Challenging Games

Spurred by his debate with Tom Chick over F-Zero’s difficulty and a friendly IM argument with me over whether games should be frustratingly challenging or (in my words) “just challenging enough to keep you interested without using cheats to get passed a poorly designed puzzle”, Dave Long wrote a great column for GamerDad:

Long Shot #10: Challenge is not a Dirty Word

He also reviewed F-Zero GX . Thought I’d mention that… while I’m, y’know, advertising here and all.

Well, ultimately the player wants to “win”. The trick is to make an easy game while fooling the player into thinking it’s difficult. One great trick is to use environmental cues to feign “difficulty”.

  • Alan

Isn’t this “we need to return to the challenge of yesteryear” a bit narrowsighted? Do we really want to hold up coin-op arcade games as the paradigm by which videogames should be judged? Instant hook, simple controls, swiftly ramping difficulty level to keep the quarters flowing?

I love retro games as much as anyone, as my X-Aracade and 3 DVDs of MAME Roms will attest, but they comprise only a small portion of the experience I want from videogames. Do I want challenge in my videogames? Of course. But as I grow older and have more money and less time, I am no longer interested in spending hours and hours mastering a single system just so I can break a high score or finally see the end of Contra on one continue.

I now find myself unhesitatingly using cheat codes or to get past a level instead of wandering around for an hour trying to figure out what lever I missed or NPC I didn’t talk to. Do I feel like I’m cheating myself out a good time doing that? Nope. My time is more valuable to me now that my desire to beat the third chapter of Ikaruga. I often just want to see how the story ends, how the level design progresses, how the characters change, etc.

And as for F-Zero. I haven’t played it because there something about driving games in particular that I find hard to love: they require me to be more machine-like and less human. The better I can rotely take the proper line into the turn and accelerate perfectly out of it the better I can shave that .01 off my time. They require less creativity and more memorization; less judgement and more twitching. It’s why I love Project Gotham Racing, you have to make the decision to take this turn quickly or stylishly, and that decision has to be made on every turn. I’ll probably give F-Zero a try eventually, but I find “challenge” is less important to me these days than “interesting.”

That Project Gotham comparison is just wacky. You’re doing exactly the same thing as you do in F-Zero just with a different mechanic. You’re taking your chances to score higher while in F-Zero, you’re managing boost to shields in order to score higher (go faster).

Part of the problem with arguing with hardcore gamers on this subject is they simply buy and play far more games than anyone else. They don’t take the time to really learn and master a game because there’s always ten more they want to play. Meanwhile, most kids are getting one game a month at most and are looking for more than a quick run through with cheat codes out of that one game they were lucky to get from mom and dad.

Consider that many of the best selling games are very challenging because they often include mutliplayer play or good challenge. Grand Theft Auto III, Madden, Age of Mythology, Half-Life, etc. Sure, you can point to some successes that aren’t necessarily hard games, but those are often more of the sandbox type which is certainly valid as well because their solid sets of rules that allow players a myriad of gameplay scenarios to explore. RollerCoaster Tycoon, The Sims, SimCity, etc. are all solid examples of that.

Instant hook, simple controls, swiftly ramping difficulty level to keep the quarters flowing?

Take a look at the best selling games of all-time and you’ll see they all can be described in this way minus the quarters part. Seriously. When was the last time a game that didn’t hook you instantly become a major hit? How many folks read manuals these days to even grasp anything beyond something that instantly hooks and has relatively simple controls? Even something like Civilization, which is about as complex a game that has ever sold in large numbers can be defined by instant hook (conquer the world), simple controls (click to move, click to buy, click to build) and swiftly ramping difficulty (increase the level of AI with each game for more challenge).


You haven’t even read the “Strategy Guide” thread yet, have you, where we all imply that kids these days want nothing more than a long interactive cartoons, so they buy strategy guides for walkthroughs and cheat codes.

