Is Difficulty in Games Exclusionary?

What do you think about Skip Gameplay buttons and Difficulty being a means of excluding other people from being accepted as real gamers?

The thing I have to say on the recent “Difficulty is Exclusion” topic is, a big part of the art of games is their challenge. Challenge isn’t some arbitrary wall that exists to restrict you from experiencing the entire product you paid for; That wall is literally a part of the product you’re paying for, part of the desired experience. People pay to get walls like this set up in front of them that they can test themselves against and work to improve at and overcome. Games are a type of structured play that entertain us by allowing us to overcome challenges, a drive that’s built into us as humans. The design of these challenges is varied and artistic in its own right, not simply a gating mechanism for experiencing the other art present in the game. Having a system that is constructed to only allow access to successive challenges if you can beat prior ones is a unique type of experience that a lot of people intensely value, and they’re not wrong for desiring and valuing experiences that force them to “git gud”. This plays on a natural human instinct that is highly cathartic.

I don’t have a problem with “tourist” or “pacifist” difficulty modes that allow people to stroll through the game without resistance. I don’t have a problem with games having an easy mode, or a skip button for gameplay. However, not all games should have these things. Games should be allowed to exist and thrive for not giving the players an easy way out, for not even presenting the option. There isn’t an objectively correct way to do difficulty, and some people intensely value games that force them to put their nose to the grindstone in order to succeed, just as other people don’t value those things and intensely value the other aspects of entertainment software. Games should exist to cater to both these tastes instead of uniformly insisting that every game is hard only, or that every game allow you to skip gameplay. Games should be free to occasionally not give you a choice. This isn’t exclusionary, it is the nature of the art itself, as much as color is part of the nature of paintings. Not everything needs to be for everyone. It’s okay to cater to the individual tastes of a niche. “git gud” is another way of saying, “Try a little harder, you can do it, and you’ll see why I enjoy this game too.” It’s a way of ending toxicity from people who blame the game for their failure instead of themselves.

The concept of a skip gameplay button draws a kneejerk reaction from a lot of people, including myself, because having that in a game can feel patronizing, can allow us to cheat ourselves, and not having the option to do that brings a type of certainty and reassurance. It’s okay to let people skip things sometimes, but it’s also worth recognizing the value in being forced to achieve with no alternative. The advocation for the ability to skip any challenge is seen by many people as a sign that journalists just don’t get what so many people love about games. That they don’t get a fundamental part of the medium, from tabletop games, to sports, to video games. These people aren’t exclusionary (usually), they want other people to enjoy the same thing they enjoy, without removing or altering the thing they love most about it.

It’s not a matter of you being entitled to all the content you paid for. A big part of the thing itself is the enjoyment of needing to work to see all of it, not because it’s exclusive, but because working hard and challenging ourselves is intrinsically enjoyable. It’s fun to improve and figure new things out on our own. Games are the artistic expression of different types of challenges. This art form of artistic challenges, including and especially intensely difficult ones, deserves to exist! It is as pure a reflection of human nature as any other art, and it should not be truncaded in a misguided attempt to deliver it to more people, without delivering the soul of the thing itself. Please make an attempt to understand why this is something people enjoy for its own sake, rather than assuming it’s the petty exclusionary amusement of a club of insiders. Please don’t dismiss it just because it is not to your taste and you cannot empathize with the concept of enjoying the process of learning through overcoming hardship. Games are beautiful, but this type of discussion is aimed at dividing people and turning them against one another, as members of separate tribes, rather than each taking a chance to understand and enjoy what others have enjoyed in the games they love.

AM2R and Scumbag Nintendo

What do you think of nintendo making their own Metroid 2 remake?

Kinda scummy. Doesn’t look as good as AM2R. The Parry is unexpected, I guess it follows from Other M. It looks really lame versus the boss enemies, but versus common enemies the parry can hit enemies to varying places depending on the angle of impact, which is very slightly dynamic. Also you can shoot at any angle, which makes sense, more-so than using a trigger button to hold the weapon at an angle.

Also they added an attack to the metroids that lets you farm drops, so you can’t completely run out of missiles to kill them with. I’m mixed on this. It alleviates the frustration of running out of ammo and being stuck with no option, but it also removes the challenge of needing to be ammo efficient. Continue reading

The Morality of Emulation

What is your moral standpoint on the use of emulators?

