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Episode 167: Return of the King

by Jonathan Metts - October 25, 2009, 5:53 pm PDT
Total comments: 55

Billy Berghammer drops in to help us understand what makes games difficult, and why that can be a good thing.

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Jon couldn't make it this week, but we were fortunate to have Billy Berghammer fill his seat this week. Most of you know Billy as the founder of our website and former editor at Game Informer as well as G4 TV; he's got a new gig in the works but isn't spilling the beans just yet. Billy is a true gaming cosmopolitan these days, playing all the big hits like Halo 3: ODST, Uncharted 2, and Borderlands. He's still a Nintendo freak at heart though, so he also talks about his most anticipated games, like New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Sin & Punishment 2. Greg has updates on Kirby Super Star (VC) and Mario & Luigi 3; James dips into Last Remnant; and Jonny is more current with LostWinds 2, Abbey Road DLC for Beatles: Rock Band, and the recent sleeper hit, Little King's Story.

Greg's signature feature segment is next, with a sprawling and perhaps even provocative conversation about the role of difficulty in gaming. We traverse sub-topics from "cheapness" to grinding and draw from examples like Contra 4 and F-Zero GX. It's one of our best feature discussions yet!

Listener Mail continues the drama, with an intense debate over the merits of The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass and our hopes/fears regarding the upcoming Spirit Tracks sequel. We also talk about reality vs. perception in review bias against Wii games, and there's a glowing Shout Out for The Simpsons: Hit & Run.

We're always looking for great Listener Mail to read and discuss on the show, so please send your questions or comments! (We really love seeing your praise and feedback regarding the show itself; however, in the interest of time, we may edit your letter to be read on the podcast.)

Credits:

This podcast was edited by Greg Leahy.

Music for this episode of Radio Free Nintendo is used with permission from Jason Ricci & New Blood. You can purchase their newest album, Done with the Devil, directly from the record label, Amazon.com, or iTunes, or call your local record store and ask for it!

Additional music for this episode of Radio Free Nintendo is copyrighted to Nintendo, and is included under fair use protection.

Talkback

AVOctober 25, 2009

Finally. !! My Sunday is incomplete without Radio Free Nintendo

i was getting bored and actually thought of doing homework waiting for RFN to pop up. I just checked and it's downloading. Praise the Lord !

kraken613October 25, 2009

Awesome Billy is on! I am downloading now and about to listen!

I'm excited to listen to this. Sounds like an awesome feature and Simpsons Hit & Run is awesome. And it's always nice to hear from Billy. After all, he's sparkling personality that turned me onto this site and set me on my path that involves seriously considering games journalism as a profession.

Sorry I couldn't make this one everybody.  Had something come up at the last minute.  However, I told my wife that Billy is a much more interesting guest than I am anyways, so no loss.

PlugabugzOctober 26, 2009

I stayed up late on Sunday waiting for this to come out and unfortunately it didn't arrive in time for me.

My sunday is empty without RFN :(

YoshidiousGreg Leahy, Staff AlumnusOctober 26, 2009

You can thank some very very slow upload speeds for that in large part--a particular problem when the files are quite large such as in the case of a lengthy episode like this one.

Killer_Man_JaroTom Malina, Associate Editor (Europe)October 26, 2009

Just finished listening to episode 167. There was so much, I had to listen to it in two sittings, but I like the episodes with feature topics, because your opinions on these subjects has been uncovered territory up until this point. The discussion on difficulty was great, very extensive. All I will say is that if the Super Guide allows Nintendo to increase the challenge in future first-party software, I'm all for it, especially seeing as the feature itself totally optional. I have no intention of ever using it in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, but I'm looking forward to seeing how the later worlds in that game will test me (and in some cases the earlier worlds if friends are playing with me) now that they've supposedly ramped it up.

Listener Mail was a very enjoyable listen yet again; it may be overtaking New Business as my favourite segment of the podcast.
I think Phantom Hourglass gets a lot of undue flak for trying something different. The Temple of the Ocean King overstayed its welcome a bit, but was manageable if you were smart about the navigation - I found it better not to be stealthy and just ran past the Phantoms into the safe zones even if they were looking right at me. The other dungeons were fun though, as were the bosses and there were some inventive uses of the DS hardware at several points. Certainly isn't my favourite Zelda title, although it does compliment the sheer quality of the whole franchise when one of its instalments is considered a low-calibre entry into the series, yet still viewed more favourably than the majority of other games out there.

