"Easy" games

Until very recently, it was very hard for me to disassociate the idea of “fun” from “difficulty” in video games. Like, to me, the formula for making a fun game was to find a collection of mechanics that each interacted with each other in an interesting way, then develop a series of levels that explore those mechanics, forcing the player to develop a total mastery of those mechanics in order to overcome obstacles that initially would have seemed impossible. I felt that playing a game should essentially be learning a new skill.

I think this kind of game, which I'll call a "difficult" game, is still really the default sort of game most people think about. But obviously there can be games that are about other things, which I'll call "easy" games.

The most obvious example off the top of my head is something like Animal Crossing, which is about creating a little world for yourself and sharing it with your friends.

However, it's really hard for me to think of that many games that don't have at least some element of difficulty to them. A lot of story/atmosphere focused games, where talking to people and experiencing the world they live in are the main draw, are still cast in the same framework that difficult games use. I've been thinking about this the last few weeks, playing the new English translation of Moon. Despite trying to subvert the traditional RPG structure, this is still an incredibly difficult game! Does it need to be so difficult? Or is it just difficult because it's a game, and we don't know how to think about games that don't have some element of challenge to them?

So I want to ask three questions in this thread:

(1) Why do you think the "difficult" game, where the player has to improve their skills to overcome increasingly difficult/complicated obstacles, is the default game design paradigm?

(2) What are some of the most interesting and fun "easy" games that flaunt that paradigm?

(3) Can we redesign "difficult" games to be "easy" games and still make them fun?

E.g. how could a game about jumping and momentum, like the 2D Super Mario Bros games, be structured so that there's not any intense challenges or death? My immediate thought is to make it about hopping around a world without enemies or bottomless pits, but which has lots of interesting characters to talk to and sights to see. The problem with this though is that talking to a character requires you to stand still and read some text, which seems to work against the running and jumping. I feel like there could be a more interesting and clever kind of structure for this sort of game, that embraces the kinetic joy of jumping around, while still not being about overcoming arbitrary challenges?

What thoughts do you guys have?


(1)Why do you think the “difficult” game, where the player has to improve their skills to overcome increasingly difficult/complicated obstacles, is the default game design paradigm?

I think you answer lies in non-video ganes. Go to your county fair and look at the tests of skill there. Video games started out similarly but over time have grown to become more like movies.

(2) What are some of the most interesting and fun “easy” games that flaunt that paradigm?

I like walking simulators. Particularly The Begginers Guide. A lot of people dont. Some people would even argue that a walking simulator is "not a game". I think the I'll feelings toward the genre stem from the "confusing difficulty for fun" thing you mentioned. Some people approach a game wanting to master its challenges and if there is nothing to master they think its pointless.

(3) Can we redesign “difficult” games to be “easy” games.

Cheat codes. God mode. Infinite ammo. Etc. Tim noted in his Doom video that turning on God mode turned the challenge in Doom to ammo management.

@Moon#6510 I don‘t know if The Beginner’s Guide is a game either but it's damn good whatever it is.


1) As @Moon#6510 has implied this has started quickly to change. It may ring true in the AAA space, where the majority of videogames are challenge or goal oriented, but considering the indie space and platforms like itch.io seeing this as the default game paradigm seems a bit reductive. As to why I think this paradigm is so popular, I'd say it's for historic reasons. Videogames were born more as a mechanical and challenge oriented thing, a test of skill, etc. so I would say its just heritage from the past. But as I said, more and more people are challenging this notion with games that redefine difficulty or objectives, like for example Keita Takahashi's games.

2) Here I would take a moment to consider "fun" as the parameter. I feel inclined to answer What remains of Edith Finch, but that's not a game that I would define as fun, engaging or captivating would suit better. As to games that adhere to being fun and easy I would mention the recent Kirby games, the Lego games, and games based in gathering resources, creativity and building like Dragon Quest Builders, Minecraft, Stardew Valley or Animal Crossing itself.

