Gamers: Are we getting soft?

A discussion of the difficulty level of video games

By on September 24, 2009 6:45:32 AM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

ZehDon

Join Date 04/2009
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I recently purchased the original Unreal as, to my shame, I had never actually played it up until this point. It was a bit of a landmark title for it's day and was the graphical powerhouse to beat upong it's release, though it seems to have been forgotten in favour of it's larger, multiplayer brother Unreal Tournament. But, for a mere AU$5.00, I thought 'why not?'.

Now, I've been a gamer for nearly two decades and have played through some fairly difficult titles and have all but exhausted the FPS genre, so naturally I bump the difficulty level up to 'Unreal'. I like to be challenged, and I eat console FPSs for breakfast. Funnily enough, I was challenged - however, not just by the combat. The difficult adjusts the damage dealt and received, and in some places the number of opponents, however it doesn't change the level make up - and this is where I found Unreal to be the most challenging. Simply finding my way around some of the End-game levels was a lot more difficult than I had thought, and puzzles were down right head-scratch worthy. At first, I thought this was simply bad game design - a few had me stumped for quite a while - and a bit of a commentary on the progression the quality of the Video Games industry. Until I played it's sequel, Unreal II: The Awakening. While Unreal's difficulty was in it's 'puzzles' and combat, Unreal II basically handed you some guns and gave you things to shoot. I cleared Unreal in around 18 hours and was challenged quite often, however Unreal II took half that and provided literally no challenge of any kind.

Looking back at other games such as Half-Life, which was absolutely challenging - and still is, and their sequels such as Half-Life 2, which was better designed but was also a lot less challenging except for one or two moments, I feel that as time has progressed, games have gotten easier as a whole. Now, I'm not just talking about the dumbing down of game mechanics, I mean the actual challenge presented by the games of today. Looking back at the generations of yester-year, games like Sonic basically required you to memorise the entire game and be able to finish it without dying or making many mistakes. Flash forward to today, and games like Prince of Persia actually remove the ability to fail completely. Literally, you're unable not to succeed in that game. Is this something we asked for? Is this the natural evolution of our medium? In my humble opinion, no. Looking back at those older games, it was quite the achievement to finish one because of the challenge it presented. Seeing the ending sequence was the product of hours of hardwork and dedication, but boy did it feel good when you did it. If weren't good enough to be able to finish the game, you had to practice until you were. I remember weeks in front of a game called The Ninja on the Sega Master System II, and finishing it was one of the fondest memories I have as a kid because My Uncle and I spend hours memorising and practicing that game until we had it down cold. Sure, there were moments of frustration, but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't fun.

This isn't just for lower-scoring games like Unreal II, however. Look at some of the biggest and best on the market, like Bioshock, and we can see this as well. Bioshock featured Vita-Life chambers, where upon death you'd be respawned instantly and off you go again. If you had half killed something, it remained half-dead while you were returned to full health and able to beat it to death with your wrench at no penalty. That is, if you died - the combat wasn't terribly difficult at it's normal setting anyway, and even at it's full difficulty the real challenge came from ammo conservation rather than from the difficulty of your opponents, a trick Resident Evil used to great effect back on the original Playstation. And yet, Resident Evil was still harder than Bioshock. There is obviously a fine line to walk between challenging and frustrating, but why are so many games failing to deliver the challenge that older games packed in spades?

Maybe I'm a rare breed, but I think finishing a game should be something to proud of - something you actually have to put some effort into, however with that effort comes the pay off of the feeling of success. When I finished Unreal, I actually felt good, despite the ending being nothing more than a "you escaped - to be continued" screen. Compare this to Call of Duty 4, Bioshock or even Unreal II, where finish it generated more of a 'meh' than a fist-in-the-air-fuck-yeah! Is this the way the industry is headed as Video Games become more and more mainstream and make more and more money? Or should every person who picks up the game have a right to finish it without putting little to no effort in to it? Is the End Screen a right, or a privilege?

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September 24, 2009 7:00:06 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I totally agree, but we (hardcore gamers) are going in to extinction. All new games are made so that everyone can win while drinking beer and laughing with friends. Very few games are punishing you at all for bad choices. The games just say. "Please try again".


When I play CIV IV, I set the game so that I rarely win. My few wins are just that much sweeter!  

