My weird blog about the evolving difficulty of games.

From around the beginning of this console cycle, developers began, slowly but surely, dropping the standard “Easy”, Medium” and “Hard” difficulty levels in favor of a more, in theory, tailored gameplay experience. Such examples of games include Gears of War, Metro 2033, Dust: An Elysian Tail, and F.E.A.R. On one hand this is a very good trend as it provides more options for players to choose the difficulty that is more appropriate for their respective skill levels and it allows the developers to have an “extreme” difficulty unlockable for those that beat it on the “Hard” difficulty or the equivalent thereof. On the other hand, it has made the difference between the difficulty levels more nebulous and in turn has made some games’s “hard” mode the new “normal” and the “easy” mode more-or-less obsolete to anybody familiar with gaming.

This new shift is difficulty norms has lead to some games almost being required to be played on the “Hard” difficulty in order to get the best experience possible for that specific game. Take, for instance, Metro 2033, a survival horror game which is purposefully designed to make you count every bullet as you fire it and scavenge the battlefield like an animal in order to ensure your survival. The game makes finding three cheap bullets off a dead body feel like Christmas and it is very effective in making it feel like you are surviving rather than Superman with a gun on a battlefield. By putting this game on Normal or Easy rather than the other three higher difficulty levels, the sense of survival is severely diminished and the game feels different as a result, and much to it’s detriment. This is further illustrated on the game’s website in which it describes the normal difficulty as the following: “A challenge to new FPS players and an adventure for experienced players. Ammo is found in large quantities and you won’t run dry easily. Enemies do not usually pose a major threat and are fairly easy to kill.” Again, that is for the normal difficulty level even though, in some respects, it reads similarly to how an “easy” difficulty level description might read. This difficulty is also emphasized in the shooter genre as shown recently in Halo 4 where the “Heroic” difficulty is strongly encouraged in the difficulty description. This effects the gameplay in a rather significant manner as the typical “shooter puzzle” of the Halo series is in full effect in this entry. While I can see one just banging their head against the wall until they eventually progress as I occasionally do in Halo, there is definitely something to be said for experimenting with different weapons, different up-close or more long-ranged approaches or deciding to use vehicles, turrets, etc. until you conquer the relatively smart artificial intelligence. The “normal” difficulty (in comparison to the “heroic” or infamous “legendary” mode) is, while not a total cakewalk, significantly easier than the two aforementioned modes and the means of dispatching enemies is much easier than it would be otherwise, and I would argue, less satisfying of a gameplay puzzle as a result.

Games can vary so much from product-to-product that, even with the increased level of difficulties, choosing the easiest difficulty is, occasionally, the difficulty to play on regardless of how mind-numbingly simple it may be. A fantastic example of this is Spec Ops: The Line, a game which is to be played purely for how it handles the story, and characters therein. The gameplay is pretty generic third-person shooting with basic, poorly controlling squad mechanics that I never used because they, to put it simply, blow. That is not to say the game is bad by any means, but rather, that it is generic and kind of boring, and I say the latter adjective fully realizing how facile and vague it is. By playing on the easiest difficulty, one is experiencing the part that is worth experiencing while minimizing the part that is not worth experiencing unless you’re achievement/trophy hunting. The same can be said for games such as the Call of Duty series, specifically, Modern Warfare 3. The parts that are worth experiencing in that game are the batshit, insane moments of major landmarks blowing up, enormous conflicts in major cities with you in the midst of the chaos shooting ten guys a minute in the face while practically invincible. Pushing up the difficulty really doesn't add anything to the gameplay other than punishing you for running into grenade which you could have done nothing about or reminding you that you should have taken cover for longer. The “recruit” mode gives you nearly unlimited ammo and the ability to run across the battlefield and individually stab enemies at will, and directly opposed to the survival instinct Metro 2033 requires, this game turns your into superman and it is an awesome power experience. The larger number of difficulties has turned this typically “easy” mode into something that might as well be called “movie experience” at this point and while that scares even me (it terms of the gaming industry in general), it definitely works for some games.

