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The great "Difficulty in games" debate

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TL;DR how much should players be expected to invest into a game before they start having fun?

 

About a month ago Ross played ~2 hours of Dark Souls on Twitch. When the stream recording was uploaded to YouTube, many heated discussions took place in the comments. Unfortunately, that comment section has become too messy and toxic to produce anything useful. That's why I'm bringing this topic here — I'm hoping for a meaningful conversation.

 

Souls games hold a very special place in my heart, and with Ross being my favorite YouTuber, I couldn't wait to hear his opinion on one of them. Alas, it wasn't meant to be. Like many others, I was sorely disappointed by Ross's decision to rush through the rest of the game with cheats (invincibility and one-hit-kill). I admit, I might've been a little overbearing in my efforts to convince Ross to play properly, but I was desperate.

 

As I was one of the first to comment, I had an opportunity to get several direct responses from Ross. What he said boils down to, essentially, the same thing he's told us before: if a game starts feeling like work, he'd rather do actual work. I used to agree with this rationale — indeed, what's point of spending time on entertainment, if it fails to entertain? Now I see that this approach is too simplistic, it fails to account for many important aspects.

 

If the game is unbalanced, or bugged, then yeah, Ross's approach makes sense. But when it's not the game's fault? Such as when the player isn't paying enough attention, or is unwilling to learn, then what? Countless people struggle with Dark Souls (or any other game that has a learning curve) because of those very reasons.


The video of Ross playing Dark Souls for the first time:

Spoiler

 

 

 

He struggles, but he's doing pretty good for a first-timer (a number of people in the chat also corroborate this). But Ross himself doesn't think so, judging by the name of the video, and its description.


The second stream, this time with cheats:

Spoiler

 

 

 

Is Ross having more fun when playing with cheats like he said he is? He just looks bored and annoyed to me, more so than in the first stream.

 

Further reading/watching:

I found a video that talks about the value of challenge in video games:

Spoiler

 

Dark Souls Critique by Joseph Anderson (playlist link) — a level-headed, yet brutally-honest examinations of this game's various flaws.

Spoiler

 

 

I will edit this post and add more videos and articles on this topic when I find them (if you know of any, I encourage you to post them in this thread).

 

If any of you are interested in speaking your mind on this matter, I ask you to do so with civility and respect towards others.

Edited by Arseniy Yavorśkyi (see edit history)

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Just now, RaTcHeT302 said:

eh you don't want a discussion, you are just wasting my time

delightfully ironic, coming from you.

 

but… if you ever decide to actually talk about the topic, you're welcome to post here. just make sure to write concisely, and don't make your posts look like scribbles from a madman's diary.

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I think Joseph Anderson takes your approach to the game, but he still shows that there are parts that are just unfair because of bad design (there are 5 parts, most of them are praise, but one isn't and I don't remember which has all the design glitches of the game, like when certain attacks are supposed to hit or certain broadcasts of enemy attacks are feints or a dodge succeeded visually but effectively the attack still connected)

Spoiler


I haven't watched Ross's approach so I can't say for sure, but Personally, now that I'm more of an adult and have dealt with more idle games than I'd have liked,  I think I would go with Ross's approach to games needing to respect a player's time, and not expect him to be clairvoyant about certain parts that would otherwise not exist in a normal game.

Also also there's wisecracks approach that the entire game was about wombs with teeth, but I'm not sure how much stock to put in that. You can watch it if you want a bit of a laugh, and don't get triggered about ppl shittalking dark souls.

Spoiler

 

 

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22 minutes ago, kerdios said:

I think Joseph Anderson takes your approach to the game, but he still shows that there are parts that are just unfair because of bad design (there are 5 parts, most of them are praise, but one isn't and I don't remember which has all the design glitches of the game, like when certain attacks are supposed to hit or certain broadcasts of enemy attacks are feints or a dodge succeeded visually but effectively the attack still connected)

  Reveal hidden contents


I haven't watched Ross's approach so I can't say for sure, but Personally, now that I'm more of an adult and have dealt with more idle games than I'd have liked,  I think I would go with Ross's approach to games needing to respect a player's time, and not expect him to be clairvoyant about certain parts that would otherwise not exist in a normal game.

