The Difficulty In Modern Games

Every time I read about new games and all, one thing I like to look into is the difficulty. Difficulty usually has to be just right for the game to be as good as it can be. As strange as it may sound, difficulty seems to be getting progressively easier than it once was, which doesn’t seem to make sense. Usually, video games no matter the genre would assumingly get more difficult as the player progresses, often to cope with the player acquiring new items to make the game easier. Sometimes a game will be easy from the start, and get more difficult as you continue through the game, while some will be the other way around usually due to advancements in armor, weapons, and other new items, but games from this current decade seem to have a consistent easy difficulty, but why?

If a game is too easy, it doesn’t challenge the player, which can be good or bad depending on what type of gamer the player is. For maybe the average gamer, lack of challenges wouldn’t bother the player since they are likely to just play the game for whatever reason it may be. For the more hardcore player though, the game will probably be considered boring, and won’t likely get much replay value if everything is done with ease. Either way, the idea of boredom as a result of games being too easy can apply to you no matter what gamer you may consider yourself, or actually be.

On the other end of the spectrum, if the game is too difficult, it may get bad reviews, fans may hate it, but will sometimes even be notorious for its difficulty. If a player is constantly failing to complete the objective in a game as a result of the game being too difficult, then the player may feel like they are not very good, or it may make the player angry to the point where they give up and write the game off as not very good. Whether it be for the more hardcore video game player, or the casual player, this result still seems to be consistent when it comes to overly difficult games.

In some games that I’ve played, the game will, depending on how the player is doing automatically, lets you progress regardless of actually completing the objective. Two semi-recent games that demonstrate this are Uncharted 3 and Rayman Origins. In Uncharted, if the player is repeatedly failing to complete any of the various puzzles, the game will give the option to skip the puzzle without any penalizations. While the puzzles were harder in Uncharted 3 than in the other Uncharted games, according to players and critics, none of them were so astonishingly difficult that they needed a skip option.

Rayman on the other hand, allowed the player to skip entire segments, one after the other if they were dying often on the level. Some parts are acceptable as they can be overly difficult to certain players, and why shouldn’t the player be allowed to continue on through the game as a result of overly difficult situations? Though the skip option seems like a great idea on paper, like Uncharted, it does not penalize the player or make them any better at it by skipping it. The skip option can be abused level after level as the player sees fit on any of the levels in the game.

A game series that seemed to go in all three directions of difficulty in its time was Jak and Daxter. The first game in the series, Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy was well received as a whole, but many fans complained the game was simply too easy in all aspects. Jak and Daxter developer Naughty Dog took this criticism and made Jak 2: Renegade a significantly more difficult game as a result. To no one’s surprise, fans were quick to criticize the sequel’s difficulty spike, and report this directly to Naughty Dog. Being the recurrence of previous events, when Naughty Dog released Jak 3, they made sure to make that it was neither too difficult, or too easy for the player. As surprising as it seemed, Naughty Dog managed to successfully make the game just right in terms of difficulty for all players. If a player constantly exceeded expectations with ease, the game was dynamically made more difficult, while making the game easier if the player was having a hard time.

It would be best to assume that after the events of the Jak and Daxter trilogy, Naughty Dog made sure to have its future games play tested more excessively to ensure that the difficulty was just right for all players. Naughty Dog’s award winning series Uncharted seemed to sit just right with players based on the option being given to the player to choose their desired difficulty, rather than being forced to play on either extreme.

A game that received much praise for the difficulty of the game as a whole was Demon’s Souls, which was followed up by Dark Souls. Both were so incredibly difficult to play legitimately that they are often remembered for that and that alone. The two games are among very little that actually provide a challenge to video game players nowadays. More difficult games have a tendency to have a more rewarding feeling when they are finally conquered, although it may take some mastery and practice to get to this stage. It seems like the majority of all games that release in these modern times are overly easy to at least some extent. Even games like Call of Duty that claim to be very difficult, especially on the veteran or hardened difficulties are often inundated with constant checkpoints around every corner, as well as anything else the player may want to protect themselves.

The presence of feeling accomplishment hasn’t been around in my experiences to say the least in many years, probably dating back to the very early 2000’s. It could be argued that I simply felt that games were much more difficult at that time as I did not have all of the gaming experience that I do now, but for some reason, I feel obligated to disagree and say that games simply had a different level of difficulty way back when. I guess the lack of difficulty in most modern games seems to leave a void in myself, especially when thinking back to when games didn’t specifically focus on looking good and selling rather than having a great overall experience…

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Cameron Morawski


4 Comments

  1. Grant Gaines (大将)
    April 2, 2012, 3:56 AM

    I am shocked after all the hours we’ve put into Spelunker, that it didn’t even get mentioned…

    On topic though, I think this is due to three simple principals.