The increased number of difficulties has even changed the way I, personally, play video games. In the past, I would typically play the default “normal” difficulty setting as I never really preferred a challenge or I wanted to play as the developers intended. Recently, however, I’ve found myself desiring to play on the harder difficulty settings for reasons that are ill-defined to me, but that i suspect to be a combination of the encouragement to play on higher difficulty settings and a desire to have more satisfying gameplay experiences. An example of this is Alan Wake, where I played on Hard where I would usually play on normal but because of a truer “survival” experience and wanting to unlock the “Nightmare” difficulty, I challenged myself and succeeded. Some other games I have played on higher difficulties include: Metro 2033, Max Payne 3 (I even went free-aim along with the hard difficulty), Dust: An Elysian Tail, F.E.A.R. and Dead Space 2. Again, when I was younger, I wouldn’t have even considered doing such a thing, but because of these new polarizing difficulty options, the choice is becoming more and more important to tailor to what I desire from the game in question, and speaking in generalities, I have been wanting more challenging, and subsequently satisfying gaming experiences.

What does this say for video games moving forward? Well, it is widely believed that video games, as a whole, have progressively gotten easier as the industry has grown towards a wider audience that may not play video games regularly and need more help. For the most part, this rings true even though there are the obvious exceptions including The Souls Series, and as I have very recently experienced, They Bleed Pixels. I see video games, as they grow even more towards mainstream adoption of the medium, become even more hand-holdy. I may not particularly enjoy the fact they will be doing that, but who can blame them? Looking back at a game like the original Fallout being released now (with a budget on par with the big games of today) seems insane with it’s level of difficulty and explaining virtually nothing to the player besides basic exposition (yes, I am well-aware of the Wasteland kickstarter but I am almost positive it won’t be nearly as unforgiving if it ever gets a release). With the player base expanding further and further, theoretically, all developers can do to assist the new player base is to make games that aren't difficult for them to get into. While I believe that big budget, popular games will get, somehow, more streamlined, my hope is that we will see a continuation of games expanding difficulties so that the core fanbase can play a game that might cater to their skill level more accurately. A fantastic example of this is Hitman: Absolution. Regardless of what you think about the game as far as core design principles are concerned, it’s hard to argue with the fact that they did an admirable job in having multiple difficulty levels (from “easy” to “purist”) so that the players new to the series could ease their way into the pool while those familiar with the series could jump into the higher difficulties right off the bat.

In the ideal future I create in my head, all games cater to people who play games everyday and discuss them online with strangers with the same frequency. However, realizing the business aspect of the industry and what developers have to do in order to connect with a growing mainstream audience, it just isn’t going to happen that way. My genuine hope for the future is that games will continue along the path of expanding the difficulty levels to cater to multiple audiences simultaneously, so that all the crazy people reading this rambling, verbose blog can be satisfied with the remake of their favorite game from their childhood, and the average-Joe Walmart shopper can be satisfied with that new "Demon’s" Souls 2 game he heard was okay from a buddy of his.

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A surreal wednesaday night. Also, watercooler discounts!

Generally, crazy things do not happen to me on weekday night, and for three-fourths of the day this was going to be no different. Around 7:45 P.M., I went out for my nightly run to continue to stay in shape for the Cross Country team at my school. I was at about 70% (at this point, it's just minutes away from darkness) done and feeling great, when suddenly I saw a dog running around the streets. Now, due to my horrible, horrible empathy towards lost domesticated animals and those whom lose them, I stop, and search the animal for any sights of tags, and about a moment after this happens this fucking dog darts out into the middle of the road as a car is coming by and damn near gets hit. The first car goes by, understandably not comprehending what is going on. I check the dog again, and I can very much tell that this dog is sweet, and also has no idea what it's doing outside of home, but alas, has no address or means of telling where she is from. After this occurs, the fucker darts out into the ever blackening street once again, stops in her tracks, and stares at the stopped car. The two stare at each other for a few moments, and the driver soon makes a remark about the dog being like a deer in the headlights. I briefly explain what's going on, and he pulls over to the side of the road, but the bicycle lane of the road is narrow, so he is taking up a major part of the road.

