Is Difficulty a Fair Metric for Success in a Genre?


To defend Mark: that’s not really his problem; his problem is that he thinks that the fact you can grind past the challenge (over multiple runs) due to persistency, makes it “not a roguelike”.

(Presumably, he has no problem with old school roguelikes - like Nethack - being fairly grindable (within runs), and this actually being a pretty good approach in some cases to maximising success.)


I really think it depends on the intention of the game. In a way every game’s difficulty gets lowered over time, whether it’s due to players gaining more experience or numbers going up.

Again, I feel the video casts the net too broadly, but if the main sense of tension is figuring out and adapting to the various challenges in the game, then it can be undercut by leveling systems that let you brute force your way through without consequence. A game doesn’t necessarily need to be hard, but when the prime motivation is to “win” then victory can’t just feel like an inevitable formality without the game becoming boring.

I also think it’s unfair to compare grinding to genuine accessibility options. Celeste lets you tweak and modify the game at will without burning a lot of time on it, but it’s also not a part of the clear and intended progression of the game. I don’t even have a problem with grinding in the right games (I play Path of Exile, after all) but I think it’s an important distinction.


I think this is the fundamental point of contention that determines which side of this issue you’re on. For me, and it seems like Mark too, a game requiring me to grind is a mortal sin of game design. It’s no longer about me and my skills as a player, but instead just about a time investment to try and make my in-game character‘s stats meet the arbitrary requirements that the game has set for me, and that just feels like the game artificially inflating it’s length and wasting my time in the process.


I guess if we’re going that route, shouldn’t the entire roguelike genre be a writeoff? I mean, even without progression systems, most games in the genre still expect you to repeat the same content (however remixed by proc-gen) over and over while you “grind up” the skills necessary to beat the game. Even Rogue Legacy lets you do a no progression run if you want it, so not even a specific “make the numbers go up” definition of grind would necessarily apply to it. And let’s consider a paragon of the genre, Spelunky, where it is accepted in high level play that you grind out the first couple of worlds to have enough resources to survive the endgame. Aren’t all roguelikes “artificially inflating their length”?


I’m sorry, but that’s explicitly not what Mark is saying. What’s he’s saying is that for roguelike games, the key important design feature is that the “difficulty” of any particular playthrough should remain constant (only player skill / knowledge / etc should contribute to increased success). He says nothing about the benefits of grinding within a given game - and, indeed, as Navster notes, many roguelikes are best played by grinding for levels in precisely the way that you refer to.


No, because you don’t “grind” skill. Skill is not a currency that one accrues over time. Skill comes from the intersection of knowledge and player ability. The only thing holding you back from accomplishing your goals is yourself and your ability to understand and play the game well. And so when you finally reach that goal you can feel a genuine sense of pride and accomplishment, knowing that you reached that goal through your own perserverence and skill, rather than because your character’s stats went up enough that you could finally do it.


I mean, isn’t this the whole reason roguelite became a term? To describe games like rouge legacy? The thing is rougelike is basically the same as calling something a doom clone, its games that are literally like Rogue. Rogue, notably has 0 between run progression and permadeath so if someone says something isn’t a roguelike because it goes against one of the fundamental aspects of that game I’m inclined to agree. Roguelite became a thing because so far no one has coined a more popular term for “procedural generated run based game that has between run progression”.


I feel like an argument could be made that learning boss patterns, optimizing the route to the boss, etc. could be a form of grind to some folks. You may be learning the game, but you may or may not actually be getting more skilled.

Regardless, I think it’s possible that the line between “git gud” and grind is blurrier than we’re all imagining.


Ok, even if we are going with a hard division between individual accomplishment versus the system helping you, there are very few modern roguelikes that are purely about your skill. Spelunky, Below, and Into the Breach all have power-ups that make the game inherently easier, and getting those power-ups involve some form of “grinding”. So why single out Rogue Legacy when it is just taking a concept in those games and making it a bigger part of the experience?

@imweasel09: So if you play Rogue Legacy as a no-progression run game, does it become a roguelike?


Is it actually a different game mode or are you talking about just not spending gold to buy upgrades? Because from my limited googling i can’t find any mention of this. If it’s an optional mode on it’s own, I’d say that is a roguelike mode within a roguelite game. If it’s the just ignoring the progression and bum rushing the castle that’s still a roguelite and you’re just ignoring game mechanics. That’s not me saying there’s anything wrong with that but a self-imposed challenge outside of the game is something different than something inside the game.


I can only guess as to Mark’s motivation, but my guess is he feels that Rogue Legacy makes it too big a part of the experience, to the point where too much emphasis is placed on the progression of one’s character stats and not enough placed on progression of one’s skill.

There’s a line somewhere in this video where Mark admits that he’s not immune to the pleasure of “watching numbers go up.” My interpretation of this line is that he recognizes that there is a section of the gaming community that has been conditioned to want that Skinner box-type experience or else they don’t feel motivated to continue through the game. And so Mark concedes that developers probably have some obligation to include these systems to appeal to a wider audience, but he feels that a game like Rogue Legacy crosses the line to where that becomes almost the focus of the game.

It’s also worth remembering that Rogue Legacy is probably just one of many examples that he could’ve used to make his point. I don’t think he has a vendetta against Rogue Legacy specifically.


The thing that is being missed in the framing of the video is that thinking the “sense of accomplishment” from improving one’s skill at a game is the most important thing and that power progression detracts from it is a preference. Games are not better or worse for making an eventual victory – already an arbitrarily defined thing – a forgone conclusion, just better or worse for certain people.

Because it’s frankly silly to try to argue otherwise! Rogue Legacy, as the chosen negative example, is beloved by lots of people, and has been hugely influential. Looking outside of this small genre, grinding has been part of RPGs for decades. Progression systems have been added to tons of different genres, to the point that they’re expected as a given in most AAA games. It’s fair to not personally like these systems, and it’s fair to have really good reasons. I even really love hearing people’s reasons for disliking things! But it’s not fair to conflate a personal preference with some sort of universal good game design.

And then also, if the argument is that any given design element, or especially a lack thereof, is defining of a genre, that is as far I’m concerned a complete nonstarter. That’s just gatekeeping. The only quality something needs to have to fit in any genre is, if using that genre as a descriptor is generally useful to people. Language is malleable, definitions change, etymology isn’t destiny, etc etc etc. (This is why, as a shorthand, I actually really liked Mark’s definition)


Looks like Mark noticed some criticism along the lines of what we discussed here and had another go at the vid:

I think he still has strong opinions about what works best in these games, but he definitely makes a lot more effort to frame it as opinion. I think it fits in more with GMTK’s typical approach to game design discussion. Any thoughts on the new video?


It’s a weird question, and I also think it really hinges on what we’re defining as “difficulty.”

There are some limited sub-genres that are quite literally defined by their difficulty, such as Masocore Platformers. If you consider it a legitimate sub-genre, it’s kind of hard to argue that difficulty isn’t a necessary component.

There are other, more accepted genres that have what you would assume to be defining traits that, while not necessarily pure difficulty, certainly don’t make things easier. If you took Resident Evil but dumped ammunition everywhere, it’s not really survival horror anymore. RE4 is a horror game, but there’s no survival there like there was in 1-3.