On Game Difficulty

I started writing about game difficulty after Jim Sterling made a video discussing the invincible ship in Star Fox Zero, but I got too caught up in schoolwork to finish it. Since then the game came out, and it almost sounds like it needs the invincible mode to compensate for its godawful controls. Still, I didn't want my thoughts to go to waste, so I thought I'd edit it down and add it in here.

Here's what I think about difficulty modes: Multiple difficulty settings are fine, but an invincibility mode is bullshit.

That's because while an easier mode may not demand as much of you as harder modes, it still demands something. What is there to get from a mode you can sleepwalk through? Other than a "shits and giggles", maybe.

An invincibility mode is not like bringing down the bumpers on a bowling lane or consulting the CliffNotes for a book you don't understand; it's like adding a groove into the middle of the lane so you get a strike every time, or asking a friend to summarize the book for you because you can't be bothered to read it yourself. The words "instant gratification" come to mind.

Actually, you know what would work? When a game has an invincibility mode, end it at the second to last level on that mode. That lets inexperienced players learn the workings of the game, but then they have to show they're actually trying to learn something and aren't just abusing the system to get the rewards without the effort. Other games have done similar things. The Earthworm Jim Special Edition gave you a long-winded lecture on worms instead of an ending if you played on Easy, and Plok skipped the flashback with Plok's grandfather and ended the game before the Flea Pit on Practice.

Toki Tori had a system where you were given level skip tokens, I believe two of them, but it might have been three, or even only one. If a level was giving you trouble, you could use one of those tokens to move on to the next level, and if you later came back and completed the level, you got the token back. I liked this, as it allowed players who were struggling on a level to continue the game. And sometimes being stuck on a level can frustrate you into not being able to solve it, but if you come back to it after being away for a while you can have your "Oh, duh" moment. But limiting the number of tokens prevented abuse. I'm also willing to bet the game didn't let you see the ending until you completed all the levels.

There is a little gnome on my shoulder calling me a hypocrite, because when I was a kid I had a Game Genie and used it for level skip and invincibility in Little Nemo and infinite lives in Blaster Master and who knows what else. Well first of all, is the the gnome saying Nintendo is endorsing cheating? And secondly, having spammed cheats as a kid gives me insight into what invincibility does for games, because Little Nemo only left an impact on my when I went back and played it properly.

I'd also argue that an invincibility mode could screw up players, not help them. We've seen this phenomenon with Contra, which gained an undeserved reputation for being unbeatable without the 30-lives code because people would punch in the code, complete the game while playing like a lobotomized chimp, then get their ass kicked when they apply that "strategy" to a legitimate game. Then instead of rethinking their approach and discovering the game is perfectly beatable if you put in a little effort (and even approaches easy with the Spread Shot), they go onto NeoGAF and say "Wow, this game is SOOOOO HAAAARD". I myself thought the Blaster Master crab was unbeatable as a kid because infinite lives meant my strategy was "Mash the grenade button and hope he dies before I do."

And just as a pet peeve, the attitude that if you don't like others using your stuff you're a selfish asshole needs to die. Yes, there are some people who hate sharing with others because they're spoiled brats. But some people are just tired of their things getting lost, stolen, and broken by people who don't give a shit.

SkirmishFrogs Comment Adventures

Aug 12th was Sega Genesis day over at retro games site SkirmishFrogs, and I decided to write a piece on That-Game-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named. A few days later, somebody left this gem in the comments:

Why am I reminded of this I Hate Everything video?

I like to think Sega could have "given the video game market some much needed competition" without being aggressively juvenile about it. Or advertising their product by telling teenage boys that buying a Super Nintendo would turn them into a girl. Or using the Sega CD for shitty FMV games and bad voice acting. Or everything else I talked about here.

Or fostering an ecosystem that spawns judgemental bastards who like to shoot their mouths off. I'm well aware of the bullshit Nintendo did with the NES, thanks (in an admittedly piss-poor defense, it was an overzealous response to the shovelware that caused the '83 crash. No, I'm not excusing it, and I still think Nintendo crossed lines).

Also, acting like Nintendo was a cruel tyrant Sega saved us all from is sensible, while suggesting Sega's humiliating marketing practices are why video games are considered a joke these days is "being upset that your perfect world of Nintendo was shattered." Double standards and projection are so hard to tell apart sometimes.

In retrospect, though, it was a bit silly of me to pin the proliferation of annoying 'tude in video games entirely on Sega, as that shit was everywhere in the 90s. And maybe the venomous internet conflicts and endless console wars and obsession with technical novelty in games have less to do with fallout from Sega's obnoxious marketing, and more to due with good old fashioned human retardation.

Adventures In Azeroth

After years of resisting, I finally went and got myself addicted to World of Warcraft (If you're on the Garrosh server and run into a blue-gray Tauren Paladin named Azhadak, come say "Hi") Here's some highlights from my journey (click screenshots for a full version).

I took this screenshot of a Kodo stuck sideways against a tree, not realizing how common this is in this game.

My first attempt at using a zeppelin ended with the thing disappearing, stranding everyone on it in the air. When I quit and restarted the game, I fell and died in an area I couldn't get back to as a ghost. After it took too long, another Tauren appeared and revived me, and the game said it was another player, but he disappeared right after reviving me.


This was happening.

Aside from the fact Garrosh Hellscream is supposed to be dead, I find him talking about "not killing innocents" and "never losing honor" hilarious after the shit he did in Pandaria.

It costs 94 copper to take a Wind Rider to Thunder Bluff, but it's free to use the zeppelin. I always take the Wind Rider because once I tried the zeppelin, and...

Fuck zeppelins.

Giant gnome ass! (I also love how the whispy blue icon is on his buttcrack)

Why hasn't that horse tipped over?


I was still learning how to use the chat log (and still don't entirely know how it works), and couldn't tell this person their mount looked like Battle Cat. Goodnite the Fabulous, if you're reading this, your mount looks like Battle Cat.

After a long series of quests in the Burning Steppes, I got to wreck shit up on the back of a dragon. It was like the Neverending Story!

At some point, I was given a quest by the fisherman in Orgrimmar to kill a stag by the Azshara gate and use its eye to catch a fish, and when I got there, holy shit, there were demons everywhere! This was the first time I was aware of the Legion Invasions, a pre-expansion event where four of six spots around the world get attacked by demons every four hours. I've experienced at least three crashes (twice on zeppelins which are the bane of my WOW experience, and once at the invasion itself) because the game couldn't handle the number of people in one spot.

I'm in there somewhere!

Bat train to the next invasion.

Boy, my armor is a clusterfuck.

I started trying out the Dungeon Finder. The first dungeon went alright, though it being my first time it was a little awkward (yeah, that doesn't sound at all sexual). The team stood around waiting for me as the tank to lead the way, and I stood around waiting for the leader to give instructions. But after that, it was pretty smooth.

The second one was an absolute disaster. Things got off to a smashing start when I was a human for some reason. The team didn't stay together, I got lost in the castle when the rest of the team took off, and the medic dropped out halfway through.

The third or fourth one, one of the five members never moved away from the door (he had a name like "Fuckyiuu", so...) and one of the other four was a doofus (named "Foxnewssucks"). I got on with the other two, though.

Then a lot of bogstandard dungeons. The last one I did for the night was... very interesting. After killing the boss, two people dropped out immediately and the other three of us went back to the front. There, the male Blood Elf used a spell to switch bodies with me. Then we all started dancing.