The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for bloodily bursting from the guts of an enormous Kieron-eating monster because not even death itself can stop me from compiling a weekly list of interesting (mostly) game related reading from across the week while trying to avoid linking to a pop-song. I am your Games Journalist Mesisah. [Do we edit this, or is it funnier just to leave it? – The Rest Of RPS]



  1. Alexander Norris says:

    God damn those games journalism mesisahs.

  2. Matt W says:

    The problem with game difficulty (IMO) is not that games are too easy or too difficult, it’s that not all gamers want the same thing from their games. Some people want a challenge, other people want an experience. You can’t please both unless you think carefully about doing so (easier enemies do not fix that annoying platforming section, for example), and you can’t think carefully about it until you realise the distinction that needs to be drawn.

    (Failure to recognise this also seems to be a problem to varying degrees at all levels of the online gaming “community”, but that’s a semi-separate discussion.)

  3. Larington says:

    Kieron Gillen (Killen?), the chest burster of the games journalism world.

  4. Senethro says:

    Remember kids, always chew your food properly or you’ll have cows bursting out of your chests!

  5. Larington says:

    I tried replaying Strife not long ago, hit the first “spawn enemies at you” moment and thought, nah the difficulty is still a bit off in this.

    No wonder I never completed the shareware demo years and years back. Still, at least they tried, ya know?

    • Casimir's Blake says:

      I’ve been playing Doom long enough that Ultra Violence with fast monsters is the only way to challenge me. However due to the monster speed I’ve found that Doom – at this setting, and with approrpiately balanced levels such as the utterly marvellous Plutonia 2 – has a perfect difficulty for me. I save and reload a fair bit, but always make progress.

      The point is, funny that games difficulty gets mentioned in the same article as Strife, seeing as Strife’s difficulty IS off. I loved playing through it, but got to a point (the “vat tank” type area) where I’d just ran out of ammo and couldn’t go anywhere without cheating. Didn’t bother to continue. Perhaps I’m less used to the weapons than those in Doom, but it still could do with some serious tweakage. An example of a game with very iffy balance.

  6. Lack_26 says:

    Darn, Perseus 9 beat me to the punch. I thought I wouldn’t bother emailing you another New Scientist article so did a forum post about it instead(linked below). Ah well, there’s some interesting discussion in said thread about it.

    link to

    Anyways, it’s certainly good to see RO getting more coverage, most people I know go ‘what?’ when I tell them about RO.

    • Persus-9 says:

      I e-mailed it in but it seems that Perseus 9 beat me to the punch as well. Damn Perseus 9, I hate that guy.

  7. roBurky says:

    Re: Quinns’ article.

    I don’t remember any particular section of Metal Gear Solid 2 being particularly weird or confusing. The whole thing was just fucking bonkers.

  8. Ginger Yellow says:

    There’s not a lot in that EA/DICE filing that wasn’t on the Chaos Edge blog, but still, it’s fascinating stuff. I still can’t get over how amateurish the fakes are. I mean, the guy’s been doing this for nigh on 20 years, you’d think he could mock up a half decent Edgemagazine cover by now. But, no, he decides to mimic a magazine renowned around the world for its design by putting together a horribly ugly assortment of items, including an image of the PSP that isn’t even the same build of the PSP as in the actual cover. Still, it’s a lot better than the fake cover that he put together when he claimed to be selling Edge magazine in the US

    • Arnulf says:

      About the EDGE vs. Mirror’s Edge thing, one registration number was filed in January this year. I believe they were finally caught red-handed. I hope they’re getting their comeuppance at last.

      And I’m on EA’s side for a change.

  9. Alexander Norris says:

    I have to say, today’s been an odd day. It started out with me feeling utter shite from having watched Falling Down when I woke up, then took a distinct turn for the better when Quinns’ embloggenings made me reinstall Red Orchestra and practically forced me to write a 500-word comment while listening to Fear of the Dark (the album) really loud; and I’m now bobbing my head and typing to the bassline of Fear of the Dark (the song). I guess I have Quinns to thank for unshitting my weekend.

    I have this to say for the Sunday papers: sometimes (just sometimes) they make me feel like I’m actually secretly also a video games journalist. I guess we can chalk that one up to the Internet’s capacity to empower your average user via blog comments or something if we’d like.

    Oh; how’s Hell this time of the year, Kieron?

  10. Daniel Klein says:

    I was really excited about Offworld at first, but I found myself checking it less and less, and it was always one of the folders in Google Reader that had a high number of unread posts when I hit the Mark All As Read button. That changed recently, and now I know why: there really aren’t any new posts from them. Pity.

    On the other hand, I once read about this really interesting sounding place on Offworld. Rock, Paper, Giant Space Laser or something like that. I like that place.

  11. Rob says:

    That filing was a fun read, feels strange but in this case I wish EA’s legal team all possible success.

  12. Flimgoblin says:

    Quinns needs to watch the 1979 Tv movie version of All Quiet on the Western Front :)

  13. GreatUncleBaal says:

    I’m all in favour of legal documents which include pictures of Snoopy and Garfield to try and make points. That’s a strange one and no mistake.

  14. Gap Gen says:

    Brooker’s previous Mac rant was more justified, I think. Like he says, OS X is an excellent operating system, and it’s a shame that the kind of bullshit epitomised by the Mac vs PC adverts puts him off. It’s pretty difficult to see how Microsoft got Vista so badly wrong in comparison to what Apple have done with OS X, though Apple does have the advantage of being able to rely on supporting only a certain range of hardware, plus being able to charge buckets of money for everything they make.

