A Challenging Game

Earlier this week Joysiq shared an article that absolutely flawed me. Terry Garret, a 23 year old student from Colorado, managed to complete Abe’s Exodus despite one major setback. Terry is completely blind!

He has learnt to play the game purely based on the sounds and effects in the game, the only help he required was for someone to first explain the menus for him so that he could properly save the game.

What is below is a little video of him playing the game while explaining how he does it & how good the sound editing was on the Abe allowing for this to even be possible.


This must have been one hell of a challenge for Terry and I have nothing but respect for him for managing it, I hope he finds more games he can finish and that designers out there pay attention to this as an example of the importance of proper sound design.

It also however got me thinking, Where has the challenge gone in my gaming?

I used to really enjoy challenges in my gaming, hours would be lost to a challenging level in a game or to a puzzle that required second perfect actions. Those were great times, but then they were also times when I had something I believe was called ‘free time’.

I say believe as its been that long since I had any I am not sure it ever really existed. It may just be a figment of my overworked imagination.

Anyway the point was that seems to have gone away when it comes to my gaming experience. That is not to say that is gone from games in general – there are many games that are as challenging as the classics, but there has also a lot of them that have followed a trend towards simpler, more casual friendly experience.

Also please don’t mistake this for an Anti-Casual rant, There are elements of the casual side of things that really please me now. Being able to drop in and out of an MMO when I have a spare moment or two without having to worry about dedicating hours is a godsend.

No, the point I’m getting at is that this kid has made me realise that I have become overly casual in my gaming.

For Example, I honestly cant remember the last time I played a console game on a difficulty level higher than ‘Normal’ for more than an hour. I used to play games on their greatest difficulty levels so that I could truly feel like I had beaten them, but somewhere along the line that stopped.

One of the prime reasons for that I guess would be time, with so many games coming out that I want to play I’ve had to redefine my view of completion. Where before I would want to experience everything, I guess that was because there was a lot smaller choice of games to get those experiences from.

Another thing that I guess has lead to a lower completion boundary is possibly my work at Thirteen1. Each month I have an average of at least 3 games that I have to review, preview or otherwise give some coverage of, usually more. While that doesn’t sound like an overly large amount, all of my games coverage is done outside of office hours as it is actually a secondary job. My main job as I have mentioned before is as a developer.

Now when I cover a game, I prefer where possible to have played as much as I can in the time available. In the case of story driven games, that means playing out as much of the story as I can – which usually means dropping the difficult to power through it. The same is true of MMO’s to a degree, in order to give an opinion on that I usually have to find the path of least resistance to get to experience as much of it as I can.

I can only assume this is a problem a great many game writers also encounter. Thankfully being a monthly magazine it’s not that often we experience the manic rush to be the first site to have our coverage out there.

I guess for this, I’m just going to have to make a concerted effort to forcibly knock the difficulty up for my reviews or to at least go back at a later date and play them again at the higher difficulty.

MMO’s it becomes a bit more complex, while I earlier said that this was not an Anti-Casual rant there will be an element of that here.

This is the primary genre I play in my little remaining free time, so you would think that the rise of casual in the genre would be a bonus for me. As I have already said for the most part it is a bonus, I love being able to drop in and out. That doesn’t mean that I cannot also feel nostalgic for the days when the genre included challenges as part of their very design.

A prime example of what I mean are death penalties.

While I did play bits of Ultima and the occasional MUD, I would probably classify Everquest as the first time I became truly interested in the MMO genre. My flatmate at the time was also interested in the game – so we decided to share the account. This was about the time the Ruins of Kunark expansion.

One thing that drew me in was the fact that you had to think about what you were going to attack or face the wrath of the dreaded ‘corpse-run’. Many times I would forget to set my bind-point near where I was levelling, get a bit too adventurous and find myself doing the long embarrassing run to reclaim everything. There were even a few occasions where I had to completely abandon my corpse.

This made you think twice before running into a mob filled area, or at least made you involve yourself with the community a little to find yourself a binder or a rezzer/summoner.

Over time these death penalties have slowly been eroded, very rare now is the MMO that impacts your XP on death, even rarer is the MMO that will cause you to lose your items and run back to your corpse to recover it all.

WoW’s death penalty is one that I find particularly weak, Death incurs a mere 10% durability loss unless you choose to resurrect at the graveyard rather than walking back to where you died. Even your walk back is not challenging as you are in ghost form, where you are untouchable.

As a result you take stupid risks, you don’t think twice before charging into a crowded area as you know your probably going to die but you will earn a lot more than you are punished for your stupidity. I am just as guilty of this as anyone else, rare is the time I look at a health or mana bar when playing wow unless I am in a dungeon.

However that’s not the point of this post, the point was the loss of challenge in my gaming. In the past when a game was no longer challenging to me, I would put it back in somehow myself.  For example, Sonic 1 – I once played that while self enforcing a 1 hit rule. If I lost a single ring I would kill him to start that section again.

So I think its time to do that with my MMO’s – I will put back some of the challenge back in but I’m not sure what challenge to try. Current Ideas are

  1. Self Imposed Perma-Death – to see how far I can get into a modern MMO before I have to declare the character dead
  2. Self Imposed Loot-Drop – Every time I die I would have to empty my inventory, including quest items
  3. Item Level Restriction – I’ve tried to do this in WoW a couple of times, playing the game but only allowing myself to use white items. Each time has unfortunately been scuppered by my own distractability, but these last few months I have gotten better at focusing on set goals, so may be able to give this one another shot.
  4. Ability Restriction – This would be the likes of playing STO with only my CE Original Enterprise OR Champions using only energy building powers

I will have to pick one of these but I’m not sure yet which it will be. When I do make a choice I will make a start, the next question would obviously be WoW, STO or CO? I have a regular subscription to WoW and have lifetime subs on the other two so they would be the natural choice for the games to try this in.

Whatever I decide I will be sure to document it, if only to force me to keep up with it

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