Thought of the Day: It’s so hard to talk about difficulty

The problem with discussing difficulty in games (and particularly MMOs) is that as soon as you comment that something is hard, you lay yourself open to loads of hardcore fanboys/girls leaping on your back and proclaiming that you are a noob and should l2p. Or else suggesting that you have no right to judge the game’s difficulty unless you’ve already completed it on the hardest possible mode.

Say that something isn’t hard and the reaction is likely to be the opposite – you might be labelled hardcore.

So it’s a discussion that can only really be had sensibly with mature gamers (note: this is not related to physical age), a category which is not in the majority on official bboards. It’s not that we can’t have these discussions, it’s just that there’s a lot of social pressure for MMO bloggers to pretend it isn’t happening.

Plus we should value the reviewers who are brave enough to say when they think some content is overtuned.

And fact is, particularly in games where there are difficulty settings, it’s very useful for gamers to get an idea of a) how much difficulty is most fun for them and b) which games have harder or easier tuning at different levels.

Think of it as like comparing clothes sizes in different shops. Some shops, a size 8 will be huge, and in others it will be tiny. And yet, if you say that M&S (or pick any clothes shop of your choice) cut their clothes on the large size, no one starts insulting you.

Anyway, for the record:

WoW heroic instances in Cataclysm were mostly OK for tuning, but some of the bosses were overtuned and Blizzard didn’t fix them fast enough. However the heroics were mostly way too long, and they still haven’t figured a way to stop people queueing for heroics before they have learned the normal modes so LFD was stuffed.

WoW normal raids in Cataclysm are not any harder than Wrath raids (eg. Ulduar, ICC). They may seem a bit harder for 10 man groups who used to run Wrath raids in 25 man gear.

Dragon Age: Origins was overturned in its normal difficulty mode. (Sorry Syncaine, but it was. See the comments in the link to follow that one.)

Torchlight was undertuned in normal mode.

Anyone else want to get anything off their chest about games they’ve played that seemed over or under tuned. (I don’t really include games like Demon Souls or Super Meat Boy that are sold on the basis of being hard and unforgiving.)

I have to play it again on hard mode?

casablanca

There are two types of gamer in the world. Those who want to play through a game again on a harder mode after they’ve finished it, and those who don’t.

This is an issue that many players will now be facing in WoW. The latest raid instance has not posed a major challenge in normal mode, even to casual raid groups. But the question is: Do we want to play it again, with shorter enrage timers, more adds, and the raid taking more damage all round? If the answer is no, then Blizzard’s flagship is looking thin on content at the moment.

Oh, there is plenty to do in WoW. It’s just that at this stage in the expansion, players who were in from the start have generally already done as much as they wanted of the older stuff. Alts are a possibility, but time to level and gear up is faster than ever, especially if you use heirlooms and xp via PvP (apparently Alterac Valley is where the big xp gains are to be made). We are also now into the ‘holiday season,’ with Brewfest, Hallow’s End, and WinterVeil leading up to the end of the year, and there are new holidays this year also  (Day of the Dead, something to do with pilgrims and turkeys).

They’ve successfully channelled more players into the raid game, and now we see where that is leading. Because when the raid game is ‘finished,’ what is there to do while waiting for the next raid? The gap in difficulty between normal and hard mode Coliseum is high — a raid which can muster enough dps to clear the normal mode might hit a brickwall on the first encounter of the heroic version.

There will be plenty of content in Icecrown whenever patch 3.3 comes out, but that probably won’t be for months. If you’re playing WoW, how are you keeping yourself amused at the moment?

Harnessing the desire to show off in front of noobs

If there is one thing that all human beings share, it’s the desire to show off in front of other people. If we’ve picked up useful skills, knowledge, gear, or achievements, they just seem more meaningful after they have been paraded in front of other people. We imagine the awed silence as the pecking order rearranges itself around us — just as well we imagine it because the actual reaction may be less enthusiastic.