    My opinion is that OS X is excellent, and better than Windows in terms of design, but Steve Jobs isn’t the Messiah, and anyone who buys all of Apple’s hype is guilty of the same fanboyism as people who propagate the PC vs console nonsense or the 360 vs PS3 guff.

    • Kadayi says:

      The only one who promotes conflict is Steve Jobs and his goons. There is no real competition between Apple and Microsoft, because MS aren’t a PC hardware manufacturer. If MS wanted to crush Apple with advertising they almost certainly could, fact of the matter is Apple is good for MS because its keeps the anti-trust lawsuits at bay (lets not forget when Bill Gates famously kept Apple afloat with a $150 Million cash injection after Jobs was reappointed as CEO).

      Is OSX a better OS than Windows 7 or Vista? Tbh given my experience as a Mac user by day and PC user by night I’d say there isn’t a whole lot in it. Sure OSX has some nice bells and whistles, but your severely limited in terms of hardware options as well as software choices. For an office environment they are good in that everyone works to a standard (there’s a way to work rather than flexibility) which is useful, but for home personally I like choice in terms of the software I run and the hardware I can use. Sure I could Bootcamp a Mac Pro, but I can’t swap out the processor down the road, or fit a graphic card of my choice and for me that’s a complete turn off.

    • Vandelay says:

      I’ve only ever used a PC, so can’t comment on which is better.

      In regards to the advertising, I would say Microsoft’s recent “I’m PC” adverts have been particularly targeting Mac’s cool Mac vs. uncool PC ads. The would suggest Microsoft do consider themselves in competition.

    • Gap Gen says:

      “(lets not forget when Bill Gates famously kept Apple afloat with a $150 Million cash injection after Jobs was reappointed as CEO).”

      Heh, I didn’t know that. That said, when I was talking about the OS I meant the OS itself in terms of design, rather than the machines themselves or the software available for them. Like you say, a lot of it is down to preference, Being someone who likes the Unix command line, Macs do have an advantage (though you can install Cygwin on Windows).

    • Kadayi says:


      I’d say it’s more in the vein of having to simply to combat the all pervasiveness of Apples unrelenting campaign of gross misinformation and hate. Still when Apple they have (paid) shills like Brian X Chen of Wired working for them it’s an uphill struggle. Check out some of Brians recent articles for Wired: –

      link to

      “Windows 7 is an OS practically made for pirates”. Where as all Apple users are saints ;)

      link to

      “Windows 7 isn’t cheap” $120 whereas snow leopard is only $30 “(no mention of the imac of powerbook required to run it though)

      link to

      “Yes Apple is charging you for a new OS with no discernible new features, but its not I repeat, not a service pack”

      With unrelentingly biased hacks like that running around everywhere what can you do? In a way Apple reminds me a lot of the monster that is Fox News, they seize on a lie and repeat it add infinitum to the point that people start believing it. When the first “I’m a PC, I’m a Ma”c ads came out they were amusing, because there was a degree of truth to them. However the jokes worn increasingly thin as the lies have grown bigger. Our IT storage room is full of plenty of Macs that didn’t ‘just work’.

      Sorry got me on a rant.

    • Blast Hardcheese says:

      No no no. In the Mac VS PC ads, they have a hipster douchebag movie star as a Mac, and John Hodgman as a PC.

      Because I know Hodgman is reliably funny, I really don’t think for those of us that know of him (hell even those that have merely watched the daily show) are going to think those ads are negative.

    • Casimir's Blake says:

      For what it’s worth (not much but hey), I was one of these Windows 2000 die-hards until around 2006 (!!) when there were just too many good reasons to move to XP (not least of which better latency with audio cards but that’s a whole ‘nother topic).

      7 is the first Windows since that I’ve enjoyed using as much. I’ve been on the RC for a few months now and despite some small issues, it’s been fantastic. I’ve found that I can finally use my PC the way I want it without it falling over: Firefox, Thunderbird, Foobar2000 and Pidgin all open all day, and switching between Ableton, Doom and Paint.NET without having to reboot. Sounds like the sort of thing OSX would handle in its sleep, right? Well I never felt XP was capable of it without odd things happening, or even blue-screening after a while.

      It might have taken MS until now to “match” OS X for reliability but I was glad to get my preorders in for 7 – it’s currently the most un-sucky Windows available, put simply.

    • Tei says:

      I have played games with Windows NT 4.0 and It was totally Ok. Maybe a bit of problems to configure midi, but who needs midi? Windows 2000 and XP adds nothing. The move to XP was forced by Microsoft not releasing new versions of DX to Windows 2000. I have tested Windows 7, and I laught at the need of 640 MB just to have a notepad open. I can run Windows NT 4.0 with the same features, and It only need 24 MB. Windows 7 is a bloated monster from hell.

  15. Gnarl says:

    Is the Monster going to be okay?

    He’s… he’s going to be okay, isn’t he?

    • Senethro says:

      Monsters have it worse than Token Black Guys for being killed off as expendable characters. Just another clear example of the anti-monster bias in our society.

  16. Gap Gen says:

    As for games being too easy, I think that part of the problem is that in Lewis’ first example, it’s not difficult per se – it’s just convoluted. Like John Walker’s argument goes, games should be as interesting as possible, rather than just being hard or take N hours to complete. Portal was great precisely because it pulled off a great idea in as little time space as it needed to develop the idea and finish it in a satisfying way.

  17. Legionary says:

    Woo hoo, go EA! Wait, did I just say that? Miracles will never cease.

  18. TCM says:

    EA goes after Edge games…Two wrongs make a right?

    • Senethro says:

      EA was upgraded from Evil to Slightly Bad guys when they released all those new intellectual properties a year back (Mirrors Edge being one of them) to try and break out of the Sports Title ’09 cycle. They weren’t commercially successful despite ranking between not bad –> almost great, somewhat proving that gamers don’t really want innovation and that they’ll wait 5 years before trying again!

