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November 3, 2011 7:22 AM   Subscribe

Starting the game at a higher than normal difficulty introduces the concept of "Darwinian Difficulty", which can be summarized by the motto "adapt or die."
Exploring the lack of a difficulty curve via diamond-hard games Ninja Gaiden Black and Demon's Souls.
posted by griphus (63 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
The use of "Darwinian" in that way is wrong in so many ways I don't even know where to start.
posted by DU at 7:25 AM on November 3, 2011 [6 favorites]


These games don't sound fun. But what do I know? I loved Banjo-Kazooie.
posted by etc. at 7:33 AM on November 3, 2011


I would say starting a game easily and slowly adapting to its more difficult elements is much more Darwinian, at least in the sense that we are changed by selective pressures.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 7:34 AM on November 3, 2011


Yeah, I hate hard games. Nothing is more frustrating to me than having to do something over and over and over. I routinely play games on "easy" because I'm in it for the story and the experience. When I hear a game criticized for being too easy, that's actually a selling point for me - I know I'll be able to rent it, have the experience without frustration, and move on.
posted by jbickers at 7:43 AM on November 3, 2011 [9 favorites]


A nice "Darwinian" game is Warning Forever. It's a series of boss fights and each new enemy is adapted based on how you defeated the previous one.
posted by reynaert at 7:45 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


This post gives me the physically sensation of a Nintendo controller being crushed between my jaws.
posted by SharkParty at 7:47 AM on November 3, 2011


I'm waiting for Kropotkinian difficulty in co-op mode.
posted by Abiezer at 7:59 AM on November 3, 2011


In a traditional RPG, the character's level and attributes determines who wins a fight. Darwinian Difficulty requires a specific type of challenge that RPGs don't have. Even roguelikes, which are known for their high degree of difficulty, don't fall into the category of Darwinian Difficulty. The reason is that the aspects that make a roguelike challenging are randomization and character attributes, not player skill.

I don't really get the distinction that is being made here. The randomization aspect of roguelikes is mainly to make the game different enough each play-through so that the player can't simply memorize a solution, the same way that Ms. Pac Man is randomized in a way that Burger Time isn't even though they are both similar 2D action games. And the character attributes part of the game varies greatly across different roguelikes, the original Rogue only had strength as an attribute which is less character progression than Ninja Gaiden has. In both roguelikes and super hard 3D action games, a new player is going to have almost no chance to progress through the game at all until they learn skills necessary to perform well in the game. Those skills are different of course, twitch reflexes and pattern recognition for action games, versus tactical strategy and resource management for roguelikes, but they are skills none-the-less.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:04 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


The use of "Darwinian" in that way is wrong in so many ways I don't even know where to start.

I was still trying to decide how I'd tell my girlfriend.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:07 AM on November 3, 2011


Is this the same definition of the word "Darwinian" that social darwinists use, which is synonymous with "unfair by design"?
posted by Skwirl at 8:07 AM on November 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


I loved Sierra's games, despite generally hitting lots of unwinnable games (though I also loved LucasArts games, though sometimes more soup can-y, they also were never unwinnable), but I hate the impossible platformer games.
posted by jeather at 8:08 AM on November 3, 2011


This post gives me the physically sensation of a Nintendo controller being crushed between my jaws.

Wow, I've heard of Nintendo thumb before, but this is taking that to another level.
posted by kmz at 8:10 AM on November 3, 2011


I love hard games. But this guy's essay just seems off to me.

You put 'hard' bosses and levels as checkpoints in games of this kind to make sure that the player has mastered some skill that is going to be foundational for later levels of the game. Generally once you've gotten that skill down the boss or level becomes easy. Even games like Super Mario Galaxy do this.

