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The one-button power trip
November 6, 2012 6:00 AM   Subscribe

Should the feelings of empowerment in videogames be earned through skill, or doled out free of charge?
posted by Cloud King (92 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
I realized I'm not enough of a gamer (read: not at all) to understand this article as I should, but this snippet:
Challenge doesn’t always mean an ultra-hardcore approach to difficulty – not everyone wants the punishing brutality of Super Meat Boy...
Well, DAMN! Suddenly I want to know more about the punishing brutality of Super Meat Boy!
posted by xingcat at 6:05 AM on November 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


I dunno man, there's more than one videogame, why don't we do both? That way people can do whatever is fun for them.

OK, are we done here?
posted by Scientist at 6:08 AM on November 6, 2012 [25 favorites]


Assasins Creed set in the Revolutionary War? Ugh.
posted by stormpooper at 6:10 AM on November 6, 2012


Yeah, the Assassin's Creed people are really boxing themselves into a corner by crossing the Atlantic. "Hooded Figure In White" is not a playable character design after you pass the American Civil War.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:14 AM on November 6, 2012 [35 favorites]


A lot of Mefites would play "Assassin's Creed: Wall Street."
posted by Nomyte at 6:17 AM on November 6, 2012 [11 favorites]


Assasins Creed set in the Revolutionary War? Ugh.

I'm not done with the Ezio games yet so I can't say firsthand, but supposedly the historical context is handled very well. Multiple review have remarked on the game's lack of jingoism. For what that's worth.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 6:19 AM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Hooded Figure In White" is not a playable character design after you pass the American Civil War.

Although strangely it becomes viable again around the twenty-third century...

I see his point. Still what really makes a good game isn't (just) hitting the sweet spot between challenge and accessibility, it's stimulating the imagination and engaging the emotions - which is a whole nother dimension.
posted by Segundus at 6:19 AM on November 6, 2012


I play on easy most of the time, and have no shame regarding this. Usually harder difficulties just mean enemies take more hits to kill and/or there's more of them, and what's the fun in that? I've tried playing games like Uncharted or God of War on higher difficulties and it just makes them more of a slog. I want to experience something new each time I sit down to play a game, and if a game is holding me back until I kill enough toughies I lose interest.

This article actually intrigues me, as I always found the story and environments of the AssCreed series to be interesting and attractive, but the combat and climbing, the guts of the game, to be super wonky. If they've streamlined it it might have made the game more attractive to me. I mean, I'll still wait until it's $20 or less, but it's not an avoid forever any more.
posted by yellowbinder at 6:20 AM on November 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Some times, I want to have to optimize and get things just right and be challenged. Sometimes, I'm more concerned with what happens to the character(s) than the question of whether I can kill everyone as quickly as possible. And sometimes, I just want to fire up cheats, make myself invulnerable, and beat everyone in the half life universe to death with a crowbar. Generally, I play games on easy or medium.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:21 AM on November 6, 2012


Man if I spent 50 bucks or more on a game and didn't get to see the whole thing just because I was bad at games, I'd probably want to burn the world down. GOD MODE ALWAYS.
posted by SharkParty at 6:22 AM on November 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well, DAMN! Suddenly I want to know more about the punishing brutality of Super Meat Boy!

Super Meat Boy is what is known as Nintendo Hard. You will die. A lot. (Admittedly, that's Brad, and Brad is Brad at games, but it's pretty indicative.)

"Hooded Figure In White" is not a playable character design after you pass the American Civil War.

The protagonist would be pretty old, almost certainly dead by the time of the Civil War. Any further protagonist would be in a different era, probably in a different place.
posted by kmz at 6:23 AM on November 6, 2012


"Hooded Figure In White" is not a playable character design after you pass the American Civil War.

You overlook the potential for Assassin's Creed: Nazi Hunter.
posted by Smart Dalek at 6:26 AM on November 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


AC:Brotherhood solves this by being too easy to complete in part, but having a bonus goal or restriction for each mission that makes it somewhat hard.
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:30 AM on November 6, 2012


"Hooded Figure In White" is not a playable character design after you pass the American Civil War.

It is, although I think it'd be a character that none of us would play (and very few people in general).
posted by Hactar at 6:31 AM on November 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Native America Calling program on Assassin's Creed 3's Native American content. (direct m3u link) Guests include Jeff Ramos, Community and Content Manager for Games for Change, Noah Watts (Crow) Actor, Thomas Deer (Haudenosaunee/Mohawk Nation) Cultural Liaison at Kahnawa:ke Cultural Center and Matt Turner Writer on Assassin's Creed III.
posted by hippybear at 6:37 AM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Should the feelings of empowerment in videogames be earned through skill, or doled out free of charge?

Never compromise. Not even in the face of Armageddon.
posted by Artw at 6:41 AM on November 6, 2012


I just want to throw out another shout for Dark Souls (and Demon Souls) which are easily the most challenging games I've played in over 20 years. They are hard; brutally hard, but fair: and brutally so. When you die, it is Your Fault. You were Stupid. You Did Something Wrong. And you Know What It Was. You dodged the wrong way. You didn't husband your stamina. You used the wrong weapon. You misread the enemy's movements and walked into a sword. You tried to heal within easy striking distance. You fell off a bridge. You lowered your shield too soon. Or too late. Your sword broke because you didn't repair it. You wore the wrong armour which has no lightning resistance and you got zapped to hell. You didn't maintain situational awareness and you backed into a lava pool. You didn't duck under the arrows being fired at you. You didn't dive behind the pike being swung at you. You didn't pay attention, you didn't think, you didn't integrate, you didn't act accordingly.