For all that, this happens any time a group of people with similar interests get together. We showed off in front of each other in school, our parents showed off in front of each other at parent-teacher meetings, we show off at work, we show off in our hobby groups, we show off in our games. It isn’t always a negative trait. In fact, one way to show someone else that you know more than they do is to offer to help them.

I ran a couple of PUGs this week and I was thinking about this phenomenon.

At this phase of my WoW playing, I’m way overgeared and experienced to run heroics. They are trivial. There is no challenge there that really interests me. They’re just ‘stuff to do to get badges’, as easy as falling off a log. And sometimes it makes the runs more interesting if I get to show off a bit, which means running with people who aren’t as well geared and showing them how much easier things get with a really good tank.

So with that as background, here’s how my PUGs went.

In which I take a day off from tanking

I was knocking around Dalaran late in the evening, feeling as though I ought to have a crack at the daily instance (because it was Violet Hold and was located approximately 30s from where I was standing) but also feeling too lazy to put a group together. So I hopped onto LFG and immediately heard someone asking for dps for that instance.

I thought – fine, I have a dps spec. So I paged the guy, who was another warrior. He asked about my stats. I said ‘It’s violet hold heroic.’ (this implies ‘don’t be stupid’).  He laughed and invited me. We rolled into the instance and things didn’t go so well. The tank wasn’t familiar with the minibosses we randomly were assigned so we wiped a couple of times on the ethereal boss. I normally don’t step in when someone else is tanking, it just seems rude. But after two of the mouthier dps split, I suggested I’d grab a couple of guildies and maybe I would tank and he could dps so he could see how to kite the boss around the top balcony.

In a vision from bizarro world, it turns out that he had awesome dps gear and had only been tanking to get the badges (which is funny because I have great tanking gear and had been dpsing in my offspec for the same reason). Much hilarity was had and we knocked out the instance fairly swiftly after that.

In which easy mode is not that easy

The second instance group wasn’t actually a PUG although it felt like one in some ways. I was invited to come tank the daily heroic by a guildie and noticed that it was a guild group, but also contained two of our less experienced/ competent/ geared dps. (Fortunately not THAT GUY who always grabs aggro off the tank in every instance or raid or city or … actually any time he’s even in the same zone;  I suspect every guild has a version of their own. If you are THAT GUY, don’t take this personally but all the tanks hate you and try to avoid grouping with you whenever they can.)

So we pick up a healer who is someone’s inexperienced alt and head off to the Halls of Lightning. I eye the group and decide that in order to get a smooth run, we won’t try anything fancy. The last member of the group, who is a raider, asks if we can get the achievement on the first boss. I say no, and whisper him to explain that I don’t think the group will handle it well. He doesn’t agree but goes with me anyway.

All goes well. A few rooms further in, after various people have pulled adds with their arses or forgotten to turn off growl, he whispers me again to say that I am a tanking goddess and he should have had himself flayed with knotted ropes for ever thinking to disagree with my judgement. OK, he actually said ‘lol I see what you mean.’ But that’s what he meant.

The point of this is not to have a go at my guildies, who are nice people who pay attention and just happen not to play as much or as hardcore. What actually happened is that we had a clear run through the instance, everyone got their badges, and we did (somehow?) manage to get the speed kill on Loken for the achievement at the end despite the fact that two of the dps were showing lower on the damage meters than I was.

Nope. My point is that regardless of how uber I am, I cannot solo that instance. Taking less hardcore players along cost us a few minutes (I’ll say we could maaaybe have saved 15 mins if we had speed pulled HoL with a geared group, because I paused to explain the boss fights) and some achievements that no one cared about. That was the only cost.

There’s really no reason to be nasty about people’s gear for heroics. Even if someone is low on the damage meters, they’re still helping you get badges. And if you decide to spend 15 mins waiting around in chat to find better geared people then congratulations, you probably would have got through it at about the same time if you’d taken the first guys in the list.

On another note, I totally nailed the annoying HoL pull with the two runecasters. I was quite proud. No one else probably appreciated it. But I think this does prove the point that in games, just as in life, by the time you have the experience to ace all the challenges, you probably don’t need it any more.