• Develop Conference 2012

    FluffyLogic will be attending this year’s Develop Conference in Brighton. Ana, Will and Armin will be in there for the 11th and 12th of July. If you want to meet up with FluffyLogic then please contact armin@fluffylogic.net about setting up an appointment.

    Delegates at the conference can read Ana’s monthly column in the July issue of Develop magazine, which will be provided upon registration.

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  • Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy: Are Modern Games Too Easy?

    Yes! Thanks for reading, see you next time…

    Okay, okay, let’s weigh things up and see if we can come to a sensible conclusion.

    In the past games have been rather difficult to get through, often requiring many, many attempts to get past difficult levels (e.g. The Chaos Engine, Super Mario etc.). Mistakes made in these games were often heavily punished, making you restart the whole level or even the whole game! These days it seems that most games can be completed much more easily (we’ll ignore the likes of Ninja Gaiden Sigma, Demon’s Souls for now…), with little or no challenge at all.

    Cheat On Me Again & I’ll Leave You…

    Cheat codes and guides used to be a necessary feature of games in order to be able to complete them (IDKFA anyone…?) but now games seem to have dropped them entirely; the only games I can think of that have cheat codes in them are the Lego games, but they’re just codes to help you get the red brick bonuses quicker, which are actually a part of the proper game.

    But cheats can ruin a game for some people, as can guides. Personally, once I’ve buckled and turned on a cheat or looked at a guide then the next time the game gets even mildly tricky (not even to the level that made me buckle initially) I find myself reaching for the cheats or guide to help out again. Once you’ve cheated once I suppose there’s little reason to resist the urge to cheat again. The sin has been committed, or am I just weak minded? (rhetorical question, thanks)

    How Easy You Gonna Find That if I Take Half Your Health Away, Hmmm?

    Often games will have multiple difficulty levels, generally reducing/increasing attributes of the game to make it harder. Some games even allow you to change difficulty at any point during the game so that if the going gets too tough you can make it easier for yourself to get through to the end, but often that can be a bit too tempting when you should really battle on against the challenge, but that can be a hard choice to make when changing the difficulty level is so accessible.

    The multiple difficulty levels tend to be there in order to allow the whole game to be accessible to more people and allow everyone to experience the full story of the game. And isn’t that a good thing? If I’ve paid up to £40 for a game then I hardly want to be prevented from experiencing as much of that game as possible. But often that can leave the game unchallenging and hence, to some people, boring.

    The problem with multiple difficulty levels is that when you start a game you don’t really know what difficulty to select. A lot of people found Bioshock‘s ‘Hard’ level setting. the highest on PC/Xbox 360, too easy and so they added an extra ‘Survivor’ mode on PlayStation 3. Personally I still found the ‘Survivor’ difficulty pretty straight forward but some other games I can’t even complete on the ‘Normal’/'Medium’ difficulty levels. So it would seem that no matter what difficulty level I choose when I start a game I’m likely to find it too easy or too hard and need to change at some point, which in some cases means restarting the whole game, which isn’t going to go down too well if it’s near the end of the game.

    The InFamous games provided an example of a good solution to the issue of which difficulty level to choose. The player isn’t asked to choose a difficulty at the start of the game but instead a difficulty level is suggested based on their performance on the first mission. Obviously this requires a good deal of effort on the part of the developer if they’re going to get the suggestion right but it’s certainly a good feature from the point of view of the player.

    It’s All About the Hamiltons, Baby!

    So multiple difficulty levels open up the game to a wider audience, allowing them to enjoy in the fruits of the developer’s labours and reward those developers with the ability to buy houses made of solid gold (at least this is what I’ve been led to believe happens, it’ll definitely happen soon… definitely).

    Another reason to make it easier to complete a game may be to improve the sales of a sequel. If you can’t complete a game are you likely to buy a sequel, knowing that you may well be unable to complete that or may not have a clue what’s going on, having missed out on a chunk of the story of the previous game. But at the same time, some people may not buy a sequel to a game that was too easy to complete either.

    Somebody Save Me!

    One thing about older games is that they used to have limited save points (if any!), e.g. Tomb Raider and its save crystals or The Chaos Engine and its sparse checkpoints. This obviously adds an element of difficulty as you have to get through a larger portion of the game without dying and if you do die then you have to repeat that whole section again. A lack of save points can also be used for reasons of suspense/horror, such as in Dead Space 2‘s ‘Hardcore’ mode where you can only save three times in the whole game, that certainly adds a greater fear of dying!

    In contrast, modern games often let you save when and wherever you wish, e.g. Half-Life and Bioshock. Diablo is also quite an old game that allowed you to do this and in all these cases a lot of people descend into a process of ‘about to turn a corner, quick-save, run round corner, die horribly, quick-load, go round corner with the added knowledge of what awaits you and survive gloriously’.

    I certainly remember employing this tactic in both Half-Life 2 and Diablo and even used it when I ended up after a battle section with slightly less health than I’d like, finding myself thinking ‘If I gave that another go with the power of hindsight I bet I could get through it with almost full health’. I guess that added a new element of fun and challenge to the games as I’d always be trying to do my best In each section but I’m sure it’s not how the developers envisioned I’d be playing it and it’s rather like a sort of cheating.

