Getting Good versus Getting Out of a Tough Game


It's a whole new panel of Waypointers today, as Natalie Watson, Cado, Rob, and Danielle discuss games where difficulty made them make the ultimate decision: do we "git gud," or "git outta here?" Then we dive in to a very meaty question from the bucket concerning work/life balance, school, career, and burnout.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at


I’ve recently started playing Bloodborne with Stardew Valley as a backup when it gets stressful, so Natalie doing the same is providing me lots of validation.


The start of the episode with the Bloodborne discussion makes me want one of those 4-8 hour streams with just Big Boy or just Stellaris to get some meaty playtime in there, because those games take some time to get up to speed. Of course that’s a big ask, streaming is exhausting, and playing a game with weekly intervals can be disruptive for progress.

That said Natalie has made very good progress with Bloodborne, she does not have much left unless she wants to do optional bosses or the dlc (which is substantial).
Bloodborne is meaty, but the critical path isn’t actually that long, there’s just a lot of value in exploring, levelling up, and seeing content beyond the main path.


I was going to post this, and yeah - she’s on the last third of the game’s critical path, there’s only one major area left and a couple mandatory bosses. A feeling I get is that Austin and Danielle being invested in Natalie getting as much out of the game as possible have pushed her to explore more widely in a short space of time than might be common for a natural playthrough and I can definitely see that messing up the pacing and feeling of progression somewhat.

Grinding for blood vials for half the playtime some weeks definitely doesn’t help either.


CW: Depression, Suicidal Thoughts

I got really emotional when Danielle, Cado, Rob, and Natalie were answering the question at the end of the podcast. I was really excited to be going to the University of Texas at Austin at first. I went to a summer orientation at UT Austin and had a miserable time. I tried to tell my parents that I couldn’t go, that I felt that I was not going to be able to handle going to UT Austin. My parents said that I would be able to deal with it and that I was just anxious to move somewhere else.

My first semester at UT Austin was one of the worst times in my life. I didn’t shave for weeks. I couldn’t feel any emotion. When I would wake up, I felt exhausted. I wished I could just go away. I saw the police set up around a library because there was a person shooting students and started to walk towards the library hoping that the police would shoot me before walking away from the library.

I finally went to the mental health services in campus and talked to a counselor. The counselor told me that I should stop attending UT Austin and try out another university. I talked to my adviser and she agreed that this was the best course of action. I was ready to inform my parents of my decision, but they said that if I stopped going to UT Austin that I would have to find a job and pay for university myself. I got really anxious and convinced myself that I could get my degree.

It was not as bad as that first semester was, but eventually I burned out so hard that I couldn’t finish my homework assignments. I had to go on academic probation. I attended UT Austin for five years before I recognized that I could not go on. I left on May 2015 and I do not feel functional at all. I really wish I would had have the courage or foresight to know that UT Austin was a terrible fit for me.


Playing through Souls games and Telltale adventure games simultaneously was always a great way to balance things out.


To loop the second topic round to the first, wouldn’t it be great if games design took a step forward in making games designed for people (that could adapt to player requirements, that understood creating scaffolding for learning and individualised needs).

Not every game needs to hook every player but there sure was a lot of talk about where these games failed to meet people where they needed clarity or systems to be explained. Throwing hours into a game campaign you’ve already lost and actually need to restart but the game doesn’t tell you that is a great example of where things could be made a lot better if enough design focus was put into it.


Skaven are undoubtedly my favourite faction to play as in Warhammer 2. Their start can be a real pain though, especially when you’re going up against lizardmen, but there’s a few things that will help you get on your feet quickly.

  • Your line units are garbage, but they can become less like garbage once you research a few technologies. Building a level 3 barracks will unlock the portion of the tree that applies buffs to clanrats and skavenslaves.
  • The Weapons Burrow and Construction Cavern will provide you access to some extremely useful units; Poison Wind Globadies and Plagueclaw Catapults. The former are an extremely well armoured anti-large ranged unit (great for killing dinosaurs) and the latter a powerful artillery piece that also debuffs the leadership of whatever it hits.
  • All of the above requires a level 3 settlement to build, so either focus on growing your capital as quickly as possible or settle/capture somewhere else and sink all of your food into upgrading it to level 3 instantly. The former may be risky if you’re actively fighting a war, but the Clan Pestilens start is pretty good for food generation.
  • Raid your own territory. This will give you food and provoke any rat who doesn’t trust in your masterful plans to take up arms against you, which will give you more food when you devour-eat them.
    *Bring a second stack full of skavenslaves. Plug holes in your line with them, tarpit something you don’t want to deal with yet, swarm around the flanks. The general leading them will probably turn traitor at some point because you’ve given him utter garbage to command, but at that point you just eat him and recruit a new disposable stack.

