The Need for Challenge

By Shamus Posted Monday Jan 26, 2009

Filed under: Game Design 143 comments

Invariably, when I bring up the need for low frustration, accessible gameplay, some people leave insulting comments along the lines of “why do you play if there’s no risk? Also: You suck.” Now, I’ve answered this question many times, but I want to cover it more fully here, where it can be discussed and linked to without thread-jacking all the other discussions. This seems to come up a lot, and I want to be able to allude to it without insisting that newcomers watch a movie and read a dozen posts before they get where I’m coming from.

The question of why play if you can’t lose assumes that everyone plays for the same reason. Or at least, that they should. It assumes that the development and proving of raw skill is the central drive of playing videogames. But we all play for different reasons. We use games to fulfill our desire to build, protect, destroy, travel, socialize, dominate, avenge injustice, test ourselves, compete, accomplish goals, find love, laugh at stuff.

The problem with challenge – and the reason this debate gets so heated – is because challenge is often at odds with all of the other motivations for playing a game. If you’re interested in being presented with a serious challenge, then repeated failure is inevitably a part of that process. But failure (in-game death, penalties, setbacks, and so on) stops every other type of player from having fun. They stop seeing new things. They stop having new conversations. The story stops. The sense of accomplishment stops. The spectacle stops. They stop experiencing new dialog, scenery, plot developments, new characters, new jokes, new foes to conquer, and all the other things that might have been entertaining them. All they have left is this single challenge.

The challenge-driven players that send me hate mail – many of which have a lot of their self-esteem wrapped up in their videogaming skill – don’t want to see games nerfed to the point where just anyone can play them. They sneer at casual gamers as if this influx of new players is some sort of plague. The word “retards” is usually conscripted during the voicing of this complaint.

While I can understand why challenge-driven players wouldn’t want to see games stop offering them the challenge they crave, I am constantly amazed by the needless rancor in this debate. Actually, I’m amazed that there’s a debate at all. This is videogames we’re talking about. They create worlds where anything is possible. In the real world, we can’t alter the rules of physics. If you want to be a linebacker… well, if you’re a really big man with lots of talent and you work very hard you have a slim chance of maybe doing that at some point. If you’re a normal-sized woman, or a child, or an old man, then no. You don’t get to do that, ever. But we can make a computer world where this is possible. We can make a world where you pretend to pretend to play football, slay dragons, raid tombs, shoot Nazis and gangsters, etc. But to replace one thing you can’t do (be a physical badass in the real world) with something else you can’t do (be a lightning-quick master of the dual-shock controller) is to miss the point.

Yes, it takes more time to design a game that can entertain everyone from Cliff Blezinski to grandma. But it’s peanuts compared to what we spend on graphics or marketing. To take the infinitely malleable worlds of computer games and force them to remain narrow and rigid is to blur the line between game design and sabotage.

Increase time limits. Give the player more health. More time. More information. More auto-aiming. More checkpoints. Deal more damage. More forgiving platforming.

(The problem of making the game enjoyable in a shared-space multiplayer game where everyone competes with each other is a different issue entirely. Actually, it’s an unsolvable one. When players compete, they don’t usually feel like they’ve won until someone else loses. Can’t help that. But I’m just talking about single player / co-op for right now.)

  • Three difficulty levels is the bare minimum. Five is closer, but the important thing to remember is that the gap in skill between the top and the bottom is massive. Orders of magnitude.
  • Even better than simple difficulty tiers is to give the player the ability to adjust different aspects of the game. Maybe they love the platforming but loathe the combat. Letting them go all-out against the platforming while breezing through the combat lets them experience the game buffet-style, where they can have more of what they like and less of what they don’t.
  • For sequels (that is, for most games) there should be a way to differentiate between players who have never played this game before, players who have never played this series before, and players who have never played a videogame before. The tutorials for “here is how the game works” are all too often mixed in with “here is what is new in this series”. Veterans will find themselves sitting through agonizingly tedious explanations about how to move and aim, fearful of turning off tutorials and missing something crucial about a new gameplay element.
  • If you’re going to have save points or checkpoints, new challenges should always come directly after such a point. A player should never, ever be placed into a learning situation after doing five minutes of things they already know how to do.
  • Always, always, give achievements to the more skilled or determined players. Games are usually pretty good about this, but I’d like to see more achievements for speed runs, no-save runs, and the like.

Topic for discussion: Name one game where the experience was ruined (or perhaps diminished) by things being too easy for you.

 


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143 thoughts on “The Need for Challenge

  1. Sesoron says:

    Force Unleashed for Wii. I found myself dying a couple times on earlier stages, but I eventually started to just “get it”, coupled with the steady increase of my Force powers. By the time I got to the final boss battle, I felt like the game was deliberately sabotaging the Wiimote/nunchuck-turning quicktime events, which I’d always found easy (if stressful) before. Though, to be fair, the final level did turn out to be stingy enough with the healing items that I died a lot there too. The game had previously taught me that it sometimes hides goodies inside the various cardboard scenery pieces that you can move around, so I wound up tearing the place apart between fights just to heal up, usually without success.

    And no, I won’t say it.

  2. General Karthos says:

    Escape Velocity: Nova….

    I was looking forward greatly to the third game in the series (after the first two were so mind-blowingly incredible) and to the new challenges, only to find that these “new challenges” weren’t even remotely challenging. In fewer six days I blew through all six different storylines, dying a grand total of three times.

    Fortunately, plug-ins work, so I’ve been able to play other games with the same style and interface, even now that the original two games don’t work anymore. (On my intel computer.)

  3. Robyrt says:

    To throw that question on its head:

    Street Fighter HD Remix is a wonderful multiplayer game with a steep learning curve and a culture of cutthroat competition. The designers, writers and artists also put a lot of work into rewarding the casual fan with small background details and character-specific endings. Unfortunately, the programmers made sure the AI opponent is incredibly tough and cheats like mad. Just REACHING the secret final boss, Akuma, is the stuff of legend.

    To please casual players, they added a new “Easy” difficulty that misses the point. The computer is just as tough as on “Medium”, but will sometimes randomly stand there and let you hit them for 5 seconds, then go back to kicking your butt. This lets the pro players execute an intricate, devastating combo and win quickly. If you’re just mashing buttons, you’ll still get slaughtered mercilessly. Way to cater to the wrong audience!

  4. Whenever I beta test a new MMO, I often leave comments in the forum about the difficulty of aggro management or how a certain mob is not appropriate for the level of the game area and is killing too many players.

    Inevitably I will get dozens of responses in the forums from the ‘fanbois’, claiming that I don’t know how to play the game correctly and if these problems were corrected, the game would be too “easy”.

    What these Difficulty Whores always forget is that if an MMO is not accessible to a wide range of players, the game will not maintain the number of subscribers needed to remain viable.

    And if subscriptions drop, the game dies.

    Leaving the DWs (and the rest of us) with no game at all.

    Duh!

    Leslee

  5. Legal Tender says:

    A propos of this topic I would like to mention “Crayon Physics Deluxe”

    I played the demo yesterday and I got a wonderful couple of hours out of it.

    The mechanics of the game are simple and the details are not important I think. Suffice to say that you must connect a ball with a star so as to “collect it”. The more stars you get, the more levels you have access to.

    When I played the first level I was planning my move and got a bit nervous because I could’nt find the counter for the number of balls I had available anywhere. “What if I screw it up?” How many chances have I got to make it?

    You can imagine my delight when I tried my first move, failed and got an instant second try. No limits. Just go and play. Experiment and enjoy.

    Delightful! This exact feeling is the very reason I can’t wait to get a chance to play the latest Prince of Persia game.

    I want to explore I want to get lost in the world the designers created for me without bashing my head against the walls at every corner and every threat to my avatar´s wellbeing.

    On a slightly different note, I like the type of challenge that the Total War series gives the player. I always feel challenged but a mistake will almost never result in defeat. It can haunt you several turns after it happens but you almost always get the feeling that there is a chance to redeem yourself…and this coming from a game much more “complex” than playing with crayons. =)

  6. I, personally, don’t have problems with games being “too easy”. It takes me a LONG time to learn new physical skills (It took me 10+ years of more or less constant practice to learn how to type with great proficiency, and at least three years for me to learn how to shuffle cards). However, I have run into problems with games where the challenges were too *simplistic*.

    Jade Warrior (although it was awesome in other ways) and Mass Effect hit that issue for me–the combats are just doing the same things over and over and over and over. There’s no real strategy to it, and if you screw up and die there’s nothing really “new” to try in order to beat the challenge.

    I actually like games that are a bit baffling right off the bat, but once you’ve figured out a given challenge it’s pretty easy–it’s a mental challenge rather than a physical one. From my experience, things like that put everyone on an even playing field and make a game a lot more enjoyable.

  7. MrValdez says:

    In MMOs that I’ve played, the experience was ruined by the ease of the gameplay. Just grind as much as you can and the game becomes easy. Sure you can be adventurous and try to take down the bigger monsters but the game doesn’t reward you for it (as a matter of fact, most MMO discourages
    you from trying to be ‘hardcore’ by giving you penalties)

    Granted, I understand why the gameplay prioritizes grinding (profit) but after playing ‘hardcore’ single player RPGs and then switching to a relatively easier gameplay, my game experience is ruined.

    But then, WoW seems to be doing well, so this post actually proves your point, as much as I hate to admit it :D

    For seqels

    I hate to be a spelling nazi, but there’s a typo here. :/

  8. Jeremiah says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever pegged a game as too easy. The only time I really think about a game’s difficulty is when it seems particularly punishing. As long as I can move forward at a fairly steady pace (this doesn’t mean never failing or dying) I’m happy. I just want to push the story forward and see where it goes.

    On the other hand, if there’s extra stuff not related to the story that you can do, I expect those to be tougher than the core of the game. So if I want to spend the time to earn those things, I can. Otherwise, I’ll just get on with the game.

    I also really like the idea of multiple difficulty settings for different aspects of the game.

  9. JT says:

    But we all play for different reasons.

    Hear, hear!

  10. Xpovos says:

    Final Fantasy Mystic Quest.

    Though to be completely honest that game had major issues with plot, and other factors too. But the game was simplified to make it more accessible to non-RPGers, Americans, and children.

    It failed.

  11. Heather says:

    Too hard–yes, too frustrating because of the layout, controls, whatever–yes, too hard on the eyes or not intuitive enough–yes, too easy? No unless you count puzzle games and then occasionally the inability to skip early “easy” levels when you lose on a much higher level will stop me from replaying, and games like “GCompris” which are designed FOR children, but otherwise, no.

  12. wererogue says:

    I agree that it’s nice for games to be accessible to people of different skill, but I don’t agree that every game should try and please every player. It’s *not* trivial in time or cost to design and balance a game which offers the same to people who find it hard to those who find it it easy or average, and inevitably something else suffers for it.

    I’d much prefer that developers either made the choice that “our game is for everyone, therefore it will be forgiving” or “our game is for gamers, and will teach the player how to play sufficiently in the early game that they will be able to learn the later game”, instead of either adding on crappy challenges to hard mode or cutting out crucial bits in easy. Figure out what your game is about, and prioritise the parts of the game that support it.

  13. Factoid says:

    Achievements you say? The transformation truly IS complete if you’re already hooked on achievements.

  14. qrter says:

    For me it always comes down to having a ‘manual’ save system. The games I get frustrated with are always the ones with checkpoints and no quicksave.

    This is simply because however well your checkpoints are distributed, there will always be parts of the game that are hard for some people (for whatever reason) that you couldn’t have anticipated (unless you’re Valve and spend a millenium playtesting your game).

    Ideally games would have a checkpoint system with the option to quicksave/quickload.

  15. Baz says:

    I’d like to say Bioshock. It did not ruin the experience for me, but definitely ‘diminished’ as you put it. It was quite hard in a good way for at least half the game, (health and ammo was scarce, and you were still figuring out ways to combat the new foes) but after that it was progressively easier as, with a bit of searching you could find all the ammo and health you needed, and after a point there are no new enemies. So you could basically do anything with ease given your weapons and plasmid powers. It was fun in a way, but it was too easy for me even on ‘hard’ mode. I would have preferred if the health and ammo etc, remained much less abundant.

    Perhaps that’s just because I’m a veteran FPS players, so I’m sure the experience will vary, but that’s how it was for me.

  16. John Lopez says:

    … and now the match you have all been waiting for! In the red corner, weighing in a 110 pounds, 14 years old and amped on Jolt Cola… Difficulty Whore!!!!! *ding ding ding*. And in the blue corner, weighing in a 205 pounds, 40 years old and lethargic from the latest Frito binge… Game Retard!!!! *ding ding ding*

    Ready? Fight!

  17. Pederson says:

    Can’t recall a game where the experience was ruined by being too easy, per se. That said, I remember playing Suikoden IV and finding the combat too simple to fool with; it was boring, both to watch and to play. There was an auto-battle feature that made this skippable, but that’s simply a way of wallpapering over the problem. (Intriguingly, I didn’t really get this impression from FFXII, which had a more complex auto-battling mechanic. Might be lingering affection for the series, though.) I thought this detracted rather significantly from the play experience in Suikoden VI, to the point that I read, a lot while the game piddled along with itself between story bits.

    Complexity is a different thing from difficulty, though, and I enjoy complexity (to an extent) much more than difficulty.

  18. =Dan says:

    Wererogue: I'd much prefer that developers either made the choice that “our game is for everyone, therefore it will be forgiving” or “our game is for gamers, and will teach the player how to play sufficiently in the early game that they will be able to learn the later game”…

    If developers actually programmed legitimate difficulty levels there would be no need to create two separate games. Easy could be the “game for Everyone” and Normal or Hard would be “game is for gamers”. Unfortunately most devs don’t program in such smart difficulty settings…Letting me toggle what is easy or off in the game would make me happy as a gamer.

    =Dan

  19. wererogue says:

    Actually, both BioShock and Oblivion were good examples for me.

    In Oblivion, if you never levelled up, your enemies stayed weak. You could get better items, more skills – but they never would so long as you didn’t sleep.

    In BioShock, you never die. You’re brought back to a nearby cloning thingy, and re-released into the world. In a lot of the game, the enemies respawn too, so if you *really* want some secret or can’t work out a good way through a section, all you have to do is keep going back until you get it right.