There's a thousand ways to die, and you'll die a thousand times.

Until you don't die. Because you did it right.

And that is one hell of a god damn rush.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:45 AM on November 6, 2012 [9 favorites]


For me, the first Ninja Gaiden for the original XBox is one of the very small handful of video games that gave me a sense of actual accomplishment. Damn, that game was tight.
posted by the painkiller at 6:49 AM on November 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


kmz, you're not familiar with the AC games, are you...
posted by Pendragon at 6:50 AM on November 6, 2012


"Doled out for free" in this case apparently means to "easy for a person who has more than a few hundred hours experience with stealth and block-strike mechanics to game the combat scripts."
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:50 AM on November 6, 2012


kmz, you're not familiar with the AC games, are you...

I am quite familiar with them. I didn't want to get into the Desmond/animus thing. But the historical protagonists Altair, Ezio, and Connor are all from very different places and times. There's no reason the next historical protagonist would have to a mid 1800s American, and in fact pretty good reason to believe won't be.
posted by kmz at 6:57 AM on November 6, 2012


Yes.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:58 AM on November 6, 2012


If you like Super Meat Boy (or if you wish you liked Super Meat Boy but it grosses you out) try Dustforce. Nintendo-hard combo-maintaining platforming with charming graphics.
posted by straight at 7:10 AM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dishonored (at the high difficulty settings) is an extremely challenging game, but based on how well it was received it's hard to claim that the challenge level is diminishing the game's audience.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 7:11 AM on November 6, 2012


I dunno man, there's more than one videogame, why don't we do both? That way people can do whatever is fun for them.

That's really all that needs to be said. There are still plenty of hard games for people who want that. The Assassins Creed series has never been that. It's like criticizing AC for not having enough race cars in it.
posted by straight at 7:13 AM on November 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


While I have a certain amount of sympathy for the article's position, the whole thing kind of pisses me off.

Playing a video game is consuming entertainment, nothing more. Games provide you with the illusion of having achieved something valuable, not an actual victory. It's not like, say, learning to play the guitar where after n hours of practice and study, you can make music. Having mastered a difficult game just means that you're now good at that game; your hard-fought victory will always be a pretend one and any skills you learn will (almost) only ever be useful for playing that or similar games.

Which is fine. Some people enjoy the challenge. I don't, which is why I like easy games. I enjoy the illusion of being a badass.

But what annoys me about the article is the implication that I'm spoiled and entitled because I didn't want to spend sixty hours learning to become a pretend assassin/battlemage/race car driver before I could get to the fun part of the game. I didn't get my easy pretend-victory for free; I paid sixty bucks for it.

(That being said, gameplay mechanics are very cheap to modify these says. There's really no excuse for a game to not have a super-ultra-difficult mode for people who want it.)
posted by suetanvil at 7:16 AM on November 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


A somewhat related counter-point, posted just yesterday, coincidentally using the same franchise as its jumping-off point: An Argument For Easy Achievements.
posted by nobody at 7:31 AM on November 6, 2012


Having mastered a difficult game just means that you're now good at that game; your hard-fought victory will always be a pretend one and any skills you learn will (almost) only ever be useful for playing that or similar games.

Not really true. There are a whole lot of transferable skills one can improve from video games, not the least of which is the skill of learning itself.
posted by empath at 7:42 AM on November 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


I haven't tried Super Meat Boy, but I have yet to meet a game more challenging (or satisfying) than Sinistar.
posted by Jpfed at 7:43 AM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Super Meat Boy doesn't really have an answer for BEWARE, I LIVE!
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:44 AM on November 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Try super hexagon.
posted by empath at 7:49 AM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


And yeah, I like to play games on hard mode because it forces me to learn and react, rather than just coasting through. Unless there's a really good story to go through, which sadly isn't often the case.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:51 AM on November 6, 2012


Having mastered a difficult game just means that you're now good at that game; your hard-fought victory will always be a pretend one and any skills you learn will (almost) only ever be useful for playing that or similar games.

Developing the tenacity and problem solving skills required in doing hard things is a skill in an of itself.

I play all my games on the hardest level. Some of them are still ridiculously easy (Deus Ex) and some are stupid impossible hard (Civ 5).

My wife likes crossword puzzles, but they bore the shit out of me and make me stabby. Hard or easy ? Who cares, they're stupid crosswords, right ?

She has the same complaint about video games.


Anyway, you see this same thing crop up in games like WoW, where the gulf in skill between some players can be immense. It is a never ending source of grar, let me tell you.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:52 AM on November 6, 2012


My son and I are addicted to Monster Hunter Tri, which is a game that, while it requires grinding for better gear, never really enters "instant godlike death machine mode." You can still mess up and get killed by something you should handle easily. The neat thing is that you get better weapons and armor, but your character/avatar stays EXACTLY THE SAME. So if you put down that awesome hammer you made and pick up a starter weapon, you will do starter level damage, essentially.

The other really neat thing is that, if you are skilled enough, you can beat just about any monster without any armor at all. But it's really hard to be that skilled.

OTOH it's rad when you get to shoot fireballs as Mario, and is not earned at all.
posted by Mister_A at 8:00 AM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Videogames are still in a weird period where the vast majority of its consumers will, without question, consider the title's sales figures to be the definitive indicator of quality.

