Jump to content
  • Advertisement
Sign in to follow this  
Madvillainy

On difficulty and learning-curves

This topic is 3727 days old which is more than the 365 day threshold we allow for new replies. Please post a new topic.

If you intended to correct an error in the post then please contact us.

Recommended Posts

Do you remember how incredibly nerve-wreckingly difficult the Megaman games for NES were? Do you remember how many times you had to replay that first stage of Super Ghost N Ghouls before you got a hang of it? And if you did, you will also remember that the feeling of accomplishment in those games were great, even if we were never rewarded with any 15 minute CG sequence or anything like that. I have often asked myself why I think most (not all) modern video games suck and rarely brings forth the same feelings in me as they used to. After enjoying Ninja Gaiden II and Devil May Cry 4 I am now convinced that difficulty level is part of the answer. Because developers seem to be increasingly afraid of making their games "too difficult" in order to appeal to the great masses, hardcore gamers rarely get a challange worth mentioning. It seems like someone has confused the concept of "learning curve" with "difficulty"; while it is true that a game with too steep of a learning curve can seem daunting to a lot of players and make them tire of it quickly, it doesnt necessarily mean the game can be hard. Simple to learn, hard to master is my motto in game design and it just seems like most games today are simple to learn, simple to master. I think Ninja Gaiden 2 for the XBox 360 is a terrific example of good game design. The controls are so simple and logical that they immediately feel natural, yet the game is difficult enough that even the most hardcore gamer is guaranteed to die at least once. True, you do get frustrated, your palms do get sweaty and some of the harder bosses in the game are likely to have you exploding in cuss-words, but when you finally kill him you high-five your friends and jump around in joy. That´s what I felt like when I played the original Rockman. That´s what I felt like when I tried my first Cave shooter (it was Do-Don Pachi, I admit it) QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION: - Are games easier today than they used to be? If so, is this for better or worse? - How does the concept of learning curve relate to difficulty and what are your thoughts on these concepts? - Finally, is there any difficult game that has a special place in your heart? ( Just curious... ;D )

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Advertisement
As everyone here probably knows, I agree. As a player, challenge is the most attractive gameplay element for me. If the game can't present a challenge, it's worthless. And with greater challenge comes greater potential worth. It's a simple formula.

Quote:
Original post by Madvillainy
- Are games easier today than they used to be? If so, is this for better or worse?

Yes, beyound reason. Worse for me, better for someone else.

Some games with difficult settings are pretty decent. The Halo series and other shooters allow players to fight the good fight on the highest setting.

Quote:
How does the concept of learning curve relate to difficulty and what are your thoughts on these concepts?

You can disconnect the initial learning curve from the general difficulty with progressive difficulty (for linear games) and tutorial modes (for everything). In-game help, tool tips, and other similar features also provide assistance.

Quote:
- Finally, is there any difficult game that has a special place in your heart? ( Just curious... ;D )

Just old ones, like the NES Ninja Gaiden series. With modern gaming, I usually get my challenge fix by competing with friends in fighting games like Tekken and Street Fighter, where I get my head handed back to me on a platter every once in a while. It's funny, but every one of my friends has reined as temporary champion over a short time, and each one of us loves to finally lose when it happens, because that's when the game starts getting fun again.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Quote:
I have often asked myself why I think most (not all) modern video games suck and rarely brings forth the same feelings in me as they used to.


That really should be:

I have often asked myself why I think most (not all) modern video games don't work for me and rarely brings forth the same feelings in me as they used to.

Unless you actually think the games just plain 'suck' in the general sense, rather than particular to you (in which case I'd very much disagree with you)?

Quote:
- Are games easier today than they used to be? If so, is this for better or worse?


Some are, some aren't. Some games (eg: World in Conflict) seem to have decided to not bother making the campaign hard, and just basically have it a tutorial into the multiplayer; the campaign is nice for the story and as an intro, but not the main focus.

Describing competitive multiplayer games as easy or hard is a silly concept, I'd say, since its competing directly against others.

I'd say games have become less annoying in their difficulty. For example, less games these days make you replay large sections because you died at a certain point. Is this really making it harder, or is it removing false difficulty and making the experience less irritating? I'd say the latter.

Games could certainly do with better difficulty levels. This doesn't seem to be something that has improved much over the years; why not have difficulties ranging from anyone-can-beat-it to if-you-beat-this-you-are-god? (NB: Should also have controls over how much they cheat, etc.)

Quote:
- How does the concept of learning curve relate to difficulty and what are your thoughts on these concepts?


Easy to play, hard to master is an excellent maxim for stuff like this. Controls have certainly, for the most part, gotten much more intuitive and easier to control (WADS, customisable key mappings, better tutorials, multibuilding and unit selection, etc.). This doesn't make the game itself easier, just makes it easier to play.

A steep learning curve is, I would say, a false-difficulty. Something put in there, normally by incompetance, to make the game harder to play, without actually making the game harder for people who know what they are doing, which seems the wrong way around.

