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Salty Tears of Ragequit
June 5, 2013 1:33 AM   Subscribe

"In Praise of Brutally Hard Video Games"

"My first experience with the game was a humbling one. Starting out, getting to grips with the controls, failing to do so, and then being killed, often. The bosses, the traps, even the regular bad guys, approach them casually and die. There’s an unwritten rule of games design, the scrunty little enemies, the skeletons, the zombies, the first level boss, they aren’t supposed to be hard. They aren’t meant to win. Apparently nobody explained this to the developers of Dark Souls."

Bonus: the "Anor Londo" song (NSFW)
posted by bardic (138 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Previously.

For lulz, the apparent world-record run of DS done shield only (!)
posted by bardic at 1:42 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


One of my proudest (sorry, "proudest") achievements (sorry, "achievements) is getting all 3 platinum trophies for Demon's Souls (US, EU, JP) and the plat for Dark Souls.
The EU and JP Demon's Souls plats were done without playing online, eg, I got that goddamned bladestone myself.
posted by GoingToShopping at 2:00 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's the Nelson Muntz of video games.

HAW HAW!
posted by ShutterBun at 2:04 AM on June 5, 2013


The best character in the game, and the best dialogue from the best character in the game.

EDIT: Nice tags, by the way!
posted by GoingToShopping at 2:16 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Where the complexity of earlier XCOM and other turn based strategy games allowed a player to outfox the AI …"

It should be pointed out that the first X-COM game, UFO: Enemy Unknown/X-COM:UFO Defense, was plagued by a bug that reset the difficulty to Beginner level upon reloading a savegame. The XCOMUTIL mod, first released on Usenet way back in 1995, fixes this and it remains an essential download today since that bug is still present in digitally distributed versions of the game.
posted by Asimo at 2:20 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Though hardly in the same league as Dark Souls, there is a particularly pleasant perversity to the difficulty designed into the game Desert Bus:

The objective of the game is to drive a bus from Tucson, Arizona to Las Vegas, Nevada in real time at a maximum speed of 45 mph. The feat requires 8 hours of continuous play to complete, since the game cannot be paused. The bus contains no passengers, there is little scenery (an occasional rock or stop sign will appear at the side of the road), and there is no traffic. The road between Tucson and Las Vegas is completely straight. The bus veers to the right slightly, and thus requires the player's constant attention. If the bus veers off the road it will stall and be towed back to Tucson, also in real time. If the player makes it to Las Vegas, he scores one point. The player then has the option to make the return trip to Tucson for another point (a decision he must make in a few seconds or the game ends). Players may continue to make trips and score points as long as their endurance holds out. Although the scenery never changes, an insect splats on the windscreen about five hours through the first trip, and on the return trip the light fades, with differences at dusk, and later a pitch black road where the player is guided only with headlights.

Originally a minigame on the unreleased Sega CD game Penn & Teller's Smoke and Mirrors that existed only on a magazine demo disc from 1995, Desert Bus has recently been ported to iOS and Android as a fundraising app through the Desert Bus For Hope initiative.
posted by fairmettle at 2:24 AM on June 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


What if a gamer hits a wall 30% of the way through that they just can't get past? Some stupid tacked-on boss fight maybe (I'm looking at you Deus Ex). On the PC it's fine - they can find a savegame or console command to enable god mode for long enough to get past it. But what about on consoles? Time was when they had level skips and the like too, but the achievements systems (puke) have put paid to that. So make them hard by all means but you also have to allow the difficulty to be dropped, even temporarily, so that people can see the content they paid 60 quid for.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 2:28 AM on June 5, 2013


For all of its difficulty, DS is open-world. If one part is giving you trouble you can go to any other.

In fact, that's what some people hated about it -- without the interwebs, you have no idea where the "easier" bosses are.

It's beautiful, man.
posted by bardic at 2:32 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Time was when they had level skips and the like too, but the achievements systems (puke) have put paid to that. So make them hard by all means but you also have to allow the difficulty to be dropped, even temporarily, so that people can see the content they paid 60 quid for.

What if the challenge is what they paid for, not the content? I mean nobody buys a videogame so they can look at cut scenes, do they?

Generally games that are challenge based should probably dial back on the storyline, though.

Btw, if anyone wants a 'losing is fun' variant on minecraft, I highly recommend the Better Than Wolves mod. The early game is absolutely brutal now, with the elimination of beds, wolves that get hungry and attack you, monsters hunting and killing livestock and breaking down fences and doors to get to you, a much more punishing hunger system, severe nerfs to stone and wood tools, iron tools requiring nine times as much iron, animal breeding much more difficult and crops nearly impossible to find seeds for.

You'll die and start over again a lot, but it definitely brings back the tension and fear you probably felt the first time night fell in minecraft.
posted by empath at 2:37 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Super Hexagon is excruciatingly difficult. You die. Within 3-5 seconds, your first time around, usually. You "beat" the level if you make it 60 seconds. But the game has the quality of pulling you in, if you're a bit insane. Forcing yourself to learn the patterns, slip into a rhythm, and try to defeat the evil shapes closing in on you.

Regular Hexagon is a free Flash game that gives you a taste.

It's different than a game that requires hours to build up a character and then takes them from you, but I like that it's just the most minimalist, bruteforce approach to a challenging game, and most of all, I like that you can watch yourself get considerably better.

I went from "how on earth do they do that" to beating Hexagonest in about 7 hours of playing the game for 20 minute spurts over the course of about two weeks, filled with angry rage quits.

I liked Geometry Wars for the same reason: it's a game where you essentially have to zen out in order to advance. At a certain point in GW, the game is so frenetic and insane that it amazed me that I survive for any amount of time at all, and I find that really interesting.

I also find that I should probably have a more productive hobby...
posted by disillusioned at 2:38 AM on June 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yeah the new X-Com is a bit of a joke - the enemy units only spawn when you "trigger" them - walk close enough that they spawn into the map. They also spawn in a predictable wave and you're shown exactly how many you are going to have to fight.

In the original, the enemies all started in the map before you got there - they could literally be anywhere, moving towards you in the shadows, and they would often manage to flank and blindside you completely. Sometimes they would even reaction-fire kill the first soldier you sent out of the shuttle to investigate... hence the practice of using disposable rookies to face-check. There was a very real and palpable sense of danger, fighting an unknown and unpredictable enemy.

Today it's... walk walk walk... oh, lets make some enemies spawn into the map, we'll show you exactly how many, and where they are. Now fight!

---

Single player games are for people who want to relax and play something casually, and the primary rule in that is that you must not frustrate player.

Sure some people enjoy the challenge of it... but "hard" single player games are going to remain a niche, because the majority of players who cared about the challenge have long moved into playing competitive multiplayer games instead. The buzz you get from defeating a thinking, reasoning opponent who is actively trying to outwit you far outweighs the satisfaction you get from defeating some mindless algorithm like the monster AI in Dark Souls. Sure it's hard... but... so is getting to the highest levels in Candy Crush. It can't adapt to you. It can't learn from you.
posted by xdvesper at 2:38 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


"nobody buys a videogame so they can look at cut scenes"

Bioshock: Infinite mebbee.
posted by bardic at 2:40 AM on June 5, 2013


"You cannot be bad at watching a movie, you cannot be bad at listening to an album but you can be bad at playing a videogame and the videogame will punish you and deny you access to the rest of the videogame. No other art form does this."
posted by Asimo at 2:42 AM on June 5, 2013 [19 favorites]


The best character in the game, and the best dialogue from the best character in the game.
posted by emmtee at 2:42 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


What if a gamer hits a wall 30% of the way through that they just can't get past?

There's a place for games that just force them to get better or fail. Choice in all things, and not all games are meant to hold the player's hand.

See FTL; you will die and die until you get good, and for that reason winning is an achievement each time it happens.
posted by jaduncan at 2:47 AM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Generally games that are challenge based should probably dial back on the storyline, though.

Why's that? I ask because I find a good storyline and characters I care about part of what makes a brutal game more enjoyable.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:47 AM on June 5, 2013


@jaduncan

Yeah, but FTL doesn't cost anything like what a AAA console game does, and it's on PC so there are ways to mitigate the difficulty if you have to.

It's all very well us super-elite gamers saying that people should get better or quit but if I am a kid playing one of the next-gen consoles, and the rumours about restrictions on used games turn out to be true, and I've spent 60 or 70 notes on a game which I can't get halfway through, or sell on, then there is something broken there.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 3:03 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Generally games that are challenge based should probably dial back on the storyline, though.

Because if a game is a real challenge, you shouldn't feel like you're missing something if you don't 'finish' it.

Look at Monaco, Trials HD, Super Meatboy, Braid or Binding of Isaac, for examples of games whose primary draw is the challenge of playing, compared to Bioshock which doesn't have challenges so much as a series of speed bumps.

A game whose primary draw is a narrative experience really just needs to give the impression of being challenging or else people will get annoyed, quit and return it.
posted by empath at 3:14 AM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Sometimes they would even reaction-fire kill the first soldier you sent out of the shuttle to investigate

Or mind possess the second guy off the shuttle, the one with the convenient rocket launcher, turn him around and shoot a missile into the plane to kill off the rest of the squad.

That was annoying.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:17 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


A game whose primary draw is a narrative experience really just needs to give the impression of being challenging or else people will get annoyed, quit and return it.

I can see how some folks might literally quit and return a game because it was too hard to "finish the story"; but I don't think narrative and difficulty are an either/or deal. At least, I hope developers aren't putting all their eggs in one basket to draw people to a game, and prefer it when they don't.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:45 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


... hence the practice of using disposable rookies to face-check.

But that's what the smoke grenades are for! Just like a real counter-assault team, the first step is to blanket the area with smoke, wait a turn, and then move in and take position... that and using the HWPs for mobile cover.