There’s also a few mechanics that it’s worth knowing about that the game buries this information in tooltips and wiki pages that you probably won’t see unless you spend a half hour digging for them.

  • Routing Skavenslaves don’t affect the morale of your other units, so you can string a few units out in front of your army to absorb javelins and saurus charges without risking an early rout.
  • Almost all Skaven get a bonus to attacking when they’re above 50% morale and a bonus to running away when they’re below 50%. They also rally much more easily than other armies though. Plan for parts of your line to break, and try to have some spare bodies in reserve to plug the holes.

Lastly, lizardmen. Understand that they have been hunting and killing your verminous kin for actual millennia and The Fear that lurks deep in your ratty heart is extremely justified. I’ve seen 1000 saurus warriors send 5000 skaven packing after being ambushed. In a pitched battle they will destroy you every time, but thankfully you’re horrible rats and have no intention of fighting fair.

  • Skrulk and your Plague Priests have a spell called Wither, which debuffs enemy armour. Saurus warriors have great armour and fairly standard melee defence. This will help you murder them.
  • Bring bodies. Your frontline troops are going to remember how the food chain works pretty quickly, and only numbers will give them the confidence to try and subvert it. You’ll also be able to flank them more easily, which will inspire additional verminous valour.
  • You can click and drag Pestilent Breath (and other cone/line spells) to angle them. This should let you hurt and debuff the whole enemy front line once you’re engaged.
    *Don’t stop bombarding them once they’re in melee with you. You’ll lose some rats to friendly fire, sure, but there’s always more where they came from and they were probably planning to betray you anyway.

I hope that Rob endures and earns himself the seat on the Council of Thirteen that he deserves. That or he switches to Queek, whose focus on Stormvermin and enhancing line units may give him a sturdy enough army to work with.


I cannot get down with a lot of the “tough but fair games.” I’ve played all of the Soulsborne games to completion but you better believe I cheesed and co-op’d my way through ALL Of THEM when I needed to because I was there for the tone. Mechanical challenge really doesn’t do that much for me on their own, which is why I’ll only dip into tough games when aesthetic/tone is worth putting up with having to develop any kind of proficiency. If the difficulty is rooted in systemic interactions e.g. XCOM then I’m much more likely to stick it out.


this was a great podcast to listen to while bashing my head against the celeste c-sides. all the talk of zen and plateaus was really resonant as i had been futilely trying to get the really tricky jump timings at the end of c-side 3 down, and this morning (while listening to the pod no less), it finally clicked into place. of course immediately afterward i started c-side 5, couldn’t get past the first room, died 200 times, and decided to take a break. even though it seems like i didn’t make any progress, each death felt meaningful, as i know somewhere deep down that each time i die i take a step, however small, across that uncertain plateau.

(also, as someone who loves bloodborne so much that i platinumed it and beat every boss solo, i’m definitely in danielle’s camp–the game is not only occasionally, but frequently unfair. the blood-starved beast’s one hit grab attack (feat. “slow” poison)? unfair. camera-beast paarl? unfair. amelia’s healing power to which the counter is found on some out of the way roof or something? unfair. the shadows of yharnam? there’s 3 of them and only 1 of you! how’s that fair? frenzy??? i’m extremely tempted to write an extended list. i’m sure everyone who plays tough video games has their own exclamation of rage, and when playing bloodborne mine is often “that’s not fair!”)


My answer will be slightly different, but still fits.

I uninstalled League of Legends about a month & a half ago (June 11, I remember the date). It has been THE BEST decision I’ve ever made in regards to video games & my mental health.