Something that should probably be made clear up front is that Emulation is legal. It is legal to develop an emulator, it is legal to download an emulator, and it is legal to play backups of games you have legally purchased on your emulator. Downloading copyrighted material from the internet, such as ROMs or ISOs, is not legal. This is all fairly common knowledge, but I’m restating it just in case.

If you are operating within the above legal parameters, your use of an emulator is perfectly moral. This should probably go without saying. Continue reading

The Morality of Platform Exclusives

So, I bothered you about this on twitter, and I don’t know if it interests you at all, but why do you consider exclusivity to be intrinsic to current console development? Current consoles have basically standard pc hardware, only slightly customized. Alienware could very well mass produce a pc tailored to last the next 5 or so years of games, and it would have all of the benefits of consoles (devs could optimize for specific hardware, buyers get a gaming ready product) without enforcing a closed platform. But console manufacturers benefit from a closed model, and so enforce it.

Because it costs developers money to release to each platform, to publish patches to each platform. That’s required developmental upkeep that grows with each platform released to, even if they’re identical codewise. Also this is the first time in history where the competing consoles have had identical CPU architectures and it may not stay that way. Despite that, code still needs to be changed between releases, it still costs development time.

And realistically, if you’re going to bother releasing a console at all, you’re going to want exclusives for your console, so you can have a unique brand from your competitors and compete as a brand rather than as a producer of commodity. Alienware does this. The Alienware brand allows them to overcharge for parts and rip people the fuck off in a market that would otherwise be primarily about commodities, just a matter of trying to undersell competitors pushing similar products. It doesn’t completely resemble a pure commodity market because there’s better and worse hardware, but whatever.

Sony and Microsoft and Nintendo all want their brand to be unique, so naturally they’ll pay people to be exclusive. Naturally they’ll all develop software exclusively for their platform.

It’s within everyone’s rights to make the business model as it currently exists. It costs more to them and does not particularly benefit them to change it. And it’s not inherently evil like Freemium or deliberately making a game a carte blanche DLC-fest to try to pocket as much revenue off whales as possible. It’s a reality of the fact that there are different software platforms, and developers can choose to develop for one or multiple.

I agree that upkeep for many ports costs more, but this is exacerbated by the different OSs they use, and while them using similar hardware may not go on, it would be preferred, as they probably won’t make a better CPU or GPU than Intel or Nvidia, so them using custom stuff has no benefit, with the exception of when there’s something really unique like the 3DS or something, in which case I totally accept the fact that there will be exclusives for that.

The thing is they can be unique, but if they are making hardware and a service, that should be their selling point. Exclusives are a monopolizing practice, and they force people to buy redundant hardware to get access to a particular product, it’s like if you had to buy different radios to get access to certain composers, or different monitors to be able to watch particular shows (which Occulus is somewhat doing with their enforcing of DRM). While I recognize that this comparison is biased, because music and video doesn’t require specific code compatibility with hardwware, my point is that the difficulties in compatibility are obviously artificially increased.

In an ideal world, consoles could just be a specific hardware configuration they chose to play to certain strengths, with whatever service they can provide, and they would just all use linux or something, so going multiplatform would only entail optimizing for specific hardware, and not having to use an entirely different API, they could probably even use a single executable, and manufacturers would be forced to make a better service and product to compete, rather than kidnapping pieces of art to be only accessible through them. This is entirely distinct from OS vendors, which require different APIs to work with the actual thing that they actually develop and whose differences with other OSs are the actual thing that are core to their product. Even porting between OSs could eventually be smoothed out if we get to a good enough universe, though that’s beside the point and isn’t really trivial, unlike consoles which only would require to stop using different OS to ease up multiplatform development. Here they mention the smoothing of porting between OS by the way, specifically at 21.45:

I obviously recognize that this is “the current state of affairs”, but if the console market could be completely open, which it definitely can, we should push for that because it’s obviously better. Sure, it’s incredibly idealistic, but just encouraging people to not buy a console, at the small sacrifice of forfeiting access to like 5 games, could make a small push so that we arrive there a bit faster, because money motivates them, and boycotting takes their money away. Evidently it’s an exageration to call it “evil”, as it’s not directly exploitative of people like freemium, but it is exploitative to some degree, and it’s a business model based on acquiring more small monopolies on some products, which is also corrupt at least to some degree, so it definitely should be worked against. So yeah, idealistic, but it really is The Way Things Should Be, and it seems obvious to me that at least this much should be recognized, and people encouraged to boycott just to put the issue in their minds.

I don’t think it’s gonna play out that way because of this:


Things aren’t a perfect ideal open source world because a ton of people just want to buy a box they can stick a game in, and a ton of companies don’t want to become another OEM.

