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Default Gamasutra - Is Hard The New Good?

February 4th, 2010, 01:12
I don't think it's any secret that many hardcore gamers think the challenge has been removed from games for years but Gamasutra thinks things might be swinging the other way — although their evidence is pretty weak, I'd suggest:
The evidence is everywhere, even very recently: Compare Bayonetta, with its simple two-button combo system, to the more complex button patterns of the earlier Devil May Cry games. Witness the streamlining of Mass Effect 2 .

It seems counterintuitive that such evolution would evoke much protest. While it's true that the easiest way to lower a game's barrier to entry is to dumb it down, most of these evolutions and innovations are just smarter design. Why frustrate players unnecessarily?

That's why it's so surprising that all of a sudden, it seems there's a movement — an insurrection, if you will — of players who want to be frustrated.

The evidence is subtle but compelling. For one example, look to major consumer website GameSpot’s Game of the Year for 2009: Atlus’ PS3 RPG Demon’s Souls, which received widespread critical acclaim – none of which failed to include a mention of the game’s steep challenge. GameSpot called it "ruthlessly, unforgivingly difficult."
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February 4th, 2010, 01:12
Wanting more challenge and wanting to be frustrated are not the same things.

I feel like I could… like I could… TAKE ON THE WORLD!!!
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February 4th, 2010, 01:34
Originally Posted by Malk View Post
Wanting more challenge and wanting to be frustrated are not the same things.

I couldn't have said it any better.
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February 4th, 2010, 10:37
I love being forced to replay the last 30' of a game , i also love to be flogged like that guy in "The Passion of the Christ" while playing.
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February 4th, 2010, 10:41
People who want it hard is a small and vocal minority.

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February 4th, 2010, 10:48
I'm not really concerned with difficulty levels. I just want an interesting and engaging experience. I love using my brain trying to discover the secrets of a game and exploring the environment.

I want a game to reward my investment - and that's extremely rare these days. Games force-feed derivative storylines and AAA titles replace what I used to like about games with production values.

Obviously, it works.
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February 4th, 2010, 11:44
Challenge can quickly turn to frustration when a game forces the player to repeat the same challenge over and over again after each failure. If a game were to change things up, by introducing branches which would allow a player to continue on a different path after a failure (or even simply by altering the challenge each time), much of the tedium could be avoided.
I'm sure most of us have given up on a game at some point because we simply grew tired of repeating the same insanely difficult level over and over again.

Many sandbox games solve the problem automatically. If I venture too far south and come back in a coffin, it doesn't feel frustrating because there are plenty of other places to explore. Far from feeling tedious, the experience of dieing can actually be exciting - now I know what sorts of monstrosities await me, and I look forward to returning when I'm stronger. Instead of feeling tedious, it actually adds motivation.

One series which handled this problem extremely well was the old SSI strategy games (Panzer General / Allied General etc.) Even if you failed a particular scenario, you could often still continue the campaign. But, instead of commanding the next major offensive, you would often have to dig your heels in and play a tough defensive scenario as the enemy gained the initiative. It's this sort of gameplay - providing additional content to account for a player's failure - that I really hope designers will revisit.
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February 4th, 2010, 11:50
My main concern is how games are turning into cinematic/TV experiences. They require less and less attention and challenging interaction.

There's a reason I gave up watching TV years ago - because I don't like being force-fed neatly packaged productions meant to justify bloated companies.
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February 4th, 2010, 13:44
Originally Posted by Malk View Post
Wanting more challenge and wanting to be frustrated are not the same things.
No. It depends on the person who plays it.

It depends on on what occation and caused by what incidents the person frustrated it.

More challenge could actually mean more frustration - for example if a certain fight or a certain level must be repeated several times in order to become a success.

It also has to do with how good or/and how bad that person is able to handle losing. We have a term called "anger management", but there is also need for some kind of "losing management" - I just don't know the word describing the feeling one has in the moment of losing - the contrary of winning - the moment one realizes that he or she has just lost a game, a challenge, or whatever.

The far biggest hurdle, imho, is the balancing. Some people want "a real challenge", whereas others don't want a challenge, but rather a story.

Now, how do I balance this out ? Groups of people so intelligent they could even beat a chess master ? Against people who aren't much interested in fighting at all, and want it rather as a "breakfast snack" or don't want fighting at all, but instead focus & emphasis on a story ?