For years, I had stuck to the grind, stuck go the “git gud” mentality. I watched streams, i got coaching, i mixed things up, and I could barely maintain a 51% win rate. When I changed jobs this spring, I ended up with 2 free weeks… so I played League the whole time. Finally climbed up to Gold, hitting an accomplishment tier that I’d been seeking for 2 years.

And then… nothing. The game lost all of the allure it had for me. I’d reached my goal, and was now staring at another long mountain I would have to climb. I have 0 interest in devoting the time, effort, or energy to climbing that. I did not look forward to crawling into bed angry because some teammate had fucked up or because I had played poorly or whatever.

So, even though League was the game my friends and I play to stay in touch, I uninstalled. And holy hell has that been a freeing experience. More time for other games, NO video game-related stress… it’s been wonderful.


What was the book Danielle mentioned that her instructor gave her?


The concept of difficulty in game design has definately been on my mind since Hollow Knight. Also, how I personally respond to it: sometimes it inspires me, others it enrages and makes me drop the game.

The first problem is how subjective difficulty is. The solution is often to have adjustable sliders, but then, what do you adjust? Feels dumb to just have enemies with more hitpoints. Also, it always feels like I’m not getting the game as intended by the creators if I don’t play on “normal”.


I wanted to talk about the email they read at the end of this podcast. I believe I can shed some light on why exactly that school would ask it’s students to maintain two portfolios, one personal and one academic. The reason is because they want their graduates to be fully equipped to get a job as quickly as possibly after graduating, and as someone who has been to a lot of job interviews for software engineer positions both in the game industry and in the tech industry in general, one thing that you get asked a lot is if you have any personal projects.

I believe a lot of them do this as a way to indirectly gauge “Passion”. It’s not enough for you to want to make games or write software 8 hrs a day for your job or as part of your education, you have to also want to work another 4-8 hrs a day on your free time on personal projects or else you don’t really have Passion and you’re just looking for a paycheck and might actually object to working more than 40 hrs a week and might actually ask for fair treatment and the ability to separate your work life from your home life.

I think there is also a less cynical way to look at it, especially when it specifically comes to software engineering (I can’t speak about artists or designers or whatever): they want to know that you’re keeping up with your industry and actively interested in continuing to learn about your industry and improve your skills. But as someone applying for a job, there’s really no way to know that that’s what the interviewer is trying to see or not. I’ve also had interviews where they also ask me what kind of industry-related news websites I read or what kind of industry-related subreddits I subscribe to. I think in those cases it’s a little more clear that this is their goal rather than gauging “Passion.”

As someone who struggles to motivate myself to work on my own projects, and would rather spend my personal time playing or reading about games rather than directly working on them, most of the stuff I worked on was before I started college, when I was in high school and had more free time. That was until a couple years ago when I attended a game jam. The organizer of the jam had recorded all of our presentations at the end using Periscope, and I was able to scrape that video and post it to my personal youtube channel and put a link to it in my resume and on my LinkedIn page. It was very interesting to see how responses to my resumes changed almost immediately. All my school work didn’t matter, but spending ~24 hrs over a weekend on a group project outside of school suddenly made me a way more interesting candidate.

So yeah, the gist of my post is that I think the emailer’s school is trying to prepare its students for the reality of the business world they’re about to enter. They’re not worried about changing or improving the systemic problems with the industry; they just want to help people get jobs. At least that’s my opinion. I do think it’s something they should talk to their professors about, and not just “deal with it”, because I do think it’s a problem and I think it specifically hurt me, personally, for years as I struggled to get a job. Every time I’ve actually been hired, my employers have told me that I was a really great, smart, hard worker. I just can’t really motivate myself to work on things on my own time.


The main topic of this is definitely a sore point for me: growing up in the 80s, maybe, with its surfeit of ridiculously unfairly difficult games (on the arcade model of “this will make them spend more quarters”), I have almost zero time for people telling anyone to “git gud”. If your game isn’t fun for someone who’s bad at it (or finds it hard to develop high skill at it), then you’re doing it wrong.