Triple-A titles now require enormous, enormous outlay in order to be perceived as 'competitive' in the modern market. This means that they cannot afford to be exclusionary of any demographic that they figure would express even slight interest in buying the title--this includes the millions of folks who just want to chill out and essentially watch a movie that gives them the barest and most minimal lip service mechanics towards personal agency within the narrative. And you know what? that's fine.

But it does mean that it's come to a major split-point in videogames where the "core gamer" mono-market* starts becoming palpably divided between the desires of mainstream consumers and--for lack of a better word--connoisseurs who are and will start seeking out smaller and more challenging titles that are now economically feasible thanks to digital distribution infrastructure.

Mainstream game consumers, on the other hand, seem to prefer something that is more the product of 'experience management'. I'd say modern Triple-A videogame designers have far more in common with Disney Theme Park Imagineers than, say, card or board game designers--their task is to aggregate people of vastly different skill sets and behaviors into the same experience without showing the metaphorical 'ride queues' or any 'litter' while simultaneously giving the illusion of an intensely personal experience.

These two demographics have been strange bedfellows for the last decade and I'm unsure how much longer it's going to last. When it dissolves, I think the weird obsession gamers have over sales as a quality metric is going to evaporate as well.

*There is already a perceived split between 'casual' and 'core gamer' markets. I'm skeptical that the demographic differentiator is all that much more than the time the target audience is prepared to invest in playing.
posted by whittaker at 8:12 AM on November 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


One point in this article that is absolutely true: Bayonetta is THE BEST!!!
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:15 AM on November 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


OTOH it's rad when you get to shoot fireballs as Mario, and is not earned at all.

Except it is: in order to shoot fireballs you must have made it through enough game-space to have picked up a mushroom and a flower without getting damaged. The fireball is absolutely a reward.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:15 AM on November 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


You overlook the potential for Assassin's Creed: Nazi Hunter.

Man, I wish I worked over at Ubisoft just to see how far into a pitch I could get before they realized I was just describing Wolfenstein 3D.
posted by griphus at 8:26 AM on November 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


[from the article]"But at what point does coddling players become unbearable?"

Well, that's pretty subjective obviously but - I'm not sure when it happened, but some time around 10 or so years ago games stopped being all about the challenge and the honing of skill and became more about inhabiting digital worlds.

That is to say, the mechanics of AC3 allow you to move around and interact in a massive, (sort of) imaginary world unlike anything else. Maybe it all started back with GTAIII, the first game that was a hit with the masses that allowed everyone to really occupy a digital space without the confines of an immediate goal to reach.

Some people value this movement and 'tourism gaming' more than they value 'skill' games. And you know, the market is robust enough to support them both. The 'Souls' games seem to be selling pretty well by appealing to their bases, and the AssCreed games are doing just fine.

I find the bemoaning by hacky game journos about the loss of difficulty in games as a tired take on the old 'remember when' trope. Games can be lot's of things. It's OK. Take a deep breath, and keep punishing your Meat Boy if you want a stiff challenge.
posted by Tevin at 8:28 AM on November 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Whittaker has it-- also part of that obsession with sales is due to platform partisanship, which is because gamers have had a vested interest in which titles sell more for which console. I think that's less of an issue now than it was previously, since multiple consoles have been viable and ports are far more common, so you don't have the sega vs Nintendo mindset or Xbox vs Playstation mindset any more.
posted by empath at 8:28 AM on November 6, 2012


Video game skills do translate to life, like many other entertainment challenges. I may not fight eighty foot long swamp dragons with a thousand teeth on a daily basis but it is helpful to be able to react quickly when I drop something or a car leaps a curb.

And really anything that enhances ones skills at observation, integration, analysis and reaction speed is going to ease similar tasks in the "real world".

Play is deeply ingrained in the psyche of all animals, and not just mammals -- birds and fish will play. Skills are practiced in low-risk environments so that those skills are ready when there is actual performance risk. It's essential behaviour.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:34 AM on November 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


Even a game like starcraft teaches you strategic thinking, how to operate under stress, the ability to perform multiple tasks simultaneously with competence, how to prioritize between multiple simultaneous goals, etc... In a way that immediately gives feedback on success and failure.
posted by empath at 8:43 AM on November 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Plus, who hasn't needed to move an apartment full of furniture, and the truck is slightly too small, and then *rolls-up-sleeves* this is what 200 hours of Tetris has prepared me for.
posted by fragmede at 8:50 AM on November 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Even a game like starcraft teaches you strategic thinking, how to operate under stress, the ability to perform multiple tasks simultaneously with competence, how to prioritize between multiple simultaneous goals, etc... In a way that immediately gives feedback on success and failure."

So ... what? I mean, that game does that, but is it more valuable than a game that allows you to experience a vision of a world you would otherwise never get to see? Or a story you would never experience? The lessons learned may not be strategic but I think they're no less important.

Sometimes I like one or the other, but I don't think either has more intrinsic value.
posted by Tevin at 8:50 AM on November 6, 2012


I'm pretty sure that if a 3D RTS ever really takes hold (what was the last big one? Flotilla? Homeworld 2?) the way that StarCraft did, the world will never again have to worry about where the next air traffic controllers are coming from.
posted by griphus at 8:50 AM on November 6, 2012


fragmede except when you insert a lamp between between the sides of the truck and your sofa that is piled with books and other boxes and the whole goddam lot disappears.
posted by Tevin at 8:51 AM on November 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'd say modern Triple-A videogame designers have far more in common with Disney Theme Park Imagineers than, say, card or board game designers.