Also also there's wisecracks approach that the entire game was about wombs with teeth, but I'm not sure how much stock to put in that. You can watch it if you want a bit of a laugh, and don't get triggered about ppl shittalking dark souls.

  Reveal hidden contents

 

 

Dark Souls isn't a perfect game, by any means. but it's mostly fair, which is why it's worth pushing through the learning phase. meanwhile in other games difficult encounters are hard not because the player is doing something wrong, but simply because the odds are stacked against him.

 

I'll watch these videos. although, the one from Wisecrack seems to contain some information that is factually incorrect, judging by the comments.

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11 hours ago, RaTcHeT302 said:

eh you don't want a discussion, you are just wasting my time

Or maybe they just don't want a rambling quadruple post.

Steam: Annie
Discord: Annie#6365

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The game dungeon is actually notes from the underground by dostoevsky

"You don't get to bring friends."

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My stance is a simple one: Players should have the option to make a game as difficult, or easy, as they see fit. As long as it doesn't harm other people's experience or enjoyment (when it comes to online gaming), then let them. If Ross wants to use cheats to beat Dark Souls, then let him. If he decides, down the road, to go back, and beat it, this time without cheats, then good for him. If not, okay.

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"We don't call them loot boxes", they're 'surprise mechanics'" - EA

 

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What I look the most in a game is fun, and challenges can be fun, but challenges not always make a game fun. Personally, It really depends of how the difficulty is implemented, or if the game even needs difficulty at all.

 

I could say 2 things that I hate to deal in games that might be relevant to the topic: Excessive grinding, and "perfectionism" design.

 

I think the first one is self-explanatory. I don't mind some grinding, but only when it's not to the point where you feel you are making the same thing over and over again because you don't have enough power (like level, gear, or money) to progress, and especially when it feels that you are only playing that game and nothing else. This is a reason why I stopped playing GTA Online a long time ago, even when I had friends helping me, also the microtransactions were so predatory that they disgusted me.

 

"Perfectionism" design is a little more specific, and the best example I can think of are bullet hells. I am no stranger to shooters, I played Tyrian, Stargunner, Sonic Wings, and even Wild Guns Reloaded, but I hardly considered these games "bullet hells" because even though I played some that you could die in one hit (Wild Guns Reloaded is a good example because I was really motivated to beat it multiple times) they where not 90% of the screen filled with bullets like some kind of pyschotic kaleidoscope. Trial and error are part of a good challenging experience for me, but extreme trial and error to perfectly avoid a kaleidoscope of bullets with pixel perfection? Hell no! I could try to learn, but for what? Bragging rights? Just give me a shield like Tyrian (it doesn't need to be infinite) and I will maybe reconsider.

 

There are other things, but I'm tired of writing now, and some are not relevant to the topic.

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9 hours ago, Psychotic Ninja said:

My stance is a simple one: Players should have the option to make a game as difficult, or easy, as they see fit. As long as it doesn't harm other people's experience or enjoyment (when it comes to online gaming), then let them. If Ross wants to use cheats to beat Dark Souls, then let him. If he decides, down the road, to go back, and beat it, this time without cheats, then good for him. If not, okay.

it's too easy to make a mistake when picking the 'right' difficulty, because you have to know what's coming. I think it's better to have one properly balanced difficulty that gives the players the experience intended by the developer. this doesn't mean that every player is going to have the same experience, but we all know what happens when the devs try to make their game appealing to everybody.

 

how is Ross supposed to go back, though? once you finish the game, you're stuck with whatever experience you had. in his case — just one big nothingburger. ask any Souls-fan what they want the most, and they'll all tell you the same thing: to play Dark Souls for the first time again. that's how important it is to do it properly the first time around. playing this game with cheats isn't a worthwhile experience, it's a waste of time.

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There it is! There's that "you not only cheated the game, but you cheated yourself" response. The "right" difficulty is the one the player chooses. People can have more than one experience with a game. The mentality of "one and done" is shit. If I choose to use cheats or mods to make a game, like Code Vein, easier than that's fine. That's the right difficulty for me. Similarly, choosing to play Kingdom Hearts 2 Final Mix and KH3 on Critical Mode is the right difficulty for me, cause I choose it to be.