    Sin Chronicles (all one episode) had an auto-difficulty which would change which enemies were in a room to be easier if you died there too often, and harder if you’d gotten through a few places beforehand without dying. I used to end up with the enemies getting completely out of hand, and then finding a room where I’d get grenaded into a fine paste several times until the AI decided I was crap enough to give me a break. By that point, I’d worked out how to kill maybe two of three grenade guys before I died, and would be working on the third – when *this* time guy two suddenly had a machine gun and capped me because I was used to the grenade guy.

    All of these games were poorer not simply because they were easy, but because they tried to cater to everyone and the system didn’t work. For me, it’s not about whether the game is easy or hard, it’s about the game being a well-rounded package.

  20. wererogue says:

    Re: =Dan:

    What I’m saying is that in many cases, developing three difficulty settings is making three times the content in terms of levels, or puzzles, or enemies, or AI or whatever. It’s not cost-effective.

    Even if you’re doing “the game for everyone” and “the game for gamers” as difficulty settings, the massive gap in game experience that Shamus mentioned in the OP means that you’re developing significantly more content. That’s fine when you are, for example, Blizzard Entertainment, with more than enough money coming in to allow you to develop the next product for as long as it takes. But when you have to make a game within a deadline, to vague publisher requirements like the majority of the games industry, it’s extra work that isn’t in those requirements, and I’d rather the developer put the time they have into making the gameplay or the story (or both) good.

    It’s worse for indie developers – that time writing a whole new game mode could be time in which you’ve released that game, and the sales are paying for you to actually continue writing games.

    For certain genres it works. Fighting games or brawlers like god of war, where you can scale back the difficulty until it becomes “press A to win” (as well as to not die) or forward until you have to memorise multiple combos per enemy can be acessable to all. If you’re going to spend the amount of time it takes to write a *good* AI for a strategy game, you might as well write a crappy one too.

  21. Greg says:

    I haven’t really had an issue with games being too easy, either. Sure, if I felt like I finished a game without too much difficulty, the replay value may drop tremendously, but not because the game was boring the first pass. A game that I am currently playing is de Blob for Wii. Great game. I’ve only died a couple of times, but not to the point of having to restart a level. There are a list of accomplishments for each level that will keep me coming back for more after my initial pass of the game.

    @ Xpovos: FFMQ? It may have been a simple game, but it ended up being a “gateway” game to the rest of the Final Fantasy series for me, and ultimately other JRPGs. And not too long ago, I found myself playing through it again on my emulator. It only took me two sittings, but it was worth it to bring back some of the memories.

    1. Char says:

      Intelligence and smpiiclity – easy to understand how you think.

  22. Shamus says:

    wererogue: You’re talking about auto-adjusting difficulty. As luck would have it, I had a post on that not too long ago:

    http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=2071

    The short version: I agree with you, the situation you describe is a mess that will please nobody. The game should not try to figure out how “good” you are. (When I’m with my brothers, we often play by passing the controller around. I imagine that would confuse the hell out of the thing.)

    Players should always be making a conscious choice about how much challenge they can handle.

    I’m not sure why you think offering a broad difficulty spectrum would detract from the rest of the game. (Other than some puzzle or strategy games where it’s pass / fail.) Like I said, it’s peanuts compared to the time it takes to (say) optimize the shadow buffering to avoid slowdowns when moving from indoor to outdoor environments.

    Having “two” sets of games introduces a worse problem. For one thing, “two” difficulty settings isn’t nearly enough. The other is that it creates a very undesirable balkanization of the market. How do you know if this game will suit your tastes? Since the new and casual gamers outnumber the hardcore, you could end up with a situation where developers go after the money (easier games) and leave the hardcore with fewer titles. What if the game you like belongs to the “other” tier? Should a series move “up” as it ages?

  23. Shamus says:

    Actually: I think a better way to state it:

    Non-analog style Pass / Fail games can’t really be “adjusted”. You can either solve a puzzle or you can’t. And making an easier puzzle means making ANOTHER puzzle, which is what I think wererogue was talking about above. I agree that not all games can be scaled up or down.

    But for most combat-based games, you can get a lot of mileage from just slowing down the enemies and making the player’s health bar bigger.

  24. LintMan says:

    I don’t normally ever feel like a game is so easy that it ruins the experience, but I frequently find that games can get too boring. Thinking about it, I’ve realized that this is often just two sides of the same coin:

    A lot of what bores me in games is “grind”. You want to level up, and the quickest way to do it is to repeatedly replay some area you’ve already mastered which offers the best exp/time ratio, over and over again. Same goes for collecting loot. “15 more fights and I can hit level 23!”. “Another 2 dungeon runs and I’ll have enough gold to buy that awesome sword!”

    At that point, nothing is new, you’re not playing for challenge or exploration, it’s just work. Easy work. Sure, you can maybe make it harder or easier work, which you might trade off with the amount of time it takes (ie: fight hard “purples” (or whatever) for more exp per critter instead of easier “oranges” for less exp per critter), but either way, you’re still doing the same thing you’ve likely already mastered over and over and over again. Reaching your goal is assured; the only question is how long you have to spend grinding to reach it.

  25. Zelos says:

    @Shamus

    You can adjust the difficulty of most puzzles with increasingly obvious hints, can’t you? I think the modern adventure games (Sam&Max episodes, Strongbad) offer different levels of hints.

  26. Maddy says:

    I’m not a good gamer, but I am patient. I like a challenge, but I don’t like getting stuck dead in the water as I did with the “Spin Dizzy” level of Pac-Man World 1 years and years ago on the PSOne.

    I’m more likely to give up on something that requires both great speed and dexterity (my weaknesses), with no element of dumb luck to give me hope. If it’s something like figuring out a puzzle, I’ll stick with it a lot longer.

    I don’t mind if something’s easy if it’s really unique and fun to explore. However, even the coolest stuff will get stale and eventually enraging if you do it long enough, especially if it’s time-consuming. I do mind – as others have already mentioned – having to repeat lots of easy stuff every single time in order to get to the part where I get killed. That is not fun at all.

    The thing with challenges is that we may already be dealing with them in other areas of our lives. I have more stamina for tough games when the rest of my life is less complicated. When times get tough, though, I’ll play a game that won’t kick my ass.

  27. Dylan says:

    I’ll be honest. Half the time, when I play a game with a strong story and have difficulty with it, I turn the difficulty down to the lowest level. And if that for some reason isn’t good enough (*shakes fist at Arcanum*), I read a letsplay.

    Because it’s not about the actual game at all for me, it’s about the story. I love games like Myst, where you actually have to go out of your own way to forever screw up and die. Adventure games are pretty awesome.

    On the other hand, those games seem to have evolved, mostly, into FPS with RPG elements. I don’t mind it, but I’m not really very good at FPS, especially with two joysticks rather than keyboard/mouse.

    So I beg developers of all games: Find a way to make your games both easier and harder. I think that’s the best way to make things “more accessible” without alienating your fanbase.

  28. Sydney says:

    Fable: The Lost Chapters. Yahtzee is not at all joking when he says that you eventually get what is basically the Win Spell. I mapped it to all nine of the customizable number buttons, and whenever enemies showed up, I’d just slap at one and the enemy would die.

    Sometimes I would have to slap twice. Bosses might take more.

    I stopped playing a looong time before the end, because the game was reduced to “Walk from place to place, breaking stride only to watch the animation for the Win Spell”.

    Oh, and there was another spell that made you invulnerable to damage. Good job.

  29. DPhantom says:

    @Wererogue:

    I’m going through Bioshock now for the second time, and you’re right about the difficulty hurting the game. Specifically, the Vita-Chamber respawns. I actually tried for a long time to play like they weren’t there, but eventually my cost-benefit brain couldn’t ignore them and I wound up taking on big daddies with my wrench because there was no cost in supplies.

    I’m playing through again right now on hard and using the new option to turn Vita-Chambers off. It’s gotten a lot better. I’m getting to the point where its getting easier supply-wise again, but it feels more like its because I’ve found successful strategies and upgrade combinations. Even then hard still makes you use good tactics in each fight because each enemy is fully capable of killing you.

    Actually, Bioshock might be a good example of allowing a variety of players to choose their difficulty. The three difficulty levels are quite varied to begin with(basic melee only games are quite possible on easy, while hard requires a player to use strategies effective against the types of splicer they are facing or take severe hits to their resources), and the option to turn Vita-Chambers on and off offers a further level of customization.

  30. neriana says:

    Final Fantasy X. I killed the final boss in one hit. The entire game was pretty darn easy for RPG veterans, though, and honestly I was way angrier with the ending than with the boss battle. I still liked the game. Final Fantasy XII, on the other hand, I found so easy that I stopped playing it; the characters weren’t nearly developed enough for me to care about them, and the gameplay wasn’t nearly enough to keep me slogging through it.

    I’m nearly done with Persona 4 now, and I think it has a pretty good balance. Lots of different things to do, you can “power up” people both through grinding and through social links, and while there’s definitely challenge there, I’ve never felt at all frustrated. Probably more importantly, I actually care about the characters and the story.

    As for MMOs, I switched to WoW from Everquest 2 when EQ2 made the game significantly harder a couple years ago. It wasn’t enjoyably challenging, it was dull and frustrating. I checked out EQ2 again recently and they’ve fixed what they messed up and I liked it again, but too late for me I’m afraid — I’m committed to WoW now. Which I do find pretty easy, but frankly if it weren’t so easy raids and dungeons would be WAY more frustrating because players who aren’t great would hold everyone back too much.

  31. Joe says:

    I sometimes wonder if these hardcore gamers also eschew movies and TV, since they’re so easy that even with zero skill you alwyas win.

    That said, the game that was too easy for me was the Myst series. I didn’t actually play it, but my wife played the entire series and seemed to enjoy it quite a bit. I watched her play, and as far as I could tell the game was entirely devoid of failure. To me, it was a middle-ground, somewhere between an actual game and a movie. That’s not necessarily bad per se, but it means that you have to have a really good story, and I never could really get into the story of Myst.

    Later on, playing other games with her, she would always be looking up walkthroughs and cheat codes, and I realized that she was really sort of trying to turn other games into Myst. Not that I really mind, many of the games that we play have a good enough story (for me) that going through them on god mode is actually lots of fun.

    Now, as an example of really good difficulty management, I love the system in Forza Motorsport 2. You get credit for each race based on an overall difficulty score (can’t remember what they call it off the top of my head…) That score is a composite of a number of settings, for instance you can turn on or off traction control, ABS, manual vs. automatic shifting, multiple levels of damage effects, and the handy “optimal path” line that’s green when you should be accelerating and red when you should be braking. For me, this is perfect. I can ramp down the difficulty on things I suck at, but for instance I always drive with it in manual transmission mode because I actually find that easier than automatic. (This is true in real life too. I just hate automatic transmissions) I never had really liked driving games that much until I played that one which, with the right controller, is completely awesome.

  32. Lupi42 says:

    Fallout 3 has been frustratingly easy. The only time’s I’ve died have been due to my taking out dozens of raiders, and not bothering to look at my health bar, which eventually gets low, and the only thing that has ever prevented me from opening a door or hacking a computer has been a little message saying: “Your character has not spent enough skill points for us to allow you to do this thing, because you will succeed”. I’m really enjoying the story, but I keep going and playing a ‘real’ FPS for a while, because I keep getting bored. I’m about halfway to max level, and I just slaughtered a large settlement of heavily armed raiders, making little pretense of stealth and deliberately using my older, crappier weapons, but they never did more than graze me.

  33. K says:

    The only issues I have with easy games are these: If the gameplay element that is easy turns up every three seconds and is not really interesting (ideally coupled with a couple loading screens) I get annoyed. Random Encounters in many Final Fantasy games were like that. After you have passed a certain level/gear-threshold, you would kill anything instantly. But you still had to sit through the “loading battle”, “kill animation”, “loading old stuff” screens. After seeing those animations too often, I got bored. Luckily, in most FF games after about 6 you can deactivate random encounters somehow after a certain point in the game (which is usually before the issue ever happens).

    Final Fantasy X is one of these though. The last couple dungeons were too easy, because my characters were well optimized, and the animations take too long.

    So I don’t have an issue with easy, I have one with tedious. Enemies with way too many hitpoints (but which cannot ever harm you) are also one of these: It just takes ages and is not interesting. I skipped most fights in Devil May Cry 4 (and I did not finish it because it gets incredibly repetitive and boring, see Zero Punctuation).

    I really cannot think of a game that I found too easy. Some were boring. There is really no point in throwing too many encounters at the player. After I have seen them a couple times, I want to see something fresh. Or the game may end, that’s fine. But I hate tediousness.

  34. Telas says:

    But to replace one thing you can't do (be a physical badass in the real world) with something else you can't do (be a lightning-quick master of the dual-shock controller) is to miss the point.

    Something like this should be engraved on the monitor bezel of every computer game designer.

    Hell, every game designer, computer or no…

  35. John says:

    I would think that the development+product teams probably spends hours arguing over some of these balancing tweaks to determine what the final balance point should be. Have a matrix of difficulties would save the team hours and anguish…

  36. Mari says:

    I’m with Sydney about Fable but it goes beyond the Win Spell. I challenged myself with that game in a variety of ways and even at that I ended up being bored.

    Sword combat was basically one button spamming, not the most difficult of skills to “master.” Archery was the only real challenge in the game and that was more because the game gave you a bow and arrows then proceeded to lob enemies at you that will not get out of your face long enough for you to shoot them than any inherent skill involved in using your archery.

    And yet, I kept going back and replaying the game. I played it through once without leveling up at all since the level-up system is user-initiated. That presented some degree of challenge later in the game. I played it without ever upgrading weapons. I played it good and I played it bad, I played it as a land-baron and as a pauper. The dizzying variety of “things” to do gave me enough inertia to keep playing it over and over to see what changed when I tried XYZ strategy. It was a fun sandbox except with annoying bits of story stuck in every once in a while.

    For me, the flip-side isn’t enemies that are too tough, though. I think the most frustrating thing I’ve encountered in a game was timed areas that involve a lot of traveling through labyrinthine areas. I have a particularly poor sense of direction so telling me I have to rescue a dozen crew members from the interior sections of a boat designed by drunken sadists in X number of minutes (X-men Legends, I’m looking at YOU) is a cruel challenge that I’m guaranteed not to beat without the help of a navigator sitting next to me telling me where to go or how to get back to the checkpoint. And talk about unfriendly to new players. My kids desperately want to play that game through but every time my husband or I has to run that challenge for them because it’s just impossible for them. It wouldn’t have been difficult to scale that challenge by adding a couple of minutes to the clock in easy/newbie mode. As it is, it’s just a frustrating obstacle that prevents any further game progress if you A) aren’t supremely skilled at the combat system or B) get lost easily.

