Creator Of QWOP Laments The 'Watering Down' Of Video Game Difficulty

It can't be a coincidence that the games I've enjoyed playing most in the past year have been games that consistently punished me. Trials Evolution, Dark Souls -- playing these games becomes an interesting process of defeat, struggle, and ultimate reward. Speaking at IndieCade QWOP creator Bennett Foddy claimed that, by watering down the difficulty of your game, you are essentially creating an "easy listening" version of it.

"Video games now protect you from that kind of suffering," said Foddy, as reported by Polygon, "eliminating frustration and pain to increase the amount time you spend with a game.

"When you suffer in a game, it makes failure matter. You're going to try harder."

Interestingly, Foddy believes that implementing fail states is unique way for developers to play with gamers.

"[W]hy would frustration feel good? Why would confusion or humiliation be nice?” he asked. “I think one reason is it represents the developer playing with the player."

It's an interesting point of view. So many games are scared to truly punish players, but for something to be truly rewarding, there must be consequence. Being lost in games, or struggling against something with fair results, can often lead to bigger pay offs, and more compelling interactions. There's a balance of course but, for now, it seems as though its shifting in the wrong direction.

Foddy would like to take things to the extreme.

"I'd like to have an anti-ergonomic game where it's physically challenging to play the game," he said, "and you could say to your friends 'I played for three hours, and I had to go to the hospital.'"

Wow.

The benefits of making your players suffer (and maybe throw up) [Gamasutra]


Comments

    A friend and I were having a discussion like this on the weekend about RPGs and games in general. We're both from the NES, SMS, Atari, Commodore 64 era when games were dead hard and challenging and we scoffed at the younger generation who complain that a game is hard if it doesn't hold your hand for the entire journey and you can die in it. (Slightly hyperbolic, but you get my point)

    NOTE: I didn't follow the link before typing this out, and I've now realized my response isn't directed at the linked article but at the general idea that "games aren't hard enough." As for the actual article itself, I've gotta agree that when done creatively "punishing the player" can actually be an awesome driving force. It's just it has to be done in a way which makes the game more compelling and fits, rather than a way that makes the player go "this is a stupid waste of time."

    Although with a small game like QWOP; "this is a stupid waste of time" and the difficulty of the gameplay actually making sense can kind of live side by side :P

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    “When you suffer in a game, it makes failure matter. You’re going to try harder.”

    Depends what sort of "suffering" you're talking about. If it's a game that has enemies/bosses/obstacles that are difficult to overcome, but with some thought and/or strategy you can work past them that does make me want to try harder. To some extent even games where I can find an obstacle hard to overcome, so go and do something else for a bit to level up then come back to the obstacle are quite good too (thinking Borderlands 2 here).

    Of course I see people sometimes bring old games into this argument and refer to the fact there were less save points in the past and that we are spoiled now cause if we die at the boss we don't have to play half an hour of that level over just to try at the boss again. Sorry but I really disagree with that. I'm all for challenge in games but if the level is easy to overcome but the boss hard, and I have to repeat the easy section over and over and over that isn't keeping me focused on the challenging part, that's wasting my precious time and creating frustration. I'm not going to try harder, I'm going to turn off the game because it's damn well not engaging.

    I know some games now are pretty easy and hold your hand along the way, but there are still challenging games too. Both should exist. Sometimes you just wanna roll along without too much trouble and experience a story, and sometimes you wanna be checking stats and working out the best technique to work past an enemies defenses. I've been playing games for around 2 decades now and I'm not sure where all this lament of games all being "too easy" is coming from? It seems some people are really wanting to go back to bad save models in games? Personally I'd rather gameplay that's actually challenging/interesting than "Oh you died at the very end, now you get to repeat a whole lot of easy parts and then die at the actually challenging part again."

      You've said everything I was going to say. Very well put.

      Incidentally, if someone wants video games that are both bloody hard and physically punishing, have them take up Tekken. Getting back into TTT2 has given me a hell of a sore left wrist from working the joystick (NOT A EUPHEMISM FOR ONCE).

      Agreed. Thankfully, developers seem to see that "easy level, hard boss, no saves between" now as bad design, and they do so for a reason: removing frustrations like that helps appeal to a larger audience.

    When it comes to game difficulty, you have to please (at least) two audiences (it's likely more of a spectrum) - those that see games as arcadey, where a game requires a certain skill requirement to proceed, and being able to do so gives bragging rights or something; and those that see games as an interactive storytelling medium, and, while not averse to a challenge, don't want the storytelling cut short by an insurmountable difficulty spike. I fall into the latter, and for me, a difficult game is like a book asking a comprehension quiz at the end of each chapter, and refusing to divulge the rest of the story if you don't get 100%. Sure, I might try again, but I get no extra value by retracing my steps over and over until I either overcome the obstacle and progress, or throw my controller across the room.

    I think developers are just becoming more open to allowing gamers to make mistakes, and still be able to proceed, in order to appeal to a larger audience. I understand that a very significant percentage of gamers want a challenge, and it's why games like Super Meat Boy have been so successful; but I see difficulty as an aspect of a game akin to multiplayer: it's good to have where it's appropriate, but it shouldn't be shoehorned into (or made compulsory in) games where it's not.