3) An interesting approach here are for example games that make failure fun or a reward in itself. A lot of physics based games like QWOP or Getting over it apply and it has proven to be successful. As to turning hard games or difficulty based games into easy I'd say it depends. I think to an extent overcoming obstacles and finding solutions is something that our brains are hard-wired to find stimulating. I'd say that in some cases, like for example rhythm games or games based around score systems, it would be very difficult to meet both requirements, but there is certainly quite a lot of games, specially older ones in which the pressence of a challenge doesn't suit particularly well the themes or the ideas the game is trying to handle. Moon or Chulip could be examples of this problem.

@saddleblasters#6509 I think the secret is to make a game that is either a creative outlet for the player (Minecraft, Pokemon, The Sims) or the creator (Beginner's Guide, Gone Home, Final Fantasy 4).

I'm having a hard time thinking of a game that's neither difficult nor creatively engaging that has been successful.


@JoJoestar#6512 An interesting approach here are for example games that make failure fun or a reward in itself.

Yeah, I like this approach as well. It reminds me of really old, nightmarish cartoons, where, like, the whole universe is out to murder Donald Duck, but he never actually dies. He falls into a manhole, and now he has to escape hell. He gets his head chopped off, and now he has to run around without a head until it mysteriously pops back into place. Everything that would be treated as a fail state in a typical video game is just an opportunity to transition to something else. (I don't actually know if this is what old Donald Duck cartoons are like, but hopefully you get the idea!)


@JoJoestar#6512 As to games that adhere to being fun and easy I would mention the recent Kirby games, the Lego games

So my question is why are these games fun? They're both for the most part obstacle-course-style games, right? Just thinking logically, if a game about getting through some obstacles is too easy, it shouldn't be very fun. But obviously that isn't true, since I know plenty of adults who are very good at games, but who still like those newer Kirby games, or games like Yoshi's story that are incredibly easy. Is it the physics? Like, just floating around as Kirby is interesting. Is it all the bright colors and music? Are there other things I'm not thinking of?


@Moon#6510 Particularly The Begginers Guide

I haven't played The Beginner's Guide, but I've watched an LP of it, and it sure is something. I think "video games as character studies" is a huge unexplored area. There are plenty of movies and books that are based entirely around creating a world to show off the psychology of one particular character -- but there aren't that many games like that? Or at least not many that do it well. I haven't played What Remains of Edith Fitch, but maybe it does this?


@MichaelDMcGrath#6513 I think the secret is to make a game that is either a creative outlet for the player (Minecraft, Pokemon, The Sims) or the creator (Beginner’s Guide, Gone Home, Final Fantasy 4).

Yeah, I mostly agree with this. I'd also say that games based on some social element can work. A lot of my friends who are into MMOs say they only do it for the social experience. However, I don't think there are many (video) games where talking with other real humans is (explicitly) the primary mechanic? I feel like there should be more of those. There are a lot of games that encourage conversation to happen while you play co-op, of course.

Is VRChat a game? That sure is massively popular.

@saddleblasters#6514 I almost brought up VRChat, but I have no idea if it's a game or an app, or both, or neither.

About a week ago I finished my first play-through of Death Stranding. I played it on easy - it described that the combat wouldn‘t be difficult. (There is also a very easy difficult that may make it nearly impossible to fail combat.) I was never great at the MGS games and wanted to finish Death Stranding’s story to watch a Noah Caldwell-Gervis video about the game. Combat was easy as described, but the main mechanical interaction of the game (the friction Jerry!) is traversing the map/terrain. That aspect was extremely satisfying while the combat was a pretty minor (yet still tense) obstacle. My point is the combat - which in most games would carry the difficulty and be the main thrust mechanically - seemed very secondary in both gameplay and the story. Death Stranding would be just as enjoyable with no combat at all.


Second Life, as well


@saddleblasters#6509 E.g. how could a game about jumping and momentum, like the 2D Super Mario Bros games, be structured so that there’s not any intense challenges or death?

I am pretty sure this was the original design objective of Kirby.

(3) Can we redesign “difficult” games to be “easy” games.