Now, I don’t know who’s right here. I don’t play games with 10-15 year olds. I was just amused at the 180 here compared to what was being discussed in the other thread.

I don’t think a return to the games of yesteryear would be a good idea.

I recently replayed through Shadowrun, the SNES version. I was all of 5 minutes into the game when I was already stumped. I ended up consulting GameFAQs not once, not twice, but keeping the fucker open as I plinked away at retarded enemies and solved stupid little puzzles.

Oh, hey, I got a blue and purple bottle.

And it’s logical that I should fill the blue bottle with water from a clean fountain.


I’d say that 95% of the games released before 1995, if released today with updated graphics and interface tweaks, would simply NOT cut it in today’s market.

I mean, take, for example, Tron 2.0. Here is a game which literally includes HELP files as you’re playing the game. You hear a bit of dialog abount destroying the server’s encryption, but without that help file, it would take 2 hours to get the point of desperation where you start shooting shit and realize that “breaking the encryption” means destroying some Yellow Things ™ that are mounted on the spinning thingamajig.

And that STILL didn’t stop people from having difficulty aligning the routing oculus. ;)

I think that if a game requires a strategy guide to get through on Easy mode, or in the case of an RPG, in order to beat the game with minimal sidequesting, then the game simply isn’t intuitive and/or far too difficult.

I’d love to see a sequel to Shadowrun. But give me a modern game that realizes not everyone wants to sit pondering what to do with a fucking blue bottle.

I haven’t played F-Zero beyond the in-store display, so I may be wrong about this, but as far as I can tell, there’s only one goal: to finish with the fastest time possible. Whereas in PGR there is one goal with two different ways to achieve it: earn points by going fast or earn points by driving stylishly. And usually, the highest score is a combination of the two. Unlike F-Zero, where you only have on goal and there is only really one way to achieve that. Boosts help you do that, and presumably you have to memorize the best areas (probably straightaways) when to do that. So victory in F-Zero is achieved, I’m guessing, by memorizing the best times/places to use boost in your attempt to find the fastest possible line through the track. But in PGR such rote acting will not necessarily win you the race.

Well, I guess I’m going to have to disagree again, because I think the exact opposite is true. Leaving out the discussion of “instant hooks,” which is just a way to boil a game idea down to its kernel, because of the death of the arcade market, video games no longer had to have simple, instant appeal, no learning curve and rising difficulty curve. Instead, now that people have bought them and taken them home, videogames became much more complicated and involved.

If we take your suggestion and look at the best-selling games of all time I don’t see simple ideas (at least, not Robotron simple), easy controls, no learning curve and increasing difficulty. I see games like Final Fantasy VII, Metal Gear Solid 1 and 2, Madden, GTA3, Half-Life, Civ and others which often have involved backstories, extremely complex controls, and adjustable challenge levels. Most games now include some sort of Tutorial section precisely because the game controls are now so complicated. Challenging the users is still a vital component, but it is no longer the simply arcade dare of “avoid missing ball for high score.” Thankfully, we’ve moved beyond arcade games.

I don’t disagree with you that challenging the user is an important part of most games, I just disagree that we should look to the arcade model as how to make our videogames. The videogame experience is so much broader these days, and being challenged by a game of F-Zero is only one very small part of the industry.

I think setting a game to one default difficulty is bad policy. There should always be at least Easy - Normal - Hard. I’ve read reviews that said how hard a game was that kept me from buying it.

I didn’t see that assumption in that thread, but it’s dead wrong IMO. Most kids are not hunting out strategy guides, they’re just playing the games and enjoying them. I guess you have to have kids of your own (and those kids that you meet through yours) to know this. They actually play the games and then discuss strategy with their friends!

The games I’ve seen kids enjoy the most are the kind that offer either reasonable challenge in a fairly free-form environment, sports games or multiplayer games. They’re entirely different from the 20-30 something hardcore game crowd that frequents this board. This board is not at all typical of gaming.


