“Challenged” vs “annoyed”

There are hard games in the sense that most people can’t do them. Most people can’t raid in mythic difficulty in WoW for example. Or finish Cuphead. But difficulty doesn’t mean challenging game and devs are surprised when players who called the games “too easy” don’t play with the harder features. Wildstar learned this the hard way.

It is true that in order for something to be challenging, it must be hard (defined as: most people can’t do it without extensive effort, or at all), ergo, most players must fail, at least at the beginning. But not all hard games are challenging. Rather, most are not. The trick is that a in a challenging game, failure comes from bad decisions, while in annoying games it comes from honest mistakes or bad luck.

In a challenging game a failure is a learning experience, in an annoying one it’s just “being a n00b” or unlucky. Chess is challenging: you make a decision to move a piece somewhere and by that you create a setting that inevitably leads to defeat in 20 steps against a skilled opponent. In a WoW raid you decide to don’t stand in the fire but your hand-eye coordination isn’t fast enough. Or some raidmember runs at you with a bomb. Or have lag. You can’t learn from these mistakes. You already know that the fire is hot. You just can’t do anything about your hands not moving fast enough besides practicing for hours. When you fail nevertheless, you are annoyed. When other raidmembers fail, you are definitely annoyed. When you are defeated in chess, you are more like “oh, that was smart on him” and are motivated to play again.

I am still playing Subnautica on hardcore mode, without growbeds or bioreactor and still enjoying it, because I have to make decisions instead of trying to jump better. I can’t go into the details, because your answers would be spoilers. Which is a serious problem with this game: as this is a puzzle game, you get no in-game resources in many encounters, just clues. If you know the clues already, those encounters would be pointless. So I can’t discuss with you unless I want my play ruined. And unfortunately if I discuss it afterwards and you choose to read it despite “SPOILER” in the title, your play will be ruined.

Sorry for that non-example, but you have to take my word now: being able to make decisions that has costs in the game makes the game challenging and entertaining.

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Author: Gevlon

My blog: https://greedygoblinblog.wordpress.com/

14 thoughts on ““Challenged” vs “annoyed””

  1. First, comparing Subnautica to WoW raiding is a complete non sequitor. Yes, failing because Joe stood in the fire, didn’t move, whatever, is unfortunate, but your focus should be on what YOU are doing. If you don’t trust Joe to fix his shit, then you are either on the wrong team or realize that you’re not a “Professional WoW Player” and don’t sweat it.

    Subnautica does not technically have “difficulty levels.” A Reaper Leviathon is a Reaper Leviathon, it’s not “harder ” if you’re playing on “Hardcore.” In fact, it’s chance of killing you is slim in any case. I lost a sub to one, but I was able to swim away no problem. A Sand Shark is a Sand Shark. It’s not harder, It does nothing different on any of the different play settings.

    What it DOES have, and what is different in the different levels, is ANNOYANCE. You have to eat and drink every hour or you will die. That is pointless and annoying. Sure, it was immersive in the first half hour of playing the game, but once you solved that challenge… it was done. A game is a series of ascending challenges. Once you solve one, forcing the player to repeat it over and over is an annoyance. You found food and water, then learned how to process and store food, then learned how to just cultivate it and store it at a base. At some point, all it does is waste inventory space without adding adding additional challenge. They didn’t fix THAT part, so I responded by playing in “Freedom” where I don’t need food or water.

    The level I’m playing on is exactly the same as the one you’re playing on. I have to make the exact same decisions you do. The monsters are exactly the same. The chance of my running out of air is exactly the same as it is for you because we have the same air tank that lasts 225 seconds. I can’t even remember the last time I was told to get air.

    If I’m 850 meters down in some god-forsaken cave and I find an alien structure that has fallen to the ocean bottom, you KNOW damn well I’m going to explore it! I need to know if it has clues. Because I have no idea otherwise. I’m not going to charge in because “Welp! I can’t die!” because I CAN die, and what I need to do is go slow and develop a strategy. If something can kill me down here because I charged right in, it will do that EVERY TIME. My game experience in that is NO different from yours.

    So: And I quote:
    “It is true that in order for something to be challenging, it must be hard (defined as: most people can’t do it without extensive effort, or at all), ergo, most players must fail, at least at the beginning. ”

    That is … just no. For a game to be challenging, ALL players must fail in the beginning, then the DEPTH of the challenge kicks in and they figure out ways to solve the series of challenges that is the game.

