The casual/hardcore difficulty dilemma

There's a heated debate amongst gamers regarding the easy/hard difficulty options that games offer. Many "core" gams argue that modern day games are far too easy compared to what they were before gaming became a mainstream media. Game developers argues that they have to appeal to a wider audience in order to achieve projected sales for the game to even become successful.

I wanted to share my thoughts and ideas with you fellow Escapist wether you call yourself a "core" gamer or not.

I think the main problem of being an experienced gamer ("hardcore"/"oldschool" gamer or whatever you want to call it) is that whenever I play a modern day game I feel that the harder difficulty level in most games have been shoehorned in; as to say it has been added as an afterthought.

Here's an example:
One of my favourite games of all time is Far Cry 1 for PC.
When you play that game on the hardest difficulty setting (I think it's called "Realistic Mode") the game doesn't spawn MORE enemies on the map. In fact the damage output (last time I checked) the enemies had, their HealthPoints(HP) are identical as Normal. The game however makes the far more aggressive, they look for your harder when you hide and they call for backup and are more alert to your movements than before.

If I were to play a spunkgargleweewee the only thing playing the game on the higher difficulty setting would do is to add more enemies that deal more damage and the only method they have of dragging you out of cover is by spamming you with more grenades than before and the second you expose the slightest pixel of your body out of the cover they will instantly hit you with bullets. The difficulty added when playing it is artificial and not real. It's been added as an afterthought rather than being a part of the game dynamic.

That's not to say that Far Cry has its share of flaws and bullshit when it comes to enemy AI, it certainly has but I cannot help but feel that the added difficulty related to the enemy AI feels way more "organic" rather than cheap and artificial.

It seems to me that my favourite games have been designed with the harder difficulty level in mind and that modern day games have been designed with the easy difficulty level in mind and the harder difficulty setting added as a complete afterthought with no real impact or believability.

They are countless examples of games where this is evident - at least in my opinion but I'll mention this example to get the point across.

Do you people feel the same thing with modern day games and if so which examples can you mention where the higher difficulty level felt genuine and not entirely artificial?

Cheers.

While I agree, that adding difficulty through better/altered AI would be a good thing for many games,
I have also to say: It's difficult and expensive to design a "good" AI.
The AI has to feel natural (not beeing overpowered due to it beeing part of the environment/a computer), while not beeing to slow or stupid.
Therefor it's not always possible for a developer to take the time and/or money to develop multiple AI's.
So naturally it's the easiest way to design the "normal" difficulty and change some parameters for every other difficulty setting. This can be a small change in the AI itself, or (more often used because easier) changing damage/hp/whatever.

So but why aren't they designing the "hard" difficulty from start and reduce difficulty for the other settings? Well I would say this:

CyberAkuma:
Game developers argues that they have to appeal to a wider audience in order to achieve projected sales for the game to even become successful

is why (in most cases).

captcha: "laser beams"
Yep that would be a possibility to make some games harder!

CyberAkuma:

Do you people feel the same thing with modern day games and if so which examples can you mention where the higher difficulty level felt genuine and not entirely artificial?

Cheers.

I don't think that i know many games where difficulty isn't artificially altered. However what you can sometimes notice is how in some games the AI is always intelligent but the damage output is just pathetic in low settings. Personally I prefer those games because the difficult settings feel natural. But having games where the AI is as dumb as a brick and the game only gets difficult because a bullet in the foot kills you three times is just annoying. (I know i exaggerated a bit but you get my point)

And this artificial difficulty can actually be noticed quite clearly in RTS's where the AI's units simply have more HP/DPS than yours in higher difficulties. This makes the experience feel extremely cheap.

I think you're totally right. Difficulty is a hard thing to get right, and often studios just take the easy way out, as you described. Instead of the game actually being harder in a natural way that requires skill and thought, they just raise the bar for success by increasing numbers.

