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Savour the challenge!


Sam P
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One quality that is universal to all games, whether they be sports, board-based or even our favorite hobby - is that of challenge. Obstacles/difficulties are instrinsic to all games, and I find that the nature of the challenge (above other qualities) largely dictates how much I enjoy a particular title for its gameplay.

 

The best games are those which are easily accessible, yet difficult to master. Ones that reward you for achievements but don't punish too brutally for mistakes. They are games that don't frustrate the hell out of you if you've acquired any modium of skill.

 

A recent poll revealed that most of you are, like me, average gamers. For us, a well-balanced difficulty level is ever more important. Challenges are good as long as we're not overwhelmed.

 

How do aspects of a game's challenge enhance or detract from its gameplay?

 

For example, I like games that reward me for trying again and again to acoomplish a certain task. Whether it is an item awarded, a new car unlocked or a new skill, it is fundemental to keep me trying hard. Otherwise I tend to give up and look to something else. I recently started playing Project Gotham Racing lots and this game has nailed the formula.

 

I don't like games that put too much pressure on me to make progress. For example, some games don't have nearly enough Save Points, and if you die a few times you have to repeat the entire level. I like difficult sections but please give me enough chances to experiment and learn my way through!

 

As mentioned earlier, I think accessibility is very important. A beginner shouldn't have to spend hours upon hours to start playing the game. Games like Age of Empires are simply overwhelming in their complexity and make it too difficult to get started. Fighting games like Soul Calibur tend to do this very well. Plenty of depth to explore, yet plenty of reasons to get started, too.

 

What about puzzles? Some puzzles are appallingly difficult. I like puzzles, but I don't like it when they're over-used and take too long to figure out.

 

Also, in general, what do you prefer? Difficult games? Easy ones? Or something in between? Is the satisfaction worth hours of frustration over the title or yelling endless chains of expletives vulgar enough to embarass a gangster? :lol: Indeed, there is a delicate balance that developers often miss.

 

It's occurred to me that I've made the topic very broad. I didn't even specify a genre. Please feel free to chime in on areas I didn't mention!

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Some puzzles are appallingly difficult.

 

That's my yardstick. If I eventually figure it out by plugging away at it, then it was just difficult enough. If I have to go to a FAQ or something similar then it was too hard. Or I was lazy ;). But normally it was too hard.

 

A good puzzle should only stump you for a couple hours or so at best. I mean I've played adventure games that took me weeks to finish a puzzle on, and that tends to not be so fun. Recent video game example would be the underwater temple in Ocarina of Time. That was one of the most obnoxious puzzles I've seen in ages and I spent hours trying to work through it before finally resorting to on-line help.

 

Trying to find the spirits to get one of the jars was another example. That's so stupidly exact in some spots that even WITH help it still took me a long time to get them all. That, to me, is too challenging.

 

Problem with challenge though is that for some people those puzzles were stupid-easy, and I have no doubt waltzed through stuff that kept others totally stumped. Unfortunately we can't tailor everything to everybody. Metroid Prime's a good case in point, as I found it challenging but not insanely so while I know some people who got constantly clobbered by it.

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I'm always the first to admit that I am not very good at videogames. I love playing them, but rarely complete them anytime soon after buying them (and frequently never at all). So long as I get my enjoyment out of them, whether I complete it or not, I remain an incredibly happy gamer and never feel cheated from an uncompleted purchase so long as I feel I got my moneys worth. I am completing more games in recent years mind you, but not as many as the rest of you.

 

I do love a challenge, even those that reach disturbingly frustrating levels where one is compelled to throw the joypad against the wall upon failure after failure. I'm talking about some of Monkey Ball's more difficult courses, or some of those retro-themes bonus levels in Mario Sunshine... Even irritating game glitches I don't always mind because when you do finally, after hours, maybe days of trying to overcome these bloody obstacles, you feel like you're on top of the world for five minutes.

 

I've never known such an intense combination of such absolute bitter hatred and joy as the feeling one can get from finally overcoming a tricky passage in a videogame. :)

 

Certainly I agree, the best kind is one that has a good level of progression in its difficulty, and one that delivers a rewarding experience to the gamer as they play on and with luck, ultimately complete it. It?s really the type of game that encourages you to keep on playing. You mention Project Gotham, which I?d agree is a fine example. It was difficult for me to ever put the Dreamcast incarnation (MSR as it was known) down when it came out, and the X-Box game was little different.

 

So much of it is finding a fine line I find. Yes some games have too few save points, but some games frankly have too many. When games come along and get the combination of the right progression in difficulty level, good controls that are easy to learn the basis with on first play?..etc, I find myself compelled to keep playing. It?s these sorts of games that I usually do complete sooner rather than later. Going against what Mark said somewhat, The Zelda games had this 99% spot on for example, and as far as the difficulty of puzzles went, I always found the Zelda titles to get this almost perfect. Wonderful.

 

Daniel

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Puzzles generally break down into two types. Those (like Expert 7, most of the 'secret' levels of Sunshine) where precision on the control pad is being tested - you know what you've got to do, you just don't have the dexterity to do it.

 

Then there are those that are mental puzzles (Monkey Island, many Boss attack sections of games) where the challenge is to figure out what you've got to do to solve it.

 

Basically, the trick is to make a puzzle one or the other. By all means have a puzzle where you can use your mental agility to find a second, less physically challenging solution, but you should always be able to solve it using just one of the two skillsets. This sounds like an unfair limitation, and why shouldn't a game challenge you on both fronts?