    Example: I love Dark Souls. I spent half a day trying to beat Sif, but only because I had no other choice in order to progress. I love the game, but I love it for the subtle way it tells the story of the world, and I'm very sad to know that I'll never finish it, because I don't have the time or inclination to foster the skills necessary to do so. And when I can't experience a great story because of something as trivial as "difficulty", it makes me sad, because it means that the developers created the game knowing that few people would get to experience it all; I detest that sort of elitism.

    However, this being an article based on a remark from the creator of QWOP, a "game" that is centred around difficulty alone, and has pretty much no other component, I doubt gamers such as I were the people of whom he was speaking.

    *sigh* Devs are still stressing out about this??

    For God's sake. Some people play games for the reason they also play sports - test of skills and reflexes, etc. The satisfaction of overcoming an immense challenge, and bettering themselves. That's awesome. But other people play them for the experience and the story, the same reason they watch movies and read books, and really couldn't care less about seeing how many envelopes they can lick in an hour and then trying to break that record.

    Many developers understand this and thus provide players options (ala Deus Ex Human Revolution). If you want to test and improve your skills, great, but if you'd rather immerse yourself into a fictional world with intriguing characters and brilliant writing, that's equally valid, especially now that the technology exists to deliver that.

    But still there's all this angst about 'games are too easy, waah.' As if everyone plays games for the reasons this guy plays them.

    Damn QWOP all i Think of when i see this now, is the guys playing this during the lame game marathon, and me joining in trying desperately to beat them.

    As for failure. Games can build in failure to a point. If you can learn from your death, then replaying can be a fun learning experience.

    However, other games that are just hard for the sake of being hard add very little to the experience.

    Perfect example, i am not great at FPS in campaign modes (things like cod). Being killed in 2 steps outside of cover on the hardest difficulty does not do anything for my enjoyment. If however that death was caused by me doing something wrong, id be happy to go back play again with a different tactic. But rarely in modern shooters is this the case.

    Usually they make it more difficult buy increasing the number of enemies, the rate at which they respawn and lower the number of bullets to die. I remember my 1 and only attempt at mw3 on hardest skill level, and no matter how i tried, what i did differently, i could not figure a way to survive other than pure luck.

    Dark souls is a little different in that, there is always a trick, always a tactic that can work. At times is feels cheap, at times its not entirely obvious, but death is a learning processes, and this is wear things work. And this was true of older games. A few play throughs, and you'd learn the trick to beat a certain level. Sure 2 minutes later youd die again, but youd know what to expect then, and be able to get that little further.

    TL;DR

    Failure is fine when built in to the game as learning experience, and also where there is predictability. Random chaos of bullet hell with no predictable pattern or trick to win = poop.

    I've always found this argument ridiculous, because it assumes that players will continue to play a game that's too hard for them. Many people don't derive any fun from beating their head against a challenge until they overcome it; they prefer, for instance, the fun of exploration, or from going fast. Pointlessly frustrating your players into quitting is only worthwhile if you intend to make a specific statement about what kind of players you want.

    I note with amusement that we've had more really difficult games in the last 5 years or so than we did during the supposed heyday of hard games - usually they were just broken, and these days it's common for even 'easy' games to have some nasty areas off the critical path.

      + won
      ( Damn thing telling me I'm making duplicate comments :P )

    Comments from an aging gamer:

    I need 2 styles now, challenging/complex and straigjt forward bordering on easy....

    Its just how i get my gaming kick these days.
    I come from the old school too, 3 lives, no saves and possibly 12 hours of play- wonderboy im lookinh at you.

    I undetstand the thoughts of ppl playing now saying its too easy, hand holding etc but petsonally, i just need an easy ride every now and then.
    I love min maxing on wow and wiping night aftrr night to finslly overcome something but tbh ive lately been playing some games on normal even easy sometimes just to relax and enjoy the story. Im doing that right now with assasins creed (never played em b4) on normal.... Its piss easy yeh but im honestly enjoting the change of pace and just rolling with the story.

    Anyway tldr: theres room for every style ofdifficulty. I just hope devs keep that door open and still give us options that allow us to experience things at s pace/difficulty we petsonally feel like.

    I just dont agree with the whole elitist attitudr of both gamers and devs that say games are too easy- Hardmode or go home. Theres room for everutjing guys...

    Soz4 spellz- phone post...

    Altered Beast. That's the most punished I've ever been in a game.

    These sorts of developers (and many gamers too) seem to automatically assume that ALL gamers will continue to play a game if they are constantly failing at it. These developers (and gamers) seem to forget the world is made up of different people. Some gamers will not push themselves harder when presented with a challenge, the will get frustrated and give up. There is no sense of fulfillment at the end of the line for these gamers because they will never reach the end.

    I have always defended the option of an easy mode. Different difficulties give more dedicated gamers the challenge they want and more laid back gamers the fun they want. Seriously, why can't we have both?

    I'm gonna speak out for less difficulty in games - there's a lot of games that If want to finish them I have to force myself to, not because of a bad story or boring gameplay but because of an unreasonable difficulty spike.

    I personally do not want to buy a game only to find myself locked off from half the experience because I can't overcome a boss;

    Seth in Street Fighter IV comes to mind - I could never beat him, not after 100 tries, not after 200 tries - so I never unlocked any bonus characters and in the end I didn't - I traded that POS game for one that treated my time as valuable and not to be wasted by cheap boss battles.

    The reason those type of games are prevalent in the 16 bit era is because games were short in length back then, so they wanted to make you feel as if you got your money's worth

    More often than not - you didn't

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