One of the things I am enjoying about Forza Horizon 2 is just how much granular control you have over the difficulty. You could turn of the racing line for more reward points, but there's no real punishment for just leaving it on. Worst case you have to participate in more races to finish the game, which if you like the gameplay is not a bummer. But even beyond this you have the very liberal use of the rewind ability, so you never have that feeling of having a race ruined by one bad turn in the road. That said I rarely use the rewind feature as I enjoy being in that knife's edge position, (see why people enjoy hard games) so if I can finish a race without it there's a bigger boost of adrenaline in not ever having to go through the rewind and just being IN the race the whole time. I dunno, let me make the game as hard or as easy as I want on any given day, and make is simple as flicking a few switches in a menu. I'm really curious about how the Last of Us 2 handles all this as this kind of granular adjustment seems like a much easier fit for a racing game.

I can only answer #2 because Chip and Dale for the Nintendo is an extremely easy game, yet it‘s so much fun and I love everything about it! It’s a game I can put in anytime and just beat it in one sitting and have a great time, despite it being the easiest game ever!

Regarding #1, I donno... some games are designed to create a challenge, and the fun comes from being able to overcome the challenge? Often times the challenge can be more difficult, but if the mechanics of the game provide the tools to overcome the challenge, then enjoyment comes from learning the tools you have to beat the challenge, and the level of enjoyment comes from how well designed the challenge and mechanics are.

I have a super complicated relationship with “difficulty” that causes fights in the necrosoft games slack like every 2-3 months prompted by me glibly saying something like “difficulty is pointless,” so this is going to be a long answer from me.

"Difficulty" is how we tend to describe friction in games - the thing that slows you from completing your goal. Most games have some sort of friction, and they can either show that to you right up front, or build it up over time. There can be multiple laters of friction - Street Fighter II is a difficult game to just start playing, let alone beat. The number of movements and inputs one must memorize in order to play the game at an absolute base level is very high. Then on top of that, the opponents get more difficult to defeat, and "smarter," as you play through a circuit. These are two different types of difficulty, and I think we mostly focus on the 2nd one, but both should be considered.

Action-oriented games with no friction are no fun. It makes you wonder why you're even playing it if there's no challenge to surmount. Classic visual novels where you just choose locations and dialog boxes have almost no friction outside the narrative they've created, but this is no problem for anyone as long as the story is good.

Then there's a game like Gunstar Heroes, which when played on easy difficulty will almost certainly let you see the end with no continues if you've played other action games - but you may wind up close to death a few times which gives you a thrill and a feeling of frictiveness. This is achieved through careful balancing and the fact the game has built in levers to pull (hit points, attack numbers, hp values, numbers of enemies) that enable this kind of tuning. On the other hand there's Contra Hard Corps which is just punishing and uses a lives system meaning every move must be as close to perfect as you can get. I don't like perfection.

Another key factor is whether you can see this difficulty and friction as a player. Playing Gate of Thunder on easy mode, you'll have a bunch of ships to destroy, which always fly in the same patters in each level, allowing you to learn it like a race track. Play it again on normal or devil mode and you'll see ships that once simply flew by are now shooting projectiles. Where a squadron had three ships now it has 5. Where an enemy did a single attack pattern now it does three. This is all difficulty that builds on a solid core and is visibly understandable to the player at a glance.


First I want to talk about death, which I think is pointless in 90% of games (I already hear the necrosoft chat anger brewing). Death in games is highly tied to two things: one is arcades, in which you needed to squeeze more quarters out of players once the game got its hooks in. More deaths later in the game means more quarters, so the ramp was exponential quite often. The other thing death (and by extension grinding) has been tied to is prolonging the game experience. When number of hours of play was a big back of box feature, devs would pad the experience with random battles, frequent deaths and restarts.

