Saturday, June 25, 2011

Different Diffculties

When game reviewers talk about how hard a game is they're more often than not talking about Nintendo Hard. For you young readers not familiar with the 8-bit era of gaming overcoming challenges back then meant having incredible hand-eye coordination mixed with superb timing and a sizable helping of luck. Didn't really matter if it was Bullet Hell, Platform Hell or something else these kind of games usually had players frantically gripping their controllers with sweaty palms in a desperate attempt to keep their onscreen character alive. It was a theme for the times and worked well with arcade games where they needed to have a way to keep those quarters coming. On home systems, as well, it helped pad out games that had short play times. But what about games in the age we live in now?

There's definitely been a easing of difficulty. Partly it's because we can choose how hard we want it to be (A.K.A. easy-normal-hard). Sometimes this can fundamentally alter how the game presents itself. The Thief series changes mission objectives, Mickey Mouse's Castle of Illusion significantly alters level layout. A lot of Halo fans swear that playing Combat Evolved on the "legendary" setting requires a radical shift in how you take on enemies. In particular survival becomes dependent on a mastery of tactics and an understanding of how to make the most out of every available weapon. Some even argue that it's the only way the game should be played. I'm inclined to agree. Demon's Souls and Witcher 2 are much the same except they pretty much require the player to learn the in's and out's of gameplay.

Ever played Alone in the Dark? No, I don't mean by yourself with the lights off...I'm talking about the game where you start off in the attic of a haunted house. Chances are you'll die there the first time you play since a vicious dog monster breaks through the window minutes after you start. Followed up in short order with a zombie rising out of a hatch in the floor. Now if your clever you get a gun stashed in an old trunk which is a lot better than using punches and kicks, or better still block off the window and hatch by pushing furniture in the way. I fully endorse this kind of gameplay since it reward careful observation, common sense and most importantly creativity. Gamers who complain about these kind of titles being too hard are either mentally lazy or simply don't like the concept of multiple paths to victory. Either way I recommend they stick to press "x" to win stuff since all they're really looking for is an ego massage, I think.

On the flip side Cheating A.I. is part of the reason I never liked playing a Total War game above normal difficulty. Vita Chambers are also the reason I never played much Bioshock. In case you don't know what the hell I'm talking about Vita Chambers made it so anyone could simply button-mash their way to the end without learning how to play (regardless of the difficulty setting) simply because player death would result in an instant re-spawn from a nearby location at no penalty. I've heard that they patched it though so you can turn those things off. I guess I should consider revisiting Rapture. Items that you need to win, but can accidentally skip or render usless is another kick in the nuts challenge that I dislike. Then there are games like Dwarf Fortress that have no way to win really, but I could write a whole blog post on that one design concept alone.

I should mention the difficult that I like the most is the self-imposed kind. Just check out this "iron man" playthorugh of Crysis to see how cool this idea can be.

After all what better way customize the game to your own liking than with rules of your own design?

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