    • Gap Gen says:

      As I understand it, EA and Activision switched places a while back. EA is now the big company that makes innovative games as well as its cash-ins, Activision now solely makes cash-ins.

    • frymaster says:

      The splitting up of EA into different units (crank-out-squels-machine, crank-out-sims-addons-machine, casual, and new stuff iirc) has done wonders, as there is now a unit of the business devoted to bankrolling and incubating new stuff

      combined with the first hint of a climbdown on the war-of-escalating-DRM (though, boardly speaking, they are still a pro-DRM company) EA could have interesting times ahead

    • Dominic White says:

      I actually think EA’s standard DRM now is pretty fair. You do need to activate it online, but you can remove activations at any time, and have any product activated on up to five PCs.

      Once something is activated, that’s it. No disc needed in the drive, no checks online.

      The EA downloader thing they have going still blows goats, though. Seriously, no unlimited downloads? Having to pay extra to extend your download time? Fuck that noise.

  19. Spoon says:

    Lewis Denby’s article on making games easier almost made me rage. Hasn’t this generation already catered far enough to casual gamers? If he wants to talk about bad artificial game lengtheners, he should talk about how everyone is making open world games now just to put a bunch of crappy minigames in between the actual content. Most console games’ easy modes are laughably easy. If he is struggling with that, he should probably hire a friend to play the game for him. Also, yay Strife.

    • RobF says:

      In a word. No.

      In more words.

      Why is it an issue to want to make games more inclusive? What’s so wrong about wanting to let more people play games and enjoy the wonders of the medium? We managed it fine in the Eighties for a while, we threw it out to the hardcore in the nineties. We’ve a long way to claw what we lost back.

      What’s wrong with casual gamers? Why should they be a subclass of people *allowed* to game?

      It’s not a black and white scenario. It doesn’t have to be hardcore/casual. Games can cater for many different ability ranges without many fundamental changes to how we design and create them, sadly, we just don’t more often than not.

      I’m happy to see that’s changing. Forza’s new one button driving mode, Namco’s Star Trigon. All good stuff. More playing about with difficulty levels – making easy very easy. Even throwing in the ability to choose a God mode from the off. Stuff every studio or designer can add if they plan for it from the off that in no way takes away from the wants and desires of the hardcore gaming elite or the self proclaimed proper gamers.

      Choose acceptance and inclusion and let people play games. As it stands we’re putting needless barriers inbetween people and games to appease a minority of people. We can change that, we *should* want to change that.

    • qrter says:

      It’s not about casual or hardcore, it’s about having options. Give people the option to play a game the way they want to – be it ‘vanilla’ or otherwise.

      It’s curious that no one bats an eyelid at the idea of mods doing this, but when it’s suggested developers take these things into account it suddenly spells the End of Gaming As We Know It.

      Ah, say some people, but when such options are there, it’ll be hard to resist using them. If you have no control over your body, I’d imagine it would be.

    • RobF says:

      “Ah, say some people, but when such options are there, it’ll be hard to resist using them. If you have no control over your body, I’d imagine it would be.”

      Yup. As someone who’s tested this theory I feel reasonably comfortable in saying that this scenario where people have a hair trigger to hit the button to make everything go away doesn’t play out at all.

      Those who want/need the options use them, those who don’t carry on as they were. It works out pretty well, I reckon.

    • Vinraith says:

      A game that lacks challenge isn’t a game, it’s at best an interactive television program or the like. If people want that, let them have it, but that’s not really the problem. The problem is, I want a challenge, and I don’t want to have to artificially create one by ignoring some aspect of the game (like a skip button), as that removes all satisfaction from the endeavor. When hardcore gamers get upset about this kind of thing, it’s because in practice it very much IS hardcore vs. casual. Most casual games are absolutely useless to someone that plays games for a challenge, the more of the industry that’s preoccupied making them the fewer games are made for us. The more franchises that have provided a challenge in the past but decide to cater to a more casual crowd and reduce that challenge the more game franchises cease to be fun for us. This is a fight for the survival of the kinds of games we like, and you can bet we’re going to be extremely vocal about it.

      Look at the NES era, then look at now. If things continue at that rate, we’ll all be playing nothing but the PC equivalent of Candy Land by the middle of the century, and I say that as someone that felt games were largely too hard back during said NES era.

    • Vinraith says:

      To be clear, having calmed down a bit, easy modes are fine. Hell, if it would make people happy, put a level below easy that’s just “god mode” in case it’s too much trouble for them to find/type in a cheat code. I can’t imagine the kind of person that would use it, but who cares? Feel free to add a skip button to easy mode while you’re at it, just keep it the hell out of the higher difficulties.

      But here’s the thing: BALANCE the higher difficulties. One by-product of easier games has been lazier hard modes, when they’re present at all. As Kieron and Quinn were discussing at one point, some games pay hard mode so little mind that it actually becomes impossible due to poor design. You’d get a lot less hostility to easiness and accessibility in games if it wasn’t so clear that it’s the greater design priority, to the outright exclusion of properly balanced challenge on the other end.

  20. Lilliput King says:

    All a little bit academic, though, as you can’t play games on a mac. :-(

    Felicia Day article was nice, but curiously poorly written.

  21. Lewis says:

    People may be interested to know that my GSW column was the first in a two-part thing. The second one will go into more detail about stuff and people’s responses. The first was mainly to get people talking, which seems to have worked, as plenty of people have since told me I’m awful.