In most tactics games death occurs because you stepped into the wrong area, attacked a strong foe without enough allies, or didn't master the element system or whatever else correctly. None of these deaths really teach you anything because - either you need to memorize a map, which sucks, you needed more allies, which is something you'd already know, or the complex RPS system that got layered on top wasn't interesting to engage with. To combat the idea that death is pointless, folks added permadeath, which for a certain kind of person is apparently engaging and they like to restart battles and do it perfectly. Or they let characters die. For me it's a frustrating slog, I don't want characters to die, and I don't gain anything of value from it.

This is especially true if the world carries arbitrary rules. Like for example in yggdra union, early on you're told not to fight an enemy, they're too strong. But I thought - I'm pretty good at this game, I'm playing it for the 2nd time on a new platform, let's just see. I defeat everybody but the enemy that's "too strong." Then I whittle them down to 1 hp, only to learn that the way in which they're "too strong" is that they're invincible because the game doesn't want me to beat them now. That sucks. An extremely similar thing happens in a Fire Emblem. They tell you to escape, and I think - maybe I'll try fighting them. They destroy you, and with permadeath this just totally sucks and is not an interesting type of friction in my view.

Dying in a modern FPS - you get spawned a few meters back and go again. So what was the point? Also god forbid you walk a little bit off the beaten path, you'll get a grenade spawned under you or a "sniper" will appear.

Dying in an old FPS - you restart the stage and lose all your progress which also sucks.

Dying in most vintage platformers - you slowly lose your lives and lose access to playing the game at all, often having been penalized for exploring.

Dying in modern platformers - you get spawned a few meters back and go again BUT also have to listen to a big cutscene again about how this is all life or death and it totally matters that you stay alive (uncharted).

Dying in an RPG - tons of variance here but some combo of sent back to town, lost some stuff, forgot where you were going in the first place, etc etc.

Unless death is specifically worked into the experience I think it's pretty pointless in the modern era. Rogue and Souls-likes bake this into the experience. Learn how far you can get and push your limits. Learn when to turn back. Learn what enemies are treacherous and what to do with them by dying. Learn the stilted animation system and where the attacks land. As long as dying is a rinse/repeat part of that cycle it has some value.

Shooters (STGs) are a great example of death meeting friction in interesting ways. In a game like Gradius or the original R-Type, you get hit, you lose all your powerups, and you start from a checkpoint with nothing, and the game is no longer fun to play. It's incredibly punitive and you might as well start over.

But there are ways to make this sort of thing work better. I see several good options in shooting game deaths.

  • - restart me at the start of a stage/checkpoint with as many powerups as I had when I started that stage in the first place. I'm just rebuilding what I had by the time I died
  • - let me collect my powerups again (this is less compelling but an easy band-aid)
  • - give me only one life period and let me see how far I can get
  • - or, the mars matrix style, where you will die, but by playing you earn points that let you buy more continues, more lives, ships, etc, so that you are necessarily playing the first few stage over and over to get points in order to get credits to move further, but you're also learning the stage by replaying it and thus less likely to need continues to get further. This is what so many of these games want you to do, but actually building it transparently into the game loop is really important to me.
  • In general I find debuffs massively annoying, with powerup loss in STGs being a very straightforward example of it. But in RPGs you get into situations like "you've got poison now, you'd better have enough room in your limited inventory to carry a few poison items!" Who cares! That's all busywork that gets in the way of enjoyment, and doesn't enhance it.

    So, on to **DIFFICULTY** in general.

    A lot of games have vert soft friction. Phoenix Wright's friction is in whether you can solve the case in the way/order the game wants you to. This is a little annoying but also the game is so generous with the amount of times you can fail that it winds up a relatively non-frictive game. There's the threat of failure, but it's not likely to really apply. It's the specter of difficulty, which I don't love, but I don't hate either.

    Games like Yakuza are interesting to me. The fighting mechanics can be complex, and you'll need that for the higher levels of difficulty. If you enjoy engaging with complex mechanics this is a good spot for you. If you don't, and you choose to play on easy, battles become an extreme nuisance, basically hitting the same button til the battle is over so you can go back to delivering sunscreen for somebody or whatever it was you actually wanted to do. I'm quite convinced that Yakuza would be a better game without random battles - I think it'd be a much better game with ONLY "dungeons" and bosses.