The Simpsons: Hit & Run rocks! And I spell Gamcube/GameCube differently all the time, depending on how meticulous I'm being as I type it. Who really cares?

KDR_11kOctober 26, 2009

Oooooh, shit, the Phantom Hourglass discussion again... The temple was fine IMO, if you made sure to map out all the things and using your new items you basically played a different dungeon every time.

Haven't listened to the whole podcast yet...I've got an hour left. I think game difficulty depends heavily on the game you're playing and the experience you want to get out of it. For most games I play, I start out on Normal just to get through the story and get the basic mechanics down. If I like the game a lot, the next time I play it, I ramp that shit up.

I will say that God of War and God of War 2, on their hardest difficulties (God and Titan, respectively) are fracking hard. There are rarely times where it's CHEAP, because it's all on you. Suddenly, Kratos' moveset matters a lot, and strategy begins to take hold. There are a few bottleneck sections in both games, but once you really start to live and breath the combat, it's totally doable.

KDR_11kOctober 26, 2009

I liked how Eufloria has an "unlock features" menu option with the reasoning "it's your game after all" attached though it was damn easy anyway.

One example of difficulty making a major difference is IMO PN03, on easy you can kill stuff so fast you don't really have to dodge it (bosses can be killed with all your supers) but the game is really badly balanced with its first level being the longest in the game which will frustrate you and make you go to easy even though the parts after that may have let you stay on normal.

Grinding as a difficulty adjustment fails IMO when you do sidequests because you want to do them and then end up overlevelled.

Also what's with all the whining about the super guide when other games allow you to skip levels already? The mentioned Splosionman has the option (also if you die often enough, could very well be 8 times) and noone's calling the skip level feature the end of gaming.

noname2200October 26, 2009

I'm only halfway through so far, but I gotta say I enjoyed the Little King love. It made me so happy...although I'm not sure what James is referring to about frustrating bosses later in the game. The only one that troubled me was the pinball fight, although the geography one can be tedious if you don't come in with the right team.

KDR_11kOctober 26, 2009

Anyway, that PH mail smells like trolling. Since when is the sailing a positive side of Zelda PH and WW? It's terrible. That's not exploration, that's just tedium. You know what they did in the proper 2D days with connecting areas and exploration? They had a continuous overworld that you could explore on foot, what an amazing idea! Why can't we just dump this whole horse, ship, train bullshit and actually make the overworld continuous again without vast stretches of nothing intended only to make the world seem bigger and requiring some transportation and endless going in one direction? Why can't we have something interesting every 20 steps?

EDIT: I think polish tends to be overrated in a game's score. People think "this is fun but it's 'objectively' lower quality so I have to rate it lower". Examples: MaBoShi: Most people call it overrated and boring yet it has a REALLY high score. It's extremely polished with tons of extras but the core of the game is too bland. vs. EDF 2017: Called extremely fun by most but extremely unpolished, result being a low score.

It's funny, after listening to the whole podcast, I started drafting a blog post about why Wind Waker is the best Zelda ever. Because it is. Deal with it. ;-)

Quote from: KDR_11k

Anyway, that PH mail smells like trolling. Since when is the sailing a positive side of Zelda PH and WW? It's terrible. That's not exploration, that's just tedium.

I don't think it's trolling to be concerned about your favorite series that, in your opinion, has gone off the rails a bit. And sailing is great in Wind Waker; not so much in Phantom Hourglass. My worry about Spirit Tracks is that the train stuff will be even less interesting. Let's all hope it surprises.

Quote:

You know what they did in the proper 2D days with connecting areas and exploration? They had a continuous overworld that you could explore on foot, what an amazing idea! Why can't we just dump this whole horse, ship, train bull**** and actually make the overworld continuous again without vast stretches of nothing intended only to make the world seem bigger and requiring some transportation and endless going in one direction? Why can't we have something interesting every 20 steps?

