Cuphead, And The Problems With Difficulty In Video Games

Do game developers understand difficulty?

356 Comments

Video games are always iterating. As they evolve, developers keep finding new ways to toy with the ideas of "challenge" and "difficulty."

Certain studios come to mind when we talk about difficult video games: From Software, Firaxis Games, and now Studio MDHR, the creative minds behind the recently released Cuphead. Their title is a gorgeous, brutal platformer, with run n' gun aspects that challenge even the most skilled players, demanding precise timing and vigilant patience.

Cuphead does have a "simple" difficulty that allows less skilled players to see more of the game. But it doesn't let them see all of Cuphead. In fact, it erases some boss' attack phases entirely, and bars players from seeing the last 10 percent if they haven't beaten every previous boss on the Regular difficulty level.

So, in the wake of the (fantastic) platformer's release, we decided to look at how other studios tackle the obstacle of "challenge" in their games. We explore everything from Resident Evil 4 to XCOM 2, Fire Emblem to Left 4 Dead, and more.

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musalala

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Edited By musalala

The movie comparison you used is kinda flawed,A better movie analogy would be "should movies be sufficiently easy to grasp requiring no mental depth or analytical reasoning in order to ensure everyone understands them" And to answer that question Im sure everyone would say no.

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proceeder

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Edited By proceeder

DS games are technically inferior and lacking in both story and presentation.

NioH showed, once and for all, how a game with well-built mechanics and challenging difficulty could still offer variety in style and animation.

NioH's a better Souls game than any Souls game.

P.S.: I don't care that you read a part of the story in an item's description. That's a writer's work going to waste and being poorly presented because of the animation and character design team.

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SpinierBlakeD

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I hate hard games. I just don't get the appeal of dying over and over again.

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proceeder

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@spinierblaked: masochism.

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Zeburaman

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Yeah, I do have a definitive answer to your three questions: 3 times **** NO!

Honestly, the hell is your problem with difficult games? I still remember the first time I played a game that required to be replayed on the hardest difficulty to actually access the last boss and see the proper ending. It was in my early teens with Konami's Rocket Knight Adventure on Genesis, a game I had spent over a week mastering by dying and retrying. When I read the onscreen prompt my reaction was: "Playing the game again on the hardest setting actually has a purpose? Sweet!" Guess what I did. I spent a WHOLE other week mastering the game on hard difficulty and, once I finally beat the last boss and was rewarded with the ending cinematic, I felt a huge satisfaction for what I had accomplished. Something you lazy bastards would know ****-all about!

Seriously, at this point even Yahtzee comes off as a more legitimate reviewer than any of you put together. They should actually create a job description labelled "Serious Reviewer" to help customers differentiate them from you lazy wankers. Games journalists my arse, you're just freeloading an easy paycheck. And don't even get me started on how most of you drank the McIntosh Kool-aid. Well guess what, "Games journos are dead! They don't have to be our news providers anymore".

Feck-off you Unter-scrubs!

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Mogan

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Mogan  Moderator

@zeburaman: Dude, you're a trope. : \

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Zeburaman

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@Mogan:

Against [insert topic] in video games?

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Mogan

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Mogan  Moderator

@zeburaman: Against gamers in general, I guess.

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Zeburaman

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@Mogan:

Damn, son, you're so witty. Not!

Ok, explain in full detail what's so wrong about my original comment.

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Creepywelps

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@zeburaman: He'll never reply to you.

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Zeburaman

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Edited By Zeburaman

@creepywelps:

Yeah, I kind of figured that. ?

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bluefox755

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Edited By bluefox755

It's not even that difficult tbh. Even Pewdiepie is sailing through it without much effort.

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GamerSince78

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Edited By GamerSince78

Game of the Year for me....for once, in a very long time, the hype was well earned, and the expectations met reality...doesnt happen often, but when it does, it is sweet.

This game is a real gem...the best think i can say about it is this....even when you die, and you will die a lot, you will still be like.....just one more try...and that last try will last for about another hour.

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Labyrias

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This is the next stage of being casual. Its no longer enough to ruin games with the constant and perpetual whining about how you want more and for less and less effort, no. Now you want to abolish the game part of games so they become essentially picture books.

Im really sorry, but thats what youtube lets plays are for. Go ahead, sit back with a bag of popcorn and let someone tell you a story.

Also "gamer journalist" should be made into a difficulty level, because i have had several friends bad at platformers, who died in the near thousand, but got through the game, and then there is you.

You the game journalist. The guy who literally learned about games instead of playing them. The guy to whom "gaming" is not about playing or having fun, but doing work. The guy who wants to skip the game, because in their opinion, thats a good addition to the "game".
Get out. God honestly. Get the hell out of gaming and never return. Gaming journalists at this point are worse to gaming than christian conservatives who think that game consoles are made by the devil. Go find yourself actual work instead of talking liquid bs and trying to drench other people in it.

