Should Hard Game Series be kept Hard?

I think everyone would agree that there isn’t anything wrong with easy games, but that devs should always look into ramping up the challenge in some way (sequel, difficulty modes, regular progression). But what do you think of games in existing franchises or from devs with ‘reputations’ that are easier than their predecessors. Deathsmiles, for example, is considered easier than any of Cave’s other games (let’s put aside the difficulty modes and just consider the vanilla arcade version). DMC4 is easier than DMC3 (and even 1) and other games in the genre. And there are others. Is criticizing their difficulty relative to their predecessors/peers fair? Or does it depend on what the game brings to the table, how it brings these things to the table, as well as developer intent? Like DS was intended to be easier than their other stuff. And Bayo is easy too, but gets a pass b/c it’s a new series, while DMC4 is criticized for being the sequel to DMC3, a game whose difficulty had to be revised with a new version.

In terms of quality, I think easiness is balanced by depth, and by having the potential to play it in a harder way, like higher difficulty modes and so on, to make all the components worthwhile.

DMC4 had the harder difficulty modes. Don’t know how they stacked up in comparison to DMC3’s. Bayo seemed pretty hard when I first played it (though getting stone awards might have made me think it was harder than it was).

It’s not a matter of always ramping up the challenge. In my opinion it’s more about finding the right level of challenge, and effectively matching people to the level of challenge that they’re suited for. I don’t think we’ve gotten good at the latter yet, maybe not even the former. I think the souls games got their consistent level of challenge down pat and honestly just need to stick with it.

Infamous had me play the first level and matched me with the hard difficulty, which is cool, but I don’t know how it determined that. Some people want to face the hardest challenges with no breaks (usually me), some people need to build up to that point (sometimes me in games I’m unfamiliar with), and figuring out where someone stands isn’t something that’s been explored much yet.

I feel there’s a compromise being made when you get a game like bastion that’s all, “yeah, the game is easy, but here’s all these modifiers you can turn on that make it super hard” but I also feel like having customizable difficulty, so that you can turn enemy damage way up, but keep their health around reasonable levels, and mess with the exp drop curve or other such things, maybe guard senses and alert times in stealth games, are things that might help people better tune their games for the experiences they’re looking for, or find that level of difficulty that’s right for them.

I think if you allow the player to change the difficulty at any time like in elder scrolls games, you’re allowing or encouraging them to compromise their experience at any time.

There’s a lot of conflicting approaches to difficulty that each have merits, but also downsides or compromises. I honestly don’t know how to sort it all out. I’ll have to consider it more in the future.

3 thoughts on “Should Hard Game Series be kept Hard?

  1. treeghettox June 6, 2016 / 6:48 am

    I totally disagree there isn’t anything wrong with easy games. I’d argue that easy games miss the entire point of games in general. I feel the only point of easy games is for very small children or people who are just playing games for the first time. If you’ve been playing games for 20 years and you still only play easy ones, that’s frankly unacceptable. It’s like somebody who’s been snowboarding for 20 years but never even attempts a black diamond hill, or somebody who’s played guitar for 20 years but only knows the most basic chords and rhythms. In any other hobby, this behavior would be a joke.

    I think the answer to this question is genre-specific. I’d argue that for action series, difficulty is the entire point (moreso than other games) because action games are all about mastering the mechanics and then taking on greater and greater challenges to test your mastery. For RPG’s, on the other hand (RPG-centric, Souls is just an action game with RPG elements) it makes sense for them to become easier and easier because virtually nobody plays RPG’s for challenge.

    You touched on difficulty that’s altered without the player’s consent — this would be a good article. FYI this is called a “ranking system” and it’s been in shmups since the 80’s. If you ever write more about shmups this is a key talking point about the genre, and is very easy to witness, test, and manipulate.


    • Chris Wagar June 6, 2016 / 7:14 am

      Everyone starts somewhere. If you do not have easier games for people to work their way up with, or scaffolded learning experiences in overall harder games, then there are few who will be willing to enter your game or genre. It’s okay for people to quit partway through, you just need to give them something to satisfy them, and not repel them completely. The costs of game development are frequently borne on the backs of people who do not ever end up playing the game. This is not related to the quality of the game, this is related to a reality both of business and communities.

      I don’t think any particular genre has an obligation to become harder or easier. I know people that play RPGs for the “difficulty” (to grind the fuck out of them). The process of grinding mimics the process of genuine improvement, triggering similar feelings. The character goes from bad to good, this feels similar to yourself going from bad to good. Similar root desire, different methods of realization. I have even seen RPG fans get elitist about how their games are harder than call of duty.

      Hmm, good point. Thanks for telling me what that’s called and pointing out a genre where it’s common. The only dynamic difficulty adjustment I ever really liked was God Hand.


      • treeghettox June 7, 2016 / 3:16 am

        Gradius V Loop 1:
        Gradius V Loop 10:
        Gradius V Loop 256:

        “Loop” means beating the game and then you keep going and play the game again, but it’s harder. The very first Gradius had this as well as CastleVania, because Konami knocked it out of the park every time back in the late 80’s. There is no way to increase loop but to literally keep playing and beating the game all in a row without dying or turning off the game. Obviously these videos were probably made by hexcode manipulation.

        Rank is a factor of Loop, starting difficulty, how many times you died (recently I believe), and your current number of powerups. As you can see, at higher ranks the actual physical design of certain bosses changes to get even harder. At each Loop, I believe your Rank has a hard-coded minimum and maximum. There is a lot to sink your teeth into here from a pure mechanical standpoint.

        This guy seems to be the foremost expert on shmups on the internet, or at least he has the best combination of mastery and prolific writing:

        You could get lost in this genre for years if you cared to.


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