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September 24, 2009 7:22:28 AM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

Those days are mostly thing of the past. I had similar experiences with many NES games back in the day, and finishing Plutonia Experiment on Ultra-Violence was something i still feel good about (I did cheat with ZDoom and excessive quicksaving, though ).

 

The games nowadays are major business, and thus are made more accessible. Could you imagine the whining on the internet if a AAA game with massive advertising campaing that everyone and their dog bought would be that difficult? Another point brought out is that those of us how grew up with the old games are now adults with jobs and family, i really wouldn't want games to be such a grind with the limited time i have to use on them.

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September 24, 2009 7:54:04 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

a) Companies target casual market because it's bigger than hardcore one.

Churn out as many games as possible. As often as possible.

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September 24, 2009 8:29:56 AM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

You should give Left4Dead a go, once you have gotten used to it and are playing Expert mode it pretty much ticks all the boxes for the hardercore FPS you described.

There is also the Stalker series of FPS games for your more seasoned player.

So I would agree that tougher games are becoming rarer, but they are there. Keep an eye out for L4D, L4D2 and Stalker:Call of Pripyat for anyone wanting a more hardcore FPS game.

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September 24, 2009 8:44:59 AM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums

I agree with the previous posts; today it's a business; just like the movie business, if it worked once, do it again until it's dried up inside; that's why we got some many movies all about the same crap; all action (with love story), comedy about a bunch of guys trying to score before prom (or equivalent), or a remake of a movie who worked pretty well, just with younger, sexier actors.

 

Games' are the same; all about going from point A to point B killing everything in your way wiht a shiny new coat of next gen graphics, a few new guns (diffrent from that OTHER FPS), and a compelling story..about how everyone's evil and you're the last bastion of hope and victory for whatever fraction you're supposedly being part of while you're playing.

The selling points now are mostly,

Graphics

"Game Options" ( like bullet time and such)

"Realistic" Rag Doll Physics (because that bullet in the leg won't make him kick it, just stumble down)

Destructive Enviromment (read: you can, *must*, destroy specific parts of the enviromment to continue playing)

Guns, guns, guns

 

Back in the day, the box was all about the story; now it's a 1-5 lines for the story, and the rest are jsut high points like those mentionned above, all placed in list format, easy to read.

That's why excellent games don't leave the ground;  victoria got a mad as hell ecoonomic system, but who wants to spend 3 hours playing with a gauge to regulate taxation?  Better to just pop a disk and start killing Blonde Nazi Vixen with Silenced sten-guns....not to mention politically correctness is now in games since they are mainstream;  You can only kill 'them Germans?  Swastikas all around...it's a Counter-Strike clone or some RTS that you can play and control German troops (Like CoD, or Company of Heroes for example) ?  Out the Swastika, in come the Malta Cross, 'cause They were eeeevilz.  side-stepping a bit form topic, but you know what I mean; it's not about the content, it's about the container.

 

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September 24, 2009 9:23:00 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I think most game companies fall prey to the temptation to imitate each others' products.  This results in less choice for the customers (us) and also to a general 'dumbing down' of game play because the largest mass of customers appears to be people who want an easy win.  However, these 'easy win' players also tend to be short term players so companies who try to get them as customers may get a quick sale but then end up in trouble as the players migrate to the next easier game in the next generation.  The old core gamers, who are able to beat a tough game and enjoy that challenge, are the long term game buyers but are smaller in number.

For example, in the MMORPH market NCSOFT came out with Lineage2 about 5 and a half years ago.  It is a tough game, even after this many years there are almost no max level players who have not botted and cheated.  The game allows players to grief and scam each other and the GMs won't resolve player disputes, restore lost gear or otherwise hold hands and wipe noses.  The game started out huge but players complained it was 'too hard' so they gradually changed it to make it easier and easier.

Then WoW came along, where you could become max level in a week or two of hard play, there was little real conflict between players and players were 'protected' from each other. In other words, a dumbed down easy game.  People flocked to it, tho most play for a few months and leave.

Lineage2 retains a solid core of more mature, hard core players...but they are now complainin that the attempt to compete with WoW has resulted in a less desirable game. In other words, by trying to imitate another mass marketed game, Lineage2 gave up its niche positioning and we, the gaming public, have less choices because of the increasing generic nature of the products.