  22. Dreamhacker says:

    I look forward to hearing the monster who ate Kieron Gillen and Kieron Gillen, Mesisah of Gaming together on the same RPS podcast episode. :D

  23. Kirian says:

    As pointed out by Dara O’Briain, why do games have to lock away sections of content? Let us take the rhythm games, or GTA and other open-world games. Why stop some people getting to content that they have paid for? You could say ‘it’s in the nature of games’ and other such things which are all perfectly correct, but that’s what higher difficulty levels are for. Play it on a higher difficulty level.

    I’m all in favour of the Miyamoto-proposed system of having chapters and allowing gamers to flit between them at will. Complaining something is too easy is just a brand of snobby elitism. Unless it doesn’t have difficulty levels and is, in fact too easy. BUT! Not all games are aimed at you, nor at challenging you and your high level of skill. There should in fact be games that are not for you

    • Quinns says:

      The new Alone In The Dark featured a DVD movie style menu that you could use to skip back and forth to any part of the game you wanted. Which is to say, if you didn’t like a bit you could skip past it. It even had specially edited cutscenes showing you what had happened in the game up to that moment.

      The experience of playing the game and using it is very, very odd.

    • Quinns says:

      That game had a boatload of cool ideas, actually. I should really write something about it for someone and for money.

    • Kirian says:

      Yeah, I heard that Alone in the Dark was a bad game with a lot of excellent, forward-thinking ideas. Unfortunately I only really heard the ‘bad game’ bit.

    • Stu says:

      It’s interesting to look at Beatles Rock Band in the light of Dara’s comments; all songs bar one are unlocked in Quickplay mode from the get-go, and selecting easy difficulty automatically turns on No-Fail mode. I don’t know whether this is just because the game is catering to a wider market than the other Rock Band/Guitar Hero games or whether these changes will eventually make their way into the no-doubt-inevitable Rock Band 3 (via Lego Rock Band, I imagine).

      On the other hand, while the game itself is pretty easy (simply because there’s a lack of widdly-widdly guitar shredding in the Beatles’ back catalogue), grinding it for Achievements will take a bit longer — and this is where, in my opinion, Achievements can shine, because they’re used here to provide an additional level of challenge: scoring a 350-note streak in this song, or gold-starring those songs, or — and this is my favourite in terms of making you play the game differently, which is IMHO the best kind of achievement — playing all the hammer-on/pull-off notes in that song without strumming.

  24. Pace says:

    To see a giant squid is to be attacked by a giant squid, the saying goes.

    Heh heh.

  25. Lilliput King says:

    “Complaining something is too easy is just a brand of snobby elitism. Unless it doesn’t have difficulty levels and is, in fact too easy.”

    No shit!

    “BUT! Not all games are aimed at you, nor at challenging you and your high level of skill. There should in fact be games that are not for you”

    Well then I guess I just won’t… buy or play these games? That doesn’t really sound like a brilliant idea from a publishing perspective. Similarly, I would not be buying the games because they would be… well there it is again, too easy. What you’re saying is “You shouldn’t call games too easy unless they are too easy because they are made to be too easy for you!” which doesn’t amount to much, really.

    • AndrewC says:

      But people who do want easier games will want to buy them and, if they are a sizable enough market, profit shall be had. To understand this argument properly you have to understand that you are not the centre of the universe.

    • Lilliput King says:

      Oh indeed. The spiteful forum-dweller in me had to question the pair of tautologies, however.

    • Kirian says:

      Woah there, not what I meant. What I meant is that if a game has no difficulty level and you find it so easy that it’s worthless, you’re probably playing a game that isn’t aimed at you. That was just a disclaimer to say ‘Well, games can be too easy, d’uh. That’s not necessarily a bad thing’.

      Kind of like me going to see the next Tarantino. I look at his films and see a lack of anything but ‘coolness’ that’s easy to digest, but I don’t bitch that he needs to make more challenging films because his films are not for me. Nor should they be. If I start to say films should challenge me more, I’m being a snob, and to be honest, a bit of a c[Snip!-The monster that ate the editor].

      So I think that it’s possible for games, being unique as they are, to appeal to all people within a single game without any of this ‘LTP N00B’ ‘No Fskin A.I.!’ crap. Demon’s Souls can be Demon’s Souls and I will love it, Lego games can be Lego games and I will love them too.

  26. Kadayi says:

    EA have done their work on Langdell. That Paper makes for some amusing reading. I think this EDGE saga might be coming to a fairly swift end.

  27. Leeks! says:

    I loved that monster-eating mini-drama. Perhaps that’s the solution to RPS’ financial woes? Games journalism embedded with meta stories. It could be a whole new thing. You could write a manifesto.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      AP and YS did a lot of this kind of stuff back in the day. The final issue of AP had a whole conceit where each of the writers were killed off by the four cyclists of the apocalypse as you worked through the mag.


    • Larington says:

      Yeah, big shame there isn’t more of this kind of thing across games journalism. Just because the games analysis needs to be to a certain standard doesn’t mean the writers can’t have a lot of fun with the words. This is probably why RPS is one of the few games related sites I visit with any regularity (Aside from ones targetting game design/development of course) because theres more to the writing than just the basic requirement of quality.

    • Leeks! says:

      Word, Larington. Word up.

  28. Wooly says:

    Very poetic article on the Silent Cartographer. I think, if there’s some sort of afterlife, I’d like to go there when I die.

  29. Xercies says:

    If you had games as too easy they would just be films, then just make a film. I can see the problem on both sides to be honest. A Game is something different then a film, there has to be some challange to it right? Otherwise put it on autopilot and have people watch a robot playing the game. Its quite weird though, games should be opened to everyone yet not everyones ideas are helpful. Like I hat games on the Wii for just being sets of minigames and not having a story or world to explore.