That is my preference as well, although I don't mind having some transportation as an added convenience. I think Dragon Quest 8 best captures my own ideals for exploration. Shadow of the Colossus is also great, if you are looking for beauty rather than game mechanic-based features scattered through the world. Although I would have liked Wind Waker's world to be more dense, it is a nice departure from the normal overworld and perfectly conveys the sense of sailing on the open sea. I don't want every game to be like that, but I really appreciate that one great game did it so well.

yoshi1001October 26, 2009

I must admit, I'm kinda disappointed-all this talk about difficulty and not a peep about Mystery Dungeon from James (playing through Explorers of Sky as I write this), and the word "retire(d)" was used several times without a mention of a certain NFL quarterback. Are you guys slacking off? ;)

Seriously, however, I was hoping you would delve more into the area of fake difficulty, rubber band AI, and outright cheating by computer characters (Mario Kart, anyone?).

On the topic of the game adjusting to your skill level: In PictoBits, if you start doing very well in a level, the game actually does send different, more complicated blocks your way, providing more challenge, but also often allowing you to get a higher score or faster time.

ShyGuyOctober 26, 2009

I'm really really looking forward to Greg 'n Lindy Action Hour next week.

KDR_11kOctober 27, 2009

Quote from: Jonnyboy117

I don't think it's trolling to be concerned about your favorite series that, in your opinion, has gone off the rails a bit.

Quite ironic considering the complaint is about a train :P.

Anyway, the sailing may have been decent but it's no match for a continuous overworld. LA had something interesting in every map square too but it didn't have vast oceans of nothing in between. The distance may feel great the first 1-2 times but after that it's just wasting time and makes me wish for a SINZA (a ship part in X Beyond The Frontier that lets you speed time up 10x). Also having to do a song and dance to change the rough direction for your travel was also pretty annoying.

D_AverageOctober 27, 2009

Oh sweet. Billys on this one. Hopefully his new gig has somthing to do with video, he was a natural on camera!

Quote from: ShyGuy

I'm really really looking forward to Greg 'n Lindy Action Hour next week.

On the agenda...

- Brett Favre: Man, Myth, or Legend?
- JaMarcus Russell: Does his talent match his girth?
- Redskins: Zorn to Win, or entering the Twilight Zorn?
- Bills: Is Fitzpatrick the Future?
- Matt Ryan: Perfect Human Being, or God Among Men?
- Colorado Football: What, They Still Have a Team?

Stay tuned!

Quote from: NWR_Lindy

Quote from: ShyGuy

I'm really really looking forward to Greg 'n Lindy Action Hour next week.

On the agenda...

- Brett Favre: Man, Myth, or Legend?
- JaMarcus Russell: Does his talent match his girth?
- Redskins: Zorn to Win, or entering the Twilight Zorn?
- Bills: Is Fitzpatrick the Future?
- Matt Ryan: Perfect Human Being, or God Among Men?
- Colorado Football: What, They Still Have a Team?

Stay tuned!

I would most definitely listen to that.

D_AverageOctober 27, 2009

Wow.  TOTALLY forgot about the star levels in Mario World.  I gotta unlock those suckers.

Great show again, as always.

Episode 168: JaMarcus Watch

noname2200October 28, 2009

I liked the talk about difficulty in games. I don't think it's disputable that games in general have gotten easier over time, especially in comparison to the brutal NES days. I much prefer the modern games, with their broader scales of difficulty. If I like a game enough to replay it, I usually start on the normal difficulty, and then give it another go on the hardest difficulty: this not only lets me have an excuse to replay a game, but I also get to have that feeling of challenge too.

I was a bit surprised by the sheer hostility that your guest had to the Super Guide. It seems unwarranted. Does he feel the same about games, like Bethesda's, that let you adjust the game's difficulty at any time? Does he hate Layton's clue system, or that of the Prime games? It seems to me that there's little difference between those accepted features and the Super Guide; the latter simply strips away the pretense.