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"We don't call them loot boxes", they're 'surprise mechanics'" - EA

 

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1 hour ago, Arseniy Yavorśkyi said:

how is Ross supposed to go back, though? once you finish the game, you're stuck with whatever experience you had.

And if it is an even worse experience because they don't allow you to choose your own difficulty level, then not only will it not be fun the first time, you won't EVER go back for a second time. If you can cheat your way through areas that you don't want to spend hours wasted on, then that may allow you to enjoy it enough that you might feel like sinking that time in later. (that never happens if you can't skip it)

Don't insult me. I have trained professionals to do that.

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20 minutes ago, BTGBullseye said:

And if it is an even worse experience because they don't allow you to choose your own difficulty level, then not only will it not be fun the first time, you won't EVER go back for a second time. If you can cheat your way through areas that you don't want to spend hours wasted on, then that may allow you to enjoy it enough that you might feel like sinking that time in later. (that never happens if you can't skip it)

But nowadays most games don't come with built in cheats, you have to pay for a separate trainer from some shady online business to be able to cheat and hope (or run on a VM) that it isn't chock (chalk?) full of malware. 😭
(Thank Space Celeste had built it cheats or I'd never would have been able to finish it, contrast it with The Messanger which was just too fast for me , so I quickly gave up on even though the story looked very compelling)

Edited by kerdios (see edit history)

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1 hour ago, Arseniy Yavorśkyi said:

it's too easy to make a mistake when picking the 'right' difficulty, because you have to know what's coming. I think it's better to have one properly balanced difficulty that gives the players the experience intended by the developer. this doesn't mean that every player is going to have the same experience, but we all know what happens when the devs try to make their game appealing to everybody.

What if playing the game shows you the dev is a sadist, should you really roll over and fulfill his sadistic urges just for bragging rights?

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2 hours ago, Psychotic Ninja said:

There it is! There's that "you not only cheated the game, but you cheated yourself" response. The "right" difficulty is the one the player chooses. People can have more than one experience with a game. The mentality of "one and done" is shit. If I choose to use cheats or mods to make a game, like Code Vein, easier than that's fine. That's the right difficulty for me. Similarly, choosing to play Kingdom Hearts 2 Final Mix and KH3 on Critical Mode is the right difficulty for me, cause I choose it to be.

more than one experience? sure. more than one FIRST experience? not possible.

 

the right experience is the one that's better, not necessarily the one the player chooses. players can make mistakes, and they often do when they don't have enough information, such as when playing a new game for the first time. players can sometimes choose to play the game in way that's more "optimal" in terms of difficulty and progression speed, but not in terms of quality of their experience. for example: I've beaten Vigil: The Longest Night recently, and I did so by grinding 80 000 gold and buying the best sword in the game, which completely broke some of the boss fights, thus damaging the experience. guiding the player towards the best possible experience is an important element of game design. I absolutely guarantee you that bypassing the core mechanic of the game (which Ross did in Dark Souls) does not provide the best experience.

 

I played Code Vein. there's some good in it for sure, but in terms of balance, combat encounters, and level design — it's utter dogshit when compared to Dark Souls, or even some of the better Souls-likes. so I can totally understand why somebody would want to skip the bullshit parts (and boy oh boy are there a lot of them). the question is, why would you even want to spend your time on a game like that? if it was actually a good game, but just not the kind of game you prefer, then you're still better off playing something else. for example, I don't think any amount of cheating can mitigate Ross's dislike of turn-based combat.

1 hour ago, BTGBullseye said:

And if it is an even worse experience because they don't allow you to choose your own difficulty level, then not only will it not be fun the first time, you won't EVER go back for a second time. If you can cheat your way through areas that you don't want to spend hours wasted on, then that may allow you to enjoy it enough that you might feel like sinking that time in later. (that never happens if you can't skip it)

difficulty options aren't a solution. it's basically game devs throwing their hands up and saying "we couldn't balance the game properly, so here's a slider, figure it out".

 

coming back to the game to play it properly — that's not an impossible scenario. but you would only do that if the game is actually good without cheats, and in that case there was no point in cheating in the first place.

1 hour ago, kerdios said:

But nowadays most games don't come with built in cheats, you have to pay for a separate trainer from some shady online business to be able to cheat and hope (or run on a VM) that it isn't chock (chalk?) full of malware. 😭
(Thank Space Celeste had built it cheats or I'd never would have been able to finish it, contrast it with The Messanger which was just too fast for me , so I quickly gave up on even though the story looked very compelling)

hmm, I guess micro-transactions are malware, in some sense.

