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).

14 comment(s)

Comments

  September 25, 2008 5:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said :
Well i agree about the difficulty problem, but there is something i would like to add...

The difference between tricky and logic... I mean, that I'd like harder games but I mean harder to solve, but not harder as a tricky thing.

I'm not sure if You understand me (sorry 4 eng) so I'll try to write again:

I don't want to play extreme puzzles like (ex.) short timings to place portals to gain speed and then place exit to fly trough a lot of sentries - I mean - reflex, or rather manual handling.

I'd like to play thing's that require thinking like in adventure games, those ones that I can leave and come back another day. Puzzles that require thinking and are not extremly "killable" (huh :| )

I hope You understand me, I know that for now there is less to change but best of wishes for what are you doing!

R.

  September 25, 2008 6:31 PM, Blogger Nicolas said :
You may not want this.
But people may want it.
We can't make a different game for every people.

  September 25, 2008 6:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said :
I think trickyness and logic are BOTH important. You want the game to require some skill in areas. such as repeatedly flinging yourself to gain speed. Even the original portal dev's knew that. But the most difficult levels shouldn't be the most difficult ONLY because of that. They should really make you think about the map itself and different places to put portals to complete it.

I think you guys are gonna do just fine at this point no matter how difficult it is. I'm really glad some levels will be so difficult. but not all. Half the fun is experimenting anyway.

I think you guys should put in a map that's basically just a playground with lots of stuff in it just to mess with.

  September 25, 2008 6:45 PM, Anonymous Matti said :
I completely agree with Nicolas and the first commenter here. Portal was great because you first had to analyze what's in the room, what you can do with it and what you need to reach. Then, you had to be creative and find a solution, which you could then try and see it how it works in action. At that point, you could see whether you were right or whether you missed something. If you were wrong, you just began thinking again and tried something else.

I also tried a few community maps as they called it. The problem with these is indeed that you may see the solution quickly, but the execution is terrible hard.

To give an example, there was a level in Portal: The Flash Version Mappack where you had to place a portal in a pit to gain momentum to get over a wall, then place a portal behind that wall so you could fall back in your portal and get out behind the wall. The problem there was that you still had to cross an electrified floor. That means, first you have to time your moves very exactly so you don't touch the floor while it's electrified, and then you also had to predict how you should aim your mouse and make all sorts of turns to get in the right angle when going through your last portal. I ended up noclipping over the electrified floor and just continuing, which is actually a shame since a lot of levels of the map pack were a really creative challenge for players and I really enjoyed playing the Flash Version Mappack.

I'm really happy to know that you developers think the same about this and are taking this in account while making the levels. I can't wait for October 10th - seriously, you should get a nice bunch of mirrors since we will be downloading this! :-D

  September 25, 2008 6:52 PM, Blogger Nicolas said :
Don't take me wrong though.
I didn't said there will be no "trick challenge" were the goal is to perform the action in a limited time. But it's not the whole point of the game. As I said just before, "We can't make a different game for every people", so we must introduce a bit of everything for everyone.

  September 25, 2008 7:19 PM, Anonymous savage said :
"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)."

^I cheered when I read this.

I would say that if you don't know -how- to do it, you don't know what you have to do. I will however cheer wholeheartedly on the 'can't manage to do it because it's tricky' front. I once downloaded a Portal map where the solutions were -immediately- evident within five seconds of walking into the room, but were so "touchy" in their implementation that you would spend 30 minutes just trying to get the -exact- angle/momentum/whatever to shoot yourself through that TINY little passageway from the ONLY portal-able surface in the room. I gave up and deleted it still having not 'beaten' the second puzzle (though I had figured it out almost immediately).

Another big problem I've seen are 'split second' timing puzzles. Now, I love a puzzle with a time limit, it gives you a sense of urgency that in my opinion adds to the excitement of the game, but when you have a puzzle that is PHYSICALLY IMPOSSIBLE to complete in anything -but- the alotted time... I'll give another example from the portal mapping community. I played a map that before you even got the portal gun you had one of those puzzles where you press the button and it opens a portal. The portal opens about 6 feet behind the player but disappears almost immediately. The 'solution' is to inch towards the portal, find the spot as FAR AWAY FROM THE BUTTON as you can possibly get and still push it, and then jump BLIND backwards through the portal just before it snaps shut (because turning around takes too much time). This was supremely aggravating.