Rookie fodder is an effective tactic, but I liked the extra challenge of pretending they were all valued elite team members; no one left behind, etc.
posted by ceribus peribus at 3:47 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


The biggest problem with hard games is that the consequences of failure are often a black screen with GAME OVER and nothing more. A better game - or perhaps just a truly evil one - would make you suffer the consequences of your failure however many times it happened. Or throw you a deus ex machina and make you feel like a putz.
posted by 23 at 3:48 AM on June 5, 2013


Actually a game with a jerk hero type who's irritating and mostly an idiot but saves the day only if you fail could be a great motivator.
posted by 23 at 3:51 AM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm not a gamer, I enjoy the occasional game, and hard games with few saves give me the right shits, they do - especially as I'm somewhat completist in nature.

Mario Fucking Galaxy. Fuuuuuuuuuu. After spending about four hours on that secret where you shoot the cannons, and spawn points restarting me at the beginning of the levels, I tossed it, and played Okami instead, which was wonderfully forgiving to someone who's not very good. Like me.

For the same reasons, I'm also terrible at stealth games. I suspect that pretty much I just want a game that's like a slightly interactive novel, or something like Endless Ocean where you can just kind of bob around somewhere nice.

I look back at the brutal games I played as a kid on NES and Gameboy, Master System etc, and gasp at my patience, and the many hours wasted on something that actually bought me little pleasure.
posted by smoke at 4:15 AM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm trying to think of an actually-hard singleplayer game where the story is a big part of the draw, but I'm not getting anything.

(Relevant game: I typed this between murdering yaktaurs in Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup.)
posted by a birds at 4:18 AM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


What if the challenge is what they paid for, not the content? I mean nobody buys a videogame so they can look at cut scenes, do they?

Pre-Youtube, absolutely. Behold the awesomeness of Ninja Gaiden 2 and keep in mind that each of those brief, crude yet awesome cutscenes is separated by very challenging (though not completely impossible--i.e. Battletoads) gameplay. Entire summers were wasted just trying to get to the next brief interlude of story, and many would never even make it to the end because the game is that difficult.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:19 AM on June 5, 2013


I'm trying to think of an actually-hard singleplayer game where the story is a big part of the draw, but I'm not getting anything.

The old Sierra adventures, off the top of my head.
posted by empath at 4:19 AM on June 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


The special genius of the Souls games is the way you return to the world after you die.

Most games either let you save and reload anywhere or reset the game to the state it was in at the last checkpoint (or even the beginning of the game). The first way leaches out the challenge and turns any situation into a tedious war of patience; the second tends to be frustrating unless the difficulty is turned way down or the designers put a lot more effort into making their game non-repetitive than they usually do.

The bonfire/bloodstain mechanic in Dark Souls is a perfect compromise: you get sent back to a checkpoint you might have left 15 minutes ago and most of your enemies respawn, but you get to keep any major progress you've made and you have a chance to get almost everything back. The way this system meshes into the psychology of reward is what lets the game be as hard as it is without becoming unfun. I keep expecting to see other games use similar mechanics, but nobody else seems to have worked it out.

(Of course, there's also the gameplay, the unified singleplayer/multiplayer, the brilliantly subtle storytelling, "if only I could be so grossly incandescent!" etc etc.)

Bonus videos: Havel the Rock 2, Manly Miner Men.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 4:24 AM on June 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


Players are confronted with a benighted, broken world, oozing with a sense of hostility. Everything here resents you, even the art style.

Well actually many games have an art style that's supposed to evoke a grim and gritty sensibility. The difference is the game itself still holds the player's hand even while trying to look at metal as possible. The difference between atmosphere and content is sometimes striking.

What if a gamer hits a wall 30% of the way through that they just can't get past?

Good games handle this with design, by providing more than one way to defeat monsters, and by making individual challenges less likely to be insurmountable at full resources, and more of a kind of thing that wears the player down a bit. Then, as a "courtesy," games started giving the player full health and/or ammo refills right before bosses and that concept was forgotten.

That's why I kind of look down on difficulty like Super Hexagon -- it's a straight test of reflexes and precision and nothing else. No strategy, no multiple approaches. It's basically a mini game.

but "hard" single player games are going to remain a niche, because the majority of players who cared about the challenge have long moved into playing competitive multiplayer games instead.

Not all of them, and that doesn't mean they must stay there.

The biggest problem with hard games is that the consequences of failure are often a black screen with GAME OVER and nothing more.

For all that I like challenge in games, I like it because they are games, there is no real penalty for failure, you're free to play again and again and improve yourself.

"You cannot be bad at watching a movie, you cannot be bad at listening to an album but you can be bad at playing a videogame and the videogame will punish you and deny you access to the rest of the videogame. No other art form does this."

That's because challenge is a major aspect of interactivity, which is the fundamental aspect of video gaming. Everything else video games do is done as well, or frequently better, by other art forms, mostly because video games are a collage art, containing several other kinds of art within it. If you're playing for the story, go read a book. If you're playing for visceral thrills and immersion watch a movie instead.

Most video games are empowerment fantasies, and yet empowerment without effort feels empty. Say whay you want about the original Legend of Zelda, but by the time you've managed to find all that stuff, get through all those dungeons and defeat all those monsters, you actually feel like you have saved a land from evil, and in that feeling the world gains its reality. These things are not supposed to be simple matters; if they were, then why don't these lands save themselves and not bother you with their maintenance.
posted by JHarris at 4:24 AM on June 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


Well if you want an evil game with a first class "game over" screen, then take a look at Bokosuka Wars
posted by tservo at 4:27 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's why I kind of look down on difficulty like Super Hexagon -- it's a straight test of reflexes and precision and nothing else. No strategy, no multiple approaches. It's basically a mini game.

Well, more of a throwback to the first generation of video games, things like Pacman or Space Invaders, but with the difficulty ramped up to 11 from the start. It's not my thing either, but I can see the appeal.
posted by MartinWisse at 4:27 AM on June 5, 2013


The old Sierra adventures, off the top of my head.

Oh, valid point. I think I didn't come up with those because adventure games hard in a different way from what I look for. I was thinking "you can simply lose because you aren't good enough" while adventure games tend to be "you can't progress until you find the trick".

And semi-relatedly I sort of agree with xdvesper about difficulty in games being more a competitive multiplayer thing now for a lot of people, especially since the internet makes it so easy to match up with another human. A while back I developed a habit of mentally sorting games between "a monkey pressing buttons for a hundred million years would win" and "a monkey pressing buttons for a hundred million years would not win." Multiplayer games fall into the latter category, but so do some singleplayer games--mostly games with permadeath and some amount of randomness. (Diablo II normally is not monkey-safe; Diablo II in Hardcore mode probably is. HC was fun for me, softcore wasn't. But yeah, these days aside from DCSS I only play Quake and CS....)
posted by a birds at 4:38 AM on June 5, 2013


That's because challenge is a major aspect of interactivity, which is the fundamental aspect of video gaming. Everything else video games do is done as well, or frequently better, by other art forms, mostly because video games are a collage art, containing several other kinds of art within it. If you're playing for the story, go read a book. If you're playing for visceral thrills and immersion watch a movie instead.


And thats not a bad argument, but everyone has experienced a section in a game which is somewhere quite early on, and yet they find much more difficult than the rest of the game. This can sometimes be quite different gameplay to the rest of the game (think the bloody flying school in GTA San Andreas, or a racing section in a platformer). There is content left, and its not just video, its other challenges that the player might be able to circumvent.

As mentioned upthread, older games often had cheats which could be activated so that if you found a section utterly unbeatable you could skip past them, but sadly this seems to be a thing of the past.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 4:47 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


That's why I kind of look down on difficulty like Super Hexagon -- it's a straight test of reflexes and precision and nothing else. No strategy, no multiple approaches. It's basically a mini game.

It's a dance single vs Bioshock's double LP prog-rock concept album.

Or a mondrian painting compared to a rembrandt.

It's beautiful in it's way. There is a feeling one gets with a pure abstract twitch-reaction game that can't be replicated with any other kind of game. A kind of perfect zen mind/no-mind state.

Tempest 2000, canabalt and tetris are other games that can accomplish that.
posted by empath at 4:50 AM on June 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


I've spent the past three months working full time on a game which has as its primary design goal the instigation of the flow state. While I got that locked down early on (and when you're there it's magical), for the past probably eight weeks it's been constant yak shaving. (In the programmer's universe, it isn't turtles, it's yaks. Yaks all the way down.)

I figure the core mechanic is maybe ten lines of code. A couple hundred lines of code to feed and nourish them. Maybe another thousand for edge case polishing. Another thousand in VFX. I've got four thousand lines in a realtime audio synthesis unit because it's 100% reactive sound and samples won't do. And the bulk of the code, maybe 10K more lines when done, is just all this shit like high score lists and achievements and tutorials and a clean UI along with GameCenter integration and on and on and on....

And you can't say "oh the game doesn't need all that stuff" because it does. You can't drop a game these days without giving it every chance to succeed. It's like tail feathers on a peacock. If a game isn't polished to the nth degree, then maybe the developer doesn't believe in it, and if I don't believe in it, why should anyone else, and maybe it isn't worth even trying. It's not like the market is desperate for new titles. The bar is just really, really, really high if you want even a chance at being an A list success.

Anyway I'll be sure to announce it on Projects when it's ready. Hopefully soon.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:08 AM on June 5, 2013 [17 favorites]


This isn't exactly a new phenomenon. I recall playing traditional board games with impossible challenges. When the hex-grid turn-based war simulations were recreated on computers, I started playing them again because the difficult parts (calculating battle odds, line of sight, movement) were now handled by the computer. The V for Victory series by Atomic Games was a revolution in war gaming. I bought all their games and played them endlessly. I was really good at them. I even chatted online with the developers often enough. Then they released a new game, a simulation of Operation Market Garden. I played the shit out of that game and I always got creamed. I mean, beaten down into the dirt. Each time it was a complete rout, the Germans beat the crap out of me. This just couldn't be possible. So I started looking closer at the program notes, especially the historical campaign info. These games are modeled as realistically as possible on the actual battles. And then it struck me: The Allies lost Operation Market Garden. The whole point of the game was to teach you what it was like to enter a battle that could not be won. The program notes suggested that if you got any level of defeat that was not as bad as the historical events, you should consider that a victory. I was not amused.