    This needs more depth to be honest.

    • roBurky says:

      My take on the difficulty debate:

      A game can be challenging without requiring a level of skill to experience it.

      This was part of the idea behind Reset. Avoiding the missiles is challenging. As more missiles enter play, it becomes more and more difficult to dodge all of them. If you get hit by one, you get some very clear and strong negative feedback as you lose complete control over your ship for a moment, and then have to adapt to damaged controls.

      But you cannot die. There is no way for you to outright fail the game and be told you weren’t good enough and have to start again. That would just throw away whatever sense of flow and enjoyment you had built up through playing to that point.

      For a lot of games that are built around providing a single linear experience, I think death and failure and prevention of progress can only harm the game’s flow. A game needs negative feedback for there to be challenge, but that feedback doesn’t need to come in the form of a game over screen.

    • Vinraith says:


      Prey tried that, and it was bloody awful. Death being an annoyance, rather than a real setback, pretty much eliminates the point. You might as well just put the player in god mode and let them walk through the game, it’s basically what they’re doing anyway.

      Sometimes I think the best solution to all the whining about games being “too hard” really is for every game to simply have a mode below easy. When you select it, it skips directly to the “you win” screen, because that seems to be the goal here anyway.

    • Vandelay says:

      I disagree with this. There is a difference between not having a challenge and being on autopilot. I think a good comparison of this would be Assassin’s Creed (or new Prince of Persia, supposedly – not played it) and Prototype.

      Assassin’s Creed was very much an autopilot game, I pushed forward and my character did all these amazing parkor-esque moves. He did all this without my intervention and it felt very much like I was watching a film and not part of the action. This is bad, as you say.

      In Prototype, I’m actually in control of the character as he manoeuvres around the city. A lot of the specific moves, such as wall running and gliding only require one very simple button press to pull off and are not complex at all. I’m in control and get a great sensation of the movement of the character because of this. Moving around the city is the simplest element of the game, but is probably the best element. This is good.

      So, the difference between a game and a film is not challenge, but the sense of your own involvement in the world on the screen. Giving the player a sense of control of a character, to feel sensations that the character is mostly likely feeling is the basics a game should strive for. Ultimately, they should create a world that reacts (or gives the impression of reacting) to the actions of the player. In most cases, challenge is fairly irrelevant.

      Or, it could just be a case of some people want different things.

    • RobF says:

      Prey had the best of intentions, bless it. Unfortunately tying the failstate to a bland and repetitive mini game likely wasn’t the smartest move. Certainly towards the end, I didn’t want to see the pit of ghostly demon souls again for the rest of my existence. Minter’s Sheepie Save mechanic or Weapon Of Choice’s “Death brush” are far more successful implementations of the principle, IMO.

      Rather than reach the halfway house that Prey did, a more practical solution would have been to just implement an option to select God mode from the off.

      Still, if folks don’t try these things, we’ll never know why they don’t work too well.

    • roBurky says:

      Somewhat related: An interesting thing I’ve noticed is Valve seem to do their best to keep the threat of death hanging over you in the Half-Life 2 episodes without letting you actually die.

      Have you noticed that the amount that any health pickup gives you is dependent on how much health you have at the time? If you’re not much hurt, the pickup doesn’t give you much. If you’re badly hurt, it brings you back up to fighting strength.

      It’s almost impossible to avoid getting shot in Half-Life 2, but the health pickups are everywhere as well. This means you’re often being brought to the brink of death and back again. If you’re doing badly, any accidental step on a health blob dropped from an enemy will keep you going. If you’re doing well, picking up the health blobs won’t bring you back up to full health so you still feel the tension of being somewhat hurt.

      I’m not saying Half-Life 2 is a particularly good example of difficulty pacing. The fucking striders in the original game can just fuck off, for example. But I think it’s interesting the way that mechanic suggests they have decided that the threat of imminent death will enhance the player’s experience, but actually killing the player is something they as designers want to avoid.

    • Vinraith says:

      I died at least half a dozen times in Ep 1 when the damned lights went out in the garage. I can’t be the only one.

    • Vandelay says:

      Following on from what roBurky is saying, I seem to recall hearing that HL2 also would alter what was contained in a crate depending on the player’s situation. If you were low on health, it would be health pack. No ammo for the shotgun, it would be some shells. Much better than the majority of games that make you wait ages for what you actually want.

    • frymaster says:

      re:HL2 crates/medipacks:

      yes, while I doubt they were all like this, when placing crates using the map editor you have the option to make them dynamically choose what they want to be based on the player’s status at the time

    • Mman says:

      “The fucking striders in the original game can just fuck off, for example.”

      What’s even the slightest bit out difficulty-wise with the Striders? There’s pretty much always cover or some other way to evade them, along with an ammo crate (the challenge being getting to them). Not to mention they are the last “real” fights in the game so them being slightly harder is justified.

    • luminosity says:

      Vinraith: I do believe they patched the game after release when their stats showed people dying there a lot, to tone it down. For the record, that part took me ages to get through ;/ but I think the failure here was of testing rather than intention. They didn’t want players to die that often, they just somehow failed to pick it up in testing.

    • DMJ says:

      Prey seemed like a step in the right direction. While its specific implementation was underwhelming, the acknowledgement of the quicksave mentality and incorporating it into game lore was a good idea. Look at Aion, and its claim that the reason why players are special is because they are immortal and they come back after dying.

      Prey also had a good idea in that when you die the mini-game lets you earn a better continuation from your death. If you’re quick (and lucky) you can respawn with full health and spirit. If you’re slow or unlucky you get to spawn with minimal health and spirit.

  30. Fumarole says:

    Happy birthday, welcome to 34.

