Let's get it out in the open: Gamers that want Challenge

Infinite 1999 mode.

Diablo Hardcore.

Reviews and forums commenting on KOAR being “too easy”.

Random funny videos, somewhat related.

Whats going on? Is this a fad?

My pet theory is that after Demon Souls, the gaming world has decided that we have bad games, we have good games, … but we lack games with a loot of challenge.

A group of the gaming world, with influence on what devs do and say, want more challenge in games. Hard modes that are actually hard.

Is this real? Or I am imagining things?

Also, will this desire to create hard games destroy the enjoyement for people that just want to have a Good Time [tm] and don’t want to be destroyed by punishing games?

What is the difference of masochism and loving challenge?

webcomic possibly not-related

I think all of those examples are people wishing for the optional choice of increased difficulty. Such a thing I am all for and I don’t think it would impact on the average person who wants to experience a game without frustration.

Whilst the diehards lament that gaming has become easier, the audience has also expanded greatly and with that, so have the profits. I can’t see companies being stupid enough to try and go back exclusively to the audience limiting levels of PC games in the 90s.

Hard games, your “- Souls” series, these additional difficulty modes, will continue to have their place for those that want it. The majority of games will remain as they are.

Diablo doesn’t feature an an adjustable difficulty level. Neither do most Diablo clones, which is a strangely literal form of imitation. ARPG designers seem to think that playing the game through again at a higher level is the same as a “difficulty level”. ITS NOT.

Titan Quest suffered from being too easy. Multiple mods were released to increase the difficulty in different ways. But modding is not an option in Diablo 3…

I’d like to see hard modes that consist of more than “we multiplied everything by four and called it good.”

Some games are pathetically easy on Normal, then you go to Hard or whatever and you get completely raped because the game is completely unbalanced on a higher difficulty.

The great thing about Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls is that they have ONE difficulty level - which is the designer’s version.

That’s what I want - I want what the designer had in mind. If he wanted the game to be easy - then so be it. That’s his vision. If his vision is to sell the game to the mainstream audience and he’s designed the game around that - then so be it. At least I’ll know not to play it.

I say “he” - but obviously there can be multiple designers. It’s just my experience that the greatest works are based on the vision of a single individual. The work is about making that vision come true.

Most games these days seem to be based on the vision of mass-appeal, and then taking established game paradigms and wrapping them around that.

Not for me and I wish they could just be honest about it. Just make it easy - and forget the “hard” modes :)

Oh, by the way, I don’t actually want “hard” games. I want games that lure me to invest in them. I want meaningful choices - and I want my choices to MATTER.

If I invest in the game and I make intelligent decisions - then the game shouldn’t be “hard”. I should be rewarded for that with being able to progress in the game.

Semantics, I suppose, but the point is that you can’t just scale levels and numbers and expect someone like myself to be happy. The standard 3 difficulty modes don’t suffice - because none of them seem “pure” if I have to play the designer for myself. I mean, if a monster has 150 hitpoints instead of 100 - it doesn’t make my choices meaningful. It just means more work of the exact same kind. If I have to hit them twice instead of just once - that will just scale as well - and it won’t make my choices matter more.

Just give me what the game is supposed to be, and I’ll adapt.

Obviously, that’s not going to happen - but it’s just a dream ;)

Well now you’ve made me cranky, because I subscribe to your view that game designers should pursue an artistic vision and who cares what the screaming masses bleat. But I also want a harder version of Diablo…

Well, I think Diablo is a special case - along with those aping their approach.

Because it only HAS one difficulty mode - but it gets progressively harder for each playthrough. It’s functionally the same as one difficulty - at least as far as I’m concerned.

Personally, I consider “normal” mode in Diablo a tutorial. You can’t begin on anything but normal.

A good example of difficulty levels done right is in Thief - where it’s not about scaling - but about actual meaningful challenge.

I’d still prefer a unique vision, but it’s better than the norm.

Oh, and D3 supposedly has a mode beyond “Hell” :)

Though that game screams mainstream more than anything.

I want to add that one thing is to have some option, normal or special or whatever of increasing the difficulty, and another thing is to have the core game design of your game built from the ground up for a more hardcore, different experience. The latter case is not just harder (difficulty can always be tweaked up and down easily with difficulty options), but as I say a different experience.

One example is the Jagged Alliance BiA case, a tactical game can be with or without fog of war. With fog of war it’s a different experience, not only a harder game, because the game would play differently, you would plan another set of tactics, etc. That’s why I think it’s a design issue, really. What vision have the game designer.

Another is the fps case, the health system (health regen vs medkits vs health recovered with each kill vs whatever). They give different styles to the genre.
For example while health regen. usually is tied to easier game experiences (less “hardcore”) in truth it can be easily done so the game is very hard, even with health regen, if you adjust the weapon damage against the player and in favour of his enemies. But in the end that doesn’t produce the same experience that choosing another system for the game.

In some games I complain of the difficulty… but it’s not really that I want just a harder game, I truly want a different game.

The Diablo case: I always thought that it was very stupid you couldn’t choose another difficulty from the start, the game would oblige you in playing first in Normal.

Isn’t that basically what the NG+ mode of Dark Souls is though, increasing monster hit points and damage output? It’s not really a “heroic mode” ala WoW where the mechanics of the fights actually change.

I’ve gone back and forth on this issue a lot. I had a long-standing pro-con argument with one of the game designers at a previous job. So, what follows is where I am now, but that’s changed a lot over the years, and may change again in the future.