Games are about learning. Hard bosses are just your 'mid-term exam' to prove mastery before going to the next part of the game.
posted by empath at 8:14 AM on November 3, 2011 [6 favorites]


This seems to be the key advantage the author feels "Darwinian Difficulty" yields:
Developing the game using Darwinian Difficulty gives the designers a greater understanding of the skill level of the players, allowing them more freedom with their design.
I wish he had developed that idea more. I dislike "hard" games, but that's an interesting point. He talks too much about how the mechanics of Darwinian Difficulty and leaves this point undeveloped. I'm curious to know more about this idea, as somebody who doesn't really know what goes on in game design.
posted by red clover at 8:22 AM on November 3, 2011


I have a strange urge to play my old game Galacta (Java-based DOS simulator; play in browser) now.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:24 AM on November 3, 2011


The flipside of this consideration is that you should never change the game in a way that negates previous mechanics and skills. Getting rid of a mechanic that the player spent time learning and improving at will make the player feel like that wasted their time -- and this hurts the design.

"Last Level, New Skill". God of War, I'm looking at you.
posted by yeloson at 8:25 AM on November 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Does anyone have a recommendation for a game with Kafkaesque difficulty?
posted by WalterMitty at 8:27 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


First thing I thought of is Catherine.
posted by griphus at 8:29 AM on November 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


The article has some good points mixed in with some confused bits. Here's what he seems to be getting wrong:

- How to use the word "Darwinian."
- Why roguelikes don't qualify by his definition; arguably not: while they are hard and the difficulty is fairly flat, that's not so much due to player experience as character experience...this has nothing to do with randomization.

What he got right:

- Demon/Dark Souls and Ninja Gaiden Black are hard games from the get-go that force you to learn how to use the toolbox that they have given you.
- Demon/Dark Souls and Ninja Gaiden Black are all instant classics.

God of War, I'm looking at you.

God of War violates so many of his qualifications, to its detriment in my opinion. Talk about the quintessential button masher. I thought he was specifically talking about GOW when he said this:
One common pitfall of action titles is offering an elaborately-designed combat system that goes completely underutilized. Players will often rely on simpler actions (button mashing, for example.) This leads to two results: the player will find the game boring because it's not challenging, and they'll eventually face a fight where they don't know what to do, because they didn't explore the game's mechanics.
Does anyone have a recommendation for a game with Kafkaesque difficulty?

I'd recommend Amnesia or The Void.
posted by Edgewise at 8:30 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I like difficult games, but I judge games and their designers by how they make it difficult. If the difficulty is 'problem solving/strategizing' rather than 'figure out how to hit the buttons in a specific order with perfect timing, usually when jumping is involved,' I'm in.

I want to solve the problem by analyzing the situation and using my resources and surroundings to my advantage, not by discovering and memorizing a new dance step for my fingers by trial and error.
posted by chambers at 8:33 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just yesterday established the shortcut to the boss in Demon's Souls, level 5-2. It took months of suffering. I feel good.

*sob*
posted by spamguy at 8:34 AM on November 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


In Oblivion (where the whole world leveled every time you did) I foolishly tried to build an elven character that did the whole light armor / bow / blade / one or two schools of magic thing.

What I learned was that Oblivion was an environment that had two niches. A niche where a finch that could decapitate an enemy in a singe blow would do well and a niche where a finch that could vaporize an enemy with a single fireball would do well. As an elf who could do a little bit of everything and not a damn finch, I would find that Shlomo the beggar boy could do all the things I could only just a little bit better than me every time I took a damn nap!

This wouldn't be so bad if I knew what to expect going into things, but I didn't. so during my conversation with Captain Picard, I naively picked Batman instead of the Hulk and then spent about 20 hours getting my sorry ass handed to me. Something else I wanted to play then came out and I never looked back.

If I ever wake up to find that I'm going to live forever and/or I now get paid large sums of money to have to play through video games twice, I might be OK with this sort of thing.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:42 AM on November 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Does anyone have a recommendation for a game with Kafkaesque difficulty?

I Wanna Be the Guy (and prequels). 8-bit sidescroller nostalgia/hell.
posted by bonehead at 9:22 AM on November 3, 2011 [6 favorites]


I loved Sierra's games, despite generally hitting lots of unwinnable games

I followed this link seeking validation for never completing King's Quest VI. I feel like you've added is an extra hop to my step this morning.