But I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. When I played board games, I eventually gravitated toward the most insanely difficult game of all: Advanced Squad Leader. I made an extensive comment about ASL and V4V in a previous MeFi thread. describing our suicidal grenades vs. flamethrowers games. It was basically 4 grenade teams vs 4 flamethrower teams. Each team was two men and the turns were 15 seconds real time IIRC. So playing the game was basically charting one move, then spending about 30 minutes determining each player's actions. Grenades were terribly inaccurate with a very random effect, but deadly if you got hit. And then the flamethrowers could pretty much blanket our entire miniature battlefield with napalm, but it took a while to kill everyone. Occasionally a player could survive Turn 1, mortally wounded for sure, but the only thing moving on the battlefield. Victory!
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:31 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, valid point. I think I didn't come up with those because adventure games hard in a different way from what I look for. I was thinking "you can simply lose because you aren't good enough" while adventure games tend to be "you can't progress until you find the trick".

The Civ series. Flight and driving simulators.
posted by jaduncan at 5:34 AM on June 5, 2013


Anyway I'll be sure to announce it on Projects when it's ready. Hopefully soon.

Is this likely to be iOS only?
posted by jaduncan at 5:36 AM on June 5, 2013


Seanmpuckett, I too am extremely interested in this game!



Just sayin'!
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:41 AM on June 5, 2013


I'm trying to think of an actually-hard singleplayer game where the story is a big part of the draw, but I'm not getting anything.

Pathologic.
posted by Rory Marinich at 5:42 AM on June 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


jaduncan: I'm using Unity, so it'll be on just about everything with a 7"+ screen, including desktop. (Phone screens are too small for the finger targets.)

Thanks for your interest, I've been keeping a lid on it and only mentioned it because 1) it's intended to be hard as hell, which it is, and is on topic, and 2) empath mentioned the flow state, which pushed me over the edge into posting. Buttoning up again.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:46 AM on June 5, 2013


I will play test it and/or make music for it if you like :)
posted by empath at 5:54 AM on June 5, 2013


Mental note made, but if you could memail me if you need a beta tester or when this goes public I'd appreciate that.
posted by jaduncan at 5:59 AM on June 5, 2013


La Mulana is excellent in every way; and makes Dark Souls look like the original Mario Bros. by comparison.
posted by sonic meat machine at 6:00 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Dreamcast Power Stone 2, Original Mode, difficulty level 8, you're Galuda on the red team against three computer-controlled Gourmands, all on the blue team, Space Elevator level. Try it, you'll like it if you don't mind losing a lot. Winning, even by a hairsbreadth, requires a perfect game, which is so immensely satisfying, we call the whole proposition "Perfect Game."

It's more fun if you've played a lot of of Adventure Mode and have exhausted the Item Shop so all the exotic weapons appear. Also, the more successful you are, the more the AI seems to ramp up. Winning back-to-back games will cause a Gourmand frenzy.

And if you're the sort for whom the story is a big part of the draw, you get the greatest story ever told:

Without warning, a dark cloud fills the sky, and then a huge shadow blankets the entire world, with a roar that shakes the entire planet. Suddenly, a mysterious floating castle appears out of nowhere. In the blink of an eye, the Power Stone heroes are caught, and are transported to the floating castle.

What will happen to our heroes? Welcome to the Power Stone world!

posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 6:14 AM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


> Bonus videos: Havel the Rock 2 , Manly Miner Men

Xbox Live in a nutshell?
posted by Bangaioh at 6:25 AM on June 5, 2013



I'm trying to think of an actually-hard singleplayer game where the story is a big part of the draw, but I'm not getting anything.


The Witcher and its sequel come to mind.
posted by dortmunder at 6:28 AM on June 5, 2013


I'm trying to think of an actually-hard singleplayer game where the story is a big part of the draw, but I'm not getting anything.

That was Braid, for me. I actually disliked most of the gameplay (and played some of the levels with a walkthru by my side) but found the story, and the way it was told, compelling and tantalizing.
posted by jbickers at 6:37 AM on June 5, 2013


When i was a kid, i would routinely beat the hell out of Ninja Gaiden I, II, and III, as well as Castlevania and Street Fighter 2010 (Great game until the the last level, which is nearly impossible.) I didn't realize it at the time, but now i think -- skills, man, i had skills.

I never owned Battletoads or Ghosts'n'Goblins. Those were probably even harder.
posted by ELF Radio at 6:40 AM on June 5, 2013


There's a reason I keep a Robotron:2084 in my garage set on level 10.

Now please vacate my lawn.
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:41 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm glad games like it exist, but I'm a bit too afraid to play Dark Souls. I absolutely love RPGs, but I try to avoid them because the desire to see everything and do everything perfectly is just too risky a time sink. Combine that with punishing difficulty and a deep and mysterious world to explore and when they discovered my body it'd probably have mushrooms growing on it. cf. Dwarf Fortress and Eve Online.

I'm playing Fire Emblem: Awakening at the moment on hard (couldn't quite stomach "lunatic"), but shamefully copping out by restarting if a character dies. It is definitely still very fun and very difficult to win a perfect battle, but I know by doing so I'm missing out on the true potential highs and lows.
posted by lucidium at 7:05 AM on June 5, 2013


I only recently started playing video games again after a like 10-year self-imposed moratorium. (I can easily get obsessed with them and waste way, way too much time.) So my experience with contemporary games is rather limited... Also, I don't *want* to spend *too* much time and effort on a game...if I do that, I might as well get good at chess or something. But...

I'd say that the biggest problem with my current favorite, Borderlands 2, is exactly that it's too easy. Super fun game in a bunch of different ways...but just too easy. (Ultimate mode seems to rectify that a bit.)

I think Left 4 Dead (and L4D2) is great, incidentally, in part because it has difficulty settings, and I'm kind of surprised that more games don't have 'em.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 7:19 AM on June 5, 2013


I can appreciate games that are difficult, though I'm picky about how the difficulty is constructed. The sort of difficulty that requires levelling up a character or earning XP to gain skills is artificial difficulty; it only tests your patience. "Real" difficulty is when you have to improve your own real-world skills, like pattern matching, hand-eye co-ordination, and tactical planning. Those skills are transferable to other games (and the real world, somewhat), unlike the XP that you grind in World of Warcraft.

Some of my favourite games are difficult (the Touhou series, Super Hexagon, Spelunky, FTL), and mastering those games makes you feel like a pretty cool guy.
posted by cyberscythe at 7:22 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, i still haven't beat that one level (THE KID) from Super Meat Boy. Love that game, in part because some of it is so freaking hard. But there's a difference, for me anyway, between that kind of hard and the hard setting on some FPSers. In SMB, the reason the level is hard is clear, and you know you'll need perfect reflexes to finish it. It's kind of delightful, and funny when you keep failing. (Up to a point.) I get the sense that the game-designers and I are collaborating. But in FPSers when there's just shit flying at you from every direction and you actually can't see WHAT THE SHIT IS EVEN GOING ON AND WHY DID I JUST DIE?, that's not so much fun pour moi. I just can't concentrate when I'm being punched in the nose. I feel, as the caption sez, that even the art style resents me. Then again, I'm not into S&M, but to each his/her/its own.
posted by Zerowensboring at 8:02 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Then again, I'm not into S&M

Again, you can't concentrate when being punched in the nose?
posted by jaduncan at 8:07 AM on June 5, 2013


Dark Souls isn't difficult, per se, it's simply tedious. Oh, it's not a cakewalk a blind monkey could finish while drunk but since when did that become the measure? And the XCOM remake is really easy on everything but the very highest setting.

When did our standards become so low?
posted by Justinian at 8:10 AM on June 5, 2013


My nominee for an actually difficult game: Spellbreaker.
posted by Justinian at 8:15 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Those skills are transferable to other games (and the real world, somewhat), unlike the XP that you grind in World of Warcraft.

One of the reasons I find World of Warcraft to be a spectacularly frustrating game to be a fan of (I'm probably about to let my sub lapse, again) is that the XP/gear grind isn't the only path to improving. There have been legitimately hard raids and especially dungeons that require skill to complete -- and yes, gear, but all the gear in the world won't save you if you suck. Unfortunately, raid difficulty is now mostly in organisation and Blizzard haven't made a hard dungeon since Burning Crusade.

Their current approach to hard, small-group content is to limit your stats (so gear doesn't matter), massively increase the damage output of the enemies, and put a strict time limit on completion, but unfortunately this rewards just blasting through as fast as you can and disproportionately favours classes with AOE stuns; few of the clever tricks of previous difficult dungeons can be applied. They're not fun.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 8:44 AM on June 5, 2013


Not to oversell it, but Dark Souls is the best video game ever made. It's everything that was wonderful about the best games of the NES generation -- Zelda, Metroid, Castlevania -- blended with performance-enhancing drugs and forbidden alchemical ingredients into a perfect smoothie of evocative occultish atmosphere and excellent gameplay mechanics, served in a nightmarish puzzlebox that's small enough to fully comprehend but complex enough that you can never fully master it, for that value of "mastered" that constantly redefines itself and recedes into the distance the more you keep playing.

You'll start off wondering how in the hell you're supposed to get past the first damn area, then you'll feel certain that making it halfway through the game would be enough of an accomplishment, and after the elation of finally getting through Anor Londo carries you through the end of the game, you wade into the successively difficult new game+ iterations because dammit, you know you can do it, and then it's months later and you're playing through the game without leveling up just to give yourself a fresh challenge.

Then you start thinking about getting into PvP.