  37. MintSkittle says:

    Can’t say I’ve ever had my gaming experience ruined by being too easy. I actually prefer the easy setting, so I can enjoy the story/setting/whatever else the game has to offer.

    As for more difficulty settings, GalCiv2 has about nine or ten different difficulties, ranging from Cakewalk to Suicidal.

  38. Cybron says:

    None, really. Maybe Fallout 3, but that had more to do with a lack of variety than anything else.

  39. Pat says:

    Some horror-themed games can become a bit disappointing in the later levels if the enemies go down too quick. Doom 3 was really scary when you are fighting imps with just a shotgun, less so when you are clearing out levels using a rocket-launcher, BFG and a Soul cube.

    On the other hand, I was tense almost all the way through Dead Space, even though some of the last monsters you meet can be killed in one shot (and sometimes take out the monster next to them as well when they die).

    I think it’s partly to do with the monster AI. Most of the monsters in Doom seem to roar and charge (or shoot) even if they are behind you. Whereas the ones in Dead Space creep when you can’t see them, and only roar when you notice them. Both games use the now-standard “spawn a monster behind you while you’re fighting the one in front” strategy, of course, but that’s expected nowadays.

    I can’t speak for Survival Horror games, having never played any, but the regular horror games need a bit of challenge, otherwise you train your mind to ignore the scary noises.

    Edited to add: Of course, you can still enjoy the story and have fun in an easy horror game. All you lose is the feeling of being scared.

  40. Danath says:

    Personally I find achievements hilariously unrewarding for challenge, games should be a legitimate challenge… I just believe selecting the difficulty should make a bigger difference than it currently does. Currently easy tends to be very easy, normal tends to be ok, and HARD tends to be unlockable or ungodly hard (thank you call of duty and your soldiers made of tissue paper), or more often its just not any harder than any other difficulties, such as Dead Space, you die faster.

    So yeah, the player should choose just how hard they want it, and too many publishers are scaling the difficulty TOO far back, and to give people who LIKE the challenge a challenge, they turn the computer into a cheating bastard.

  41. Cat Skyfire says:

    A game ruined by being too easy: Pong. I mean, sheesh, two little lines and a ball that didn’t move that fast? Ffft…

  42. wererogue says:

    “I'm not sure why you think offering a broad difficulty spectrum would detract from the rest of the game. (Other than some puzzle or strategy games where it's pass / fail.) Like I said, it's peanuts compared to the time it takes to (say) optimize the shadow buffering to avoid slowdowns when moving from indoor to outdoor environments.”

    I don’t think a broad difficulty spectrum detracts from a game. I think that it’s a non-crucial pleasantry that might not add to the game.

    I *do* think you’re trivialising the amount of work that goes into game balancing a little. Optimising the shadow buffering takes one smart guy a few tries – maybe a week or two. Game balancing can take months, and needs doing again for every discretion in the difficulty levels.

    On the whole, though, I think we’re on the same page.

  43. AlphabetFish says:

    In Sims 2, I have an eight person family (the maximum amount in one house) as well as a business, and I have to manage all the jobs for the adults, as well as all the studies for the kids. However, although I’m trying to make it as hard as I can, the family is really well-established–thus, they’re filthy rich; have strong, fulfilling relationships; have lots of friends; have high-paying jobs they love and are doing spectacularly in school.

    I also have certain crafted items (Snapdragons) and earned items (Trout) that make their needs pretty well non-existent–they’re always full, fit, clean, and comfortable. If this were real life, it would be paradise. As a game, it’s extremely boring.

    I guess my qualm is that in Sims 2, eventually, all the negative aspects of daily life dwindle to nothing, leaving the game effortlessly perfect.

  44. neriana says:

    Oh, Sims 2 ludicrously easy. Especially with snapdragons: I only use those in homework areas when I have lots of kids/teens, and in businesses. You have to set challenges for yourself if you want to play it like a “normal” game, imo. I like it for storytelling and building — and also there’s something addictive about it. But there are actually people who find the game hard, which sort of goes to Shamus’ point.

  45. briatx says:

    At first, I thought Bioshock had too much hand-holding for me (and I can handle a lot hand holding), but I was happy to discover that you can turn off things like the quest arrow.

    I left the vita-chambers on though, because I’m lazy and they keep me from having to save. I actually do manage to pretend they’re not there, and I think I’ve only had to use one in one or two places.

  46. Thad says:

    “We can make a world where you pretend to pretend to play football, slay dragons, raid tombs, shoot Nazis and gangsters, etc.”

    Wow! What game is that?

    ;)

  47. Magnus says:

    Suprised noone has mentioned the original System Shock and its various difficulty sliders, one for combat, one for puzzles, one for cyberspace and i think a mission one also.

    Worked very well, especially as I was crap at combat in that game!

    I always prefer to be able to sit back and consider my next move, which is why I like things like Baldur’s Gate, which allows you to pause in battle and think about how to face your enemies.

    Mind you, I usually find easy or normal to be a good challenge, in whatever I’m playing. I guess the only exceptions are adventure games (e.g. sierra, lucastarts etc.) where there is very limited scope to change difficulty. Thankfully, these days there is Gamefaqs…

  48. karln says:

    Re difficulty levels for puzzles, I believe Silent Hill 2 managed that by providing small variations on its puzzles. Mostly, as I recall, this involved changing the text of clues, as with the three discs in five slots puzzle whose explanatory riddle was much less obscure on easy, and the radio quiz, for example. Possibly more work to implement than just giving the player more hit points, or taking moves away from enemies for instance, but not a crazy amount of work either.

  49. Unary says:

    I don’t play for a challenge. I play to win.

    I work for a challenge; computers get to beat me up ALL DAY LONG. When I come home, and have time to myself, it’s my turn to win.

  50. Kizer says:

    I can’t think of any games that were ruined by being too easy. Many games have had been very easy at he beginning, but as the levels progress, the difficulty ramps accordingly. Super Mario Bros. is the perfect example, in my opinion. But honestly, there is no game that has bothered me by being too easy. Usually, I’m more likely to get frustrated by a game being too difficult.

  51. mneme says:

    Definitely agreed; the thing the difficulty rhinos forget is that not their game is going to be better if more people are playing it (and they have more people to compare their size against), not worse.

    That said, what springs to mind is Leisure Suit Larry 5 — I don’t mind adventure (ie, puzzle) games being winnable without a hint book or a huge amount of time, but still — I and a friend played straight through the game, taking maybe an hour or two, with not a single puzzle that was even challenging. (oddly, Loom, which also was a fully mouse+click adventure game, and was also quite easy, was less of a problem — but I think that was both because the game was somewhat shorter/cheaper and because there were two-three -actually- challenging puzzles in there, just ones you could solve with a bit of thought.

  52. MissusJ says:

    I cannot think of any games that were ruined for us by a low difficulty. Tedium, yes, but that has been addressed already. Probably my pet peeve is in RPGs where you endure a random encounter every few steps. My second one is 3D platforming in general. But then, I can barely drive a car in a straight line in 3D. And I consider myself a gamer.

    No wonder I am so happy with Rock Band, I can sing songs I have never heard before and not bring the band down in that game. (Have not tried Guitar Hero World Tour, though.) You were considering group co-op a different beast, though.

    One game I am trying to play at the moment is Lunar on the DS. It attempts to mix up or make more difficult the traditional RPG gameplay by making you grind for either experience OR loot. There is no money, you get useless loot to sell for money. This is dang annoying and makes the game much longer than it has to be. I think I may even quit it because I have been playing for over 50 hours and am only 1/4 of the way through. I do not mind grinding, but this is ridiculous.

    I like traditional RPGs because I do not have to have even a decent reaction time to play them. I am well known for being killed by the first koopa in Super Mario 1. (step, step, step… die.) Most of my game experience is watching my husband play. He has been playing most of his life, and so can do games on Hard for the most part.

    One odd exception- Kingdom Hearts 1. We want to play these games, we like the idea of the story, but he could not do a 3D platform challenge at the beginning of the story. We decided that if it was going to be that unforgiving about missing jumps we did not need to put ourselves through that kind of frustration.

    What does it say about the industry that even though I love the games I can play very few of them without feeling like an idiot or bringing down the enjoyment of people who can actually play them well? I enjoy watching him play, it is like watching a movie, but with more interaction.

    Edited to add: My husband’s pet peeve is probably football games that make your players stupid or the other team better than they should be just to make the difficulty a bit harder for the player. This is extremely frustrating and makes it hard to suspend disbelief. We just want to play the games (if we do not play them, the computer will make us lose more than our fair share) and get back to the recruiting. Giving the other team one unstoppable drive every half does not make this more enjoyable.

    I could ramble on, but I think this pretty well covers it.

  53. Cthulhu says:

    Super Mario Galaxy was too easy. So was Zelda: Twilight Princess, and for that matter Windwaker. There’s also a lot of new games that feel to easy because they’re too darn short and you don’t feel like you’ve accomplished anything when you finish them. If I finish game by the end of the week I get it, something is wrong. I still play games from ten years ago, but I can’t imagine wanting to play any of my new games ten years hence.

  54. MissusJ says:

    @Cthulhu: hmmmm…. maybe I will try one of those then. I would probably feel proud that I made it to the end at all. :)

  55. Old_Geek says:

    The Final Fantasy games were interesting, because even though there weren’t difficulty levels, there were things you could do to make the final boss easier. In VII, you could spend the time and get the Knights Of the Round Materia. In VIII, get Squall’s best weapon, and use aura for limit breaks. IX, you needed the knight’s, Steiner’s, ultimate weapon. Both Knights of the Round materia and Steiner’s sword took literally hours and hours of gameplay to get, but both made the final boss 2 hit kills.

    Those could be seen as in game ways to reduce difficulty.

  56. Apathy Curve says:

    “The challenge-driven players that send me hate mail – many of which have a lot of their self-esteem wrapped up in their videogaming skill…”

    You just summed up the entire problem right there.

    Almost without exception, people who crave extreme challenge and “realism” in a game lack it in real life. Most are are either very young (under 25) or loafers who can’t or won’t spend years paying their dues in the workplace in order to succeed in business and industry; they use ultra-competitive gaming as a substitute. It’s a common and relatively simplistic form of insecurity complex. It is also an unfortunate and extremely common malady among MMO players, especially people who are attracted to “harcore PvP” games.

    When I happen across such a game, I simply go find something more rewarding to do — like picking lint out of my navel. Between years in the military and years more on the sharp of the stick in the business world, I endure all of the challenge and potential for catastrophic failure I can handle in one life. I don’t need grief when I’m trying to relax for a few minutes with a game.

  57. Gamercow says:

    Two games recently that were diminished by their being easy were Maw and Fable 2. You can’t die in either. I understand it in Maw, because its a puzzle/platformer(an extremely easy one) and the focus is not on the living or dieing aspect, its soliving of the puzzles. But in Fable 2, there’s basically no penalty whatsoever. You lose whatever experience is on the screen, and you MAY get a scar. And the scars don’t matter if you have enough fame. You pop up right where you fell, and you start whacking away again.

    The best game I can think of recently for difficulty is Dead Rising. Most people hated this game’s save system, but I loved it, and wish more games had a “save only at the save point” type of system.

    I agree with the others that Bioshock is much easier with the vita-chambers. Try it on Insane(or whatever the hardest level is) with vitachambers off. Completely different scene.

  58. Wolverine says:

    System Shock 2.
    I would not say difficulty “ruined” the game for me, but first levels were pretty tough (i could not hack the turrets yet, weapons were crap and robots were killing me all the time), but SHODAN herself was laughably easy. I fured out what I was supposed to do almost immediately, then did it and in about 30 secodns, maybe less, it was over. That disappointed me quite a bit.

  59. Burning says:

    Elmo’s Number Adventure. Man, that was lame.

    What?

  60. Daimbert says:

    Generally, there isn’t such a thing as “too easy” for me; with Persona 3, you can loop over and keep your main character’s level AND access to high level Personas (that do combat things for you) and I enjoy it more when I DON’T have to worry about figuring out how to grind levels or win combats. And to prove that Dylan and I pretty much share the same views, I’ve played it and Persona 4 multiple times — all on Easy, to maximize the story.

    But I think that Persona 3 and Persona 4 are prime examples of how to game balance quickly and easily without a lot of work. On Easy level, you take less damage, enemies (I think) exploit weaknesses less often and I think you even do a little more damage. But the enemies have the precise same abilities and WILL hit your weaknesses. And so some of them may still be quite tough and hurt you a lot (in Persona 4, you don’t get the levels — you restart at 1 –but you get the personas … and one boss still killed me). But you also get 10 “continues”, where it restores all your HP and SP in the battle and you get to carry on if the MC dies (that’s about the only really tough thing about that series). Which means that if you get into a long, tough, drawn out fight and it kills you JUST as you were about to kill it, you get to start at full power and slaughter it. Or if you would have killed it but started with too little SP for the really cool skills that would kill it. And so on.

    If you’re STILL finding it too hard, then there’s always the FAQs that will tell you the tricks and the personas you can use to beat it easier.

    This isn’t that hard to implement, leaves room for challenge even on Easy, but allows for those who want a challenge to ramp it up even more.

    As for puzzles, having a method for getting hints on a puzzle is the ideal. As long as one has to deliberately look up each hint, it provides a mechanism for both gamers who aren’t good at puzzles and gamers who ARE good at puzzles but might simply not see the answer for one puzzle to keep the game going without getting frustrated.

    Heck, the last hint could be giving the solution:

    1) You need some water.
    2) Isn’t there something that might give water at the sink?
    3) Isn’t there a faucet on the sink?
    4) Just turn the faucet on already! Sheesh … [grin]

  61. Daimbert says:

    Ah, one thing that highlights the problems with difficulty levels was a hockey game I had on the PS2, ESPN hockey. Nice game, good presentation, and so on. I played it on Easy and since I like to win normally being able to walk in and dominate a sports game doesn’t bother me (my ideal is a game where I win most of the games but it’s often close, but I’ll take a game where I win all the games over a game where I lose most of them). At any rate, at easy it was too easy; I was walking in off face-offs from centre and scoring all the time, and when I wasn’t I was getting easy one-timers. T’was a bit easy, so I went up to the next level … and couldn’t score. At all. Even on well set-up one-timers. Losing games 2 – 1 or 4 – 0 was boring, so I stopped playing the game.

