Pensieve-Post #1 Game Difficulty Paradigms ~ Ikaruga
[This marks the first of new series of posts inspired by Albus Dumbledore's pensieve from the Harry Potter franchise. This blog is serving as a mental-memory receptacle for myself and others to retrieve at will (in a third-person context nonetheless).]
Okay, so I'm sitting here, and I'm watching three separate conversations take place:
1 - Presently Observing - RedSwirl and Bip1up regarding the Mega Man Franchise
2 - Past Conversation - A past conversation with Dustin Rodgers, stating his desires regarding difficulty in games
Y3N24 (7:47:59 PM): I would really like to see a detailed series on difficulty, and challenge in games. What games do what to increase the challenge/difficulty. Does fun increase or decrease with challenge? At what point in different games does something become too hard? Why is it too hard? Does too much difficulty always equate to frustration? What types of games have to be hard? Basically examining difficulty differently through different games.
3 - Perpetual Thought Conflict - The thunderstorm of tirades that at least three facets of my own personality are screaming at each other (regarding Ikaruga). Also, take a peak at an old post written by Jeffrey Rousseau on 1UP.
The spark of inspiration for this post came from simply listening to Hiroshi Iuchi's "The Stone-Like - Final Chapter" from Ikaruga's OST.
How do games manipulate their own difficulties? The process for tempering them is no doubt a tedious yet necessary cause (i.e. playtesting), but where do we draw the line? A game like Ikaruga's main appeal for me IS its own difficulty, plain and simple. Not simply because its a hard game to beat, no...no...no. This unique appeal is because of the game's innate and consistent forte of establishing a sort of gamer-spirituality. That has to be a hard to do, and most older Shumups (is that the term?) are best at this. Typically, problem with anything this difficult is balance. Plenty of games simply don't know how to create their own equilibrium with their own generated context. Ikaruga isn't the exemplar of absolute balance, but it does stand to prove my point.
The aforementioned track, "The Stone-Like - Final Chapter"
The game speaks in a minimalist tone on a plethora of levels, but at the end of the day, it's not an easy game to excel at. Don't get me wrong, I've certainly played harder, but this title is no push over by any stretch of the imagination. It welcomes a sort of individual presence and I think that's what most people respond so positively towards. For me, my "threshold jack-in" was the music. It became an active part of the game play and I wouldn't have been able to pull off the feats I've done in the game without it. Using the music, I was able to actively impart world 5-3 of my own GaA entry on to this title.
When a game like this can expertly craft an amplified sense of time with it's own difficulty, it's an automatic masterpiece in my eyes. Gaming is a highly visual and auditory process so when a gamer reaches their perceptive limits, a phenomenon is caused in which they can experience time on a different spectrum (I guess the hipsters would say "in the zone"?). In a sense, this is what gave rise to the now-cliche use of slow-motion in films and games, that phenomenon.
Ikaruga, Chapter 4, My personal favorite.
Of course, a third party will see nothing more than someone playing a game. The person lucky enough be operating on such a spectrum however, will be granted a temporary state of gaming-godhood though. Again, Ikaruga is not the best at this (or maybe it is, what the hell do I know), but it is by far one of the better examples I can think of at the moment. It seems that game's versatility even allows an extension into how their audience can perceive them---as opposed to just playing.
You escapist assholes...
So if I'm going anywhere with this I can pose the question:
Is a game's "admirable-difficulty" simply a by-product of expert development?
Is it an active field of creative output that can be manipulated more and more as the technology of the medium increases?
More Ikaruga artwork can be found here.