How do i balance these different groups of players ?

The "normal" answer is : Through different levels of difficulty.

But how do I implement them ? Merely through giving the enemies more health ? More strength ? More and better weapons & armor ? Better AI ?

These are questions a team of developers must ask themselves.

“ Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.“ (E.F.Schumacher, Economist, Source)
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February 4th, 2010, 13:44
Originally Posted by JemyM View Post
People who want it hard is a small and vocal minority.
Very much agree … their is the stereotypical 'macho gamer' type who rails against how 'when I was your age things were harder' … and so on. Well, those games were designed to be 'quarter munchers', give you just enough positive feedback to hook you before killing you off in a typical die & retry scenario.

Hard games are fine, but given that most people don't finish the games they get anyway … it is definitely not something that should be broadly applied at the expense of being scalable to all gamer types.

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February 4th, 2010, 13:52
IMO:

What a gross misconception that people who want challenge and cerebrally engaging gameplay must be "macho gamers" - as if gaming had anything to do with the concept.

Some probably think they're "cool" because they complete games on hard, but I'd like to claim most of us are simply willing to invest more to gain more. It has nothing to do with being macho, cool, better, or worse.

I might as well be ignorant and claim that people who prefer a casual and relaxed experience are without skill and can't work up the confidence to actually overcome a challenge. Equally black/white mindset without merit.

The thing is that people are different and want different things - and whether they're vocal or not is beside the point.
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February 4th, 2010, 14:52
It's hard to find a game that's "just right" in terms of difficulty. If I have to choose though, I'm always going to select a challenge that's on the harder side.

Risen (on "Hard") was a game that I found satisfying in terms of challenge recently.
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February 4th, 2010, 14:58
Originally Posted by Alrik Fassbauer View Post
The far biggest hurdle, imho, is the balancing. Some people want "a real challenge", whereas others don't want a challenge, but rather a story.
And some want both.
But how do I implement them ? Merely through giving the enemies more health ? More strength ? More and better weapons & armor ? Better AI ?
Does it really matter?

I feel like I could… like I could… TAKE ON THE WORLD!!!
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February 4th, 2010, 15:15
Originally Posted by DArtagnan View Post
What a gross misconception that people who want challenge and cerebrally engaging gameplay must be "macho gamers" - as if gaming had anything to do with the concept.
I think you misunderstood what I was saying, because you allude to it here:

Originally Posted by DArtagnan View Post
Some probably think they're "cool" because they complete games on hard, but I'd like to claim most of us are simply willing to invest more to gain more. It has nothing to do with being macho, cool, better, or worse.
What I'm saying is that I think - and have seen in many other forums (and even some here) folks who will say either exactly or in spirit 'anything but hard mode is for girls', or something that basically says that they beat every game on mega-hard the first time without dying or losing health one-handed while simultaneously beating another game using their other hand.

You say that is a minority, but I disagree - and I point to the popularity of achievements as evidence. Millions of people use them as virtual bragging rights - and there is a cottage industry of people who will actual get the achievements for you if you pay actual money … in other words you're paying for bragging rights you haven't even earned.

… but as to your main point, that many folks enjoy an actual challenge, THAT I agree with - and one that isn't simply based on sending out more mindless meatbags with more resistance to guns/magic/whatever.

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February 4th, 2010, 15:57
I just started playing nethack for the first time (on the iPhone) talk about "hard but addictive!" - hard can be fun when you feel you get closer to the goal each time. Hard can be frustrating, when you do not see a way to win, or only ways that involve backtracking/replaying large sections of the game (End of chapter 1 in Witcher - although I loved that gmae otherwise).
In general however I am fine with moderate levels of challenge, that allow me to concentrate on story and other elements. But occasional difficulty spikes can be very rewarding and memorable.
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February 4th, 2010, 16:15
I only wish it was true. Obviously, the best solution is having difficulty settings, like in King's Bounty for example. Those who like it easy can have it easy, and those who like it hard, can have it hard. But on this, the game should reward harder difficulties in some way. Be it a better final score (if that's what the game is about), more options, etc.

