Thursday, September 25, 2008

Day Eleven: The Difficulty

Posted by Nicolas (permalink)

Today, someone wrote an interesting email to me, asking this:

Just one small little thing, I know I can't be making descisions for you, but it's something from all us real pure gamers. I'm seriously bored of all these easy games out there, games are getting easier and easier every day! And if they add a "hard" mod, all they do is making you do less damage and make the enemy do more.. it's seriously lame.

Come on, the entire fun of a game is trying hours to solve a puzzle and stuff, this world needs more hard games! I saw you saying many times that you were going to make yours easier, and I was like... :(

I know there's gonna be advanced maps, and it was the only part that was kinda fun in Portal.. still too easy in my opinion. [...] I love challenge, and let's hope you can give us some good!

That was a really interesting question, and here's my answer:

You put your finger on the thing that annoyed us the most during the development. I think I'm gonna use your question and my answer as today's blog entry on our website.

The overall difficulty was something we though about really early in the pre-project brainstorming. It had to be harder than Portal, because we were all kind of bored by the really low difficulty of Portal, but it also had to be feasible for people that were not that used to the gameplay mechanics. I think this is the global problem with the video-game industry nowadays, you must make money, so you must sell your game to the most numerous group of people. The problem is that the different profiles of gamers are not compatible. If you make your game harder, newbies won't play it, and if you make it easier, hardcore gamers will be bored and will likely download the game instead of buying it. In this situation, editors tend to make games easier, because newbies are far more numerous than hardcore gamers. That's a choice, but I really don't see why they're whining because of warez afterwards.

Fortunately, we don't have this kind of problems, because our game is free. I won't say that is doesn't matter if the mod is played by a lot of people or not, because you know, we worked hard on it. We'd really love to see it played all over the world by different kinds of gamers. But we couldn't just say "fuck off" to every beginner and only restrict our public to hardcore gamers. On the other hand, we thought that after a year, everyone that played Portal would have gained a certain level of mastering of its gameplay, although some of them may have forgot everything. That's why the first rooms starts a bit slowly (but still faster than Portal's ones), and the last ones are really difficult. We are aware of the fact that beginners won't possibly make it to the last level, because starting from the 15th-16th rooms, it starts to get really serious. But well, at least they enjoyed the first 15 ones. You know, it's like we're back to the old days, if you're stuck but still want to see the end, we won't make the game easier for you, there's cheat codes for that.

When I say that I'm currently making things easier, it means that it was really too hard for 90 or 95% of gamers. Either too hard or too frustrating. We all know that frustation is a good thing in Portal-like gameplay, but it should not be too frustrating either. A frustrated player just stops playing, thinking he may never make it. When each one of my testers is blocked at a certain place, I'm not just saying "you're pathetic, it's easy but you don't watch were you're supposed to watch". I take it on me, and rework the area to make things clearer by adding arrows or things that catch the player's attention. And if the challenge is really too hard, I'm tweaking things a bit without changing the whole puzzle.

To conclude, the game isn't as easy as Portal, but not as hard as some of the ridiculously complex maps made by the community during the last year. We must not forget that a lot of people enjoyed Portal because they had to use their brain to figure out what to do, and then just do it. I personnally hate levels when you know what you must do, but not how to do it (or you just don't manage to do it because it's tricky or something).

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