    This is where I really diverge from my peers I think. Tim was telling me about how the FFVIIR battle system is actually good, and the most fun part of the game, but they didn't have the confidence to make you engage with it in the way that makes it fun on hard difficulty. So for someone like me, I wind up mashing away in easy mode, bored as heck. FFXV was the same way - enough complex systems so poorly explained that I wound up just playing on easy and wishing there were no battles.

    I get a strong sense from high difficulty that my time is being wasted, and I get a strong sense of that from easy difficulty as well, in more of a "why am I here" sort of way, but at least I get through it faster.

    In 3D action games, especially Platinum ones, the attacks are just everywhere, so fluid, so well animated, so contextual, that I also wonder why I'm here. All these things happen when I hit buttons but I don't know why I really need to do any of them. I suspect I don't need to do most of them. And I never learn which of them are right for what scenario aside from "ranged" or "melee." So I'm hitting buttons and attacks are happening but it's like when you're spinning a nut on a low friction bolt, and at a certain point of flicking this nut round, you think - am I really part of this process? If this is so rote, so repetitive, so consistent, what's the point of me being here? (I have a distinct vision of my dad trying to tighten a nut for a whole minute than stopping to look at it and saying - just making sure that thing was spinning because of me, not on its own.) The difficulty is usually "damage sponge enemies" or "learn this timing-based counter system" or how much visual information can you parse, which are all things I'm not interested in engaging with.

    If you look at the Persona vs SMT games, I think that's a good example. Persona's difficulty comes from choosing the right spells for the right dungeon and the battles all wind up pretty samey, with greater or fewer hit point numbers for enemies. SMT leans much more heavily on elemental affinities, relying almost totally on magic, so strongly that you actually learn who's weak to what, understand how to switch out demons for the right balance, and wind up thinking "wow, this person who's strong with fire elements is really useful right now." the turn passing system is also cool but that's another thing.

    So here's my **PROBLEM**

    I don't like games where difficulty and friction comes from layered-on systems complexity, grinding, arbitrary death, debuffs, as punishment for exploration, et cetera. I am absolutely fine with falling off a cliff in Tomb Raider and getting to just start again from where I fell. But what was the point of that death? That interaction was in fact without friction, other than making me look at my dead body for 5 seconds as I mash the control pad to get back into it. Is there not something else that could've happened there?

    I don't like the idea of difficulty as gatekeeping, pushing folks out of the hobby through complexity of control (I'm guilty of this), systems (guilty too), or punishment for experimentation. I don't think there's any point to making you fight a lot of battles in Yakuza if you're playing on easy. I don't think there's anything good that comes out of permadeath in tactics games.

    That said I don't know HOW to deal with death in a tactics game. I feel like I might be a bit trapped in the older mindset of game making that I can't see a way out of my characters dying in a tactics RPG. In a game like Into the Breach it's okay because death doesn't matter ultimately (you'll get new people), but also because the narrative is only a framework to get you through the game. It doesn't matter to the story if your people die. In a game like Fire Emblem where you're trying to complete a specific narrative, your main narrative units can't die or the story can't proceed, so you have some characters who can die, and they're gone, but others who if they die trigger a game over, and then they happily come back lazarus style while their fallen comerades are not so lucky. It's arbitrary and does not feel good.


    In my view, difficulty should be about refining simple intuitive rules, not layering systems that must be remembered. Look at Out Run 2. You need to know how to accellerate/brake, turn/drift, and identify turns and what you should do on them. Pretty simple. And it's not hard to drive and get somewhere. It's somewhat more difficult to make it to the end of any course. It's a fair bit more difficult to make it to the end of the toughest course. It's even harder to unlock all the cars, etc etc.

    You do this by getting better at using the very few tools you've been given. Sure, you unlock cars that are faster, and all that. That's a numbers-go-up kind of thing that I'm fine with. I want to be able to see the shape of it.

