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Game Difficulty Discussion


SwordBreaker
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I've always been a fan of difficult games, and, now that I think about it, I've had quite a bit of experience designing games. I've got a lot to say on this topic...

A few weeks ago, I decided to download Ninja Gaiden for the NES (on the Virtual Console) - I'd never played it before, but had heard of its legendary difficulty. Playing through it the first time it was pretty hard, and I got stuck at the "snow level" for a long while. Upon picking it up the second time, I breezed through the first part, had a fun (but much easier) time in the snow level, and progressed much further before stopping. The third time through I got stuck on the last Act... REALLY stuck. I was getting frustrated by the cheapness of the enemies (mainly the fact that they keep respawning and knocking you into holes). That's all part of the game though - figuring out those little spawning patterns based on where the screen is, deciding on the fly where to jump and attack so you won't get knocked into the pit - it's like you're a scientist, trying to beat a level designer from hell =] The only thing that got me angry was the fact that upon each game over, you start WAAAAY back the start of the really hard section - basically I was putting in a massive amount of effort to get almost nowhere, and the fun died away. I gave up, but guess what? I'm looking forward to trying it again next time, when I'll have more practice and patience, and the tedium will be replaced by beating challenging accomplishments. Because you see, winning is just as important in difficult games as losing is, if that makes any sense. If you're the type to give up a game because it's too hard and never try it again, I can totally see how that would lead to a dislike of hard games. And yes, when I pick up Ninja Gaiden next time I will go through the first 80% of the game again, because it's still challenging enough to be fun. I mean, if that game wasn't hard... it'd be a bad game, I think.

Let's look at the polar opposite: Twilight Princess. That game was not about difficulty - it was more about exploration, atmosphere, story, and some cool items and bosses. The enemies were basically unnecessary; they pretty much did nothing to hinder your progress. Unfortunately, when there's no reason to worry about enemies, all those special sword moves you find are pretty much worthless too - the entire combat system (which wasn't all that great to begin with) comes off as a throwaway part of the game (except during some of the more difficult minibosses and such).

What if they had made TP a lot harder though? If you've played the game, you probably know about the Cave or Ordeals - a gruelling battle through a series of rooms, one after another, each filled with enemies and minibosses that you must kill to progress. Beating the Cave, and even nearly beating it (for the times that I died) was admittedly VERY thrilling and fun... for maybe the last 4 out of a jillion rooms. Fighting the final enemy, 1 hit away from death, after all those tries, and after all that effort to get there once more, was incredible. And finally confirming my suspicions that that really hard room actually IS the last room - priceless. What do I win from it? I dunno, some useless item or something, but I won!!! (And yes, I'm actually building towards a point here)

Now, will I ever play Twilight Princess's Cave of Ordeals again? Hell no, the first 75% of that cave is boring, easy and repetitive - I have better ways to spend my time. Yes, I'd much rather type this post than play more TP.

After I beat Ninja Gaiden for the NES, will I go back and play it again? Most likely, yes - chances are it'll always be a relatively fun and challenging game for me. But who knows, I may get stuck again and never beat it. Does that make it a bad game? No - it was intentionally designed to be that hard, and the ending was MEANT to be seen only after great effort. A lot of games used to have this philosophy. But now, games like TP have endings that ANYONE who plays the game can, and probably will reach. What does it take to reach the ending? No, not effort, not skill, but TIME. Playing the game is time spent being unchallenged, time that could've been better spent challenging your brain (or reflexes). A game with TP's difficulty is the kind of game that I play when I want to relax. Unfortunately I got the Wii version with the damn wrist swinging :-x

So, does this mean difficulty automatically makes a game good? Of course not - even after I beat Ninja Gaiden, I might look back and say "that last act was crap! And that ending was crap too!" I think "Cup & Ball" is a hard game, but (go ahead, call me crazy!) I don't enjoy it all that much. A more relevant example: Allstar mode in Smash Bros. Melee. It can be downright impossible, but it doesn't float my boat in the least.

And of course, an easy game is not automatically bad. That's just self-explanitory. Super Paper Mario may be incredibly easy, but watching the humourous story that unfolds is actually worth your time. Would I have preferred it to be more difficult? Being able to choose a difficulty level at the start would've made the game SOOO much more enjoyable for me, but that's really a matter of preference. "Would you like challenging gameplay with your funny story and lovable characters?" "Why, yes please! Pile it on!"

Now to what I initially intended to say:

Back in the day, I made a map for Warcraft 3 that became quite popular, called Pyramid Escape. Basically, with all the players working as a team, you'd try to beat a bunch of minigames. Each time the team loses at a minigame, you "lose a life" - you'd start with about 2 to 4 lives. If you beat all the minigames without running out of lives, the team "escapes the pyramid" and win. Another twist - the order that the minigames are chosen is decided by voting - the minigames with the most votes are played first (so everyones' favourites are not left out ^_^). Oh yes, and the minigames are HARD.