As an aside, my brother and I found our old King's Quest VI disc a couple years ago. We found an online step by step walkthrough of the game, and having never legitimately beaten the game, thought that we'd at least cheat and see the ending. Five or so hours and hundreds of completely incoherent and illogical tasks later, we made it inside the castle. After navigating the castle and reaching a meeting with the Cassima's father or something, we were taken out and killed because we forgot to move a tablecloth in a hallway a couple steps previously. Realizing that there was no way to return to the aforementioned hallway I ejected the disc, snapped it in half, and threw it off of my 16th story balcony. King's Quest VI can suck it long and hard.
posted by clearly at 9:22 AM on November 3, 2011 [8 favorites]


I dunno, dood, I'd say that roguelikes are very much about player skill and knowledge of the randomized environment. It's about learning what kinds of challenges you can take on when, and bootstrapping yourself upward towards ascension...
posted by kaibutsu at 9:28 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the difficulty curve in roguelikes comes from monsters getting tougher and more numerous faster than you can level up. For the most part you can't just "tank" a roguelike - you have to take advantage of environment and items to survive.
posted by murphy slaw at 9:45 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


If the difficulty is 'problem solving/strategizing' rather than 'figure out how to hit the buttons in a specific order with perfect timing, usually when jumping is involved,' I'm in.

Worse than that are the fights that depend on exploiting character-development skills, abilities, or statistics that are not foreshadowed. Oblivion teaches block-strike and block-cast as viable, then throws at you a standard monster that can eat melee characters in seconds. Torchlight is 30 easy levels, followed by 5 levels of frustration if you didn't stack poison resistance, capped by a boss fight with lots of fire. NWN had bosses that were immune to everything except one form of damage.

Faced with that kind of situation, I'll give it a good few hours. After that, I'll look at lowering the difficulty slider, metagaming the heck out of the situation, or even cheating my way through it.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:05 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


we were taken out and killed because we forgot to move a tablecloth in a hallway a couple steps previously. Realizing that there was no way to return to the aforementioned hallway I ejected the disc, snapped it in half, and threw it off of my 16th story balcony.

I am half sympathetic -- the times I died in KQ5 because of the rat or the eagle -- and half unbelieving that you trusted a walkthrough and didn't save regularly. Did you never play KQ4, The Perils of Rosella Falling off a Staircase and Dying Again and Again?
posted by jeather at 10:13 AM on November 3, 2011


Does anyone have a recommendation for a game with Kafkaesque difficulty?

Bureaucracy.
posted by empath at 10:28 AM on November 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


First thing I thought of is Catherine.

A-fuckin'-men. I sunk so much time into my first playthrough of Catherine, and all the while, I was dumbfounded by the idea that the only way to unlock all the additional content was to go back and do SPEEDRUNS of the levels. Like, are you kidding me? I spent TWO HOURS on replays escaping that boss, how the hell can I do it in one pass, let alone one combo?

And then, lo and behold, after beating it I go back to the early levels, and the skills I've acquired making my way through the game mean that I can blaze through those early levels like a champ.

The story was pretty stupid, the morality mechanic was unbearably simple, but goddamn, that game has some of the finest difficulty shaping I've ever seen.
posted by SpiffyRob at 10:38 AM on November 3, 2011


I want to solve the problem by analyzing the situation and using my resources and surroundings to my advantage

This was my major complaint with GTA4. For instance, there's one mission where you have to steal a particular car at the end of an open alleyway. I saw the open alleyway and thought, "What if someone comes down there to attack me while I'm breaking into the car?" So I used another car to block the alleyway. Then I walk over to the car I need to steal, press Y, and all of a sudden we're in story mode...and the "block" car I had carefully positioned just disappears. Poof, it's gone. Back to game mode, and there's no sign of it. I'm being shot at and followed, just as I anticipated.

