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02/06/2004

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Ryan

Two things: One, I'm pretty sure the mission was escapable when I played it- just turn around and go through the portal again. Two, the best way to do it is to do the four wells in the main area, then get up to the top of the building in the northeast corner, grind along the cable to the other side, and then go after the final one at the end of the ridge...hope this helps.

I agree that Naughty Dog rely far too much on the abusively hard non-platforming missions in Jak 2, though...I'm currently stuck on one not very far past the eco wells bit.

joshlee

The Eco Mines level was bad, but it wasn't nearly as awful as some of the chase sequences later in the game (for me, at least). The JD games are the 3D equivalent of all those old 2D platformers that required you to take a pixel-perfect running jump in order to clear a gap or obstacle, only to have another pit waiting just off-screen for you to fall into. After the twentieth time you've repeated a level, only to die *again* because the camera continually hides the platform you need to jump onto until you're already in the air, you begin to realize that you're not playing a game, you're simply being picked on. This was acceptable fifteen or twenty years ago, mostly because we didn't know any better. Players nowadays are less tolerant of having their progress impeded by artificial difficulties like time limits and blind jumps. Hopefully, Naughty Dog will eventually figure this out.

Ken

First of all, don't blame QA. I'm willing to bet that QA (not betatesters, those are the volunteers that sign up for public betas), bugged the glitch you mentioned in #2, but that it was waived due to time constraints. I'm sure the time limit was set by a designer.

That mission was pretty tough (must've taken me around 30 tries), however, I think the time limit was justified. It would have been easy to the point of pointlessness without one, and obviously the designer felt strongly enough about the time limit to create a plot point to explain it (the box full of ticking bombs), so perhaps you simply aren't in the demographic Naughty Dog had in mind for the game.

It would have been nice to be able to explore the level beforehand and determine the most efficient route. I just spent a couple tries exploring and not worrying about the bombs to determine what would be the best way. The fact that you couldn't get out of it (I'm pretty sure that was the case, since the previous cutscene established the time limit), was something of an oversight, however.

Lev

What frustrates me about J&D is that I wanted to beat it, but eventually the Naughty Dog torture runs were just too much. I'm not that proficient when it comes to things like hoverboarding missions, and even though I really enjoyed everything about the story, the plot, and the gameplay in general, I eventually took it back to the store feeling like I wasn't good enough to play their game.

I don't think anyone wants to feel like that after investing 15-20 hours into something.

But I don't expect it to change. This was the same reason I quit playing Crash Bandicoots. I was hoping they'd stopped hating their players.

Andrew

Interesting. Just the other day, I was complaining that games are way too easy these days. I enjoyed that particular mission in Jak II- it was a satisfying challenge, and I was able to figure out a good enough route to copmlete it on time. When I finally did finish it I got a huge sense of satisfaction that wouldn't have been possible without the strict time limit.

Now, you may be right about it being something you are forced to do, and that no system is in place to make it easier. But I think all in all, Jak II is worthy because it stands out as being a difficult game in a world of overly easy games. This is important because how difficult something is can really give more meaning to an event in a game; if you have to try several times than it is more memorable. I'd write more but my stepdad is breathing down my back to get me to get off of the computer.

Gregg Tavares

Yes, Jak II is HARD. I've thrown my controller in several games but Jak II gets the distinction of being the first one where the controller hit something. In this case a glass of juice that got all over my living room :-p

but, I just popped in the game and checked and you can exit that level. Just walk over to the teleporter and press triangle. Also, throwing the bombs does not happen automatically. You have to press X at the top of your jump. Maybe you were pressing it by accident sometimes since it's the same as the jump button and that's why you thought it was automatic.

That said, yes, Jak II is hard but sometimes it's just a matter of figuring out what to do.

**spoilers**

For example: The first time I got the shoot down 5 cruisers level I tried several times until I realized it was impossible or nearly so. So I quit and did something else. Later I got my machine gun upgraded to 200 rounds and then that mission was cake.