    R-Type Final is a game that requires learning. It punishes you and kills you. But there are so few powerups - get the satellite thingie once, and you're good. There's one at every checkpoint. You'll want to increase your speed, you'll want to power up the satellite, but once you've got one of those you've got a chance. The game lets you learn how to improve because it's always throwing you a life vest, but rarely a boat.

    I really think difficulty in games needs to be considered differently in the modern era, and the more I think about it, perhaps obviously, the more lost in the woods I get about what this actually means for my games, and in terms of what I want people to get out of an experience. I'm still thinking about it, and maybe you'll see it in our next game, or maybe I won't figure it out by then.

    I often think I'm maybe removed from everyone's sensibilities because for example I really dislike Hollow Knight. I don't say this lightly or often but I think it's a Bad Game. I think it's got an overused aesthetic, attacks and movement are sluggish and "wait for the animation" style which I strongly dislike, I have no sense of why I'm in the world or should care about what I'm doing, and on top of that it's punishing and difficult while having fiddly controls and feeling like my character is gunking around in a vat of molasses. To me when you provide a punitive friction experience on top of all that other stuff I said it's just like... get out of here with that. And yet everybody loves it, so what the heck do I know!

    There are tons of games that are "easy" to play, finish, and engage with, that play in these familiar spaces without making things "difficult." We often call them hangout games, but things like Fez, dragon egg on pc engine, night in the woods, these games don't really care about making the game hard for you to finish, or getting in your way - they'll let you do it if you want, but the default is a smooth experience with good controls that feels good to play without angrying up the blood. (I also think Death Stranding is a good example of friction decoupled from death and somewhat outside the traditional game concept of difficulty. It's not so much difficult as it is laborious.)

    Anyway - it's always an interesting conversation but I can sum it up by saying: difficulty sucks lol

    Damn Brandon, you could have gotten paid for publishing this somewhere! Thanks for the lucid thoughts and analysis, specially valuable coming from someone who does the stuff for a living.

    I like thinking about difficulty as a mean in service of a particular end. Difficulty can't be the point under any circumstances, in fact, nobody will ever tell you that they liked a game just because "it was hard". They can enjoy that aspect of the game but it will always be in combination of something else. They liked the art direction, or the story, or felt the mechanics were innovative or engaging. I completely agree with the point that difficulty, best case scenario, translates into a feeling of danger, friction that makes the game feel exciting and THAT excitement is the core, the goal, what every game should always be chasing. In that regard, difficulty is just a resource, something a game can syphon from in order to accomplish something else, something that is the real goal.

    But I do feel it is a valid resource. You should never make the player feel frustrated because that frustration actively works against the game, if the player gets mad they will stop appreciating the rest of the elements that otherwise could have made them feel implicated with the experience. On the other hand, the player should always feel enticed, seduced. If we are talking a narrative experience, the plot or characters should take care of that without the need of difficulty poking in, but in action or let's call them challenge oriented games, I would argue it is extremely hard (no pun intended) to pull that off without some degree of real friction.

    And lastly, there is a matter of authenticity. I feel that the reason some games like the Souls games or the Kaizo Mario subgenre are exciting not only to play, but even to watch other people play is because they offer something to master that leads to a sense of satisfaction that feels legitimate in the same way learning to play an instrument or passing an exam do. Now, I don't think every game needs this "authenticity", and simulating it and finding smart ways to elicit that response without actively punishing the players will almost always be the most intelligent approach, but I also think human beings like challenges, we love solving problems, struggling and finally succeeding. Games have become popular and penetrated society the way they have probably because they offer a very accesible and comfortable way of providing those feelings without actually risking your life or leaving your house.

    So what am I trying to say, really? Maybe something like this: that the games I love the most have their greatest strengths in their creativity, intelligence and clarity. They do smart and surprising stuff with things I thought weren't possible. And in that sense, if you can do creative, intelligent and brilliant stuff with difficulty, why the hell not?

    I'll probably turn it into an insert credit article when the site is back, and refine the ideas a bit.