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Mogan

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Mogan  Moderator

@labyrias: "Im really sorry, but ..."

Are you actually sorry though?

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Labyrias

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@Mogan:

Yeah, i actually am really sorry about the fact that we have wound up in a day and age where the worst cancer that can plague gaming comes from game journalism.

These people are literally the nadir of gaming. They are disgusted by games and yet they are the ones who rate them based on absolutely nothing, but political and ideological values, since they are by definition too handicapped to rate them by anything else, and with that: enter 2017 where game journalists think that its a good addition to a game to be able to skip the game, since its too hard for them to play.

God honestly, gaming journalism is by now on par with politics in terms of how disgusting it has gotten with the deranged psychopaths perpetuating it, and i really, absolutely positively feel sorry about this fact.

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Richardthe3rd

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@labyrias: well said.

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Fran_droid

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Edited By Fran_droid

"OMG, the game is so hard". If you can't handle a challenge you shouldn't play video games. Play a card game or dominoes.

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Clefdefa

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Edited By Clefdefa

I don't see a problem with game being hard with no difficulty option.

Most game with difficulty option just change how easy it is to be killed and how hard it is to kill the ennemy. If it made the ennemy AI more complex or let the ennemy have new move on harder difficulty. It could be interesting but it isn't the case.

So I never play on the hardest difficulty because of that. I play on Normal. I did go through Bloodborne and have the plat and while it was brutal at first it became more fun quite fast once I understood to not go gun blazin' like you can do in almost every game.

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TerrorRizzing

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there are many easy games coming out every week, there is room for a few hard ones.

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juxax

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I'd say they understand, afterall games have got easier over the years for a reason, sales. not everyone is a hardcore gamer. Cuphead, like dark souls etc is a novelty for some, loved by some, and meh'd at by others. dark souls, demon souls before it, and BB after have showed everyone that ruthless games do sell if marketed properly, aimed at the correct audience. Cuphead is a game I want to play even if I can't finish it, when my X arrives i'll find out.

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Deiradinn

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Edited By Deiradinn

Title should be, "We can't beat this game and we're jealous of those who can so we're going to say this game needs to be easier so we can join in that small group of gamers and not feel left out or have this hanging over our heads forever."

This is only an issue for today because games are extremely easy nowadays. It's almost a walkthrough for most games and that's fine for some but don't get twisted when a game comes out that's aimed at the hardcore crowd. From what I've seen most average gamers enjoy trying to do something they're not used to and appreciating those that can. With that being said you're going to have your rage gamers that will get mad, complain about the difficulty, and start criticizing it because..... they can't beat it.

I had my rage moments and cussing the screen but after about 330 deaths I have beat Cuphead. It's truly a rewarding experience to be part of the 5% that's actually beat it. If you're seriously going to be sore about the difficulty then maybe don't play it or stick to the many other games that have doable difficulty.

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webby1

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Mushihimesama Futari ultra mode is about as hard as playing Cuphead, Contra and Dark Souls at the same time.

That being said Cuphead is deceptive in its appearance and is likely to attract many people who never even play games.

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randomperson7

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So basically it's not so subtly suggesting that all games should be accessible in terms of difficulty to anyone who buys them. No. I'm sorry but there are specialty products that cater to target audiences. Games should absolutely penalize less skilled players. That's what challenge and difficulty is. That makes victory rewarding. A game being impossibly difficult can be it's single defining characteristic that makes it stand out among a sea of casual games. It's okay that some players just can't master it. No games should not be required to handicap themselves for ALL players. If a game offers that then that's fantastic, but thesedays there are less and less games that emphasize challenge and consequence. I haven't been truly challenged by a videogame since I was 12. I know it's elitism but that's a market that exists. Elite games should exist for elite players and there's nothing wrong with that. No I'm not bashing on "filthy casuals". Because there's a market for that too and casual gamers are no lesser than hardcore gamers. But this video postulates that there's a "PROBLEM" with difficulty. I'd say the only problem is that the market is in a bit of a deficit for universally challenging games that don't offer shortcuts or easy modes. If I want a simple experience that lets me just kick back and go on a virtual power trip I'll play a game that offers that. If I want a true challenge that becomes a personal venture of frustration and loss, only to build up to a unique sense of victory that's specific to me I want there to be that option. Games that don't offer shortcuts get a sort of legend status and that can honestly be a big part of gaming "culture". It makes names like "Ikaruga" "Ninja Gaiden" and "Super Meat Boy" immediately warrant an emotional response from mere mention. Those games would not be at all noteworthy if they offered an easy mode.

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lorddaggeroff

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Edited By lorddaggeroff

Excom isn't hard it's brilliant.

Left 4 dead isn't hard it's masterful.