That game was filled with stuff like that. You'd try to apply creative thinking, and your creative solution would promptly be erased or ignored by the game's story engine. That's not "hard" gameplay, it's coercive and unimaginative. It especially bothered me in a GTA game because it's so diametrically counter to what made the series in the first place.
posted by red clover at 10:40 AM on November 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


And now that I'm crawling down a Catherine wormhole, I present the following quote from Tom Bissell's review which is delightful, if a bit too on-the-nose:
You "play" Catherine in two kinds of situations. The first is whenever Vincent gets a chance to walk around the Stray Sheep and talk to people, retire to the bathroom to look at the dirty cell phone pics Catherine sends of herself, drink alcohol, and respond to texts. The second is when Vincent falls asleep at night, which plunges him into an odd nightmareland in which he has been transformed into some sort of half-man, half-sheep hybrid and is forced to climb up an increasingly challenging set of spatial puzzles based on the manipulation of blocks. The whole thing feels like Haruki Murakami's Q-Bert: A Novel.
posted by SpiffyRob at 10:53 AM on November 3, 2011 [6 favorites]


Ha! I was wondering if anyone else did that, red clover. I went so far as to jump cars onto the roofs of surrounding buildings to stop snipers and blocking all street access to an alley 5 blocks long for a fast and easy getaway. It took me 20 minutes to get it all pretty and nice, I activated the story chapter and got the big ol' Fuck You! from the designers. Awesome.

I think this is what I like about PC games over Xbox is that they're easily moddable. Kid Charlemagne - I always thought that the idea of a level 40 crab that could kill a horse with one hit was stupid, when the crabs were leve one to begin with, so... what? Are they doing their little crab adventures too to get XP??, so I installed the anti-levelling mods, so anything that was level 2 would stay that way. Much better.
posted by Zack_Replica at 11:05 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the difficulty curve in roguelikes comes from monsters getting tougher and more numerous faster than you can level up. For the most part you can't just "tank" a roguelike - you have to take advantage of environment and items to survive.

This is the case in Rogue, but most other roguelikes have abandoned this design aspect. Which is kind of a shame, because if done well (you pace it so the monsters only truly become overwhelming at the very end of the game) it makes a game wonderfully challenging.

You put 'hard' bosses and levels as checkpoints in games of this kind to make sure that the player has mastered some skill that is going to be foundational for later levels of the game.

This is just one school of thought, and it's kind of a secondary purpose. Another is to give players a challenge that gives importance to their resource management through the level, because it's all going to be reset at the start of the next level (by this idea, it is *bad* to give a health refill before a boss, because that negates the whole purpose). Then there's the idea that bosses are a way to pace the game, and there's one that they are a realistic touch, and it's even valid to note that bosses are bad design because A. they're set challenges as opposed to dynamically created by chaotically-interacting elements like maneuvering enemies, or B. you're learning a specific way to defeat one enemy, which is requiring the player to learn to do something for just this one instance, which is really an artificial block to progress.

It's interesting, but the more I think about the breadth of game design, the harder it gets to make all-encompassing statements.

So I used another car to block the alleyway. Then I walk over to the car I need to steal, press Y, and all of a sudden we're in story mode...and the "block" car I had carefully positioned just disappears. Poof, it's gone. Back to game mode, and there's no sign of it. I'm being shot at and followed, just as I anticipated.

Yeah, the game should have handed that one to you. When running a pen-and-paper game, things like this, where the players foresee the challenge that's coming ahead of them and figure a way to negate it, happen with some regularity. A good GM will try to find some way to make the challenge happen anyway, but a great GM knows that, sometimes, the players deserve an easy win if they've come up with a good solution. Cleverness, wit and foresight are higher-order virtues than ability at tactical grid-based combat, and should always be rewarded if the situation suggests it. Moments like that are the sources of stories players tell each other years after the game.
posted by JHarris at 11:29 AM on November 3, 2011


What I learned was that Oblivion was an environment that had two niches.