  31. Vinraith says:

    I’m disappointed that the by-line isn’t “The Kieron Gillen That Killed the Monster That Ate Kieron Gillen” or something to that effect.

  32. St4ud3 says:

    I agree with Lewis. Atmosphere- and story-driven games should not be hard at all in easy mode. If I die 10 times in a row to the same enemy and have to watch cutscenes again and again I’ll just delete the game. I think the easy mode of Batman was pretty much perfect. Nothing too hard and you still got a thrill, when many enemies with guns showed up.

    If I want to die 100 times to the same jump I’ll just start up “I Wanna Be The Guy” ( link to ) and have extremely much fun, mastering the game. BTW, this is my all time favourite jumpnrun game and everyone should at least try it :D

  33. Dante says:

    Exactly, some people seem to have a problem with games not being challenging though, even thought they’re not likely to play said easy mode.

    • Vinraith says:

      See my post aways up the page. Games designed around easy modes tend to have broken hard modes, and then there are all those games that don’t actually HAVE difficulty settings.

    • RobF says:

      It’s easier to ramp down than it is up when it comes to balancing stuff, yeah. Unless you take the old route of “well, no-one is going to see the end anyway” but I’m not sure you’d get away with that mentality these days.

      Taking a more reductionist view to difficulty levels (and keep dropping down as far as you can, there’s no such thing as “too easy” as an option) would go a long way to solving quite a few problems rather than getting wrapped up in precariously trying to weight everything at the last minute. Obviously, this isn’t applicable across the board but for most FPS and the likes, it’s a more sensible system to employ and has the benefits of not munging up the harder difficulty levels as you’ve designed around that.

  34. aoanla says:

    Vinraith said:
    Sometimes I think the best solution to all the whining about games being “too hard” really is for every game to simply have a mode below easy. When you select it, it skips directly to the “you win” screen, because that seems to be the goal here anyway.

    Except that it isn't the goal here. The goal is for people to experience all of the content in the game (or, at least, all of the narrative content) – skipping to "you win" would accomplish the same effect as leaving the game "too hard".
    The problem is that (and this isn't intended as a criticism) you appear to be the kind of person who sees "challenge" as an essential component of video games. In many types of games it is – indeed, in games without narrative, it is essentially the only component. Therefore, when faced with someone saying "this game is too hard, I want to see the next bit", you assume they just want to win – to remove the challenge is to remove the point of the game. In fact, increasingly, people are simply prioritizing the "narrative" of the game over the "challenge", meaning that leaving merely homeopathic quantities of challenge in the game for them doesn't actually ruin it.
    (So, the solution is an extra-special "I just want to see all the content" mode, below Easy? You'd never click on it, Vinraith, since you probably play all your games on Hard…)
    edit: oh, after writing this, I see you've calmed down, and that we generally agree now. Ho hum, eh?

    • Vinraith says:

      Yup. I suggested in another post up the page just putting god mode below “easy” on the mode select screen and being done with it. That’s fine, actually. The problem is, when games are designed leaning towards the easy end of things, frequently game designers don’t bother to properly construct a “hard” mode and you end up with something broken and unplayable at that end of the scale.

  35. aoanla says:

    Vinraith said:
    I died at least half a dozen times in Ep 1 when the damned lights went out in the garage. I can’t be the only one.

    You're not. Note that one of the first updates to Ep 1 to be pushed by Valve over Steam was an "improvement" to the garage section to make it easier.

    • Vinraith says:

      Really? I haven’t played Ep 1 in ages, I must have played it before the update.

      When I went back and played through HL2 on hard (original play through was on normal) I stopped before the episodes specifically because I couldn’t imagine getting through that sequence on a higher difficulty. Maybe it’d be possible now. Cool.

    • RobF says:

      Ep1 was a weird one for me. It seemed to take all the broken bits (rather, bits I found broken) of HL2 and mung them together – from the “long way round” map design to the odd awkward spike like the garage segment.

      Ep2 on the other hand, final difficulty ramp with the strider/car battle aside went in the opposite direction and certainly for me, felt far more enjoyable and exciting to run through on any difficulty level.

    • Vandelay says:

      Regarding the altered difficulty on the garage section, it was in fact the particular part where you have to have wait for the lift to arrive. On the originally released game, it was huge difficulty spike there. No other sections of that chapter were altered. Personally, I didn’t find it too bad, although it was certainly harder than the general difficulty of HL games.

      I actually find that whole section to be a nice take on co-operative singleplayer. Rather than just having an NPC run around with you, you actually were involved with aiding her fight, shining your flashlight on the enemies. It made for a nice way of allowing the player to interact with Alyx.

      I know many really hated Ep1, but I thought it continued the HL2 style of constantly giving you interesting new gameplay to keep things fresh. Although Ep2 is obviously the better of the two, I think I probably had more enjoyment from Ep1 because it had a fair few novel moments, whereas I felt Ep2 was starting to show the age of the HL2 series (final strider battle excluded.)

    • Vinraith says:

      Yeah, the lift-wait sequence was a nightmare when I played, if it hadn’t been Half Life I probably would have stopped playing after the fifth death to an invisible enemy there. That kind of thing is fine when playing on hard, but on normal it really was a completely unreasonable difficulty spike.

  36. Caleb says:

    Whoa. EA vs. The Edge. Anyone remembering Darth Vader choking to death Officer Whatsisname on another starship ?
    Ubervillain smashing petty villain and yes, we all rooted for the Ubervillain.

  37. AndrewC says:

    The ‘Easy’ thing: it keeps coming back to the ‘games aren’t all one thing’ position. This is one of them teething problems games are having as it grows up. No-one expects a cookery book to provide the same things as a novel or a history book – we’ve learnt that they are for different purposes and are consumed in different ways. Yet ‘games’ are all ‘games’. This stuff will keeep coming back and back til we sort it out, and I guess arguing about it is one way to do it.

