Monday, July 16, 2012

Difficult Games

Another week without a computer.

Round 4 with Toshiba.

Seriously if you ever get one of their laptops, which is a pretty nice piece of equipment even with its age-it just has a really stupid heatsync issue, never go to tech support for help. Always afk to go to the consumer relations department. They’ll be the only ones willing to help you. Tech support just plain sucks.

So the postings will be very limited for the next few weeks. I’m trying to keep a positive spin on this and hopefully it won’t take them 48 days like last time. We’ll see…

For today’s topic, I want to discuss the most difficult video game created. What is it? Well I’m not really certain.

Difficulty is an ambiguous word. What might be a challenge to one person can be a joke to another. For example I think Devil May Cry is a challenging game, but not difficult or impossible. If you put enough time and effort into understanding the game schematics you can “beat” the game in the end. Whereas others that I know think it’s too difficult to complete. It’s all about perception, performance, and whatever is relative.

Arguably when it comes to measuring difficultly, Ghosts n’ Goblins and Ninja Gaiden are usually at the top of the list.

Poor Kinght in his boxers. What crappy armor.
The former is an NES game that is defined by its ridiculousness in difficulty when it seems so simple on the surface; make it to the end of the level without dying. Ok first off, if you get attacked twice you die and have to restart the level (assuming you didn’t make it to the checkpoint). Second, there’s an arbitrary clock running at the top of each level and you have to complete it before time runs out. That clock loves to run out on you before you’re even a quarter into the level. Third, there are a lot of freekin’ ghosts and goblins out to get you and they really love to hurt you. Fourth, if you really want to complete the game, you get to do it twice. The first time you beat the final boss you think it’s all said and done, but it’s really not. You have to replay the entire game all over again because Satan was faking you out. Now the second time you do defeat him is real, but man. What an ass. And this is from a time where “game saves” were really unheard of. So you had to run your NES for days, if not weeks, to finish the game.

And then there’s the Ninja Gaiden franchise. Not just one game but the entire series. Tecmo prides itself on making this a really fing hard game series to complete. In fact, they made it even MORE difficult for Western audiences during its original releases and the remakes.

Ninja kick!
 The basic premise for each of these games is to kill everything in your path, collect essence from your enemies, and move to the next area. Rinse. Repeat. Again, it sounds easy but the enemies make your life a living crap hole. Let’s start with the bosses on each level. Anyone remember that flaming turtle that you spend an hour whittling down its life, only to have it explode on you at the last moment and causing you to restart the entire level?

Oh yeah. If you go on the hard mode, you die pretty fast and have to start the level all over again. Awesome, right?

NG had a series of “modes” that you can run through so if you care about the story you can go in through Easy and Medium with no harm done. Hard/Expert/Master Ninja will make your eyes pinwheel. It’s not simply taking away the number of “continues” and upping the enemy damage output. It’s making you hate yourself type of difficult. Take the merchant, for example, who will trade you essence for healing potions. That 1k you spent last time in Medium just went up to 5k in Master Ninja. And you know that bounty of essence you got last time? Yeah that just got halved too. Oh and you die in 3 hits, not 20.

The difficulty on NG is really about beating you to death, mercifully, as many times as possible before you give up and play something else. Did you know that barely over 1,000 people have completed the Master Ninja mode on the original NES game? That’s out of 2 million+ purchases. Less than .01% of those people completed that ridiculously hard mode. That’s the type of mode where you have to stay up 3 days straight and pray to whatever deity you believe in. And I’m sure every single one of those players cried afterwards and had to go to therapy.
If there were a Rage Scale,
GG and NG would rank 11.

The difference between GG and NG is that GG is always difficult all the time. NG at least gives you an Easy mode, because the story is pretty good and it sucks not being able to see it when there are dinosaurs stomping you to death. Oh yeah. Ninja and dinosaurs is always an instant win on the awesome scale.

Those games I would say are more physically difficult because they require you to be very dexterous with your controller, weaving back and forth as you kill enemies and speed run to the end before time is up. What about mental difficulty?

That is another tricky aspect. Tetris could be considered mentally difficult. I mean how many people do you know were able to make it past 20 minutes of Tetris, with the increase in speed and random objects without pausing? I bet it’s not that many. Most of us probably can last 10 minutes before the game wins and we restart it trying to beat the last level we were stopped at.

Others may say that games like Angry Birds or Crush the Castle are difficult because it requires precision, timing, and unexpected math (the more recent Space Angry Birds has you factor in gravity). Or how about Professor Layton or Ace Attorney? I know a number of people who are unable to finish those games, even though they have pre-set conclusions and you can’t really lose. If you do get the “game over screen” you just pick up right where you left off.

Games such as Starcraft or the original Warcraft, even Age of Empires could easily be considered some of the most difficult for mental exhaustion. Those games are not about overpowering your enemies, but taking your time, planning out your moves, and being able to change everything up in an instant should your enemies tactics change. The Zerg Rush can only work for so long; now that people know what it is, Zerg players have been retool their way of attack and defense constantly.
What is up with the sheep in Catherine? Mind jack.

I don’t really know what should be considered “difficult”. I want a game to challenge me physically and mentally. Catherine might qualify, because it jacks with your brain so much that you can’t play the game as one normally would without fear that something will cause it all to twist out of bounds again.

I feel that we’re past the point in gaming’s lifespan that difficult is not longer “you gotta kill this enemy time 1,000, and you only have one life, and you die on the first hit, and you have to beat the level in 1 minute.” “Difficult” is being reshaped as games evolve.

So what is considered “difficult” these days?


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