Oblivion is a game where you can create a super character that has 100 skill in everything. That's why it was no fun for me. I always try to create the best possible character within the game's parameters, and if you level skills / attributes up right, you can be a perfect swordsman / mage / acrobat / whatever all at once. So, Oblivion is only "hard" if you don't pay attention to its mechanics, whereas a game like Ninja Gaiden is hard no matter what you know about the rules of the system.
posted by 3FLryan at 11:32 AM on November 3, 2011


One thing about Deus Ex is that it does, for the most part, let you get away with a lot of pre-planning, and it lets you do most encounters on your terms.
posted by empath at 11:36 AM on November 3, 2011


[Actually, Oblivion was beautiful and creative and fun - but the leveling system was annoying]
posted by 3FLryan at 11:39 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm glad someone mentioned The Void, a game so hard / complicated that the official page actually links to the easy/medium difficulty fan-made mods. What is interesting is that The Void is difficult because you're interacting with characters who essentially lie to you from the get-go, your actions in the world (whatever they are) cause the environment to become unstable and you're on a time limit without being informed of the fact. It takes losing several times to even understand this, let alone start 'beating' the game. Even when you do 'beat' the game, there's plenty of ways in which you failed - getting a 'perfect' ending is almost impossible.

However, it is not Ice-Pick's hardest game. Their earlier game, Pathologic is insanely hard. If you're looking for Kafkaesque, that's the game for you. You will not complete it without a walkthrough. In fact, you'll probably not get through the first day.

Regarding Rogue-a-likes and older games, there's a distinction to be made between 'instant death triggers' [Sierra] and increasingly tough game mechanics (such as Super Meat Boy's emphasis on pin-point accuracy). Rogues mix both. A game that I've found very fun is EUO which is a MMO hybrid of Ultima IV/V and Rogues. There's a permanent death server there which is fairly brutal and unforgiving, but not unfairly so (at least food can no longer be cursed, which lead to death by asphyxiation). Being a MMO with skills, there's a comparable amount of depth to nethack in there.

I also remember Robinson's Requiem as being particularly bastard-like, just for sheer persistent entropy and inventive ways to kill you.
posted by Cheradine Zakalwe at 11:48 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]



One thing about Deus Ex is that it does, for the most part, let you get away with a lot of pre-planning, and it lets you do most encounters on your terms.
posted by empath at 11:36 AM on November 3 [+] [!]


Unfortunately the game really impressed on me that difficult and fun are not always the same things.
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:49 AM on November 3, 2011


I am half sympathetic -- the times I died in KQ5 because of the rat or the eagle -- and half unbelieving that you trusted a walkthrough and didn't save regularly.

You know, that may be exactly what happened. We may have saved past a point of no return, and foolishly guided Prince Alexander into yet another of hundreds of possible scenarios that end with his royal highness dying out of completely fucking nowhere.

I would applaud if King's Quest VI gave the character any skills at all from the onset. Chiefly the ability to foresee his imminent death, and perhaps not walk straight into that pit of scalding water, or get rip current'd out to sea in tranquil waters, or drown in six inches of swamp, or stub his toe and bleed out. Where was the easy mode where Alexander forsakes his lineage, stays on the first island, shacks up with the peasant girl trimming the rose bushes and becomes drinking buddies with the guy who lives on the wrecked ship?
posted by clearly at 11:55 AM on November 3, 2011


Unlike Morrowind, Oblivion is very frustrating for me because the leveling system rewards standing in front of a rat your finger on the block key for an hour, and punishes using your major skills in the development of any of the major quest chains.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:58 AM on November 3, 2011


This is the case in Rogue, but most other roguelikes have abandoned this design aspect. Which is kind of a shame, because if done well (you pace it so the monsters only truly become overwhelming at the very end of the game) it makes a game wonderfully challenging.

Desktop Dungeons is exactly this. They've taken so far as to be almost entirely a puzzle game.
posted by bonehead at 12:16 PM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Unlike Morrowind, Oblivion is very frustrating for me because the leveling system rewards standing in front of a rat your finger on the block key for an hour, and punishes using your major skills in the development of any of the major quest chains.