Sometimes your team would be just plain bad, and the game would end after 6 or so minigames - after a short game, you could be sure there'd be a rematch to have another shot at it. Actually, this is true for the entire "Escape" genre of Warcraft 3 maps. While most of these Escape maps are incredibly challenging, the best ones are consistently challenging (e.g. not too easy, not too hard), and have variety and spontaneity in their gameplay (e.g. no "patterns" that can be memorized to assure a win).

What was my point again? Oh yes: sometimes your team of potential escapees would actually beat the game. The endings for Escape maps generally aren't particularly interesting - in fact, they're usually so bad that they're funny. Since I had put my handle in my map's loading screen, I was a mini-celebrity of sorts on Battle Net - fellow Warcraft 3 players would occasionally recognize my name (but more often than not I'd have to tell them where they recognized it from =p). They'd say different things about Pyramid Escape, but the most common thing must have been "I actually beat it once!" or "I beat it x times!" or "I didn't beat it yet, what's at the end?". While the appeal of difficult games may be that they're more fun, they're also more memorable because winning is so much more of a triumph.

And now this all comes back to Twilight Princess. That game (for me at least, even though I refrained from getting a single heart container on my first and only play through) had no challenge. But that's ok, because the game was all about the story and atmosphere, right? No, that's NOT ok! The total easiness made the story and atmosphere SO much worse. You're supposed to be saving Hyrule from untold evil, but it feels like you're strolling around with no real opposing forces - at least none that have a chance against you. I got all excited when I first entered the Water Temple... "The evil monsters in that temple are so powerful, we had to seal the door with massive boulders so they would never be unleashed upon the world!!" What's in there, clams or something, some kind of fish things? I don't even remember, and that was only half a year ago. The boss was even more disappointing. The story and score have no dramatic effect whatsoever when the massive behemoth of boss is taken down in a minute by a couple of auto-aimed shots of the hookshot. So this kid can defeat all these massive evil monsters without even trying?? Oh cool, now we don't have to worry about Hyrule being in trouble, this kid will save the world without breaking a sweat! He would've been able to save the world 8 hours ago if that lineup of people waiting for spring water wasn't blocking the street! I didn't feel an ounce of epicness until I got to the final boss and started dying. "Hey, maybe this Gannon fellow is actually a match for Link after a- oh wait you have to press the A button! Ok now he's no match Link."

That rant was WAAAAAY too long. In closing: I still need to get my hands on Shadow of the Collosus, I hear it's got some much-appreciated challenge to go along with its epic-sized bosses...

Egad, I forgot to add to the most important part of this discussion! Anyone familiar with the "Defense of the Ancients" (DOTA) Warcraft 3 maps? From what I've experienced, they're pretty much the polar opposite of grueling Escape maps. Basically, the game takes as little effort as possible to play - I used to play this game when I wanted to play Warcraft 3 and EAT at the same time. I mean, you could literally go minutes without clicking, and just watch mindless armies do battle while your hero mindlessly does battle with the other team. The challenge comes in discovering and using the best upgrades and items for your hero (I think...), and it takes a looooong time to play. I haven't played it much, but I honestly don't see what's so great about it (besides the obvious benefit of being able to eat while playing). Now, last time I checked (which is a long time ago) this map was HUUUUUUGE on Battle net! I mean, 80% of the WC3 custom games being played were DOTA. It was really quite sickening; nerds were spinning in their graves (er, chairs), wondering how and WHY a game like DOTA was so popular. DOTA's popularity is VERY strong evidence to suggest that easiness does please the biggest crowd. Strange, maybe even sad, but true nonetheless.

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This is a thread for me! I've got plenty of opinion and stories about this topic but since I'm not insane like friendlyhunter (^_^) I'll just start off with one little story. And that is the story of . . .

STAR OCEAN 3 4D MODE!

OH MY GOD! Has anyone in this community done it? It's a whole new world of pain. Especially in the beginning because you can't get cheesy and make ridiculously powerful weapons. It's nuts because they've basically made it WAY harder on ALL fronts. Let me break it down for those who don't know.

DEFENSE

First off most enemies' HP and MP are tripled which means the amount of hits to kill them could be tripled. Secondly, the defense stat is increased, which means that it takes EVEN MORE HITS to kill them because you're doing less damage. Finally, and this is the real killer, their agility stat is ALSO increased so high that at the beginning of the game 75% of your attacks will be blocked by the enemy, which means that you basically MUST hit them from behind if you want to land a blow.

OFFENSE

Attack stat is increased meaning they hurt you more. Fair enough. But wait, the AI is also crazier so that they attack more and do EXTREMELY LONG AND SOMETIMES ENDLESS, UNSTOPPABLE STUN-LOCKING COMBOS UNTIL YOU DIE, and this is no joke!