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deactivated-5a26032528a9b

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"A knockout!"

Eat it, Grim Matchstick!

"Shadow of Cuphead. Nothing will be forgotten."

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Creepywelps

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Literally the only people I see complain about difficult games are video game journalists, Funny. Maybe you guys have the wrong profession???

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warbaby2

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@creepywelps: More like: Your profession should no longer exist... Maybe we should finally ask the question if "professional" games journalists still have a place in gaming. Think about it: Everyone with a webcam or blog can make game reviews these days. On every game, no matter how obscure, one can easily find a plethora of opinion pieces, and more often than not those are better researched and more objective than any of those produced by dedicated outlets. So, what remains for them to do, really? Consumer advocacy? Doesn't really happen anymore. Unique insights into the industry? Nope, those are no longer exclusive to "professionals" either... Honestly, articles like this one paint a pretty clear picture... that of an industry writing itself out of existence.

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GamingWithBalance

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Just because you play a game and you find it difficult, doesn't give you the merits to rate a game and "Oh, this game is extremely hard." I think most game reviewers are just casual folk who like to judge a game's difficulty after playing it once. It's like when someone says Uncharted 4 is such an easy game, but played it on easy difficulty or when someone plays Dark Souls 1 for the first time, but ends up dying 13 times on the first boss while I am sitting next to him laughing at how bad he is.

Unless you're a speedrunner or someone who has played a game multiple times to the point where you know said game, then you shouldn't have a say about a game's difficulty.

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bussaondabeatho

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This is a problem? lol Let me tell you the real problem. Having to beat a game on Easy or Normal just to unlock Hard Mode. That drives me up a wall....just give me the mode straight from the gate please.

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superwhat666

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@bussaondabeatho: Word. Or at least release a cheat or other method to unlock the final difficulty, especially for remakes--such as the Metroid Prime Trilogy where the controls already made the game SO much easier... -_-

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Richardthe3rd

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Edited By Richardthe3rd

One of the most amateurish videos I've ever seen. Explaining why something's hard and the consequences of failing at it should be some sort of baseline, not fluff for a discussion/ video.

There is an endless stream of mindlessly easy AAA games out there for people who don't want difficult games and just want to play through a campaign or something.

Hard games belong in this medium. Telling developers they've made a mistake by failing to compromise with players who aren't involved enough to develop mastery of the game at some rudimentary level is idiotic. If they aren't going to put the time in they SHOULDN'T see everything.

The notion that they paid for something and should be able to see it all is ridiculous. The notion they won't get their money's worth if they don't experience everything is WRONG.

The movie analogy is also wrong.

If I buy a Blu-ray and don't have the time available to watch the entire thing, does that mean the movie failed me as a viewer?

I so completely disagree with the entire premise of this argument. If you don't want difficult games then don't play them, turn the difficulty down, or develop the skill to beat them. If you don't have time for that, then find something you do have time for, because this isn't the hobby you're looking for.

Being challenged: that's about 90% of the reason I play them instead of watching movies. If I ever get to where I don't have time for games anymore I won't sit around and ask them to change as a whole. What bullshit.

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randomperson7

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Edited By randomperson7

@Richardthe3rdCouldn't agree more! I mean hell. I LOVE casual games. That's what I USUALLY like to play. Something mind-numbing that lets me go on a consequence-free fantasy power trip. But I also know the huge sense of personal acomplishment that comes with hours or even YEARS of not being able to beat a certain level. And when I can FINALLY get past that and get some closure I get a legitimate emotional connection from a game. Those kinds of games SHOULD be out there and there aren't nearly enough of them thesedays. Whatsmore, we need to preserve the actual rewards for being a skilled player. ESPECIALLY in this day and age of rampant DLC and microtransactions that let you bypass challege and grind. I personally actually LIKE that feature because I don't get a lot of time to invest in a game thesedays but at the same time, truly dedicated gamers deserve unique recognition or rewards that only THEY can access/accomplish.

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mmahardy

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mmahardy  Staff

@Richardthe3rd: We're featuring this comment on our Q&A episode this Sunday - thanks for phoning in!

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hardening

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@Richardthe3rd: Great post and I totally agree with your argument. I play for the challenge, and the joy of using my concentration, perseverance, intellect, reflexes, skill and sheer will to overcome that challenge. It's exercise for your brain and I like that. Most AAA games are ridiculously easy to the extent that I feel like I'm just watching a bad movie. In the past decade I've moved towards competitive multiplayer, and skip the base game altogether, at least for FPSs. A game that is challenging in a way that makes sense, with good physics, design, story and aesthetic is the ideal in my humble opinion.

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Richardthe3rd

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@hardening: and that's just it. Difficulty in many games asks the player to engage themselves rather than being a voyeur that sometimes pushes buttons.