At this point, I reiterate what I was doing, and he, too, is willing to help with the current situation, even though I had the slight feeling he really didn't want to be doing this, which I felt bad for, but I didn't have any means of transportation, a phone, and there is no way this dog would have followed me home with how spastic she was being so I needed help, and he was there. We checked again for any sign of address or anything of indication of her base location, and again, nothing. Suddenly a van pulls up and apparently knows the kid I am with; she calls to him by name, and he looks at her with surprise, and I am surprised that we might get some adult (for the purpose of perspective, I am seventeen years old) assistance. I notice the name she uses and introduce myself as Niko and he asks me where I went to for elementary school, and it turns out that we went to school from Kindergarten through fifth grade. To even think about the amount of cars that could have stopped on a weekday evening, and I get the one guy I know is surreal, not to mention the adult he knew that drove by conveniently as well. We decide to go from house to house, and as soon as I think for a quick second, I realise- "Oh shit, I cannot believe what I just got myself into. This will be fun. Looking for a piece of hay in a needle stack sounds like a great time." I attempt to shake off that feeling while I grab the dog by the collar, and check the nearest house while he parks his car.

When I do this, the dog is just waiting with bated teeth for me to loosen my grip and to subsequently go get hit by a car. A man comes to the door with supposedly his wife behind the screen and I inquire about if this was his dog or if he knew whose it was. He, of course, has no idea, and says he has cats so he can't take it in even though I never even asked for the latter. After he apologizes for not being able to help and goes back inside, the dog goes nuts, and starts attempting to eat what I believe is the food for the cats. She then tries to run away from me, and he does so by slipping out of the collar and running into the man's backyard. At that point, I'm just grateful she's not under a car so I leave her for a brief moment as I see the friend from fifth grade coming back. I explain what the dude said and as we go to another house nearby, the van pulls up again, but this time I see a boy of our age get out and inspect the dog. We introduce ourselves, split up, and go look for more houses where the really creepy shit happens.

We look down a street where we come across an old man and ask him about the dog or where she might belong, and he doesn't know nor does he think where we think she might belongs is the correct place so GREAT, WERE STUCK WITH A DOG AND INFINITE PLACES TO SEARCH. We ask another strange old guy, and he says no to the questions we have asked countless other people. We then go to the house next door where he suspects that this person owns a dog so, clearly, a promising lead. We check out the house, don't get any responses, and the strange old man goes to the house for us, and tells the person that took a while after we had given up knocking, to answer, and tells the lady to check to make sure her dog isn't missing. Well, holy shit you guys, it isn't missing. At this point, we ask a dude walking on the street (I see him often as I run) and he is weird, and creepy, and creepily tells us we might have to drop him off in a far away place but they might not be open so you guys are fucked. We say our thanks, but then he starts blabbering on about the deal he could get us on a water dispensary unit in comparison to top retailers for a good five minutes, I am obviously not listening to this insane creepy guy at all and I am looking around mouthing "WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?" while he briefly looks away. I am clearly interrupting him to tell him thank you for your help (the equivalent of "Fuck off weird guy."), but not trying to be a dick about it.

After that is done, everyone is flabbergasted by how many weird fucks we have run into, and we have almost no idea what to do. The lady decides to take in the dog for the night, and will decide what to do in the morning. I thank everyone for their help, we say our farewells, and I plan on attempting to get ahold of the lady so I can help in whatever she needs regarding the dog. Fuck, it's been a weird night, but I am glad that some people stepped up to help because, alone, I had almost no other choice but to leave it, and have it likely be hit by a car or just be another lost stray dog. My moral compass takes me to some strange places, folks, and this has been a weird ass night.

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Apparently, I make Bombcast references in my sleep.

So, after staying over at a friends house last night, I am the first one to wake up. I move around and trip over my friends leg and wake up everyone in the room. The next second they are telling me about how I was talking all last night, and at this moment, I have no idea what they are talking about. I ask them what I said and amoung the many downright bizarre things, two of the things I said were:

"I would like to order a medium pepperoni pizza." and this is from the pizza discussion in, I think, last weeks discussion, which I listened to earlier that day. The other thing was:

"I want to get the clean faces mod." This is the really coincidental one because, at the time, one of my friends was playing Skyrim on the PC and typing in all the console commands and he tried to engage in conversation with me when I said that because, for some reason, I talk in a perfectly coherent voice even though I was sleeping and he thought I was engaging in conversation about Skyrim with him.

