July 2010: I have reposted this article in the hope of generating some interesting discussion. It was originally published in April 2006.
A long time ago I started a thread on a gaming forum about expert SP FPS gamers. I asked if anybody had beaten a modern (HL1 or Unreal 1 onwards) Single Player First Person Shooter on the hardest setting without playing sections twice. Let me explain that a little. You are allowed to save a game but only to provide a natural break (toilet, food or sleep!); you are not allowed to quick load when you are running low of health or ammo.
Also you were not allowed to have prior knowledge of the game, by that I mean watching somebody else play and thereby know what happens in certain places. The general consensus was that “No, it had not been done and if it had then the game would have been far too easy”.
At the time I accepted that as a fair answer but now I’m not so sure. Just because one or two people could do it doesn’t mean the game would be too easy. Thousands of players struggle every minute of every day on the lower difficulty settings in many games, that doesn’t mean the game is too hard, does it?
When I first started playing Unreal Tournament I was surprised at how hard the higher difficulty settings were. I believed it was impossible to beat the game on the Godlike setting. I was amazed to learn that many people had already completed it at this setting. Now, unfortunately I started play SP games before I managed to finish the game at this setting but I am honest enough to admit I probably wouldn’t have been able to do it.
These thoughts led onto the idea that players of all standards expect to die when playing computer games. Over time we become accustomed to dying within games. This is nothing new or revealing to experienced players, but what about new players? Maybe they think they die because they are new to the game and will eventually stop dying as their skill and experience increases. Can anybody remember what they thought when they played their very first FPS game?
I think the very first FPS game I played was the demo of Klingon Honor Guard and I am highly embarrassed and ashamed to say I didn’t even get past the first room let alone the first level! I distinctly remember trying to exit a shuttle but getting hit as soon as the door opened. The few times I did get out of the shuttle I seemed to be a shot-magnet. Meaning every shot fired at me, hit me. I can’t remember whether there was a difficulty setting but all I remember was thinking “This is ridiculous!” and I stopped playing soon after.
If I had been prepared for the concept of dying many times then maybe I would have persevered. I wonder how many other players, especially older player who have little or no experience with these types of games, have actually given up and moved onto other game genres? Ones where they don’t die!
About 6 months later I found a CD with the Unreal Tournament demo and loaded that up. I was hooked with 2 minutes. This was easy compared to the previous game and dying was part of the game that didn’t adversely affect the outcome.
I’d never really thought about it before but that’s a big difference between the two game types. In MP dying has little affect on the final outcome of the game whereas in SP it generally means going back to the beginning or at least to the last save. This approach reminds me of Snakes and Ladders, which I hated by the way.
Imagine an SP game where when you died you simply spawned again in exactly the same place minus any extra weapons or other items you collected. How much would that spoil the overall game for you? I’m not convinced it would but maybe I’m wrong. There’s a certain satisfaction in being able to get past a tricky situation without being killed. Perhaps there could be a setting in the options menu where you choose either automatic respawn or back to the last save point.
People, especially competitive people, like to be challenged. If you played a game where you didn’t die would you feel cheated? What if the game changed its difficulty settings based on your playing skill? This would be similar to the setting in Unreal Tournament where the bots have their skill level adjusted based on your performance. Would you need the psychological event of death to feel challenged? I’m not sure. Personally I believe we need some sort of event that says “This game has bettered you”. Although it doesn’t have to be death, for example in Blaze Bolden death will be replaced with capture.
Most of us have probably played non-fps games that we have completed but perhaps lost a number of lives. How often have we replayed that game trying to complete it without losing a life? Have any PP readers replayed an FPS game from start to finish specifically to complete it without losing a life?
This brings me onto the next point. How much of our enjoyment of a game is affected my using cheats? I’ll admit that a few times I have turned on “God” mode because I couldn’t get past a boss or a really difficult section. I hated having to do it but I had tried SO many times without success that it seemed my only option. Perhaps games should come with the ability to drop the difficulty level for short periods. Maybe you are allowed a set number of minutes and once you use them up then you have to stay with the set level. For example, for start the game on “Hard” but have 10 minutes where you can play on “Medium”. I would really appreciate this option.
After all my ramblings I think I still believe that to really enjoy a game it has to “beat” us in some way. Perhaps that way is death or maybe it is like Return to Castle Wolfenstein which gives you statistics at the end of the level. That was simply saying “You may have gotten to the end of the level but did you find all the other bonuses and goodies?”
I’m curious as to how many other techniques could be used to Beat the player. One other technique that springs to mind is a puzzle. But in many ways that is testing a different skill than playing games on a harder difficulty setting.
Do you have any ideas?