Difficulty in games has always been a reasonably contentious issue amongst gamers. Many would be quick to cry foul, exclaiming with much anger and remorse that games have become too easy, filtered and stripped to fit the time and attention spare mainstream gamer.
While others, probably more likely to be a little bit more balanced, would generally say that game difficulty has become less of an issue – as titles become more focused on multiplayer, and developers start to play around with multiple difficulty modes and scenarios.
But that leads to my question – How difficult should the average game be?
Games have undergone a fairly large range of new gameplay innovations in the past 10 years or so. Regenerative health, stealth focused play, to name a few. As gamers grow up, and games grow up with them, many seasoned players have started to complain that games are getting too easy. But what I find hard to believe in this argument is that the barriers to levels of difficulty can differ from game to game. Some games don’t even need to be brutally difficult, and for good reason.
As games move from a pastime to a passion, many gamers expect the titles they play to challenge them at every turn. Pushing what should be a fun experience into an almost punishing one. But we need to remember why we starting playing in the first place, and what we actually want to get out of a game. Do we really need to memorize sequences, guard placements, or rework useless stats and complicated weapons systems to get enjoyment? Similarly, does any of this contribute to the overall quality of a title?
Developers, though, have heeded the call from some gamers. Capcom, perhaps cheekily, made it’s recent 8-bit rebirth Mega Man 9 almost extraordinarily difficult, as a throwback to the originals. The recently released Velvet Assassin was so shockingly hard that the large majority of reviewers were not even able to, or honestly wanted to, complete it. As a result, it was critically rejected. IT didn’t succeed as a result of its obvious difficulty. If a game is unworkingly difficult, then noone will want to play it, other then the ultra hardcore.
As a self-styled veteran gamer, I appreciate a challenge. But when gamers are created to appeal to one, very minor, element of the hardcore, it removes all of the hard work put into development. “Normal” difficulty levels should be just that, average. Enough of a challenge to mount enjoyment, but also allowing most gamers the chance to actually finish the game.
To me, it comes down to balance, and choice. To some gamers who require a significant fight, harder difficulty levels are created. In these levels, the game is stripped of elements that provide advantage to the player, and sometimes elements are added that move that advantage to the opponent. Mega Man 9 was made almost impossible because it was pushed to this crowd. In these cases, I would find this acceptable.
But when It came to Velvet Assassin, it took what could have been a great idea and crumbled due to a lack of foresight. Metal Gear Solid succeeded in the same task because it allowed you to select a mode that suited your playstyle. It also gave you different ways to play, multiple paths to take, and didn’t force you to slog through what can only be considered an unattainable goal without constant trial and error.
I would like people to make sure not to confuse difficulty with strategy, or gameplay that is essential to a genre. Obviously, Disgaea requires a lot of micro-management, but this isn’t necessarily difficult, its just how the game is designed. But when systems like these are developed to impede or make games maniacally hard, like Fire Emblem, developers fail to understand the point of what makes something worth playing.
Take note developers – don’t make difficulty the entire point of your game. Take note of it, sure, but make sure it’s actually fun first. Because, as you might remember, that’s why people play games in the first place.
The Sunday Soapbox is an account of the writer’s personal opinions and not representative of Gamer Limit’s opinions as a whole.