Game Difficulty – A Rant

I noticed recently that there has been a lot of talk about difficulty in games. Good, perfect, I think that’s a topic that needs to be addressed.  The problem is that in most cases people reference the success of Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls as proof, but somehow end up missing the point.  The most obvious example came from here, an interview from Cliff Bleszinski, the design director for the new Gears of War game.

The article basically talks about how games have become too easy, and to counter this change the new Gears of War game will be more difficult… unless you play it on casual.  While it’s probably true games have become too easy, how is this setup for the new Gears game any different than what currently exists?  You can crank the difficulty up to impossible on most games that exist today, but that doesn’t make them better.  As my experience with Max Payne can contest, it usually makes them a drag.

Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls were successful because they were built around their difficulty.  There’s no difficulty slider when you first start playing, it’s just tough as nails, but it’s designed that way and as a result can be fair, which limits frustration.  Any game can be difficult.  A successfully difficult games leaves you feeling responsible when you die, and therefore keeps you in a constant state of suspense.  The opposite form of difficulty is rote memorization.

The diagnosis is correct, it’s just the treatment that seems wrong.