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Thread: Do optional settings to make a game easier really ruin it?

  1. #1
    Member
    Registered: Mar 2014

    Do optional settings to make a game easier really ruin it?

    I've gotten into debates with my friends about whether having an easy difficulty in Dark Souls would totally ruin it, which I say no it wouldn't, because it's something totally optional. It's kind of similar to how I feel the same way about objective markers. As long as I can turn them off and still work out where I should go, I don't mind if they are in a game. I'm not against having elements that make a game more accessible, so long as they are entirely optional and can be turned off, or at least ignored.

    But I get arguments that no, it would ruin it, despite being optional, because in the case of Dark Souls the game builds it's reputation on being hard. While I can see where this is coming from, I'd counter argue that XCOM still has a reputation for being hard, and it has an optional difficulty level that is very easy. This may make people who play this a quote "filthy casual", but there are quite a few people who enjoy games and want to play them, but just aren't very good at them, or use them as a means to unwind and don't want to be frustrated by them.

    What are your thoughts?

  2. #2
    Member
    Registered: Aug 2004
    I've seen plenty of optional features that ruin games for some people who just can't stop themselves for whatever reason. I'm not sure easy difficulty is one of them, though. Most people I know look down their nose at "easy" and frequently jump straight to "hard", even in games where they can't actually hack it.

  3. #3
    El Shagmeister
    Registered: Jul 2000
    Location: Under your fingernails.

    I wouldn't mind if they included such a feature, though I can imagine it being a bit tricky (albeit not too much, I think) in any of the Soulsborne games due to their online components (mainly the co-op), thinking they wanted to have one cohesive whole where they'd only divide players by souls level.

    But yeah, for most games, adding different difficulty settings should not be a deal breaker of any sorts.


  4. #4
    Chakat sex pillow
    Registered: Sep 2006
    Location: not here
    Given that the only person who can 'ruin' the game is yourself, that really depends on your personal outlook. If you don't care, it's not ruined. If you do, you either make peace with the feeling that you're experiencing a relatively compromised version of the game, or you don't.

    As to whether Dark Souls and the like would be, ah, ruined by a difficulty option -- not really. If it's an option that's labelled to ease people in, the hardcore faithful can ignore it. The only situation where difficulty options can ruin a game for people in general is when they're insultingly labelled or chided for choosing them (Furi does this, I think), or the game locks off interesting ideas behind higher skill-level tiers (don't think I've ever seen this, however).

  5. #5
    Member
    Registered: Dec 2003
    Location: Location, Location
    The initial gut reaction I have to things like that is that it isn't a good thing, in the same way that I react to reboots of movie and game franchises. But then I very quickly realize that, unlike reboots, optional easy modes are very unlikely to decide the future course of the series.

    Future Dark Souls titles aren't going to start getting generally easier just because some people are playing it in easy mode so they don't give up in frustration. It's billed on being hard, but there's no reason that the game should be shutting out a massive pool of potential players, many of whom will use easy mode to practice for normal difficulty without so much of the pain and anguish involved in "getting gud". The payoff to Dark Souls is a sense of accomplishment and/or bragging rights for having gotten gud enough to conquer it, and people will work for that goal even if they start from a lower rung than those that came before.

    Jim Sterling provided that alternative viewpoint that I now hold, in a video he did a year ago on Nintendo's announcement of an easy mode for their latest Starfox title:


  6. #6
    Member
    Registered: May 2004
    Dark Souls has so many things built in the game to help players that I don't see how making it any easier would even work -- the game is already balanced to the breaking point, as can be seen if you overlevel or get a weapon that's too good or use magic. It's so easy to cheese Dark Souls it's not even funny.

    The problem is that a lot of these options to make the game easier are hidden away behind exploration, so maybe what the game really needs is a quest arrow that shows you where all the shortcuts and good equipment are? Or better yet, maybe there could be an autoplay option that plays the game for you.

    Seriously, though, the game is not that hard. Really. If you don't rush into things, take your time to explore and work out the game mechanics, you can beat most non-optional enemies one on one with ease. The only real exception to this is some of the boss battles and a few tricky bottlenecks and you can get help for a lot of the boss battles.

    Would an easy mode ruin Dark Souls? No. Not any more than god mode ruins Doom or savescumming ruins Nethack. But Dark Souls on easy mode would hardly be Dark Souls any more than Doom on god mode is Doom.