It's sickening, at first, when you get invaded by another player -- nervewracking, stomach-turning, the stress of wondering oh god why did this person force his way into my game to kill me, and they will kill you, and they will dance on your corpse when you die without putting a scratch on them, and you will ask how a just world could ever breed the kind of sadistic fucks who would put this invasion system into a game like Dark Souls, let alone the malicious bastards who would exploit it to inflict misery on players like you, and it will become greatly important to you that once, just once, you might get the better of one of these smug sons of bitches and fight them off, so you start learning, and you start practicing, and one day some jerk invades your game and you shut that crap down and you feel like the champion of the world, and then a few weeks later you're the malicious bastard invader, waiting in the bonewheel pit at the bottom of the catacombs for some poor hapless player to make their way down to you and the hideous death you've prepared for them, and you realize this has all gotten too easy and you make a new character -- breezing through the game to open up all the areas and max out your equipment is nothing to you, now -- to test your skills against the organized PvP community you've heard about. And it's days of endless combat in the burg before you can kill a single one of those people, and weeks before you're approaching anything close to a 1:1 W/L ratio, but that's not good enough, and then it's months later and you've stopped counting wins and losses because you don't care anymore, you're fighting two at a time in the forest and feeling disappointed with yourself when you join a Dark Souls forum to enter a 32-player tournament and only make it as far as the semifinals.

Mind, you still consider yourself a casual player at this point. You don't even stream on Twitch.tv or spend hours calculating the ineffable mathematical formulas behind weapon scaling so you can figure out how to eke out one more point of AR with the .01 lbs of weight you can still equip without losing your dodge-rolling speed. A babe in arms, practically!

So, yeah. Dark Souls.

Epilogue: I've, uh, played quite a lot of Dark Souls, and it pretty much hasn't left my Xbox for the past year or so, but it doesn't threaten to take over your life the way MMORPGs, with their endless pushing-of-buttons-in-the-reward-centers-of-your-brain mechanics do. You can walk away and take a break from it, and it doesn't move on without you with endless updates and patches. Dark Souls will let you go, when you're ready. Nowadays I only play once or twice a week, usually with friends (Internet friends I made through Dark Souls PvP -- the game has a really amazing, supportive community). But I swear to god I've learned things about myself from this game. It's been a meditative exercise and therapy for depression for me. And I've made beneficial changes to my life that I absolutely attribute to improvements in self-discipline and perserverance I got from playing Dark Souls.

Christ, I love this game.
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:00 AM on June 5, 2013 [15 favorites]


Justinian, I'm not sure when our standards become so low, but they definitely have. My middle son, who recently finished halo 4 one the 2nd hardest setting still can't get past the Capra Daemon, nor make it down to the bonfire in the swamp via the short cut from the New Londo Ruins. And he only can do all that only because he's watched me play a lot, and I've given him some (lots) of hints.

It's bizarre watching him play Halo 4: he keeps getting hit; his evasion skills look sloppy (speaking as someone who was destroyed by him in multi player the first/only time I tried playing halo), but he just never seems to die. Meanwhile, in Dark Souls, the button mashing, or mindless attacks, don't get one very far.

prize bull octorok, I love combat in the undead Burg - I've got a level 13 Dark Wraith (talk about hard; beating 4 kings without summons took some practice and experimentaion). I tend to have some reasonable weapons (+5 fire longswords) and indictments that I'll drop if convenient before destroying someone that's obviously low level. More enjoyable is going up against those impossibly high level characters with their god-like equipment using their red soapstones to summon red invaders. Occaisionally beating one of them is quite the rush. Getting invaded myself by red or blue phantoms myself is also up there. Only one blue phantom's gotten me so far (smirk).
posted by nobeagle at 9:23 AM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Not to oversell it, but Dark Souls is the best video game ever made.

I'm not sure you accomplished your mission here.

I didn't think it was terrible, certainly, but it was definitely overrated. Story? What story?
posted by Justinian at 9:27 AM on June 5, 2013


Those skills are transferable to other games (and the real world, somewhat), unlike the XP that you grind in World of Warcraft.

The secret is to use your XP to enter the Maine senate.
posted by ersatz at 9:38 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


nobeagle: Capra seems to be where a lot of attempts to play through Dark Souls end. I got a friend of mine to play it, he got stuck at Capra, I encouraged him to keep trying, and then...well, he started changing the subject whenever I'd bring up Dark Souls after that, and I took the hint.

I love how the differences between the various PvP covenants attract different kinds of players. The Darkmoons (blue phantoms) invade players who've violated the game's karma system, and they can invade lower-level players, so blues tend to be motivated by some idea of "punishing the guilty," or looking to gain an edge by fighting people who aren't as high a level as they are, which makes it especially fun to kill them.

Justinian: It's not really a narrative story kind of game, and if that's what you're looking for, then it will certainly fall short on that end. There is, however, a lot of lore to be pieced together by reading the item descriptions, talking to all the NPCs, and interpreting subtle clues, and I've had some really fascinating discussions with people trying to understand just what the hell is going on in Lordran. It's like trying to figure out the history of a lost city with a just handful of artifacts and fragmented writings to go by.
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:44 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I keep hoping that someone will decide they hate me and avenge themselves by gifting me a copy of DS on Steam. (Same name there, too.)
posted by Samizdata at 9:45 AM on June 5, 2013


smoke: "For the same reasons, I'm also terrible at stealth games. "

This reminds me of my days playing Doom 2 with a friend in co-op.

He was all "Dodge! Dodge! Parry! Serpentine serpentine!" until I would get frustrated which would result in him walking down a corridor of corpses with mine at the end of it.

Unfortunately, this is much like pretty much any stealthy game I play. If I ever get around to finishing my borrowed copy of Dishonored, I am cringing from the inevitable ending. OTOH, if they offered style points for killing, I would be GOLDEN.
posted by Samizdata at 9:49 AM on June 5, 2013


empath: "I'm trying to think of an actually-hard singleplayer game where the story is a big part of the draw, but I'm not getting anything.

The old Sierra adventures, off the top of my head.
"

You were saying?

To finish it, it took me working in 3 to 5 person teams. And this from the man that finished Space Quest IV in one sitting with NO intarwebs and no prior play.
posted by Samizdata at 9:52 AM on June 5, 2013


The Capra demon strikes me as quite straightforward. Survive the first few seconds by blocking immediately, pick off the two little dog-things, and after that it's a simple rope-a-dope.
posted by Justinian at 10:20 AM on June 5, 2013


Story? What story?

It's there, it's just kind of more ambient than is typical from video game storytelling.
Dark Souls Lore

I've said this before in other threads about video games where the relationship between reward and difficulty is tightly coupled - for my money, it's hard to beat Ninja Gaiden for the original Xbox. It's one of the very few videogames I've ever gone back to where the time between playthroughs is measured in years. There's just something about it that is both consummately polished and fiendishly difficult in a way that is completely accessible.
posted by the painkiller at 10:40 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Having lore is not the same as having a narrative.
posted by Justinian at 10:50 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I took the lack of long cutscenes and affectless NPCs delivering expository dialogue to be one of the game's few acts of mercy, but I recognize it cannot be all things to all people.
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:06 AM on June 5, 2013


The capra deamon: this is the first boss past the asylum (I.E. the potential multi player part) where it's hard to get a summon. Additionally to summoning signs being uncommon, the phantom can't win the day if the summoner's battery just died in their controller. This is the 2nd point (the first being the asylum daemon) where some skill is required as opposed to merely being beneficial.

A new player is faced with 5-10 minutes of fighting (lower skills), potentially using half (or more) of their estus along the way, and 5+ minutes to wait for a summon sign only for it to fail, then wait again. We're talking about 15-20 minutes in prep work to get ready for a boss attempt. Then someone walks through the fog gate, and they lose the battle in 5 seconds. 20 Minutes of prep work all for a near instant death when things really matter.

When that happens the second time, it's really easy to see someone wanting to quit.

I got past it by 1) challenging myself to not use estus until I got to the fog gate, and not bothering with summoning signs. This upped the amount of runs in, and removed any frustrating waiting while forcing me to get better at fighting the theives and dogs (and raising general skill).

You say it's easy as one just needs to block, but blocking quite isn't something that occurs to a button masher. And my middle son seems to have done just fine with Halo 4 with "run towards the enemy and shoot / stab them. See, the shield always regenerates." "Why do they have a button for brakes? It's a racing game!"

I found it interesting watching my kids play on an actual NES. They quickly lost interest because it was hard. "I start all the way back at the beginning now?"

Similarly, but on the original PS, I thought my oldest would really like the final fantasy series. I started him off on 9 since it had reasonable graphics, and he just pounds on the advance button to get past the dialog, and then turns to me, "Ok, what do I do now?" "... um, you go back in time, and read the stuff where they were telling you what to do." "Oh ... is there another game you think I might like?"
posted by nobeagle at 11:07 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


A new player is faced with 5-10 minutes of fighting (lower skills), potentially using half (or more) of their estus along the way

You should *maybe* use one Estus on the way to the Capra demon!
posted by Justinian at 11:11 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


You seem to remember a lot about DS for being so blasé about it, Justinian.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:25 AM on June 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


I really wanted to like Dark Souls. I enjoyed the brutal difficulty of the Ninja Gaiden reboot. But Dark Souls had a camera, and it had archers, and the camera would not point at the archers. The enemies weren't hidden, I was just not allowed to look at them. While they shot me over and over... Fuck that noise forever. I can handle a game with difficult mechanics, but a game made difficult through terrible interface can go die in a fire.
posted by FatherDagon at 11:28 AM on June 5, 2013


I see your Siegmeyer, and raise you.
For plot, lore and character analysis, the "Prepare to Cry" series by VaatiVidya is FAR superior to any of the shit ENB's put out. I was a big ENB fan for about 7 months, but his sudden quitting of the Demon Days series, his constant obnoxious use of whiteboy ebonics, and his rampantly indulgent speculation without support eventually made me sneer. Who knows though, maybe I'm just angry he never responded to my hypothesis that the Mushroom Elizabeth, in the DLC, is named after a mikoshi in the Kawasaki Kanamatsuri festival. Maybe I'm just angry he won't come drink beers with me in Tokyo. IT IS A MYSTERY TO ME TOO!
Anyway, Justinian, just because you didn't look hard enough to see it doesn't mean it's not there; not that I'm advocating for the existence of fairies and leylines or anything, but there's a big difference between a passive narrative and an active one. Just give it a chance. Check out the Prepare to Cry series, but save "Prepare to Kawaii" for last. If you've played the parts of the game being analyzed, you'll laugh your ass right off. Emergency medical personnel will be required to pick it up off the ground and staple it back on. Seriously.
And finally, Bangaioh...this is why I own a PS3. :)
posted by GoingToShopping at 11:36 AM on June 5, 2013


FatherDragon - The camera wouldn't let you look at them? Or it wouldn't let you "Lock" on them? Seriously, there's one (1) spot where I couldn't see someone who was shooting at me, and that was near the end of the game (a ladder in the duke's archives near the chystal caves. "lock" requires a certain distance.

