Tag Archives: 2D Action

Seven Types of Difficulty in Games

Of all the Let’s Players out there, raocow stands out as one who gives fun, wacky commentary, but also has an eye for design and brings up insights on level structure, aesthetics, and the creative use of technology. He certainly isn’t out to trash or make fun of the games he plays, either, which are my least favorite kinds of LPs, and he mostly plays rom hacks and indie games that tend to put into perspective how indie developers (including individual game designers) can utilize ideas that bigger developers wouldn’t, ranging from games that are too hard to sell to a mass audience to games like Psycho Waluigi, a platformer in which Waluigi gains psychic powers and sets out to conquer the world.

The video he posted today was one of those hard levels—was it ever. Above all, I watch raocow because he’s a jovial, positive dude, so when he titles one of his episodes “Unraocow video” then I know we’re in for something brutal. I’ll say first that I’ve loved watching the rest of New! Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island by YoshisFan. I’m not writing this as an attack (and I doubt he’d see it anyway). I’d say YoshisFan has done great work on a wonderful Yoshi’s Island fan game. I enjoyed Artoon’s Yoshi’s Island DS, but I’d take his game over it any day.

This one level, though, goes over the line—and, as always in my blog, the question is why and how. Most people who dislike the level would give the simple answer “it’s too difficult,” but I want to break down what that really means. Writing about “legitimate” and overbearing difficulty has been on my backburner and today just brought it to the forefront. Here are seven types of difficulty found in video games:

  • Challenging enemies (enemy overload, powerful individual enemies, large sprays of bullets)
  • Changes to game mechanics (altered gravity, slippery floors, wind)
  • Gauntlet length (boss rushes, Dr. Wily’s fortress in any Mega Man, individually long levels)
  • Harsh punishment (one-hit deaths, redoing half an hour of gameplay)
  • Necessary memorization (complex tracks in racing games, speed sequences in action games)
  • Precision movement (tight platforming, stealth sequences)
  • Time limits (literal time limits, a Tetris screen filling up)
  • Past the jump we'll find out how the types of difficulty are used. Also, more pictures. You like pictures, right? I mean, everyone who plays video games should. No offense to text-based RPG players, by the way. I love them myself.

    Dedicated Video Game Music Targets the Driver’s Seat

    The phrase “video game music” means something to most people—and something different from the phrase “movie music,” for example. The question is what it means and why. The skeptic might say there’s no such thing as video game music, only music that happens to be in video games, but even if that was true, it wouldn’t change the way people think and feel. This is a matter of word association, but also prototype theory and a pinch of Plato’s Theory of Forms.

    The question is what the term brings to mind and why. In order to say “Yes, Virginia, there is video game music,” games must have carved out their own musical genre with unique characteristics.

    I chose a sampling of twelve pieces of game music with these criteria:

    * I consider the theme excellent in its own right.
    * No 8-bit music. While chiptunes are a recognizable invention of the industry, there must be more to video game music than its instrumentation.
    * No more than four well-known themes. I want most listeners to be unfamiliar with at least a few compositions so that they won’t already have mental associations with gameplay and can judge on their own merits whether the tunes sound like “video game music.” Only four pieces come from franchises that have sold five million or more copies.

    First up is a trio of intro music. We begin with the Monster Hunter Main Theme and I can’t imagine any better illustration of what doesn’t come to my mind when I think of video game music. The gradual build and drawn-out notes remind me of the majesty of Jurassic Park or the grand scale of Star Wars. It reminds me of something that makes me stare in awe, not jump in and participate.

    Wild Arms delivers an amazing intro scene on animation alone, but runs stronger still with Into the Wilderness backing it up. Inspired and classic music. Specific to video games? Not a bit. Unlike the Monster Hunter theme, this theme does make me want to pick up a controller and start killing enemies, but this could have been seamlessly slotted into any Western movie.

    After four games stuck in Japan, Sakura Wars V made it overseas in the seventeenth hour. It’s apparent within ten seconds of its opening theme, Warriors of the Earth, that we’re in for a big band jazz piece. Sakura Wars has always drawn from all music genres even from an in-universe perspective, so this isn’t the series to turn to for dedicated game music.

    Keep the rhythm and click here!

    Ten Breeds of Memorable and Immortal 2D Sprites (part 2)

    6. Beastly Screen-filling Sprites

    Long before Shadow of the Colossus and Monster Hunter, 2D game developers understood the power of monsters too big to be contained in a TV. After the player grows used to smaller enemies, a large one leaves an impression.