This constitutes FIVE areas of increased difficulty. I managed to finish the game and beat all of the optional bosses except the strongest one because I LOVE Star Ocean 3, but to be perfectly honest, there were SO many hours of that game where I wasn't even having much fun. The battle in the beginning of the game will have you stun-locked and comboed till death if even ONE hit is incurred. All of the inescapable battles in the beginning, like the robots in the escape route of the Hotel on Hyda, and the battle with the interrogator and his two guards in Airyglyph could very well force you to continue more than 50 times. I think out of all of those difficulty increases, if they had left out the stun-locking and not tripled the HP and MP it would still be fun as heck and freaking challenging. Even after saying all that though, it's still one of my all-time favorite RPGs.

And Zircon, since Eternal Sonata is by Tri-Ace, I can't imagine it not having a brutally hard mode similar to the one in Star Ocean 3. I haven't played Radiata Stories yet, but all the other Tri-Ace games had it, so I don't see why this one wouldn't either. Let's hope for the best. ^_^

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This is why I love the Touhou series. They seem to get harder and harder each game(Mountain of Faith just came out this August, and it's considered the most difficult), but they still are tons of fun. Even though you'll most likely lose a lot at first, you'll want to keep continuing and continuing.

I don't know about Touhou games since they are made almost entirely for the most hardcore of the hardcores. Even many shooter fans are turned off by its difficulty, though I think it's fun for like 3 or 4 rounds if I ever make it that far. I actually beat one game and that is about it. It's as accessible as Ikaruga, which means it's not very accessible. I think games like Einhander did it better with the much smoother difficulty curve.

Also, the new generation Ninja Gaiden has it right IMO. Most of the fault of players dying is pinned solely on the player because otherwise, the enemy would be ruthless in killing you.

Games like Splinter Cell had the difficulty done perfectly even if it got too hard at the hardest setting. And Halo is probably one of the most balanced out of them all. Even at Legendary setting, enemies only attack you on sight and sound instead of the typical cheating 'look thru walls' AI of most FPS games or merely have better armor and aiming as it's just the persistency of the AI that is revamped in Legendary mode.

As for Mario games as of late, you can almost guarantee an easy difficulty after all the harder levels in Mario Sunshine (some levels being notoriously difficult and hard thanks to the wacky camera and touchy controls). Also, a lot of Sonic and Mario and other old time platformers have all gone soft in difficulty setting. If you want a truly good display of difficulty curves in platformers, it's typically with the Sony platformers like Jak & Daxter, Sly Cooper and Ratchet & Clank. Those games have long since gotten the difficulty curve right while all the older franchises just languished and gave up to easier difficulty. You can seriously cruise through most Sonic games without thinking much of any enemies or obstacles. Even Robotnik is a pushover nowadays.

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Metal Gear Solid is probably the most perfect example of how difficult a game should be imo. It can be very hard if you want it to be, but also cruisable if you're a nub nub doing easy mode.

Final Fantasy XII is an example of a game thats too hard in that respect. People new to FFs will not understand most of the system and end up having to grind. Also those secret weapons are freaking ridiculous. No one would ever figure out how to get the tournesol without a guide, and the zodiac spear is still a longshot. A game should be 100% completable WITHOUT needing an FAQ, and that should be rule number 1 for games, I was extremely dissapointed by Square-Enix for that element of FFXII, because the rest of it is awesome.

And I agree that the newer Sonic games are too easy. That Sonic game where you had 3 dudes run in a line, I swear it was impossible to loose that game.

There should be more games to challenge us, but not to totally piss us off by MAKING you buy the damn game guide/look at FAQs.

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Difficulty IS important. It's all well and good to make a deep battle system with dazzling graphics and a great story, but WTF is the point if I'm not *challenged*? It just feels like I'm wasting my time. I remember with older PC RPGs and console games I actually felt challenged. Hell, even playing those same games today, they're still just as hard - for example, Master of Orion II. I want more of those. If nothing else, I want a difficulty selection - easy, medium, hard. Maybe "impossible" too.

MOO:2? This post is automatically win. That game is epic.

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@suzumibachi: I've found that most PC RPGs based on D&D-like mechanics do a horrible job of consistent difficulty with the last boss. Those games, titles like Neverwinter Nights 2 (1's boss was more consistent with the game, although I found it to be a little on the easy side overall) and Icewind Dale are generally a waltz through all kinds of weird locales picking up 10 backpacks full of healing potions that you don't have to use, and then you get to the final boss, who is generally scaled to be much more difficult than the rest of the game. I shouldn't be able to beat the game with only a few deaths, usually near the start of the game while I figure out things like the radius of the AoE for my fireball spells, and then spend 20 or 30 tries beating the final boss, and then only do it by luck, not because I discovered some kind of strategy.