I was disappointed though that no one brought up how the superior processing power of the HD systems in particular are rarely being utilized to beef up the AI. Or did I just miss that part? It's true that some games have better (not necessarily "harder") difficulty due to improvements in AI, but it saddens me that the leap in, say FPS AI since Goldeneye has been a mere hop compared to the Olympic-class triple-jump made in graphics. I wish more developers took a cue from Civilization IV, and focused on making the game more fun by making a better AI system.

Quote from: NWR_Lindy

Quote from: ShyGuy

I'm really really looking forward to Greg 'n Lindy Action Hour next week.

On the agenda...

- JaMarcus Russell: Does his talent match his girth?


Stay tuned!

That may be physically impossible.

Anyhow, great show as always, and keep up the good work!

vuduOctober 28, 2009

First, I got to give props to Jonny for his comment about conquering Faulkner.  I caused me to actually laugh out loud, after which I received some strange looks from those around me.  I've rage quit The Sound and the Fury twice in the past couple years because I can't understand what the hell is going on.

Second, I'd like to add an anecdote to your discussion about difficulty in gaming.  I started playing Shining Force II last week for the upcoming RetroActive discussion.  When I began the game I was presented with 4 difficulty options--normal, hard, super and ouch.  I have quite a bit of experience with strategy games, but since I had never played a Shining Force game before and because I wanted to progress at a brisk pace so I could at least get a good ways into it before the game was discussed I chose the normal difficulty.

I'm starting to think this was a mistake.  The game is simply too easy for me.  I'm finding that even though I don't plan my battles carefully I can still win quite easily.  The lack of challenge has changed the way I typically play strategy games.  I generally plan every move carefully but since I don't really need to worry about losing--and to a lesser degree because the game limits how much you can apply strategy to the battles, as I mentioned in the RetroActive thread--I've been rather reckless in my tactics.  However, since I'm already several hours into the game I don't want to start over just so I can play at a different difficulty level.

It's almost the opposite of the problem of Contra 4--if the difficulty settings were labeled easy, normal, hard and super/ouch I would have gone with a more challenging difficulty setting that probably would have suited me better.  How am I supposed to know what difficulty setting to play at when I haven't played the game yet?!  I've had this problem in the past where it's not clear what setting I should choose.  Game A's normal more might be pitifully easy for me but Game B's hard mode is like banging my head against the wall.  Unless I scope out the game's message board at GameFAQs it's a crap-shoot if I'll pick the right difficulty level.  For this reason I'm a big fan of when a game lets you change the difficulty on the fly.

Also, shame on you for failing to mention the difficulty settings in GoldenEye and Perfect Dark.  I always thought it was brilliant that the higher difficulty levels gave you more tasks to complete in each level.

GoldenPhoenixOctober 28, 2009

Great show with an interesting segment only brought down by the guest. Doesn't NWR have actual staffers that can fill in?

ShyGuyOctober 28, 2009

Don't listen to GP. Billy F'n Berghammer is always welcome.

yoshi1001October 28, 2009

I had the interesting idea today of adapting the NSMBW feature to other games (great idea for a YouTube video if you've got the time!). The best idea I had was Mario Paint-Compose 8 horrible songs, get help making good one!

Also, apply it to real life (another great YouTube video idea!).

broodwarsOctober 28, 2009

On the subject of gaming difficulty, I've played a number of games that have tackled this in different and interesting ways:  the Sly Cooper series had dynamic difficulty, where the game got gradually just a bit easier if you continued to die in particular parts of the game.  In Sly Cooper 1, the game would start giving you up to 2 magic horseshoes so you could get hit up to 2 times without dying if you kept dying at one section of the game.  In Slys 2 and 3, the game would gradually decrease the damage enemies did to you while gradually increasing the damage you did to them until you cleared the checkpoint.  At no point was the overall difficulty of these games compromised (with its 1-hit-kills, Sly 1 is actually a pretty hard game), just that for that moment in the game the game would adjust itself to allow you to clear it and move on.

Then you have a more modern example with Prince of Persia, where it is impossible to lose and your penalty for screwing up is to have to repeat a section of platforming or combat until you get it right.  That was fine by me, and watching my best friend play the game now I can say it was exactly the right move for them to make.  He still dies quite often, but the penalty for failure isn't especially large so you can just enjoy the game and get into the flow.