  7. #7
    Member
    Registered: Apr 2001
    Location: Switzerland
    Quote Originally Posted by Starker View Post
    Would an easy mode ruin Dark Souls? No. Not any more than god mode ruins Doom or savescumming ruins Nethack. But Dark Souls on easy mode would hardly be Dark Souls any more than Doom on god mode is Doom.
    That's a good point, and it's one that goes both ways. Make something like Abzu or Journey more difficult, and it turns into something entirely different. Doesn't mean the option itself would be wrong, but there are games where the difficulty (or lack thereof) is a fundamental part of the experience. An easy reader of The Sound and the Fury is very different from reading The Sound and the Fury; you might get the plot, but you won't get what the book is and what it does. IMO it's the same with something like Dark Souls. Difficulty is also a means of expression - which doesn't mean that there isn't such a thing as a game that's unfairly difficult, or that all of a game's means of expression are equally apt. Just like a game can have shitty graphics, bad writing and horrible world design, its difficulty can also be a bad fit for the rest of the game.

  8. #8
    Member
    Registered: May 2004
    Yeah, that's essentially the argument Campster makes in his Errant Signal series, and the gist of it feels spot on to me, although I haven't played Dark Souls 3 yet.


  9. #9
    Member
    Registered: Mar 2001
    Location: Ireland
    I don't think options are bad, but they are work and they have to not be afterthoughts.

    For example, a lot of modern games have terrible directions for the player, but it doesn't matter because there are giant quest markers pointing to everything. An option to simply turn them off sounds great, but risks making the game unplayable because you have no way to know what you're supposed to do.
    An example of that might be one of the generic quests in Skyrim that doesn't even name the location you're supposed to go to, much less give directions.
    The game needs you be designed with the option in mind for it to work properly.

    Also, implementing and balancing the different difficulty options would be a fair amount of work - is it the most valuable thing that the development team could be spending their time on?

  10. #10
    LittleFlower
    Registered: Jul 2001
    Location: Netherlands
    Easy mode would ruin the Dark Souls games for the hardcore players.

    Easy mode would open the game to a lot more potential players. And easy mode would made the game less frustrating for many players. I think that would be a good thing. I think the Dark Souls games are really good, but not because of the difficulty or challenge. I know a lot of gamers who I can not recommend Dark Souls now, because I know it would be too confusing and too frustrating for them. And they would quit after a few hours. I quit after a few hours twice. DS1 was a mess at first, because I couldn't install dsfix and dsmfix properly. And especially DS2 encourages players to stop during the first hours. It's terrible in this respect. If I could't have copied savefiles back-and-forth, I might never have actually gotten past the first bosses in any Souls game. I think From Software is missing out on a lot of potential sales because of this.

    Dark Souls has so many things built in the game to help players
    The problem is that those are all things that only experienced players know about. Or can do. Running past mobs to pick up items, without fighting them. Getting the proper gear. How to upgrade stuff asap and to the max. Not dying often means you won't play at 50% health in DS2. Not dying often means you'll have enough embers, etc, to be able to summon when you want. You can only abuse magic if you know exactly what spells are overpowered, and how to get the max out of them. Not dying and losing your souls often means you'll get higher level easier. Etc, etc.

    The proper goal is: "easy to learn, hard to master". Dark Souls is exactly the opposite. Very hard to learn. But once you've learned the game, it gets really easy. Not (only) because you are better, but also because the game really becomes easier for the better players. I think Dark Souls does it completely wrong in this respect.

    About online play. I think people who want to compete against others are either: 1) already rather experienced at the game, or 2) dicks who want to ruin the fun for others. So it's easy: let people invade each other only when they play at the harder difficulty-level. When they play at easy, don't let them invade and don't let them be invaded. But let them play in coop if they want to. Without the potential to be invaded when they are playing coop.
    Last edited by Gryzemuis; 29th May 2017 at 08:31.

  11. #11
    A lot of what makes Dark Souls hard is not the actual combat, but rather whether a player spots a certain trick, route, enemy, trap, whatever or not.

    Personally I don't like the way combat works in Dark Souls, so I haven't bothered with the series beyond trying the first game for 3 or so hours.

  12. #12
    Member
    Registered: May 2004
    Exactly. It's about not rushing into combat, waiting for openings, conserving your stamina, refraining from button mashing, etc. Basically unlearning everything you learned from action games. This is also why ranged combat (e.g. magic) breaks the game despite all the limits it has.

  13. #13
    Member
    Registered: Feb 2001
    Location: Somewhere
    Yeh I agree with Kagouti, I have tried to get into Dark Souls a few times, but its just not for me, and I dont think having an easy mode would make me want to play it anyway.

  14. #14
    Member
    Registered: Mar 2001
    Location: Melbourne, Australia
    So stuff like quest location markers/way points technically make games easier. In FPS games I tend to switch them off, but in RPGs their kinda mandatory to have on.

