What Happens When the World Says Your Game Is Too Difficult


The developers of 'Outlast 2' wanted to make a tough game, but soon realized they'd made a mistake.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/what-happens-when-the-world-says-your-game-is-too-difficult


Seems really weird for devs to release a game that has such widely different challenge without putting in anything to deal with this huge range of difficulties that it presents.

Load it up on one system and you’ve got 150ms less time to react to prompts (because not all displays are the same) than on another - that’s crazy to not account for. It’s making the game prompts incredibly easy for some (who may be erroneously getting this positive feedback that they are “good” at a game when actually they’re playing on a permanent EZ mode) and almost impossibly hard for others with no way to tune to game for the system.

And as a freebie for making a proper difficulty system, it also provides accessibility options for people who have different needs from games. It insures against you only tuning a game to “feel good” for people who have brains exactly like yours. It means you’re not building a game around fundamentally ableist concepts of challenge.

Oh, and, as the article discusses, it also insures against you totally messing up your internal testing for what experience people are looking for.


I think that “Rain World” should also be brought into this conversation. This game had a lot of hype pre-launch because of the precious pixel art and animations, but it seems like most people waiting for it thought it was a cute metroidvania or light survival game.

Nobody was prepared for the demoralizing diffculty and punishing game systems. The dev promised some balances to the difficulty but it seems to me that Rain World already dissapeared from the discourse, most people finding it too frustrating to go on with ti.


Balancing difficulty is always going to be an exercise in hard mode when people approach it from the standpoint of wanting to meet a pre-set notion of “hard enough.”

It sounds like they had the right idea - to make some balance changes compared to the original so that players don’t hit a point where the game simply just loses all tension - but approached it in such an extreme “now the player can’t do that” way which is always going to be more frustrating.

I always felt something like what Outlast 2 does by default, instant death if one runs into an aware enemy, would work better if there was some changing stakes involved. Like instead of having it so they either instantly kill you or not, have it so each time one barrels into an aware enemy the odds of that enemy killing them instantly increases a little. I don’t know there’s a lot of ways to keep a game intense while still giving the player a fair chance to learn the ropes.

Either way I was really happy with the demo and will eventually get this, I’m really happy to see that they’re enthusiastic about trying to create an experience as many people as possible can get into.

There are a lot of games I absolutely adore that some would say fall on the really difficult side of the spectrum, but there’s a difference between difficult in a way that truly serves the experience the game is going for and difficulty just to be more difficult.

Pretend this sentence has some profound thoughts about Dark Souls that somehow haven’t been put to text yet.

I’m always excited when developers attempt to address major balance and difficulty issues in a game after it’s released. You get to see some real creativity in trying to keep the game experience the same while making what, before the game is released, would have sometimes been considered some pretty major changes. I find the process more interesting for single player games, with multiplayer stuff, not that it’s easy, but for say something like an online fighting game or an MMO there’s tons hard data regularly collected to look at and evaluate potential changes from.

With single player stuff, I mean everyone’s different so one would have to be very precise in how they ask for and interpret feedback.


I’m rubbed up the wrong way by the idea that a “difficult” game is in any way better than an easy game. It’s a buzzword to draw in a hardcore crowd but really shouldn’t hamper my enjoyment of the game. It can be designed around.

One difficulty system that I thought was great was Bastion’s/Transistor’s many toggleable difficulty modifiers. The basic game is pretty lenient but instead of saying “This is a difficulty for babies! Waaa!” (I didn’t buy your trash game to get cajoled?) or (yikes) not even putting in a more lenient mode, if the game’s too easy you can get percentage XP modifiers by switching on different enemy buffs. You can leave off ones that aren’t fun to you or that a disability may make far more challenging than the developer intended. Challenge seekers get bragging rights and more relaxed players can access (pretty much) everything the game has to offer. Everybody wins!


Especially in horror games there is a reputation to account for. You don’t want to be labeled as “that easy game”, every dev is on the safe side on making it too hard. If accessibility options were to be implemented on every game, horror games would certainly be the last genre to join that list.


I had that expectation with Gods Will Be Watching, thinking it’d be a light, stylish, sci-fi survival game. In its release state, more than being difficult (which it was), it demanded a lot of luck to be beaten.

After the initial feedback, the developers ended up adding two other, easier, difficulty levels if I recall correctly, with which was how I played the game.


That’s nice to hear! I watched a Polygon overview on that game at launch, and it seemed prohibitively difficult. I should give it another look.


But why would horror games insist on making these “EZ mode games for babies”?