For a more academic analysis of this type of situation, research Porter's Five Forces Model discussed in any Business Strategy textpook and outlinied in Harvard Business Review some years back.

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September 24, 2009 11:13:07 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I think it's pretty obvious how easy games have become. As others have pointed out, the large publishers have moved the industry away from the hardcore gamer market and into the more lucrative "casual" market.  They're a business, so I won't judge, but I do wish we'd get tossed a bone more often.

 

To give a couple examples of how the culture has changed, looked at how Bioshock's mechanics worked, with Vitae Chambers around every corner.  Also look at all the complaints about Majesty 2 being "way too difficult".  Sadly, "way too difficult" these days is having to try something for a second or (gasp) perhaps even third time before getting it down. (Not that Majesty 2 doesn't have some stupidly designed missions)

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September 24, 2009 11:36:06 AM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

While I agree games have certainly gotten easier over the years, I think You guys are missing a key point here. Alot of those older games are about 8 levels long, and if it wasnt extremely hard you'd finish the game in an hour. That or they were ports from an arcade version, and if theres one thing we know about arcade games, it's that they make them extremely difficult so they can eat all your quarters.

That being said, You guys are also right in saying that they're easier so they're more mainstream and anybody can pick it up and beat it. But Usually the hardest setting on a FPS these days is now ridiculously hard, if any of you have ever played killzone 2, the hardest difficulty on that removes your targeting reticule, makes the AI much smarter (using cover alot more and covering each other), and makes them crack shots that can line up a headshot on you in about a second.

That's why they have difficulty levels in games now. If your a casual you can play on the easy difficulty where you can take 2 full clips before dying, or you can play on the hard difficulty where the AI is absolutely brutal.

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September 24, 2009 12:41:57 PM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

Quoting TFL BigBANGtheory,
There is also the Stalker series of FPS games for your more seasoned player.

I saw more than a few guys on my local forum complain that the game was "bugged" because they kept getting instakilled

We had to explain to them that they are not playing COD4

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September 24, 2009 12:53:19 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I agree with everyone.. but I'm still not sure if the answer to the real question is here yet.... Why are easier games so much more popular today?  Why is a challenge seen as a bad thing?  If you only have an hour to play, why would you prefer an hour cake walk, over an hour of challenge?

 

The quarter eaters, that Resist_The_Dawn was talking about were and still are amazingly difficult...  After watching "The King of Kong" I went back and played some Donkey Kong... I'm still as terrible at the Kong today as I was when I was 12.. maybe worse....    I'm no student of the history of gaming... but a crap load of quarters went into those machines.....  Not only were we playing difficult games, but we were actually paying more to play the more difficult ones...

There was a point in time when we wanted to beat the game, not just play it... but beat it....  and not beat it because it was easy to beat... but because it was difficult..

"Not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win."

Kennedy at least had this one thing correct....

 

 

 

 

 

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September 24, 2009 1:06:13 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

But for many people, you don't need a challenge to entertain yourself. Just look at sims -___-

Anyway, Cris Taylor said something right, I think : why developping end-game features if noone will see them beacause of the difficulty ? Why would you be punished for being .. bad at games ?

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September 24, 2009 1:41:07 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

If I am unable to finish a game, that is not a punishment....

 

If I fail at a game, and you zap me with an electrical shock through my mouse for failing... that is a punishment...

 

Rewarding some for their accomplishments, does not punish those unable to achieve the same level of success...

 

I agree that creating a game that only a small portion of players would ever be able to experience the enitre amount of content wouldn't make sense....  but just purchasing a game shouldn't guarantee me victory... it should just guarnatee me the opportunity to try and achieve success...

 

Sim Garden has its place.... I sat around collecting coins from my plants in Zombies Vs. Plants...  I enjoyed it... not sure why... but I did....  Of course I tried to catch the coins before they landed.... but I was still basically watching plants poop coins... did it for hours....  I wanted to grow that damn Tree...  talk about a let down..

Some games are going to be like that... and thats great... but I think we are talking more about competitive games though... or at least games that pretend to be competitive....  

Why does it seem that people would rather win "empty" victories over easy competition, than take on real challenges?

