Spacing Out: Another Brick in the Difficulty Wall…
So after our random-ass podcast covering Piracy (and a ton of other things), I’ve been playing some Independence War 2: The Edge of Chaos here and there so as to get past the initial chapter in which you play annoying, whiny child pirate in order to get to the meat of the game wherein you play an annoying, whiny adult pirate (I assume) so my co-host and I can play together and try being pirates. Wheeee!
I was chugging along through chapter zero (wait, how can one have a chapter of NOTHING?) doing just fine when I reached one of the missions that made me pissed off at this game in the first place. In the preceding missions, you did some simple errands involving some theft and some maiming for others. This time, however, you had to steal some reactor rods for yourself, which was in an area surrounded by NINE ships in three groups of three. The game tells me to sneak in there, but no details as to how really, so I try to make my way into the area, remaining undetected and far enough away from the other ships to avoid being scanned, to dock with the reactor and get out of there. SIX TRIES LATER, I — through some sheer force of luck — manage to get far enough away from the base to kick in my LDS drive and hightail it out of there.
This got me thinking (after all the cursing), WHY did this mission have to be so difficult? The previous missions weren’t this tough, so why the sudden “OMGIHATELIFE” difficulty wall?
I Do Love a Challenge
Sure, we want games to be challenging, but that challenge should feel organic, natural, hell, NORMAL. I mean take a look at Freespace 2. That game goes bats%^& off the rails early into the game, and throws all kinds of wacky-ass situations at the player, yet the challenge never feels overwhelming. TIE Fighter is another excellent example of this, as the stakes get higher and the difficulty gets greater, the challenge remains manageable (at least I think so). What I think games like Independence War 2 (and Arvoch Alliance, to use another example) do wrong in this kind of instance is rely too much on a puzzle-like solution, with very few paths to victory.
Give Me Options, Dammit
What do I mean by this? After I finished that mission in I-War 2, I went to look at a walkthrough to get an idea as to how it might’ve been easier. APPARENTLY, I was supposed to use these “disruptor” missiles I’d acquired in my last mission, which have a way of shutting ships down for easy capture. Those were to be used to knock out some enemy ships so that I could escape. Okay, here’s the problem with that. As I’d never used these missiles before (and I didn’t even know they were missiles until later), I didn’t think there was a PRESSING NEED TO USE THEM RIGHT THEN. I mean sure, getting a new toy means using it right away, typically, but it also means feeling compelled to use it, and since I’d been doing fiiiiiine so far, I felt no such compulsion.
Games that are successful with puzzle like missions such as these either make narrow paths to a solution clear enough to be sussed out without too much difficulty, or make the mission/level broad enough that multiple paths or play styles can be used to achieve a specific goal. Why do you think games such as Deus Ex are so dang popular? Even space games that in the past have felt overwhelmingly puzzle-like in nature (I’m looking at you, X-Wing), many missions either gave enough leeway that they could be solved using different techniques and tactics, or they gave the illusion that different tactics could be used. If the only way to win a mission besides sheer luck is to use one specific thing that I’d never used before, I’m gonna get upset.
A Lazy Approach?
This got me to thinking, is this kind of difficulty wall a lazy way to induce a challenge? Rather than taking the time to carefully craft a scenario that provides a realistic, organic challenge, it feels that devs just throw a bunch of crap at us just to artificially inflate the difficulty unnecessarily. I’m no programmer, so I might be speaking out of my ass (wait, when am I not?), but I have to believe that there’s a better way to make a mission than just “Let’s put a bunch of ships in here and give them really only one way out”, because that is how it feels when these kind of difficulty spikes occur.
In conclusion, devs, I implore you. Nay, I BEG you. When creating your missions in your games, please make it organically challenging, not needlessly difficult just for the sake of artificially creating a challenge. Making the game challenging and exciting gives me all the tension I need. Throwing up a difficulty wall just for the sake masquerading as a challenge just makes me want to burn your game onto a disk just so I can throw it out the window.
Anyway, that’s my rant for this week. Thanks for reading!