Level Up: Difficulty

This will be the title for these wrap-up sections until I end up with legal trouble from someone else’s publication called “Level Up.”  Well, anyway, these passed few weeks have been a rough ride, so let’s get started.

Difficulty Does Not Imply Quality

This article was the sole reason I wanted to do this subject.  I have no problem with knocking off some points from a game that is way too difficult – even if it is not artificial.  I always play games on “medium” difficulty, and I expect it to feel “medium.”  Cave Story, Minecraft (v1.9 or later), and Descent 2 are all games that are generally considered good games, but that I find have over-medium difficulty.  Cave Story is one of those that is fun for the first three quarters, but becomes abruptly insane upon reaching the last cave.  Minecraft’s 1.9 update (known as the “Combat Update”) basically just made combat more difficult for players by weakening armor’s protection and having “cool down times” for swords and such, but still allowing you to use them, resetting the cool down time and apparently doing no (or very little) damage.  It also has had an issue  where accessing nearly all new features require having difficult battles in the Nether, some crafting recipes have changed to include more or rarer items, Endermen keep teleporting into my house when it rains, and the way food and healing works makes the game very difficult when starting out.  My issues with post-Beta 1.7.3 Minecraft don’t end there, but they don’t belong here.  Descent 2 is a sequel to a game from the ’90s.  That’s all you need to know about that one.

Don’t get me wrong, being too easy is problematic as well.  I love the Ace Combat series, but Assault Horizon Legacy is kind of a joke with how easy it is, what with it’s maneuvers and auto-aim machine gun.  I claim the existence of a difficulty sweet-spot that, while is subjective to the player, should at least be consistent with what it’s difficulty level is called.  That is, every game’s “medium” difficulty is about equivalent.  If a game is naturally more difficult, it can skew its scale, like Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X.‘s “medium/hard/elite” ranks (though that might be a bad example, because I thought H.A.W.X.’s “hard” was easier than Ace Combat 5’s “medium.”  Using my proposal, H.A.W.X. would need skewed the other direction.)

Artificial Difficulty

It exists.

Okay, okay, I’ll write a bit on it.  This article was just so unremarkable, as is its topic.  One might say that its distinguishing feature is its lack of distinguishing features.  Anyway, I think most people have a good idea what the difference is between artificial and real difficulty.  To use Cave Story as an example, most of it is real – dictated solely by its mechanics.  The beginning of the last cave, if you’ve done everything right, is artificial – it just kind of happens (I won’t spoil it, but anyone who has played it will know what I’m talking about).

Difficulty Curves And Spikes

Look at this graaaaaaaaaaph!  I feel the need to apologize for this one (and that dated joke.  I’m sorry).  It was all stating facts, and no argument was made.  Facts are all well and good, but that’s not really the purpose of these articles.  Furthermore, I was on kind of a math-and-graphs kick (I was not on drugs, I swear), which is what was up with all that.  Because of this, this article is one of the worst so far – second only to the original Rando Post.  I may get around to redoing the whole thing some time.

Also, the last graph (the wavy one) was a bit confusing.  To restate what I meant, overall difficulty should increase steadily, but an action curve should actually wave up and down.  The kinds of enemies you face and how effective their hits are would follow the difficulty curve.  When you face them follows the action curve.  Half-Life 2 is a good example: when you’re at Kleiner’s or Eli’s lab, the action is in a valley.  The canals and Ravenholm are peaks in the action curve.  But, the kinds of enemies faced throughout these steadily become more difficult.

No news this week.  The next series is on social effects on games and gaming.  As with games in education, this is a huge subject, far larger than can be honestly covered in only three sub-topics, so a second round of it may come about in the future.  The first topic will be the always-juicy topic of violence in video games, and my probably predictable standpoint of “it depends.”