the thing about gamers taking the easiest path. I almost always play on Normal, and I love having the choice. Easy should stay easy, as sometimes people just want to play on Easy. I remember playing Stranglehold on Easy, not because I was afraid to be challenged, but because in that one singular case I didn't care about challenge. My favorite part about the game was bullet timing and blowing guys away a hundred at a time, so that's what I went for.

Instead of difficulty being the thing that made me slow down to a near halt in playing games, it actually was the general entertainment value. I was playing Windwaker on my GC one day, trying to do I believe the "take a color photo of every game model" quest and then I realized, "Why am I doing this...and actually why should I? Am I going to get anything that I can really use? No. Am I going to feel proud of myself after this? No. All that doing this will do is make me feel better around a relatively small group of people who probably generally won't care that I did this anyway and this is certainly NOT fun at all. So why am I breaking my back, bending backwards, just because some game development company in some town I've never been in made the game this way?" So I'd probably be one of those half people who would play Half Life Episode 1 and not complete it. It's probably not the difficulty, the game would probably just bore me and give me no reason to want to play besides the idea of "Just Because".

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