  38. Bremze says:

    @Kadayi: The “Mac users don’t pirate” is the best one because HUGE piracy is one of the reasons you can barely see games being ported/made for OSX.

  39. Quirk says:

    Rosewater’s subarticle on chess is pretty comprehensively wrong (speaking as a former competitive chess player). There’s no rock, paper, scissors metagame at any significant competitive level in chess. Even if you’re deploying a strategy directly designed to oppose the strategy of the player you’re facing (e.g. building a big pawn structure vs letting your opponent build a big pawn structure and attacking it from the flanks), you’re not guaranteed to even have an advantage; all that’s happening there is the battleground for tactics is being prepared. If you prepare wrong, or your tactics slip, you lose.

    Openings provide room for people to negotiate towards something with which they’re both equally familiar, or unfamiliar. If you do manage to get someone completely lost in a variation you know well, sure, you might even manage to punch well above your weight that game and beat someone significantly better. But no serious player lacks a fairly detailed range of responses to all the likely openings he expects to face; this isn’t an easy thing to do.

    … sorry ’bout that rant, it’s been bugging me since I saw the comment referencing it on the Costikyan piece on randomness and mentioning chess specifically. Rosewater’s take on his own area is of course rather better informed. But thinking all games reduce to rock, paper, scissors is a common mistake among modern strategy designers; actually, a good many of the abstract non-random perfect information strategy games “reduce” to a vastly more complicated version of something like noughts-and-crosses/tic-tac-toe, a version way way too complicated for us to solve over the table. And then rock, paper, scissors doesn’t even show up in the metagame.

  40. Matt says:

    The Mac hate article perfectly sums up my views on the subject. It’s a big reason why I choose to struggle with Linux, where installing any new piece of hardware is potentially a huge, weeklong puzzle of pain.

    For some additional fun, show this to a Mac user. I did it once to one of my coworkers that was trying to tell me how funny those terrible Mac vs. PC ads were. The dude blew a gasket. He went off on me about how long he used Windows and how terrible it was and how he TOTALLY wasn’t using it just because it was more hip.

    My penance for that? My fiancee has spent the last three hours playing with her new iPod nano. She’s already deemed that it’s the coolest thing she’s ever owned. I feel like I’m in Invasion Of The Body Snachers.

    • Thants says:

      “White people like Apple.” This is what passes for satire nowadays? The guy you showed it to blew a gasket? Look, this frothing hatred of a different OS doesn’t make you superior. It just makes you look insecure.

      No one really gives a shit if you use windows. You don’t need to pretend people who use a different product than you are such idiotic simpletons that decade-and-a-half old criticisms like “Macs are expensive”, or “They don’t automatically make you more creative” are enough to destroy their tiny minds.

  41. M.P. says:

    That course content is a bit soft and fluffy – how bout making the kids read some proper investigative journalism like (in keeping with today’s theme) the chaosedge blog or that Eurogamer article that first popularised the whole Langdell story? Or business journalism like what the folks write? I love reading stuff like A Fool In Morrowind, but it’s not the sum total of all games writing.

    Re: the whole Charlie Brooker Mac debate, a lot of you seem to miss the point – it’s not the OS itself that he’s complaining about (although I personally have a few complaints about its supposedly orgasm-inducing UI), but the sheer smug arrogance of Macophiles coming up to complete strangers and trying to “convert” them. The “monk” metaphor is very apt, in fact, as they provoke the same gut-wrenching disdain in me that members of aggressively-proselytising religions do. Why do some religious groups, like Scientologists, Jehova’s Wittnesses, or certain brands of born-again Christians get a particularly bum rap? Well, ok, the Church of Scientology does in fact do some dodgy stuff, but the others are as pretty much as harmless as every other religion, yet are widely-disliked because of their focus on missionary conversion, which includes stopping people in the street, going door-to-door, or clogging your mailbox with unsolicited mail. Just as with Macolytes (or Macophytes, take your pick), religious missionaries don’t have any evil intent, and their churches don’t have any sinister masterplan of world domination: they just love the smell of their own farts so much (to borrow a South Park metaphor), that they don’t understand why you object when they break wind in your face.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      It’s not a games journalism course. It’s a games criticism course.


    • d4niel says:

      As Kieron said, its a game criticism course, not a journalism course. (Disclosure: I’m in the class.) The class is more designed around academics coming to gaming, and not gamers coming into academics or gaming journalism and as such it must reflect a broad variety of gaming discourse. As the first time a class like this has been offered at my university, it’s kind of experimental and meant to apply to a broad variety of students – forcing it into “just journalism” would alienate a great many people. Most of the class is made up of gamers, but gamers that don’t necessarily want to be a gaming writer – a few want to be teachers, a few needed an elective, and some want to become university-level academics in gaming and in the criticism field in general. Personally, I’m shooting for gaming-journo and academic, but the latter is a ways off just yet.

    • Alastayr says:

      But how far are these two apart?

    • h4plo says:

      That really depends on your perspective. As an academic, gaming journalism is merely a single facet of the scholarly pursuit of understanding video games. Really, it’s nothing more than another medium in which they are viewed. Gaming journalism, generally, concerns developer thoughts-on-games and an individual’s thoughts-on-games. In the academic field, this is expanded to how societies, cultures, and smaller groups deal with video games, and some of the broader implications that gaming may make.