I will say that sometimes the "lock" logic can be problematic at times. Just enough to annoy me, not enough to think the game wasn't playable. Of course, some of my impressive (to me) kills in pvp came from doing battle without target lock on.
posted by nobeagle at 11:42 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


You seem to remember a lot about DS for being so blasé about it, Justinian.

First, I finished it about two weeks ago since I didn't play it until long after it came out. Secondly, I'm not blase about it. I have strong feelings; that it wasn't a bad game but it is nothing like the incredible experience that some people think it was. In my opinion.
posted by Justinian at 11:51 AM on June 5, 2013


There is a feeling one gets with a pure abstract twitch-reaction game that can't be replicated with any other kind of game. A kind of perfect zen mind/no-mind state.

I think abstract helps a little, but you can get that kind of extended mind state from just about any bullet hell game, and really that's what Super Hexagon is. And not to be nitpicky but many other types of games can give it to you in small doses, or after enough repetition that you start playing an exact optimal pattern. Like running the quad perfectly, or getting in the zone in a fighting game. I don't think that's a different zone. Agreed that Super Hexagon is a pure stab at it, though.
posted by fleacircus at 12:00 PM on June 5, 2013


I just started playing Dark Souls again (probably a terrible idea, given that it's Dead Week) and man, what a brilliant game. The difficulty doesn't seem so bad now, in terms of individual encounters being hard. What makes it different is how much it punishes failure. If you lose 90% of your health in Halo, you just need to wait ten seconds for your shields and armor to recharge. If you die, you generally only have to replay a couple of minutes.

But in Dark Souls, if you're out of Estus Flasks, you either have to use a Humanity, backtrack to the campfire so you can fight all the same enemies again, or try to press on without dying. And if you can't make it to your body, too bad: you lose all your spare experience points/currency. At least it's not quite as brutal in that sense as, say, Diablo II, where you could lose all your equipment.

And then there's the world. I don't know if I've ever played a game that had a world as fully-realized as Dark Souls. Sure, Bioshock's Rapture and Columbia were amazing, but Dark Souls just makes sense as a place. Every area has its own sense of place, and its own feel, from the sun-drenched glory of Anor Londo to the desperate ugliness of Blighttown, the dark beauty of the Darkroot Gardens, the grandeur of the castle's bridge, and the horror of The Tomb of the Giants.

It turns out the entire map, as huge as complex and three-dimensional as it is, fits together like a huge, 3D puzzle. There's even a 3D map viewer you can download to prove it. (Excepting, of course, Anor Londo and the Asylum, which are separate areas.) It's a fact that you'd take for granted in most games, but given how incredibly complex the layout of the game is, it's pretty incredible that they actually made it all fit together.
posted by Green Winnebago at 12:48 PM on June 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


(comparing to Super Hexagon) Well, more of a throwback to the first generation of video games, things like Pacman or Space Invaders, but with the difficulty ramped up to 11 from the start. It's not my thing either, but I can see the appeal.

No, because Pac-Man and Space Invaders, as I said, have room for strategy and multiple approaches. Pac-Man can go anywhere he likes in the maze as long as there isn't a monster in his way. In addition to just shooting away, there are several interesting strategies towards blasting the invaders, and some are better than others, or are better in different ways. Super Hexagon is just a series of specific hoops to jump through.

And thats not a bad argument, but everyone has experienced a section in a game which is somewhere quite early on, and yet they find much more difficult than the rest of the game.

Right. This doesn't defeat my argument; that's bad design. There should be multiple ways around those situations. Or alternatively, maybe there are, and the player should try different ways to solve it, because his strategy isn't working.

As mentioned upthread, older games often had cheats which could be activated so that if you found a section utterly unbeatable you could skip past them

I am against cheats generally except as amusements, research tools or debugging aids. It's not a defense for your badly-designed game that you can cheat past the difficult part. At the very least you could put the cheat in as a legitimate aspect of the game to be discovered and have an appropriate cost.

It's beautiful in it's way. There is a feeling one gets with a pure abstract twitch-reaction game that can't be replicated with any other kind of game. A kind of perfect zen mind/no-mind state.

Yes, I am quite familiar with the state, but you can get that from games with more "game" to them, like Robotron or Defender, which were doing it properly thirty years ago.

seanmpuckett: While I got that locked down early on (and when you're there it's magical), for the past probably eight weeks it's been constant yak shaving. (In the programmer's universe, it isn't turtles, it's yaks. Yaks all the way down.)

Jeff Minter, is that you?

And the bulk of the code, maybe 10K more lines when done, is just all this shit like high score lists and achievements and tutorials and a clean UI along with GameCenter integration and on and on and on....

God tell me about it.

Anyway I'll be sure to announce it on Projects when it's ready. Hopefully soon.

Be sure to do so!

charlie don't surf: And then it struck me: The Allies lost Operation Market Garden. The whole point of the game was to teach you what it was like to enter a battle that could not be won. The program notes suggested that if you got any level of defeat that was not as bad as the historical events, you should consider that a victory. I was not amused.

I certainly am, although I can also understand your annoyance. These sound like the kinds of games I'd like to try, actually. Anyway, it is not the purpose of video games, as a whole, to provide you specifically with fun challenges, just like the works of avant garde painters might be worthwhile to the world even if they don't scratch your particular itch. There are many reasons to make and play video games, but as a mass-market genre everyone talks about them as if there were "obviously" best ways to do things, because everyone's a game designer in the quiet spaces of their mind. But in the game in question, the developers explictly told you how to approach the game -- "winning" isn't victory, but a good fight and punching back at defeat as far as you can. That is an entirely valid approach, and I admire the developers for trying it.

When I played board games, I eventually gravitated toward the most insanely difficult game of all: Advanced Squad Leader.

It sounds like you're conflating difficulty with complexity. A game can be immensely complex but a total cakewalk once you get used to the rules.

I never owned Battletoads or Ghosts'n'Goblins. Those were probably even harder.

G'n'G is of the same difficulty as those other games generally, just more random, but is hampered a bit by artificial difficulty: the game was developed by Micronics, who are infamous for their crappy arcade ports (they also did Athena), and also you have to beat the game twice to actually win. Oh, and in the Japanese version, you had to cheat to continue, as poor Arino on Game Center CX discovered.

There's a reason I keep a Robotron:2084 in my garage set on level 10

♥♥♥

I'm playing Fire Emblem: Awakening at the moment on hard (couldn't quite stomach "lunatic"), but shamefully copping out by restarting if a character dies.

Everyone does that. I assure you it's not copping out.

the awesomely named prize bull octorok: Not to oversell it, but Dark Souls is the best video game ever made. It's everything that was wonderful about the best games of the NES generation -- Zelda, Metroid, Castlevania

I'd disagree here, because there are a lot of wonderful things indeed about those old games. But yes, Dark Souls is nice from what I've seen, although I have no means to play it. Sigh.

but it doesn't threaten to take over your life the way MMORPGs, with their endless pushing-of-buttons-in-the-reward-centers-of-your-brain mechanics do.

Yeah, I got that stuff out of my system long, long ago. It's one of the reasons I've been so adamant about the evils of fake difficulty, about not jumping through hoops, about offering actual gameplay here. Because, while there are exceptions certainlly, MMORPGs generally to me seem to be presenting everything fake about video* gaming, but letting you do all that stuff with friends, and that's supposed to make it fun.

* A note: remember kids, "gaming" refers to a number of hobbies that extend back far into the past, to gamblers first, then again to wargamers, then to D&D players, and then once more to board gamers. It's inappropriate to use it just to refer to video games. Thank you, and good night.

Justinian, I'm not sure when our standards become so low, but they definitely have.

I could write a paper on when, and how, it happened, but this is already an epic megacomment.
posted by JHarris at 1:02 PM on June 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


One unappreciated reason for the game's notoriety is that Dark Souls never tells you where to go. In an age where it seems like most open-world RPG's have a giant arrow telling you where to go at all times (Hi, Skyrim!) Dark Souls just sets you loose in this huge world with no in-game map. Early on, an NPC tells you that you have to ring two bells in two different bell-towers, and says that one of them is in a place called the Undead Burg. No quest log, no map marker, no anything. The game just throws you out there and says, "Eh, you'll find it eventually. Best of luck! You'll be fine!"

Sometimes it probably could have explained a bit more: the humanity/summoning/magic systems were never even sort-of explained in-game, and were unnecessarily confusing. But the lack of explanation makes it feel so much more like an epic quest in a mysterious land. Versus something like Skyrim, where it's thoroughly clear where you're supposed to go next for the main quest and how you get there. Hell, Skyrim even makes sure that enemies are the same level as you, so you don't get overwhelmed. Skyrim's moment-to-moment combat could be difficult, sure, but it was the only thing that was difficult about the game. It's like bumper bowling: potentially fun, but the lack of real challenge makes it ultimately seem hollow.

Edit: Jharris: Dark Souls in on PC now, and from what I understand it's relatively easy to run. If you have a computer with a non-integrated video card that's less than a few years old, you can probably play it.
posted by Green Winnebago at 1:07 PM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Hell, Skyrim even makes sure that enemies are the same level as you, so you don't get overwhelmed.

I HATE THIS WITH THE BURNING PASSION OF A THOUSAND FLAMEWARS.
posted by JHarris at 1:11 PM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


But in Dark Souls, if you're out of Estus Flasks, you either have to use a Humanity, backtrack to the campfire so you can fight all the same enemies again, or try to press on without dying. And if you can't make it to your body, too bad: you lose all your spare experience points/currency.