When it comes to games with difficulty levels, my favorites are those where the higher difficulties (as mentioned in the podcast) force the player to adapt to new techniques and strategies they never even considered before.  Take for example Bioshock, a game which on normal difficulty is impossible to lose.  Anyone can pick up the game and eventually beat it, even if they have to continually die and respawn at the Vita-Chambers.  But for those who want a bigger challenge (or are trophy hunters like me), you can increase the difficulty 2 more levels and turn the Vita-Chambers off.  This radically changes how you play the game.  For example, on Normal Difficulty Big Daddies are more of a major nuisance since you can just respawn nearby until you kill them off.  But on Survivor Difficulty with the Vita-Chambers off, those things can easily kill you in one hit.  So I had to think more about the level design and using the environment to my advantage: setting traps, hacking turrets, using weapons I wouldn't ordinarily use (like the Electric Buckshot in the Shotgun), and just improvising in general.  It was truly a fight for survival, it was thrilling, and it gave me a much greater appreciation for the options the game gives you.

D_AverageOctober 28, 2009

I'm surprised nobody mentioned racing games in the difficulty segment.  I think Motorstorm Pacific Rift is one of the best examples I've seen this gen.  You've got about 10 different ranks, and each one gradually ups the anty to where you're finally getting your a## handed to you, but only due to the mistakes you're making.

Oh wait, nevermind, you brought up F Zero GX.  Damn, that game pisses me off!!

PlugabugzOctober 29, 2009

Quote from: D_Average

I'm surprised nobody mentioned racing games in the difficulty segment.  I think Motorstorm Pacific Rift is one of the best examples I've seen this gen.  You've got about 10 different ranks, and each one gradually ups the anty to where you're finally getting your a## handed to you, but only due to the mistakes you're making.

Thanks for reminding me!!!!

Quote from: noname2200

I was disappointed though that no one brought up how the superior processing power of the HD systems in particular are rarely being utilized to beef up the AI. Or did I just miss that part? It's true that some games have better (not necessarily "harder") difficulty due to improvements in AI, but it saddens me that the leap in, say FPS AI since Goldeneye has been a mere hop compared to the Olympic-class triple-jump made in graphics. I wish more developers took a cue from Civilization IV, and focused on making the game more fun by making a better AI system.

One game that has been praised for its excellent AI is Killzone 2.  I can vouch for this; its bot AI is noticeably better than virtually any FPS I've ever played (especially on the hardest difficulty setting, geez).  Heck, the fact that it even has bots says something.  But you're right on the money when you say that AI hasn't progressed much.  I honestly think that there just aren't that many good AI programmers out there.  It's still a new frontier in programming, really.

With the rise in multiplayer online gaming, you also have to think that many companies don't want to spend money on good in-game AI, since the majority of players will wind up playing other people online anyways.  Take CoD4 for instance; you play through the single-player maybe once or twice, and then spend months and months playing online multiplayer exclusively.  It's just not worth the effort to have killer AI, because it'll go unappreciated for the most part.

noname2200October 29, 2009

Quote from: broodwars

On the subject of gaming difficulty, I've played a number of games that have tackled this in different and interesting ways:  the Sly Cooper series had dynamic difficulty, where the game got gradually just a bit easier if you continued to die in particular parts of the game.  In Sly Cooper 1, the game would start giving you up to 2 magic horseshoes so you could get hit up to 2 times without dying if you kept dying at one section of the game.  In Slys 2 and 3, the game would gradually decrease the damage enemies did to you while gradually increasing the damage you did to them until you cleared the checkpoint.  At no point was the overall difficulty of these games compromised (with its 1-hit-kills, Sly 1 is actually a pretty hard game), just that for that moment in the game the game would adjust itself to allow you to clear it and move on.

Then you have a more modern example with Prince of Persia, where it is impossible to lose and your penalty for screwing up is to have to repeat a section of platforming or combat until you get it right.  That was fine by me, and watching my best friend play the game now I can say it was exactly the right move for them to make.  He still dies quite often, but the penalty for failure isn't especially large so you can just enjoy the game and get into the flow.

