Friday, August 7, 2009
Awww is it too hard for you? (sad face)
(Hes smiling because your about to spend 5 hours dying in his game. His name is 'Splosion man and you can find him on XBLA for ten dollars. Oh hes also hilarious and loves cake, but that's besides the point)
An argument found more and more common these days is how difficult games are today. This argument usually stems from the older generation of gamers addressing the new line of "hardcore" gamers.
Typically it unfolds with us sounding like old cronies talking about the "golden" age in gaming. "Back in my day, we didn't have checkpoints , infinite tries and save points. We had to beat all our games in one go, with the twenty to thirty tries the game allotted us. And it was the greatest time ever time dumping hundreds of hours into one game".
Of course that argument falls through when games are deemed as "artistic" or experience pieces. Then the concept of difficulty is tossed aside because your target audience can't "experience" your game in its entirety. More and more as the argument grows I start to wonder why its completely relevant.
I used to be on the side of the fence that argued that games today are too easy. Giving my little melodramatic speech about the eruption of the casual game. However I think game difficulty hasn't necessarily vanished, its just gotten more annoying. Games haven't necessarily gotten easier, just cheaper in their design philosophy.
(This is Braid, Jonathan Blow's awesome artistic experience. Its a poignant and melancholy take on the hero story. It's not supposed to be fun BTW, you should play it. )
A disturbing trend is the approach to difficulty that developers have followed in the past decade. Lets make an Easy, Normal and a Hard mode. Maybe attach a very easy or very hard/impossible mode just for kicks. The casual players will gravitate towards the "easy" mode, the hardcore to the normal and hard modes and every ones happy, right? Not necessarily, as both experiences are just cosmetically different.
The first gamer will cruise through the experience, unlocking the ending and moving on with their lives. The second one will curse about ten thousand times, break three controllers and swear a vendetta on the developers. However in the end the two gamers experienced the same cut scenes and endings. Why would anyone want to be the second gamer then? Because gamers are stupid, duh.
(Achievements, the reason anyone does anything retarded and stupid in games. For reasons you don't even know. Yes you are just as bad, you people that get Trophies, yes you PS3 people. )
Attaching arbitrary numerical values to a game isn't great game design, its stupid. No one wants to play your game to the point of memorization just to beat it. And no it is not cool when that one dude you made out on the far corner of the screen just shot you, meaning you just lost an hour of your life. That of course referring to not understanding at all why you even failed or lost the game. Too often have I played a first person shooter only to die randomly because some magic "bullet" curved its way into my face.
You as developer cannot create a gaming experience and then completely shift numbers and call it a change in difficulties.
As in you cannot just make player A do X less amount of damage where as the computer controlled enemies do X times more damage to the player. The result is the controller through the TV because people don't want to play that. They don't want to play something that accounts for 99.99% luck and .1% skill. If you do, well then stop reading, you probably have a better lease on life. Go have fun playing Megaman for a hundred hours.
(He looks so happy for someone that's about to die like a thousand times just to beat his game. He is totally awesome though. His game was hard as hell, but he still is awesome.)
However for people that aren't like that. Me, for instance. I rather have an experience tailored towards how I play. What I mean by that is a game that stems from your skill as a player and not how well I as a developer created this for you.
Often times developers will create an experience that is meant to reinforce how awesome of a gamer you are. This is a very common practice and exists in practically every game today. No, I am not saying I want like thirty more of those experiences.
Why can't we have an ounce of realism without tarnishing the overall experience? I don't want to be a super soldier who saves the world at the end. Why can't I just be a guy trying to live in the world and trying to get by? Why must I be engulfed in fake fights and battles just to reinforce my status as a gamer?
What I as a gamer want is just to have a genuinely realistic experience. I want puzzles that are actually mind-bending puzzles. I want a racing game that grants me adrenaline when I'm truly racing against other cars. Of course I want an RPG that provides me with a deep profound experience that rivals a McCarthy novel or a Kubrick film. I don't want to be tricked into believing that I'm accomplishing all these things when I'm truly not.
(Honestly, I talk about Kotor 2 in almost every single argument. This picture is pretty cool though. It has nice symbolism, sort of. Yeah I have to stop using this picture for like everything.)
All joking aside, why do we need these archaic design philosophies? Why can't we differentiate difficulty scaling and offer a drastically radical experience?
Say for instance you are playing an Role Playing Game where you are mitigated to making choices for your character.
Now these choices filter down into your overall game experience and how you play the game ultimately. Why then can't the "easy" mode subject the player to all the "easy" decisions and blot out all the negative choices for them?
That way, they finish the game in more or less in an ignorant fashion. Which would be fine because they opted for a vastly different experience and didn't need to dump hundreds and hundreds of hours into it.
(A casual game like Wii Sports Resort. The most groundbreaking innovation for gaming. By the time I write this I'm sure its sold like 500 gazillion units. Simple, Fun and Awesome. Well, maybe just simple.)
Now for the other gamer, who values something more from the game, you can create that element as well. Giving them the "normal" mode gives you a vastly different tone and atmosphere to the game. Where your choices are more severe and your experience is the result of the deep consequences of your choices in the game world.
As such you spend more time experiencing a more poignant and enlightening experience over the casual gamer. Now of course the two experiences are different, but you offer players a choice instead of spoon feeding them arbitrary number crunches. The end result is similar to the difference from Twilight and Pride and Prejudice. One offers a very condensed literary masterpiece while the other is simply entertaining. Which very much differentiates between the "casual" and "hardcore audience."
(Infamous, the story about you and how evil or how good you want to be. It brings dramatic weight to your decisions and adds a layer of depth to the gaming world. We need more of these in our landscape of games. We need the darker shade of grey on the morality scale.What you thought I was going to make a sarcastic quip?)
Of course this concept is far from perfect or entirely fleshed out. There are also numerous problems with it. However, my point is why does difficulty scaling even need to exist? Why do developers need to account for the casual gamers at all times of the day. You alienate the people that thirst for more in your game. Yes that one guy on the message forum bitched for an hour about how much he hated your game. So what? doesn't mean you need to take out dying for your game.
(This is Bioshock, Kevin Levine's pet project about a underwater Randian dystopia. The game where you can't die at all. So your supposed to be terrified at the madness and hysteria that mankind can erupt into. Yet you can't die, and there is no consequence for failure. Have fun?)
You as a developer have the responsibility to foster and care for your game. If you conveyed what you meant to show then more power to you. You can't make everyone in the world like your game. Just like everything else in this world. So create the experience that shows people fun and awesomeness on a realistic level. Don't subject them to just simple visual explosions all over their face like Peggle and Super Smash Bros. Show them just a realistic expression of your medium.
(Yes Peggle is awesome I know, but its tailor made awesomeness in a cup. As much as I hate railing on Peggle, it is barley even a game. Its addicting and fun, but its 99.99% luck and .1% skill. I also feel bad for not mentioning the myriad number of games that each would have carried valid points. Maybe next time. If you read this far congratulations, you are either totally awesome and care about what I had to say or you just want a cookie. You don't get a cookie.)