Exactly. I thought it was a great game ruined by the leveling system. You could solve a bit of this problem by, say, taping the "block" button down and going to a movie or something, but in the end it was more trouble than it was worth.
posted by 3FLryan at 12:19 PM on November 3, 2011


Oblivion is a game where you can create a super character that has 100 skill in everything.

I tried to do perfect leveling once. I played with a notebook next to me, keeping notes on progress. I stayed 100% chameleoned to control combat most of the time, yet there were still accidental skill increases. You can't completely control things like Athletics, Block, or Light and Heavy Armor. If you even keep track of everything closely enough to control it, you're no longer playing the same game in my opinion--your character has to act almost nonsensically to do that. And maybe it was just my XBox, but I would frequently hear the 'skill increase' drumbeats and get no message telling me which one went up. It was maddening all around.

This was an interesting article, and mostly correct, but it exaggerates the amount of control Demons' Souls/Dark Souls has over your combat style. With a good shield and decent stamina and poise, you can pretty much forgo dodging in most non-boss fights. Parry/riposte can be helpful, but a patient player can skip them. You can also block and attack simultaneously if you're using a spear. If you know how certain magic items work and have the right resources to put them together, you can reliably hit at distance for >1000 anyway. And then there are 20 different types of weapons, lots of spells, and you can summon people to help you. There are bosses you can snipe to death without even engaging. I'm not saying it's an easy game, but there are options. Except pause.
posted by heatvision at 12:20 PM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


You put 'hard' bosses and levels as checkpoints in games of this kind to make sure that the player has mastered some skill that is going to be foundational for later levels of the game. Generally once you've gotten that skill down the boss or level becomes easy. Even games like Super Mario Galaxy do this.

Super Mario Galaxy 1/2 seem like a bad example of mastering a foundation of skills that help as the game progresses. While the planet traversing may become less vertigo inducing over time, the challenges are mainly short lived gimmicky power-ups completely unrelated to challenges faced later in the games. I'm looking at you, Spring/Bee/Rock Mario. Cloud Mario, you're cool.

Super Mario Bros Wii on the other hand is the same basic 2-D platforming game as the original Mario games, but with the few newly added mechanics like the double/triple jump, the mid-air hang time prolonging spin, and the wall jump that become nearly essential for progression on the more difficult levels. In a bittersweet addition, they provide hint videos that show Mario and up to three of his friends using those mechanics to effortlessly pull off death defying stunts that will not only drop your jaw, but make you feel that during your 20+ year relationship with Mario, he somehow forgot to tell you that there was a C button.
posted by clearly at 12:21 PM on November 3, 2011


1) I'm really happy that a bunch of people already said what I was going to say about roguelikes and difficulty.

2) Regarding Deus Ex, foresight/planning and boss battles, I never had the FPS chops to slug it out with any of the bosses, so I just took all the mines I'd collected through the levels, clustered them in a hallway before the cutscene, and lead the boss through them. BOOM! No artificial block!
posted by fnerg at 12:22 PM on November 3, 2011


I tried to do perfect leveling once. I played with a notebook next to me, keeping notes on progress. I stayed 100% chameleoned to control combat most of the time, yet there were still accidental skill increases. You can't completely control things like Athletics, Block, or Light and Heavy Armor. If you even keep track of everything closely enough to control it, you're no longer playing the same game in my opinion--your character has to act almost nonsensically to do that. And maybe it was just my XBox, but I would frequently hear the 'skill increase' drumbeats and get no message telling me which one went up. It was maddening all around.

I did this, too. "Making the perfect character" was a game within a game. I kept a notebook of all skills and used tally marks, then erased after every level. F-ing frustrating when you miss one somehow and get to the level-up screen only to have +5/5/4 instead of +5/5/5.
posted by 3FLryan at 12:24 PM on November 3, 2011


Exactly. I thought it was a great game ruined by the leveling system. You could solve a bit of this problem by, say, taping the "block" button down and going to a movie or something, but in the end it was more trouble than it was worth.