    And right, nobody loves "difficulty" but people do like to defeat a challenge, because it feels rewarding. I understand that objective even if it is incredibly rare in my personal experience. There are so few games whose systems I enjoy learning to the extent that a "real challenge" isn't more than a nuisance. But!! I recognize I'm an outlier, and a lot of game-playing folks love to play a dark souls and get knocked off a cliff by an enemy they couldn't see, and then think "next time I'll remember there's an enemy there."

    I think my sticking point is how systems are taught, and then how they are utilized in challenges. In the Outrun example, since everything's so simple, a challenge is welcome. I want to be faster, do better, hit those corners properly, et cetera. But also they have heart attack mode which teaches me good drifting techniques, or a mode where I need to hit certain targets with the car. It all teaches proficiency under the guise of regular gameplay.

    In action games where it's like "remember that thing we taught you in a menu a while back? Well now it's vital for beating this boss." I can't abide that, and that's where I get into "difficulty sucks" because I don't want to feel like the systems exist just to get in my way.

    Take an "up down" attack as an example. Lots of games have systems where you have to knock an enemy into the air to get them out of a block, then hit them downward to do damage. Indivisible does it, and it feels totally arbitrary and bad to me. I complained about it all through development (lol), but that wasn't my area.

    But imagine a scenario in which, rather than just an RPG battle where you're blocking, but you had to hit enemies up into switches above and then down to the switch below to open doors, because hitting the top switch with an enemy's DNA pattern unlocks the bottom switch. Or it's a boss who has to get their helmet knocked off because the area under their chin is the armor's one weak point, and then you can smack their bare head.

    That'd get me a little further toward appreciating the mechanic because it'd feel like I was doing something in-world, rather than just being slowed down by a more complex mechanic, where I just want to beat this grunt enemy and move along.

    I guess I've got a lot to say about all this but I've probably said enough!

    Very interesting observations above.

    I just find fascinating how you clearly establish what kind of pedagogic challenge structure you request from games, yet you dislike Nintendo games so much. It’s pretty much your perfect match on paper. You are making the case for their entire modern design philosophy above.

    Also isn’t your ideal game structure exactly what The Witness does? You love Sega and SNK and Irem yet their designs mostly go entirely against the kind of structure you want from video games. Obviously due to the arcade roots you mentioned.

    I need to stop speaking in absolutes!

    @chazumaru I think the big difference is Nintendo refuses to get out of the way and let me play, which is its own kind of frustrating friction. But I think the vibe is the biggest turnoff. Nintendo rarely makes games that appeal to me visually or in terms of their world, or sound, or etc. That's a different thing entirely.

    That said, I think Breath of the Wild is finally where we get closer to aligning, and in that game I can largely avoid combat and focus on climbing around and finding treasures if I so choose (and indeed, I do), but other people can go find fancy ways to beat up that lion centaur guy whose name I forget.

    I like a lot of games despite their approach to difficulty/friction. I will absolutely watch a bad movie if I like the world, or how it looks. I'll suffer through a mechanic I don't enjoy if I like watching kiryu try to win all the sexy bug cards in a minigame or whatever. (And in Yakuza 0 the battles are made smoother for me with beast mode - I just want to hit everyone with a motorcycle and end the battle in 5 seconds.)

    It does make me wonder whether/how much I actually enjoy games sometimes!!!

    @exodus#6643 Brandon, I would like to ask you, did you watch any of the interviews with Hugo Martin talking about Doom Eternal's development regarding difficulty?

    He brings up several times that their design philosophy was that they were fine with frustrating or obstructing the player as long as that frustration translated in a better understanding of the game and how to play in more fun/interesting ways. Basically a "we kill you for your own good" approach.

    I ask because on one hand it sounds like the kind of meaningful way of using friction you described, but on the other they talk about explicitly annoying the player, which seems the opposite of what you enjoy.


    It was somewhere in this interview, but can't remember when.

    I didn‘t watch these, but I’m familiar with the technique. I prefer the gentler hand, even if it involves dying, ala mars matrix. plus I didn‘t much care for doom eternal and absolutely didn’t feel like I learned stuff when I died (I died a lot trying to experiment and see where I could explore), so if that was their goal, it didn't work on me anyway!