I like this comparison, as I think it shows a much-needed respect for the people who work on these games. Such a guided experience may not be for everyone, but that doesn't discount it entirely—it's all about how well the designers execute the type of game they've chosen to make.

Extending this comparison, we could say that digital entertainment is expanding into a variety of forms, much in the way that live-action entertainment can be composed of a variety of forms like LARPing, plays, theme-park rides, and others. We now have a variety of videogames (and game-like things) that appeal to different audiences in much the same way. Some people like watching passively while a story unfolds; others want to be more engaged, so they go to dinner theatre and pepper the servers with questions; and still more want to be fully involved in creating the story, so they grab some elf ears and tennis-ball-tipped arrows and have a blast.
posted by sadmarvin at 8:58 AM on November 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hi, the AC games are actually hard for me. There are certain levels that for some reason just take ages and ages and ages. And then all of a sudden you're stampeding towards the ending (which I find frustrating. It might be nice to know something like "going forward with this task will end the chapter" before committing to it).
posted by Deathalicious at 8:59 AM on November 6, 2012


Super Meat Boy inspired at least one hilarious ragequit.
posted by mullingitover at 9:04 AM on November 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


Sometimes I like one or the other, but I don't think either has more intrinsic value.

I didn't say it did.
posted by empath at 9:07 AM on November 6, 2012


Gaming these days is like bowling with the bumper lanes. "Press X to win" used to be a very dismissive joke, pretty much the rudest thing you could say about a game. Now it's in the official strategy guide (presented by Doritos and Mountain Dew).
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:07 AM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nothing Is stopping games from tailoring the difficulty in a way other than easy/normal/hard. You could dynamically change QTE length and difficulty, make inputs more or less forgiving, as moves and combos are unlocked you could make the inputs simple or complex based on how well the player is doing.

I don't really understand the "filthy casuals are dumbing down games" rage. You have no right to dictate the difficulty of a AAA title. People want hugely complex open worlds and hundreds of hours of content now, the game has to sell.

There are hard as shit games besides SMB. Check out the 300+ runthroughs Northernlion has done of The Binding of Isaac.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:09 AM on November 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sorry, empath I didn't mean to imply it was your argument, but that of the article. Should have been more clear.
posted by Tevin at 9:10 AM on November 6, 2012


MeFightClub members who play Left 4 Dead 2 do so almost exclusively in Realism mode, which makes it much harder to see your teammates, weapons, health kits, etc. It forces cooperation and is unforgiving. And that's just when you're playing against the game's AI. When playing in Versus mode against human opponents, Realism Versus is sadistic, insane fun. It's pulse-pounding, and demands total focus and constant communication. And that's all MeFight players will play. It makes all other game modes seem almost corny by comparison, but it can be difficult to get games together (eight players needed for Versus) because so few people are dedicated to playing that way. Evidently a MeFight player met a game developer, and told him he regularly played Realism Versus. The dev was dumbstruck--he did not expect anyone to play that way.
posted by oneironaut at 9:16 AM on November 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yeah, Sinistar's pretty hard. The weird thing is, it's not hard because of Sinistar, but because of those damn Warrior ships. Sinistar roars and taunts you to let you know he's coming, but the Warriors can show up any time, fire very hard to see bullets very quickly, and start firing a second after they appear. They are extremely annoying.
posted by JHarris at 9:26 AM on November 6, 2012


When people say SMB and mean it Super Meat Boy, I feel like I have to remind them that those words could also mean Super Mario Bros

Super Meat Boy isn't even the hardest game with those initials. That would be the insanity-inducing SUPER MONKEY BALL.
posted by JHarris at 9:28 AM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm a bunch of hours along in AC3. I don't know if the reviewer played very much, but the ease of combat he describes only applies to the base-level minion Redcoats. The challenge with them is not in winning a fight, but in chaining fancy kills together (a mechanic similar to the recent Batman Arkham games). A bit later, the mobs of baddies include heavy weapon wielders and "captains" (who punch you in the head when you try to use the parry-and-kill move that the reviewer describes). And any sizable fight is sure to have a firing line of out-of-reach riflemen who interrupt your knifey shenanigans as often as they can reload. They will occasionally team up on you such that one is choking you from behind while another stabs and shoots you, and I still haven't figured out how to avoid or break that move reliably. I get killed fighting sometimes, and I often fail the optional mission challenges because of fights that I should have been clever enough to sneak around or that I wasn't able to fight through quickly or cleanly enough.

It's true that the game is pretty easy, even for a console title. But the combat is just thorny enough that I am motivated to play in smarter ways, generally by exploring and discovering how to optimize or avoid fights based on environmental features. So I rate the play design as solid.

The writing in the game, though, EWWW-EEEEEE. (That is the sound you make when you smell something very stinky.)
posted by damehex at 9:29 AM on November 6, 2012


Ad hominem: Nothing Is stopping games from tailoring the difficulty in a way other than easy/normal/hard. You could dynamically change QTE length and difficulty, make inputs more or less forgiving, as moves and combos are unlocked you could make the inputs simple or complex based on how well the player is doing.

I kind of hate auto-adjusting difficulty. It's like rubberband AI in a racing game - it completely disconnects progress in the game from how well you play.