Another was the first tank level where the tank chases you. I could only make it to the area past the first sweeping lazers about one out of 5 times and the first few times I made it there I thought I needed to get the tank to crash through the fence/wall as it had done previously. Trying to get it to shoot it down killed me. About about 20-30 tries I finally figured out to jump on the crates.

I also saw the review over at gamecritics.com where the reviewer said he found going from place to place slow and tedious since he had to try not to blow up or alert the police. Somehow I got lucky and figured out early on that you can go full speed at low level and basically ignore whether or not you alert the police making it not that tedious at all and in a sense rather fun. Kind of like running from place to place in Zelda.

I think my least favorite level was the mine level were all the guards are throwing grenades at you from all sides. I really wanted to hurt someone on that level.

tom

When I get stuck in a game like this I always find myself wondering whether it would be really that hard to make tasks slowly easier if you keep failing them. If you fail something 30 times it's pretty likely that your going to give up and never see a lot of the game that you've payed money for.

If I bought a book and something stopped me reading beyond half way I'd feel totally justified in demanding a refund but for some reason it doesn't work like that for games... ever tried taking a game back and asking for a refund because you got stuck? I think this is a big barrier to opening games up to a wider audience, specifically people who haven't been hardened by performing pixel perfect jumps through their formative years.

san

"If I bought a book and something stopped me reading beyond half way I'd feel totally justified in demanding a refund..."

What? Because the author switched from English to Latin? I can't really imagine something that would stop you reading a book save a defect -- blank signatures accidentally bound in or the like. Most anything else will be personal preference. For example, you enjoyed the book to a point, but then you stopped enjoying it about two-thirds the way through.

Are you really "justified" in returning a book for refund on grounds like that? That's a subjective question that I'm not going to address here. But, if the book were in salable condition, especially if you had a receipt but likely even if you didn't, the local Borders or Barnes & Noble would refund or credit you the sale price. However, there's no such latitude with software, game or otherwise. You open it, you bought it. Same, these days, with compact discs. Both save manufacturer's defects -- and then you can only exchange for like item.

The "piracy" hobgoblin has essentially allowed the game and mainstream software industries to put inferior or incompatible product in your hands without allowing you recourse if it doesn't suit you. (Unless you're under 18 and know a thing or two about the age of majority and contract law...)

clubberjack

This issue isn't really a legal issue, but rather an aesthetic issue (and therefore a business issue, as games are an industry).

Lev: "...even though I really enjoyed everything about the story, the plot, and the gameplay in general, I eventually took it back to the store feeling like I wasn't good enough to play their game.

I don't think anyone wants to feel like that after investing 15-20 hours into something."

Game developers are artists, just as novelists or movie makers or sculptors are. A sculptor can make a piece that pisses people off, and some folks may even like it. It can even be an important piece (artistically, culturally, etc), but that doesn't mean most (or all) people will like it.

Jak II (though I haven't played it) sounds like it might fall into this sort of category. The game is hard enough to piss some people off, but that doesn't mean it's a bad (or unimportant) game. It's just going to have a smaller audience, because people like Snowmit and Lev (and me too from the sound of it) are going to get frustrated and give up. The problem with this decision is that Naughty Dog's work, which may very well be a great work, will not reach the audience it deserves.

Game developers (just like artists) are responsible for the experience of their audience. If Naughty Dog wants to make a game that pisses most people off and satisfies a few, that's fine, but it's not a great way to sell a lot of games.

I've always subscribed to the belief that art should be accessible, carrying its message to many people. Pissing people off (while it might be necessary for some pieces) reduces your audience.

I want a game in which I feel like the developer actually cares about my experience, since utimately that's what I'm paying for. When I get frustrated because a game is too difficult, then I am inclined to feel exactly the opposite, cheated.

ClockworkGrue

clubberjack:

While I certainly believe that game development is an art, the developers of Jak II are not just artists, they are artisans. Since Jak II is basically Naughty Dog's big franchise, it seems unlikely that they want to make Jak & Daxter games less approachable.