    And it wasn’t just me. My cousin stayed with me for a while and got into the game. He went up to the next level (just one up, and there probably WERE 5 levels). I warned him ,and he ended up agreeing with me but persisted in trying to beat it. I think he ended up being okay, but that was the second lowest difficulty, and he was okay AT BEST.

    Don’t do that if you want game balance; between Easy and Normal it should not be the difference between “Any idiot can do this” and “Yeah, you’ve gotta be really good”.

  62. cardboard says:

    I’d just like to note that the original Soldier of Fortune had a very nice a la carte difficulty system like you seem to pine for. There were 4 or 5 preset difficulty levels but you could also pick Custom and make your own choices about toughness of enemies, number of enemies, enemy respawn, how many weapons you can carry, number of saves, etc. I always liked taking unlimited carrying capacity, and hordes of fairly weak enemies.

  63. Zel says:

    I’d have to say Crayon Physics Deluxe. Imagine a puzzle game that lets you solve every level with the same method. The first time you use it, it’s fun. After 50 levels using the same trick, not so much… more limitations would have been welcome to force out-of-the-box thinking. I still go back and fool around with a level or two, but I feel the potential is wasted.

    Generally speaking, easy difficulty does not ruin a game for me as much as boredom does, but the former can definitely lead to the latter. If you have something else going (story, world, lore, NPCs interactions) then it’s fine if the game is easy. But if the whole experience is the gameplay and only that (most fighting games ?), pushing the “I win” button becomes boring very quickly, which is often what easy mode means. I don’t think I would have enjoyed Trauma Center and the stress associated if it had been easier.

  64. Marauder says:

    Since you didn’t say current-gen game, I’ll single out Aladdin for the SNES. My brother and I brought it home and ended up playing through it, in a couple hours, without dying.

    The experience was underwhelming to say the least and quite a contrast to the higher difficulty of the SEGA Genesis version.

  65. briatx says:

    @Apathy Curve

    Insulting over-generalization and armchair psychology, ahoy!

    And it’s the “almost without exception” line that really makes it sing.

  66. neriana says:

    Regarding what Cthulhu said: When I was a teenager, I was disappointed with games I could beat in a week. There just weren’t enough games I liked to play: RPGs and adventure are really about it, and back in the early 90s, there weren’t many. Plus I had more time then.

    There are actually far fewer RPGs I like now for the PC, but WoW has taken care of the time I used to expend on those, and then some. Thankfully, Japan now sends lots of good JRPGs to the U.S. as well. So a good short game is just peachy with me, especially if it has a smaller price tag to go with it.

  67. kelvingreen says:

    “Challenge” is an artefact from an earlier time in gaming, when the first level of a game was largely the same as the nth level in terms of new experiences; the vast majority of the oldest games just get quicker, or there are more enemies on screen, or whatever, but there isn’t usually anything new. A lot of those old titles don’t even have a proper end; they either just stop, or they loop around to level one all over again.

    So many games now are about developing and escalating the experience, whether it’s through plot, or new elements thrown into the gameplay, or whatever, and “challenge” doesn’t really fit in well with that. Adjustable difficulty levels are a way around that, but as many have mentioned here, such a feature is often badly handled.

    As for the sneering challenge-first players, I can’t be dealing with them. I play these games for fun, to play a game, not pit my wits and reflexes against a bunch of 1s and 0s. If that’s what you enjoy, Mr Hardcore, then fine, but don’t act as if you’re a better person than anyone else.

  68. Lupis42 says:

    On the subject of co-operative play, which gets a little trickier admittedly, I did stop playing Supreme Commander *with someone* for a while, because of difficulty. Basically, we we’re playing multiplayer matches against AI, and I was looking to ramp up the difficulty in various ways (turn on the option to have the AI cheat, for example, and have more AI’s against the two of us). He was enjoying playing the game with a no rush timer, so that he could quietly build up a massive base, build game ender units, and toy with the computer, which I found so boring that I was alt-tabbing away from the game to read Slashdot. It’s not that I need to be defeated in an RTS game to enjoy it, but it needs to be a risk, there needs to be the possibility that the enemy will overwhelm me, or surprise me, or in some other manner prevent me from accomplishing something. It’s like playing poker without money, the bet means nothing so there’s no incentive to bet meaningfully. If there’s no risk of defeat, then there’s no feeling of accomplishment when you do get to victory.
    Now I’ll never call someone a retard for not enjoying frustration, and I have turned to cheats or gamefaqs myself on some occasions, but I do play games partly for the feel of accomplishment, and that requires there to be some disincentive for screwing up. I have never founds a single player shooter to be too easy on the highest difficulty level, so I’m not complaining either. Well, maybe I’m complaining a little about RTS type games, but even there, something like Supreme Commander, with an AI mod, allows me to choose what the AI will favor (rush, air, navy, tech), whether the AI will cheat, and how (sliders for AI economy multipliers, build multipliers, unit health and damage, etc), and then there are the aforementioned no-rush timers, and unit restrictions, all of which gives a great deal of control over the difficulty level. Which is why I’m still playing it over two years on.

  69. Wiqd says:

    Here’s the deal with “challenge” as I see it. When I play a single player game that offers various amounts of difficulties nowadays, you can usually go through the entire game on easy, see the ending and story unfold and be done with it. It used to be (to a lesser extent today, I think) that if you chose a harder difficulty, you would get to see and experience things along the way that you wouldn’t on easy. There were rewards like alternate endings and whatnot.

    Today we have achievements that do that for us, like in WoW or on XBL, but they don’t really change the story or add much to the game aside from the increased challenge factor. They don’t reveal anything new so … unless you wish to increase your “e-peen” for all to see your new title or higher Gamer Score, it’s moot.

    So many people today want instant gratification from a game. They want to put in the least amount of effort necessary to gain the largest reward. Personally I don’t think that’s right, at least not in an MMO.

    MMOs are designed in a way that will invariably make you work with X number of other players, devising tactics and strategies to beat different encounters. Along the way you quest and THESE are what should be easy or promote coasting through the game, which many of them do. Some require another or 4 other people to complete, but for the most part most games are designed for you to fly through until you reach the end.

    Single player games are MUCH different in respect to “challenge” than MMOs, so comparing the two doesn’t warrant any merit. If I want to sit down and play an RPG for a couple hours, I can save when I’m done and its no harm no foul to anyone else. Same for any shooter or platformer, etc. If I do that in an MMO, I could potentially let down others in my group, guild, etc. But the games are advertised to have these challenges! They’ve even been changed so you can fly through most instances in under half an hour.

    Now … personally if I’m playing a game, like for instance Kingdom Hearts, which I was playing a couple days ago, then the fun factor far outweighs the challenge. There are some fights where I wanted to pull my hair out (Sephiroth or Hades :P) but in the end I won. However, I didn’t really get a sense of accomplishment in it other than I could just move on.

    When you have the culmination of weeks of work on an end-game instance or quest chain and you get what you’re after, personally it feels a lot different.

    I don’t think we should take challenge down or away, I just think there should be options and lots of them.

    Let people decide how they want to play the game and those who want a quick ride to the end will get it and those who want a challenge will get it. However, I guarantee you there will be more people who choose the easy route in the end ;) Unfortunately, WOW has done that in expediting people to max level and it shows in their skill level. Sure they can complete easy instances, but the hard ones that require you know how to play your class properly, a simple concept, they have issues with.

    If you’re going to spend time playing a game like an MMO where time invested is usually what’s important, then challenge is necessary to make sure you know what you’re doing and you’re not wasting other peoples’ time. But in the end it’s all about what you want to do in the game. If you have no qualms about not doing harder instances or raiding, then by all means don’t.

    The problem exists when a party wants a game this way or that instead of both ways.

  70. RTBones says:

    For me, don’t know that it has ever been a game that was too “easy” difficulty-wise. In my case, there are things that will simply make me scream, put the game away, and not come back to it.

    1) Idiot-AI. IMO, the gaming world would be a MUCH better place if developers spent as much time, money, and effort making the AI smarter as they do making graphics pretty.

    2) Story. These days, so many games out there seem to want you to think you are participating in an “interactive movie” environment. I have no issue with that, but I will also tell game developers what I scream at Hollywood all the time: make the story worth a hootnannie!!

    3) Bugs. If I can’t play the game because it keeps crashing after taking reasonable measures (RTFM, making sure my drivers are up to date, making sure my system meets the minimum spec for the game, etc) then I’ll just drop it. Dont care if the issues get fixed in a patch, as a former software guy — if it has that many issues, it should be in beta.

    4) Uber-difficulty. Yes, I like a challenge, but I also will hang up a game if a combat gets to a point where, despite trying different tactics, I still dont make it through. For the uber-gamers out there, you can say what you like — me, I like having some semblance of a life outside of gaming, so I am not going to know every freakin’ combination of moves to get that one shot needed at a boss. I also dont want enemies to be made more difficult by just giving them better weapons instead of better AI. (ala Perseus Mandate)I’ll just drop the game.

    5) Combat for the sake of combat. Again, I will get much more involved with a game if it has a decent story and a decent environment (the original FEAR, for example, was fantastic). Dont add battles just to add battles.

  71. Aergoth says:

    Question Flip: Dwarf. Fortress. The game is very easy to grasp as a whole (you have dwarves. Build a fortress.) The details and the tiny little things slowly pile up (cats, water, lack of booze.) until you realize you’ve dug yourself a grave and you can’t tunnel out of it because your dwarves are being killed by things with claws! (or elephants, as the case may be.)

  72. Karizma says:

    As a WHOLE? I can’t place my finger on any one account. But you are perfectly right.

    BioShock was easy to go through, and was probably one of the easiest shooters within the past couple years. But I loved it. I suck at first person shooters. Sometimes I even get on Halo 3 to see how quickly I get mauled. But I played because of the setting, the atmosphere, the story! I fell in love with Rapture, and Atlas, and all the voices from the audio diaries. THAT’s why I played BioShock.

    The new Prince of Persia did disappoint me in the puzzle and acrobatic department (mostly puzzle). I was hoping for the same sense of accomplishment that I got in the Trilogy. But I liked it for a different reason, so I wouldn’t say that the ease of play “ruined” it for me.

    Looking at the comments, Shamus, I believe you have proved your point!

  73. Lupis42 says:

    @Apathy Curve

    Perhaps the difference is that you *relax* with games, while other people play games for a challenge?

    Part of the problem is that gaming (the hobby) and Gaming (the competitive sport) are being lumped together. Many people play competitive sports for a hobby, things like softball. Would you suggest that the feeling of accomplishment they get from victory there is a substitute, that they are not challenged enough at work?

    I know some competition shooters who still like to play FPSes, and they enjoy difficulty and realism at least as much as I do, if not more.

    “Almost without exception, people who crave extreme challenge and “realism” in a game lack it in real life. Most are are either very young (under 25) or loafers who can't or won't spend years paying their dues in the workplace in order to succeed in business and industry”

    Almost without exception, people who can’t handle a little challenge in their videogames are either old or incompetent, and feel overloaded with unfair challenge at work and in real life as well.

  74. Longasc says:

    http://tishtoshtesh.wordpress.com/2009/01/26/challenging-challenge/#comments

    I explained there why I think that difficulty settings and the lowest common denominator are not the right difficulty.

    Someone mentioned Fallout 3.
    Fallout 3 is really easy, I enjoy it, but it does not come close to the tactical options presented by Fallout 1 and 2. Nothing can go wrong, I have enough stimpacks to stand in the crossfire of everything the enemy can field, even if my armor is at zero.

    I can crank up the difficulty, 50% damage to mobs, 150% to me or something like that. But this does not add too much depth or lead to a more enjoyable type of gameplay. You will indeed play differently, but it does not add that much more to the game. You are even pidgeon-holed into some repetitive tactics.

    My idea would be that people become better by playing the game. Some would ace it, of course. Most would not. But they would for sure get more out of it if they had to use their brains/reflexes a bit more. It would be more exciting and rewarding, not a questionable win by default.

    The lowest common denominator cannot be the gold standard for game design, and the artificial difficulty levels that just crank up damage or reduce it by a notch are just a crutch that is not necessary at all in a well designed game.

  75. RichardB says:

    Two words I’m surprised no-one has mentioned yet: Boss Fights.

    Tomb Raider series, I’m looking at you! As someone who used to be a go-to guy for Tomb Raider Mac saved games back in the day, I can attest that these were certainly every non-twitch player’s biggest blocker to game progress and enjoyment of the full game. The player skills required for the Boss Fights are so different from those required for the bulk of the game that it can get very frustrating.

    As the decades pile on and my reflexes decline I’ve found myself much less able to deal with them myself, to the extent that I’ve shamefacedly parked TR:Legend at a certain Boss Fight involving a water serpent. Thing was, I just got bored with the fight.

    Yes, there is huge satisfaction in finally beating such a Boss Fight, but IMHO options to tone them down for less twitch-oriented players would be welcome (as would achievement rewards for beating them the default way).

  76. Zolthanite says:

    I almost wonder if Mirror’s Edge is appropriate to mention given some of the games in discussion at the moment. It makes me think this is either a good point, or simple griping.

    I started my blog because the recent Stolen Pixels reminded me about Mass Effect and how much it underwhelmed/annoyed me. I then spent the past 3 days writing about how Mirror’s Edge could be a mass-appeal game if the control scheme wasn’t so hardcore and poorly laid out.

    The end result is that you can make a game like Mirror’s Edge scale very well without having to multiply the difficulty of designing the game in a meaningful way. Granted, part of what I wrote about deals with making QTEs a form of combat instead of the way it is now, but there’s nothing that says I can’t have an “Easy” difficulty where you decrease the amount of buttons required to perform a complex action or navigate an obstacle by automating certain actions.

    The whole “How I would change it” exercise in fun is somewhat lengthy, as well as the lead-up to it, but it’s the latest post if you care to check it out.

    @RTBones
    It’s funny you should mention 5 because I just tried Mirror’s Edge in between bouts of playing GTA IV. I never felt as if combat was so ham-handedly done, unfulfilling, and out of place as I did in Mirror’s Edge.

  77. Nalano says:

    I’d say that adventure games’ gameplay most certainly do not diminish in value for being too easy. I say that because their worth is measured in storytelling and characterization. All the old LucasArts games were easy games to play, but the joy was in trying out all the wacky stuff you could think of just to see what the writers put in for this or that character.