When it comes to games with difficulty levels, my favorites are those where the higher difficulties (as mentioned in the podcast) force the player to adapt to new techniques and strategies they never even considered before.  Take for example Bioshock, a game which on normal difficulty is impossible to lose.  Anyone can pick up the game and eventually beat it, even if they have to continually die and respawn at the Vita-Chambers.  But for those who want a bigger challenge (or are trophy hunters like me), you can increase the difficulty 2 more levels and turn the Vita-Chambers off.  This radically changes how you play the game.  For example, on Normal Difficulty Big Daddies are more of a major nuisance since you can just respawn nearby until you kill them off.  But on Survivor Difficulty with the Vita-Chambers off, those things can easily kill you in one hit.  So I had to think more about the level design and using the environment to my advantage: setting traps, hacking turrets, using weapons I wouldn't ordinarily use (like the Electric Buckshot in the Shotgun), and just improvising in general.  It was truly a fight for survival, it was thrilling, and it gave me a much greater appreciation for the options the game gives you.

I agree. Some of my favorite games are the ones where the higher difficulties change how you play the game. Tyrant Mode in Little King's Story is my most recent example, where you learn the enemies' patterns in more depth, and your own army's abilities and limitations, because you have to just to advance in the game. It's seemingly a minor change, but one that results in a very different play experience.

But for my money, I have to nominate F-Zero GX as a game where the difficulty was very high, but very fair, which made you learn the game more and more as you moved on. The only reason I ever got to be as skilled in it as I am is because the game's difficulty forced me to. The thing is, few games have that magic quality that makes you want to keep butting your head against that wall;if most games had that level of difficulty, I wouldn't play as many games.

So yes, difficulty can increase my enjoyment of games, but only if I feel that the game itself is fun enough to be worth mastering it. As someone who's been gaming for two decades now, and cares enough about the hobby to post on an internet forum, I have to say that those games are few and far between: I can only imagine that the vast majority of the population will never be interested enough in games to humor the difficult games. Simply put, they've got better things to do, which is why I'm A-OK with easy difficulty settings in games, and even with in-built systems that help the gamer get further.

Quote from: NWR_Lindy

Quote from: noname2200

I was disappointed though that no one brought up how the superior processing power of the HD systems in particular are rarely being utilized to beef up the AI. Or did I just miss that part? It's true that some games have better (not necessarily "harder") difficulty due to improvements in AI, but it saddens me that the leap in, say FPS AI since Goldeneye has been a mere hop compared to the Olympic-class triple-jump made in graphics. I wish more developers took a cue from Civilization IV, and focused on making the game more fun by making a better AI system.

One game that has been praised for its excellent AI is Killzone 2.  I can vouch for this; its bot AI is noticeably better than virtually any FPS I've ever played (especially on the hardest difficulty setting, geez).  Heck, the fact that it even has bots says something.  But you're right on the money when you say that AI hasn't progressed much.  I honestly think that there just aren't that many good AI programmers out there.  It's still a new frontier in programming, really.

With the rise in multiplayer online gaming, you also have to think that many companies don't want to spend money on good in-game AI, since the majority of players will wind up playing other people online anyways.  Take CoD4 for instance; you play through the single-player maybe once or twice, and then spend months and months playing online multiplayer exclusively.  It's just not worth the effort to have killer AI, because it'll go unappreciated for the most part.

Yeah, I remember you mentioning Killzone 2 a few times for this purpose. I haven't played it myself yet, but when I get a PS3 I'll give it a go (sometime after Valkyria, Demon's Soul, and Infamous, anyways).

I think you're right that online gaming retarded the growth of AI in many ways. And for the RTS and FPS genre, I'm willing to accept that, since no AI can be as fun to play as a human. My problem is that this attitude has bled into other, more single-player genres and games as well. The example that comes to mind is Empire: Total War (which is technically an RTS, but a mostly-single player one). I haven't bought it, and won't until it hits $20, despite sinking hundreds of hours into the Total War games, and despite my fondness for the time period.