@zircon: Levelling/gearing up in order to beat monsters is silly. I want to see a game make monsters level up as you do, or better yet, not even bother with levelling up and have everything scaled. Actually, I suppose Guild Wars does a great job in this regard, not so much that monsters level up, but more that in every campaign, you'll hit level 20 long before the end, and winning harder missions, especially if you're trying to complete the bonus objectives, generally involves making sure that you and your teammates not only understand your roles and skillsets well but that you're strategic as a group with selecting your builds. For anyone who doesn't know, Guild Wars characters have a ton of skills they can set and can change how they spend their stat points for free as often as they like while in town, but out of town, you're stuck with what you have, and you can only take 8 skills with you, so choosing how to build your character for a particular task is very strategic.

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theres alot to consider about game difficulty. you cant just say that over time games have become "easier". theres plenty to take into consideration. maybe you've just gotten better. maybe controllers have become more responsive, and control schemes more intuitive. this does not affect difficulty in my opinion. entities within a game interact with each other, and the amount of skill/thought required to have them interact in a desired manner in what creates difficulty. maybe outside factors make this interaction harder, but thats not the fault or doing of the game itself. if you ask me, games have become more complex, but they seem "easier" because we constantly need more stimulation which we arent getting. the amount given to us with the NES was alot for the time, but as you play and play you gain basic understanding of how things work. as games evolve, we enhance our minds and motor skills, and with each iteration creates a building block which we refer to even now, 20-30 years later.

i wouldn't say games have become easier, i would say we've built a tolerance to the drug, and we need more.

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Most of the people that enjoy hard games started playing before the PS come out. In the old nes/snes era almost every game was pretty hard by today standards and when they did have a easy setting, it usually didn't have the last stages nor ending.

At that time gaming was a hardcore affair and they were made with the "hardcore" group in mind. Most of the gamers that grew up playing ninja gaiden and battletoads see gaming basicaly as a challenge. Games were not about eyecandy or complex storylines. It was all about gameplay and challenge. Some people might say that gameplay has nothing to do with challenge, but only when the game is challenging it forces you to learn all the intricacies of the gameplay. No matter how complex the gameplay is, if all the enemies fall down easily it will become just routine.

During the PS era the gameplay took a backseat while the worlds become more immersible. It was not about challenge, it became an experience. Either we like it or not, this new focus in game design did attract a lot of new gamers and the industry grew bigger. This new breed of gamers is not used to see the game over screen often and all they want is new experiences: get over that boring level so they can see the next CG, level up so they can use that new spell and kill the enemies even more easily, kill the boss so they can get a new piece of the story. They don't like brick walls. Nothing can frustate him more than a brick wall. So, basically it all comes down to what people seek in gamming. While some people fell rewarded after killing the boss after 20 tries, others feel bored after the 3rd death and just give up.

Myself, I like hard games. I don't care if I have to hit the enemy 10 times to kill him while he will kill me with 1. I actually like it. A game that lacks challenge gets boring quite fast for me. I died several times in the jet sky sequence in Battletoads and I loved it. All the deaths made my triumph over that stage very rewarding and I could even brag about it for all the other kids in the neighbourhood. I like playing against the AI with ridiculous bonuses in impossible Moo2 (Klackon with +2 prod anyone?). I like when that superhuman sectoid throws a sonic pulse in the middle of my squad and kill half of my guys during my first mission in xcom2. I like when the enemy gets a first strike and kills 3 of my guys in hard smt3. I like ducking out against three black elites at the same time in legendary Halo1. For those that like hard games, it's all about the suspense and thrill we get when playing against the odds. There simply isn't thrill when we don't have to fear death. The moment I notice that I can get away with pretty much anything without getting killed in a game I put the controller down. When I want a good story I read a novel or watch a movie. Gaming for me is all about the challenge.

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Personally, I like a nice standard difficulty, but I usually play for a storyline more than challenge. However, if it is too easy, the game is just a really drawn out movie (assuming it even HAS a storyline) and as previously mentioned, a waste of time.

I do like difficulty from time to time. Puzzle and Strategy games should definately have a variance in difficulty and difficulty modes should be implemented in most, if not all, games (and easy mode should NOT be unlockable! What the hell is the point?).

My favorite example of difficulty level comes from Zelda, Ocarina of Time: Master Quest. By the time we've played it, we've all certainly played through the dungeons and storyline; the only reason to play master quest is for the improved challenge and new puzzles.

Actually, this puts a question upon what exactly denotes difficulty?

-The challenge to complete the game because of dying or without dying at all?

-The challenge to accomplish a goal set by the main game or an additional tasks (ie all side-quests or "MGS unseen")?

-The amount of time it takes you to

?

-The number of times you throw the controller at a wall? (I give this game's difficulty "7 out of 10 controller-chucks!")

-The effect of a game making you think? (back when you didn't have FAQs or manuals to fall back on).

-The number of gaming hours spent leveling up to beat the final/extra bosses?

-Something a little more intangible, perhaps?

