Poll Question 323 – Do you think that the majority of mods for each respective game are harder than the games themselves?

3rd October 2015

This week’s poll question (a few days late – sorry) was inspired by Carolyn (a RTSL reader) talking about mods being hard.

One of the possibilities for mods is to ramp up the difficulty giving it a smaller “market” but I respect mods that aim for a particular type of player or focus their work in some way.

In general, I don’t think mods are harder than the respective games, although, and more experienced readers feel free to correct me, some early HL1 mods were pretty hardcore.

I’m working on a MapTap idea to allow users to have more control over the difficulty of mods, but I am torn between wanting to give players the choice and respecting what the modders have created.

If a mod is too hard early on, then it’s just too easy for players to cheat, don’t you think? Whereas, if a player has gone through most of the mod without cheating they are more likely to try to finish that way.

Anyway, back to the actual poll question.

All I am looking for in mods is new and interesting situations, not tougher fights.

What about you?

Time to vote


  1. Hec

    I voted Maybe, because ONLY in some games that actually happens. In HL2 no way!!! Maybe in HL1. And definitely happens in Portal 1 and 2 (that’s why I usually hate Portal mods). And also it can happen in L4D 1&2 Custom Campaigns.

    1. Excellent point about Portal and P2, some of those were insane.

    2. I agree about the Portal 2 … jeez that workshop is insane. I’ve only ever bothered to make 2 real maps for it, and I know so many people who have great gobs of them – all too hard for me to figure out even with help sometimes.

      1. Hec

        Yeap, I definitely don’t understand the logic in some modders for the Portal Saga. You know. The difficulty skill is absolutely insane in some of them!! like Phillip says. I remember Portal Prelude… Cool story but just frustrating as hell.

        It seems like many portal modders want to show the world how smart they are by placing some terrible difficult levels. That’s the reason why I didn’t finished “Rexaura”.

        1. The problem with something like Portal is that either you understand the solution or you don’t. If you’ve done one puzzle with a certain gimmick, solving another one with the same gimmick is trivial. As long as the mods are married to Portal’s existing mechanics, there will be this subconscious temptation to make them more difficult because everyone has seen the simpler examples already. And unfortunately, if you already know the solutions, Portal puzzles quickly turn into busy work. It’s, generally speaking, more fun to figure out the puzzle than it is to execute the solution. Hence why puzzles where the execution is difficult, because of timers for example, quickly becomes tedious.

          That’s why the flow of Portal 2 had Valve introducing new mechanics on a regular basis and resetting the difficulty curve each time, rather than making things outright more difficult. They barely scratched the surface in terms of combining these mechanics in the Wheatley levels, but it was probably by design, because they wanted to avoid the exact thing Portal modders are guilty of.

  2. Sure community made SP mods or levels can be more hard, but I stretch to say that its in a fair way. You could look at HL2 for example and make the argument that the hardest levels are the ones that are not the best paced, don’t give out enough resources or is just relentless with the NPCs thrown at you.

    But In my opinion, I don’t think that any mod will be more difficult than the street wars in HL2’s storyline, mainly because of the god damn striders… A time before getting the instant kill bombs you can use, you’d had to work with a RPG which they have pin point accuracy on you, sometimes 2 or more in a single fight. When a level is hard enough to make me despise a NPC in it’s every form, nothing could beat it.
    (I shudder when I see the strider cross the streets at the start of HL2 these days…)

    1. The way I see it, the streetwar – especially the part with the three Striders marching around the building just before you meet up with Dog – is the de facto “final boss” of the game. Not Breen, not the twin Gunships. So, it kind of makes sense that it’s a difficult scenario that puts everything you know to the test.

      At least in that battle, you can sort of take it at your own pace. Ep2’s ending is just relentless. Yes, it’s appropriately epic, but it can be quite frustrating. You can feel you’re doing everything right, and then one Strider gets by and ruins your day. And the epicness eventually gives way to tedium and frustration. There’s a really fine line when it comes to climactic battles like this – you want them to feel like a challenge, but for the sake of maintaining the feel of the moment, you almost don’t want them to actually be a challenge.

      1. I managed to beat EP2’s final fight on the first go, I had to redo the strider fight in the street wars a lot of times. To be honest though, in comparison to a lot of the other fights had in the game, the street war strider fight was the most underwhelming there, the gunship fight on the bridge, the teleporter fight in nova prospekt and the end helicopter fight in the canals were my personal favourites. Street wars fight made me hate Striders and its not changed since I first played it.

        1. I actually dislike most of “day 3” in Half-Life 2, so you’ll hear no argument from me defending streetwar. 🙂

  3. I have voted “yes”, but I think it’s pretty natural if you think about it.

    Mods are usually by people who know the game inside-out and could play it blindfolded, for people who have already finished it. You don’t normally play mods and custom stories if you have not finished the main game, especially because they could spoil something or use mechanics that you haven’t been introduced to yet. So it’s pretty much to be expected that when they play mods, players are looking for something with a little bit more challenge than the game they have already played.

  4. I’d have to go with “Yes” on this.

    Hec brings up an excellent point with Portal. It’s one of the reasons I’ve never dealt with Portal mods, to be honest. They seem to be in a race to “out hardcore” each other. But it’s not just Portal. Take most indie retro games which are difficult just for the sake of being difficult, whether they are 8-bit throwbacks or something like the Rise of the Triad remake, which is brutally difficult and frustratingly cheap. Or Super Mario Maker – there’s an example – most of the levels on there are ridiculously hard. As with many games, beginners have this tendency to make giant killbox maps (a.k.a. Gruntfests). They don’t have the skill to make anything more elaborate, and an empty level is silly, so the more enemies the merrier, right?

