Ep. 237 - Everything Everywah, with Maddy Thorson

@“exodus”#p70989 i appreciate this sort of stuff a lot. that pokémon legends game has these weird 3rd person action boss fights and if you die partway through, it asks if you want to:

  • - start the boss fight completely over
  • - start a phase or two into the boss fight with refreshed health etc.
  • dungeon encounters has a similarly nuanced set of options on the game over screen as well. it's pretty obvious they had it in mind for "game over" to mean "start from scratch" but they also must have realised that idiots like me were gonna try to play it and we need extra help sometimes!

    I think Nier Automata has an interesting set of difficulty options.

  • - Easy - You get auto chips which will do things like fight, heal and dodge for you. All can be turned off or on
  • - Normal - Can't use the auto chips.
  • - Hard - Same as normal but there is no lock on button
  • - Extra hard - Die in one hit.
  • These are explained on the menu when you choose it which helps. I think it would be cool if you could mix and match the settings too but I understand it probably adds quite a bit more work. I think when designing difficulty features like this they have to be implemented fairly early on in a project.

    WarGroove has adjustable difficulty scales as well. These are controlled by 3 sliders:

  • - How much money you earn,
  • - How much damage you take
  • - How fast special abilities are charged.
  • You can make a custom difficulty with the sliders or just choose a preset. You can tell these are just multipliers which effect the numbers in a level.

    On the note of WarGroove, I quite like the trend of difficulty levels shown by chilli peppers. I've seen it in WarGroove, Kirby and Gran Turismo. No one feels shame ordering a mild curry, we're here for the flavour.

    Ooh, and honourable mention to Hades for taking it in both directions. You’ve got the easier-making “God Mode” (which also feels like a nod to Doom, the first cheat I ever saw, mind-blowing)…

    …and then after you’ve cleared the game, >!that wonderful Heat system: here is a menu of 20 ways to make it harder, we’ll reward you more the more of them you switch on; the metagame is to find the things that make it harder that you as an individual are better at handling…!<

    @“esper”#p70976 I guess I have no real problem with the buzzer being cleaned up and softened for the listening public, but I feel it should be as loud, horrible and painful as possible for the participants in order to incentivise consensus within six minutes.

    Maybe each buzzer could be one digit from a participant’s credit card number or something.

    Replace the buzzer with an improv zone bumper imo

    I understand there are reasons not to do this, but the best buzzer era was the early episodes when it was either so loud and abrasive that panelists and guests were genuinely alarmed, or when the sound changed without warning to something innocuous like a doorbell which made everyone confused

    Loud buzzer crew checking in

    @“exodus”#p70984 yeah! one of the main gimmicks in that game is that one of the main collectibles is pages of the game‘s instruction manual, which are mostly in a mysterious runic language that you have to decipher throughout the game and infer game mechanics from context clues and what you can glean from the simple illustrations. overall the manual is very evocative of the original NES Zelda manual, and it feels like you’re trying to figure out a Japanese game you imported by reading the manual even though you can't read any Japanese. cool game!

    Super Matrix Neo Radish Extreme!

    [upl-image-preview url=https://i.imgur.com/m0zB1xI.jpeg]

    re: the consensus that difficulty should be many fine grained options that let the player have precise control over what’s hard and what’s not. I feel if you’re going to put the work into designing and balancing a game around that, then it makes more sense to present that as a mechanic rather than an accessibility option. Like Tim and Maddy said about the invincibility leaf in the newer Mario games, a lot of people whose experience would probably benefit from using it don’t because it feels vaguely insulting. Lots of RPGs’ progression and loadout systems let you control the difficulty of the game by solving (or looking up the solution to) what is essentially a (sometimes simple, sometimes byzantine) optimization puzzle. Action games that let you pick your weapons for each level are similar. Off the top of my head, Bangai-O Spirits is a good example of this, where some levels are trivially easy using one set of weapons, and wildly difficult using another. It also lets you play any level at any time, so it’s not like you’re ever locked from content if you can’t beat a certain level.