Maybe this is the crux of my disagreement over this game. What you've described doesn't, to me, make the game harder. It simply makes it longer. Backtracking to a campfire such that you have to refight enemies you have already proven you can easily defeat (repeatedly) is not difficult. It's tedious. Because despite the hype dying costs you nothing except time.

Currency is trivial to get. You can farm garbage mobs. Humanity is trivial to get. You can farm rats. So losing that stuff doesn't make the game harder! Only longer!

Arrrrrgh!
posted by Justinian at 1:12 PM on June 5, 2013


Yeah, but what it forces you to do is learn how to fight and progress past the part you're having trouble with, such that you are actually playing the game and learning how to get better at it instead of just bulldozing your way from one checkpoint to the next by exploiting a no-consequences death mechanic, or loading quicksave after quicksave so you only have to get lucky a few times to get past a difficult part forever.

And again, I understand this is not everyone's cup of tea.
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:18 PM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


What you've described doesn't, to me, make the game harder. It simply makes it longer. Backtracking to a campfire such that you have to refight enemies you have already proven you can easily defeat (repeatedly) is not difficult. It's tedious. Because despite the hype dying costs you nothing except time.

prize bull octorok touched on it. The fighting is the game. Replaying fights is the game's way of giving you more practice, so when you get back to the roadblock you'll have a better chance at it.

I didn't know there was a PC version, unfortunately I bought a completely different game a few days ago, Dark Souls will have to wait until I next have a little spare cash. Alas and alack!
posted by JHarris at 1:31 PM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Justinian: I sort of agree, actually, and that was why I almost gave up on Dark Souls a few hours in. I wish they would just get rid of the leveling up system altogether. Make it so that only armor and weapons give you bonuses, and make it so you have to fight bosses or make it to new areas of the map to get better equipment. That would keep the RPG leveling aspect, while eliminating grinding. I also wish they'd at least partially randomize common enemy layouts, so that replaying sections wouldn't get so repetitive. (Personally, I'm playing a thief, and I find it's often faster and more fun to try and run and dodge my way past common enemies in areas I'm familiar with.)

But the upside to the the punishing difficulty is that it makes you care about dying. In a game like Halo, dying is a pain, but unless you're going for an Ironman commendation, it's not a real setback. You can run in, guns-a-blazing, taking crazy risks and trying to push forward to the next checkpoint. If you die? Eh, no big deal, just go back a few seconds. A game like Dark Souls, though, can make you terrified of dying. It's frustrating, and occasionally time-consuming, especially earlier on in the game when losing souls is a bigger deal. But it has the potential to turn what would be a typical action game into a sort of survival horror experience. Some of my favorite experiences in the game were knowing that I should run back to the fire, yet pushing on anyway with a quarter health and no estus flasks, terrified of what could be around every corner. You just don't get that kind of experience with regenerating health and quicksaves.

Also, what prize bull octorok said.
posted by Green Winnebago at 1:31 PM on June 5, 2013


JHarris, please livetweet your first Dark Souls playthrough when you get around to picking it up. Thank you.

Green Winnebago: I wish they would just get rid of the leveling up system altogether. Make it so that only armor and weapons give you bonuses

It's almost kinda that way already. Equipment upgrades are way, way more important than stats. This is what makes the low-level runs possible, and in fact a lot less difficult than one might assume.
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:40 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe this is the crux of my disagreement over this game. What you've described doesn't, to me, make the game harder. It simply makes it longer.

I was playing a very difficult Flash platformer. (Antichromatic if you want to know.) It keeps an ongoing tally, and I've apparently played it for about an hour and died over 200 times. But "death" in this game just resets you to the entrance of the current room.

I've made it to what might be the final room, which has these coloured crystals I have to shoot, and I shot one. It took me a dozen lives to get to where I could shoot it, but I did it. Then I went to shoot the second crystal and died. AND THE FIRST CRYSTAL IS BACK!

And THAT'S when I quit the game. I had been dying an average of three times per minute, but it was no big deal. But when dying starts undoing things I thought I had already finished, that's a new issue.


There are other indie platformers known for being really hard, like Meatboy. But again, in Meatboy, the punishment for death is just resetting the current level.


So yeah, there's important distinction to be made between different kinds of "hard."
posted by RobotHero at 1:52 PM on June 5, 2013


From the article, on Arma 2:
What you get is probably the most systemically difficult game ever made.

I love it when writers call something the most difficult thing ever made, because, coming from a background rich in roguelikes, I can affirm that it's very very unlikely to be true.
posted by JHarris at 2:03 PM on June 5, 2013


One unappreciated reason for the game's notoriety is that Dark Souls never tells you where to go.


Hell, you should try Armored Core V. I'm playing, and I have no idea who I am, where I am, or why I'm fighting. It's just an endless cycle of war, destruction, and giant robots. I get a mission, go and fight who they tell me to fight, and then do it all again the next day. No narrative, no sense of cause, just killing. If Bandai-Namco set out to make a game about perpetual, futile, nihilistic conflict, they've done a pretty good job of it.

I probably won't rage quite, but I might ennui quit.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:11 PM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I love it when writers call something the most difficult thing ever made, because, coming from a background rich in roguelikes, I can affirm that it's very very unlikely to be true.

It is dark in here. You are confused. @ is unexpectedly eaten by an D.
posted by jaduncan at 2:12 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here's a Nethack reimagining of the Capra Demon room (credit: Reddit user Siggi_of_Catarina):


 ---
|<..|
|.&.|
|d.d|
 -+-


A roguelike dungeon crawler with Dark Souls graphics/gameplay would be so cool.
posted by prize bull octorok at 2:27 PM on June 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


A roguelike dungeon crawler with Dark Souls graphics/gameplay would be so cool.

This. It could play a bit like The Binding of Isaac, but with the combat and atmosphere inspired by Dark Souls instead of the original Legend of Zelda. Hell, someone from From could make this as a paid DLC for Dark Souls.
posted by Green Winnebago at 2:42 PM on June 5, 2013


> Everyone does that. I assure you it's not copping out.

Thanks. I got the impression it was seen as a bit savescummy, but I suppose it's technically not. I do still feel a bit bad as I impatiently tap through someone's emotional farewell for the fifth time though.

From what I've played of Fire Emblem I think it's a very satisfying sort of difficult, in that for the most part you have solid information about how things are going to play out, so any failures are entirely on you. The one thing I would like is to be able to see a battle prediction for units I can't reach yet.
posted by lucidium at 3:55 PM on June 5, 2013


"Anor Londo" is my mantra now. I say it as I go to sleep. I imagine myself going through the halls of Anor Londo, its storied gates, and remind myself that I soloed Smaugh and Ormnstein.

Dark Souls is purification. Its penance. After playing it, nothing is hard enough. Dragon's Dogma tries, but its too easy. Skyrim's combat is like a wet tissue paper. Fallout New Vegas on hardcore was close. I'm not trying to brag, I just miss that friction, that clang of sword against shield. That skill. I was never into hardcore games before Dark Souls, but it changed things.

Listening to the Anor Londo song... his problem is still using the Drake Sword. Should use another sword, upgrade it.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:13 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


What if a gamer hits a wall 30% of the way through that they just can't get past? Some stupid tacked-on boss fight maybe (I'm looking at you Deus Ex). On the PC it's fine - they can find a savegame or console command to enable god mode for long enough to get past it. But what about on consoles? Time was when they had level skips and the like too, but the achievements systems (puke) have put paid to that. So make them hard by all means but you also have to allow the difficulty to be dropped, even temporarily, so that people can see the content they paid 60 quid for.

You get better. You keep playing, and each time you take off a little more of the bosses' health. A perfect example is the New Game + on Dark Souls. Even Sen's Fortress goes from taking 10 hours to 10 minutes becuase you've learned.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:15 PM on June 5, 2013



I didn't think it was terrible, certainly, but it was definitely overrated. Story? What story?


Story isn't important for games, in my opinon, but if you want story watch EpicNameBro's lore videos. The story in Dark Souls needs to be teased out from item descriptions and watching the world.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:20 PM on June 5, 2013


Like I said earlier in the thread lore isn't the same as narrative!
posted by Justinian at 6:05 PM on June 5, 2013



Like I said earlier in the thread lore isn't the same as narrative!


Most videogame narratives are pretty bad. And how can you say Dark Souls didn't have a narrative? You - your character, but YOU as well - escape the undead asylum, explore a strange world, venture into Blight Town, kill all the bosses (or most of them, if you skip some using shortcuts), forge powerful weapons, die constantly and are reborn at a bonfire, and eventually become strong enough to reach the end of the game. if you play multiplayer, you do this while invading other worlds and being invaded. there's nothing in the game that ISN'T part of its narrative.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:12 PM on June 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm fairly certain you know exactly what I mean. I prefer RPGs, even action RPGs, with a strong storyline. The Neverwinter Nights series, Planescape Torment, Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Deus Ex, and so on.
posted by Justinian at 6:32 PM on June 5, 2013


Thanks for pointing out Antichromatic, RobotHero, it's a lot of fun.

I know what you mean about that last room being irritating but it is totally consistent with the rest of the gameplay, which is, to be fair, quite reasonable about not pushing you back too far each time you die, but also about respawning everything so you have to complete each room from the beginning every time. You'll probably die on each of the three crystals the first time around and have to start again each time - and then you have the boss to deal with - but that is just how the game is and has been since the beginning - also once you have worked out how to do each bit the first time, it's substantially easier next time.