Cinematic presentation, voice acting and to an extent visuals and the extreme amount of attention they get have shifted focus from the player to the developer recently, and it's high time that changes back. It's good to see that people in these comments feel the same way.

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superwhat666

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@Richardthe3rd: Do you regularly participate in any forum(s)? If so, which one(s)? Btw I'm genuinely intrigued, because, although I've become a HUGE sucker for casual games (I'm looking at you @randomperson7) in the past several years, I had previously grown up accustomed to having little to no choice in difficulty. So I absolutely can appreciate where you and @hardening are coming from.

Having said that, I do feel I'm very short on ideas on how one would go about creating sufficient incentive for players to choose the hardest difficulty in any given single player game without adding unique content exclusively available to that difficulty setting (such as Cuphead).

I'm certain that one or more sensible solutions (that satisfy the conditions given above) is/are what the op could really use imho--not to mention that would help me as well. In fact, any answer would be much appreciated, even if we were to take the details elsewhere

So, in the off chance I do get a response from anybody, I do feel obliged to disclose the following: Thanks in advance :) <3

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Richardthe3rd

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@superwhat666: one example I can think of off the top of my head is Deus Ex Machina. Similar to Cuphead It's also a very difficult game with content gated behind higher difficulty levels, but it does offer a beginner setting that omits the final level.

But, there's also cosmetic unlocks you can "earn" by grabbing points you can likewise use to change your characters appearance, models, bullet colors etc.

In Deus Ex, you can unlock stuff just by playing the easier difficulty, but at a MUCH slower rate than the higher difficulties (I think you do run into a wall at some point too).

I think this sort of example where all players can draw from the same pool of cosmetic unlocks could work. It also gives players some incentive to master the game to increase the rate of unlocks.

Personally I don't have a problem with gating content behind higher difficulty levels; I feel like in games like this the difficulty is part of the experience and you'll miss something if you don't at least try. But I think you can make that content available on lower difficulties after a certain number of attempts as well.

There's lots of solutions to this I think, but I think players earning content isn't a bad concept in the end.

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superwhat666

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@Richardthe3rd: "There's lots of solutions to this"

I personally agree with you there. The only valid examples I was able to think of at the time were both the Theatrhythm Final Fantasy games, where one would gain exp at a greater rate on the two higher difficulties--also based on performance of course.

I'm sure other games are similar when experience points are involved. Wish Bethesda gave more incentive in their games to crank up the difficulty besides boring the shit outta more seasoned/veteran gamers lol.

Thanks again and until next time :)

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Dav3vsth3World

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I really never understood the appeal of Super-Hard difficult games. In this day and age they only seem to feel like a reason to justify the existence of YouTube lets players raging constantly at the camera.

I'd rather actually play the games and enjoy them. Not be treated like some BDSM gimp.

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randomperson7

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@Dav3vsth3World: Honestly my most fun moments with friends have been getting pissed over impossible games. It's funny, it's exciting, it's adrenaline inducing, and you can honestly bond with people really quickly over stuff like that. I enjoy casual experiences too. Don't get me wrong, but stupidly difficult games are a unique niche that should be preserved. If it's not your cup of tea there's nothing wrong with that. But that specific cup of tea is a rare commodity and I think it should exist for the dedicated fans who love it.

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Thanatos2k

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@Dav3vsth3World: There is a difference between games that are fun, and games that are satisfying.

Easy games are fun.

Hard games are satisfying.

You should stick to games that are easy if all you want is fun.

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nathanmaxtro

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@Dav3vsth3World:

I'm in my 30's and I feel the same way.

There is enough stress and difficult thing in my life that I play games as an escape and to have fun. The thing the that I use to pass time make me feel good should not cause stress.

I want a challenge, but not a controller throwing challenge.

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bussaondabeatho

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@nathanmaxtro: Wait you are 30? and you feel the same way? We had the most difficult games in the late 80's early 90's. Please tell me you just started gaming in 2010 or something. (29 btw) The rage is the enjoyable moments imo lol. Especially the relief after fighting a boss 20 times and finally beating them.

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scottyp360

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@bussaondabeatho: haha it can get a bit sadomasochistic. I don't blame many games for the sake of difficulty but I understand the joy and satisfaction from overcoming a challenging and frustrating videogame (or section of a videogame). One moment you want to smash your controller the next you feel like you conquered the world.

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BuckNuckus

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Edited By BuckNuckus

@nathanmaxtro: Good thing there are a lot of video games to cater to your play style already

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scottyp360

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@bucknuckus: This is how I look at it, at the end of the day it's just more choice and variety in a form of entertainment we all enjoy. There are enough different types of games out there for everyone to enjoy. We are all gamers but that doesn't mean we have to like every game or type of game, even if it is considered great or classic.

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firedrakes

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not mention is poor level design which can make a game hard or lazy dev putting the npc with unlimited mana

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