That Old Difficulty Bugbear

Another MMO difficulty discussion has appeared!

Both Keen and Bhagpuss have posts up, with the former talking about being praised for running his healer over to the tank during aggro, and the latter missing:

Having to look around, pay attention, evaluate the situation, review options, compare current circumstances with previous experience. I miss the need to know, in detail, what tools I have in the box and which ones I need to pull out when. Crucially, I miss having the time to do all that and enjoy it.

This discussion is a bit different than the usual “good ole days” ones though. For one thing, Burning Crusade was relevant up into the end of 2008, and I distinctly remember entire heroic dungeon stratagems revolving around face-pulling with the paladin tank and then hiding in a door corner Consecrating and hoping for the best. Wrath shifted things a year later, of course, but the raids brought them back. Then there was Cataclysm for a minute. A minute too long IMO, but nevermind.

Point being, it’s been less than a decade. And potentially zero difference in coordination required, depending on the content you are doing. I’m not sure what the “Unrest Fireplace” deal is, but if it requires 6+ people with crazy pulls and such, that almost sounds raid-ish. Or Challenge Mode-ish. Sure, it might also be “open-world” content, but let’s be serious: there isn’t much difference.

The Bhagpuss angle is also interesting, as he admits that it isn’t a lack of challenge per se, but rather a changing in what the challenge consists of:

Players and developers alike have come to expect overt, clear signals in the form of ground markers, circles, cones, colors and written or spoken instructions. We’ve gone from improvisational theater to an on-book recital with cue-cards and a prompt.

What Bhagpuss misses is the “local knowledge,” which dictated which mobs were easy and which were not, which guards would protect you, where the safest farming spots were, and so on. And… that’s okay, I guess. It is indeed a challenge type that has been entirely supplanted by modern games with mods and Wikis and crowdsourced and datamined knowledge, often weeks before the content even goes Live.

On the other hand… if you had time to improv, was the content really that difficult?

And what does it say about the difficulty itself, if it were dependent on the slow accretion of experience? I do not consider trial and error particularly challenging. Nor memory games, for that matter. Which really just leaves… execution. The eponymous Raid Dance. I don’t know any people who are seriously thrilled about a difficulty that revolves around playing voidzone Guitar Hero for 12 full minutes, but a challenge that can be defeated via YouTube isn’t much of a challenge either, IMO.

There really isn’t one answer here. Everyone wants content tailored to their skill level, which means we all end up wanting different things. I will say though that many MMOs actually do have what Keen and Bhagpuss are probably looking for, in at least token amounts. If you want an entire game revolving around that though, sorry, you are going to have to stick with the niche titles. Because for however many amazing experiences you had, twenty other people died for what seemed like no reason, their group fell apart, and they lost hours of their life.

These days, you will know why you failed: you stood in the fire.

Posted on March 2, 2016, in Commentary and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I won’t speak for Bhagpuss, but as I agreed with his post, I will speak for myself.

    I don’t think difficulty or challenge are the point. I do like those things, at least at times, in my MMOs, and I do feel capable of handling them with the right team, but when I wax nostalgic about things like EverQuest or even Vanilla/TBC WoW, I am not wishing for a return to “HARD, DIFFICULT, CHALLENGING ENCOUNTERS”.

    Instead, what I miss is the cooperation and communication that made overcoming the odds so much easier. I miss having the varied roles and gameplay styles. I miss having to actually talk to my group and hatch out a plan for the next room. I miss that slow crawl feeling, as opposed to the almost-mindless running pace we get most of the time today.

    You can still find that kind of thing in some places, but you typically need to bring a group of friends these days if you expect to do it at all. Then, since you are bringing a premade group anyway, you can maximize the roles you bring and you’ve already established communication prior so there’s no “meeting new people” really. The whole affair just feels less dynamic, less interesting, and isn’t quite the same as I remember things being once.

    Of course, for every strangers overcoming challenges group I had, I probably had 50 more of the let’s wipe repeatedly until we hate one another and disband groups, so who knows.


    • I can see what you mean. At the same time, I don’t really grok what changed that wasn’t already on the way out. I missed the vanilla boat, but I was there for most of TBC and experienced 3-hour Shadow Lab runs and such. I indeed remember having to methodically talk through almost every room, as I knew that failure meant the possibility of this group – which had already taken 50 minutes to cobble together – disbanding. And I also distinctly remember hating it with a burning passion. After hand-holding the twelfth group through SLabs, I realized even my text macros were too much bother. Why did I have to teach everyone everything?

      I do agree that the “meeting competent people” angle is lost these days, as any given person you run into is imminently disposable. I still remember having the requirement to run possible new guild recruits through a few heroics to judge their competency and ability to work in a group. That is all out the door.

      On the other hand? WoW was my Facebook there at the beginning. Now that is no longer necessary. Had WoW not evolved alongside my own predilections, if Wrath was TBC 2.0, I would have quit right then rather than have one of the most transformative MMO social experiences I had throughout the expansion.

      Those experiences Keen and Bhagpuss are talking about were indeed great. It is amazing when a run comes together. But I think it is a mistake to forget all the failure and abject misery those same systems generated the entire rest of the time.


      • I don’t forget it. I want a cleaner experience too. I don’t mind matchmaking and I don’t miss battling respawns. I just want the trash to matter and to be able to CC again.


  2. Repeatable scripted content plays a role here. I don’t mind having a hard dungeon where I must intricately plan every move…once. Do I want that every time? Hell no! I remember back in late BC when Paladin tanks appeared on the scene. It was like God reached down from heaven and lifted us benighted souls up, showing us a new path to glorious enlightenment. Been there done that give me the badges.


  3. Murf is on the money with his comment above. He certainly can speak for me as far as that goes.

    I also think it’s certainly still possible to have a similar experience in many MMOs today if you group with like-minded people but the big difference was that for quite a while it was also the experience you’d expect to have in most pick-up groups. Discussion of tactics and strategy was, if not a given, at least commonplace both before and during most dungeon runs. It was almost as common on overland, open world content, for that matter, much of which took place in groups.

    For me, “difficulty” doesn’t really come into it. Indeed I read “difficult” as a pure negative. If I find anything “difficult” it means I am not enjoying it and if I don’t enjoy something i am doing in my own free time then I stop doing it pretty much immediately. What I’m remembering isn’t a higher level of difficulty – it’s a higher level of interest, involvement, commitment, investment – something along those lines.

    Matt above is also right in that needing to concentrate like that is tiring. I didn’t do it all the time then and I wouldn’t want to do it all the time now. It just seems like a long time since I’ve had to do it at all while engaged in regular, bread-and-butter leveling content. A bit of light and shade wouldn’t go amiss.

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  1. Pingback: Of Face Pulls & Stratagems – Murf Versus

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