Quote:
- Finally, is there any difficult game that has a special place in your heart? ( Just curious... ;D )


Not really. Games rarely get a special place in my heart for their gameplay, difficult or easy (I may enjoy them, but my love is reserved for other things).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Quote:

- Are games easier today than they used to be? If so, is this for better or worse?


Very closely related topic.

Most games are easier nowadays. I think it's good, if the game is mainly plot driven (RPG, Adventure etc). I'm usually just playing the game to see what happens next, and get bored if I need to grind exp or run some pointless general sidequests. But if the game is simple controlled platformer / shooter that is mostly deterministic, I love the challenge.

Quote:

- How does the concept of learning curve relate to difficulty and what are your thoughts on these concepts?


Depends on the game, but if the frequency of player deaths/loses throughout the game is constant, i think you have pretty good curve/difficulty (for harder games at least). Of course you should include some easier and harder parts along the way, just to keep thing interesting.

Quote:

- Finally, is there any difficult game that has a special place in your heart? ( Just curious... ;D )


Megaman 1 (yes, I'm that old :). I rented this game on rainy weekend and ended up playing it all the way to second last level, without knowing that you could change weapons! Yeah, it was damn hard.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I probably have a different take on this than many people.

I think being a programmer sours me on this subject. When I'm instantly sniped in an action or arcade game, it's not because the game is challenging, it's because the AI has my x,y,z coordinate, or has triangulated my future position using my current speed. I'm not fighting a worthy opponent, I'm fighting a math formula.

The same goes for what passes as difficulty in terms of levels. I'm not impressed with floor triggers and zones. If I'm on a level with enemies that keep flooding in with few places to take cover or walking into fixed kill sacks, again I'm not fighting a worthy opponent that moves about on the level doing things, I'm fighting the designer (and like a 12 year old boy, I'm forced to "pattern" the level).

When I think difficulty, I think being out manuevered: A roughly level playing field, an AI opponent with constraints as electronically close to mine as possible, and enough reasoning that he stands of chance of kicking my butt not because he handles physics faster or can mob on me, but because he's in the right place at the right time. I'd relish a difficult game with a Predator like scenario, where I've got the majority but can still get plastered. But with the rise of multiplayer and MMO gaming, I don't think I'll see that any time soon.

So naturally you might imagine that, even going back to the old Megaman days, I've been one frustrated gamer. [smile]

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Personally I can't play most single player games for any length of time. Even when the challenge is there, I don't find AI fun to beat. I only feel accomplished, challenge-wise, when I've either: beaten another player on a level playing field OR beat the developers in some way (doing something that's not supposed to be done). I think this is because whenever I beat a boss or a difficult section in a game, I always think "finally, took me long enough to beat something everyone's supposed to beat." That said, I can get through some single player games if they have significant value in some other form (Rez comes to mind).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Quote:
Original post by Kriuq
I think this is because whenever I beat a boss or a difficult section in a game, I always think "finally, took me long enough to beat something everyone's supposed to beat."

I share your aggravation. That's why I prefer games that bend future scenarios with past consequences. Where the game world isn't exactly predetermined by the designer. Most role playing games fit that description, where the player character can be trained into a killing machine that the designer can't rely on for specific objectives.

But even with linear action games, just because you win doesn't mean you have to win like everyone else. Depending on your strategy and foresight, you may get through it without a scratch, or while taking out far more enemies than was expected.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Single Player games tend to bore me as well unless the game keeps progressing at a good pace. If there is a puzzle that takes me awhile to solve or a jump that is hard to land I usually just end up playing something else.

There are some games that are rewarding because they are difficult. Guitar Hero for example. Many people really find these games a challenge and feel like it is an accomplishment to beat a particularly hard song.

I also think that the most enjoyment comes from getting into a groove where you are challenged but progressing. A difficult task in a game is usually only fun if you end up beating it.

On the other hand finally jumping over that lava pit or solving that puzzle may not be as rewarding to some.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Quote:

You can disconnect the initial learning curve from the general difficulty with progressive difficulty (for linear games) and tutorial modes (for everything). In-game help, tool tips, and other similar features also provide assistance.


I really dislike tutorial modes, especially if you are forced to play through them if you dont feel like it. How lame is it to play an RTS campaign just to realize that the first third of it is dedicated to teaching you the game? Tool-tips are cool if they are subtle and I remember a 4X game called Ascendancy had a cool feature where you could shift click on pretty much anything and it would bring up a helpful tool-tip. But for the most part I wonder why people find it so damn complicated to the read the manual!
IMHO action games should be so easy to control that any explanation beyond the occasional splash screen or tool tip shouldn´t be necessary while more complex games like RPGs and strategy games should let the good old manual do the job. If roleplayers didn´t like reading, they´d probably opt for another genre anyway ;D

Quote:

Not really. Games rarely get a special place in my heart for their gameplay, difficult or easy (I may enjoy them, but my love is reserved for other things).