 

Here's why. Nine times out of ten that I find myself giving in and going to solutions is because the game made the physical part of a mental problem too difficult. If the puzzle is clear, and its just a case of timing and control to pull off a stunt then you know what you're doing is right. If a puzzle makes you think, then you should know when you've got the right answer. Nothing is worse than thinking you know what you're doing, and plugging away at a difficult series of jumps (or whatever) for ages, only to find out that you were supposed to be trying something totally different, and your 'difficult' jump is actually impossible.

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Oh, and if you want my definition of 'not difficult at all' try Metal Gear: Solid, which stupidly undermines itself by telling you every single thing to do at every point.

 

"Snake, you should hit X with Y to do Z! Blah blah blah war is hell blah blah."

 

The game's fun, but this is just stupid.

 

The "Secret of" levels of Mario Sunshine are some of the most enjoyable challenges I've had lately, oddly. They were frustrating as hell but the satisfaction I got from beating them was like nothing I'd felt in a long time from a game.

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It totally depends on my mood. Sometimes I play a game just to relax, so I'm not going to put in F-Zero GX for that. I would put in Kelley Slater's Pro Surfer or even Beach Spikers. But other times I want to be challenged.

 

When I start playing a new game, I appreciate a graded learning curve. This lets me get into the game instead of struggling to get somewhere. But if a game is too easy, or the curve levels off to early, then it does tend to get boring, so it's a fine line.

 

I think this is one of the reasons I like racing games, aside from the viceral thrill, in a typical racing game you can always finish the race, the trick is learning to handle the vehicle better to finish the race first. Rally games are especially satisfying for me because there's much to sink my teeth into, from learning the courses, to learning the cars, the driving surfaces, weather conditions.

 

Even a hard rally game, like Colin McRae, is fun right off the bat because, even though winning may be tough, I can still play the game and gradually learn the courses, etc. and figure out techniques to shave time off.

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I don't mind a bit of a challenge in games, but I do have my limits.

 

My biggest peeve with games is when you're stopped dead in your tracks because you can't accomplish a certain goal. Finding a good balance here is critical and can be the basis for me to stop playing a game altogether, or to keep plugging away at it forever.

 

There are lots of good examples of games that give you some freedom in this regard. Mario 64 and Sunshine are great in the way that you can pick and choose where to go and what goals you want to accomplish next. If you try one and are getting frustrated with it, you can move onto something else and come back at a later time. GTA and the Tony Hawk games are pretty good examples.

 

But most action games are different. While you are left to explore the worlds and you can try and find all the hidden stuff within, you are usually led along a fairly linear path. You get to the point where you're saying "I HAVE to go this way" yet you can't get through it and it becomes a frustrating experience. I've recently gone back to play through Half Life, and while the game holds up tremendously well over all this time, and I am enjoying it quite a bit, there have been times where I've had to re-do the same part over and over and over again... and it just gets to be tiresome.

 

I would think that puzzle design would probably be one of the hardest things to do well in game development. You have to strike a balance making the puzzles challenging, yet logical (either in the real world, or the game world) and somewhat obvious, and at the same time throwing out clues without making them big flashing arrows pointing out exactly what you have to do.

 

Some games do it really well, others do not.

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Lots of great input.

 

What about games with adjustable difficulty levels? I tend to stick with normal and nothing more. Most of the time, normal is the level of gameplay developers intended and I wouldn't have anything to gain bumping that up, other than maximizing replayability.

 

Bringing up PGR again, they have a neat implementation of user-specified difficulty level. For example for many of the challenges increasing the difficulty also raises the incentive considerably - more points for a increased completion threshold. These are all user specified and I feel that increasing the challenge is worthwhile in this case.

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Most of the time, normal is the level of gameplay developers intended

 

Agreed. When I was first getting into FPS games with Doom and Wolf3D I would set them to easy, but then it becomes a little TOO easy. But I find the hard modes often needlessly punishing so I too leave it on normal unless there's some bonus to be had.

 

There's a certain satisfaction, but I'm just as satisfied on 'normal' mode these days. If something comes out and I'm in the middle of exams or such and want to plow through it quick I will set it to easy as long as the ending doesn't get chopped (i.e. Resident Evil 0 [the ending being chopped, not playing it on easy, I don't DO easy Resident evil ;)])

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I dont like games that dont allow you to get comfortable with the controls before they start getting challenging. I also lack patience to solve puzzles in a lot of games, I get pissed off when there is nothing to do and you are just wandering around aimlessly hoping to stumble across the spot where you are supposed to go.

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Originally posted by Sam P@Sep 14 2003, 10:12 PM

A beginner shouldn't have to spend hours upon hours to start playing the game. Games like Age of Empires are simply overwhelming in their complexity and make it too difficult to get started. What about puzzles? Some puzzles are appallingly difficult. I like puzzles, but I don't like it when they're over-used and take too long to figure out.

 

I'd agree with that.

 

I rember how fustrated I was when playing Driver, minus the glitches, before you go on you first mission you had to take a "driving test". I found that to be very annoying because there was no way around it unles you used a cheat.

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I get pissed off when there is nothing to do and you are just wandering around aimlessly hoping to stumble across the spot where you are supposed to go.

 

 

Those are the worst, especially when you have to find a hidden and hard to reach place just to trigger the next scripted development.

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Games like Age of Empires are simply overwhelming in their complexity and make it too difficult to get started.

 

Maybe somewhat, but almost all RTS games have a tutorial to help you get started, even if you've never played a game like it before, and the first missions are always a cakewalk.

 

The AOE games, and games like it, are a little too complex for their own good though.

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