Now, one could argue that Naughty Dog is trying to react to the complaints in the gamer community that games are getting too easy these days, so completing them doesn't bring the same sense of accomplishment (the director of the forthcoming Ninja Gaiden for the Xbox has said as much, explicitly). In that case, Naughty Dog would be trying to appeal more to the Hard Core audience, in which case casual gamers like Snowmit are simply out of luck.

In any case, since I don't have any evidence to suggest that Naughty Dog was trying to make a point (the rest of the game play and story do not suggest that they're trying to communicate "frustration" or some similar emotion; their marketing is not inviting me to "feel the pain"), I'm resigned to believe that Jak II is simply a case of imperfect game balancing.

hbomb

I think one of the best things about Jak 2 was how it gave you tasks that seem pretty hard at first, but are achieveable with some practice. At least they were considerate enough to give you a good checkpoint system and unlimited continues. If i got stuck on a particularly hard part, i'd try the next day and usually get it in my first try (and cheer like madman when i did). Maybe Naughty Dog's mistake was making the second Jak significantly harder than the first one, but i'm glad they did.. its rare to get that feeling of accomplishment from beating a great game.

san

"(the director of the forthcoming Ninja Gaiden for the Xbox has said as much, explicitly)"

Oh, goody. Strike that one off my list. I'm a wimp. I get a sense of accomplishment just waking up in the morning.

Jonathan Golub

Very interesting discussion. "The Simpsons Hit and Run" has a feature that should be mandatory on all games where missions allow you to advance the story: after failing a mission 5 times, you unlock the option to skip ahead to the next mission. You can always go back later, but you are permitted to continue with the game.

To Ken's and Andrew's point that maybe Snowmit was not the intended target audience for the game, and that games have gotten too easy... well, I guess I could forgive the designers for catering to hardcore gamers, but it's really bad business practice. If you're going to make a game for profit, you should make it playable by the maximum percentage of people who want to play it. If the intention is to make a blisteringly hard game, then warn players with a title like "Jak 2: The Impossible Missions". Otherwise you're not only punishing casual gamers who want to try your game, you've also turned them off from any future games you might make as a developer.

tom

San:"What? Because the author switched from English to Latin? I can't really imagine something that would stop you reading a book save a defect -- blank signatures accidentally bound in or the like"

Yeah, that's what I was getting at (sorry if I didn't make it clear). I can allways finish reading a book, or a watching a film, or listening to an album unless there is some kind of defect. I can't allways finish a game, is the game therefore defective?

It seems to me one of the fundamental differences between games and other media is that for a lot of people it's the norm not to finish games. I think this hurts the industry; it would appear to be common sense that people are less likely to dish out 40 if they haven't felt satisfied with the amount of game they got out of their last purchase.

As an aftgerthought, I suspect it also makes people more conservative in their purchasing choices.

tom

San:"What? Because the author switched from English to Latin? I can't really imagine something that would stop you reading a book save a defect -- blank signatures accidentally bound in or the like"

Yeah, that's what I was getting at (sorry if I didn't make it clear). I can allways finish reading a book, or a watching a film, or listening to an album unless there is some kind of defect. I can't allways finish a game, is the game therefore defective?

It seems to me one of the fundamental differences between games and other media is that for a lot of people it's the norm not to finish games. I think this hurts the industry; it would appear to be common sense that people are less likely to dish out 40 if they haven't felt satisfied with the amount of game they got out of their last purchase.

As an after thought, I suspect it also makes people more conservative in their purchasing choices.

tom

San:"What? Because the author switched from English to Latin? I can't really imagine something that would stop you reading a book save a defect -- blank signatures accidentally bound in or the like"

Yeah, that's what I was getting at (sorry if I didn't make it clear). I can allways finish reading a book, or a watching a film, or listening to an album unless there is some kind of defect. I can't allways finish a game, is the game therefore defective?