My last experience on this is in the current MMO I'm playing, Star Trek Online. I was in closed beta and the space combat was a great experience, very tactical, provided a good challenge, made use of all the abilities you were given. But once open beta started and the WoW flood of MMO hoppers came in, some complained it was 'too hard'. Obviously, the developers saw this as a potential $ lost, so they lowered difficulty ridiculously, to the point that right now you can win all battles by just turning on autoattack and watching the fight, only pressing TAB to switch targets. Removed death penalty so people now just use dying as a 'quick heal' or 'teleport'. Also missions can't be failed, even in 'protect ship' missions, enemies will pound the 'target' until it has 1 hit point, so you can't fail any mission. It totally destroyed the game.
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February 4th, 2010, 19:15
Are they confusing challenge with depth? Some people find depth challenging all by itself or the game is challenging if you don't take advantage of that depth.

My favorite part of any game is the mastering the ruleset and min maxing those rules to their full potential. Ideally, in a game with a complex, but logical!, ruleset the difficulty bar is set at 50% of ideal ruleset understanding. So people who are just starting are forced to learn the rules but for the more casual gamer they don't have to spend hours in advance reading manuals and planning characters to just have fun.

If you take away the ruleset, or dumb it down so much that it takes no effort to utilize it, you've taken away most of the fun for people like me.

Do I consider myself "hard core", not at all, I hate games that are difficult for difficulties sake. I also don't enjoy systems that are only complex from a maintenance or UI standpoint, ex: remembering to switch clothes for climates in Realms of Arkania is just mind numbing. I'm not easily frustrated, if I ever am at a game I'm done with it because that means they're doing something very wrong and more importantly, I'm not enjoying it.
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February 4th, 2010, 19:37
Originally Posted by Malk View Post
Does it really matter?
As a game designer: A definitive yes!

As a customer - no, of course.

“ Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.“ (E.F.Schumacher, Economist, Source)
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February 4th, 2010, 19:39
Originally Posted by txa1265 View Post
You say that is a minority, but I disagree - and I point to the popularity of achievements as evidence. Millions of people use them as virtual bragging rights - and there is a cottage industry of people who will actual get the achievements for you if you pay actual money … in other words you're paying for bragging rights you haven't even earned.
Someone's car is bigger than someine else's car ?

… but as to your main point, that many folks enjoy an actual challenge, THAT I agree with - and one that isn't simply based on sending out more mindless meatbags with more resistance to guns/magic/whatever.
I agree on this - intelligent challenges are imho interesting.

But again, here comes the question for the game designer : How do I implement an "intelligent challenge" ?


This is, by the way, why I prefer turn-based games: They give me a challenge for my brain

“ Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.“ (E.F.Schumacher, Economist, Source)
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February 5th, 2010, 10:46
I don't get the "hard but rewarding" part , i don't know what percentage of gamers are casual but i do know that many of them do not play for the challenge but just for fun . Hard but rewarding can mean that you get something extra and proceed to the next brutally hard level? this is not fun.

Specially in RPGs what excites me is to feel intrigued , either morally or gameplay wise , for example when my character is not good enough to progress in one area i am interested in level him up and go back to enjoy my extra powers.
Reloading is epic fail in my books , i don't mind start running , to tell the truth i am usually play characters that use unmanly tactics but being forced to do the impossible just makes me wanna play something else.
"Forced" thing brings me to another aspect of "hard games" : having to play the way game dictates eliminating options either by getting you inside a chock point or
presenting you with an "end boss" without any way around him.
For example in DAO where you meet the assassin guy , second time you play the game you know what is going to follow so as a rogue i thought using invisibility buff and make thing little easier…well i could not , the game forced me inside the trap and i did had to reload several times …in a period of 1 week.

I love long strategy planning and this is the reason why i play grand strategy games (Rome, Victoria, TW, EU , Galactic civ etc) sometimes i win sometimes i lose and this is fun and acceptable what isn't is having to face strange game settings like "bosses" on steroids , crazy number of enemies and very narrow paths of winning .

I saw videos of "Demon Souls" , like the one where you have to kill a guy 30 times bigger than you by hitting him with your needle like sword on the toes , i can understand that some people like this but to me apart from laughable as an image it looks like you are role playing a microbe trying to kill a medical lab. O.K. let's say you kill the guy and get the "sword of wtfpwnage" what's next , oh you have to face an even tougher opponent ! how this is an accomplishment ?

apologies for the long post
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