      Groups like Gamasutra offer an interesting blend between the two, although I find most of their more engaging works to be more of the academic slant than the journalistic slant. This is because, often, I find Gamasutra articles to explore more complex issues related to gaming, and how they interweave both internally and externally with regards to the field. The key difference here is that, by far and large, I believe that gaming journalism is fundamentally about providing the consumer or user of games with more information about them – and academic studies of games tend to be far less concerned with this than journalists.

      (I’m curious if the above opinion will make me something of a pariah: that gaming journalism is fundamentally about selling or not selling games, and games-studies is fundamentally about an understanding of games-as-a-whole. We’ll see.)

  42. DethDonald says:

    I was hoping the Giant Squid article was the pop-song. Giant Squid is an amazing post metal band.

  43. Wooly says:

    The only reason I use windows is because A, PC’s give you better value for your money imo, and B, Macs can’t play most games!

  44. TeeJay says:

    Re,”Games should be easier”: Yesterday I finally played World of Goo, which was a brilliant. However I was slightly disappointed that I was able to play all the way through in one evening and only a very few levels caught me out. Of course there is are the “OCD” targets which I have found very hard, but replaying levels simply to chase a score doesn’t have the same pleasure of discovery and narrative as the first play through, and I don’t usually go back and replay whole games.

    It wouldn’t have been too hard for them to include easy/normal/hard by simply varying the requirements for each level (like they do for the OCD setting) and after a few levels on easy I would have turned the difficulty up – I find it more satisfying to progress through a game having to battle for each level. I don’t even mind having to consult gamefaqs or youtube if I get completely stuck at very hard bits (I had to do this for parts of Braid for example). I’d prefer this to blowing through great levels at high speed and no really getting that much game time out of them, nor being very challenged.

  45. Dominic White says:

    On the subject of difficulty levels, pretty much everything designed by Hideo Kojima is THE example that other studios should take notice of.

    In the Metal Gear Solid games, the easiest settings are pretty much a casual sandbox of spy sillyness. You’re often given perks like infinite-ammo stunguns, near-infinite inventory capacity, enough health to endure a thousand bullets and the enemies are blind, deaf and dumb.

    On the highest settings, you’re never given anything impossible to do, but the challenge is infinitely higher. Enemies are smart, capable, and sometimes even downright twitchy. Their eyesight is solid, their aim good, their guns hurt like hell. To top it off, there’s a hojillion secret objectives that give reward-titles or even unlock new content, which you can ignore totally or aim for as a personal goal.

    Some encounters even scale to difficulty. On the easiest setting in MGS2, the multi-mecha battle that Quinns mentions is only against three of them – a single wave. On the highest settings? Not only are they individually much deadlier, but you have to wade through wave after wave of them, and it seems almost neverending.

    Kojimas Zone of the Enders series (hyperkinetic giant robot lasery action games) are just as well handled on the difficulty front. On the easiest settings, you’re just showing off. Your enemies are weak and frail and stupid. On the highest settings, they’re agile, they’re smart, they’re capable. They can stand up to you toe-to-toe, work better as a team, and generally make your life hell. And both ZoE and MGS games all have about 5-7 difficulty levels, so there’s something for everyone.

    On the note of a game series that doesn’t make the player choose up-front, but instead molds itself to playstyle is going to be unknown to most people on this forum. Hell, most people anywhere outside of Japan – the Super Robot Wars series. A long-running series of strategy-RPGs which effectively amount to epic crossover fan-fiction. Every giant heroic robot to have their own TV shows team up against cosmic evils. Only you start out with pretty much an unstoppable army of heroes, and it’s a cakewalk.

    Well, that’s the idea. The average player who just wants to see explosions and follow the plot doesn’t have to do much in the way of thinking. However, every mission has a particularly heroic bonus objective like ‘Wipe out all regular enemies and the boss IN THAT ORDER by turn 6’. They’re fairly tricky by themselves, but if you regularly complete these bonus objectives, the difficulty level rises. It adjusts accordingly to how much the player wants to show off and be a badass. And if the difficulty ever goes too high? Well, it’s never too hard to beat the basic objective, so you can just miss out on the bonus, and the difficulty will work its way back down.

  46. aoanla says:

    Anonymous Coward said:
    The Mac hate article perfectly sums up my views on the subject. It’s a big reason why I choose to struggle with Linux, where installing any new piece of hardware is potentially a huge, weeklong puzzle of pain.

    I have a macbook from work (policy, apparently), and I have linux at home. Honestly, after spending a week moaning about OSX when I first got it, I currently can't find much to choose between the two (other than that Wine seems to work better on linux than Crossover does on the Mac).

  47. We Fly Spitfires says:

    Secret World and Charlie Brooker. Awesome articles, thanks for the links :) His last statement was genius. “I don’t care if you’re right. I just want you to die.”.

  48. Adventurous Putty says:

    yes yes yes yes YES

    I was WAITING for the goddamned Edge people to sue EA over Mirror’s Edge ever since I first heard about them in that Eurogamer article over the summer. Now EA’s megamoney lawyers are going to wipe the floor with these imbeciles and make them cry like the little weasel bitches they are.

    It will be quite fun to watch.

  49. Gabanski83 says:

    Re: the Scribblenauts point:

    I read the first paragraph:

    What’s the best way to get rid of a bothersome fly? It’s one of the first questions asked by Scribblenauts, the DS game that grants its player access to a dictionary of more than 30,000 nouns with which to solve puzzles. Type the word “Swat” into the game’s dialogue box and a sketchpad representation of the object will ping onto the screen, ready and prepped to squish the insect.

    And instantly thought of a team from SWAT 4 blowing the door open and pepper-spraying the fly into submission. Made me chuckle.

    • Gap Gen says:

      I am so going to do that. Might make an interesting project – seeing if you can complete entire puzzles using SWAT teams.