    I really like difficult games. I would like to address an aspect of game difficulty that is kind of outside of the question of “death” that is prevalent in this discussion.

    Take something like Starcraft. In the original game, there is tons of friction between the player and the game engine. There is a limit on how many units you could select at a time; the units' pathfinding abilities are horrible and plagued with bugs; the unit movement itself often involves strange animations and sliding. Little things like having to go back to your base every time a worker is built and manually tell it to start mining are essential to the difficulty of the game.

    In Starcraft II, many of these limitations don't exist. Unlimited unit selection, effective pathfinding, and more refined graphics and physics make unit control "easier." However, Starcraft II is still god-damned hard to play effectively. It is incredibly fast, and there are a million things to do at once, combined with the fact that someone over on the other side of the map _wants to kill you_.

    There's been a lot of discussion in the community about the pros and cons of these games (not so much anymore since both games are 10+ years old but yeah.) The difficulty level of the original SC is much much higher when it comes to the basic mechanics. It's brutal. But for many of the players, that's the beauty. The fact that making a single unit go where you want takes multiple clicks, or micro tricks, is the fun! Watching pro players execute these actions effortlessly is kinda breathtaking if you've tried it yourself.

    A lot of these fans think that SC2 loses a lot of the charm by being comparatively "easier." One of the main things is workers automatically mining. It seems like a tiny change, and for a game designer might seem obvious, but it without a doubt lowers the skill ceiling of the game. These games are all about ways in which a better player can seek advantages over a weaker player. So by deleting a "skill check" like worker-mining, the skill ceiling of the game decreases, and it is ever-so-slightly more likely that a "less-skilled" player can beat someone with better mechanics. There are a ton of these little "skill checks" that can be seen in multiplayer matches, across both SC1 and 2.

    One example that commentators bring up a lot in SC2 is a "dance" performed between the reaper and the queen in Terran vs Zerg. In pro matches, the Terran player sends a reaper to the Zerg's base early in the game, it dances in front of their base, does a few HP of damage (that regenerates) to a few zerglings, maybe takes a few potshots at workers, and then leaves after the queen comes out. This dance actually does nothing for either player except tax their movement speed. So if you're watching this as a non-player, you might think, "Why do they even bother doing this at all?" when the answer is, if the Zerg was slightly worse and did _not_ move his units properly, he'd probably take a ton of damage and lose the game.

    I think that's really interesting! If this part of the game had been designed, it probably would have been thrown out as "needless complexity," but the organic nature of these layers makes the difficulty of the game so appealing. Starcraft and Starcraft II are much more like sports in that they are a base of rules, and the actual difficulty of the game comes from the fact that everyone is constantly improving, so the likelihood of beating anyone as a new player becomes lower and lower.

    So there's this whole question involved about how much of the difficulty of the game should come as a fight between the player and the game interface itself. Obviously, there's a limit where the game begins to play itself, but on the other hand, there's a limit where the game becomes so obtuse and hard that it's no longer fun for _anyone_, not even the really hardcore competitors. I think this discussion happens in fighting games too, around the difficulty of combos. I think most passionate fighting game players and Starcraft players would agree that to make the basic mechanics excessively easier would remove a massive part of the appeal of the game.

    In different games, the challenge comes from different places. In Dark Souls, the challenge is about enemy placement and the animation speeds. In Mario, it's about executing simple actions with perfect timing. In Starcraft, it's about executing increasingly complex actions that compound each other. I would say that, for the average person, the difficulty of something like Mario is much easier to enjoy than the difficulty of Starcraft, because the difficulty of Mario feels _organic_, like the difficulty of running around a forest in real life, whereas the difficulty of Starcraft feels _synthetic_, like say, the difficulty of trying to use a computer program like Photoshop, or the difficulty of playing a trombone.

    Some people like to run around a forest, and some people like to play trombones, I guess, is what I'm trying to say. The end, bye.