Not, a bombcast reference, but I also at one point, got angry and asked: "WHAT THE HELL IS THAT NOISE?" on account of my friend, who is a heavy snorer, and when my other friend, who was still playing skyrim, told me it was *enter name here*, I felt really bad afterwards and sorry I got angry and fell back asleep. I said all of these things with my eyes closed, and my face in the "heavily sleeping" face. I don't remember any of this. I also made references to not wanting to go to basketball practice (which I haven't played since 8th grade), and there probably is more but I don't remember at this point. So yeah, weird night. Anyone else have some weird talking-while-sleeping stories or something at least somewhat related to share?

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Fuck throat cancer.

Literally a few seconds ago I was in the middle of great Left 4 Dead 2 game of scavenger, and I received the news that a very dear friend of mine (my teacher in 5th and 6th grade) has been told that his throat cancer, which he has been battling for a couple of years, has gotten too widespread and that he has a week or so to live. I am extremely disheartened by this news and.....I am not quite sure how to handle it. This is spurred by the fact that we have had so many memorable moments such as when I got sick and he bought me juice on a field trip or when I wrote him a story and he loved it. He was my favorite teacher ever and its hard to believe that this was even a possibility because well, I guess I liked him so much I believed that he would pull through the disease, and everything would be fine. To be perfectly honest, I am getting a little teary eyed right now, and I wish that he could fight it off still but I guess I have to come to terms with reality. Hopefully I can make the time to visit him soon, but now I have to drink myself to sleep. Thanks for reading my incredibly depressing story.
 
My favorite teacher of all time, dead at the age of 53. You will be missed.

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Trying to avoid awkward conversations sucks.


So last night I ran into a friend I havent seen since 6th grade and we used to be great friends, my mom saw him as he was leaving a restaraunt and she told me to go say hi. I hate the whole "Hi, how are you doing, what have you been up to?" conversations that people have because it is so easy to get caught in a dreadfully long silence, or simply just because it is boring, and completely unineresting. When she tells me to go say hi, Im hoping that he wasnt expecting me to go talk to him, and I try to tell my mom "No, I dont really want to", but as I expected she makes me go say hi, and I know I have to when I see him standing at the door holding it open for me. I go try to talk, completely unaware of where to begin this conversation, and I somehow find a lot of pointless stuff to talk about (school is always easy). I start talking really fast  and trying to ask question after question in order to avoid awkward silence, I even talked to his dad a lot about going to my dads buisness. After I feel I reached a point in this mindless conversation where I can say I have to leave because I think my table is ready (I am cursing myself for not making reservations so I could have avoided this) I try to make a non awkward exit, which goes fairly smoothly. Later in the night, in the middle of dinner I think about what happend, and I realize who I was talking to. This was a friend whom I havent seen in the longest time, and you know that I have known this already for a long time, but somehow I forgot who it actually was during the conversation and I just treated him like some kid at school who I really didnt know that well,who was talking to me on our way to class because the people at my school, pretty much are all the same, and this guy acted no different. I think that what happend was that I was trying so hard to avoid awkwardness that I forgot who I was talking to, and for some reason that distresses me. Has this type of situation ever happend to anyone else?
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So my English teacher is making me watch Avatar for an assignment

For English, my teacher said that by Monday, everybody must go watch Avatar in theaters and write a paper on it. I find this to be complete bullshit, and I dont feel like he should have given this assingment because of its high inconvenience. I dont want to go to the theaters again, I just went last week to go see Youth In revolt and damn.....its fucking expensive to go to the movies. I have never been interested in Avatar, and I dont want to go spend three hours watching it. I asked him if we could watch A Clockwork Orange because (even without seeing Avatar, everybody, including myself, knows its a better movie) I have it and it would be less expensive for people to just rent it if they didnt, and the content he wants in this assignement could easily be applied to A Clockwork Orange. He instantly rejects that and now I either fail my assignment, and get detention (Justice Under God as we call it or "JUG") after school or I have to waste three hours of my weekend watching a movie I dont want to see. Does anyone else find this assignment to be stupid, and has anyone else been put in a similar situation?

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I wish I could. I really do.

Well I've always wanted to since there are some benefits (Like golden hammerburst in Gears of War 2) but since games are normally released on Tuseday, (for some strange reason) I have school and cannot go at midnight, I usually get them after school, but its not as much fun because I know I only have a fair amount of time to play, and stuck in the back of my mind is how much homework I have to do, and its only really fun that Friday night. Release games on Saturdays!!!!!!!

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