Good difficulty is hard to do, but it can make or break a game. This is even true of open-world games; nothing ruins one of those more than having endless slogs through easy enemies. Well, there's one thing; when they apply the idiot's idea of harder difficulty settings and simply give the monsters more HP, thus lengthening the slog. Or schizophrenic difficulty, so you crunch through hordes of easy monsters early on only to find out that hard becomes unplayable nine hours into the game. That actually reaches out beyond the game and ruins the hard setting of other games, since you don't want to try them lest you be stuck halfway through.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:32 AM on November 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sinistar is not hard, it's just mean; there's relatively little skill involved because you don't have a ton of control over your ship, Sinistar flies faster than you do, enemies fly faster than you do and shoot unavoidable bullets, and the giant playfield is littered with random fast-moving obstacles. There are no dedicated pro hardcore Sinistar players to my knowledge.

Now Robotron, Robotron is hard, and glinting in its steel purity. It is one screen big; that is all you get. You have significant direct, fast control over your character's movements and can fire in eight directions. And in the endgame, very frequently, choosing to die a certain way is the optimal decision.

But if you want a hard game...
posted by felix at 9:39 AM on November 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


There is also the fact that easy games like Skyrim offer a different Experience than hard games. Hard games are meant to be played over and over. Spelunky or Binding of Isaac can both be completed in under 30 minutes but it may take you hundreds of tried to get there. DayZ is played in short bursts, there is really no progression to speak of.

Can you imagine a game with a 50 hour play time and a punishing death mechanic? Skyrim with permadeath could take fucking years for some people.

Or schizophrenic difficulty, so you crunch through hordes of easy monsters early on only to find out that hard becomes unplayable nine hours into the game

I think you just notice the bad implementations. Not like I have any solutions.

That would be the insanity-inducing SUPER MONKEY BALL

I was incredibly dedicated to Super Monkey Ball, I could even do insane shortcuts, jumping from one part of the track to another for speed runs.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:43 AM on November 6, 2012


Can you imagine a game with a 50 hour play time and a punishing death mechanic?

Let me tell you about Diablo on Hardcore.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:49 AM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


When people say SMB and mean it Super Meat Boy, I feel like I have to remind them that those words could also mean Super Mario Bros

Yeah, I specifically avoided the abbreviation for that reason.

Sinistar is not hard, it's just mean; there's relatively little skill involved because you don't have a ton of control over your ship, Sinistar flies faster than you do, enemies fly faster than you do and shoot unavoidable bullets, and the giant playfield is littered with random fast-moving obstacles.

I disagree. Re skill, I saw myself get better at it until I topped the scoreboards at the local arcade. It seemed like a pretty direct experiential confirmation of the existence of skill as a factor in the game.

The ship is responsive enough that you can dodge these things. The fact that Sinistar flies faster than you means that you can't run straight away from him for long, but you CAN fly around him. This slows his ability to close distance with you; during this time, spam him with bombs. Once Sinistar appears, and you have enough bombs, you're actually doing ok. Most of the challenge of a given level is surviving up to that point while harvesting the bombs.

Now Robotron, Robotron is hard, and glinting in its steel purity. It is one screen big; that is all you get. You have significant direct, fast control over your character's movements and can fire in eight directions. And in the endgame, very frequently, choosing to die a certain way is the optimal decision.

You'll get no argument from me on this.
posted by Jpfed at 9:50 AM on November 6, 2012


Speaking of games that are ... easy?

Anyone playing Curiosity?
posted by Tevin at 9:52 AM on November 6, 2012


Can you imagine a game with a 50 hour play time and a punishing death mechanic? Skyrim with permadeath could take fucking years for some people.

What you'd see is a collapse in the amount of surrounding "plot" and story; a decrease in emphasis on traveling and investigation, etc. In addition, there's just no way that permadeath can be happily combined with hours of ramp-up gameplay when you create a new character.
posted by verb at 9:54 AM on November 6, 2012


One point in this article that is absolutely true: Bayonetta is THE BEST!!!

Oh, my, yes. Satisfying combat, a fun aesthetic, and a storyline smart enough to know when it's dumb and make fun of itself.

*googles*

Aw, crap. Bayonetta 2 is going to be a Wii exclusive? That makes no sense and is sucky.
posted by gurple at 10:01 AM on November 6, 2012


What you'd see is a collapse in the amount of surrounding "plot" and story; a decrease in emphasis on traveling and investigation, etc. In addition, there's just no way that permadeath can be happily combined with hours of ramp-up gameplay when you create a new character.

I guess we would end up with Diablo.

Really a different experience. In many hard games you try to do as little as possible and the only incentive you have to do everything is getting an achievement.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:04 AM on November 6, 2012


I'm all for gaming's enfolding of a broader player base. Every date I can go on without feeling like one of my major hobbies makes me a pariah is a victory. There's all sorts of room for theme parks and sandboxes and everything in between. But here's the thing. Right now, games are having a little bit of an identity crisis. Too many are trying to be all things to all people.
The best example I have off the top of my head is the new XCOM remake. Firaxis is known for strategy games. In the typical strategy game, the narrative is built in play. The actual act of playing generates a narrative skeleton upon which a player's imagination can place bricks of meaning. That sort of thing is very appealing to me for a lot of reasons. It's more cost-effective from a development standpoint, and it makes a player more engaged by virtue of addressing them as an agent in the game world. These are my soldiers damn it. And I've named them after my friends. When they die through mistakes I've made I feel the loss more acutely. So I'd like nothing more than to grab the throat of the asshole marketing executive at 2K that decided to put aminiature prefab narrative in the middle of my personal narrative as DLC. Sure, I can choose not to buy it, and I plan on that. But you know you've got a problem when games can't just be what they are without someone coming along and mucking around with the unique formula that makes that game great. The same applies to Call of Duty with its too-short single player campaigns and extensive multiplayer. Let the game have its own identity whether that be sandbox, vehicle for multiplayer competition, on-rails cinematic joyride, or what have you. This will all be fixed as the industry grows and segments like all other forms of media have done and will continue to do. But in the mean time, I just want to love my own little story constructed of zeros and ones without somebody coming in and pissing all over it with their own idea of what my story should be. It's a question of developer intent and clarity of vision. Dishonoured has no multiplayer for a reason. It was built with rock solid intent. Arkane knew what they wanted to build from day one and they built it. I don't mean to harp on multiplayer specifically, for the record. It's just what comes immediately to mind.