    My wider take on difficulty in games (which may or may not be rehashing arguments that lots of people have made already) is that not every game has to be for everyone. From what I can see, it takes a huge amount of work to make a difficulty-select system like Celeste’s, and for indie developers that represents a big opportunity cost. If you have that system planned from the start and every level-design decision is made with it in mind, that cost might not be obvious since it’s mixed in more opaquely with the time spent creating the rest of the game, but it’s still there. I don’t think it’s a bad thing if developers focus their time on making a super polished extremely difficult game that is impossible for me to play, but lets hardcore fans of the genre have amazing unique experiences they’ve never had before. It makes more sense for AAA games to do clever stuff with the difficulty system (e.g. Elden Ring’s summon system), since they have the resources and need to sell millions of copies (i.e. need their games to be accessible) in order to recoup their budgets.

    I feel like difficulty is only really an issue when we as a culture decide certain games, or for that matter, books, movies or any media, are “classics” that you have to have spent a significant amount of time with in order to be an full-standing member of the community. I’m not convinced that, for example, my time reading and trying to understand Foucault gave me personally all that much value beyond what I got from summaries of his ideas that I’d seen in books heavily influenced by him — but I do still think there’s a lot of value in how he presented his arguments, even if they’re very difficult for me, and I think that there are plenty people with different interests and purposes than mine who have gotten way more out of reading his original works than I did, which is of course a very good thing. The same applies for video games. I’m glad when developers put lots of work into making games that anyone can enjoy, but I’m also happy when they make super complicated niche stuff that I’ll never be able to figure out personally, but which someone out there will love — I just hope that that particular someone is self-aware enough to not enforce their taste on everyone else or use it as a status symbol.

    @“billy “#p71043 As a little behind the scenes here, the buzzer used to get played into the microphone, and was genuinely loud. But since whatever time that was, there‘s all sorts of stuff that prevents loud sounds from happening so unless it got on tim’s sound board, there‘s really no good way to actually play a loud sound, that I know of! A lot of the time we don’t even hear it or jaffe just says ”that's time.”

    I guess we'll research how to make it happen again.

    @“saddleblasters”#p71071 Totally agree. Hypothetically, anyone who understands English can pick up a translated copy of Foucault (or any difficult philosopher/author) and read the book, but one has to invest time and effort in order to get what‘s going on in it (i.e. “beat” the book.) The question is one of being willing to put in the effort to get a bit more out of it, or not bothering because you’re not that interested. Accessibility features in this analogy would be special reading tools for dyslexic/visually impaired people, and perhaps dictionaries/reference material (strategy guides). There are also plenty of different ways to engage with Foucault's ideas, from reading his books + secondary readings, to going on Youtube and watching a 5 minute video that tries to summarize his main ideas.

    The idea with accessibility is that everyone should be able to _play_ the game, not that everyone should be able to _complete_ the game, right? I mean, isn't learning part of the fun of playing? It takes a certain time investment to learn how a game works and how to succeed in it. I love accessibility features such as colorblind mode, alternate control schemes, stuff for visually impaired people, etc., but I feel like things like the Super Mario leaf are actually quite different, more like skipping a scene in a movie to get to the end than actually helping anyone engage with the video game as a video game. I'm not mad about that or anything, but I don't think it's absolutely necessary aside from the video game publishers' desire to sell the maximum amount of copies.

    There's also the fact that "beating" the game isn't the only way to enjoy it. Starting a game, getting a little ways in and then stopping, either because you're stuck, bored, start doing something else, etc can still be valuable. There are plenty of games that I never finished for whatever reason, where I still think back on the experience fondly, and the same goes for books too.

    From what I can see, there are plenty of easy games that don't require much effort, and conversely there are difficult games that require a ton of effort and time, and with so many video games around, there's a decent balance between the two. A problem, I guess, is people thinking that one type is the "real" video game and the other isn't, and these people are only really a problem if you go online and listen to them. Another problem would be people thinking they need to play every video game in order to be keyed in to the video game world, which is related to what you said at the end there, and really doesn't have as much to do with video game design as with the way people interact and generate self-image.

    @““I thought lethal weapon was safe…yeah.””#p71051 I loved the old joke of the buzzer just cacophonously cutting someone off completely and them saying “Well, I guess we'll never find out what I was going to say.” The old buzzer style was certainly funny, but I understand that over time the show has evolved and the hosts would often rather finish their thought than make that particular silly joke for the hundredth time. There comes a time when people with a podcast actually want to talk about stuff.