    That said, too-easy gameplay definitely kills games that depend on a tense atmosphere to deliver the goods. System Shock would be nothing if you weren’t white-knuckling your way through it. The adrenaline rush from your entire screen filling up with bullets, bombs and baddies in the Metal Slug series is what makes it an entertaining game. Any RTS lives and breathes snap judgments as to whether to keep up the number of boots on the ground or to tech up.

    As such, I’ve been sorely disappointed with Oblivion, Far Cry 2 and Fallout 3, because, well, they’re way too easy. There’s no pacing, and it hurts them because they depend so heavily on pacing to bring the fun. All of them were fun for exactly half an hour for me, after which I was rewarded with a game that was by all means boring and repetitive.

    Hell, all MMOs do that for me, too, but some are better than others in that some are more reliant on PvP or RvR to deliver the goods than others.

    Then again, I’m fickle at times. I didn’t like the pacing of Sims (“is this all there is?”) but I spent endless hours on Simcity 4, and neither had a ‘difficulty’ factor. NWN and its sequels/add-ons were never difficult at all, yet I keep getting drawn back, despite how much I hold the belief that previous DnD-based games like Baldur’s Gate or Icewind Dale were challenging and all the better for it.

  78. Danel says:

    I totally disagree with Gamercow’s complaint about Fable 2, on the grounds that it totally misses the point – Fable 2 wasn’t particularly, it just had a very small punishment (as a very deliberate decision by the game designers) for failure. Bioshock was similar, really – it seems there’ve been a few games later where the developers thought that they could solve this problem by having a reasonably difficult game with almost no punishment for failure; casual players will fail, but won’t be punished, and will eventually succeed; those who play for the challenge will surely strive not to die, and thus be appropriately challenged! Except it seems to be the latter part where it falls down; Difficulty Whores (if you’ll forgive my use of this delightful new phrase, I honestly mean no offense) don’t count something as a failure unless the game punishes them. By kicking them in the crotch, with steel-toed boots. And then kicks them in the face when they double over wheezing in agony. And then lays into them with a baseball bat as they curl upon the floor, whimpering softly.

    I wonder why this might be so. From some of the comments I’ve seen on Warcraft fansites lately, I wonder if it might be that it’s not a matter of Player-Against-Game – “By Jove, that was a hearty challenge, and I had great fun too!” – but (Indirect) Player-Against-Player – “Only the best of the best will ever get to this level… and I’m one of them!”. This certainly seems to be the case for some. Or is it just that it really doesn’t register as failure unless it actually hurts?

    Anyway, back to Fable 2 – by contrast I really appreciated the difficulty level of the game, and I strove to do my best and was only defeated in combat once. It was quite easy… as it should have been given how much time I put in trading and making money and buying the best weapons money could buy, and sweet, sweet XP potions at every point. But that one time I wasn’t good enough and got a nasty little scar really hurt. If it’d just kicked me back to my last save or whatever, I wouldn’t have cared at all.

  79. Felblood says:

    The Ninja Bread man: By the time I got used to turning the camera with the Wiimote, I had beaten the game. No fanfare, no boss fight, just “Time attack mode unlocked.” Pass, thanks.

    Dwarf Fortress: This is more about the game being not finished yet, than anything, but right now your choices for challenge are “hard for newbies only” and “dig into the Hidden Fun Stuff” (godly players only need apply). “Losing is Fun” but sometimes I want a different brand of fun.

    No wonder so many of my fellow players are hard at work trying to develop a better elf trap.

  80. One game that was “diminished” for me due to its easiness was Zelda: The Wind Waker, the enemies did so little damage that there was no real chance of dying and the puzzles were signposted to an insane degree. For example, one puzzle near the end featured a room containing four candlestands with different numbers of candles on them and another room that was identical but with switches where the candles were. The player was supposed to hit these switches in the order of how many candles were there in the first room.

    This could have been a decent puzzle, but the developers seemed to be worried that people might not solve it, so when you entered the first room the camera would very slowly pan to each set of candles in the correct order. Then, just to make sure you got it a message came up telling you to remember what you saw here. That’s still the sort of thing you could miss though, so when the player enters the second room the slow pan to each switch happens again. And to make absolutely sure you know what to do a message comes up telling you to remember that other room. So, no real puzzle solving, no sense of accomplishment and really they might as well have replaced the whole thing with a single switch to press.

  81. Rick says:

    In City of Heroes, one of the first task forces I did was the Abandoned Sewers Trial, shortly before they fixed it. We had six level 50 characters, me at approximately 46, and our anchor in the proper level range (38-40) for the trial to allow us to start it.

    The enemies for the trial are level 42 (or thereabouts, it’s been a while since I’ve done it), and include one of the biggest monsters in the game and several Monster-class enemies. It’s meant to be one of the toughest challenges in the game (and after they recently fixed it, it is).

    However, most of the team had several levels on the enemies, so they weren’t a threat. Aside from our anchor, any one of us could have done the trial by ourselves, well within the 90 minute limit, without breaking a sweat, if it weren’t for the fact that the four shield generators had to all come down more or less simultaneously. As it was, it took us about 20 minutes, most of which was spent swapping out sidekicks and exemplars for temp powers on the walkways.

    I wasn’t in it for the challenge, just the badges and the experience of having done it. However, the experience was considerably cheapened by the fact that it was so easy as to be effortless. I’ve gone back since they fixed it, and the previous experience seemed even cheaper because it is one of the few true challenges in the game.

  82. Lupis42 says:

    @Danel

    It really doesn’t feel like failure if it doesn’t “hurt”, or more precisely, if it doesn’t cost anything. Failing in an RPG battle doesn’t have to cost you the battle, but it usually costs you units, resources, sometimes even a substantial portion of your position. That makes your decisions matter, makes you involved in the game. It’s not about punishment for failure, it’s about having your decisions matter in some context. Which of these two things sounds more involving, more immersive to you: playing poker for 10$, or playing for nothing? The cost, the risk, is part of what draws you in and makes you care. With an RPG, it’s the same way. Follow my title link, because they said it at least as well as I’m trying to, but the gist is that if the character is actually *risking* something, than you care more about them getting it.

  83. PhoenixUltima says:

    Call of Duty 4 is pretty good about giving you multiple levels of challenge. There’s 4 difficulties: the lowest one can probably be beaten by your grandmother, the second is about right for “casual” players, the third is a pretty decent challenge for more experienced players, and the fourth, Veteran? The game describes it thusly: “You will not survive.” They’re not kidding. Even with the “hide behind something until your health fills back up” method of damage this game uses, you will die. A lot. On every level. Reaching a checkpoint on Veteran is cause for a round of cheers and a little victory dance. God of War 2 is much the same way – the easiest difficulty is cake, while the hardest one (which isn’t even available until you’ve beaten the game at least once) will kill you over and over again. And yes, I’ve beaten both on their hardest difficulties. Bask in my glory.

    As for the question, there isn’t any game that’s been ruined for me by lack of challenge, but I too was a bit disappointed in Bioshock’s lack of challenge, even on hard difficulty. The beginning can be a little tough (mostly because of the Big Daddies – the splicers never really rise above the level of “minor annoyance”), but once you start getting the good gene tonics and plasmids and start getting research bonuses and figure out how to use stuff to your advantage (telekinesis + explosive containers + sticky mines = huge mess on the floor) the game really gets much easier. Especially once you realize that with the proper setup the wrench can one-shot just about anything short of a BD (and can give you a little health back when you do so), moreso when you catch them unaware. Which is fairly simple when you have a passive (i.e. doesn’t cost anything to use) gene tonic that makes you invisible as long as you stand still. Oh, and the final boss is super easy, but that’s pretty much the norm these days. The game was still fun as heck, I just didn’t feel like I was struggling at all. Even turning off the Vita-Chambers doesn’t change this much, especially given that you can still save anywhere, which kind of defeats the point. And yet there’s an achievement for beating the game on hard with Vita-Chambers turned off. *sigh*

  84. A Gould says:

    Most Facebook games are over easy and annoying (although that’s due more to the constant invites than the “game”, I suppose…)

    I’m all for adjustable difficulty – some days I just want to plug in Perfect Dark, set up eight dumb-as-brick bots, and go Matrix on their butts. Is it difficult? Hell no. But it’s *fun*…

    Myst IV and Sam & Max had great “adjustable difficulty” with their hints (S&M let you dial up/down how helpful Max’s chatter was, while Myst IV had a hint guide built into the game). Adventure games are played for the story, and I appreciated not having to quit out and dig through the Web for a hint (also, they were both fantastic for giving subtle hints – usually I just needed to know what in the room I was supposed to care about).

    Other types of games… health and damage and such are good, but I think they’re a bit heavy-handed. I’m wondering if using chess-style difficulty could work (the computer is always the same level of “smart”, but on easier settings it’s time-limited on it’s thinking). Slower reaction times is another good place to tweak settings. My point is, don’t make the computer dumber, just make it slower or rushed. Let it make mistakes (just like us!)

    A third possibility is fudge factor – is the platforming kicking my ass – why not let me “grab” a little farther so I make the ledge? (Auto-aim already does this in FPS to a certain extent).

    As for settings, I think you need both basic “easy/regular/difficult/bendover” settings, and advanced (add X health, reduce spawn Y amount, etc). I’d even suggest tying the “AI Director”-style auto-adjustment to the slider (easy becomes “make sure I win with style”, difficult becomes “make me work for it”).

    And as a concession to the hardcore, make sure you can only unlock some achievements at higher difficulties (or without hitting the cheats, or what-ever).

  85. Nathan says:

    Shamus, I think you continue to misunderstand the basic question of challenge… I don’t think anyone actually plays a game to fail over and over. Any game that causes you to fail over and over and waste large amounts of time to do so is poorly designed, not just “too hard”. There are different kinds of challenge, and there is no need to associate challenge with frustration. I can understand that you don’t like challenge and frustration, but that doesn’t mean that the people who do like challenge are masochistic monsters who love everything you hate about those games. A lot of people are probably sending you hate mail simply because you are refusing to try to understand their preferences as much as you claim they are refusing to see yours.

    Anyways, as for games where low difficulty severely weakened a game… I can name several. There are a great many games where a particular moment of low challenge can be severely anti-climactic, for example. But, if we are talking about entire games that were just far too easy…

    Atelier Iris 2: Eternal Mana, and Ar Tonelico: Melody of Elemia are two games that are simply far too easy. In both games, you can pretty much win every battle with utterly simplistic strategies at fairly low risk. This is a problem because the games are built around fairly involved subsystems that let them have far greater degrees of strategy than normal, but because of the low difficulty the player never really has any use for these subsystems. Atelier Iris 2 possesses a very time-consuming system of developing powerful items through alchemy, but these items are either completely unnecessary, or make the game laughably easy. The game almost has a reasonable amount of difficulty if you don’t use those items, but even the most basic of items can pretty much let you win any battle instantly. In Ar Tonelico, a very large part of the game system is based on managing your “Harmonic Gauge”, both building it up to gain power and expending it to unleash fun and powerful attacks, but the enemies of the game as so weak that they will always die before you even have a chance to let the gauge build up, and they never pose any real risk to your characters, either.

    The low challenge of these games simply denies you any opportunity to play around with the options available to you. Playing around with the “game” parts of a game is supposed to be fun, but if the game actually dissuades you from doing so for the sake of low challenge, then it can be severely problematic.

  86. Adam says:

    “I totally disagree with Gamercow's complaint about Fable 2, on the grounds that it totally misses the point – Fable 2 wasn't particularly, it just had a very small punishment (as a very deliberate decision by the game designers) for failure. Bioshock was similar, really – it seems there've been a few games later where the developers thought that they could solve this problem by having a reasonably difficult game with almost no punishment for failure; casual players will fail, but won't be punished, and will eventually succeed; those who play for the challenge will surely strive not to die, and thus be appropriately challenged! Except it seems to be the latter part where it falls down; Difficulty Whores (if you'll forgive my use of this delightful new phrase, I honestly mean no offense) don't count something as a failure unless the game punishes them. By kicking them in the crotch, with steel-toed boots. And then kicks them in the face when they double over wheezing in agony. And then lays into them with a baseball bat as they curl upon the floor, whimpering softly.”

    I felt compelled to post for the first time after reading Danel’s comment. First off, I have to mention that I am someone who plays games for the challenge a lot of the time. I enjoy old-school Mega Man games and am currently playing Devil May Cry 4 on Hard mode. I enjoy playing hard games.

    However, I hate being punished for failing. For me, the fun comes from constantly trying new ways of overcoming a challenge and polishing my skills. The point is in overcoming something and getting better. For example, I might die ten times before I can finally cross a certain disappearing block challenge in a Mega Man game. However, after some practice, I become good enough that I can clear that obstacle with my eyes closed. That progress gives me a sense of accomplishment. Now then, if I was to encounter a similar challenge, and I clear that one of my first attempt, I still get that sense of accomplishment, since I recognize the challenge as something that requires skill. The core of my enjoyment of challenge comes from the sense of personal pride and accomplishment that comes from persevering in the face of difficulty.

    Eventually though, I reach a point in a game where I can’t proceed, where the challenge becomes too much for me. If a game actually reaches the point where it becomes frustrating, I just stop playing it and move on to something else. I just say to myself “That is my limit”, and take pride in where that limit is. I am not the kind of guy who takes on Very Hard or Legendary modes just because they are there.

    For me, a game that punishes me for failing is just a poorly designed game. The fun part is attempting the challenge again to try to improve my skills, so anything that gets in the way of a re-try is an obstacle to my fun.

    I think the “Difficulty Whores” Danel is talking about are a very, very small sub-set of those people who enjoy challenge in video games. Ditto for achievement hunters who clear challenges just because they are there. I think most people who play video games for the challenge do so for the sense of personal pride and satisfaction.

  87. Jeff says:

    Spore.

    Fricking dumbed down game was fun the first time through, then mindless tedium disguised by frantic repetitive ’emergencies’. Then everything was too shallow to do it again. A game that should have had endless playability had none because some schmuck made it too easy.

  88. MuonDecay says:

    Yes, it takes more time to design a game that can entertain everyone from Cliff Blezinski to grandma.

    Whoa, whoa… it’s more serious a problem than that. It’s not that it just takes more time, it’s that it’s a dumb idea.