Edit:

Something I thought of reading the post above me. Noted is the fact that some people feel rewarded after 20 tries then a boss-victory while others try three times and give up. This brings up something I feel in difficulty. I don't like games that seem insurmountable, which to the non-hardcore-gamer must be a lot more encompassing. (First of all, my favorite gameplay aspect is usually an interesting boss, so I'll speak in terms of that.) A boss can be a pushover (just hit it a couple more times; see Donkey Kong Country) and a boss can be

, and a boss can be interesting. An interesting boss challenges you, but usually gives you a semblance of a chance.

I find the most rewarding experiences to be when you fight a boss, do something stupid, and die. Then, you try again, don't make the same mistake, but soon die anyway. You keep trying and you keep getting bested. Everytime you play, you get a little closer to understanding. You're LEARNING! You are interacting with the game and treating each encounter differently! These are usually quite difficult boss battles, but you are urged to continue by your own little successes sifted out of your failures!

It's this stance that has affected me positively IRL. As I try to solve a problem in Math or Comp. Science, I rarely do it right, but I can see what I've done, and I correct it. With feedback, we grow and remember where we've been!

This is why I am a gamer.

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@zircon: Levelling/gearing up in order to beat monsters is silly. I want to see a game make monsters level up as you do, or better yet, not even bother with levelling up and have everything scaled. Actually, I suppose Guild Wars does a great job in this regard, not so much that monsters level up, but more that in every campaign, you'll hit level 20 long before the end, and winning harder missions, especially if you're trying to complete the bonus objectives, generally involves making sure that you and your teammates not only understand your roles and skillsets well but that you're strategic as a group with selecting your builds. For anyone who doesn't know, Guild Wars characters have a ton of skills they can set and can change how they spend their stat points for free as often as they like while in town, but out of town, you're stuck with what you have, and you can only take 8 skills with you, so choosing how to build your character for a particular task is very strategic.

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@zircon: Levelling/gearing up in order to beat monsters is silly. I want to see a game make monsters level up as you do, or better yet, not even bother with levelling up and have everything scaled.

Oblivion tried this, and the scaling is the major complaint with the game.

What about chrono cross? In that game you didn't really get xp points but instead leveled up after a boss fight. That system made it impossible to get overpowered and almost every boss fight was quite a challenge.

This is a better example, but I don't think the boss fights are a challenge at all, with two or three exceptions (Miguel especially comes to mind).

In any case, what makes for good difficulty in different genres?

  • Action
    Ninja Gaiden Black (and Sigma, but I've only played through it once) definitely sets the standard. Start someone out with and easier difficulty that still forces some challenge. Note that on both Ninja Dog and Easy you can sit there and block for the first 4 chapters and nothing will throw you until you've sat there for a good 10 seconds or so.
    Hard mode and beyond, on the other hand, has the Black Spider Ninjas flipping over your back, slitting your throat, and you taking damage. It's also got additional monsters to fight that are "too powerful" for the easier modes (there's a large white creature with a Buster Sword looking thing that comes to mind). The enemies get much smarter when you hit Very Hard / Master Ninja -- working in teams to anticipate a dodge you make, and having someone sitting there to intercept you. It's brilliant, and one of the reasons that I never was upset at losing in NG -- it was always, every single time my fault...none of this "my controller didn't respond", "that was just cheap", etc.
    One more thing is that overly complex moves should not be a requirement to finish the game. There's a good reason that Retro doesn't demand double / triple bomb jumping to complete Metroid Prime.
  • RTS
    There's a reason why a Zergling rush is only good up to a certain caliber of player in Starcraft. As long as the CPU isn't gaining infinite resources (including unit cap outside of a campaign mode situation) or building artifically faster than a human possibly could, an effective strategy is only effective when the loser isn't countering it / learning to counter it. I'm not as good of an RTS player as I am other genres...what other suggestions do people have?
  • FPS
    UT has good AI, but when I'm getting shock rifle-sniped from all the way across Torlan, that's getting a little ridiculous. With that said, the high-end AI is vicious in an upclose and personal fight -- bouncing off the walls, guessing at what you're going to be doing, etc. AI here shouldn't have instantaneous reaction time (how did it dodge that rocket?) but should instead make logical guesses as to what a player is going to attempt based on the weapon said player is carrying.
  • RPG
    Impossible bosses = bad. Bosses that are pushovers compared to normal enemies is also bad (see the lategame of FF3 and FF4 for this problem). In JRPGs, the player almost always has the option of overlevelling should they choose. My fiancee, for instance, consistently plays around 5-10 levels above where she _needs_ to, because she 1) hates losing and 2) doesn't react fast enough to win at a minimum level. I think difficulty here should be based on the experience gained from the average number of fights neccessary to get all of the treasure in each dungeon. If someone wants to fly straight through, more power to them -- they should be expecting harder boss battles because of lower experience levels.
    Also here, side quests and optional items should not be requirements to finish anything in the main game. A good example is that when I play FF7, I fight the Midgar Zolom at the first opportunity, levelling until Barret has 650 hitpoints or so. Then Elemental+Fire in the armor, and he can just barely survive, teaching me Beta _well_ before I "should" have it. Most of the rest of Disc 1 goes by very quickly as a result, and that's what I'm looking for. If that level of effort was a _requirement_ to beat the game, only 20% of the people who have finished it would have made it through.