  15. #15
    Member
    Registered: Apr 2001
    Location: Switzerland
    They're only mandatory because they're usually designed for. In Morrowind and games before it, back to the 2D Ultima games and probably beyond, you'd get characters describing how to get somewhere. Modern games tend to leave out the description and just plonk down a quest marker and perhaps even a dotted line on the minimap. For me it's less about difficulty and more about removing an actual gameplay element, because following the game's equivalent of GPS directions isn't a lesser challenge, it's no challenge at all.

    Sad thing is that you could accommodate both the people who just want the quest markers and the ones who actually prefer following directions given to them in-character, but most games just leave out the latter.

  16. #16
    Member
    Registered: Feb 2001
    Location: Somewhere
    After recently playing a lot of SS1, I really appreciate the more old school approach of ingame directions and clues rather than just a mark saying "go here".

  17. #17
    LittleFlower
    Registered: Jul 2001
    Location: Netherlands
    I guess this boils down to the different type of players.

    It is 20+ years ago that Richard Bartle wrote his paper on different player-types.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bartle...f_player_types
    But it still seems relevant.


    I don't care about the killing. I don't care about being the best. I don't want to compete with others. I don't care about challenge. I don't care about satisfaction.

    I am an explorer. And if I play with other human beings, I want to play with them, not against them. It's no wonder I've played a lot of World of Warcraft. It has the biggest world to explore. And all the PvE is with players against computer-controlled monsters. So there is a little socializing in WoW. But not in Dark Souls. Besides an explorer, I am also a completionist and a hoarder. I like to collect stuff. Even before games had achievements in them. I used to collect mounts and pets, even before that became a thing. In Dark Souls I try to get a copy of every set and every weapon in the game. Just to have it. Not for my achievements on Steam.

    I can see why killers and achievers want quest-markers and location-markers and easy quests. They want to maximize their "achievements per hour". I find that boring. They want to feel like they are making constant and fast progress. Socializers probably don't care about these things, they might play games with or without all the help.

    As others have said, it is nice if games allow you to enable/disable all the help you can get. I prefer an NPC telling me where to go, over a quest-marker. I want to walk to places through the game-world. No fast-travel. Or if there is fast-travel, make it very limited. E.g. you can go to a horse-and-carriage, like in Skyrim, or a boat in WoW. And there fast-travel. Even the road-signs in The Witcher 3 are too much for me.

    To make Dark Souls easier, I don't think quest-markers or other indicators will help much. If you want to make Dark Souls easier, you'll have to make it less frustrating for new players. Or have an easy mode that is less frustrating. A few things I can come up with quickly:
    - don't make new players lose their souls when they die twice. give them multiple opportunities to get their souls back. maybe introduce the loss of souls half-way through the game. if the player makes it that far, he'll be ready for the extra challenge.
    - don't make your health drop by 50% if you die often. if you die often, it's clear the player has trouble handling the game. making it harder isn't gonna make it more fun. DS3 was an improvement, because embered you have 33% more health. In DS2 a good player has 100% more health than a bad player.
    - don't let other players invaded new players. they're having enough problems as it is. getting ganked every half hour isn't gonna make the game more fun. again, maybe introduce this feature half-way through the game.
    - allow players in easy mode to summon NPCs or other players, even if they ran out of embers.
    - the more players die, the worse they are, make it easier/cheaper to get help. Give them cheap embers. Give them unlimited and cheap golden pine resins, etc.
    - when you play in easy mode, give the player a map at the start of the level. make it a vague map. and don't give the player's location when they are moving throughout the map. kinda like what the Thief games did. still give the player a feel of exploration, but don't tell them exactly where they are.
    - give the player a way to find out more about mechanics, without reading wiki-pages on the web. E.g. when I fight a new boss, I want to know what his weaknesses are. Sometimes you can guess ("the ice-giant is weak to fire"). But often there's no logic. Using the proper weapon or spell can do wonders. Experienced players know this, and the game gets easier for them. New players are bitten.
    Last edited by Gryzemuis; 29th May 2017 at 12:58.

  18. #18
    Member
    Registered: Dec 2006
    Location: Washington DC
    Quote Originally Posted by Starker View Post
    Dark Souls has so many things built in the game to help players that I don't see how making it any easier would even work -- the game is already balanced to the breaking point, as can be seen if you overlevel or get a weapon that's too good or use magic. It's so easy to cheese Dark Souls it's not even funny.

    The problem is that a lot of these options to make the game easier are hidden away behind exploration, so maybe what the game really needs is a quest arrow that shows you where all the shortcuts and good equipment are? Or better yet, maybe there could be an autoplay option that plays the game for you.

