GamerSushi Asks: Gaming Difficulty?

Castlevania Lords of Shadow

The subject of difficulty in video games is a tricky one. On the one hand, video games in general seem to be too easy in a lot of ways, holding players’ hands from step 1 all the way until the final boss. On the other hand, it seems like many developers don’t know how to ramp the difficulty up in a way that is fair and organic, instead opting to throw completely ridiculous situations at you to frustrate you. It’s actually an odd trade off. The more I find myself grumbling about an easy game, there are just as many games that make me want to rage quit with unfair deaths, impossible sections, etc. This is one of the reasons I loved Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, because it kept ratcheting up the difficulty level without completely infuriating me.

Over at Gamasutra, Tim Keenan has posted a blog about this very subject called The Difficulty I Want. In it, he talks about how it’s often hard to know what you want in a game until you’ve had a chance to play the game yourself. He makes some great points about how many games just make you pick a difficulty and force you to stay with it to see the game through, rather than being able to switch down after dying multiple times or up after not dying enough. He also praises the difficulty sliders of Oblivion, which is one of my favorite games in this regard. It really is interesting to note that difficulty options haven’t changed much since the beginning of gaming. We still have the same generic options without much evolution.

So what do you guys think about gaming difficulty? Are games too easy? Is this an area where games can improve, and offer more dynamic ways to play that would make them more enjoyable? What games were unfair/too easy to you in recent memory? Go!

Source – Gamasutra

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I write about samurai girls and space marines. Writer for Smooth Few Films. Rooster Teeth Freelancer. Author of Red vs. Blue, The Ultimate Fan Guide, out NOW!

2 thoughts on “GamerSushi Asks: Gaming Difficulty?”

  1. I think Left 4 Dead did an excellent job in scaling the difficulty. Within a difficulty setting, the actually challenge would vary. During one run of a mission of Expert, you might get raped by Chargers and Jockeys, but after inevitably dying, the level will restart and go a bit easier on the players until they start to get in the groove of things. These changes also occur on the fly, so from one engagement to the next, the challenge could be very different. I think this is the best way to handle difficulty; have preset or detailed (enemy intelligence, item frequency, hazards, and other more specific features) difficulty options, and then scale each encounter differently depending on the player’s performance. It works for games that are Player VS Computer and have extended levels, and maybe it wouldn’t be appropriate for other games, but that scaling difficulty allows the player to feel badass during one encounter and then be really strained in another, but never feeling impossible as long as trying again is not too arduous of a task.

  2. I was thinking about this after FO:NV, but then I realized: I quicksave before I make almost any decision or enter a new area, and then if I screw up, just quickload, know what’s on the other side and am better prepared… I think this is the reason I’ve always hated games that used checkpoints (i.e. console games) because if something is too difficult and I die, I have to start the entire mission over again (Hitman) or from the last checkpoint, which frustrates me to the point of not playing games like that.

    I think we all agree that Hard games aren’t always as fun, but are often more rewarding. I’ve just never understood having “extreme” difficulty locked until the player finishes the game once… Why would I want to play through it a second time harder than the first? If anything, I’m playing back through a game because of a) the story or b) sweet set pieces, not for further frustration.

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