Also, it can't be that hard because I completed it and I'm honestly not usually that great at platformers. About two hours, ~60 deaths. Take it more slowly and carefully maybe?
posted by motty at 6:35 PM on June 5, 2013


As is clear from the map viewer link, one of the most impressive aspects of the Souls series is the level design; you can literally be walking along, lost in the fun and action and horror, notice something out of the corner of your eye, faaaaaaaar off in the distance, and then, to your delight, about four hours of gameplay later, realize you're standing three feet in front of it. The way the areas are all fit together (indeed, like a jigsaw puzzle!) and the way shortcuts are implemented (the locked one-way door that leads down to the Capra Demon especially), you can see some beautiful piece of scenery and wonder "can I get there?" and then eventually find out that, yes, you can! Often, even though you're separated by a relatively short distance, the actual gameplay required to get there is a massive, staggering challenge. Demon's Souls did it really well, but Dark Souls ramps it up, with the glimpses between Izalith and the Tomb, and pretty much all of the area surrounding Firelink Shrine. One of my favorite things is to just stand somewhere high up, like the bell tower or Anor Londo or the path to Ceaseless Discharge, and look around and try to recognize things.

I think the thing that fundamentally separates the Souls series from other action RPG/fantasy/whatever games is that, KINDA like Mega Man did, it's mostly about learning and being rewarded for learning. Mega Man obviously also focuses on the timing and twitch aspects, but knowing when an enemy will show up and what its attack/shooting pattern will be is an integral part of the game. The Souls series demands that you start from scratch, that you abandon and unlearn all the nasty stupid habits that other games have allowed you to get away with. As either Gabe or Tycho said, the idea of an "edge" in this game is not some abstract. It is a thing that you will fucking walk right off of. Even the lowliest of dreglings can still take out a relatively high powered character with some help from his pals; you don't get to disrespect ANY of the enemies in the game because it will punish you so severely for doing that.

If I could selectively lobotomize myself and remove the part of my brain that has learned all the tricks and secrets of Dark Souls, I'd do it in a heartbeat. That experience of learning and overcoming the environment is fantastically rewarding, and the feeling of noticing a suspicious panel or blood smear on the floor or walls of Sen's Fortress is one of the most en-smuggening things available in the world.

I'm pumped for Dark Souls 2.

Oh, and also...
posted by GoingToShopping at 6:41 PM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I guess, Justinian, you mean the general lack of plot-drenched cutscenes? It's true. The vast majority of the times in DS when gameplay is interrupted for a bit of scripted footage, what you get is a lovingly crafted cinematic preview of how you are about to die the next half dozen times.

As much as I like Quelaag's reveal, really adore her as a character (and am sad that some of what they'd planned for her got cut), and really think the whole story of her family is basically up there with GRR Martin in levels of epic tragedy, I think there are two intro scenes that are better--

For general atmosphere and soundtrack excellence, it's hard to beat Fat Man & Little Boy. Walking through the fog gate and getting the preview of them noticing your tiny little ass and then the music swells and it drops you into that huge room and then the orchestra just goes nuts and there's fat brass and timpani everywhere, and Smough starts to giggle at you and the pipe organ comes in.... it's ... just fuck me.

But for visual take-your-breath away, the gaping dragon wins every time, and even though the fight itself is almost a disappointment, that cinematic reveal is thirty-five seconds of brilliance. The first time I saw it my brain just filled up with "oh... cute, what is that... ok those are some teeth there ... okay.... oh man.... shit. shit."
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:00 PM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


tservo, if there was ever something to convince you that the majority of internet video gaming snarkers know nothing, it's the phenomenon of Bokosuka Wars, which actually appears to be a terrific game but is more like a strategy/puzzle game than an RPG. It helps a lot if, before you write about something, you take the time to figure out how to play it.
posted by JHarris at 7:02 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


The "he knows you" alternate version of Sif's cinematic is super heartbreaking, too. It's worth the hassle of running through most of the DLC first before starting his fight.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:04 PM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Confession: Never made it past the Asylum Demon.

Admittedly, I'm playing on the PC, which is among the worst ports I've seen in all my days.
posted by grabbingsand at 7:19 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Guh...I feel like I'm spamming here, but JUST ONE MORE LINK!!
My brother sent me this link a few minutes ago, completely randomly, and I spazzed the proper amount of "out" at being confronted with dear Domhnall's most fashionable of armor pieces.
posted by GoingToShopping at 7:20 PM on June 5, 2013



I'm fairly certain you know exactly what I mean. I prefer RPGs, even action RPGs, with a strong storyline. The Neverwinter Nights series, Planescape Torment, Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Deus Ex, and so on.


Right, so you want a traditional narrative force-fed to you.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 7:35 PM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


though now that i think on it Planescape Torment and Dark Souls have some simlarities in how they handle death
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 7:42 PM on June 5, 2013


implicit game design
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 7:50 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


For anyone thinking of buying the PC version: DON'T. DO NOT. NO NO NO.

I bought it this morning because of this thread, and after ten minutes I sent my first ever refund request to Steam.

It's a crappy, crappy port, ported over from the console by a particularly unintelligent chimpanzee with ADHD and no thumbs.
You have to make Microsoft Live AND XBOX Live accounts in order to be able to save, the game tells you to use controller commands in the tutorial phase, and the framerate makes vision and movement a crapshoot, particularly bad in a game that is supposed to be very very challenging.
This is the first time I've ever asked Steam for a refund, because the PC version of the game is a fraud and shouldn't be on the market in the first place.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 8:16 PM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's a few free patches that fix all that.

not that Patches
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 9:00 PM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, if you're playing on PC you have to use an XBOX controller and the unofficial fan patches. It's essentially unplayable otherwise.
posted by Justinian at 9:25 PM on June 5, 2013


Re: traditional RPG narratives, here are my reactions to the endings of some recent AAA RPG's--

ME3 (like everybody else): "Jesus fuckballs, that was stupid and completely stripped away all of the importance of my decision-making as was promised over the last what, five years? Fuck you EA. And fuck your shitty DLC 'correction' as well. Fuck. You. Goodbye."

Skyrim (upon finishing the main quest-line, laughing hysterically): "Jesus fuckballs, it's a dragon orgy! Whew! They're flying everywhere! I just saved the world and yet not a single character in this universe seems to realize I saved their sorry asses! Oh, so now you want me to open my quest log of 100+ uncompleted entries and go back to finding the Dark Chalice of Fartknocker in the repetitively designed Castle Queeflord to give to Old Man McQuestgiver? Fuck. You. Goodbye."

BS Infinite (granted, an FPS with RPG elements): "Jesus fuckballs, that was a chore. 20 minutes of repetitive-yet-never-really-challenging gun battles just to get to a shitty ending. And hey, let's not address any of the racism or class issues that could have been interesting and just hand-wave everything the fuck away with magic time portals, man! Fuck. You. Goodbye."

And then, after finally finishing Dark Souls for the first time: "I'll admit, I think just a bit more traditional RPG story-telling might have helped, but I just accomplished something amazing in a dark, tortured, unforgiving, and absolutely fascinating world. I know for a fact that there are certain bosses and NPC's I didn't find, so I can go back in and work towards eeking out just a bit more knowledge about this place via NG+." (NG+ being one of the mechanical features of DC that is completely straightforward and easy to understand.)

To me it goes back to a pretty defined split in the fantasy genre. For me, I'll take ambiguous, slightly off-putting Lovecraftian weird over morally absolute (and highly Christian-derived) Tolkien stuff any day. Maybe that's going a bit too far but it's a matter of taste. I don't watch Spielberg movies any longer either because he's all about moral absolutes and pat endings and tying up every lose end in order to hand-hold his audience and make sure above all else they "get it."

Obviously, if you're not into entertainment that's basically at its core a bit hostile to you, and specifically your assumption that you have a "contract" with a writer/group of writers to fully understand what they're getting at and what's going on, DS is not for you.

You should still give it a try though.
posted by bardic at 11:12 PM on June 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


I want you to play Dragon's Dogma just to hear your summary of its stupid, stupid story.

and yeah DS' tone feels elegic, like Dunsany, or Shadow of the Colussus
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 11:26 PM on June 5, 2013


sorry for spamming this thread but the DS art book is out in October
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 11:34 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Dragon's Dogma had a story? :)
posted by bardic at 11:38 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I dunno, I didn't feel like I'd accomplished something amazing when I finished Dark Souls. It felt completely, no pun intended, hollow. (That's a Dark Souls pun for the uninitiated). I might as well have been playing Guitar Hero if all I wanted was to learn to press some buttons in precisely the right combinations at precisely the right moments.
posted by Justinian at 11:50 PM on June 5, 2013


The pun was totally intended.
posted by Justinian at 11:56 PM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is not an easy thing to substantiate but I'd go so far as to say that there's a "hidden" story in Dark Souls that you can only see the dimmest outline of if you complete both endings and carefully follow a couple of the NPC storylines.

The game definitely leaves some deliberately unanswered questions, and I've enjoyed trying to fill in the gaps.
posted by prize bull octorok at 12:00 AM on June 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Charlemagne, I've had the luxury of owning the original version of the artbook more or less since it was released. That it's being put out in English brings me no small amount of joy, because it is an AMAZING read, and spins you wildly all over the emotional scale; laughing your ass off when you find out hollow/psycho Big Hat is naked to "become closer to the dragons," to sitting in awed silence as you slowly flip pages and stare at ink. I often wonder which of the fan bases is the bigger, Japanese or American. People like ENB and VaatiVidya are friggin' heroes for doing their part to suss out the nuances of the plot and translate Japanese-language only interviews.

I dare say, this game is what made me REALLY appreciate what Youtube is for the first time since it became a thing.

BTW, anyone tried the Silly Buggers Build? It's pretty fun!
posted by GoingToShopping at 12:13 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


To me it goes back to a pretty defined split in the fantasy genre. For me, I'll take ambiguous, slightly off-putting Lovecraftian weird over morally absolute (and highly Christian-derived) Tolkien stuff any day.

Except that the atmosphere has nothing whatsoever to do with my problems with Dark Souls; my issues are all with the gameplay and narrative (or lack thereof.)

It seems we're just looking for different things out of this type of game.