TL;DR there's room for all kinds of games, but developers need to stop shoehorning incompatible styles and systems together in order to cover a larger market base. It's dishonest and obnoxious. And for what it's worth, XCOM's handling of difficulty is actually quite exemplary. Easy is quite easy, normal is a slightly more difficult version of that, and classic and impossible are in their own tiers of masochism to which I have no intention of subjecting myself.
posted by Ephelump Jockey at 10:16 AM on November 6, 2012


I tried playing a roommate's copy of... one of the Assassin's Creed games, I honestly have no idea if it was 1 or 2. Watching their dude run around town looked like a lot of fun; I've wanted to see a third-person parkour game for a while and this looked like it.

Until I played it, and discovered that all you have to do is to hold down a trigger and aim the stick. Your guy then does all the parkour for you. I think I lasted like ten minutes before I said "fuck it" and put Jet Set Radio Future back in to get the fix of flowing, acrobatic running and jumping that I was expecting.
posted by egypturnash at 10:16 AM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


^Try playing Mirror's Edge. There are lots of buttons to press, and the game does a pretty good job of incorporating the importance momentum has on parkour-style movements.

You don't play Assassin's Creed as much as you watch it. I'll admit that some of my favorite games are either "Nintendo hard" or cult classics or both, but the so-called best games often find a way to provide a wide variety of gamers a shared and memorable experience. Really, the article's argument is almost too easy to pick apart. Scientist probably said it best in that every game can't be for everyone; it's not like I play Super Mario for the engrossing story. Platinum Games pretty much knows they'll get a sale out of me with each title, but your mileage may vary.

The difference with Assassin's Creed is simply the target audience. I actually like reading the snarky, historical database entries, so obtaining all of those definitely ramps up the difficulty (as someone already mentioned, the game also adds extra objectives in each mission to make it harder for completionists). But if I were just relaxing with someone else watching me play, I'd forego the extra difficulty to the point where it seems like you're watching a 20-hour movie. Then, I'd go back and play something like Dark Souls to get my fix of masochistically soul-crushing difficulty. If you want to end the "can video games be an art form" debate, then something like this has to be allowable.
posted by Johann Georg Faust at 10:22 AM on November 6, 2012


I hate your fun! You are doing it wrong! My fun is better! You should stop having your fun and have my fun instead!

Sigh.

Ah, video game journalism. You're so reliable.
posted by Myca at 10:23 AM on November 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


Oh, smug video game nerds. (I am one too, often.)

The whole "modern games are too easy" thing has been a hot topic for a few years now, although it's often also a dog whistle for "dumb girls are ruining my games". Damn this more diverse audience!

The article is pretty dismissive of QTEs, but man, I'm in the middle of playing Heavy Rain which is pretty much all QTEs and it's a great story and a wonderful game experience. Many people played the previous ACs as much for the story and the characters as for the gameplay, and that is entirely valid.

The gaming industry is no longer, like, 3 companies releasing a half dozen titles. Thousands of games come out each year now, literally. So perhaps it used to be that 80% of the market was Nintendo-style tough and now it's more like 20%, but that diversity is awesome for the player. I want great stories and amazing characters and strange new worlds and compelling gameplay, and, occasionally, infuriating toughness.
posted by jess at 10:23 AM on November 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


Just because I suck at video games doesn't mean I shouldn't be able to enjoy video games.
posted by ckape at 10:35 AM on November 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I can't believe we're still having this conversation when player-selected levels of difficulty is no longer an unusual feature. Why not let people play games the way they want to? It makes me think of the crazy Internet video game drama that happened when one of the Bioware writers was interviewed and said that she didn't care much for actually playing games, she was far more interested in story...which makes a lot of sense given that she's a writer who works for one of the few devs who actually invests in decent writing and story crafting. Her comments unleashed a backlash against her from a subsection of gamers, shocked that for her, story was the most important aspect of the game, not combat.

There was also the backlash against FFXIII being too linear and the paradigm system too much like autoplay. I didn't have an issue with either of these criticisms, but they're valid depending upon what kind of game mechanics you yourself favor. (I thought the obnoxiousness and insufferableness of half of your party members was the biggest crime of FFXIII, myself.)

Like Myca above, I just don't understand why folks can't accept that everyone can enjoy their fun in whatever way they want.
posted by smirkette at 10:56 AM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


The problem is that there's only so much you can do with player-selected levels of difficulty when your entire combat mechanic is "hold down one button and occasionally press another button."
posted by Justinian at 11:08 AM on November 6, 2012


For my part, despite the flak Bioware gets over various choices they've made, I thought they absolutely nailed the difficulty settings in Dragon Age 2. Firaxis did a decent job with the difficulty settings in the new XCOM. And in the Civilization series. And so on. So I'm not just complaining; there are companies that get it right.
posted by Justinian at 11:09 AM on November 6, 2012


Her comments unleashed a backlash against her from a subsection of gamers, shocked that for her, story was the most important aspect of the game, not combat.