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  2. So… Adding to my comment…

    After I posted that, I thought… didn’t I see something a while ago that was right up at alley? Yes, it was an “Extra Credits” episode. These are 6 to 7 minute weekly webisodes on game design. This particular one was on “Depth vs. Complexity.” Watch it:

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  3. Here’s the thing: if your “challenge” can be “spoiled,” then how challenging is it really? How is the process by which you came to the answer (via trial & error) any different from the process you learned to execute mechanically? I mean, other than simple preference for cerebral challenges over mechanics ones?

    For the record, I too enjoy a game the most when I am still trying to figure out its systems and optimize the best strategy. That’s fun for me. However, the problem is the internet. Specifically, all the possible cerebral problems in a game are solved Day 1, and we must rely on our ability to disregard spoilers to maintain any enjoyment. Meanwhile, those performing the proper raid dance have to rely on their own group’s collective coordination and aptitude for success, despite the “answers” already being known. Which, honestly, is much more of an accomplishment than anything we’re doing – we’re reinventing the wheel and patting ourselves on the back for it.

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  4. Puzzle games can be challenging, despite the only cost of a bad decision being time.
    I encourage you to go on Steam and buy the game, called Stephen’s Sausage. It has a goofy setting, but it is also one of the best puzzle games in recent history. Could give you more insight in the nature of challenge in the absence of actual cost.

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  5. @Smokeman
    You are assuming a bit much about Gevlon’s playstyle. He himself stressed that he is not very interested in exploring the ruins.
    The things Gevlon has removed from his playstyle are dominant strategies that simplify the game by just existing. By removing these things, he is now faces with a much more interesting and involved puzzle of figuring out how to make the colony work without the broken dominant strats.
    It is a bit like a “low level challenge” in an RPG, where you artificially limit the levelup mechanics because it makes your characters too powerful in a hurry. So parallels to WoW (insofar as it is an RPG) are possible.

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  6. @Smokeman: I agree that eating and drinking is just annoying, because it’s way to easy to get water and food. You can’t possibly run out of them unless you are particularly stupid. The solution is not removing the mechanic, but fixing it, making sure that the lower half of the playerbase is FORCED to play on Freedom mode, because they simply can’t progress in Survival, even with infinite lives.

    The reason why you need to make the exact same decisions on Freedom than on Hardcore is that the food/water mechanic is weak. I never faced with the question “shall I risk passing right in reaper land losing a sub (which is possible as you presented) or shall I go the long way and risk starving to death before I reach my destination with food”?

    @Azuriel: “figuring out things from limited information” is a valuable skill in modern real life. Clicking something with split-second accuracy is not, we have robots for that. Ergo, I would much rather employ a guy who completed Subnautica on hardcore without spoilers than a top WoW raider or Overwatch player.

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  7. And that’s the difference between TBC heroics and todays challenge mode/mystic+. The challenge in TBC heroics required decisions. Difficult pulls required decisions on how to handle them. Your group differed between runs as did the pulls (in instances like Magisters’ Terrace or Mana Tombs).

    Challenge mode on the other side is all about cheesing a dungeon and rushing through it with perfect execution. It’s no longer a decision, it’s reading a guide to know which groups to kill and which to skip and then execute it without mistake.

    Blizzards solution to everything is time limits (e.g. enrage timer), which doesn’t make encounters more challenging, just more annoying and difficult.

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  8. “ones enemies are others heros”
    ANNOYANCE well implemented makes or breaks a game.
    I like suply chains. like in 7dtd (http://7daystodie.com) food/drink are tied to wellness that affects HP. the game will get steadily harder. the max difficulties can be changed in XML on server … so you can crank up ridiculous difficulty and keep one self masochistically entertained that way. what 7dtd does good is making sure people fail on maintenance. if you fail to prepare or you automated kill pit is to efficient but you forget to check fuel or repairing it will bite you in the but.
    sure one can argue after a certain skillpoint and tools + minibike the games becomes trivial … but there the game gives you sliders and direct configuration files to have it tuned to your pain threshold.
    On the higest difficulties. you can starve to death because securing food can be a challenge, especially the first few ingame weeks.

    It is true that in order for something to be challenging, it must be hard (defined as: most people can’t do it without extensive effort, or at all), ergo, most players must fail, at least at the beginning.

    Like Dragon Souls or Bloodborn … for the most part fair games. some troll deaths but no real inconsistencies so you learn and still will be one or two shot if you derp around. You will die a lot in the beginning 🙂

    Ergo, I would much rather employ a guy who completed Subnautica on hardcore without spoilers than a top WoW raider or Overwatch player.