    The fact is, it’s easier to make a hard game than a balanced one. That’s why whenever I see high difficulty as a selling point, I tend to roll my eyes. That’s usually not a feature – it’s the result of lazy design and I dismiss excuses like “That’s just how it was back then.” Because it wasn’t. I mean, yes, some older games were brutally difficult, but the ones we remember in a good way were tough-but-fair. Or had ways to mitigate their high difficulty, alternative options to serve players of varying skill.

    In the case of a franchise that’s been around for a long time, there can be huge skill disparity. Not just because those playing from the start have built up a lot of experience, but because new players… well, I won’t say they are under-skilled, but they’re skilled at different things, such that an older game can feel quite alien to them. So, creating a difficulty that can balance as wide a demographic as possible is something that requires thought.

  5. I agree with a lot of the sentiment here: some mods are just … hard, and it may often feel like individual mod makers are just vindictive as heck against their player base. I did vote ‘maybe’ though, because I believe in a lot of ways the *best* mods are neither too easy nor harder than the originals.

    I think a lot of us have played, just for shoots and wiggles, some of those terrible excursions into ‘shoot everything and keep shooting’ mods, and not regretted it. When I find a mod that I *want* to like, but can’t because it’s just too stupid hard (( and on that note, Tomb Raider ’13 … I … ugh.)) and you can’t finish it or just have to resort to cheating. I’d rather know in advance, “this is a dumb run and gun and you won’t do much other than that”, or “you will have to die a lot in order to figure out how to do this”.

    When someone thinks they’re being clever, when they’re really just being harsh, I don’t much care for it. That’s ‘most’ of the Portal 2 workshop maps in a nutshell. I’m glad other people can figure their way through them but I certainly can’t, and most of the people making them regard people like me to be too dumb to play them. It’s definitely not just me, thankfully, that can’t figure out 14 different puzzle parts before even setting one portal down, am I right?

    I think also with time, as we’re well over a decade of modding for these products, the newer mod makers have learned from their fellows, not just from playing the basic games. That says a lot – you’ll know a specific map maker by their signature style, and certainly if I was to work on something I’d be asking for advice about this and that from every one that’s still around. That’s an advantage that you don’t necessarily have when there aren’t as many mods out, or early in a game’s release cycle. Earlier mods or I should say mods closer to the release of their games, I suspect (but can’t say for sure as I am coming at a LOT of mods 8-10 years late!) may be harder outright, and ease off as time goes by.

    Good subject this week.

    1. The danger you run into with that latter example is when a community begins to establish its own set of rules and expectations which alienates newcomers or those or who never agreed with the loudest voices in the first place.

      You see this a lot in older game communities.

  6. galocza

    mods are harder, sometimes much harder.
    but theres a reason for this: i think that in general mod makers know the given base game from inside out, all the tricks etc. they suppose and they are right that the prospective players will be similar. firstly i think they create mods with a difficulty level they would enjoy to play on the other hand this ensures that players on a similar level would enjoy to play them too.
    we all played some really punishig mods, some of them really sadistic but after playing through the base game x times they give a greater sense of accomplishment.

    1. Zekiran

      I don’t really agree because for some of us, the challenge is not just ‘how punished’ we are, but ‘how polished is the mod’. I don’t want to feel like I’m fighting with the creator of the mod, I want to feel like I’ve been through an experience similar to the game’s.

      Portal: Prelude is one of those that I just felt like there were some guys laughing their asses off at the people trying to play their mod. Sure there are plenty who *did* get through it, but plenty of others such as myself, who felt that all it was was an exercise in ‘dragging the player through ground glass’.

      Challenge obviously means different things to different people of course, but like I said above a lot of mod makers don’t seem to understand that their idea isn’t necessarily a good one – brutal game play is one thing, challenging is another.

      I think if you play tabletop rpgs at all, this idea makes more sense and might be clearer. The ‘vindictive GM’ syndrome I mention: the GM isn’t interested in letting their players have ‘fun’, they just want to exert their dominance over them. ‘You have to roll perfectly every time or else you die’. In a game where dice rolls might decide instant death, choosing to play that way isn’t fun – and why most ‘vindictive’ gms wind up without players at their table because they’ve alienated them.

      Some mods are like that. Where they are basically saying “hah hah you don’t have the twitch reflexes I do” and make it clear that they don’t want the player to enjoy themselves while playing. Is there a sense of accomplishment? Maybe, but I wouldn’t know – I’m not physically capable of doing some of the tricks that a few mods use.

  7. Hec

    Oh and I remember the recent that I played. Riot In Progress. Is just hard as hell. If you play it without cheating the saving gems. But I’d say is worthy if you do it, if you cheat the saving gems via console. And also follow some video walkthroughs available on Youtube.

  8. I feel a little guilty of this myself with Outpost 529. I seriously encourage modders and players to try hard difficulty out sometime. I finished Minerva on hard once. Goodness gracious. the author had modified the skills.cfg to make it challenging on normal, so on hard…let’s just say 8 damage bullets and 200 damage grenades got on my nerves a little, but it wasn’t too bad, the half-life ai is balanced well enough for that increased damage output, unlike some other mods I know. coughblackmesacough. I think I played Mission Improbable on hard too, it was a little unbalanced at the start, but after that it got better. If a player wants a challenge than they can switch to that, don’t make your level hard when there already is a hard setting. Seriously, though, try playing HL2 or any mod on hard.

    1. Zekiran

      I have never made it through either HL1 or 2 on Hard, at least not without eventually resorting to give_item or godmode briefly.

      1. I was about to say PU**Y but then realized neither have I!

    2. Yes, the HECU in Black Mesa are just ridiculous. There are a lot of questionable gameplay alterations and balancing decisions in Black Mesa, but it all comes to a head in the HECU setpieces.

    3. I might do something with this idea. Stay Tuned.

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