I think it is important to note that the conversation is among a small percentage of people who play games. This is what the morans on /r/gaming who got all pissy at Jennifer Helper don't understand, they represent a small section of the market. People still cater to them because they are "taste makers", but if they continue to act like petulant children they will be written off completely.

Really, console game devs should write them off already, they are all PC master race over there.

In short, /r/gaming is the dumbest shit ever. The only thing dumber is /r/books, like I really want to see pics of your used copy of The Great Gatsby. I don't care what fucking "gem" you "found" at some garage sale or your goddamn pokeyman anecdotes.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:11 AM on November 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


One of my favorite video gaming memories from my childhood doesn't actually involve playing video games. It was being stuck in a church basement with some kids I didn't know while our parents were attending some kind of civic meeting, talking about the new and mysterious and ineffably complex Nintendo games that had just been released. Most of us hadn't beaten the games yet; we were trading strategies and rumors, drawing maps of Metroid levels and pictures of what the final Zelda boss looked like...it was a nifty little moment in time, and the era of full-coverage strategy guides and adjustable difficulty followed quickly enough that no games ever quite carried the same aura of mystery after that, and I never had quite the same experience of a shared journey into the unknown with other gamers.

...Until Dark Souls. Hanging out in Dark Souls forums and discussing the game is the closest I've come to that old church basement feeling. And it's because the game is hard, and because we're all stuck playing it on the same fixed difficulty level, and because the game holds back so much in holding your hand and telling you what you need to do to master it.

So I think there's some value in making games that are unrelentingly difficult, and it's not just about separating the real gamers from the filthy casuals. Not giving you the option to one-button waltz through the game makes you part of a shared struggle with everybody else who's having the same experience, and for me, at least, it brought back a really enjoyable feeling of ad hoc community that's been missing from gaming for a long time.

I really like Dark Souls.
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:29 AM on November 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


The whole "modern games are too easy" thing has been a hot topic for a few years now, although it's often also a dog whistle for "dumb girls are ruining my games". Damn this more diverse audience!

I think it goes further than that, and that accessibility in modern gaming really brings out the closet conservative in a lot of gamers in a way that deserves a deeper examination. You might be right that the there's a sexist, possibly even racist element to the nostalgia for pay-to-play video games; I certainly don't remember the arcades of my youth being paragons of cultural diversity. The fact of the matter is, getting any good at old video games wasn't just a matter of "skill". You had to be able to afford to spend a pile of money, whether it was putting quarters into stand-ups or owning one of the early consoles, getting any good at video games was in many was a pure function of economic privilege.

It's worth looking at the backlash against the inexpensive, accessible Wii in this light, incidentally.

Put simply, video games _ownership_ has been democratized. Not perfectly, but more so all the time: you own your own video game machines, now, and a lot more people can afford it. There's no longer a fine balance to be struck between "the game as accessible fun" and "the arcade as a viable business", it's just whether or not the player enjoys it. So there is, frankly, not a lot of reason to kill your character all the time.

That's a legacy practice held over from an economic (and, hence, sociocultural) model that no longer exists. But even though it doesn't exist anymore, and wouldn't be the least bit viable if it did, it still holds this magical hold over a group of predominantly white, predominantly male gamers who are racked with nostalgia as their youth fades into memory and age slowly sinks its claws in to them.

Does that sound familiar to you, at all? Because if you're in the U.S., you're having a referendum on something a lot like it today.
posted by mhoye at 11:44 AM on November 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


The problem with the 'core gamers vs casual gamers' thing is that casual gamers represent the vast majority of sales for any AAA title. However, core gamers are a massively vocal minority, who do not realize that they are a minority. Also game journos and bloggers are core gamers. Developers and publishers know that core gamers are a minority, but in order for the casual gamers to buy the AAA title it has to review well (with core gamer journos/bloggers) and get good word of mouth from the vocal core gamers on the web, in the store, in the office, or at school. So developers have to make a game that will please the core gamers, but still be accessible to casual gamers.

This is quite tough. Difficulty levels are the answer (IMHO), but currently most difficulty level changes are broad tweaks to things like enemy HP. They need to be more complex, for example, changing the combat system in AC, or the parkour mechanic.

Like egypturnash, I picked up AC2 because, well, I loved Thief! This was going to be cool! And I stopped within 15 minutes because I hated the climbing mechanic. I just point the stick, and I don't get to do the jumping and climbing myself? I was disappointed. That would seem like a perfect place to tweak the system for different difficulty levels. Of course that's way too complex a change for any AAA developer to have time to implement, but that would be ideal. Same for combat; ideally combat would be QTE-driven for easy mode, and a combo-driven system for hard.
posted by Joh at 11:46 AM on November 6, 2012


I certainly don't remember the arcades of my youth being paragons of cultural diversity

This is an interesting conversation as well. In the documentary Chasing Ghosts, several old pro video game players lament fighting games and the "thugs and gangsters" they attracted. They blame the death of arcades on some sort of perception of danger, not the fact that all the casual gamers who kept those places afloat a few quarters at a time could now stay at home and not have to deal with annoying pro gamers.

To this day fighting gamers are much more diverse and many fighting gamers have never played any other games. Fighting gaming is completely distinct, it is about defeating a person, not a game.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:56 AM on November 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I stopped within 15 minutes because I hated the climbing mechanic. I just point the stick, and I don't get to do the jumping and climbing myself?