Difficulty schifficulty. When I play, I just want to be engaged. I want to feel like I’m progressing. A game that’s absurdly difficult just takes me out of my happy little zone.

Plus, as someone mentioned above, when I was younger and had a ton of free time on my hands, I didn’t mind spending hours trying to take out M.Bison. But now that my time is limited, I would prefer not to bang my head up against a wall.

I’m all for challenge, but it needs to be tempered with a feeling of progress.

The quality of the player experience is all that matters. The reason puzzle-games so often do not work out is that since the successful result of the puzzle opens up the next segment of the game world, a very narrow bottleneck is created where no alternative routes exist to bypassing it. So if you are stuck, you are REALLY stuck.

Free Form games get around all of this. If you get stuck on some challenge, in a free form game you just move to the next challenge. Move to the next area in the game space. You might not have as much material reward (points) or as much in-game power, but life goes on.

You have to kill off linear narration or make the narrative a matter of easy gameplay. But if you make it easy gameplay there is no pride in completing the narrative! So killing it off is probably better.

Bottlenecks are horrible and can easily bring down an otherwise great game.

The best methodology is to make a game with many difficult challenges but where fun gameplay exists regardless of success or failure in any of those challenges. Success in the challenges should be boosting a player’s pride and ego, not boosting his fun.

Player A: I played through this game.

Player B: So did I.

Player A: I scored 20,000 points.

Player B: Haha! LOSER! I scored 50,000 points. I bet you bypassed many of the challenges.

Player A hangs his head with a gleam in his eye: Yeah… but it was still fun!

I think the issue here is that there are two very different forms of gamers out there. The first kind wants to be challenged by the same game and have it last for months at a time (they call it challenging, or say it has replay value, or whatever). Typically, the players I’ve seen who act like this are either on a tight budget, or have a really tight ass concept of value. These are also the kind of players who fall in to the power gamers category as often as not. These are also the kind of players you find screaming bloody murder when a game is less than a bajillion hours long.

The second kind is the gamer who looks at each game as its own experience, and wants to have as many different experiences as possible. This player tends to be more entertained by a well delivered story than arcade action, and doesn’t really have much interest in replaying a game over and over again just to get bigger numbers in one form or another. This kind of player would also usually like to have an awesome shorter game rather than just a good longer game.

Seems to me that there are usually a lot more of the first than the second, but more mature players fall more in to the second category than the first. I’m not saying these are perfect definitions, I’m sure plenty of people fall in to part of both categories, but this is what I’ve observed over my time gaming, and watching other people game.


Oops, wrong thread. :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:

I’m just going on record to say this is one of the most ridiculous topics I’ve ever seen on these boards. This place is going to the dogs.

– Xaroc

Good morning! (Well, at least its almost morning, but its a morningly sentiment anyway.)

Spurred on by the generosity of noun and Jason Lutes (who am I about to send my information too, sorry, I went out after that and went straight to bed when I got home) and the fact that I lost a bet that I would be the first to win Tales of Symphonia among my group of friends, I too, feel like giving away a game.

But aha! Why this thread? I’ll tell you why, I saw this and read Dave Long’s article and I immediately thought of replying, except, even though I haven’t been here for very long, I bet you anything some of you could completely predict what I’m going to say about a topic like this. So why not do so?

The person who can post something as close to what I would say (no need make as long as something I would say as long as its accurate :wink: ) will win Gameboy(Advance) game of their choice. Yeah I know, not much. But its all I can offer, because GB(A) is region free and its the only platform I have a huge collection of US titles all in English for that would interest anyone. Also, my collection is a 250 games strong (counting identical versions of the same game in different languages).