Yeah, same, but don´t you think difficulty and learning-curve play in a lot in what we call gameplay? In a broader sense, I think a "game" could be defined as a "fun challange" (as opposed to a real-life challange that might not be so fun) and even if videogames have gone beyond that definition in that many of them tell stories or even aim to stir emotions like narrative media, I have a hard time thinking of a fun game that wasn´t challanging.
In fact, the only title I can really come up with is Katamari Damacy, which is all fun and no challenge but that is really an exception rather than the norm.

In my eyes, good gameplay is about blood, sweat & tears and the most frustrating games are also those which I remember the best.

Quote:

Most games are easier nowadays. I think it's good, if the game is mainly plot driven (RPG, Adventure etc). I'm usually just playing the game to see what happens next, and get bored if I need to grind exp or run some pointless general sidequests. But if the game is simple controlled platformer / shooter that is mostly deterministic, I love the challenge.


Wonderful distinction. But do you know what I remember most vividly from Final Fantasy VII, besides that moment Aerith lost her life to Sepiroths cold Masamune blade in a mako reactor? Beating Ruby and Emerald weapons.
For those who don´t know, these two monsters were huge bosses that were optional to fight but left you with a great sense of accomplishment once you mastered them.

Quote:

I think being a programmer sours me on this subject. When I'm instantly sniped in an action or arcade game, it's not because the game is challenging, it's because the AI has my x,y,z coordinate, or has triangulated my future position using my current speed. I'm not fighting a worthy opponent, I'm fighting a math formula.


Agreed, and if this is the way the developer choose to make his game difficult, then surely it is a flawed design. I also hate how most RTS AIs dont seem to be restrained by any fog-of-war or dont seem to have any problem giving all their units different orders at once, even though it would be impossible for me as a player. I'd like to separate AI programming from difficulty adjustment since the ultimate goal for AI programming should be to make the enemy seem realisitic whereas the goal for difficulty adjustment should be to make the game challanging yet beatable, regardless of how the CPU "thinks."
However, I do recognize that there is bond between these two fields and it makes perfect sense to think of difficulty in-terms of AI cunning & ability.

Quote:

The same goes for what passes as difficulty in terms of levels. I'm not impressed with floor triggers and zones. If I'm on a level with enemies that keep flooding in with few places to take cover or walking into fixed kill sacks, again I'm not fighting a worthy opponent that moves about on the level doing things, I'm fighting the designer (and like a 12 year old boy, I'm forced to "pattern" the level).


I see what you are saying but I personally like the feeling of fighting the designer. With Ninja Gaiden, for instance, its like Team Ninja are saying "hey, we created this challange for you, are you up to the task?"
About "pattering the level" I don´t think this is necesarilly a bad thing eithier. If you play a Cave shooter like Do-Don Pachi or Espgaluda you will notice that to achieve a high score you must learn the level almost like a guitar player learns a certain song, and once you know the in-and-outs of it perfectly ad can land that multi-million score, the feeling of accomplishment is tremendous.

Quote:

There are some games that are rewarding because they are difficult. Guitar Hero for example. Many people really find these games a challenge and feel like it is an accomplishment to beat a particularly hard song.


I HATE Guitar Hero. Suddenly "gaming" is something for college frat parties and couples dinners where people who have never touched a console control exclaim: "Wow, I never knew video games could be this fun!"
This is so utterly ridiculous when there are so many other music games that are way better and dont scam you buy having you buy a piece of junk controller that you wont use for anything else: Gitarro Man and Oendan come to mind.

I'd like to wrap this rather lengthy tip off with a little game recommendation: Super Mario Bros II AKA Lost Levels in the US. This game is difficult in a good way, and I consider it to be Shigeru Miyamatos absolute masterpiece. Rather than improving Super Mario I by adding new features, he perfected it by refining the level design into something mesmerizing and unforgetable. Just don´t beat up your controller too much! :D

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Most of this stuff comes down to knowing your target market and not making stupid design decisions, like fake-difficulty (eg: omniscient AI).

Quote:
I really dislike tutorial modes, especially if you are forced to play through them if you dont feel like it.


You dislike optional tutorials...?

Quote:
I think a "game" could be defined as a "fun challange"


Not generally. That doesn't apply to quite a lot of games, and so fails as a definition. (Both the "fun" and "challange [sic]" parts can fail, incidently; the key distinction between enjoyment and fun kicking in there).

Quote:
I HATE Guitar Hero. Suddenly "gaming" is something for college frat parties and couples dinners where people who have never touched a console control exclaim: "Wow, I never knew video games could be this fun!"


So basically you hate anything that isn't to your taste? This is meant to be a game design discussion thread, not a personalised rant.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this  

  • Advertisement
×

Important Information

By using GameDev.net, you agree to our community Guidelines, Terms of Use, and Privacy Policy.

We are the game development community.

Whether you are an indie, hobbyist, AAA developer, or just trying to learn, GameDev.net is the place for you to learn, share, and connect with the games industry. Learn more About Us or sign up!

Sign me up!