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@Kanthos: a game already uses the system you mention: Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. And it doesn't feels right at all, feels more broken than anything and makes your feel like you're standing in the same place, despite you improving your spells and abilities. It's a broken system in reality.

If I want challenge in a game, I go play NES or old PC games. games nowadays aren't hard, we all know that. But they're still somewhat fun. Also, there's multiplayer and online multiplayer where you will find all the challenge you need.

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I personally feel that games now embrace a certain Hollywood style. They emphasize a lot of glamour and storytelling which is not necessarily a bad thing. However, the main reason you play a game is sometimes not for the story. Most of time, I do play through RPGs for the story. So creating a provacative plot would be worthwhile for RPGs. But I also would like to challenged in a way that I would have to re-think some strategy. I initially wanted to reply to this topic because I watched my friend go through Spiderman 3 just last week. When beating Lizard, they practically spelled out everything you had to do. That was a bit difficult to sit through.

At the same time, I think about the demographic and the audience of what these games are aimed at. Surely Spiderman 3 can be aimed towards people in their teens and pre-teens safely. Making any game that has an appeal to all age groups is difficult in itself as well as for beginners and hardcore gamers. Still, if I do compare the games now that kids play to what games I played when I was their age, there seems to be a lot less thinking. Sometimes you kind of roamed around for a long time not realizing what you should be doing. Before even thinking about how to solve the puzzle, you had to recognize the puzzle. Maybe it's because I'm smarter than I was before, but for particular games, this is definitely not the case. Coming back to the first comment I made, I feel that gaming is a lot bigger than it has been even in the last 5 years. And becoming larger is not necessarily a good thing. More companies are willing to spend money in creating new games of questionable content. So my overview of current gaming is perhaps skewed because I cannot encompass a majority of it and form a more accurate opinion.

Optimistically, I'd like to think that there are a just a couple of rotten apples making a bad name for current gen games. As we all know, there are really only a couple gems that are worthwhile to mention despite the fact that more games are being made, the chances of a very good game coming out is still very slim.

Looking back, I think I only really focus in on these gems. I loved games like F-Zero, Super Mario RPG, Super Mario World (though I liked Yoshi's Island a lot better), Yoshi's Island, Tetris, Ninja Gaiden, Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, and Super Street Fighter 2. I tend to forget other games that I've played like The Simpsons: Bart's Nightmare, Race America (NES), Bubsy 2, and I'm sure there are others that were very much so mediocre that fall into obscurity.

I guess my main concern is not necessarily difficulty, but replayability. Making a game challenging would make me more likely to go through it a second time as I do with most Zelda games. I play through once to beat the boss and then a second time to complete all side quests and get all the items. In a way, it is intertwined with replayability. This lack of games with high replay value makes me think that the industry is more interested in sucking money from us with a promise of making a better sequel than making a good game in the first place... something like a planned obsolescence.

Also, I have beaten Ninja Gaiden and the feeling just finishing the last boss was awesome. You threw your controller, not in anger, but just shock and amazement that it was over. *sigh* Good times.

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@Kanthos: a game already uses the system you mention: Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. And it doesn't feels right at all, feels more broken than anything and makes your feel like you're standing in the same place, despite you improving your spells and abilities. It's a broken system in reality.

i concur with that. there is nothing forbidden, you can go anywhere and you gather stuff of your level. that's boring. Morrowind was better, especially the pleasure to beat strong monster and find valuable item in grottoes or lair.

good difficulty is probably a limit between enjoyement and annoyement. i admit that's old game keep their difficulty. i still like to play doom in ultra violence or street of rage in mania.

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I've been mostly lurking throughout the last few pages, but I've been enjoying all replies here, people. Seems that we have a variety of gamers with their preferred difficulty settings.

I especially enjoyed whoever commented on modifying the difficulty in more detail instead of the general "easy, medium, hard" settings...controlling how frequent the AI's aggressiveness on certain actions is a really nice idea, but perhaps it's very hard to implement. I'm sure that it's doable with the current-gen consoles.

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I've been mostly lurking throughout the last few pages, but I've been enjoying all replies here, people. Seems that we have a variety of gamers with their preferred difficulty settings.

I especially enjoyed whoever commented on modifying the difficulty in more detail instead of the general "easy, medium, hard" settings...controlling how frequent the AI's aggressiveness on certain actions is a really nice idea, but perhaps it's very hard to implement. I'm sure that it's doable with the current-gen consoles.

Thank you for reading my post. I was starting to feel unappreciated. Such a level of adjustable difficulty probably is harder to implement, but as I am not a programmer, I have no idea to what degree. I do seem to recall being told some games already use this sort of modifier, but I'm not sure.

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theres alot to consider about game difficulty. you cant just say that over time games have become "easier". theres plenty to take into consideration. maybe you've just gotten better. maybe controllers have become more responsive, and control schemes more intuitive.