Here are the ones I’m willing to offer:

Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX (US)
Bionic Commando: Special Forces (US)
Phantasy Star Collection (US)
Kuru Kuru Kururin (JP)
Metal Gear Solid (US)
Car Battle Joe (US)
Mole Mania (US)
Kaze no Klonoa (JP)
Tomato Adventure (JP)
Wario Land 4 (JP)
Super Monkey Ball Jr. (US)
Pokemon Puzzle Challenge (US) <---- (Not what you think it is, its really Panel de Pon/Tetris Attack with Pokecolor.)
Pokemon Pinball (US) <---- You think this sucks? I pity you. You don’t know what you’re missing.
Kirby’s Dream Land 2 (US)
Megaman Xtreme 2 (US)
Kirby’s Pinball Land (US)
Kirby’s Blockball (US)
Final Fantasy Legend II (US)
Final Fantasy Legend III (US)
Final Fantasy Adventure (US, I have the Japanese versions too, but I assume you wouldn’t want those. I regret to say I do not own the English version of the original Final Fantasy Legend, hope one to get my hands on it.)
Game & Watch Gallery
Game & Watch Gallery 3
Game & Watch Gallery 4
Super Mario Bros. Deluxe (US)
Rockman Zero (Megaman Zero, JP)
Wario Land 3 (US
Wario Land (US)
Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins (US)
Donkey Kong ‘94 (US, bitchin’ game, original Donkey Kong plus 96 new levels with new mechanics based on the old arcade game, not on the Rare “Country” line of games)
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (US)
Chu Chu Rocket (JP)
Metroid Fusion (US)
Mr. Driller 2 (JP)
Gradius Generation (JP)
Lady Sia (US)
Zelda: Oracles (US, both games)
Mario Golf (US)
Mario Tennis (US)
Rayman Advance (US)

I pick those mostly because no one will have any problem understanding the game if its in Japanese or the US ones I have are actually good games. (I doubt you’re interested in playing the US version of Spyro: Season of Fire for instance.) If you can speak Japanese and think you can handle text-heavy-dependent games, than there’s a lot more, but if you win that and want one of those, just tell me, and we’ll see. Also, if you don’t want one of those, I’ll also offer a Wonderswan Color with Final Fantasy Remakes 1 and 2, Romancing Saga Complete, Makaitoushi Saga (Final Fantasy Legend, the original) and Wild Card, but again that’s more for a certain type. Winner must understand that Kitsune does this at risk of pissing off his APH (Asian Parents from Hell). All games except a few still have their manuals, I think I still have the box for Tomato Adventure.

You’re free to mock me even if you don’t want to win one of the games though. Bonus points for humor, negative points if I see even one mention of tentacle porn. If there are more good replies and its hard to judge, I’ll just give away more games. If no one replies and I rummaged all through my Gameboy Box and typed this out for nothing: U R THE SUXXORS! :P


Well if no one else replies do I get a game by default for being the only one to reply? :D


But I’m not even sure what Kitsune would say. And I’m not the kind of writer who could effectively emulate his style…

Given that Kitsune apparently has the largest game collection this side of God, and the fact that he had a bet that he could power through the new Tales RPG faster than any of his friends, one might draw the conclusion that Kitsune is one of the variety games described above who plays lots of different games, and wants lots of different experinces. But I suspect he may also posses power gamer leanings who might scoff upon discovering a game is a cake walk. My guess would be that our Kitsune here is a moderate, someone who walks the line. Appreciates a challenge, but does not want a game that is unneccisarily punnishing, or cheap. Perhaps a difficulty adjuster which allows one to proceed to the end of a game, but which will also reward a player for his/her mastery.

Am I close?

Actually, I’m rather fond of the Thief difficulty system: Normal, Hard, Expert.

  • Alan

Would you like that drink Medium, Large, or Super Size?

seriously, i like it when the default difficulty isnt dumbed down. thief did a good job of that, except it was kinda weird missing out on some of the objectives.

i’m on the fence about the thief loot-collection requirements though… it’s neat to learn a level by heart, but in a singleplayer game it seems kinda useless and wasteful.


You could still get those bonus objectives in other modes of play. If you did so, they would show up as “hidden objectives” which were instantly checked off as completed.