    Have you noticed what happens when someone tries to make, for example, a movie that’s “for everyone”? Say, an action movie with mystery and romantic subplots added in? Eventually you’re exerting so much effort into making your work have a broad appeal that you have none left to make any of the results worth watching.

    Making broad-audience games is in and of itself a mistake. You can make a game that gives a mediocre of halfway decent experience for a wide swath of people, or you can make a more targeted game that gives a really good experience to a certain subset of people, because you put together a team of those kind of people and had them focus on the experience they understood well. By contrast, try assembling a design team out of a variety of people with a variety of backgrounds and gameplay styles and then attempting to get all of them to work together, cohesively, on a game that tries to implement stuff that appeases all of those styles.

    The end result is a watered-down experience and the way the broad appeal gets implemented is, more often than not, a long mediocre slog in which each kind of player is drudging through stints of the other player’s content, waiting for another bone to be thrown to their own favored style of gameplay. You’re left almost-passively slogging through a series of bone-throws, waiting for the next time one is thrown to you.

  89. kmurphy says:

    Many of the responses that refer to the challenges of a game being too easy are responding to the ease of achieving a specific goal. I understood your concern to be directed toward the physical/reaction ability needed when using the game controller – requiring a learned skill set that is difficult for some people to master. If we wanted to be atheletes in training for physical skills, we would be doing something other than playing video games. My excitement for the game suffers when the only way to achieve is to perfect the timing between the A and B buttons and the right trigger while rotating the joystick!

  90. JanusDuo says:

    I’m dissapointed in this Shamus, you’re usually so well thought out, although I have noticed your blind spot in understanding competitive games and what makes those who play them tick.

    First you start out with the straw man of the arguments that those who send you hate mail put out. Of course of those who read your article most will read it, go “Hmm, I agree” or “I disagree” and move on.

    The vocal people that care enough to email are often fanatics on one side of the spectrum or another. Most of those types that you describe aren’t even that good at the games, usually they’re in the middle of the mediocre to good range. They just idolize those that are good at their favorite game.

    Then you go off and point out that there are a lot of different ways to play a game. Well, duh! Those in the business of entertainment call this genres and sub-genres. Stop playing games that you don’t like! Rent a game before you buy it. Don’t get all your information from review sites that give stupid numerical reviews. Games aren’t “good” or “bad” they’re form fitted to your tastes as much as clothes are to your body.

    Some games emphasize skill, some story. Heck, I very much enjoy an open source skill game that is nothing more than tapping keyboard keys to a rhythm.

    And what the heck do you mean about “Achievements?” Surely you don’t subscribe to the newest games tendency to suck up to you when you actually do what they expect you to do? Doesn’t the definition of achievement imply that you don’t need to be told that you just did something good?

    Lessons learned?
    1. Ignore stupid people
    2. Don’t play games that you don’t enjoy.
    3. Understand that others enjoy games you don’t, and that there is indeed a market for such games. The don’t “suck” cause you don’t enjoy them.

  91. BlackBloc says:

    I am a very competitive gamer (read: tabletop, collectible games, like Magic and the new World of Warcraft miniatures game). But I don’t see the point of that mindset in single player videogames. I’m very ‘casual’ in my videogame addiction. Beating a computer is not appealing to me. I already do that at work, I even tell it what to do and it obeys all my wishes.

    Now beating a human, that’s an actual challenge. Plus I get paid to do that (just enough to sustain my gaming habit and not to actually pull a profit, but still).

  92. Coffee says:

    Here’s an example of a nasty difficulty jump:

    Guitar Hero World Tour – Drums.

    On Beginner difficulty, you use only the foot pedal.

    On Easy difficulty, you use the foot pedal, and the 3 main drum pads.

    So you jump from 1 input to 4. It’s somewhat jarring, and I found the jump impossible in the time that I took to try.

  93. ehlijen says:

    Anything where the AI was so poor that it needed to cheat to provide a challenge. Those games always end up either too easy (if you can avoid the cheats with some skill) or too hard (if you can’t avoid the cheats no matter what your skill).
    Examples:
    Mechwarrior 3
    With the longest range weapon, mouse and patience you could kill anything without retaliation if you stayed 950+ meters away from it. It just wouldn’t react to you ever. If you couldn’t do that, you’d need to fight superior numbers though.
    Jagged alliance 2 (night fighting with original AI)
    The enemies tactic for dealing with nigh attacks was:
    “I just saw my friend die in that lit patch over there. I’ll go and sit down there. If I don’t make it, send someone to sit next to me.”
    The only reason some enemies were a challenge was because
    a) they could achieve stats out of player characters reach by miles
    b) they were hardcoded into set positions and as such unaffected by the poor ‘let’s run into the cross fire’ ai

    When games become more challenging because some opponents don’t ues the full range of ai abilities available, it’s a sad day for ai mookkind everywhere.

    Thankfully those exploits were all optional and the games were otherwise fun. Yeah, I know that means they don’t really count for the question.

  94. Telas says:

    Thad @ 46:
    “We can make a world where you pretend to pretend to play football, slay dragons, raid tombs, shoot Nazis and gangsters, etc.”

    Wow! What game is that?

    Savage Worlds. But you’ll need some friends to play it.

    ;)

  95. Hirvox says:

    Let’s see.. If we’re talking about contemporary games, I’ve stopped playing Force Unleashed, Bioshock, Fable 2, Fallout 3, Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance, Spore and WoW due to lack of difficulty. You kind of feel like Neo in the end of the first Matrix, when countering every single move your enemy makes takes little or no effort. When you find yourself doing a Keanu Reeves impersonation, you know it’s time to stop.

    Spore was actually a special case. Every individual encounter was trivial, but the constant stream of attacks and planetary catastrophies was overwhelming. So in a sense, it felt like the Burly Brawl from Matrix: Reloaded. ;-)

    In the end, it’s just like you said before:

    Pfft. That game was a cakewalk. I only died maybe once a level.

    Personally, I play many games to get into the “flow”, where I’m operating at my personal peak efficiency. If there is no feedback to nudge me back into the flow, the fun stops. It doesn’t matter whether the game overshoots or undershoots the difficulty level appropriate for your “flow” level, the end result is equally bad.

  96. Zock says:

    Achievements, you say… I see them mostly as immersion-breaking features designed to please those who want to add extra two inches to their ePeen. That said, I can see why they’re becoming popular. I’d like the ability to turn them ‘silent’ during the gameplay but to be able to view them afterwards at a time when you’re not immersed into the gameplay. Some games actually already manage to do this in a non-disturbing manner – but it might just be because the games doing it ‘right’ aren’t that immersive to begin with.

  97. Kevonovitch says:

    as for the “easy” part, more or less: grinding. cuz u do it so much, and so often, u can fall asleep, and wake up, and still only be a smidgen closer to where u were heading in the first place.

    but most things i find, arent the hardness, a challange is good, even a surgically added anus is fine every now and then, but aganizing, and frustraiting, is more or less what kills it for me, just stuff thats like, you can kill a boss, except…your missing the one key item, that uve never heard of, nor knew about, untill he insto killed you a few times, and then decided to ask around, just to go waste a few hours trying to grind/find it.

    or they say “go over yonder” and your over at yonder :P and going….wtf? now what? and lets say, a pin, and yonder, is russia, and NO help what so ever -_- directionality isent anyways needed, but excessive bs as such, is agrivating to no end.

    to be frank, just because its dawned on me before, to be technical on the whole “too easy” aspect: the definition would technically be: mmo’s

    hear me out.

    WoW (as a perfect example) yes, i do play, no, i dont have any lvl 80’s, i have a full time job, a wife, and a child, tyvm. anyways. all you do “quest” wise is kill x/gather x, in “yonder” or “get x # of people spam msges till the party disbands, and then run a LONG, DRAWN OUT dungeon/kill singular target.” thats essentially what it breaks down into, leaving pvp, and story aside (lol story, in WoW, it seems+feels nonexistant, besides the warcraft series as a backstory.)

    in single player rpgs, it litterally ranges all the way from, taking a shower, walking the neighbors dog, strangling your own retarded npc children, to; saving the world, enslaving all of asia for the shriners, making each person learn to line dance whenever they get shot in the shoulder, go make a cup of coffee, feed 2000 people at a buffet.

    more creative, and requires thinking, and more time, cuz maybe you have to go harvest the coffee first, make a log cabin, invent a mind controle device from spare parts of chernobyl, ect. time, people seem to like spending either dying/killing endlessly on online fps games (yo! i love em myself :D) or grinding for an hour, or even a day, for that one, ONE, singular lvl, in an mmo/item.

    thats my beef. and pork, and chicken….but…wheres the pie?..

  98. Wil K. says:

    Speaking of what Andrew McGrae (@81) said: another good topic to discuss would be unnecessary puzzles – that is, puzzles for which the solution is straightforward, and the intent is simply to make you go through the measures. Playing through Tales of Symphonia with a friend again, I noticed that the dungeons in it have a veritable TON of “puzzles” whose only real purpose seems to be to slow you down (and there usually aren’t even enemies in the rooms…) and bore Player 2 to death. (Don’t get me wrong, ToS is a very fun game, especially the combat – but a lot of it is quite easy unless you’re really low-level (Sword Dancer2 at around 30-something was kinda tough…))

    —————————————————-

    Anywho, I can’t say I’ve had a game ruined by being too easy – I’ve played a lot of games either on Easy or that were simply pretty easy, but they were always FUN or COOL, which was the key (hello Twilight Princess and your lame but beautifully-rendered boss fights). Now plenty of games have turned me off due to being too hard – or more specifically, due to having segments that were too hard, in an otherwise fairly lax game.

    frex: Star Wars Bounty Hunter is a super cool game (you get to fly around in a jet pack marking bounties and shooting them, either in the face or via sniping – that’s fun, and it’s 3rd person, so you get to see the awesome in action), but there’s this stupid level about half-way through the game, where they throw near-insta-kill monsters (Nexus), superspeed-snipers, and hordes of very strong melee guys at you – they also tend to all appear out of freakin’ nowhere, so personally I have to add ‘avoid crapping your pants’ to that list. Sure, you have ways to combat each, but this whole scenario just makes the level very unfun – Mr. Fett is supposed to be flying around kicking ass and taking names (like he does in the rest of the game – neither of which are easy to do here), not getting his face caved in. (I suppose you could call it ‘changing up the pace’ but I retort ‘don’t fix it if it ain’t broke’).

    2nd example (bad parts of otherwise fun games): Viewtiful Joe was totally sweet…. except it had this retarded lives system. Retro? Very much so. Prevented me from continuing with the game since it also uses a save system that keeps you’re current (low) live-total? Also very much so. I really wanted to enjoy that game, but I could only go so far into it before I would have to restart – not cool. A ‘max lives’ or whatever mode would have made it so much better (especially since you often had to choose between buying new lives/health and unlocking moves) .

  99. Andrey Shchekin says:

    Why do you need each game to be accessible for everybody?
    Best movies and books I have seen and read were not accessible to everybody — they require some level of context and, sometimes, some level of determination.

    I would like to have games accessible to me, but if the game is too hard, then it just not my game. There are lot of other games out there — why would I want to ruin fun for fans of some specific genre/difficulty if I can just choose one that fits me?

    I would not like to live in the world where each book and each movie is accessible for everybody, from child to grandmother. Same goes for games.

  100. Richard says:

    The game that kills me here is Metroid Prime 3. Love the exploration, hate the boss battles. I’ve stopped about 3 bosses in because there’s no way I can kill (or hurt) the boss that will supposedly give me the ice missiles, which leads to no more exploration for me.

  101. Scourge says:

    The only thing that comes straight to my kind regarding challenge is Dawn of War 1. dark crusade specifically.

    I played that with 2 others s 3 Insane opponents.
    The AI not only has 2x as much health as your units, it also produces units in half the time and has a natural higher resource gathering stat. It also builds higher advanced units.

    Now we played 2 vs 3 Normal, far to easy, 2 vs insane, far to hard.

    We wished we could have tinkered with it, like, alright, the neemy keeps building higher tier units and equipts them as good, but he doesn’t gets the 2x hp and the lower bulding time.
    That would’ve been fun, and far better and more challenging, instead of the stupid pore given stuff we had.

  102. Daimbert says:

    Andrey,

    Games are slightly different in that it’s generally the game mechanics that produce challenge but there are often other things involved as well, like story. It ticks me off to no end reading forums about an RPG series that I’m playing and having people say “The battles are too easy and should be harder” (usually when they’ve grinded to the Nth level beyond where they should be, but I digress). They should be harder? That means that I probably couldn’t play it since there are parts that are a bit hard for me NOW. But I like the story and want to experience that.

    To map it to books and movies, it would be like writing a wonderful story and then either writing most of it in anagram form or running the movie hugely out of time sequence when that isn’t critical to the story itself. Yeah, it might still be a good movie and it may be okay that the story doesn’t appeal to everyone, but you’ve eliminated a bunch of people who WOULD like the story and think it’s great unnecessarily. That’s what not having difficulty levels does for games that aren’t inherently about challenge. And I can’t name too many games myself where the only goal is to challenge gamers.

    Difficulty levels allow you to tell a story or achieve some other goals while appealing to as many people as possible. If grandma wants to enjoy the story but can’t figure out the combats, she can do so. If uber-gamer wants to enjoy the story but won’t if the combat is trivial, he can as well. The game mechanics need to be inclusive because, in general, you don’t — or, at least, shouldn’t — aim a game at one set of players; you’d like as many people as possible who can enjoy the subject matter to play it. Tweaking the difficulty of the mechanics allows for that, and works out better for all who are involved.

  103. Shamus says:

    JanusDuo: I made it clear why I wrote this post. Right there in the beginning, so your “strawman” complaint is invalid. This post serves a very specific need. In the future, I will want to refer to this idea, and now I can do so with a link instead of three paragraphs that threadjack my own thought.

    “Don’t play games you don’t enjoy!”

    And how would I know which games those are… until I’ve played them?

    Yes, some games are for story and some are for challenge. But adding multiple difficulty settings to a game isn’t hard and it can VASTLY improve the experience of most players. See also: All the previous comments. Think pigeonholing games is short-sighted. Like I said, this is a virtual world. Anything is possible. I can make my game harder without making it too hard for you.

  104. Shamus says:

    Andrey Shchekin: I’d rather choose games based on style & content, not on figuring out if the needlessly rigid difficulty spectrum overlaps with mine. (Particularly since difficulty ramps up late in the game, shedding players.)