I think the first thing to do is to ask what the purpose of difficulty is, from the designer’s perspective. Keeping in mind, of course, that the playing audience is going to have a wide range of capabilities and preferences. To me, the purpose of difficulty is to evoke a certain response from the player. Games are basically amusement engines: every aspect of a game’s design is fundamentally about the response it generates in the player. If a game is difficult, it can generate a feeling of achievement. If the game is easy, it can generate a feeling of power. So the difficulty of any particular section of the game should be based around what the balance of what the designer is trying to evoke. Designer intent is captured in response, not a specific number of hit points.

But because every player has different tolerances and capabilities, a fixed difficulty level doesn’t really make sense. So, I think that difficulty should always be dynamically determined. This can be an active adjustment system, like God Hand, or a passive one, like the tutorial mission in CoD. The design leeway comes from what the unit of adjustment is, and where the difficulty is set relative to the players ability. Note that this doesn’t mean that every game becomes easy. Dynamic difficulty can be set to make every encounter 20% too difficult for the player, so they need to get a lucky break in order to win.

Dark Souls in particular, and open world games in general, present an interesting counter-case. If you want to dynamically gate your game, I’m not sure how to do this without some kind of artificial barriers. (i.e. you probably shouldn’t go this way yet…but you can if you want to. But later, this section might be very easy). That kind of semi-permeable world design is a difficult issue, and may require a different model.

I think that difficulty in games has also become a point of interest in the era of $5 Steam titles. If someone experiences too much frustration or too little challenge, I’d suspect there are other games to try. I think there’s a real danger in making games either too challenging or in having uneven difficulty. Once word gets out, your projected long tail of sales becomes rather short.

As an aside, the one game that really should have had some sort of difficulty slider that the makers refused to provide was Majesty 2. There’s artistic vision for you.

More difficulty levels like Thief’s please. That is like the gold standard of non-sucky difficulty levels.

I also liked a difficulty mode in…I think… Metro2033 which decreased the amount of ammo you could find in the world and made all attacks more lethal. That sort of change that increases the reward of playing well but also decreases your margin of error is exactly what hard modes should be about.

I think the purpose of difficulty is to first make the challenges feel meaningful (because they aren’t pushovers), and then make the player feel accomplished when he manages to overcome them.

If the game is too easy, there’s no feeling of accomplishment because the player doesn’t feel that the challenges are meaningful.
If the game is too hard, there’s no feeling of accomplishment because the player fails, or if he wins anyway he might feel that the huge effort wasn’t worth it.

Of course, the optimal difficulty level is the hardest one which the player can overcome without failing or feeling forced to make unreasonable effort, and that’s unfortunately player dependent.
Dynamic difficulty adjustment can be the ideal solution, but it runs into the issue that it must operate in a way that doesn’t make it obvious to the player that he can manipulate the difficulty or in a way that doesn’t encourage him to do that, but must also effectively respond to the player failing to make progress.

Super-crazy challenging difficulty was awesome when I was younger and had the time to sit and replay parts of games and grind my way through to victory. Now that I’m older, have a family, and a lot less time to play games, I very rarely want to be “challenged” by a game in any significant way. I want to play. I want to enjoy my time. I want to plow through enemies and feel like a death machine. If I have to die, I want that to be handled like a Diablo game in which I’m back in the thick of things in just a few seconds.

The only exception is turn-based strategy. I like to be challenged with good opponents (either human MP, or AI SP) in a strategy game.

What you don’t understand?

It add a extra replayability. Wen you have done everything in normal, you can try again in a harder mode. “New Game+”.

It adds a “honour” system where hardcore players can differentiate thenselves from players playing the normal easy mode.

I think it’s pretty much a requirement in a wide-appeal game to have good difficulty options. Everyone’s got different abilities and patience…heck, the same person is different at various times. If your game has the ability to adjust, it’s going to have wider appeal.

It doesn’t have to always be in the form of “easy, medium, hard” or “regular and hardcore”. Sometimes character building choices, or different maps, or which race you choose, etc serve nicely to raise or lower the difficulty. Or even just build the game in such a way that you can place restrictions on yourself if you want to.

One of my favorite things to do in the Civ games was try out different play methods, like One-City-Challenge. In City of Heroes, I’m playing in a hardcore supergroup. Neither of those games actually built those difficulty options into the game, but we use 'em to keep the game interesting.

With something like Starcraft II or the Call of Duty games, I tend to see multiplayer mode as the increased difficulty level. The solo game is almost a kind of training tool.

The trouble with adaptive difficulty is that I want to be continually challenged, but not by the same things all the time. There’s also the problem of devaluing the player’s accomplishments, as was evident in Oblivion. Why bother to level up if the enemies simply scaled to your level?

It’s also easy for the designers to fall into the trap of simply continuing to scale the difficulty until the player fails. There’s nothing inherently wrong with making the player fail, except that failure should be the result of repeated player mistakes and not because the enemies have been massively scaled up.

I don’t want games to become harder, I want them to become more interesting. This is why the Thief difficulty levels were so enticing.

Incidentally, I’m not sure if Thief’s difficulty levels should really be classified as such. They’re really more like optional objectives, which give guidance for new ways to play. It turns out some of those ways to play are easier than others…but it seems like difficulty isn’t the core issue there, it’s that the goals themselves are actually different.

Maybe a clearer analog might be FF Tactics, which featured arbitrary “rules” that were applied to each battle. The rules changed, but to say that one rule is harder than another really varies based on your load out and your expected tactics.

I may have talked myself into a corner, because all difficulty settings involve changing the rules to an extent, but I think that there’s still something different there. In a strategy game, a better AI makes the game harder, and different strategies may be necessary, but the game itself is still the same. In a fighting game / brawler, the opponent may make better use of his abilities, but the abilities and your goal of beating him are still the same.