    1) Mechanics are more refined:

    Unlike older games, most games today work or accurately convey the vision the developer was going for. Some games like the original Spelunker isn’t actually hard, but had extremely poor controls. This led to the game being more difficult, though it was never intended to be as hard as it was.

    2) People want to feel “hardcore”:

    Back when Demon Souls was released, WAY too many gamers called it hard. While the game is hard to get into, it honestly isn’t that hard to play. Mind you I am not saying it is a joke, but the difficulty has been blown out of proportion. The key is to play by the games rules, which means you can do things their way (easy) or your way (most likely hard). Very few people took their time and planned ahead, so they died a lot. The fact that more people beat Demon Souls than Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 on normal (according to trophy sites), says it all.

    3) Difficulty is ignored

    Some games like RPGs have challenges that most gamers never get to. Pringer X in Disgaea 2 Portable is a prime example of this. He was the very last boss and most likely required 300+ hours of work to get to, but an insanely difficult boss. Other games have roadblocks that people ignore. Vanquish has tactical challenges, which are fairly easy… till you get to 4. After finishing 4 you’re greeted with an extremely difficult final mission, which was beyond most gamers skill level. Things like this are usually ignored or never mentioned as so few gamers play them or the gamers that play them are so use to the game that they get voted down.

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  2. rhys
    April 2, 2012, 8:27 PM

    there was no hero mode in jak and daxter the precursor legacy the 2nd and 3rd did
    and I thought number 3 was easier than 2 lolz

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  3. Cameron Morawski
    April 3, 2012, 5:59 PM

    @rhys

    Sorry about that; mistake on my part. Got the games mixed up for some reason.

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  4. Dreamreaver
    December 12, 2012, 1:40 PM

    While I understand and appreciate difficulty in gaming, difficulty can also be “manufactured” and thus frustrating for the gamer. Is the game difficult on its own merit? Or is it difficult because when you fail a level you must start over at the beginning? To me, that’s a cheap parlor trick by the developer and has nothing to do with a gamer’s talents or skills. Every gamer, no matter how “hardcore” or crazy with playing on insane difficulty levels, makes mistakes, and to penalize them by creating artificial difficulty is just ridiculous.

    For example, a challenging boss fight that has players facing a variety of stages of the boss’ morphing as they get further reduced in health is a welcome challenge spike to me. If I fail, I learn from my mistakes and next time I fight said boss I will be armed, hopefully, with more knowledge than before. That doesn’t guarantee my success, so it can still be difficult.

    But to create difficulty by having less frequent checkpoints or causing all equipment and armor to be lost when a player starts all the way back at the start of a level is obnoxious and unnecessary, and has NOTHING to do with the challenge of the game itself.

    Again, another example, if you face a nasty enemy in Demon Souls, and it wipes the floor with you, do you really have to start all the way back with nothing each and every time? Why is that a challenge? Even if you have a checkpoint right before the nasty enemy, YOU STILL HAVE TO FIGHT IT AGAIN! Why cause undo frustration in 99% of gamers because of a checkpoint? What, I can’t have a sense of accomplishment in beating the insane enemy WITHOUT forcing me to start all over? Sorry, no. Makes no sense. It’s artificial difficulty. Games should encourage you to move forward by letting you retry – the try, fail, try again, succeed method works fine – and not punishing you unfairly.

    Gaming today might be considered “easier” than in generations’ past, but there are still some wicked challenges in games that test my patience greatly. You mentioned Jak and Daxter…the first game has the most annoying camera in the history of platformers, and it’s wildly frustrating to constantly fall off ledges and start at the bottom of Spider’s Cave all over again. Is it difficult? No, but frustration by poor game designers has a lot more to do than setting a difficulty scale. Poor level and camera design, in this case, causes the difficulty to appear higher than it’s supposed to be. I get through it because I am a completist and I work hard at achieving goals in gaming, but I get terribly frustrated when poor game design causes me to fail. After all, is the game about the camera, or about solving puzzles?

    It must be noted that I am level 14 on PSN (PS3) and have almost 1,600 trophies, 15 of which are platinum. I’m not talking out of my butt here. I have platinum trophies in some of the most fiendishly difficult games, like all the God of War games, Uncharted series, Bad Company 2, Modern Warfare 2, and several others.

    See, you also have to realize that gaming has changed. To gripe about difficulty without taking into context the incredible writing and production value that goes into games today, is short-sighted. Developers want gamers to spend time with their product, and to want more of their products, so replay value and trophies/achievements allow them to create a sense of completion with gamers. If you make games too hard, like From Software does, you alienate a huge range of gamers, including veterans like me. I have Demon Souls and my personality just doesn’t lend itself well to seeing an adventure like that through. It’s about being patient with the development, not the game; it’s about being focused on the difficulty, not the setting, story, music, or any of the other elements they spent time making.

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