I seriously doubt that because 2D games did not need much on the control side. Up, down, left, right, diagonals, that's IT. You would think 3D games would be ridiculously diffuclt with the complexity, but that's not true. Also, plenty of first/second generation PSOne games had the controls perfect and yet they were still pretty difficult too. And most people may swear that they were actually better games while they were younger. Scientifically, our responses and hand/eye coordinations gets worse too. I hear StarCraft and other fighting game players have their 'prime years' at around 20 years old. Much older than that, then their physical skills deteriorate and can't compete in the pros the same way.

if you ask me, games have become more complex, but they seem "easier" because we constantly need more stimulation which we arent getting. the amount given to us with the NES was alot for the time, but as you play and play you gain basic understanding of how things work. as games evolve, we enhance our minds and motor skills, and with each iteration creates a building block which we refer to even now, 20-30 years later.

I doubt it has to do with accumulation of skills. You play Galaga once, for 30 minutes, then you have the basics down pat. It's not some accumulated knowledge but how you deal with the game in a fast pace or with some planning. Also, all the old, hard games I played like Batman NES or Gradius 1 are still hard to me similarly to the time I first played them. I have better knowledge, but I still need to be serious in order to beat them again.

Ultimately, I do think it's because most games tries to cater to mass market. Especially with the Wii games, the name of the game is to mass appeal. While some PS3, PC and 360 games may try beating the gamers' heads in with harder difficulty due to their more hardcore appeal. But there seems to be a lot more games now on all consoles that are a bit too forgiving in difficulty.

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Sounds like ya'll need moar Ninja Gaiden.

Seriously though, I think NG is an excellent example of a challenging and engaging game. At first, it seems too hard, but the more you play, the more you see AI patterns and how to abuse them (similar to fighting games, I suppose,) but the thing that differentiates Ninja Gaiden is that every time you change the difficulty, the game essentially changes.

Sure the levels you go through are laid out the same way, but the AI works together more effectively and new enemies and bosses appear. Things get stacked so much against you that by the time you get to Master Ninja difficulty, you wonder why you ever thought that normal mode was difficult.

In short, the game makes you learn and adapt to an intelligently designed difficulty curve.

Another great idea that NG: Black impliments is the mission system. Here you can essenially practice against any boss or group of enimies in the game. At first it seems like the missions are just there to get grades on and perhaps unlock new content for completing them, but in reallity, the missions are the best way to improve in the game because they set you up in situations that you will encounter in each difficulty of the game, so through trial and error (and gamefaqs) you can figure out how to beat just about everything.

The game balances this aid by having you defeat enemies in a marathon session during actual game play (as in the campaign mode.) So it becomes a matter of knowing what to do, executing your strategies, and conserving items. Finally, the point system in the game takes into account all of this in a very fair way (Again, this is similar to the scoring of a fighting game where consecutive hits and number of wins are counted.)

Oh, and the graphix are awesome, lolz!

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I've been meaning to write an article about this for quite sometime, and recently I read an article which addresses this so-called "situation". A nice discussion with you guys can perhaps inspire me with more ideas.

Take the Zelda series as an example. Now, I'm sure a lot of you have noticed, but the series seems to be getting easier over time. Games like The Wind Waker and The Minish Cap were total cakewalks, and I've been hearing that Phantom Hourglass somewhat falls into the "easy" category. Twilight Princess' difficulty fluctuates between easy and hard. As a fan, I feel a bit upset...yet in the same time I can't say that TP and The Wind Waker were bad experiences...I loved both games even though they weren't that hard to me, yet in the same time wish that Nintendo can put a "hard mode" in the series someday...

I'm sure that there are a lot of games or game series you can think of which seems to be easy now, but started difficult back in the old days. Difficulty was never an issue in the NES/SNES era. At first glance, NES games like Little Nemo, Duck Tales, and Chip and Dale didn't seem to be difficult to me, but lo and behold...I was surprised by how hard those games were. I lost count of how many times I died in Zelda II...and I still loved that installment in particular even though it gets frustratingly difficult at times. Now, I think most of us who started playing in the NES/SNES era currently thrive for games that have that "hard difficulty" we all love. There are currently a few game series which keep that type of difficulty alive like Ninja Gaiden and Mega Man, and I truly respect the developers for doing so. It's a shame that series like Zelda did not keep its classic difficulty.

On the other hand, there are a couple of recent games which really crossed the line in terms of difficulty in my opinion. Devil May Cry 3, for example...man, I couldn't get through the first freggin' boss. There was something REALLY off with the default normal difficulty of that game...then after reading a bit about the game it turns out that the US "normal" difficulty is actually placed as "hard mode" in Japan. Weird.