1 hour ago, kerdios said:

What if playing the game shows you the dev is a sadist, should you really roll over and fulfill his sadistic urges just for bragging rights?

that's irrelevant. is the game good? yes — keep playing. no — uninstall. the only time I pay attention to what 'urges' go through a dev's head is when they try to push their political agenda on me.

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1 hour ago, Arseniy Yavorśkyi said:

that's irrelevant. is the game good? yes — keep playing. no — uninstall. the only time I pay attention to what 'urges' go through a dev's head is when they try to push their political agenda on me.

I don't know, many people would say Death Stranding is "good" it's got a (supposedly) great story, a huge world map, graphics up the wazoo , but on the other hand, it's a 100 hour rag doll simulator (which is objectively bad to any player's health).
If I wanted to get rid of the sadistic ragdoll just to enjoy the other parts, would that be so bad?

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58 minutes ago, kerdios said:

I don't know, many people would say Death Stranding is "good" it's got a (supposedly) great story, a huge world map, graphics up the wazoo , but on the other hand, it's a 100 hour rag doll simulator (which is objectively bad to any player's health).
If I wanted to get rid of the sadistic ragdoll just to enjoy the other parts, would that be so bad?

well, I've heard people say Death Stranding is just a bunch pretentious nonsense. but, as I haven't played that game myself, I can't say for sure. but it definitely doesn't appear compelling to me at a glance, neither in its gameplay, nor the story. the game's director, Hideo Kojima, made some denigrating remarks about people who didn't enjoy his creation, which made me even less inclined to give it a chance.

 

to answer your question: it depends on whether or not those other elements will have the same impact as when playing normally. usually, not. if you really want to *see* the game and/or its story, but you absolutely can't stand the gameplay, you'd be better off watching a let's play on YouTube, or reading the story summary on a wiki.

 

in a game like Dark Souls, on the other hand, difficult boss fights are used to punctuate progression, and also to accentuate story elements. everybody remembers Gwyn not just because the story says he's important, but because getting to him and beating him was such an ordeal. meanwhile, Dark Souls 2 ends with a fight that's incredibly easy, a lot easier than some of the other boss fights. because of this, the ending to that game doesn't feel special. I could go on, but I hope this brings the point across.

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Let me ask you this: If Ross never streamed Dark Souls, would him using cheats/mods to make things easier for him affect you in any way? Would it bother you?

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"We don't call them loot boxes", they're 'surprise mechanics'" - EA

 

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8 hours ago, Psychotic Ninja said:

Let me ask you this: If Ross never streamed Dark Souls, would him using cheats/mods to make things easier for him affect you in any way? Would it bother you?

if I was completely unaware of it, then of course it would be impossible for me to be bothered by it.

 

funny how it works, isn't it? sometimes the things we look forward to the most end up bringing us the most displeasure.

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Huh, it's almost as if the issue you have has nothing to do with the difficulty in games, and more with how Ross chose to play a certain game. He didn't play it the way you wanted him to play it. No, he played it the way he wanted to. I could be angry and upset at people not breaking FF8 to insane levels on their first playthrough, but I'm not. I could be angry and upset at people who don't beat KH2 FM on Critical Mode (Level 1) on their second playthrough, but I'm not. Should Speedrunners be angry and upset when people don't speedrun their favorite game? I don't get upset when people don't optimize their playthrough of FFX and go for Penance. I don't get upset when people don't optimize their Augments in FF IV 3D/DS, especially in NG+.

If Ross hates the gameplay/difficulty of the Souls games, but loves the lore, he should be able to explore the games at his own pace. He shouldn't have to rely on others and their styles to get the lore. I mean, using your logic, wouldn't Ross not get the experience of defeating a difficult boss? He didn't beat the boss, someone else did. Ross can make the game easier. Not one shot everything easier, but easier if he so chooses. At the end of the day, how one plays a game is their own choice and no one, not you, not me, not even Ross's wife has any right to tell him "you're playing the game wrong".

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"We don't call them loot boxes", they're 'surprise mechanics'" - EA

 

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