    Seriously, though, the game is not that hard. Really. If you don't rush into things, take your time to explore and work out the game mechanics, you can beat most non-optional enemies one on one with ease. The only real exception to this is some of the boss battles and a few tricky bottlenecks and you can get help for a lot of the boss battles.

    Would an easy mode ruin Dark Souls? No. Not any more than god mode ruins Doom or savescumming ruins Nethack. But Dark Souls on easy mode would hardly be Dark Souls any more than Doom on god mode is Doom.
    I haven't yet played any of the Souls games, but I've been playing a Soulslike (The Surge) and I'm starting to understand why the 'tough as nails' label is a bit misleading. It's tough in that the enemies are capable of killing you very quickly, and the boss fights are tough, and you absolutely will die a lot.

    But the game is designed around you dying. It doesn't just revert you to the last checkpoint until you get it right, losing all your progress; it gives you the opportunity to return to where you died and recover your accrued resources. And more importantly, everything is designed around being predictable. All the enemy attacks and boss moves are telegraphed in advance, enemy placements are fixed, and you have a number of block and dodge mechanics to avoid damage. Once you learn that the guy holding up both arms means he's about to do an overhead swipe so duck and then counter for an instakill, it becomes almost easy.

    So when the core gameplay loop of the game is 'die, learn, overcome', making it easier would basically be bypassing the gameplay entirely, like making a puzzle game where the solution is spelled out. And then what's the point?

  19. #19
    Member
    Registered: Jun 2004
    Gryz, that is a good point and it leads to the follow up question: "ruin" a game for whom?

    The answer is multi-dimensional. For developers, it most likely benefits them by inviting the players. For casual and lower-end gamers, it is also great, as it allows them to play a game they might not otherwise. Hardcore gamers are only affected IF the devs base the design around using the easy mode (i.e. lacking location info since you have quest markers).

    However, there is an argument to be made the easy mode has long term repercussions by gradually promoting the simplification of games to appeal to ever broader audiences. The whole development process of Bioshock is a quintessential example, and the "Press F to Pay Respects" joke the epitome of the potential problem.

    For me? I like a challenge, but welcome the crutches. I played Bioshock 2 relying heavily on the quest arrow, because I wasn't in the mood for location-hunting, just taking my mind off of shooting some splicers. There is a place for complex, brainy games, as much as dumb, relaxing entertainment

    Quote Originally Posted by Thirith View Post
    following the game's equivalent of GPS directions isn't a lesser challenge, it's no challenge at all.
    True, but it's a very particular type of challenge not everyone wants. As in my example above, I wanted the challenge of fighting enemies and strategizing combat, not navigating a maze.

  20. #20
    Member
    Registered: Apr 2001
    Location: Switzerland
    Quote Originally Posted by Yakoob View Post
    True, but it's a very particular type of challenge not everyone wants. As in my example above, I wanted the challenge of fighting enemies and strategizing combat, not navigating a maze.
    Sure, but that's my point: it shouldn't have to be an either/or situation. They're writing and recording dialogue for the character anyway, does it cost that much more to add a few lines that include actual description of how to get to a place? Perhaps I underestimate how much this does add to development costs, but other than that, you could have in-game directions and instructions that can be followed *and* have quest markers. What has happened, though, is that they've removed the former and only offer the latter in most games, and in RPGs especially that's something I genuinely miss.

  21. #21
    Member
    Registered: Dec 2006
    Location: Washington DC
    Quote Originally Posted by Yakoob View Post
    For me? I like a challenge, but welcome the crutches. I played Bioshock 2 relying heavily on the quest arrow, because I wasn't in the mood for location-hunting, just taking my mind off of shooting some splicers. There is a place for complex, brainy games, as much as dumb, relaxing entertainment
    I agree entirely. There are a lot of times when mechanics can be simplified or eliminated entirely to aid players, without compromising the core appeal of the game. In the case of Bioshock, exploration isn't a core gameplay component, so making it easier by telling you where to go is a bit of hand-holding to help you get to the real gameplay (the combat system).

    So, here's a rough thought for a conceptual model- reducing difficulty of a game only ruins it if it compromises the core gameplay challenge.

    For example, if Portal gave you hints I don't think it would be ruined, but if it told you exactly where to go and how to get there, thereby destroying the puzzle aspect, I would call it ruined. Or if in Mirror's Edge there was an assist that made you automatically perform the necessary parkour actions, I'd call that ruined. There's a subtle difference here from something like god mode in a shooter, where it becomes impossible to fail. You could still jump into an abyss or get shot to death in Portal or Mirror's Edge even with the 'ruining' changes I suggested, so it's still possible to fail, but it's not possible to fail at the core gameplay that defines the game (puzzles and parkour movement respectively).