    On the subject of Bioshock what do we think about vita-chambers? (look them up if you don’t know what they are, heathen) Personally I never used them once in either of the Bioshock games merely because there were trophies for completing the game without using them and it felt like both a small defeat and cheating if I had used them (completely different to excessive quick-save usage due to the fact they leave the world unchanged when you re-spawn). The vita-chambers basically meant you never really died and some games do away with death even more, such as the 2008 Prince of Persia game where you were saved by your side-kick whenever things were about to go a bit ‘Pete Tong’. That certainly made the game much easier as you never had to restart a section.

    ‘Scuse Me, Mind if I Just Hide Behind This Cover While I Get My Health Back?

    It seems pretty much all modern games that require a health system use a regenerative system which increases your health whilst you’re not taking damage (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, InFamous etc.). This most likely makes games a little easier as there’s no way of there being short supplies for boosting your health (so long as you can find decent enough cover) and it certainly makes it easier on the developers in terms of balancing the game and designing the levels (i.e. not having to decide where to place health packs). But is that just lazy of the designers?

    The problem with non-regenerating health systems is that you can find yourself stuck with no way of increasing your health and an impassable threat ahead of you. I very nearly fell foul of this in Singularity due to a poor choice at a fork in the path which then became sealed off with me knowing that there were some goodies down the other, now inaccessible path. I then decided to commit suicide in order to reload before the path became sealed off but a lack of enough grenades to complete the deed and an unfortunately placed save point left me very near death and unable to return to an earlier save. That’s just a lesson in life for me and a reason to be wary of the lust for trophies and other goodies but it can often happen in proper game-play if you’re not careful and the designers of the game didn’t consider your predicament.

    Yes, It’s An Extender! Fantastic. That is the Icing on the Cake

    If you look at older, harder games and strip away the difficulty you’ll often find that there’s very little game-play time left. So this may well be a reason for the developers making it difficult; the more time you spend trying to beat a section of the game the more time you spend playing the game and hence you get more bang for your buck.

    Getting extra game-play out of a game is still a problem today but it’s often solved in different ways. These days developers tend to want you to re-play the game in order to get the extra game-play time, rather than grind away at a seemingly impossible task. Sometimes there are hidden items you can collect in the game which you might not spot first time round so you’re encouraged to go back and play through the game again to try and find them all (think hidden intel in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare or the audio diaries in Bioshock). Other games might have side-missions/quests that don’t need to be completed in order to complete the core-game but add extra game-play time for those who want it (side-missions or blast shard collecting in InFamous, side-quests in Skyrim or Special Ops modes in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare).

    Are the Times a’Changin’?

    As I mentioned before there are some modern games that are absolutely hard as nails, for example Ninja Gaiden Sigma and Demon’s Souls. These games do pretty well for themselves in terms of sales and popularity, but is that just because they’re bucking the trend and providing the challenge that most games do not and if more games did it they wouldn’t be so popular individually? What was the first game to make a change to being ‘too easy’, and was it massively popular for that reason?

    Some games will often make the core game fairly straight forward but make it much harder to achieve additional goals. Braid might be a good example of this (and maybe Super Meat Boy?) as it’s pretty much a case of walking through the levels in order to ‘finish’ a world but to actually collect all the puzzle pieces takes quite a bit more cunning and skill. The danger of this is that it may be too tempting to skip a puzzle piece seeing as the exit is so easy to get to but all those skipped pieces end up making you feel like you’ve not got your money’s worth out of the game and probably quite unlikely to purchase any sequels.

    Gonna Party Like it’s 1999

    Bioshock: Infinite is set to offer a ’1999 mode’ which is so named as it’s meant to offer the player the ability to play the game as if the game had been released in 1999, before games became so darned simple, and it came about due to a survey of the fans. What it boils down to is that decisions you make in the game will be permanent and if you make bad choices you’ll suffer for it. Think back to the previous Bioshock games and their ‘gene tonics’ which boosted certain skills for you. These tonics could be changed at will whenever you found a machine that allowed you to do so. In Bioshock: Infinite‘s 1999 mode you wouldn’t be able to swap out your chosen tonics, you’d be stuck with them until the bitter end. It’ll certainly make people think twice about these sorts of decisions but is it much more than a harder difficulty bolted on top of the normal game? We’ll just have to wait and see how it turns out when the game’s launched, Irrational Games are certainly suggesting it will be more than just an extra difficulty level.

    What Have We Learnt Today?

    So what does it come down to? Were the games of the past badly designed for being too hard or are the games of today badly designed for their lack of challenge? Or am I just talking a load of nonsense?

    You may have assumed I’d come to a sensible conclusion at the end of this article (let’s face it, I may have said much the same at the start of the article) but isn’t it more fun for you to get involved yourself and offer your own thoughts? Feel free to pop by our Facebook page to leave comments or send out a tweet @FluffyLogicDev. Maybe you know of a load of games (old or new) that go against what I’ve said, maybe you just disagree with something (or everything) I’ve said or maybe you whole heartedly agree! Either way I’d love to hear what you think!

    by Chris Mash @CJMash

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  • BBC Radio Bristol Feature FluffyLogic

    On Monday 12th March BBC Radio Bristol interviewed FluffyLogic CEO Ana Kronschnabl on the John Darvall show. In the interview Ana discusses amongst other things, the history of FluffyLogic, her background as a research fellow and film maker, and the future of the traditional boxed computer game in light of the recent news of the financial difficulties facing Game, the high street chain.

    You can listen to the radio show on the BBC iPlayer here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00pdw9l

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