Frustrating =/= Challenging - blackheartwolf Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Frustrating =/= Challenging

So let me begin by giving credit to TOGNick for the idea behind this blog.  If you haven't read his blog on Taking the easy way out you should.  Now then I'm not going to be talking about easy mode like he did, instead I'm going to be talking from the other end of the spectrum.  The side of those who like to play on the hard modes.

As another aside, let me say for the record that while I am 'good' at some games, I am by no stretch of the imagination some sort of gaming savant.  I have to work hard to beat these levels a lot of the time, and have to learn how to beat them as I play through multiple times.

Now then, there is a trend that has come up in gaming lately where a lot of games are taking their hard mode to levels where it stops being a challenge and starts becoming frustrating.  Where it becomes a chore to play at that level because it seems like you're reloading at a checkpoint/save every ten seconds while trying to get by a single part.  Most recently this happened to me in Killzone 3 where I must have played the same minute and a half part close to twenty-five times.  Because for that minute and a half every enemy was able to kill me within seconds and if I didn't move perfectly I would always die.

It came down to a point where it was no longer about my skill but more the luck of the situation and what the AI would make certain enemies do.  On a few occasions I was killed immediately starting the section as a jet pack trooper would jump immediately over to me and rip me to shreds with his machine gun.  And if I did manage to get by that I would get killed immediately following the first mini platforming segment of this section.  The only way to get by that segment would be to land on a 4 inch square of a platform that the enemy could only see me if he was not standing in one particular spot  of his platform, and also provided that his friend was not watching that platform either.  For that one section I probably died fifteen times alone.  And none of it had to do with me.

In that situation there was not a thing I could do to affect the outcome.  It was entirely dependent on how the AI acted for each run.  This scenario was repeated three more times throughout the section, where if an enemy AI did something unexpected, I died.  Eventually I did get by it, but it showed me exactly why people shy away from the challenging difficulties anymore.  Because in the end it's not a test of skill, but of patience.

Take that section into comparison with the second to last section of Killzone 2 (A game that by the way, was probably the best example of challenge without frustration that I have played ever.  If you died, it was because you made a poor decision more often than not.)  In that section you face an endless storm of enemies that only stop spawning when you reach a certain point in the map.  That section essentially becomes a test of skill because while it forces you to advance to beat the level, you have to be good enough to find the way to do it.  The enemy always acts the same way, so it becomes on the player to figure it out and exploit the holes that the enemy gives them.  It's fair, it's straightforward and most of all it's a test of skill.

That I think is the biggest difference between the two.  That when a game is challenging it becomes about the skill of the player, and when a game is frustrating it's about the luck of the player.   It's something I would like to see developers work on personally.  Where they never design sections like Modern Warfare 2s Brazil section where enemies would pop out of windows from around corners and kill me before I even know I'm being shot at.  Not saying all enemies have to send me a telegram whenever they are going to attack, but if I'm going to die in a matter of three shots I'd like to have at least a chance to get into cover.  Make more sections like Valkyria Chronicles, where it takes strategy and planning to beat.

As always I love to hear feedback from the community, and would like to hear your thoughts on what separates the two, as well as some sections/games that you thought were distinctly one or the other.

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