    Bioshock giving you a quest arrow doesn't ruin the experience because finding your way to the end of the level isn't the core gameplay. But if you hypothetically had a maze level for Bioshock where the core gameplay became finding the exit, then having a quest arrow might ruin that experience.

    That's my working theory, so feel free to poke holes in it or point out some really stunningly obvious counter-example I've missed.

  22. #22
    LittleFlower
    Registered: Jul 2001
    Location: Netherlands
    Quote Originally Posted by catbarf View Post
    So, here's a rough thought for a conceptual model- reducing difficulty of a game only ruins it if it compromises the core gameplay challenge.
    I absolutely disagree.

    I'm going to take World of Warcraft as an example. Originally WoW was a world. A world in which you could have adventures. Travel around, fight monsters, make friends, see new areas, crawl deep through dungeons. You'd be a warrior or a mage or a priest. You'd be a human or an elf or a troll, or whatever you'd wanted to be.

    In the end, WoW was just another game. You'd level to maximum level asap. You'd be busy earning gold. Maybe playing the Auction House. You would gather the cap in valor-points or honor-points each week. You'd watch your ranking on the pvp arena rankings. You'd try to get into a good guild, because that would give you better opportunities at playing the hard content. Every 6 months a new raid-dungeon gets released, so you'd play on the beta-servers weeks ahead of time, so you'd know the dungeon inside out by the time it was released. You watch videos on YouTube to learn the best strategies for new bosses. You'd use online spread-sheets to learn how your character does maximum damage. Etc, etc. Nothing of the original game was left. It wasn't an adventure anymore. It was just farmville with Orcs.

    One thing Blizzard did was exactly what you mention. Taking things away from the game that do not compromise the core gameplay challenge. The core gameplay challenge was doing 25-man (or maybe 10-man) raids on the highest difficulty (mythic), or maybe one below (heroic). Everything else was for casuals. And was deemed not important. So Blizzard made leveling faster. They made it so that achievements are shared between characters. And mounts and pets too. Rogues used to have to mix their own poison. Not anymore, you can buy pre-made. Then you didn't have to buy poison anymore, it became a spell, and you will never run out of poison anymore. It used to be that for cooking you needed a fire (find), an ingredient (hunt yourself), and some spices (buy). Too inconvenient for people, now you can just click the button and cook anywhere, without a fire or spices. There used to be class-quests for certain classes to acquire a legendary item. Gone, you get them dropped ready-made in raids. In early WoW, for some quest-lines you had to travel half the world to get quest-items. Those quests are gone now. Every quest can be done within a 50 meter radius from the quest-giver. Travel to another continet ? No need to take the zep or a boat, teleports everywhere. Run through barren lands ? Nope, jump on your flying mount, point in the right direction, and go afk/alt-tab for 5 minutes. Some quests required assistance from another class ("can you blacksmith this metal thingy for my new leather shoes please ?"). Gone, you can do everything solo now.

    Well, you get the point.
    All the flavor removed.
    Only the core gameplay challenge left.

    Wow went from 6 million players in the west (US+EU) in 2009, to under 1 million today.
    I'm not surprised.
    I thought Blizzard had me by the balls for the next 40 years.
    But I stopped. 2 Years, 5 months and 17 days today.
    They fucked up.

  23. #23
    Member
    Registered: Dec 2006
    Location: Washington DC
    Point taken, but I think there's a distinction between making gameplay elements easier and removing them entirely. Going back to Bioshock, you'd definitely be losing something if they got rid of the exploration and just shuttled you from setpiece to setpiece through cutscenes. That's going a lot further than the quest arrow that makes the mechanics of exploration easier, but still don't do it for you. What you describe sounds more like stripping out gameplay elements wholesale until there's just the core left, and that's a little different from what I had in mind.

  24. #24
    Member
    Registered: May 2004
    Here's the Mark Brown video on this, making the point that Dark Souls already has the options to decrease the difficulty:


  25. #25
    Quote Originally Posted by Starker View Post
    Here's the Mark Brown video on this, making the point that Dark Souls already has the options to decrease the difficulty:
    Some issues with those "options" are a) you'd only know those things decreases the difficulty if someone told you (especially classes), b) much of the difficulty doesn't come from the actual combat but rather knowing the environment (traps, ambushes, shortcuts, loot) and c) you shouldn't really expect to get much ingame help from random players a year or so after release.

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