It seems to me one of the fundamental differences between games and other media is that for a lot of people it's the norm not to finish games. I think this hurts the industry; it would appear to be common sense that people are less likely to dish out 40 if they haven't felt satisfied with the amount of game they got out of their last purchase.

As an after thought, I suspect it also makes people more conservative in their purchasing choices.

tom

sorry, didn't mean to write that 3 times

Ken

So, do developers have an obligation to make their games as accessible as possible? It is indeed good business practice, but from an artistic standpoint, don't they have a right to remain true to their vision?

I did think of that feature in Hit N' Run that Jonathan mentioned, which I felt was kind of a easy-fix solution for people who were getting frustrated with a particular mission. Ideally, I feel that games should allow the player multiple avenues of progress, which reward the player by making other avenues easier. Level-up systems like this are especially well-developed in RPGs, and the Tony Hawk franchise, and are becoming conventional in everything from 1st-person shooters to platformers like Jak 2 (acquiring more and better weapons, more health, etc.).

A perfect game should always offer the player something more, and they should never become permanently stuck, either through

However, there is still a special place in my heart for extremely punishing games. In the day, it was a badge of honor to have completed some titles. The original Super Mario Brothers, for example, was pretty damn tough (unless it was just me). Nowadays, as the gamign audience grows, there is a lot more hand-holding in games. Games which re-create the sense of accomplishment and accelerated heart rate of, say, the final boss battle in Blaster Master are fewer and further between. Why should I feel a sense of pride in my accomplishments if I can save 3 times per level and never really feel that I'm risking anything? With older games, if you lost, you lost, and you had to start over again. It felt like one was taking big risks.

San - Other media can still have levels of difficulty. Tolstoy, for example, is more difficult than Rowling. "Art" films are typically more difficult than a Michael Bay blockbuster. Or is it merely a matter of taste?

Perhaps, like other media, games are dividing into more palatable "pop" games, and more difficult "hardcore" games?

Zaius

Is shaving a few seconds from a timer to increase the difficulty of a mission really comparable to the complexity of Tolstoy's novels? I think we have to watch our analogies here. I don't think this field really has the maturity yet to make such comparisons.

BrainFromArous

There's nothing wrong with a challenging game. But increasingly, "challenging" seems to mean busywork or gratuitous hassle.

A lot of those who complain about this are themselves bona fide old school gamers who are just sick of it. I myself have become quite tired of the following...

(1) Game levels where it takes you 15 seconds to figure out the solution and 2 hours to accomplish the button-mashing contortions required to execute that solution.

(2) Magic Path maps where you're toast unless you follow some kind of extended dance-step in precise sequence and timing, and any deviation from the correct pattern of shooting and movement blows the level irrecoverably.

(3) Pointless puzzles. One of the things that killed the genre of so-called Adventure Games for me (years back) was coming to a locked door / raised bridge / whatever and having to push colored tiles around the floor to open the door / lower the bridge / etc. There was no logic or skill to it - just a brute-force effort. Try every combo until something works.

(4) OSOKS (OH-sox) in combat games. OSOKS are One Shot One Kill Snipers. OSOKS are the guys you met on the infamous MOHAA map "Sniper Town;" enemy marksmen who can shoot a flea off a black dog.

In the case of SniperTown, there was almost no way to "honestly" play the level. Everyone I know either God-moded it or did the Shoot 'N Save.

(Shoot 'N Save: You walk around a corner and get shot. You note where the shot came from, reload and try it again. THIS time you creep around the corner in alt-fire sniper mode and nail the guy right between the eyes the moment his head pops up. Save game. Walk around the next corner...)

What's often missing is the feeling of mastering the game in pursuit of a goal. One of the marks of a good game for me is that I gradually come to understand it, as opposed to just doing the same thing over and over again in slightly different ways until I get the right answer.

Side note: As for camera views, people can and do get too critical about this. I don't expect the camera to be perfect, but if the game has me looking at the wall or down at my shoes while I'm getting whomped on, somebody done screwed up.