If you don’t have difficulty options then you’re literally making a game with an easy mode for those with low latency screen, fast reaction times, and no accessibility needs. Without a difficulty option then those people are incapable of moving the difficulty up to the same level as everyone else is already playing the game. They’re trapped in “baby mode”.

Why would people who claim to relish a challenge want to be associated with a game that’s restricted in design like that. I mean, whenever I see someone talking about the “purity” of a *Souls game and no difficulty slider then I know they’re someone who is coddled by the EZ mode and know they can’t handle a proper challenge. They are fronting a perspective that’s literally the opposite of what the design mandates: without a way to equalise for input latency and accessibility needs then the game can’t be tuned to actually be hard for people on low latency displays and with no accessibility needs.

It just seems crazy that people who claim to like things hard are promoting this limited game design that forces the game to be easy because it cannot be tuned properly for each player. If anyone genuinely liked difficulty in games then they would be shouting from the rooftops for as many options and sliders as possible to tune the game up and make it challenging for them and their system while accounting for other systems/people.

Macho GamerBro fronting about “hard games” turns out to be a demand for the exact opposite of what they say they’re asking for.


It’s a valid option but we have to take into account that Difficulty goes beyond a player’s reflex, and it can be hard giving accessibility options to every facet of a difficulty, and giving the player the ability to fine-tune the difficulty of a game might get in the way of enjoyment of people who feels compelled to make it easier or harder throughout the game instead of challenging themselves even though they are capable to.

The issue with Outlast 2 is more that it has such a huge die & retry feel because of its ruthlessness rather than because you need to be quick on your feet. You cannot survive through the unknown even if you are very good at the game. It’s definitely a kind of difficulty that has more to do with the game system rather than your skill as a player.

Also, how can you fine-tune a game that is set to surprise you at every turn ? If you don’t know what’s ahead, you don’t know what there is to change. It’s easy in an RPG, less so in a horror gme.


If the player is frustrated and doesn’t continue then it’s wrong. If the player is bored and wants more challenge then it’s wrong. If you give the power to the player to help guide the designer into how they are feeling then you can tune everything because we are building interactive, reactionary systems. It’s a real “how do I know when I’m satisfied” question.

But at the base level there are in most games prompts which need to be reacted to in a certain time before there are consequences and these are absolutely a question of no slider = cannot be well designed because you can’t know what the latency of the system being played on (including the organic components that make up the player) are. You can only offer the potential for a uniform difficulty by presenting at least several options to the player to choose between for how strict the reaction windows are.

I’m not saying this is all easy, making games is really hard. But players who say that they are opposed to difficulty options in any game are asking for others to be locked out of those games and for their own experience to be worse as it cannot be tuned to be just right for them.


A bit offtopic but whenever I see articles or anecdotes about how the Souls games are amazing because they’re super hard games for “real gamers” and how it would violate FromSoftware’s genius to have difficulty levels or alter the challenge in any way I kind of want to puke. Not just because the atmosphere is like 100x more important to why those games are good than the difficulty (something I’ve always felt even going back to the original King’s Field), but because each of those games had massive and very smartly thought out updates to make them less difficult after they were released. I wrote a lot of words about this regarding the early fan reaction to Bloodborne awhile ago.

They do a ton of work on those games to try to make them fair rather than too difficult, but Namco marketing Dark Souls as “Prepare to Die” and making the official website preparetodie.com and everything really fostered that mindset. And I find it really silly because with each successive game they’ve done a better and better job of gradually introducing the player to the quirks of how the series works in an accessible way while still maintaining a sense of danger. But even their first modern one, Demon’s Souls, has an extremely good tutorial and does a great job presenting different areas afterwards that don’t differ in difficulty, but in their tone and enemy layout, with different players often doing the areas in very different orders, which I think it is a great since it gives people the opportunity to build their character and learn the ropes of the game’s action at their own pace.

A lot of that gets lost when the series’ difficulty is discussed to the mindset of “the games are good because they’re hard” when the games are good because they’re hard in a very specifically tuned way. It’s absolutely something not for everyone but I will always hate the sort of line in the sand you see on line where like the series is held up as as a demarcation of someone’s gamer cred or whatever. Ironically, Dark Souls 2 is often said to be the worst one. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it’s also the one with a large number of straight up unfair ambushes and inaccessible monster closet type areas - The game was VERY heavily re-balanced and made more reasonable when it was re-released with its DLC under the title Scholar of the First Sin because the same folks clamoring on about how it’s not good if it’s not hard, whelp.