"You want the game to require some skill in areas. such as repeatedly flinging yourself to gain speed. Even the original portal dev's knew that. But the most difficult levels shouldn't be the most difficult ONLY because of that. They should really make you think about the map itself and different places to put portals to complete it."

This fellow has hit it pretty close to the head. To me, if your players realize what they're supposed to do, if they -see- the way they have to get there, and then beat their heads against the wall trying and failing over and over again... that's not a 'challenge', that's poor game design.

I applaud you for realizing that what makes a puzzle enjoyable is the act of PUZZLING OUT what the answer is, not 'threading a needle at fifty miles per hour' like some seem to think. I am now looking forward to Prelude even more than ever.

The one thing that I -will- note is that as a MOD to Portal, everyone who downloads your game -will- have played the original Portal, and if your target audience is "people who are ready for a challenge after beating Portal" you don't necessarily have to hold people's hands through the beginning since it is most likely that they've already played Portal and understand the concepts.

  September 26, 2008 12:58 AM, Anonymous Ph0X said :
Yea, when I was writing that mail, I was also thinking about it. It's really hard to find the place where it goes from FUN to ANNOYING. And it's different for every single one of us.

I guess there's not much that can be done. Maybe do like you did and make it progressivly harder and harder, but some people really hate leaving a game unfinished.

  September 26, 2008 4:36 AM, Blogger Sean said :
I jumped to this page to say what it seems that alot of people have said for me. The thought process in Portal was the most fun. I've played map packs where it was about getting something just perfect to not hit the ceiling and still jump over a ledge so you won't die. These are frustrating and not nearly as interesting and rewarding once you have completed them. Part of the reason Portal took off was because it wasn't really about trial and error, it was about thinking things through. I hope you keep that spirit.

  September 26, 2008 12:22 PM, Blogger Zero1328 said :
"Tricky" is more of a word referring to difficulty. I think the first anon commenter is confusing "tricky" with "skill".

The point of the advanced maps is to be complicated, and that can't be helped. Portal is essentially a puzzle game, so skill should not be required. The part where skill is a factor should only be in speedrunning the advanced maps.

  September 26, 2008 9:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said :
While i agree that winning a challenging level is awarding, i think is important
to have these beginner levels to teach the playes how it works.

A big part of Valve sucess is that they try hard to teach the player how the mechanics of the game works.
Because a great part of the enjoyment is to win the game.
So the learning curve is important, in my view.

A good solution for this dilema, that i see

is to have a walkthrough for the hardest levels so that those players who are not up to the challenge can also finish the game and have the good feeling of conquering the game, i think.
Anyway, the said solution seens to be very good.

  September 26, 2008 9:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said :
I mean, by walkthroug, i want to say a downloadable file with a guide that tells how to win the more challenging levels, so that all players can finish it.
Thanks in advance for the Mod.
And good Luck for you people.

  September 29, 2008 7:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said :
"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."

Choosing to spend your money on a product that you use (or play) is a choice, and I don't see why the warez kiddies are whining because of DRM afterwards. Frankly, it's no wonder software companies are employing more and more draconion DRM. I sort of wish that you were selling your mod, I'd love to pirate it just to give you a taste of your own medicine.

  September 29, 2008 7:07 PM, Blogger Nicolas said :
@ last Anonymous:
Too bad you can't pirate it, huh?
I think you're missing a point in your grand speech. Warez kiddies are NOT whining because of DRMs, because pirates will ALWAYS break DRMs not matter what. That's honest people that whine about it. People that feel so disappointed and betrayed that they may never buy a game again. Think about it for a second.

  September 29, 2008 11:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said :
My view is:
The "general gamer" probably won't even hear about this, let alone play it. Many average gamers probably haven't even played Portal. So the audience that will be playing this will be your "hardcore" gamers.
But, if your average gamer did end up playing Portal, then they probably didn't beat it THAT easily. Therefore they won't have any interest in playing this mod.

Just my opinion. Can't wait for it to be released.

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