    @“wickedcestus”#p71097 There’s also the fact that “beating” the game isn’t the only way to enjoy it.

    there's just a persistent mismatch in expectations of priorities with videogames re the game/puzzle software program <-> art/media experience thing. I think the proportion of games that attempt to be I suppose artistically meaningful while hewing to twitch reflex or other #gamer skills centered design and succeed in blending those aspects is very very small. It's not usually a problem I think bc it's not like there's anything meaningful to be found behind the legendary difficulty setting in Halo for example, but the souls games do present that dilemma of course bc there is some genuinely cool stuff in there. So I guess I think this difficulty controversy is mostly hypothetical. The exception being accessibility options for people with disabilities which of course the more the better.


    @“wickedcestus”#p71097 i.e. “beat” the book

    I see what you mean, but in the case of challenging novels, the material is the material and there's not really another way it could be. At least in the case of literary writing in which the work is an aesthetic object. So there's no easy mode for _Ulysses_ because it's just what it is: all those words in order.

    A text that's trying to explicitly document and communicate things like _Discipline And Punish_ has a different goal and I guess you could wish it was more readily understandable, but I don't think videogames are on that axis


    @“wickedcestus”#p71097 From what I can see, there are plenty of easy games that don’t require much effort, and conversely there are difficult games that require a ton of effort and time, and with so many video games around, there’s a decent balance between the two. A problem, I guess, is people thinking that one type is the “real” video game and the other isn’t, and these people are only really a problem if you go online and listen to them.

    This makes me think that "difficult" might even be a genre? It contains a (loose) set of ingredients to evoke a (loosely) similar kind of experience, and possibly even message. This would mean there's a strong argument against stripping the difficulty from games - it would be like stripping the fantastical setting from a fantasy book, for people who "still want the thing, but without all that fantasy." But maybe that's a nonsense argument.

    But it does mean that when people use various (legit, available) exploits/strategies to make a "hard" game much easier, they are essentially playing a different game. BUT, they're playing the game they want to play. And good for them.

    @“wickedcestus”#p71097 Should I try and play Foucault?

    @“DavidNoo”#p71111 Foucault can foucaulf IMO

    that's not a real opinion I just haven't been able to get that phrase out of my head since he was first mentioned in the thread, ha ha. I only just barely tried to read foucault once and it made me tired.


    @““I thought lethal weapon was safe…yeah.””#p71105 there’s just a persistent mismatch in expectations of priorities with videogames re the game/puzzle software program <-> art/media experience thing.

    I think every time I make a long post on this forum I run into this problem of perhaps thinking about video games in a different way. I primarily think of video games as ways of playing around. Playing around not as a mindless thing, but playing around in the same way all art and philosophy are playing around. A playing around that can also be remarkably serious. I would disagree with you and say that there is certainly something meaningful that can be found in playing the Legendary difficulty of Halo, and I'm sure many people have considered that journey of mastery to have been worthwhile. People build their whole lives around playing physical and e-sports professionally -- there is clearly something there. Obviously, sports aren't art (??) but I think there is some element of mastery in common there.

    I know I spent my whole post making a long book analogy (perhaps a mistake) but in my mind, narratives in video games, movies, or books are all fundamentally different in kind, in a way that I don't know I can do justice to. The dichotomy that you mention is perhaps a limitation of our being unable at this early moment to wrap our heads around video games as a medium, and will more likely be solved by the artists (video game developers) themselves than by critics or theorists. Video games are both games/puzzles, and narrative experiences, in the same way that plays are comedies, tragedies, or both; or literature is poetry, prose, or both. (But also in a fundamentally _different_ way than either of those things are either of those things.) Like these other mediums also, video games will develop and change over time, and our conceptions will evolve likewise.


    Also completely running out into the weeds, I think philosophy and poetry have a lot more in common than people give them credit for, and even philosophers with a reputation of being hyper-technical, such as Kant, incorporate poetic aesthetics into their writing -- even Wittgenstein's _Tractatus-Logico-Philosophicus_, although presented as a book of rigorous logic, ends with the poetic line: "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent." I would argue that 20th century French philosophers like Foucault do so to an even larger degree -- the fact that people share quotes by Foucault are a testament to the fact that his writing has some sort of "beauty" in it. _Discipline and Punish_ is an aesthetic object, and it is so on purpose.

    The difficulty of _Ulysses_ and _Finnegan's Wake_ are, in one sense, almost "accidental" in that they are a consequence of the poetic language and sentence-structures chosen by the author, and in another sense kind of "the point," by which I mean that the extra effort required to make sense of it is part of what provides value to what you eventually gleam. It's no fun if someone just tells you something -- it sticks more if they encourage you to find out for yourself. I think Plato wrote his dialogues in the same way, and one could argue that Foucault had a similar idea. (I'm no Foucault expert -- don't even like him much at all -- but the books of his I've read seem to me to be structured as a sort of meandering journey rather than a textbook.)