There are still a decent amount of modern games that do difficulty right, especially in the technical action genre. That's the "spectacle fighter" genre if you're a Yahtzee fan. I personally think that term is unfitting, but that's another topic. But we have games like Bayonetta, various DMC games, Metal Gear Rising, etc., and they all do difficulty pretty well. They do raise the numbers, but they also make enemies behave differently. Making them more aggressive, even pulling out moves that they don't even do at lower levels. And of course there are the unique modes in the DMC games which give an insane, but very interesting challenge if you want it.

Later entries in the Forza series have interesting A.I systems too when it comes to difficulty. When you go to higher levels, opponents don't just get faster, they get better. At lower levels they won't just be driving slowly, but they'll be making mistakes and such. Crashing, spinning off, misjudging corners. At higher levels you see that less. They become more consistent and aggressive. They also react to how you drive too. If you drive aggressively at them, they might respond my driving more aggressively as well, or maybe you can psych them out and they'll fuck up. You can even goad them in to late braking matches and trick them in to going wide on a corner. Different drivers have different personalities in driving too. Some are more aggressive, some are more consistent, and so on. It really does make a difference too. Just go on the Forza forums and ask about M. Rossi and see how many stories you see people giving.

The problem is when games are balanced around normal mode.
When it really doesn't matter what the balance is like there. You can pretty much get away with any old thing.

Game designers really should take cues from competitive multiplayer games, from Starcraft 2 to Street Fighter, etc.
You balance the games for the best. For what happens at the skill ceiling.
Because, that's where microseconds matter.
Where you can reasonably expect contributions to a group or what not to be consistent - so you can adjust values based on the metrics.
Where a single frame of startup or recovery for an attack could mean the difference between mediocrity and total dominance in tournaments.

Then, you dumb down the game for every lower difficulty.

The casual players don't see a difference, they often can't even tell if they're being patronised.

You want high difficulty done right? Look at Ranger Hardcore mode on Metro 2033. It didn't just amp up enemy damage, or make them bullet sponges, it completely changed how you play the game. You die a lot faster from enemy attacks, but your hits kill enemies just as fast. Ammo quickly becomes your most valuable resource, most of the time you'll have less than 2 magazines for your primary weapon, and probably less for your secondary. The boring compressed-air rifle and coilgun become your best friends, because the former is silent at a point when you probably won't have a suppressed rifle, and the latter because it's capable of taking down even the toughest mutants with a handful of shots. Both take the cheapest ammo in the game, so whenever you hit a station you can stock up without blowing all your mil-grade rounds (money).

More and more these days I play on easier difficulties. Not because I'm getting worse, but because I have less time to game, and as such, don't want to spend hours and hours on single chest-high wall sections of firefights.

I don't even think games are getting harder. There have always been some I found easy, and some that I really sucked at. Or maybe they are and I'm just getting worse.
Just a side-thought, the worst 'hard' mode ever? Fallout: New Vegas. I didn't even notice the effects, not once. I played it like I did the regular game and it was fine. Bit of a flop.
A good example? Borderlands 2. The enemies are tougher, but they also use more cunning tactics that actually vary depending on class... Or at least thats what it seemed like to me.

I think a big problem lies in how most reviewers don't discuss difficulty, they don't even say what difficulty they played on. With reviewers under busy time constraint's I don't expect them to play every difficulty mode from start to finish but a rough idea of how difficulty scales would be nice.

Danceofmasks:
The problem is when games are balanced around normal mode.
...
Then, you dumb down the game for every lower difficulty.

The casual players don't see a difference, they often can't even tell if they're being patronised.

That's what I've been thinking. If you're gonna do difficulty levels, make the game hard, then change stuff for lower difficulties. Casuals get their easy mode, and hardcores get their challenge. Everyone wins.

Also, the phenomenon the Op's describing is called "Numerical Hard," according to TV Tropes. If anyone's interested, here's a link:
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/NumericalHard

 

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