If you are the platform holder, then you are the one everyone pays dividends to. That’s where the real money is. Becoming a popular platform holder is about the strength of your brand, and if you subscribe to open standards and allow cross-compatibility with other platforms, then you cede your power to them. This is what keeps google, apple, microsoft, steam, sony, and nintendo on top. All of these companies, except steam, offer products that run exclusively through their services. You cannot compete with the google play store or apple app store. Google allows tons of people to create android hardware and run the android operating system, but they hold the power, because they own android and the store through which all the apps are sold.

This might not be the best situation for customers, but it’s the way the world works, and many customers are more than happy having a simple world like this.

How Often Should you Replay?

How often do you play through games that you like? Do you think you need to play through various games, multiple times to get a proper grasp of their systems?

Depends on the game, depends on you.

Some games have a lot more up-front complexity. Some games have a lot of subtle details. Some games have a lot more mechanical processes to master. Determining which is which requires good judgment. Determining if you really understand it takes good judgment.

I don’t have very consistent records of how many times I’ve played through all the games I’ve played. I’ve beaten Demon’s Souls twice, Dark Souls 1 at least 7-9 times. Dark Souls 2 maybe 3-4 times. Dark Souls 3 once. I’ve beaten God Hand once, same for Bayo and Ninja Gaiden, so I haven’t played hard mode in any of these games unless it was unlocked from the start, which I know I should do, but I just haven’t had the time. I’ve beaten Mirror’s Edge maybe 15-20 times. I’ve beaten Tales of Symphonia twice or 3 times. I’ve beaten DMC3 twice. DMC4 maybe 4 times on various difficulties. Mark of the Ninja perhaps 5-6 times. DXHR perhaps 4-5 times. MGR at least 7 times. Beaten HL2 perhaps twice, HL1 once, maybe twice. Halo 1 twice, Halo 2 once. Hotline Miami at least 4 times. Crysis Warhead at least 5-6 times. Beat Dishonored at least 6-7 times. Beat Wind Waker 3 times. Beat Cave Story twice. In both Thief and Thief 2 I stopped on the last level. Super Mario Bros I beat 6 times in the same month.

I replay it if I have time, if I like it, if I feel like there’s more content, if it’s been a long time since the first time I played it, if I happen to look at it when I have time open.

I think that replaying games is ideal, I don’t always have the time for it. I think I got the gist of a lot of the games above on my first playthrough and very few of them had me actually significantly learn more across playthroughs. I also supplement my play with gleaning facts online, seeing speedruns, reading about tricks and techniques, etc. I try to limit it sometimes so I figure things out myself, it varies. If it’s a crazy action game, I tend to look up whatever advanced techniques there are. Sometimes I wait until I’ve played the game a bit before doing that. Sometimes I find games to play because I’ve seen advanced techniques from them and think it’s cool.

Replay if you can and if you feel the game deserves it.


Can you give me your opinion on this short conversation: I don’t know if I totally agree with the “friend.” Pirating has been a bit of a grey area, with devs saying they don’t mind (Gaiman, Ed McMillen).

I don’t think always-online is ethical, because even on land-line connections, we’re not always online. Connections blip and sometimes get cut off completely. Those servers won’t always be there to authenticate us. MMOs are kind of a tricky topic, because someone needs to run a server for them to work at all, unlike say starcraft, which you can hook through hamachi or a LAN and play any time you want, regardless of servers. I think as a show of good faith, the server software to an MMO should be released when the developers can no longer support it. I don’t think the game should remain dead forever. Continue reading

When to Use a Guide

Do you ever look up what to do to progress in a game if you have no idea what to do? Or do you 100% figure it out yourself?

A bit of both. It depends on the game. Sometimes I try really hard to figure it out, because the reward is really sweet when I do, sometimes I brute force it or look up the answer. If a puzzle doesn’t really fit the tone of the rest of the game then I’ll sometimes bypass it by looking up what I’m supposed to do.

I had to look up where to use the basement key in dark souls for example.

Very recently I played Dishonored 2 and got stuck in the very first room, eventually had to ask a friend who did the exact same thing as me how to get out. There were two windows that I didn’t realize could be opened, they looked like a part of the wall.

I think I looked up one of the light redirection puzzles in DMC3, at least the first one, because I flat-out didn’t understand what I was supposed to do.