 

 

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September 24, 2009 2:00:33 PM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=25238

 

Apparently it's the hardest game of this generation of consoles.

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September 24, 2009 2:08:40 PM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

Having had both my wrists broken, there's not much of a point in me trying to play the hyper-competitive or the older games that requires incredible reflexes and perfect precision.

On the other hand, there's the newest Prince of Persia game, which bored me despite the nice graphics and fine platforming. Because it's a game where you cannot in anyway die. If you make a mistake on a platforming section, you're back a few seconds usually. Only a few segments puts you back more than 20 seconds. As for fights, you literally cannot lose any fight in the game. Even the main boss.

 

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September 24, 2009 2:26:06 PM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums

Quoting Kitkun,
Having had both my wrists broken, there's not much of a point in me trying to play the hyper-competitive or the older games that requires incredible reflexes and perfect precision.

On the other hand, there's the newest Prince of Persia game, which bored me despite the nice graphics and fine platforming. Because it's a game where you cannot in anyway die. If you make a mistake on a platforming section, you're back a few seconds usually. Only a few segments puts you back more than 20 seconds. As for fights, you literally cannot lose any fight in the game. Even the main boss.

 

 

I hate those games; sure it doesn't "force" you to have another Loading screen, but...after taking 15 rounds off a MG-42 and waiting 10 seconds behind a wall, and back into the war, kinda sucks out the realism.

 

Halo did that too, but since you're playing a Genetically modified Super-human at least you can somewhat explain why the player can pull that stunt out.

 

In WW2....no.

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September 24, 2009 2:30:46 PM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

Allow me to chip in:

Mass market games are, obviously, mass market games. And like mass market movies, and mass market books, they rarely challenge the target audience.

However, if I, as a developer, wanted to tell a story and show some cool tricks, then I would definitely try to balance challenge with progression - place some hardships to keep you on your toes, but make them rapidly solvable. I would want the most people to see the ending credits. This is perfectly understandable by me.

You also have a clear aspect of gaming, and that is being a thing of rewards. That's what Blizzard nailed with Diablo and perfected with WoW. This formula sells. You get home from a slow day at work. You login to generic MMO, get some loot and XP and end the session feeling you accomplished something. This feeling, by itself, can be addictive. Can make money. And because of that, it will insinuate itself into other games.

But, like indie moviemakers and indie authors, there are indie game developers. Those bright lights in the industry that keep pushing the envelope. Currently you have available tons of indie games ready to punish you. More than ever before. And you can get your challenge there.

Just don't expect companies like Activision, EA or Ubisoft to throw away millions of dolars on a risky project. There is the ol' ROI factor, afterall. Art assets are very expensive, and must be paid somehow.

In fact, take a look at EA. Last year they tried to risk a bit on new IP's - and they weren't even terribly new concepts. Just not sequels. Result? That was enought to make them lose money.

What I'm trying to say is that it's a normal consequence of industry growth and videogaming as a commodity. Things get simpler. Things get easier. Things get normalized, stale. And if you want to escape from that, you just have to look elsewhere.

Want hard? Go play N+.

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September 24, 2009 2:39:03 PM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

Just a reminder, Far Cry was a hard game that make huge success. Maybe not as hard as the old games, but very hard indeed. The good thing was the lack of Quick Save, so if you die you gotta try again and again until you get it right. On the other hand you could play on easyer difficulty and the enemies got softer. I think its a good way to balance a game for casual and hardcore players.

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September 24, 2009 2:40:37 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

And I would add that it was not always the Victory but the ability to master the gameplay itself. I was, and am again with the new MechWarrior Reboot announcement, a Mech head.

Back in the day driving a Mech and becoming proficent took time effort and alot of self inflicted deaths. Then as time passed, Mech no longer exploded when abused but simply shut down, a mechanic that could actually be abused.

Then there was almost no heat generated from the gargantaun lasers mounted on the machines and then it was over...

Soft? Perhaps. Hhave less time to dedicate oneself? Surely. Still have that desire to actually have to be "good" at the games you play? Absolutley.

I hope against hope that the MW Re-Boot will bring back that feeling of actually being a real bonified pilot of a real, as can be imagined, 85 ton death machine and that doing so will generate alot of self inflicted scrap metal hulks before the enemy begins dies in droves to my superior, (from the need for extensive training) piloting and tactical use of my Mech. lol

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September 24, 2009 3:00:00 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Teboga said it before me, and I'll say it again:

Far Cry.

