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LONG BLOG

Technical Difficulties: Bad End!

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This month's musing has had some wonderful blogs so far, and rightly so. One of the biggest complaints of classic videogames was the insane challenge required to succeed at these games, requiring players to memorize enemy patterns through repeated playthroughs. One of the greatest steps taken toward accessibility by the industry was the widespread introduction of difficulty levels.

Even with their most basic implementation, I like difficulty levels. They allow less experienced players to avoid considerable frustration, or give more experienced gamers the chance to breeze through games for fun or for obtaining collectables or achievements. I have replayed games on an easier difficulty simply to enjoy the visuals without having to be overly mindful of enemies - I did this for the Bionic Commando remake, and it was quite satisfying. The best implementations are when one can change difficulty "on the fly", in the case where one bit off more than they can chew. It`s a great way to avoid alienating players in a game where the difficulty curve has a notable spike, allowing people to smooth out these spikes if needed removes a great deal of frustration. There's a fine line between challenge and frustration, and the crucial point is that that line varies for each player.


Difficulty levels are important for gamers of all stripes.

Some players prefer more difficult games, especially if they've played numerous games of that genre. Which is why I cannot understand the bizarre trend of locking out higher difficulty levels in games. I have yet to hear a good reason for designers to bar players from the highest difficulties at the start. As long as the player has the choice to make things easier, they should also have the freedom to try the hardest difficulties. The main arguments for restricted upper difficulties is that it increases the replay value or that it ensures that players don't abandon the game by starting a game on too high a difficulty level. Both of these are poor design decisions.

First, let`s discuss the value of preventing players from starting too high. First of all, the default (or normal) difficulty should be reasonably low. Second, many games offer a chance to switch to an easy difficulty if players struggle too much early on. Simply put, this entire argument is rendered irrelevant if the game allows the player to modify game difficulty. You should respect your customer's intelligence � if they want to play on an Impossible difficulty, let them. Just make sure they can drop it once their hubris quotient is met.

Second, replay value. This is becoming a ridiculous box-back bullet point, and has led to considerable cheating on the parts of developers. If a game is enjoyable, and well-designed (which often go hand-in-hand), people will replay it. If you force people to replay games simply for achievements/trophies, that's a poor incentive (playing through Eat Lead once was entertaining. Twice was less so). However, this gets worse with one of the most detestable design choices regarding difficulty � blocking the player from content. The classic example of this is the standard easy difficulty results in a bad ending (or the even worse, now try again, only with some challenge), whereas beating the game on super-ultra-mega-nightmare-pain difficulty results in the good (and typically CANON) ending.


Fatal Frame games have no such thing as a good ending.

Now, I am a big fan of multiple endings, if handled correctly. If I take different actions, have different approaches, or develop differently, why shouldn't the ending change? It makes sense, and rewards the player for playing the game differently. What I have always found monumentally upsetting as a player is when the game ending changes simply because my enemies are wearing a bit more armour, start paying attention on patrols, and I suddenly became a heamophiliac. I have done nothing differently, except died much more often (and arguably had a more entertaining experience). And to touch again upon the issue of alienating one's players � if a gamer cannot beat higher difficulties and is therefore stuck with the bad endings, how would you expect them to react? I highly doubt most would say "Well, that certainly fills me with the fire to beat this game on the new, super difficult level I just unlocked so I can see the end I SHOULD HAVE ALREADY GOTTEN for beating this game! ", or at least say it without sarcasm.

This is one of the most irritating parts of the Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth game(which, despite its faults, is well worth playing) � the "true" ending is only unlocked by playing through the game extremely fast AND with a minimum of saving. This makes seeing the true ending feel like less of a reward for good playing than as a punishment for enjoying playing through the game (thankfully, there is a patch that corrects this). Similarly, you have to play on the harder difficulties to unlock Chapter Zero in Fatal Frame II, which can change the ending you receive. Again, I find this detracted from my enjoyment of the game.


Imagine seeing this when you were seven.

I understand that in this day and age, developers spend less time on the endings than the intros � after all, only those dedicated to finishing the game will ever see the ending. So, why frustrate people that DO complete the game by giving them a lesser ending? Why not simply put those resources into developing the best possible ending, and allow anyone who beats the game to see it?

Beating a game on the most difficult levels should be its own reward � a self-imposed challenge we accept to test ourselves. It should reward the player by its very nature. The player consiously chose to make things harder than they had to be, and succeeded - what other reward is necessary? Above all else, it should not serve as a gate preventing all but the most dedicated players from accessing the game's content.
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About Gnarlythotepone of us since 6:36 PM on 02.17.2011

I'm a male Caucasian, who enjoys playing games of most genres. I typically purchase a single console for each generation, but refuse to get caught up in console wars (although I`ll happily provide the details for my choice, if asked, but hardly expect anyone to switch or care).

Favorite games: typically adventure style - I`ve always loved Sierra games and SCUMM adventures. For modern games I tend to skew towards ones that I find interesting and especially those intersecting with other interests (e.g., I enjoyed Wet, due to my skewed film preferences).
In general, I also tend to enjoy games that at least try to do something a bit differently, or at least with a little humour.

Last game(s) played to completion:
Outland
Ace Attorney - Justice for All
SHADOWS OF THE DAMNED HELL YES
Costume Quest
Scott Pilgrim VTWTG
Deathspank: Thongs of Virtue
Deathspank
Red Johnson's Chronicles

Games I've played in the last month(ish):
Room 215: Hotel Dusk
Shadows of the Damned
MGS: Peace Walker
The Warriors (PSP)
Costume Quest
Demon's Souls
Scott Pilgrim VTWTG
Outland
Tactics Ogre: LUCT
Patapon 2
Ace Attorney - Justice for All

Systems Owned (* = currently):
Intellivision
Apple IIe
NES*
PC* (various)
Playstation
SNES* (bought after PS)
PS2*
PS3*
PSP*
Nintendo DS Lite*
GBA (broken :( )*
PSN ID:Bionic_6


 

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