That's the general gist of this rant through the ramblings of my gaming experiences. It all starts back with 2D games on consoles with processing power counted in bits rather than Gigahertz. A simpler time where those graphical misrepresentation's could transport you to a fantasy world or to defend the Earth from Space Invaders. These games featured less than realistic graphics and were more a representation of a concept or idea, so I have no problem with the difficulty level of these games.
The AI in these games was designed to do a job, and in order to make that job harder for the player (increase the difficulty) the AI simply did those things faster - which worked! When the player got used to the speed of a game and found it comparatively "easy" as to when they first started playing the game increasing the difficulty to result in a faster more challenging experience was fine.
My problem with current difficulty settings is that they don't work on realistic games.
There are many examples of this but I will pick out a few to better explain my point. I play football games (soccer games) and I usually play them on medium difficulty, what I (and I presume the developers) think the game should be played as its the difficulty level that most mimics real life football/soccer. However the problem comes when I get used to the mechanics of the game and have played it so much that on the same difficulty setting I find the game easy.
So I do what gamers have done for decades, I seek a greater challenge in a higher difficulty mode. However this to the developers means that the computer controlled players run faster, make quicker passes and generally punch above their weight in every respect. For example, I may be controlling a World Class striker that is a very fast runner and in peak physical condition of a 25 year old. What I don't expect to see in a realistic game is a not so World Class 42 year old defender keeping up with said striker. Hardly realistic is it?
No, what I expect to see is the 42 year old defender be better position when I run at him. As opposed to the computer putting the player in the same position and making him run 2x his normal speed.
The same goes for First Person Shooter games too. If I shoot an enemy AI on normal difficulty and he dies, why is he a superhuman on a high difficulty setting? This happens in all top games Halo, Call of Duty etc.
I do agree that this does literally increase the difficulty, it is harder to play the game due to the AI being twice as fast, strong and have better abilities than you in every area. But that goes against the ethos of the game doesn't it? With realistic environments and computer controlled units I want the increased difficulty to make them better not boost their stats off the chart. Surely that's cheating the game engine? And not only do I feel cheated but if I were to do that I wouldn't get achievements either.
Like most people, I can't help but think back to times in the past that raise the question - what if?
Back in 2005 I sat around with my friends to watch MTV (of all the channels Microsoft had to choose from...) and we waited in anticipation to see what Microsoft would bring to the next generation console war.
At that time, I already owned an original Xbox console. It cost me £115, came with some very good games, was a bit bulky and heavy but I was sad to see it go. That big black box won a place in my heart. The purpose of the system was to play games, nothing more - the essence of a games console. The features the original Xbox had such as an internal hard drive, comfortable controllers (at least for me) and a games line up that constantly pushed itself to be better without complacency. It wasn't trying to be super stylish like the Apple gadgets of today, it didn't need to organise your photos or surf the web or twitter to people - it simply did its job and did it well.
So as I sat there waiting, I couldn't be happier. Here was the next generation console, the improvement over an already great machine. Undoubtedly my expectations were high. Microsoft already had Xbox Live, a great service. Great games such as Halo, Forza Motorsport, Chronicles of Riddick, Brothers in Arms - even now I can name 20+ great games for that console! And most importantly, they had the drive to be the best.
But what I witnessed on May 12th 2005 was something akin to waking up on Christmas morning and finding your presents replaced by a piece of jewellery... Yes that's right, jewellery! It's expensive, looks good, you can show it off to people but it essentially doesn't have a job. The new "sucked in" Xbox 360 with its white colour, large power brick and of course later, the three rings of death was certainly an anticlimax.
But I gave it a chance, I embraced change and bought one. But this story isn't about how the console had hardware errors, or even bad games.
In the back of my mind I always knew, that this console wasn't the best it could of been. The design wasn't up to Microsofts previous standards, it was loud, bulky (if you include the power brick) and it didn't have the build quality of the original Xbox. Perhaps its because the original Xbox was build like a tank, but still...
Flash forward to the present, I no longer have an Xbox 360 (had a PS3 for a while but that didn't work out). What I have instead is the feeling of what if? What if the Xbox 360 slim came out in 2005. What if that sleek version with built in wifi and a hard drive that is actually inside it instead of sitting on the top, what if the design was so good it wouldn't have hardware problems. What if Microsoft actually made the 360 look like the original (which the new slim model does). I'll think you'll agree that that is the version of the Xbox 360 that should of launched.
So sooner or later I'm going to bite the bullet again and buy an Xbox 360 slim, for better or worse. But this time, I'm hoping things will be different.