    EarthBound proves that enormous enemies don’t even need to look especially threatening:

    Developers typically save this technique for late-game bosses, so I won’t ruin the surprise by directly showing some of my favorites, but other examples of capital-sized enemies include Secret of Mana, EarthBound, Chrono Trigger, and Mother 3. The Etrian Odyssey series has also taken this idea to another level, but I’ll reserve that for another day—and a post to itself!

    One major series that doesn’t take full advantage is Pokémon. The third and fourth generations of games, Ruby and Sapphire and Diamond and Pearl, had a cool Pokédex feature comparing the height scale of a human with any Pokémon the player had caught to demonstrate how small a Diglett or how large a Wailord is, but during battles, size differences only show in the home console games. In the main portable games, almost every fully-evolved monster looks about the same size as any other, whether it’s the fourteen-foot-tall creator of the oceans or a dancing 4’11” Mexican pineapple duck.

    We know that Kyogre doesn't like Groudon too much, forcing Rayquaza to step in and stop the two of them from destroying the world, but what happens when Kyogre swims around the ocean it created and runs into Lugia, the guardian of the seas? If Kyogre assigned that role to Lugia, maybe they hang out together. If Lugia took on that role without being commissioned, does Kyogre have a problem with it? Ever thought about that? Ludicolo is a ridiculous design if there ever was one, though that's part of why I love it. More of why I love it is for being the underdog who's destroyed most Kyogre movesets since 2002.

    The appearance of a legendary Pokémon could inspire awe if drawn to scale, so this could be considered a missed opportunity. Still, the sale of 215 million games makes it obvious that players already love Pokémon and its artwork to death (and I’m one of them), so maybe leaving well enough alone is for the best. If nothing else, the absence of visible size differences helps convey that most Pokémon can contribute to a victory under the right circumstances.

    The final four await!

    Ten Breeds of Memorable and Immortal 2D Sprites (part 1)

    1. Sprites that Reward Amazing Accomplishments

    Metroid is a go-to example, but Chrono Trigger also really ran with this idea.

    The Moonlight Parade dancer only performs spinners for winners! According to Lucca, Frog as a human is a 'dish.' I can't speak for the culture of Guardia Kingdom, but in most culinary schools here on Earth, Frog as a frog is more of a dish. The famed Akira Toriyama as a Chrono Trigger sprite. The famed Yuji Horii as a Chrono Trigger sprite. If you just said 'Who-ji Horii?', you're probably not a Dragon Quest fan.

    The challenge involved in seeing these sprites makes them rare—and their rarity makes them memorable. The Moonlight Parade dancer only shows her face (and her footloose skills!) after beating the game. Frog in his human form is “only” one battle tougher to get on screen, but some people will never see him outside of online sprite rips because their principles won’t let them meet the requirements. On the right are game versions of Akira Toriyama and Yuji Horii, who can’t be found unless players beat Lavos with only Crono and Marle or beat the souped-up, higher-stats, not-supposed-to-be-defeated Lavos at the Undersea Palace.

    For a more modern and less 2D example, check out the ending of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. The character involved would have been striking even if the game had as little story as the original Legend of Zelda, but the tease of this appearance from the beginning helps further. Delayed gratification works.

    Four more breeds, all discussed at greater length than the first one!

    Game Creation 001: Don’t Sweat the Similar Stuff

    And it’s all similar stuff. I treated the Grand List of Role-Playing Game Clichés like an unchecklist when I spent my time paper-plotting my dream RPGs at the age of sixteen: anything I thought up that I found on the List needed to hit the cutting room floor. Years later, I discovered TVTropes—and if I had treated that like an unchecklist, no game on the planet would remain.

    I’ve heard an academic theory that, from a satellite view of screenwriting and literature, they only offer two types of stories: a hero takes a journey or a stranger comes to town. “Hero” is shorthand for “main character”, but I won’t break that saying down further because I don’t devote my time to movies and novels. I devote my time to something far more interesting and this is my theory:

    Video games only offer two types of gameplay: Mario and Pokémon. Either circumstances control the hero or the hero controls circumstances. Either a big bad dragon rolls into town and captures a princess, ruining the hero’s peaceful life, or the hero has had enough with peace and sets out to challenge the world and be the very best—like no one ever was. Dragon Quest vs. Etrian Odyssey. Mega Man vs. Street Fighter. Castlevania vs. Monster Hunter. Tetris vs. any sports game ever made.

    I prefer the higher jumps and comedy coward stylings of Luigi myself, but objective credit goes where it's due to the icon of gaming. I can't in good conscience give Pikachu the nod over Eevee, though! Who can resist those eyes or its seven Eeveelutions?

    The best-selling video game franchises epitomize the basic building blocks of any title in the industry: the two possible goals and roles of the player.

    No clever text this time. Let's get inspired.