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.
Uh, no. You're flat wrong here. I almost always play on the higthest difficulty allowable (though I do appreciate it when the game allows me to switch difficulty mid-stream if one part becomes particularly onerous).
I agree with Tohoya, you're entirely wrong on that point. If someone considers themselves skilled, they're going to want to want a challenge, that challenge itself is a reward. Also, people do complain about games being too easy precisely because a game that's too easy isn't fun, just as a game that's too difficult probably isn't fun either. Gamers do not choose the path of least resistance, they choose the path that is the most fun for them.
Good riddance, I say.
If I had my money back for every time that I have almost reached the end of a game, only to find an incredibly difficult and cheap boss at the end, I would have probably retired on the proceedings from console-game bundles.
My notable hates include the final bosses from the Onimusha series, the Snipers-from-nowhere sections of FPSes (Medal of Honor series 10 years after people complained about the first instalment) and the "whoops, you'll have to grind for ten more hours first" RPGs (Dragon Quest at least gave me a chance to grind, Baldur's Gate expected me to pull experience out of the aether). The worst part about all of these is that, when I buy a game, I'll never know whether I can finish it or whether I will be stuck at the final boss forever because I didn't conserve every single health potion along the 30-hour way and now have no way of buying new ones.
Difficulty is the lazy man's version of size and variety. So your game is less than 6 hours long and you can't be bothered to include new levels? Just bring in an incredibly cheap final boss and you're done.
If you look at some of the best-reviewed games in history - the Mario and Zelda franchises, the Half-Life series, Okami, Psychonauts, Res Evil 4 etc, all of them were incredibly easy. However, they were so much fun, none of the reviewers noticed, and they made up for the rate at which players would burn through the missions with old-fashioned size and variety.
DISCLAIMER: Having said that, I don't think that the examples that The Escapist gave were truly hard. DE: Invisible War was, to me, quite easy (I played it on the PC, so I'm not sure how it would have worked with checkpoints) and my only challenge was trying to complete the game without killing anyone - ie through pure stealth. Ditto Planescape: Torment - the amount of side-quests that I did raised me to the level of a demi-God, (btw, I love having that option in an RPG) but I understand that the ending would have been nigh-impossible if I chose the wrong conversation option without knowing it and had to SPOILER.
I think this is lies. No games have come out in the last few years that I can't complete. Back in the day there were tons. I certainly think they've been dumbed down and eased up to be more accessible.
Godhand was spectacular. Playing it on demon (i think thats what the hardest was called im not sure but i always had a skull with a crown on it on my screen) difficulty and winning has been one of the toughest things ive done with games. the bit at the end with gene making his little speech before killing the last boss was something i mouthed along to with feelings of such satisfaction that i sweared never to play godhand again for fear of nothing so epic happening again. now im playing DMC4 on pc running through legendary dark knight and nothing has really stopped me even fighting those 20 something angelo biancos with a blitz thrown in for good measure in that tiny room where you need to get all the gyro blades :/.
Games are bigger then they were 20 years ago, and 30 years ago arcades made money on the premise of being extremley hard. Back then, they had to make stupid-hard difficulties just to keep the player coming back. Now, we have more immersive stories, bigger universes, multiplayer, etc. So I think I can live with not abusing myself for a harder difficulty of gameplay.