    To tie this back into video games, often the emotional payoff at the end of a game is not just the fact that you watched a good story unfold, but that you actively participated in pushing that story forward -- in a sense, achieving the ending. This in no way belittles the story, but much like a good story in a movie is nothing without cinematography and acting, or a good story in a book is nothing without interesting prose, a good story in a video game has little impact if the gameplay does not back it up. Obviously, when people judge video game stories in a vaccuum, they often don't seem to have much going for them, but that's like judging a movie by the plot synopsis on Wikipedia. It's the fact that upon completing a Final Fantasy for example, people feel that they have accomplished something, gone on a personal journey with the characters, that really matters in the end; not whether the writing is naturalistic, or the pacing up to the standard of whatever formula of pacing one chooses to apply.

    I realize that that previous paragraph doesn't have much to do with difficult per se, but just with there being any amount of friction or interaction at all. But I can see how different levels of friction could work best with certain types of stories, in a way where I can totally understand the developers of _Dark Souls_ (as an example) feeling that the story would not resonate so well if the player were not challenged in a significant way. We can disagree as to whether this is true or not, or what the range of "significant difficulty" is, but I am inclined to leave it up to the designers themselves to determine, while also accomodating what I said earlier regarding accessibility features that allow everyone to _play_ but not necessarily beat the game.

    I know I kind of went off here but your response really sent my flying (in a good way!)

    @“Salloumi”#p71110 Spent so long writing my post right there that I didn't even see your response. I am inclined to agree with your idea of the difficulty of a game being as essential as something like setting to a story, but I would definitely be in the minority on this.

    @"DavidNoo"#p71111 Dunno to what extent you are joking or serious but I would recommend looking into [his history of sexual exploitation of minors](https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2021/4/16/reckoning-with-foucaults-sexual-abuse-of-boys-in-tunisia) as a prerequisite to grappling with any of his works. He is similar to Nietzsche, in that he raises a lot of interesting questions and provides interesting ideas, but this immoral/amoral sinister undercurrent of "power" runs through his whole philosophy in a way that makes one wonder. I'm not saying that anyone who reads or grapples with him is doing something wrong -- like Nietzsche, he is super influential and worth looking into for that reason alone if nothing else -- but it's just some important context (in my opinion.) But @saddleblasters would probably be able to answer the question better as he seems to be more well-versed in Foucault.


    @“wickedcestus”#p71118 To tie this back into video games, often the emotional payoff at the end of a game is not just the fact that you watched a good story unfold, but that you actively participated in pushing that story forward – in a sense, achieving the ending.

    Sort of yeah, when it all works like it should: but I guess there's the dilemma of this being down to pressing the buttons good on a video game controller. So I suppose maybe on the topic of difficulty there's #gamerskills difficult, and then there's other kinds of difficult - which I think might be more effective in helping to configure the kind of experience you describe rather than vestigal/connecting back to hi scores, beating bosses, etc that type of stuff

    So off the top of my head: SimCity, MLB The Show (Road To The Show Mode), _Pathologic 2_, The Last Express. All challenging games in which I'd say there's not a lot of daylight between the meaningfulness of what the player is doing and the difficulty of the tasks needed to get through that material, or at least that the doing stuff part helps produce that meaning.

    And I get the impulse to move away from talking just about "difficulty" wrt to this topic bc it leads to a discussion of how games just I suppose give the player stuff and communicates with them.

    I guess the main things I'm thinking are

  • *

    there‘s nothing wrong with a game being hard if that’s core to the fun or meaningfulness

  • *

    a not insignificant amount of games aiming to be meaningful put that stuff behind "difficult" game tasks without those elements being of a piece

  • *

    that's fine too, but I think those rare examples that fit everything together are neater (and maybe the way games oughta be, idk)

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    and while it's fine, I think it's reasonable to challenge games that have that daylight between the difficulty and "the good stuff" - like Souls games imo ( I know some may disagree just my oponion)

  • And as for novels: I'd say Pale Fire and House Of Leaves sure they have some real thematic and aesthetic reasons for taking the form and structure they do, but I personally think they're a somewhat arch and mess around imo