Oh well, I bought in to the Kickstarters for Wasteland 2, Project Eternity, and the Torment sequel. And Dragon Age 3 will be out at some point. It sounds like Bioware finally learned their lesson after DA2 and the ME3 ending fiasco. (Even though I'll still fight anyone who denies ME3 was 95% of a beautiful game. There's nothing in Dark Souls to remotely touch Tali's "Emeeeeerrrrrgency. Induction. Port.")
posted by Justinian at 12:31 AM on June 6, 2013


Well, that's like saying Star Wars was 95% a beautiful movie up until the ending where Darth Vader and Luke go onstage and do an old-timey vaudeville act together and Han Solo shoots himself in the face.
posted by bardic at 12:38 AM on June 6, 2013


I haven't played ME3, but given how entitled gamers hate it I bet its actually an awesome ending.

Dragon's Dogma has the best split. The gameplay is mostly great (though too easy), but the story is just hilariously bad. I can't wait until i finish it and see which random NPC I get the final love/death scene with.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 12:51 AM on June 6, 2013


Right. This doesn't defeat my argument; that's bad design. There should be multiple ways around those situations. Or alternatively, maybe there are, and the player should try different ways to solve it, because his strategy isn't working.

Thats such an easy hand wavy answer. "Bad design". The problem is that one persons difficulty is one other persons easy. Upthread someone mentioned that the newest xcom is easy on all but the hardest difficulties. From personal experience, classic ironman was pretty damn hard. In my youth I played the hell out of sonic 2, but my family couldn't get past stage 2 because of the rising water section. The only reason I was good at sonic 2 was because I watched my cousin play it...

Its not particularly difficult for a designer to make a middle section in a game with radically different gameplay, and for many players to enjoy it, but for maybe 10% to get completely stuck. You mention using new strategies, but sometimes the best strategies aren't implementable by some players. Some of us simply don't have the reaction time to beat this section. And yes, if the entire game relies on said reaction time then maybe its not for us, but often it can just be this section which requires slightly faster reactions that we can't make.

In huge games its very easy to design at least one section that someone finds extremely hard to get past, no matter what strategy they use.


I am against cheats generally except as amusements, research tools or debugging aids. It's not a defense for your badly-designed game that you can cheat past the difficult part. At the very least you could put the cheat in as a legitimate aspect of the game to be discovered and have an appropriate cost.


And this is where our philosophies differ I think. I want cheats to be freely available, I want completely scalable difficulty. I don't care if it breaks your game, because maybe I don't want to play the game you designed. Maybe (and I did, as a young boy who had trouble surviving bits of doom, and certainly passing levels of cannon fodder) I just want to tour the world you've made, poking round in noclip, using all the best weapons in the game. Why shouldn't I be able to do that? For those players who don't want to do this, well then let the default not include those options, and only those players who want to explore to get those cheats.

I absolutely hate games which, when you've completed the game 100%, give you god mode/all weapons. Thats great. I've completed the game 100%, I've spent hours doing everything there is to do, and now, having demonstrated that there is no challenge which this game can throw at me that I can't defeat, you've given me tools I no longer need? Well thanks a bundle!


I'm happy games like Dark Souls exist, but I'm also really happy that they don't represent the only game philosophy. On a tangent of story telling, I'd argue that while Skyrim's main narrative is rubbish, its main joy is in world exploration, which I understand is DSs as well.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 1:22 AM on June 6, 2013


And this is where our philosophies differ I think. I want cheats to be freely available, I want completely scalable difficulty. I don't care if it breaks your game, because maybe I don't want to play the game you designed. Maybe (and I did, as a young boy who had trouble surviving bits of doom, and certainly passing levels of cannon fodder) I just want to tour the world you've made, poking round in noclip, using all the best weapons in the game. Why shouldn't I be able to do that? For those players who don't want to do this, well then let the default not include those options, and only those players who want to explore to get those cheats.

The thing about difficulty is it forces you to use the game's systems. When I played Dark Souls, I had to learn about encumbrence and weight and weapon reach and all that. It was the only way I could survive. Lots of games have cool mechanics, but there's no need to use them. Skyrim bored me after a few hours because even the biggest dragon could be destroyed by spamming a random spell. You weren't force to engage with the game.

I played Gears of War 2 on Normal difficulty, and I hated it - I could see what the game wanted to do, but it didn't have the teeth to do them. I restarted on Hard, and suddenly all the neat things like mobile cover made sense.

Dragon's Dogma has great mechanics, since part of it was designed by the Devil May Cry team. But unlike DMC/Bayonetta, you're not forced to use all those tools to survive. You can just button mash, so you don't fully engage. Fallout: New Vegas' survival mode actually gave a use to the random food and drink scattered around the world (though it didn't do enough, and didn't force you to choose between, say, hunger and getting irridated).

Even something silly like Saints Row 3 gets invalidated when you earn the invincibility cheats.


I'm happy games like Dark Souls exist, but I'm also really happy that they don't represent the only game philosophy. On a tangent of story telling, I'd argue that while Skyrim's main narrative is rubbish, its main joy is in world exploration, which I understand is DSs as well.


Skyrim has the fiction that you're some great chosen hero who performs great feats, though. When those 'great feats' are no harder than a tutorial, the fiction turns into a lie.

I'm not saying all games should be hard, and I don't really have the reflexes for twitchy shooters or platformers. But post-Dark Souls, almost every other action game and action RPG has just felt hollow. On the flip side, there's nothing like the satisfaction of staying up all night in a flow state with Bayonetta (that's not a euphemism) and feeling like you've mastered a part of it.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:07 AM on June 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


A roguelike dungeon crawler with Dark Souls graphics/gameplay would be so cool.

So Rogue's Souls then? It's very much in development, though.
posted by dragoon at 2:36 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Even something silly like Saints Row 3 gets invalidated when you earn the invincibility cheats.



But why? I don't have to turn that on.

So for me there is a distinction between skyrim combat, which often isn't deep enough even when difficulty is high (you just have to do the same thing more), and deep combat, which, if I find too hard, I can make easier.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 3:02 AM on June 6, 2013


Ah, Dragon's Dogma. Such a missed opportunity. Capcom spends something like six years building an engine that gives you some of the lushest environments, the grandest vistas and the most beautifully subtle lighting effects ever in a game, along with some of the most interesting action/RPG mechanics, then wraps all of that around a sprawling mess that becomes trivially easy once your character reaches level 10 (which takes a couple of hours) in a world full of the least interesting characters since Kaiden Alenko wasted 80kg of the Normandy's cargo allowance, and the story... THE STORY!

Seriously, Japanese RPG developers - are you listening? - it's time to let go of the last 20 years of misreading Nietzsche. No, I do not want to play another game of Are You A Bad Enough Dude To Kill God And Overcome Man! I've killed God, or something very similar to God, so many times it no longer feels like a significant achievement! And - just for you, Capcom - calling the song that plays over the ending credits The Myth of Eternal Recurrence does not imbue 40 hours of slaughtering harmless subhumans and incompetent bandits with a sense of profound meaning! Just stop it!
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 3:24 AM on June 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Agreed. I'll never have a more meaningful deicidal experience than when I was eleven and I killed God in the first Final Fantasy Legend.
posted by prize bull octorok at 7:21 AM on June 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


One thing I would really like to see in DS2 is enemies that don't just sit there and wait for you. Animal-type enemies should wander around doing animal things, guards should patrol, mini-bosses might be in one place or another. I understand why they didn't do it in DS1: it makes game balance an order of magnitude more complex, and considering that nearly every single foe can easily kill a noob player with max gear, it would jack up the frustration level even more.

But it would be nice if the world felt more natural, and less static.

I really hate the Tomb of the Giants but one of the most searing impressions I have of DS is hearing the rhythmic breathing of the skeleton beasts in the darkness. What would it mean for gameplay if they were moving around...

At least in the gameplay preview wossname said something about some minibosses appearing in multiple places, e.g. if you didn't kill it at opportunity point A, it would show up later at point B to kick your ass furreal.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:18 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


(Skeletons don't breathe! Why this noise! OMG it's the creaking and chafing of their bones.)
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:20 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I haven't played ME3, but given how entitled gamers hate it I bet its actually an awesome ending.

No, I loved all three Mass Effect games, but the ending was pretty shit. The most recent DLC makes up for it somewhat. Also ME3 suffers a bit from the whole "we're going to put a cutscene right here in the middle of the action, because we know you're probably either smart enough to avoid this situation, or leveled up enough to defeat this boss, so we're not going to let you" thing.

Also, Slab Bulkhead.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:39 AM on June 6, 2013


"Seriously, Japanese RPG developers - are you listening? - it's time to let go of the last 20 years of misreading Nietzsche."

I want to read more about this.
posted by stratastar at 10:49 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


The most recent DLC makes up for it somewhat.

How so? I hated the ending with enough passion that I didn't bother with the DLC.

Personally, the sweet spot for difficulty was, to me, Dragon Age 2 on Nightmare mode. It could be tough but was always fair and rewarded good play. I'm not speaking to some of the horrible design decisions in that game, only to the balancing of the difficulty at that level.
posted by Justinian at 1:28 PM on June 6, 2013


How so? I hated the ending with enough passion that I didn't bother with the DLC.

In the latest one (supposedly set before the stupid ending) you get a pretty cool mission on the Citadel that lets you team up with NPCs from the previous editions. Then you get to have a big party in your new apartment.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:04 PM on June 6, 2013


Oh so you get to hang out with them some more before some of them suffer horrifying, drawn out deaths by starvation. The ones you don't kill yourself, I mean. That will make it less painful for sure!
posted by Justinian at 5:21 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm fairly certain you know exactly what I mean. I prefer RPGs, even action RPGs, with a strong storyline. The Neverwinter Nights series, Planescape Torment, Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Deus Ex, and so on.

>Right, so you want a traditional narrative force-fed to you.


I thought you didn't care much about narrative in the first place, CiS. Torment bombards you with tons of text, but you get to answer the main question that it asks and it's one of the few games where understanding the story and following complex dialogue paths gives you significant in-game advantages. Dak'kon and the Unbroken Circle or changing classes by dialogue is not just compelling storytelling that involves the player, but it's also a solid game mechanic.
posted by ersatz at 3:38 AM on June 7, 2013


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