That doesn’t mean you have, necessarily, to progress continuously in a game, but if your game is hard, at least have being endlessly stuck at a particular skill level be interesting. Spelunky, for example, does this well [as, I would argue, do many classic roguelikes, inherently], because at any ability to progress but the very lowest, you’re always seeing something different each time.
If your game is more narratively focused, I’d argue you can afford less challenge (unless you don’t care if most of your players know how your plot goes). I am totally not embarrassed to admit to playing Shadowrun: Dragonfall on easy: the interesting things about most RPGs are not the tactical combat.
(Getting Over It with Bennet Foddy missed the point for me, in a way, as it sort-of-assumes that you’ll quit it out of frustration - I stopped playing it because I was bored.)


The question regarding the ideas of crunch in universities hit me fairly hard. My parents never went to college, and during high school I felt as if I had to fight for every inch between myself and college.

I joined a program of engineering majors built to improve the transition into college for underprivileged and minority students. The program started a month before the semester, and contained daily assignments, 8am lectures, and mandatory homework time until 10pm at night. I was burnt out before I even got to my first class. There were maybe 40 people in my program, over half have left my college entirely at this point.

tw: anxiety, depression

Teachers should not bring tissues to a test in anticipation for tearful students. The tests are impossibly hard and the teachers know about it. Hell, they joke about it to the students. I watched brilliant students utilize all of their resources and energy only to be broken down and fail because of four question final. The introductory chemistry course had assumptions that you had taken chemistry for at least one year. My high school did not offer chemistry, but since my major only offered a single plan towards graduating in four years I was given no choice at all to take an intro to the intro course.

My sophomore year I ended up in the college advisor’s office with several D’s on my transcript. There was (and still is) only one advisor for the entirety of the Bioengineering major. You cannot switch, because none of the other advisors know anything about your major. I told her I believed I was experiencing anxiety and agoraphobia, which was impacting my performance. I believe that they see this as a common excuse, because I was given a few leaflets and told to make sure I did better next semester, which, of course I didn’t.

On the same day that I got my first prescription for my anxiety and depression, I got an email that I was on academic suspension. Despite letters from psychologists, my advisor only saw my case of mental health problems as an excuse. She seemed excited to learn that I was on a prescription after some time, and started setting up hoops to get back into the university. She also informed me that taking time off would result in me no longer being able to pursue engineering entirely.

First, I had to take classes chosen by my advisor at the local community college. I had to maintain the same number of units that I was doing at the main university or I would be kicked out entirely. She described this as my time off from the university. It took two letters from our disability program for me to negotiate a small decrease in units. The bar was raised a month later to having to get a specific GPA, report monthly back to my advisor, and write letters monthly groveling to an unknown Dean’s Committee (where my advisor would represent my case, I could not go in person) to let me back in. I was finally told “they don’t want to hear your case anymore” so they dropped it completely. I was barely able to transfer into a different program that I enjoy, but a lot of the time I truly miss engineering.

Meanwhile I was spiraling downwards with worsening mental health that I put off to press myself as hard as possible to get back in to this college. I had done too much, sacrificed so much of myself, to get there only to have it dangled in front of me on a stick. The crunch at this college is forced onto the students, almost expected of them, in order to graduate and be successful. Privileged students can handle jumping through the hoops that admin sets up, but I was broke while also working a part-time job while discovering what mental health even was. It’s beyond cruel, but I’m not surprised that other universities and even game studios have adapted the same mentality.


Natalie’s comment about wanting to 100% every game forever resonated a lot. It’s something I tend to have as well. I’ve been trying to break the habit with mixed success. The end result is rarely that I enjoy a game more. It’s that I play a game, I enjoy some of it, then I give myself the busy work of completionist goals for several times as long as I spent with the game initially.

The only time it has ever made a game more fun or interesting was Half Life 2 Episode 1, with the “The One Free Bullet” achievement. Other than that? Nope. I cannot for the life of me name a time that going for all the achievements made me enjoy a game more, or on a deeper level. I can tell you I have 92 hours played in Dead Island though. Generously, six of them were enjoyable.

For this reason, the Switch has been an incredible tool in learning to let things rest. Breath of the Wild is a big game. I loved Breath of the Wild, a lot. I did all the dungeons, I beat the game. I did all the shrines. I found around 200 Korok seeds, and felt like I’d explored most of everything. I was on the fence about giving in, and looking up a guide or a map for all the korok locations. It would have been hours on end of the least interesting busywork I could put into the game. I didn’t. The Switch doesn’t have achievements. There’s no record of accomplishment or player score or anything of any kind. Just games. You just play games for as long as you enjoy them. Novel, I know.


