Monday, June 29, 2009

EXP Podcast #32: Wimping Out

Trying to make a game simultaneously accessible and challenging while also retaining a cogent plot is a daunting task. Inspired by Julian "rabbit" Murdoch's piece about his son's gaming habits and a recent Gamasutra post by Leigh Alexander, we discuss the nebulous subject of challenge in games. Using the articles to focus the discussion, we explore the necessity of challenge, different ways of testing players' skills, and how we view the evolution of game difficulty. Such a hard topic means we need your help to do it justice, so feel free to join the discussion in the comments.

Some discussion starters:

- Do you see a trajectory in terms of the games' difficulties over the years? If so, how and why have they changed?
- Have you ever considered quitting a game due to its difficulty, but decided instead to fight through it? Was this rewarding?
- To what extent do players and designers share the burden of accessibility?

To listen to the podcast:
- Subscribe to the EXP Podcast via iTunes here. Additionally, here is the stand-alone feed.
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking the title. Or, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format.
- Subscribe to this podcast and EXP's written content with the RSS link on the right.

Show notes:

- Run time: 27 min 04 sec
- "Wimp," by Julian "rabbit" Murdoch, via Gamers With Jobs
- "Can Nintendo Take 'Accessibility' too Far?" by Leigh Alexander, via Gamasutra
- Music provided by Brad Sucks


  1. I had to comment on the notion that being able to modify difficulty on the fly is somehow 'wrong'.

    In an ideal world, one game's appraisal of 'Normal' would be the same as another. But that's simply not true. The first time we boot up a game, we're asked to choose a difficulty level sight-unseen, with no idea of how difficult each level really is. Imagine walking into a shoe shop, and having to decide what size shoe to wear *before* you try the shoe on. This is the approach that's being advocated.

    Let's not kid ourselves - Normal in Bionic Commando:Rearmed is not the same Normal as Normal in Dead Space.

    And to avoid being tarred as an apoligist for difficult games, let me relate my recent experience with Far Cry 2 - I started out, as I usually do, on Normal, but on the advice of an internet stranger, I bumped it up a difficulty level about a third of the way through the game.

    It completely transformed the game for me, making it both challenging and rewarding. I daresay that I wouldn't have wanted to start the game out at that difficulty level - the first few hours I spent playing were learning hours. Had I started on Hardcore, I would have been creamed, repeatedly.

    The ability to madify the difficulty on the fly allowed me to map the game onto my own personal learning curve.


  2. Hi Jonman,

    Don't know if you're still following this thread, but if you are, thanks for the comment.

    I understand the appeal of being able to change the difficulty of the game on the fly, especially in the sense you describe it. I did a similar thing with God of War that you did with Far Cry 2.

    Even so, I feel that the most "elegant" solution is one that forgoes the explicit "easy/normal/hard" arbitrary system in favor of a more integrated one.

    For example, what if Far Cry 2 had a mission structure system that allowed you to choose missions with variable difficulties, instead of just ratcheting up the damage enemies to do you? I think Super Mario Galaxy is a good example of a game that does this: all the levels use the same set of mechanics, but certain challenges force you to interact with them in more difficult ways. The beauty of this system is that all players experience the same mechanics even though they can adjust the challenge as they see fit.

    Out of curiosity, have you ever played a game that both eschewed the "easy/normal/hard" system while also allowing you to determine your own difficulty curve?