I personally love games which let you choose the difficulty you want. I'm not the type of guy who would play through those "impossible" difficulty settings (going through MGS without being seen...my ass), but at times I love the "hard" mode when it's all balanced out and just right. Odin Sphere, for example, has a really cool hard mode. Resistance for PS3 really got the balance right with its difficulty modes...adding more levels or segments in the hard mode while giving the player more cool weapons to compensate for the difficulty...hard mode feels like a different game at times in Resistance. It's a shame that Halo 3 didn't do the same...I've been hearing that the campaign mode on Legendary isn't that hard, especially if you have 4-player co-op...nothing to compensate for the number of players...

I'm currently worried about Super Mario Galaxy in particular. I've always found Mario's 2D and 3D games to have a couple of really nice challenges (Sunshine's waterpack-less segments come to mind). Yoshi's Island and Yoshi's Island DS in particular were extremely challenging to me since I go all the way to get perfect scores in each level (did that twice for the first YI for SNES and GBA, but I'm finding it very hard in YIDS). Despite New Super Mario Bros awesome level design, it didn't feel hard at all. I'm really hoping that Galaxy does not water down its difficulty in order to appeal to "mainstream" gamers. Nonetheless, I'm sure I'm going to enjoy Galaxy even if it's not that hard.

So...does difficulty matter to you in this day and age? Are you the type of person who picks "easy mode" just to experience the game's other highlights like innovative gameplay or awesome story? Do you like frustratingly hard games or game series like Maximo, Ninja Gaiden, and Devil May Cry? Discuss your opinions here!

Their not getting easier you are just so fucking amazing...............yeah right

do you know why the old games were so hard i'l tell ye no save points. take my favourite game of all time Wonder Boy in Monster Land you try completing that on your first playthjrough. you play the game for 2 hours get all the amazing boots and armour and fight all the secret monsters for the kick ass sword then you have to wander around a castel listning for a tinke. It took me 6 months to complte that game and i still play it now on my old MS just to teach myself not to complain about save points and checkpoints. Imagine playing Halo 3 the whole way through with only 3 lives on legendary with no checkpoints. This is what we need to do to make games fun again.

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The problem with Oblivion is that as you get more powerful or as you finish certain quests, you get good enchanted gear, while they don't scale up the gear found on NPCs nearly as much (i.e. no one will ever be as stacked as you by the time you hit level 40 or 50 or so). Monsters suffer from that even more: all they could really do is increase a monster's health and other stats and maybe make the AI more complicated. It's a tough call: the game wouldn't feel as epic if the best equipment you could get was an unenchanted set of daedric armor and a daedric longsword, but since you can loot all equipment an NPC has when you kill them, if they had enchanted gear on par with yours, you'd get rich *really* quickly.

I also disagree that games seem easier now because of acquired skill. I wasn't much of a gamer until I started university (I never owned a console before buying a Wii last month), but from going back and playing the original Zelda compared to Phantom Hourglass, there's no doubt for me that the later games are easier.

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I've read the majority of the posts in this thread and the conversion and input has been very interesting so far. I've noticed a lot of people mentioned Ninja Gaiden, so for those of you who have played, I think you may appreciate this: http://speeddemosarchive.com/NinjaGaiden.html

It's there's a download link somewhere on the page which shows a video of the guy beating Ninja Gaiden in exactly 13 minutes and 33 seconds. No cheats, codes or any kind of tools assisted in this speed run, it was all just the guy playing normally, pretty insane huh?

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I seriously doubt that because 2D games did not need much on the control side. Up, down, left, right, diagonals, that's IT. You would think 3D games would be ridiculously diffuclt with the complexity, but that's not true.

right. games now should be harder, but they arent. to us. you ask a new gamer to play a 3d game and he/she will be like "wut?" but the veterans know what to do as if it was instinct. those 2D games laid a foundation.

Also, plenty of first/second generation PSOne games had the controls perfect and yet they were still pretty difficult too.

yeah games like resident evil had GREAT controls. </sarcasm>

And most people may swear that they were actually better games while they were younger.

they were but its off-topic. the reason why 2d games are so much better is because their time and budget arent being wasted by making the game look pretty instead of where it should be spent and thats designing a good game.

Scientifically, our responses and hand/eye coordinations gets worse too. I hear StarCraft and other fighting game players have their 'prime years' at around 20 years old. Much older than that, then their physical skills deteriorate and can't compete in the pros the same way.

id like to see the study that proves that, because i disagree.

I doubt it has to do with accumulation of skills. You play Galaga once, for 30 minutes, then you have the basics down pat. It's not some accumulated knowledge but how you deal with the game in a fast pace or with some planning. Also, all the old, hard games I played like Batman NES or Gradius 1 are still hard to me similarly to the time I first played them. I have better knowledge, but I still need to be serious in order to beat them again.

first, galaga could be played for 30 minutes and you know the basics, but you have not nearly mastered the game or the shooter genre. once we understand games like galaga, that knowledge can be applied to games like ikaruga.

second, gradius 5 is just as, if not more, difficult than gradius 1, and thats because Treasure are gods who know how to design a game.

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