The last two levels were so hard I felt like ripping someone's head off (fortunately never did); but when I finally made it through, it gave me this special fuzzy and warm feeling which very few games do today (perhaps not "fuzzy and warm", but... you know). For those who haven't played it, one of the last stages of the game were like this (minor spoilers, just describing the levels, not how to complete them):

You awoke on top of a waterfall, without any weapons at all. Then, you had to make your way through a forest filled with mutants who could (at the difficulty I was playing at) kill you in about two hits. After you finally got out of there, you could pick up some weapons and walk in to a hallway filled with pillars. Here, the game saved, so (if I remember correctly) if you weren't at full health or hadn't picked up the right weapons, you were screwed. Now, basically, as soon as you entered the hallway, about 10 soldiers jumped out from behind the pillars, shooting at you with bazookas and wearing full body armor, forcing you to shoot them in specific spots about a million times to kill them. It was hard.

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September 24, 2009 3:08:21 PM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

Games were harder "back in the day" because there was much less substance to them, like someone else said, they needed to be hard to last any amount of time (and suck your quarters.

Playing through 10 levels of intense challenge is a lot more reasonable than playing through something like Oblivon being challenged at every step. It is an evolution, not a degradation.

P.S. That demon's souls game looks great

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September 24, 2009 3:21:36 PM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

^I'm buying a PS3 just for it!

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September 24, 2009 3:29:46 PM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

Yes. But as long as we get adjustable difficulty, I'm perfectly fine with it.

But perhaps I'm alone in that I usually play through a game I like multiple times on each difficulty. Comes with being poor I guess

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September 24, 2009 3:39:34 PM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

I hope this is not too off topic, but if you want to play a game that is a real challenge. Not to mention a challenge you can play coop with a friend. Try the game Operation flashpoint. It is a bitch to update and play online but good god is it challenging. It is super realistic one shot and your dead.

The game is all about getting a mission accomplished not about killing the most targets. Me and my friend would run a mission once then draw a map of what our plan was to accomplish the task.

I am not saying I want that all the time but damn was it rewarding forming a plan then executing it succesfully.

 

 

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September 24, 2009 3:44:44 PM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

Quoting oMonarca,
Allow me to chip in:

Mass market games are, obviously, mass market games. And like mass market movies, and mass market books, they rarely challenge the target audience.

However, if I, as a developer, wanted to tell a story and show some cool tricks, then I would definitely try to balance challenge with progression - place some hardships to keep you on your toes, but make them rapidly solvable. I would want the most people to see the ending credits. This is perfectly understandable by me.

You also have a clear aspect of gaming, and that is being a thing of rewards. That's what Blizzard nailed with Diablo and perfected with WoW. This formula sells. You get home from a slow day at work. You login to generic MMO, get some loot and XP and end the session feeling you accomplished something. This feeling, by itself, can be addictive. Can make money. And because of that, it will insinuate itself into other games.

But, like indie moviemakers and indie authors, there are indie game developers. Those bright lights in the industry that keep pushing the envelope. Currently you have available tons of indie games ready to punish you. More than ever before. And you can get your challenge there.

Just don't expect companies like Activision, EA or Ubisoft to throw away millions of dolars on a risky project. There is the ol' ROI factor, afterall. Art assets are very expensive, and must be paid somehow.

In fact, take a look at EA. Last year they tried to risk a bit on new IP's - and they weren't even terribly new concepts. Just not sequels. Result? That was enought to make them lose money.

What I'm trying to say is that it's a normal consequence of industry growth and videogaming as a commodity. Things get simpler. Things get easier. Things get normalized, stale. And if you want to escape from that, you just have to look elsewhere.

Want hard? Go play N+.

 

I agree with this to a point but not entirely. There are plenty of inovative games they are harder to find is all. They are not rammed down your throat ever two seconds like the Sims. Right now you have to go look in Europe and Russia to find those nitch games.

 

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September 24, 2009 5:43:20 PM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums

I think that the very existence of this thread goes to show that gamers aren't getting soft.  What's changing is that game companies are now trying to sell to people who want to experience a game, not try to slog their way through Battletoads.

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