  105. Skeeve the Impossible says:

    I would like to point out that what Shamus proposes here is not impossible. (although i am) On the topic of changing difficulty in certain aspects of the game has been done. Silent hill 2 asked at the start of the game what level of difficulty you wanted the puzzles and separately the combat.
    I remember seeing this and thinking “that is genius”. Silent hill is/used to be great for story line And maybe that’s all some people want. I love the puzzles in the survivor horror genre. I immedialty cranked up the puzzle difficulty knowing that i would want it that way. I think separating the difficulty of each game play element is a great idea and i hope to see publishers embrace that.

  106. henrebotha says:

    There are two sides to games just as there are to gamers. I enjoy endless challenge/high score-type games such as Peggle or Crimsonland because, at the outset, you *know* you are going to lose. Losing is one of the defined parameters of the game; you cannot achieve a high score without losing. Therefore, you discard “losing” as a negative aspect and just have fun seeing how long you last.

    However, I also enjoy limited challenge-type games such as Half-Life, where there is a specific goal to be met and failure results in a dead end. Here, I find a greater sense of long-term satisfaction because I have to invest a greater amount of my time.

    At the end of the day, the two types are both fun to play.

    I do, however, like the idea of a third type of game: a game with a high degree of freedom (games like Oblivion have approached this), where there is no real “end” to the story. This combines both approaches, I think.

  107. Greg says:

    Fallout 3 rapidly became less of a challange. At first it was great, but once you get past about level 5 it drops right off. When it got to the point that I could take down a super mutant behemouth. Without weapons. Or armour. Or taking damage…I began to suspect that the difficulty was a little off. I guess that’s the price you pay for such an open ended game, but I don’t remember feeling that way about fallout 2. Though perhaps that’s just because they’ve upped the health of companions so much that I don’t need to reload to bring Goris back (again).

  108. Kevin says:

    I can’t remember ever playing a game that frustrated me because it was too easy. On the other hand, I’d say that the vast majority of games I play go unfinished because I hit some wall I either can’t get past or simply lose interest before I do. As a result I know I have bought way fewer games than I might otherwise have. Nowadays I shop for cheat codes before I look at actual games.

  109. Zwebbie says:

    I’ve found most games on my shelf to be rather too easy. That’s not even getting into the Wii games. Did any of you play Twilight Princess? There was simply no way to fail at that game.

    Back in the ’90s, when I was rather young, I was happy when I finished a game. I must have been 8 or 9 at the time I finished Donkey Kong Country 2, so it was quite the challenge for little young me. I’d fail miserably every day and then come back the next day. Beating it was a huge testimony to my skill; I hadn’t honed it for a week or so, but months on end to finally arrive at this point of being totally awesome.
    These days, I get sad when I was finish a game. I’m left with a feeling of ‘that’s all?’ or ‘I only got this 3 days ago’. Deep inside of me, there’s still that 8-year old that doesn’t take finishing a game for granted.

    I thought Portal was rather neat in its Advanced Challenges that required you to think outside of the box and be really good at the game, though I would have liked to see those harder too, since I finished them all.

    STALKER: Clear Sky was nice and difficult. Most people found it too difficult, even on easy, but I only scaled it back to easy because it meant less of the atrociously long loading times (and consequently found it to be too easy). It was great in that the gameplay actually became the atmosphere; there’s no glory or invincibility, there’s only carefully calculated survival where a mistake can cost you your life.

    I’d like to expand on Andrey’s example, because my opinion is rather similar.
    There’s a scene in the Aeneid – which itself isn’t a very casual book – where Aeneas is described as being like Apollo and Dido as looking like Diana. While a very valid comparison, there’s also the deeper layer; namely, Apollo and Diana are brother and sister, and Vergilius by this method explains why Dido and Aeneas are never meant to be lovers. You can easily read over this passage and ignore it – it won’t change the story – but it’s remarkably clever for those who read carefully enough and who know enough about the background.
    Or, perhaps a more imaginable comparison – Lord of the Rings. LotR isn’t a book your grandmother can read. In fact, my parents have trouble following the films, constantly referring to Legolas as ‘that fairy guy’ – and the films are a watered-down version of the books to say the least! Would LotR have the same charm and appeal if they were written to be understood by grandmothers, or do we accept the fact that we have to pay attention and memorise multiple complicated names for the sake of an enthralling background?

    It’s that way with games too. If you’re playing them terribly, you’re playing them wrong. You can, for example, play a game where you’re supposed to take cover without taking any cover at all, but you are missing clever tactical maneuvering if you play it that way; it’ll just become another shooter. When I first played through HL2Ep2, I never knew that you’re supposed to kill hunters with the Gravity Gun. I found out, and played a second time, this time noticing how the junk was placed in the levels and I got to use one of the neatest FPS weapons around. If only the game were more difficult in my first playthrough, I would’ve been sparked to creativity enough to try out something new – like playing the game in the ‘right’ way.

    Max Payne – I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so I kept saving/reloading in Max Payne. It’s theoretically possible to catch only a few, if any, bullets, so I don’t want to be some kind of standard FPS painkiller-swallowing space marine. I only continued when I really felt I played the game well, playing through levels relatively unharmed. I always walked around with 8 painkillers, never short on them, but never using them. It was a lot of reloading, but the end result was always spectacular; jumping to the best places of cover, fancy maneuvering, switching to the right weapons at the right time and being left on the ground with empty clips as all the enemies fell dead around me. That’s how the game’s meant to be played, and if I weren’t the perfectionist I am, I would’ve walked up to enemies and shot them, never having such an awe-inspiring experience.

    Same with Brothers in Arms. At the easiest difficulty level, you can almost play it as if it were a normal shooter. But at higher levels, you have to make use of your squad, you have to take cover in the right places and you have to be careful with which weapon you pick up. It’s a much more unique experience than the Easy one.

    So I’m not at all an advocate of punishing the player for doing something the wrong way – I love BiA’s squad-respawn if you die too often – but refusing to let them go on unless players stop playing the game like it’s Wolfenstein 3D doesn’t hurt. You harvest what you sow – if you don’t sow effort in the gameplay, it won’t be rewarding.

  110. Namfoodle says:

    One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that the difficulty curve is different for an RPG versus an RTS.

    Strategy games usually start out slow as the earlier levels are easier due to fewer enemies and fewer build options. As the plot progresses, you’re fighting more enemies with more build options of your own, so it becomes more difficult. I’m usually good enough at an RTS to finish the single player campaign in things like Starcraft and Warcraft. But I’ve never been any good at taking on human opponents or lots of computer opponents. There have only been one or two RTS levels I’ve gotten stuck on.

    In RPGs, I always seem to go the min/max route. So things are challenging at the beginning, but I eventually manage to “break” the difficulty curve and squash everything quickly. I did this in Morrwind, where I pumped up my character to the point that nothing could threaten me and I could wack any foe with one or two blows. But it took a lot of work and being a Deus ex Machina is amusing in itself. In Fallout 1 & 2, I tagged small guns and went the sniper route, so once I got some good guns I was dealing huge amounts of damage to my foes, and only a lucky crit would take me down.

    So although the games I play will have easy stretches, it usually takes some work to get there, so I don’t think I’ve ever had a game that I thought was too easy.

  111. Graham says:

    Regarding the games/books/movies comparison:

    By their nature, books and movies (aside from Choose Your Own Adventure books) are static.

    By their nature, games (and video games in particular) are dynamic, alterable, and adaptable.

    To use the comparison of games and books is a faulty argument. The very dynamic nature of games means that this sort of thing is both possible and often desirable, as it only serves to reinforce the core dynamic and alterable nature of games.

    “It's that way with games too. If you're playing them terribly, you're playing them wrong.”

    Let me say one thing and make it clear.

    The primary goal of a game, any game, is enjoyment. As such, so long as you are enjoying yourself, THERE IS NO FREAKING WAY to play a game WRONG.

    If I enjoy playing CoD4 like it was Wolfenstein, am I “playing it wrong”? Hell no! I’m enjoying myself, which was the point of playing a game in the first place.

    I may not be playing it well, but I’m not playing it wrong.

  112. Zwebbie says:

    By ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ I meant ‘the way the designer intended you to’ and the ‘the way the designer did not intend you to’. I’m arguing that if a game is easy, you’ll never break out of your simplistic habits and the game will never reach the potential that the designer did put into the game. You could be having more fun. After all, why else is all that stuff in the game? To be filler? It’s to be more fun, or every game would be a Wolfenstein clone.

    I’ll example you some more – Company of Heroes, an RTS game. The campaign is ridiculously even, even on its hardest difficulty setting. A friend of mine played the campaign and then played LAN matches with a guy who also only played the campaign. Their opinion was that infantry was rather worthless and anti-infantry vehicles that cost more than anti-tank vehicles were the dumbest thing ever. I got to know the game and broke into the 1v1 top 100. I knew how to use infantry and that that particular anti-infantry vehicle was well worth its money. In the end, the online challenge forced me to know the game through and through, after which I knew the exact use of every unit. By comparison, my friend thought only the heaviest tanks to be of any value… we both had fun, but who played the better game? I think I got more of my money’s worth.

    But hey, if you have enough fun playing Wolfenstein over and over, be that way! I just want a new experience every time, and the best way to learn new stuff is the game saying that your old way of doing things will fail miserably.

  113. Graham says:

    Hey, don’t get me wrong. I never said it was bad to do it your way, either.

    You seem to enjoy completionism, and mastering a game. If that is fun, then you’re playing the game right.

    I enjoy testing just how far I can fall in Mario 64 without dying (so long as I do a ground pound just before I die). It’s fun, so I, too, am playing the game “right”.

    You (and others) probably enjoy mastering the intricacies of your favourite character in the latest Street Fighter game, and then moving on to master another for the different experience. This is playing the game right.

    I enjoy picking Spiderman in the MvC games, or Ken in Street Fighter, because they’re my favourites, and then pounding on buttons because I don’t know the moves but like to see if I can actually beat my friends sometimes. This, too, is playing the game right.

    Who gets the most enjoyment out of the game? Who cares. I wouldn’t enjoy playing your way any more than you would enjoy being forced to play mine.

    Why does that mean one of us is somehow better than the other?

    And to note, no, the best way to learn new stuff is not for the old way to constantly fail. Negative reinforcement techniques are actually a very poor way to teach, and will cause many people to give up (because they can’t use any of their existing skills), before they suffer through numerous defeats just to master this new way that the game believes you should play.

  114. Graham says:

    Just to add quick to my last point, telling you and showing you the old ways will fail does work, in moderation. But many games where they implement that don’t give you any hint as to what you are supposed to do instead.

    This is what gives rise to Shamus’s DiAS (“Do it Again, Stupid”) gameplay, and the “pixel-bitch” issues of old adventure games (where you essentiall had to move your mouse through every pixel just to figure out which single pixel you had to click on to progress).

  115. What seems to have ruined Chris Roberts is that both of his final games, Freelancer and Starlancer, he took steps to try and force you to play the game the way he wanted it played and to force some levels of difficulty (the entire idea of player character levels as a control device on what you can buy in a space faring flight sim?!!).

    On the other hand, starting with Age of Empires, the ability of the Age series to be tailored to different difficulty settings (and even more so with editing codes) is incredible.

  116. smIsle says:

    I just played part of ‘Mystic Heroes’ the other day (PS2), and it was an odd mix. The group fight was insanely easy, although it’s mildly interesting to be an angel of death and kill the teeming masses surrounding you … But then it went into Boss Mode – and became a different game – no more heals, no more terrain. The strategies you had just learned are worthless. Anyway, I died on the first boss, and decided that it wasn’t really worth playing because it was too easy and too hard at the same time.

    I think that if RPGs weren’t all about grinding levels, they could be perfect at automatic leveling. You can just move on after you’ve reached a certain level. Want a challenge? play FF1 with one white mage – want it to be easier? kill more enemies before moving on the next area. Everyone wins, the user gets to intuitively choose how hard the game is for them, and the hard core gamer gets to punish themselves.

    Okay, about Myst – I loved playing Myst 1-3, but stopped when they went to 3D. If you are watching someone else play the game, the difficulty is not necessarily apparent. It’s all mental puzzles, and they are all solvable (duh) so all you see from the outside is someone wandering around this world throwing switches and opening doors. The designers wanted a game that you could solve no matter how many “wrong” choices you made. This does not mean that you can’t lose, it just means losing = giving up and looking at the hint book or looking it up online. I consider it a strength of design that none of your choices result in a dead-end where you would need to start over from a saved game (up to the end-game where what you choose will probably kill you, unless you were paying attention to the story). Myst 1 was hard, 2 was harder, and 3 was pretty but not that hard (beat it in two days after school). The only thing wrong with the Myst games is that after you beat the game (figure out all the puzzles) there isn’t too much to make you want to play again. Perhaps in another 10 years I won’t remember … but right now I still remember all the hidden doors, and the code to the clock tower, so it’ll have to wait.

    I’m rally good at fighting games, but abysmal at platformers, so I would LOVE a way to tweak the difficulty levels of specific aspects of the game rather than play a game that is too hard and too easy at the same time, because those are the games that aren’t even worth playing.

  117. Jeysie says:

    I honestly can’t think off-hand of any game that was ruined for me because it was too easy. Have had lots of games ruined by being too hard, however…

  118. tussock says:

    The question of why play if you can't lose assumes that everyone plays for the same reason. Or at least, that they should.

    Heh. I’m in the why play if you can win camp. Always a little disappointed to finish a game, and never play through a game on anything but hard so that I normally can’t finish. Keep going back to play Angband that I’m yet to even get close to beating in about 13 years.

    Start 3-lap sim racers from the back of the grid so a series of perfect passing and drafting moves might net me a 6th place finish. Love hot laps because there is no victory condition, but am dissatisfied with racers that unlock something and move you along when you beat the time.

    Hated that Diablo II made me finish the game before I could play Hardcore characters, as then I’d already seen it all, without the enormous risk.

    But yes, I know guys who only play games to see them finished. First run through on the easiest settings using all the cheats, just to get a look at all the cool new things, and then replay it as intended if it was fun.

  119. DaveMc says:

    I’d have to say that Final Fantasy Tactics was too easy for me. There was something very compelling about levelling up characters, swapping them around to different jobs, and growing yourself a strong team, but the battles themselves were not at all challenging, to the point that it became a problem for me. Once you got over the obsessive-compulsive aspect of gathering skills and jobs, there wasn’t a lot there to hold one’s interest, especially if you were accustomed (as I was) to things like Fire Emblem or Advance Wars, where the battles were often tactically *tough*, and that challenge was part of the fun. (“Ah, so that battle looks impossible, but it turns out that it’s only *almost* impossible.”)