The AI in Medieval II was so terrible that it made the whole game un-fun, and from the sounds of it, Empire's little better. I remember people asking at the TWCenter forums if Empire would have a passable AI system. Someone from Creative Assembly tried to assure everyone that it would: they now had two whole people devoted the game's AI, which has to handle three completely different sets of extremely complex systems in real-time. Awesome! Of course, they likely assigned more folks to create the art assets for just the lowly peasant militia unit...

What annoys me is that it doesn't have to be this way. I remember being blown away by the AI for the marines in Half-Life (and in more ways than one!). Taking cover, flanking, covering fire, throwing grenades... that made for a fantastic experience at the time. But for the most part we haven't moved much in the past ten years. Why have so few games taken things to the next level? Why, for instance, is the AI in The Conduit so atrociously bad that I dropped the single-player mode four missions in? Aren't we better than that by now?

Argh, I'm rambling now. It just frustrates me that such an important element of gameplay is so ignored by most developers. Still, I'll give Killzone 2 a look. It had better be good!  :P

I can vouch for the difficulty of programming AI.  Having worked on a few AI projects, often times you think "I got it," only to watch it do something befuddling wrong.

Lots of great comments on difficulty! I know it's easy to think of something we missed, but it is a broad and deep subject, and we struggled with how to approach it at all. And, after we talked for more than an hour in that segment alone, I had to cut us off, even though we could have gone for another hour at least. Maybe this is a feature topic we should revisit in the future, especially with different voices and different experiences.

GoldenPhoenixOctober 30, 2009

I think automatically adjusting AI is a great thing if it is optional. If done right it can always provide a decent amount of challenge for a player based upon their skill, but like I said it should have the option of being turned off.

D_AverageOctober 30, 2009

Difficulty in new punch out vs old would be an interesting conversation.

The best type of difficulty to me is the type that leaves no doubt that iit was YOU that screwed up, and that if you get better you can win.  See: Goldeneye 007, Super Ghouls'n'Ghosts, etc.

broodwarsOctober 30, 2009

Quote from: NWR_Lindy

The best type of difficulty to me is the type that leaves no doubt that iit was YOU that screwed up, and that if you get better you can win.  See: Goldeneye 007, Super Ghouls'n'Ghosts, etc.

You know, Goldeneye; Perfect Dark; and Timesplitters 2 also had a great version of "difficulty levels": as you increased the difficulty, the game would open up more of the level to you and add more missions with greater complexity.  It really made each version of every level unique and enjoyable.

Quote from: NWR_Lindy

The best type of difficulty to me is the type that leaves no doubt that iit was YOU that screwed up, and that if you get better you can win.  See: Goldeneye 007, Super Ghouls'n'Ghosts, etc.

Old Mega Man games.

vuduOctober 31, 2009

Quote from: NWR_Lindy

The best type of difficulty to me is the type that leaves no doubt that iit was YOU that screwed up, and that if you get better you can win.  See: Goldeneye 007, Super Ghouls'n'Ghosts, etc.

While true for most of GoldenEye this is not hold true when trying to unlock some of the cheats.  Did you ever try to beat the facility in under 2:05?  The only way it was possible when when Dr. Doak--a double agent you had to meet up with halfway through the level--was in one of about 6 random spots.  You could have a perfect run-through, but 83% of the time it was worth nothing because he wouldn't appear where you needed him.

KDR_11kOctober 31, 2009

I remember the adjusting difficulty in Soul Calibur 2, each loss would reduce the enemy's AI strength a lot so it'd make sure you'd never grow, any time you lost you were given the easy route and in the end could beat it all with button mashing because eventually the enemy would sink below your level.

noname2200October 31, 2009

Quote from: KDR_11k

I remember the adjusting difficulty in Soul Calibur 2, each loss would reduce the enemy's AI strength a lot so it'd make sure you'd never grow, any time you lost you were given the easy route and in the end could beat it all with button mashing because eventually the enemy would sink below your level.

I was so proud of myself for finally beating all the missions, after many, many attempts, until someone told me about this feature.  :-[

Although I have to give props to Resident Evil 4 for having a similar feature. I think the way they pace the difficulty is actually well done, so it's always challenging, but never frustrating. Of course, the difference is that RE4 is a 20-hour orgy of awesome, while a game like Soul Calibur 2 is more pick-up-and-play. Maybe that's the difference for me? Shorter games can be harder but still fun, while longer games just get dull if I have to keep retrying them over and over again? I know Greg alluded to this idea on this podcast when he talked about NES games. Something for me to think about.