    I would employ someone on the base of their CV and what the give me for deciding. their wow av history and gaming interests isn’t of any value … I rather don’t want to know anything about their private life because it isn’t my business to begin with. Sure maybe offspring plans, because these decisions of employees have consequences on my business.

    I don’t answer those questions in interviews, what I do in private isn’t someone else’s business. If I gamble, fuck hookers, gruesomely kill ants, troll 4chan or just sit at home reading fictional none-work-related books with a purring cat on my lap. It shouldn’t be an employers business as long as I can perform and deliver for what they have hired me to do. Sure employers will argue out of their ass needing these infos to better get a feel for someone. I don’t care – if I don’t deliver and perform for what I’m hired – fire me! Simple as that.

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  9. Gevlon:

    “The solution is not removing the mechanic, but fixing it, making sure that the lower half of the playerbase is FORCED to play on Freedom mode, because they simply can’t progress in Survival, even with infinite lives.”

    Seriously? Of course they could progress. They just have to stop playing the actual game and pointlessly stock up on fish and water. It’s like if the game stopped every 30 minutes and you had to play a “Open and close the hatch 30 times.” mini game to continue.

    There is a huge difference between “can’t” and “won’t.” “Can’t” implies too difficult, “won’t” simply induces people to abandon the product.

    This isn’t a “survival” game, despite the “feels” that it is. You can survive forever easily with only the materials and fish right by your lifepod. You don’t even need a base. It would just be the most boring game ever.

    Oh! Another “Extra Credits” episode:

    If you apply that to Subnautica as a “survival” game, it fails immediately. It’s boring as crap after the first half hour. Why would you ever base the entire game on that?

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  10. @Smokeman: You’ll be so surprised tomorrow (spoiler: I wasn’t bored, rather “underchallenged” after much more than half an hour).

    The video is obvious and didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know already. (Though if you meet Chris Roberts, then show this to him by all means)

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  11. @Smokeman: addenum, you are completely right that the fundamental problem is that the player CAN “pause” the game and catch fish / get water and resume the game afterwards. Fixing it needs to take that ability away, ergo, the player has pressing things to do and having to do an unscheduled stop for fish/water would ruin the pressing thing.

    Alternatively, catching fish/water should be so hard that even if the player spends all his time chasing these (assuming he isn’t good enough), he can’t catch enough. I mean if you need a fish every 20 minutes and you can only catch a fish once in 22 mins, you die.

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  12. @Gevlon

    “The trick is that a in a challenging game, failure comes from bad decisions, while in annoying games it comes from honest mistakes or bad luck.”

    Challenge can come in many forms and can be unveiled to the player in many ways. You mention WoW and Subnautica, which based solely on the genre they represent, will present challenge in different ways. You would agree that PUBG, while being a survival game, presents challenge in a completely way than Subnautica? Would a player of PUBG get the same enjoyment from the challenge offered in Subnautica?

    One thing you seem to forget, is that the challenge comes from the devs in a game like Subnautica. But in a game like PUBG, the challenge comes from both devs and other players. The same goes for WoW. If the devs make the success of any challenge contingent on other players as part of a group, you now have a case where -you- stand a chance of being the reason for the failure.

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  13. Azuriel:
    “Here’s the thing: if your “challenge” can be “spoiled,” then how challenging is it really? ”

    That’s where I’m at with Subnautica. I’m lost, I can’t figure out what to do next and am just blindly “exploring” with no idea what I’m looking for. Did I miss some clue? Is there another “abandoned PDA” squirreled away somewhere? I can’t know.

    I also can’t express where I’ve looked in “game terms” as there are none. There is no map, there are no “named areas.” I recently completed investigating the cave system near W-1365, which is where my last clue was… which basically said “Go deeper!” I found stuff? Exciting stuff! “Yes! The ION CUBE! Wait, what is this for, exactly?” But nothing that tells me where I should be looking next, or what to actually look for.

    I’m exploring? But this will take forever. The game only gives me one cartography ability… the ability to express my current location in reference to a known beacon as a polar vector. There is no map, no “X,Y, Depth” coords. No named areas. Nothing.

    It’s hard to piss and moan about “spoilers” when a game basically forces you to search the internet.

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  14. MMO’s real challenge is not playerskill, it’s social skills for recruitment and management as the biggest impact is your team and not your lone performance.

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