This, for me, definitely. I think the number of times going for esoteric hidden achievements has actually improved my experience of a game is outweighed significantly by the number of times they’ve just added a lot of boring, and frustrating, busywork.
They can be good - but often even just knowing about them can change the focus of how I play a section, usually for the worse. As a HL2 episodes example to match yours, I really disliked the final White Forest defence in Episode 2 - and one reason [there were others, I really hated Hunters] was knowing about the achievement for saving all the buildings from destruction. Knowing it was possible made it feel like failure every time I let a building get destroyed, and made the entire thing a much less enjoyable experience.


In regards to XCOM 2 I would strongly suggest getting the Yet Another F1 mod.

In short anytime you have a unit selected (yours or an enemy if you are aiming at them) and press F1 it displays stats including every single perk/skill they have.

I would not play XCOM 2 without it because all it does is give you info you should really have been given.

On the topic of Uni I took a year off after my sophomore year because I was convinced I wasn’t going to be able to finish my degree because I was bad at math. So I took a position doing data entry and it was so mind-numbingly boring and the pay was so bad for how much work they wanted me to do (like 60-80 hours a week because they gave me a company laptop so I could “work from home”) that I started looking back into how I could finish my degree.

I ended up getting an amazing advisor who I explained to that I really wanted a CS degree but right now I just don’t see it happening because I know I am bad at math and she advised me to switch degrees to IT because it was essentially the same as the CS degree in terms of structure except math stopped at Calc 1 (which I had passed already). When I explained to her that I really don’t want to do IT because I don’t want to just fix people’s computers and printers for the rest of my life she gave me some of the best advice I have received that I hadn’t really thought of doing, go spend a weekend pretending you just graduated college and are looking for your first job.

The advice was solid because it made me realize that almost everyone who is hiring is just looking for someone with a CS/CE/IT degree when it came to software development.

So if you are like me and not sure about your degree go spend a weekend just looking at where you would like to end up and what it will take to get there.

And I know I already said this in another thread or two but I would be very cautious about getting a degree in game design. Please take the above advice of checking out what these positions are looking for in candidates before you spend 4 years and a lot of money to get a degree that you then find out really doesn’t mean a whole lot. Just searching around on indeed for 15 minutes I haven’t seen a single result for a listing that specifically mentions this degree as being required or a plus which to me is a big red flag.

I don’t know how else to put this then to be blunt and say universities are still capitalist businesses. They realized kids coming out of high school have dreams of being game developers, instead of being realistic and telling them to look at their art, CS, or writing degrees they instead just made a new degree and called it game design. Because let’s be real if you have grown up all your life being told you need a degree to get “the good jobs” and a university tells you that you can get a degree in that thing you dreamed of you are much more likely to attend there. If you are doing it for the knowledge keep in mind also that a lot of people in this industry keep blogs/vlogs and write about their experiences and things they learn on sites like Gamasutra or all the wonderful GDC Vault videos that are very much structured like a college lecture. The amount of free knowledge about game development is incredible for how young it is. That isn’t to say that I don’t think there is nothing to be gained from these classes just that personally I would see them as elective classes to take rather than something to make your major.

I really am not trying to come off as overtly hostile but I was once in a very similar position near graduation of high school and was convinced the only way I was ever going to get to design video games was by going to a school that offered that kind of degree. Thankfully I had a friend at the time who knew people in industry that sat down and talked to me in a steam group chat about why I should strongly reconsider. It really sucks to see people who want nothing more than to fulfill their dream only to be taken advantage of and I don’t think we talk enough about how people can reach these goals to prevent this abuse.


Has any game done “share your difficulty settings” yet? It seems like there’s more and more interest in alternative ways of playing games: difficulty mods, “challenge modes” like Zelda 3-hearts challenge or Dark Souls SL1 runs. It would be cool to see a game that supports this natively, with an in-game browser, leaderboards, etc.

It also seems like having in-depth difficulty/gameplay options is much more popular in strategy games than other genres. The Civilization series has always had a fairly deep level of customization for this stuff (plus mods and file editing to fine-tune it further).