Ah yes, Oblivion. The way you get around that is to create a character where your 'primary' skills that control when you gain levels are for the most part not the ones you actually use. Of course if you go too far then you gain a lot of power without ever gaining levels and the whole game becomes ridiculously easy. But if you can find an appropriate balance at the start, you then never have to think about it the level system again. My first attempt at that game I did basically the exact opposite, created a custom class that was entirely impossible to play, so was forced to figure this out.
posted by sfenders at 1:06 PM on November 3, 2011


Desktop Dungeons is exactly this. They've taken so far as to be almost entirely a puzzle game.

It's also an example that shows the merits of a normal difficulty curve. You know, you are stranded without internet and get a first win using a Tier I class and some hours later you're checking which class has not cleared the challenge dungeons yet. Not that I would know anything about that.
posted by ersatz at 1:34 PM on November 3, 2011


I hope Bethesda has learned their lesson on the leveling system for Skyrim. BECAUSE IT IS OUT IN A WEEK.

Anyway, I wish there were more difficult games out there, particularly on PC. Most RPGs are trivially easy even on the highest difficulty settings. The same is true for many shooters. Some strategy games buck the trend but that is primarily through swamping the player with massive AI advantages as in Civ IV.

For all its faults, Dragon Age 2 got the difficulty down pretty well with the Nightmare setting. Eminently beatable (lots of fights are still trivial) but you have to understand how the various skills and attributes work and interact. I don't know why anyone would play any other difficulty.
posted by Justinian at 2:24 PM on November 3, 2011


It's old now, but for a PC FPS you could try Halo:CE. The single player campaign on Legendary (hardest difficulty setting) is hella fun and hella hard. (Actually I've never played it on PC but this is true for the XBox version)
posted by 3FLryan at 2:47 PM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


(I can't vouch for the fun-ness of subsequent Halo titles' campaign mode b/c I just played them for the multiplayer, but I think the difficulty is still there)
posted by 3FLryan at 2:52 PM on November 3, 2011




I've wanted to play Dark Souls since it's available on the 360, and have been intending to pick it up because everyone is talking about how "pure" and "challenging" and "genre-defying" and "hard but fair" it is, but then I realised, no. A hundred times no. No, why would I? Why would I do that when there's stuff like Gears of War 3 and Saints Row 3 and Arkham City that I still haven't played? Why would I want to be punished by a game, be frustrated by it, and feel accomplishment only in tiny increments, when I can wait for Skyrim and just enjoy myself totally all the way through (if Skyrim turns out to be anything like the last two Elder Scrolls, anyway)?
posted by tumid dahlia at 4:07 PM on November 3, 2011


...I naively picked Batman instead of the Hulk...

I have never played any RPG as anything other than a fighter/ranger/paladin/knight/warrior character. Bows and arrows and little rogue daggers and magic fizzbombs just never worked for me. Sure if it's a party game I'm happy to have those folks along but for me it's always the smashy Hulk guy.
posted by tumid dahlia at 6:51 PM on November 3, 2011


I hope Bethesda has learned their lesson on the leveling system for Skyrim.

Fallout 3 was much better in terms of leveling. In fact, you could focus on building up the skills you wanted your character to have without worrying about training minor skills. It was the first game I've played all the way through in a long time.

BECAUSE IT IS OUT IN A WEEK.

Squee!
posted by formless at 10:04 PM on November 3, 2011


I am no longer an antisocial twelve year old boy with lots of time to burn. "Darwinian difficulty" ain't for me. I want to be taught how to play your game.

The one game in recent years I was willing to master despite no tutorial and an initially crushing difficultly was Minter's Space Giraffe and that was mostly because I have a hell of a lot of trust in him as a game designer, and a very high-powered visual cortex due to being an artist and an animator.

