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On game design difficulty and the player's freedom

decided to write a blog because I have nothing better to do.

When I was a kid (~10 years old) I had a gameboy color and my favorite console game was Mario. I played a few other games like Zelda but Mario was the only game I finished then. I often sat for hours at a time playing the same levels over and over; because the game is difficult. Later when I got very good at the game and played with friends or watched the game on youtube, I took for granted how difficult the game really is. If you play it for the first time it's not that easy. Sure its easy at the beginning but the game quickly gets difficult. I found that years later, when I was older and hadn't played the game in a long time I was unable to get as far as I thought I would.

 

The attitudes of gamers has changed drastically since the early 90's. People don't want to play the same level 50 times over to get to the next stage anymore. Perhaps people aren't as easily entertained; either because they know that today with technology more variety is possible, or maybe it's something else. Whatever it is, I don't think that this is necessarily a good or a bad thing. It's just something that game designers need to keep in mind when they make games for today's player.

 

A Major thing that has changed; that I personally think is a very good thing; is freedom. A lot of games today have way more freedom then they did back then. For example some developers like Valve include a "developer console" in their games. With enough knowledge you can basically make your game do all kinds of things that the designers didn't intend. You can cheat, see parts of the map you normally couldn't or create custom levels. All of this may not sound real important but what it comes down to is: letting the player have more control. Getting more replay value in the game. And in the long term; having the player take a more active role in influencing game development. Bringing the gamer closer to the designer.

 

Now, one part of this freedom has been criticized by some gamers. And that is making games too easy. Often today there are difficulty settings or options that can potentially make the game extremely easy for a gamer. Yes, games are supposed to be a challenge. But this kind of freedom demands a responsibility on the player; to choose how he will play. Will he take the easy way out? Or challenge himself? This is a decision that I think IS ultimately the player's; no one else’s. Everybody's different. But I think there are a good number of gamers who still want a challenge and I don't see why they should let themselves be hindered by these sort of options in a game.

 

I personally, love the challenge, and even after beating a game or level a certain way, an easy way, I often go back to see if there was something I missed, or trying and overcome whatever more difficult challenges I skipped over the first time around.

 

I've heard people criticizing the rewind feature of Chuck's challenge. I haven't played the game yet but I can I understand their points and can agree; it makes the game too easy. But I think it's important to realize that it does so by temping the player to ABUSE the feature. Why I like this sort of feature is because it puts the player in control. It's a freedom for the player to choose how he plays the game. If he abuses a feature; that is his choice. In my personal case, I can imagine that if I'm playing a level that has an abundance of tough or irritating areas I would use the feature for a few times then simply give up and walk away. I think, if the rewind needs to be abused, it's not a good level. But I don't think it's a flaw in the game to allow this kind of playing.`

 

Similarly in any game like this, if such features are needed to a certain extreme, the game itself is bad; not the feature.

 

I recently tried playing Zelda 2, Adventure of Link which is a notoriously difficult game. A lot of fans love the difficulty of this game, and this style of game. But many of these gamers are those that grew up with the game; as I did with Mario and we spent hours doing the only thing we could; the only games that were available to us. Today this type of game seems really restrictive and totally inaccessible to some.

On the other side of the coin, there are games that are outright too easy or don't offer a proper challenge; or enforce the easy options to an annoying degree (I think of elements in modern 3D Zelda games that Zelda fans complain about; the guides like Navi)

 

In closing; I don't think we should be limited by our game. That fact that you can choose how you want to play your game, in my mind, is a very good thing. Well those are my shenanigans, as usual I could be a genius or a babbling idiot. That's for you to decide.

 

Being part of 2 communities of games where custom levels are shared has taught me that very, very often, you design a level with one thing in mind and often, another entirely different thing is observed by the player, and sometimes your own idea gets thrown by the way-side. ...But that's another blog....



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Thanks for sharing your thoughts! It was an interesting read. I think you're right about how people/kids today are harder to please because of all variety, not only in gamilng. In some ways I think it's sad.

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