Artificial Difficulty: Opaqueness

in Advice

A lot of talk in video games lately is about difficulty. About making the game difficult because “modern games just hold your hands” and the developer wants to appeal to what he calls the “hardcore crowd”.

And I personally am not averse to difficult games. I love games that challenge me. But too often, I run into games that decide to challenge the player not by being difficult, but by just not explaining the rules.

It isn’t enough to hand the player all the tools, you also need to explain them as well. If you can do stun attacks, the player should know they can do stun attacks. If there are 8 stats in your game, your player should know what those 8 stats do.

To be fair, RPG Maker even gets this one wrong in one case.

To be fair, RPG Maker even gets this one wrong in one case.

If once a player knows how the mechanics of your game actually work, the game is easy, your game isn’t difficult, it is just opaque. Oh, now I know that stun attacks exist, I now realize that I can stunlock this boss entirely, making it trivial. That isn’t difficulty. That is just hiding a mechanic from the player.

And if I’m wandering around an area because I don’t have a clue where I’m supposed to go, that isn’t difficulty, it is just wasting time through again, opacity. But I’m sure you are thinking: But what about puzzles? That is a situation where your lack of knowledge is what is holding you back! AHA, YOU ARE WRONG!

Even in a puzzle, the rules should be easy to figure out, it is how to use those rules to achieve your objective that should be difficult. I shouldn’t be spending more time thinking about WHAT I need to do than HOW I need to do it. HOW is the difficulty, not the what. I should be asking myself “How can I arrange these conduits to supply power to that door?” not “What do I need to do to get out of this room?”

Honestly, this isn't even a workable puzzle, but I felt like I needed an image here.

Honestly, this isn’t even a workable puzzle, but I felt like I needed an image here.

If most of your game is about finding the challenges rather than engaging the challenges, that is again, not difficulty.

Do you have any pet peeves in regards to artificial difficulty? What are they? Tell us in the comments below.

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