Archive for the ‘difficulty’ Tag

As a Gamer, Do You Really Want Difficulty?   7 comments

Skyrim, Difficulty

This thought has come to mind a little too often for me, lately. Do we enjoy difficulty? If we claim a game we are playing to be difficult, is this a good thing, or a bad thing? On the surface, I would say my individual answer is yes. I know I personally enjoy a game that is more challenging, one that takes a bit of thought process or learned skill to get through. But are the games we are playing really difficult, do we just convince ourselves that they are, and do gamers today really want difficulty?

This topic is a lot more complex than the surface belies. As so happens, one of the myriad podcasts that I listen to, How To Murder Time (which I highly suggest you listen to as well), recently delved into the topic of difficulty, covered it pretty extensively, and led me to this post.

Super Meat Boy, Difficulty in Games

Huh? Wha?!

MMO Skill is an Illusion

What is difficulty, anyway? I think this is where the root of the issue lies. Difficulty can have a whole plethora of different meanings. The first one that jumps to mind, and the first one the podcast brings up, is “twitch” skill. It’s found in it’s purest form in games that don’t offer many character development options and has level design that keeps getting more and more challenging, like Super Meat Boy. The Super Mario games are a great example, too. Sure, Mario can get larger by ingesting fungus but overall it’s the levels that increase in difficulty. Completing the game becomes the accomplishment. It pits a specific level of skill that, if yours is too low, you’ll never beat the game.

But what game nowadays has that kind of challenge? Even FPS multiplayer shooter games like Titanfall, which just released, has leveling progression in which you gain experience to attain access to better weapons and a bigger toolset to use against your foes. If you’re then faced against a new, lower level player, sure, the lower level has a chance to use their skill to beat you, but the higher level players still have a decided edge. In this sense, are we leveling just to make content easier? Do we even want difficulty at all, if we work hard to nullify it?

You’ve seen the roosters strutting around in whatever MMO you’re playing these days. Those peacocks of the gaming world, strutting around in all the best and shiniest gear. And good for them, it shows their dedication to the game that they were able to get their hands on said loot. But was it really difficult to do so?

Guild Wars 2, Halloween, Difficulty in Games

I call this place… Pain in the Ass Tower.

In the grand scheme of things, here is the defacto MMO progression:

  • Do content, get loot, level up.
  • Use levels and loot to do higher level content, get better loot, level up.
  • Repeat until max level.
  • Continue to run content and get more loot (or just take the shortcut and buy it from other players on the auction house), which makes top level content easier.
  • Keep running content until maximum loot power is achieved and game becomes too easy.
  • Leave game out of boredom/complain about not having enough content on forums.

At that point, even the most difficult content becomes a cakewalk, but we’ve earned that through the time we put in to get that loot. Reward is good. But the entire time during this progression, the difficulty really hasn’t changed. We level up, our gear levels up, and the content matches difficulty stride for stride. It’s a linear progression. We do normal dungeons until they get too easy, then we do elite dungeons until they get too easy, then we do nightmare dungeons until we gear up to maximum and stop running them as they become too easy.

Our reward for running content is just to make content easier.

I’ve even heard content in The Elder Scrolls Online becomes trivial if you come back to it overleveled. A boss that gave you a hard time in the past suddenly is not so tough when you’re 10 levels higher, are they? The difficulty in TESO, then, just comes in rushing forward too fast. I am starting to hear more and more good things about the “exploration” aspect of TESO, but have yet to be convinced that it’s more than an illusion buried in the willing suspension (which relates to the next section).

The Walking Dead, Difficulty in Gaming

The Walking Dead isn’t a difficult game to play, it’s a difficult game to *watch*.

Puzzle Solving is Entirely Optional

But difficulty through skill is not the only level of difficulty. As Jon and Tim go on to discuss, it could also be about puzzle-solving. This is my favorite, by far, and one of the reasons I love The Secret World. As a content filler gap they recently just added four new investigation missions to the game, which I consider to be the real meat and potatoes of TSW. I’ve already completed one, and without giving away any details, I had to pull some real mind-bending out-of-game stuff to figure it out (keep a smartphone handy).

But this kind of difficulty is only challenging to the player that wants to do it in the first place. Puzzle difficulty is entirely by choice if the player wants to challenge themselves or not. I’m not one to cheat, but sites like Youtube, Dulfy.net, TSWDB.com, Star Trek Online wiki, and a plethora of others just hand out the answers to anyone willing to search. I even had a search term today that led someone to this site where they were looking for the answers to one of the new TSW missions! They just came out on Tuesday! They didn’t find it here, of course, but that they even were looking in the first place means something.

This isn’t a recent issue, though. I remember buying games at Gamestop and part of the salesperson’s spiel was to try to sell the guide to go along with it. Nothing has really changed, except it now costs a lot less effort and money to find the answers to these puzzles and quest guides.

Gabriel Knight, Difficulty in Games

Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations

/rant start

And find those answers gamers do in droves. So much that it’s even demanded by the community in some situations:

Oh, going into a dungeon you’ve never been in before and you haven’t researched it? What a scrub. What, do you just want to be carried by everyone else? You want to waste everyone else’s time? How lazy and selfish!

Seriously, this is why I don’t PUG or have any want to run group content at all. The communal expectation to be professionally knowledgeable about dungeons you’ve never set foot in are too high. There is no such thing as a noob the second those guides hit the internet, only “selfish” gamers.