I remember being really ecstatic about figuring out the video puzzle in Phoenix Wright 1 where you need to notice that the evidence locker light is still on. I had no access to internet and had to figure it out myself.

I’ve cheesed the dice puzzle in DMC4 almost every time (use devil bringer right when the die faces the side you want).

I beat the first 3 days of majora’s mask on my own, then basically used a guide for everything up to the water temple because I couldn’t be bothered to figure out what inane connections there were between everything.

I came up to the windmill in Brothers, and thought I had to jump from the windmill onto the raised bridge, not the other windmill, so I looked up a lets play to figure out what to do there.

I remember looking up the fight for the final boss of Doom 4, because I didn’t really understand how to avoid the blue mist and getting skewered on top of the platforms. The videos I found seemingly just had the guy get lucky.

Recently I played Dishonored 2 and got stuck in the very first room where you have control. I tried interacting with literally everything in the entire room, but couldn’t determine what the fuck I was supposed to do. I went out the open window, but there didn’t seem to be any way forward there. I eventually asked a friend who had played the game before me, and he pointed out I could open the other two windows in the room. I thought they were just set-dressing, not interactable.

In Nioh, I played one level themed like a bathhouse called, Trail of the Master. In that level, you need to find 3 tiles to open a door to the boss encounter. I found the first two tiles by beating one time encounters around the level, and slowly cleared the level out. I found all the kodama, I found a secret wall, I found one of those wall demons, I found paths on the banisters into other rooms. I thought there must be something I’m missing. The last tile was on a corpse I thought I had already looted, because if you loot a corpse and it has consumable items when you’re at max capacity, the corpse stays active across resets instead of the item being lost like in dark souls. So I scoured the level up and down and eventually looked up a walkthrough.

My stance generally is that if just knowing what to do ruins a section, then it’s usually not a very good gameplay challenge to begin with. You can’t make a dark souls boss any easier with a tutorial video (unless it’s bed of chaos, and even then). I’m not proposing this as a hard and fast rule, it can be fun to figure things out for yourself, but I don’t really begrudge using guides or such when you’re stuck and there’s really no clear way forward. Though I’ll also say that if the challenge is presented fairly and you do have all the pieces to figure it out, you should try your best to figure it out before resorting to a guide.

What’s Wrong With “Fail States”?

What’s wrong with the term fail state?

It’s attached to the definition of game for many people, and it doesn’t mean anything real, so it causes semantic fuckery when people try to argue about what constitutes a “fail state” and whether a given game has one.

So what counts as a “fail state”?

Here’s an obvious one most people will agree with, game over. Meaning you reset the whole game, do it over from the beginning. You’ve lost the entire game. It’s all over. Multiplayer games have this as well. You can see this in tetris, contra, street fighter, and a bunch of others. Kind of went the way of the dinosaur except for short games and multiplayer. Continue reading

Deep Mind on Starcraft 2: Competitive AI in Real-Time

What do you thinik of Blizzard’s collaboration with Google to developing sophisticated Starcraft 2 AI using Google’s Deep Mind?

I’m looking forward to it. I’m excited as hell. However I think they should try a version where they train it with the visuals on a 250ms delay, because unlike chess, this is a realtime game. Humans realistically operate with a delay between when something actually occurs, and when it reaches our brains. An AI playing a realtime game can frequently employ strategies that are not only better than human ones, but which are literally impossible for humans. My classic example is SFA Akuma, which will walk up to you, and if you press a button, shoryuken, if you block, throw, and if you shoryuken, block you and punish. It destroys the RPS loops that define the game. It’s effectively not even playing the same game arguably.

The AI in Starcraft itself is already way better than any human player (just way stupider), with up to 3000 APM depending on what it’s doing. It can operate every unit individually if it wants to, using units like Ghosts to hard counter mech builds with the lockdown ability fired from every ghost individually onto each individual unit, when in real starcraft, ghosts are practically useless because no human player can possibly micro like that.

You’ll notice that the lockdown ability didn’t return in starcraft 2 where ability units like the high templar are rigged to only have 1 unit cast the relevant ability when multiple of the same unit are selected, because it would have made the above tactic really really easy.

The point is, in realtime games, unlike turn based games like Go, computers are frequently able to beat humans in simple ways that don’t really reflect the way the game is normally played. A 250ms delay might produce something that looks more like optimal human play rather than play that is borderline rigged cheating.

Like, we want AI to beat us in playing roughly the same game we’re playing, ostensibly, but if you remove this human limitation, then it’s like you’re effectively playing poker without hiding your hand, not very interesting.