I think many people who say this misunderstand the Assassin's Creed parkour game mechanic. Even though it looks sort of like a Tomb Raider or Prince of Persia style climbing mechanic, it's a much different sort of thing. It requires both strategic and tactical thinking to choose your route as you climb and jump across the city. Rather than focusing on the micro-level mechanics of each jump and handhold, it's focused more on the higher-level challenge of choosing your route.

In Prince of Persia, there's usually only one route, with various climbing/jumping/puzzling obstacles, and the challenge is successfully navigating it. In Assassin's Creed, there are many routes and the challenge is finding the fastest one, the sneakiest one, or both. And looking or planning ahead so you don't run into an obstacle that can't be climbed or a gap that can't be jumped.

Also note, that starting with Assassin's Creed 2, they added a dozen dungeon levels (catacombs, abandoned cathedrals, etc) that are much more like Prince of Persia or Tomb Raider levels. They don't have the same feeling of acrobatic prowess, because they use mostly the same mechanics as the parkour, but it's a lot closer if that's the sort of thing you were looking for.
posted by straight at 12:21 PM on November 6, 2012


The games I tend to play are either games where dying or losing are largely meaningless (frex, Football Manager) or where you can recover from your mistakes (strategy games, tactical combat games and such) or where deaths are meaningless and you can quickly go back to the fun trying different things (racers, FPSes, fight games). Platformers and all those other games where dying means you're back at the start of a level and you just need to do everything perfectly to succeed, trying zillions of times until you get that one true route?

Not for me.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:36 PM on November 6, 2012


I like this comparison, as I think it shows a much-needed respect for the people who work on these games. Such a guided experience may not be for everyone, but that doesn't discount it entirely—it's all about how well the designers execute the type of game they've chosen to make.

My opinion on Dragon Age 2 and Mass Effect 3 is that Bioware failed to deliver on either coherent guided multimedia narrative or rich and complex game mechanics that reward multiple problem-solving approaches. The games are crap viewed as narratives, AND as problem-solving entertainment.

The result has left me a bit gun-shy when it comes to high-narrative games, mostly because I think the aesthetics of guided-experience narratives and those of a good RPG have a great deal of conflict in them. (I think Ebert was partially right on that point.)

Hardcore mode in Diablo* and Torchlight* is primarily challenging because once you figure out how to game the mechanics (often by using strategies that are counter-intuitive or work against story immersion) trying to get through the game with the ideal mix of survivability and DPS talents without dying is one of the few challenges remaining.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:02 PM on November 6, 2012


One of the things I really liked about Katamari Damacy is that the usual difficulty curve is reversed. At the beginning of a level everything is awkward and difficult. Initially, your little tiny ball can't withstand a collision with a cat or a small boy. As you gather up more and more objects and your ball grows things that used to be difficult become easy. Suddenly you find yourself sucking up the whole neighborhood you were rolling around in at the beginning in seconds. The challenge becomes getting big enough to swallow an football stadium.

That's earned empowerment. Success at the frustrating task of running away from cats earns you Godzilla-like power to destroy, and it feels like you earned it.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:22 PM on November 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


Ad hominem: In Super Monkey Ball, My record without dying is Expert 34. I keep meaning to get back to it to have another go at reaching Expert Extra, and (dare I hope??) Master.
posted by JHarris at 4:04 PM on November 6, 2012


This is what I hear in my head every time I'm faced with a very difficult task.
posted by emeiji at 5:05 PM on November 6, 2012


straight> Rather than focusing on the micro-level mechanics of each jump and handhold, [Assassin's Creed's parkour] focused more on the higher-level challenge of choosing your route.

Which may be all well and good, but the only thing I was initially looking for out of the game was "ooh hey a pretty city to do free-roaming parkour in, that sounds awesome". When its core movement mechanic was so simplified, I lost all interest, and I didn't have the "well I spent $50/a couple days torrenting this" motivation to try and get past that to wring some fun out of it.

(And yeah, John Georg Faust, I tried the demo of Mirror's Edge. Tried SO HARD to like it because it's stylized in a way I want videogames to be, and like the concept - but I really, really hate first-person games. I have zero skills in that mode. And a lot of skill in third-person jumping around.)
posted by egypturnash at 7:01 PM on November 6, 2012


All this makes Assassin's Creed sound like Dragon's Lair.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 8:58 PM on November 6, 2012


Now that the election is over, maybe I can contribute here....

I don't think that feelings of empowerment are an essential, or even necessarily a desirable, aspect of video gaming. This is different from feelings of accomplishment, which are everywhere, but which are built off of the player's skill in an honest way. Feelings of empowerment tend to be difficult to separate from notions of how "kick ass" a game makes you feel, and I don't really have much use for that.

The article seems to be about the writer discovering that the game provides empowerment without accomplishment.
posted by JHarris at 9:19 AM on November 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


From the article: Some Nintendo games are even completing themselves.

The newer Mario games are usually easy, but occasionally there is a tricky section where you die a lot. This is especially true when you are trying to get all three of the hidden coins. So there is a special blend of shame and anger when the game notices you have died too often and asks if you want Luigi to show you how it's done.
posted by Gary at 3:41 PM on November 7, 2012


But if you want a hard game...

Only a lunatic would play that!
posted by I-Write-Essays at 8:41 PM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


No one mentioned Shadow of the Beast and its accidentally too-hard Sega Genesis port? Well I am mentioning it! I finished that curséd and eye-ball ridden game!
posted by Mister_A at 12:36 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


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