Then it comes back to the skill to perform the guides steps, but “skill” in MMOs is really intrinsically linked to one’s Gearscore (read: random loot tables over time). That’s why the demands you see from the community for running PUGs keeps getting more and more ridiculous. These elitists don’t want a challenge! They don’t want to enjoy content with strangers! They’re lazy and want the most reward given for the least amount of effort, and so demand that from others, unceremoniously booting those who don’t live up to their demanding standards. Only those on the right side of the bell-curve may apply.

Can you tell I’m a little burnt out and jaded?

/rant end

The Secret World, Difficulty in Gaming

Still one of my favorite moments all-time from MMO gaming.

Wrangling Herds of Cats, Though

Finally, there is, arguably, the only real true form of challenge left posed by MMOs today: dealing with each other. Kind of the point of MMOs right? Playing with others? But the highest level raid content, or just content made too difficult to solo is in these games for a reason. And that is the challenge of working with and coordinating a group of people who are all only looking out for their own self interests. The content itself may not even really be that difficult (of course it’s not, “correctly” geared players mitigate the risk of failure), but organizing a group of 10-15 people to all do the same thing at the same time, with no real guarantee of reward, is impressive as hell!

The amount of time and energy driven to herding players to a single goal is outstanding. I know. Not from gaming, mind you, but I was a higher-up in a student run theatre company, and the experience is very similar. In the professional world, at least employees are being paid, but getting people to be dedicated to a common goal when it won’t put food on their table is not exactly easy. It’s why I put my time in theatre on my CV. It shows the skill of leadership when your charges are only present of their own whims. Having formal education in human psychology and group dynamics, though, doesn’t hurt.

However, I’d still caution against putting “Raid Leader” on a resume, if only because the social stigma against gamers is still heavily present in society. The skill, though, the pure skill of human wrangling, is universal and still quite impressive.

Guild Wars 2, Difficulty in Gaming

I’ve never wanted to punch a cloud in the face so much.

More Than A Struggle

Aside from having to deal with each other, we’ve gone from the days of a game’s content becoming easier with actual time, practice, and mental gymnastics, to becoming easier through in-game power ups and cheats. Do we get the same amount of accomplishment, though? I think what we gain is a lot more tangible.

We get great stories, we get great visuals, we get a sense of accomplishment not only at the end, but all the way through. We get lost in a great world. We get shared achievement. We get a thriving community that we can gladly raise our hand and claim to be a part of. We get a sense of belonging.

We get everything but difficulty.

// Ocho

 

 

A Tale of the Darkness in All Our Hearts [The Cave]   4 comments

I won’t lie, this past week I’ve been a little obsessed. Sometimes when a new game comes along that really piques my curiosity, I get like that (kinda what defines us as gamers). My recent obsession: The Cave.

The Cave was released on January 23rd, 2013 as the recent offering from Tim Schafer, Ron Gilbert, and Double Fine Productions and is fantastic. Presented in a 2D/3D platformer, the graphics are beautiful, the iconic Schafer & Gilbert branded humor throughout the game mixes puns and bad jokes as only the duo can, and the game drops significant doses of nostalgia throughout. In a surprise twist on the adventure genre, though, the game can be fully completed in about 3 hours.

The format goes a little like this: You choose 3 different characters at the start of the game and then lead them through 7 different puzzles. Every playthrough has 4 puzzles that are the same: The Introduction, the Miner, the Zoo, and the Island. On top of that, each character from the Knight to the Twins to the Time Traveler has their own individual puzzle. The purpose of each puzzle is to tell the story of how each character acquires their greatest desire and how acquiring these desires changes you. So underneath all the funny one-liners and puns are the very morbid acts you have these far-from-lovable characters commit to acquire these desires.

Launching nuclear missiles. Burning down a carnival. Poisoning your parents. Committing Stone-Age murder. Good times.

At the nominal price of $15, and a completion time of 3 hours, this game is a straight up appetizer. A delicious appetizer, but an appetizer nonetheless for the yet-to-be-officially-announced Double Fine Adventure. Having successfully completed it’s KickStarter last March, and seeing how the unofficial initial timeline was estimated at October of 2012, The Cave has only whetted my appetite for the final product. The vaulted herald of the return of the adventure genre.

I do worry, though. On my multi-playthroughs of The Cave (3 times as of this writing), the difficulty level didn’t even register on my scale. I’m not meaning this as a brag, but a true concern. If the modern version of adventure games is a game that is so easy that it’s filled with only elementary-level puzzles, maybe the adventure genre is gone for a reason. A difficulty of “Hard” is only at the will of the player to not scour the internet for a walk-through, which appear barely minutes after a game’s release. And what true value does a point-and-click adventure game have aside from it’s difficulty of puzzles? The draw of cheating is very strong if the puzzles end up being too devious. However, deviousness is a part of why I buy these games in the first place. Without the difficulty, is it even a game?

I don’t envy Gilbert, Shafer, and the entire crew at Double Fine one bit. Walking the line between what is too easy and what is so difficult that it’ll immediately send people scouring the internet for a solution is very tricky. But if there is a team that can accomplish it, it is them.

And If I may impart some advice as the casual adult gamer I am: err on the side of devious. Like The Secret World does with it’s investigative missions, expect a percentage of people to look up the puzzle answers, but know that a decent percentage of players aren’t ponying up money and expecting a walk in the park. We’re paying for a challenge. Maybe not Gabriel Knight 3 “impersonate a man without a mustache by adhering cat fur with maple syrup to your face” type challenge, but please amp it up a little more than this.

Please take your time on the Double Fine Adventure, guys and gals. Polish is good. But realize that The Cave has us now salivating like one of Pavlov’s dogs for the main course.

\\ Ocho

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