Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Should story based action games be difficult?

So I’ve been playing some relatively modern and mainstream games lately, and it’s obvious they are all very-much story based and designed to be completed.
The thing is some parts of some of these games seem to unnecessarily bog-down the progression by being harder than the vast majority of the game.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I like arcade games with a high difficulty curve, but these are action games, designed to be completed within a certain time-frame.  I think the problem occurs when you get a boss stage or level that seems to grind the game by forcing you to play through it again and again before you can progress the story, or when a certain part of a level is suddenly and unexpectedly hard. If you aren’t used to hard game-play it soon becomes infuriating rather than challenging, chiefly because it is holding you up from progressing in the all-important story.
I know some people have complained about mainstream gaming becoming increasingly easier and designed to be completed (the walk-through game, as some have called it) but if it is a story based game I want to be able to hack/slash or shoot my way through that story without coming up against an inappropriately placed hard grind – whether it be a boss or a particularly difficult part within a level. I can see how this could be interpreted as bad level design.
I don’t think the idea of a ‘walk-through game’ is inherently bad. Surely it’s the experience that matters most, and these games are generally designed to take a set number of hours to complete. So any sticking point is just that, a point where you are stuck and unable to perform the main goal of progressing through the story.
Am I taking the story part of these games too much to heart? Are there people who play these solely for the experience of playing? If so then it mutes my point slightly, but not so much as to make it redundant. Personally if I want a technical challenge I’d go for an arcade-based experience, not a vast sprawling game that bills itself largely on its immersive story aspects. I apologise if it sounds like I’m getting at one particular game or series here, I’m not. But if you have a game in mind it’s probably because if follows this pattern.

I do like hard arcade games, but I don’t particularly like a high level of difficulty in a story based action game, where the sudden difficulty just detracts from your progressing in the story. I’m not saying this is particularly new problem ether.
Some of my favourite past games series are also guilty of this – especially when you encounter overly hard end-of-level bosses, most of which just descend into a continual grind until you eventually get past the sticking-point, because that’s how I invariable see these encounters. And surely that isn’t a good frame of mind to foster.
An extreme example of a story-based ‘game’ could be seen as something like ‘Dear Esther’ where it is all about the story and pretty-much no ‘game’ (if by game you mean shooting, twitch reactions,  or traditional puzzle based gameplay) – not necessarily a bad thing when it’s done well, but obviously not for everyone. On the other hand, imagine your frustration if there were an ‘Under Defeat’ or ‘Ikaruga’ level hard arcade section slap-bang in the middle of a GTA game, the frustration level for most players would surely cause a few broken controllers…

I know ‘difficulty level’ is always going to be a subjective thing and for that reason there are generally various levels of difficulty setting on most games, but that doesn’t negate the bad level-design of (relatively) too demanding sections suddenly appearing in platform games, or for the inappropriate and game-stopping appearance of an unexpectedly hard or complex  ‘grind’ type boss. I feel relief and some annoyance when I get past these types of situation, not the sense of accomplishment I suspect the creators intended. I think it’s important to make the distinction between the overall difficulty setting of a game and that of the unexpectedly complex, difficult to understand, or otherwise demanding sections within it. It’s all about balance, what can be seen a ‘normal;’ in one game could be interpreted as frustration in another…

So what do you think? Should a story-based action game have a setting where most people can easily ‘walk-through’ the action, and finish the story? Or do you think a game is all null-and-void without the ‘challenge’ of harder than average sections?


  1. I think new developers doesn't know what they want to do sometimes. For me, an iconic example of story based game (in my life) was Metal Gear Solid (for PSX/PSOne).

    Nobody can deny it's a story driven videogame, maybe it's even the first video game with deep film characteristics (omitting interactive movies like Gabriel Knight II or other graphic adventure game). It was an action game for sure, and the plot was important even to resolve a couple of "puzzles", but in some way, it let you 'feel' like solid snake.

    It was important to kill Sniper Wolf, and was a bit hard, but the battlefield was set by the plot, and that boss fight was "important" for the story. Hell, even you feel a bit bad for her after you shoot her to death.

    What I want to say with this is it's possible to create 'hard' story based games, but you need obstacles related to the plot. Evade as much possible the inconsistencies between gameplay and plot. i.e.: Sonic the hedgehog was a platform gameplay oriented game, but after Sonic's Adventure development the focus of the series changed. That generated inconsistencies between gameplay and plot, the cinematic sonic was completely different from gameplay sonic. The first was even FASTER than the later.

    I don't know, sometimes I feel this frustrating feeling comes from different departments working without communication about the final product.

  2. I agree that if something is ‘hard’ in the story then it should be a significant point in an action game. I think the ‘they don’t know what they’re doing’ aspect comes in when an action game seems to begin to grind for no apparent purpose, e.g. when a particular part of a level just seems too difficult because of its bad design, and not because it is pivotal or important to the plot, a badly designed boss often elicits the same reaction in me.

  3. I see what you're saying, but in TES (Skyrim cough cough) It's just wrong.

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