D_AverageOctober 31, 2009

What are some of your most memorable games to beat due to difficulty?  Mine may be the obvious, Super Mario Bros.  I think I was six when I first got it, and due to the bullets in level 8-3, that game took me about a year to beat.  I'll never forgot the glorious moment of making it to 8-4 with a couple extra lives and finally sinking bowser.  A great model for game difficulty right there.

KDR_11kNovember 01, 2009

I'm not sure SC2 does it in the missions, I only noticed it in the Arcade mode.

GoldenPhoenixNovember 01, 2009

The game which I was proud of beating was Rygar for NES. That game was (and still is) pretty challenging. If only it would come out on VC (Nothing like the Arcade version).

Milon's Secret Castle for NES.  There was one puzzle I could not solve in that game until I saw it solved in a magazine many months later.  When I beat that, I was stoked.

noname2200November 02, 2009

Mine would have to be F-Zero GX. Brutal, but always fair. Beating everything on Master, and all the staff ghosts, is probably the biggest "accomplishment" I've ever had for a video game. My favorite part is the mission in story mode where you rescue Jody: on the easiest difficulty it's borderline impossible at 50 seconds, but when you complete the hardest difficulty setting (under 40 seconds) you realize that the previous stuff was only hard because you weren't good enough at the time. I could sing the praises of that game forever.

Quote from: KDR_11k

I'm not sure SC2 does it in the missions, I only noticed it in the Arcade mode.

Thanks for trying, but my parents have already innoculated me to the part about being a failure. :P

See there, I had no idea that Jon was a fellow inductee into the Milon Club.

D_AverageNovember 03, 2009

Man, I'm finally trying to finish GTA4 after putting it down for over a year, and I've got to say, the lack of checkpoints is a very contrived way to make the game more difficult.  If they wanted it realistic, you would obviously start the game over.  I see this as laziness on Rockstars part, or a way to artificially double the time gamers and reviews will take to beat the game.  I'm assuming the ladder.

Nice to see they've fixed this in the new episodes.  I'm so close to just giving up at this point, but I only have 10 or so missions left.

KDR_11kNovember 03, 2009

Checkpoints were the biggest difference between Saints Row 1 and 2 for me, SR1 had many missions starting with a drive across town during which the characters would discuss the upcoming mission but there were no checkpoints after that, if you died near the end you'd have to do everything all over including that long, uneventful drive. SR2 had frequent checkpoints and death wasn't even remotely as frustrating. It's why I finished a campaign in SR2 (Ronin) before my reformat when I never did in SR1.

Yes, the checkpoints in Saints Row 2 are great. They make the game more playable than, say, GTA4.

SundoulosNovember 05, 2009

I'm a little late on this, but I don't really understand the hostility towards the Super Guide.  Do I personally care about it, no?  Odds are good that I'll never see it.  There aren't too many Mario games where I've died eight times in a row in the same level.

I personally appreciate it's inclusion, though, because I am one of those people who has a kid that will soon be old enough to begin playing games.  And I can tell you that while kids are persistent, they can also get easily frustrated when they can't make something work the way they think it should.  Mileage will vary, depending on their personality.

It does make me wonder why Nintendo chose eight lives as the magic number?  Why not five?  Why not ten?  Did they perform tests or surveys on the frustration levels of various gamers? 

Quote from: Jonnyboy117

See there, I had no idea that Jon was a fellow inductee into the Milon Club.

Yeah, I played the hell out of that game during the summer of '89, I believe.

GoldenPhoenixNovember 08, 2009

Quote from: NWR_Lindy

Quote from: Jonnyboy117

See there, I had no idea that Jon was a fellow inductee into the Milon Club.

Yeah, I played the hell out of that game during the summer of '89, I believe.

Must have been a jaw dropping experience, things had come a long way since you got a rare hands on with Tennis for Two when you were in your teens in 1958.

It was actually 1962, please and thank you.

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