    Final Fantasy Tactics It also suffered from the “Easy … easy … easy … and now the final boss is insanely difficult” problem that’s too prevalent in games.

    I am normally right with you in terms of difficult not equalling fun, but specifically for strategy/tactics games, the challenge really is integrally part of the fun, for me, and a too-low challenge level just makes it feel dull.

  120. JanusDuo says:

    Yay! An Angband comment!

    Roguelike games are about as geeky as it comes and they’re pretty much the epitome of challenge based gameplay. You see the point is not to win, but to learn. The challenge isn’t getting in the way of the gameplay, the challenge IS the gameplay. You may just not enjoy that style of gameplay.

  121. thark says:

    Even as a so-called difficulty whore (to some extent), and someone who has expressed such views here in the past (though in less inflammatory and more reasonable terms, I hope!), I have to say that first, I agree with pretty much everything stated in the post.

    Second, I can’t off-hand think of any game that was “ruined” by being too easy (though if there were any, I probably wouldn’t remember them, given that one of the effects of low difficulty can be that the game becomes less memorable)–ruined is a strong word–but there are many, many games that would have been more enjoyable and more memorable if they also provided more of a challenge in addition to whatever base qualities they provide(d).

  122. Felblood says:

    As a child, I loved Super Mario World, until I beat it.

    It took me around seven years to go from a kid who could lose all his lives to the first Goomba of Yoshi’s Island 1, to a guy who could take on Bowser’s Castle from the Front Gate or the Back Door.

    I endured thousands of missed jumps and lost lives, and several deleted save files to get to the end.

    Was the endgame cutsccene worth tall that effort? No way.

    Do I consider all those hours of fun to have been wasted by the failures? No way.

    It isn’t, like many many other fine games, a game you played to see the end. You played because the journey itself was fun.

    The moment I beat that game, I was sad because it was over. Games were longer then, and I’d never actually beaten one. It opened my eyes to a whole new world.

    The moment I beat that game was when I when from playing games to enjoy them, to playing games to dissect and study them. I ceased to be a real video gamer and became a video game designer.

    If I started playing games for the first time today, at this age, I would never finish Super Mario World. I’m not as resistant to failure as I was as a child. I’m in a hurry to see the endgame fireworks, and for the thrill of facing off against the final boss. I’m not here to play anymore, I’m here to see the game.

    I enjoyed games a lot more when I was a kid, thirsty for a new challenge.

  123. Rob says:

    Way too many comments to read them all but I’m just throwing out the fact that Tomb Raider: Underworld has the mix and match difficulty settings thing, with the player able to control things like clip size, maximum ammo carryable, damage dealth, and enemy health for instance.

  124. Melf_Himself says:

    There’s nothing wrong with difficulty levels. I think the hatemail you get is from people who assume you want to universally lower the difficulty for games without difficulty levels (like most parts of most MMO’s).

  125. Felblood says:

    I love tactical wargames that I find difficult.

    I don’t mean I want to lose, and I certainly don’t want to lose the fruits of my earlier victories for losing, but I want it to be close.

    I want a tactical RPG where I can squeak through level 3/3 of the enemy fortress with one badly wounded hero left standing, and then immediately storm the next keep, with my whole army ready to rumble.

    Spectral Souls on PSP scratches this itch for me. If I don’t raise a fallen soldier (which isn’t as simple or easy as in most games) in a very short time frame, I lose him for the rest of the dungeon, but at the end of it, I get him back aat no charge. I can make sacrifices and pay costs for benefits, but there’s no long term penalty for minor mistakes. This is different from a game where a fallen soldier is lost forever, as in those I only fight battles I can win without losing a guy, which means overwhelming victories are a must.

    There is risk and challenge, I’m I’m not always sure I’m going to win, but even then, I usually squeese out a win by the skin of my teeth.

    There are items that allow you to retreat and recover, so less skilled players don’t get stuck (Plus, leveling self balances), but I just sell those for extra cash.

    Sadly, the game is kind of buggy and the load times are strait out of a nightmare. Fie upon you, NIS, for always making your games just on the cusp of perfection, and then slapping my dreams back down!

    –And no, I’m not starved for risk in real life. I’m a wildland fire fighter.

    I just love moving samurai and wizards and dragons around on grids, trying to worm my way past the enemy’s overlapping fields of fire, knowing that if I make the wrong move, It’ll cost me a soldier I might need on the next floor.

  126. Conlaen says:

    Know I am coming late into the conversatrion, but I was on vacation.

    I agree with you for sure. Games need variable difficulty levels. It is just so important for the enjoyment. A good example of how it affects said enjoyment of a game was at a Left 4 Dead party here not too long ago. Me and some other ‘experienced’ friends, played the game at Advanced, making the game more fun because it was more challenging. But when one of the less skiled players would step in, they would not have fun at all. Then all the skilled players stepped out, made room for those new to the game, or even new to shooters and we set the game to easy. And presto, they suddenly had a great time.

    I do feel that a lot of games make one important mistake with the difficulties though. Making them ‘unlockable achievements’. If I am playing part 2 of a series, I am confident enough to step into ‘Hard’ difficulty right away, but some games don’t allow this. And sadly, most games just don’t have enough entertainment value anymore to play through them a second time at a higher difficulty. God of War 2 was a good example of this.

    Games that have disappointed me lately because they were too easy are indeed also the Wii version of Force Unleashed as others have mentioned before me but also the new World of Warcraft expansion, Wrath of the Lich King. I could just run into any place, and breeze through it. I soloed all the 3-man quests, and even soloed a few 5 men (and those I didn’t I usually 2 manned). For me it was very disappointing because it essentially takes 2 things away from the game for me. 1: The challenge. In the previous expansions, a 3 man quest would be really a test of skill. Now it had just becase almost another random encounter. But more importantly, 2: It takes a social aspect from the game. I thought it was a good thing that there was a good number of challenges that simply could not be overcome by yourself but yopu would have to team up with friends, or even total strangers, to overcome them. It’s what takes an MMO appart from other games. Mind you, I still liked WotLK as a whole, becuase of good story telling and good variation in quests, but the difficulty was disappointing.

  127. Yar Kramer says:

    I know this is a bit late as well, but:

    One of the things I feel needs to be mentioned is that, in addition to being present and actually easy, Easy Mode should be a valid choice. You should not be punished for playing on Easy (warning, link leads to TVTropes, you may lose hours of time as a result of clicking that link). I’ve had it up to here with games which i.e. make the Good Ending, or even the final part of the game(!), inaccessible when playing on Easy. I’ll still play them, mind. I’ll just do so at Normal mode or whatever, with cheats enabled. I’m looking specifically at the Touhou Project series of doujin games, although it doesn’t help in that case that it’s made by a hobbyist …

    People have already mentioned “unlockable” difficulties as being another bad thing, and I agree: why should you be forced to play at a difficulty you’re not comfortable with, solely to unlock a difficulty which you are comfortable with, whether easy or harder? The Devil May Cry series is one of the most egregious offenders I personally have played, ditto Viewtiful Joe, although DMC3 and VJ1 (I haven’t played any other VJ games) have an “unlock everything” cheat you can do on the title screen. I wish more games would do that, but the fact that you need them implies you’re doing something else wrong.

    Bottom line is, all difficulty settings should be present out of the box (or the install), they should all be valid ways to play the game, and they should be selectable on the options menu, which is where they belong. (As an aside, I’ll accept games which have a “select difficulty” at the beginning of the game, without being to change it once gameplay begins, but I will only do so grudingly. I also feel I ought to mention that I don’t really have a problem with I Wanna Be The Guy‘s “Medium-Mode Mockery,” or at least no more than I have a problem with IWBTG to begin with.)

  128. Joey says:

    There’s trouble in your logic here. Now, I am one of those people who cry foul at all this “dumbing down”, and you’ll probably ignore this since there are over a hundred replies here already. I only recently found out about this place because of your fantastic Fable 2 writeups, and because of that, and you’re call for a challenge (not all challenges are twitch, mind you), I was thrown off when reading this.

    I’ll try to keep it quick, because, obviously, there are a ton of posts here already.

    “We use games to fulfill our desire to build, protect, destroy, travel, socialize, dominate, avenge injustice, test ourselves, compete, accomplish goals, find love, laugh at stuff.”

    For any of these things you wrote to mean anything, there needs to be obstacles in the way. These obstacles need to be tough, so when you overcome them the reward (one or more of the things you listed) is well worth it. Having everything easily handed to you doesn’t make you happy. You should know this! It leads to spoiled narcissism, and an under appreciation for life.

    If everything is easy, nothing is good. And games, like literature and movies, should not be made for everyone. Wing Commander wasn’t made for everyone. Planescape Torment wasn’t made for everyone. Sonic Unleashed was.

    It hurts when I read these things all over – posts from all kinds of people, amateurs to reviewers, wanting less challenge and more regenerating health. They might as well put out a console with a controller that has a Start button and a Win button, so all the Paris Hilton’s can empty their wallets and nullify their brains.

    If Mass Effect required the brain power that Wizardry did, I bet getting those Achievement points would be so much sweeter. If God of War required the know-how of Solomon’s Key, you would finish it with more than a feeling that a carnal lust had been satisfied – your would truly feel accomplished.

    Ah well.

    Yes, I am a bit late on this as well.

  129. Shamus says:

    Joey: YOU play for challenge. For me, making it harder does not make victory sweeter. We’re playing for different reasons.

    As luck would have it, my column at the Escapist tomorrow is on EXACTLY this topic. If you’re still around, look for the link here tomorrow.

  130. Joey says:

    I just finished it, I probably should post in the other topic, but I made my original post here so… you know.

    Anyways, you seem to confuse “challenge” with “twitch game play” often. You’re article was short and ambiguous – but not in the good way. It doesn’t help explain anything in your favor and instead further cements the fact that you want to breeze through things unopposed – which really ignites my flames of internet fury after reading what you wrote in the Fable 2 articles.

    You also seem to thing that there’s a big duality going on, and either the boss has to be a pushover or a cheap ass. As Victory without challenge is not victory – it is a soulless thrill. It is equivalent to the quick rush you get from watching porn. Fable 2 is the epitome of the “Heroic” style you mention in your article. One shot to the face so the narrative is not destroyed.

    Games are not movies. The example you gave where Obi-Wan would get cut up a dozen times doesn’t make any sense because they are two different mediums. In the movie, you’re aware that the Sith is extremely tough. It’s part of the narrative. In the game, you have to be SHOWN that he’s tough. He needs to act against you in a tough way. You can’t just be told, “Hey, this guy is tough.” then walk up to him, pew pew, and he falls down. In a movie, you’re watching characters. In the game, you ARE the characters.

    Now, I’m not against different styles of games. I’m against the opposite. I’m against the fact that the entire industry is heading in the direction you seem to want it to head into. It’s the reason why there’s been such a nostalgic surge recently. People want a challenge in their games. The Prince of Persias and the Gears of Wars cannot sustain themselves and their pretty, but ultimately soulless, experiences.

    The only game that could ever pull of an easy, yet extremely fulfilling, experience was Planescape Torment. That’s because it was written by the Gods. You give me writers like that, and I can ignore challenge. But when you have bad narratives that try to make up for it by throwing around “heroic” buzzwords and porn-esque thrills, that’s just disgusting and an insult to our intelligence. Now, if someone could make a game with Torment’s literary quality while providing challenge… well, that would be the greatest game ever. You can’t deny that.

    You’re style of writing is good, though. See? This post isn’t entirely flames.

  131. Shamus says:

    Now look here. You can’t go around telling me – and other gamers – what is and is not fulfilling. I’ve played for challenge, I’ve played for story. Other people like different things. You need to grasp that or this conversation can’t even begin.

    The very fact that you keep thinking in terms of a “win” button shows that you just don’t see the other side of this. You don’t “win” at Legos. Or storytelling. Or painting. You just DO it.

    Games let you do something that movies don’t, which is step into the shoes of the hero and shape the story. Yes, games are not movies. They are MORE than movies.

    What direction is the industry heading in that you don’t like? I keep hearing this from skill-based players, and it makes no sense. What is it you want that you’re not getting?

  132. Pingback: Gamer Granola
  133. (I’m writing this without having read the other comments, so please forgive me if someone has pointed this out already. I doubt this.)

    I live in Australia, where we know how to spell. Chief among the things that Americans spell incorrectly are words such as “colour,” “fervour,” “harbour” etc., which they insist on ending with “or”.

    Now, thanks to years of brainwashing, you Americans might think this sensible. I humbly counter with the following phrase;

    “While I can understand why challenge-driven players wouldn't want to see games stop offering them the challenge they crave, I am constantly amazed by the needless rancor in this debate.”

    That’s true. Nobody needs a giant space carnivore in the middle of their debate room. With the possible exception of Jabba the Hutt.

  134. Personally, I have issues replaying post-Ocarina of Time Zelda games because the first half hour is almost always a condescending tutorial to teach me how to use a controller without strangling myself, and the devs never give returning players a way to skip it. Which is a shame, because it’s one of my favorite series. (Ironically, pre-Ocarina of Time Zelda games took the opposite approach, where they just drop you into the world to fend for yourself.)

  135. Vi says:

    With so many comments already, I assume someone already said this: A game whose problem was being “too easy” probably wouldn’t register as such to a lot of players; rather, they’d complain that “the mechanics are boring,” which world probably also be true. But that complaint wouldn’t automatically translate back to “too easy”, since a game can have difficult AND boring mechanics. Probably an ideal game would be capable of amusing players whether they were breezing through it or getting pwned. That sounds tricky to implement, of course. It probably wouldn’t work for every genre…

  136. Aeshdan says:

    Name one game where the experience was ruined (or perhaps diminished) by things being too easy for you.

    Angry Birds Epic is the first example that comes to mind. A lot of the fun of the game for me was the sense of challenge, needing to use the right tactics and select the right combination of birds to beat difficult foes. But by the later half of the game, I’d gotten ahead of the curve difficulty-wise and my birds could easily crush any enemy I faced. It actually got to the point where I was specifically planning my moves to try and get the minimum XP possible, to unlock story and content while leveling up as little as possible in the hope of getting to the point where I would be challenged again.

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