Also I don't know what was up with the author hating on Bayonetta for having enemies pop up who are immune to your time-stopping dodge, I thought that provided a nice spin on things. Maybe he was the dude who wrote the FAQ I consulted when I wanted to go collecting pickups who talked about skipping all the "stupid" cutscenes, which of course were half of why I was playing the thing.
posted by egypturnash at 10:10 AM on November 4, 2011


Why would I want to be punished by a game, be frustrated by it, and feel accomplishment only in tiny increments, when I can wait for Skyrim and just enjoy myself totally all the way through

If it's not your thing, it's not your thing. But any given hour I've spent playing Demon's Souls or Dark Souls has felt more vital, complex, unusual and memorable than any given hour I've spent on Oblivion. And I've spent the same number of hours per game. The visceral risk/reward, fight-or-flight emotions of every single moment of the game are like nothing else I've experienced in gaming. The Elder Scrolls series was always my absolute favorite until these Other Games came along and rocked my world.
posted by naju at 1:49 PM on November 4, 2011


That said, hell yeah Skyrim next week. I hear the developers took some inspiration from Demon's Souls' combat mechanics, which makes me tremendously happy.
posted by naju at 1:51 PM on November 4, 2011


Skyrim, well I hope they fixed some of the more basic things first. Reportedly they did try to improve the NPC dialogue options. But there are more annoyances that seem like really obvious bugs that I can't believe made it in to Oblivion as released. Such as the way when you're stealing a horse, if the horse happens to notice you doing so (which it doesn't if you sneak up on it) it instantly sends an equine telepathic message to every Imperial guard in the whole world that you are a notorious horse thief, whereafter they will all recognize you on sight and drop whatever they're doing to chase as far as you care to lead them. With that kind of law enforcement, it's a wonder the thieves guild exists at all.
posted by sfenders at 3:04 PM on November 4, 2011


I dunno, dood, I'd say that roguelikes are very much about player skill and knowledge of the randomized environment.

I never said it wasn't about skill. The question is not so much about the player learning curve as the game difficulty curve. The player skill becomes a factor from game-to-game, but not so much within a single game. I'm not dissing roguelikes, and I'm actually a big fan of some of them (Omega and Incursion in particular).

Yeah, the difficulty curve in roguelikes comes from monsters getting tougher and more numerous faster than you can level up. For the most part you can't just "tank" a roguelike - you have to take advantage of environment and items to survive.

I don't see how that's true. In most roguelikes, you can choose how deep you go in whatever dungeon, and have a lot of control over the game's difficulty curve. You can sit in one place and grind all day before progressing further on. A few games like Incursion have mechanisms to limit this, but at least that one isn't 100% successful.
posted by Edgewise at 7:57 PM on November 5, 2011


I don't see how that's true. In most roguelikes, you can choose how deep you go in whatever dungeon, and have a lot of control over the game's difficulty curve. You can sit in one place and grind all day before progressing further on. A few games like Incursion have mechanisms to limit this, but at least that one isn't 100% successful.

Most roguelikes try to limit or prevent the ability of a player to make the game easier through level grinding. In the original Rogue, there is a hunger mechanic, and the only way to find more food is to explore more dungeon levels, so stalling on a given level is not an option due to the threat of starvation. Hacklike roguelikes at least have persistent levels, so once you clear Level 3, all you can do is move on since there are no respawning enemies to continue killing to get experience points. And roguelikes that do have respawning enemies tend to make it very difficult to kill low level enemies to get to higher experience levels, some even going to the point where low level monsters give no experience points at all to a character that is already at a higher level. In a well designed roguelike, the character power curve is difficult for the player to affect, and most of the difficult comes from proper item management and tactics.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:38 AM on November 7, 2011


While Hack does use persistant dungeon levels, it does generate new monsters over time. Earlier versions of hack have harder food systems than Nethack, but neither is as hard as Rogue since they let you eat dead monsters (although some monster corpses are dangerous themselves).
posted by JHarris at 7:31 PM on November 7, 2011


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