Starman Super

Seems to me that there are several ways to go about this whole 'hardcore games' business.

1) There are some games that are easy and some that are hard, and players should be introduced to gaming on easy games then work their way up. I'll use Super Mario RPG and Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest as examples. These two RPGs are easy, but they are still fun. I like to get people to play them to introduce them to the genre, then put them on FFV or FFVI, at which point if they like the games they'll move on to more challenging ones or if the genre dosn't suit them they'll quit. This method requires a more experienced presence, though I don't see why beginning gamers, or simply those who like to take their time and aren't necessarily as serious about the whole process as others, can't make an informed decision that a given game may be too hard and they should work their way up.

2) Game developers make all games easier, to suit the general demographic. This may work with a majority, but those of us who give reverence to dexterity of the thumbs and respect to quick reflexes and good planning would be saddened by the loss of challenge. Not to mention that the gaming world wouldn't be as competetive with the lack of difficulty in games to fuel a desire to succeed, so the market may decrease.

3) Game designers make very challenging games in addition to easier ones, though they market the challenging games in such a way as to encourage people to be good at them; maybe an advertisement could read "You simply aren't hardcore until you can get over a thousand kills in SSM: Melee" or something of that nature. Playing on the competetive nature of some games is a great way to increase sales and player happiness, methinks. Also, marketing the persona of 'hardcore gamer' may spark interest in those new to the console or computer as entertainment, in advertising the image of harcore gamer as somebody cool and suave, who everybody wants to be, or something. Of course, with that kind of advertisement, the possibility certainly exists of a misrepresentation of gamers (that's already happening with games like GTA 3, where the populous think that video games cause bloodlusted homocidal maniacs, but that's another discussion) but it may still be a good marketing strategy.

All that being said, the difficulty in games doesn't necessarily make a game better or more fun, though I feel more satisfied after completing a more difficult endeavor. It's nice to know that I'm competent at something :)

Ken

With the Tolstoy analogy I was referring more to acessibility rather than difficulty. It'
s just that in the context of games, the difficulty level can be the accessibility level.

Maybe it's simply a question of taste. Not only whether some people prefer their games harder or easier, but what kind of tasks are harder or easier for certain people. Like in Brains example #4, a more patient gamer, or one who treated the game like more of a sim rather than a run' gun title might have peeked around every corner with the sniper scope. Jak 2 did, after all, involve a lot of different play mechanics, and someone thought the top ten most difficult missions did not include that one, whereas I thought it was one of the toughest. Maybe I just didn't jive with the hoverboard mechanic as well as the hoverbikes or the platforming portions.

As for Brain's views on pointless puzzles and crappy cameras, I agree wholeheartedly. The player should never have to guess the solution to a problem, be it a computer passcode or a town full of snipers, examining the situation or exploring should always reveal some clue about how to proceed. Like that maze zone in Metal Gear (the original). Why did people ever think that was okay?

Snowmit

You know, game developers solved this difficulty issue a very long time ago when they introduced the concept of difficulty levels. Are you a hardcore gamers with insane mad skillz and lots of time on your hands? Great. Pick "hardcore" when you start a new game.

Are you a wimp like me who plays lots of games but in a casual way? Fine, load up "normal" or "easy" or something like that. We all play the sameish game and we all have a good time.

If we were talking about a Chess game, then I think that we would all agree that it is a bad idea to make a Chess game that exclusively plays at Grand Master level and equally bad to make one that plays exclusively at "often forgets the allowed moves" level. Platformers and most other games are not so far removed from chess that the analogy doesn't hold.

DivideByZero

I often complain to the friends that will listen to my musings that many games today suffer from an all too common problem. Developers don't give enough thought to the little things.

A prime example is with Tomb Raider: AOD. A bit that annoyed me to no end was that the Save Game option wasn't immediately reachable (requires a scroll down a menu). Response of the character wasn't fluid either.

There are many examples where the small things count. One of the more impressive small touches was in GTA:Vice City, where the rain drops get caught onto the inside of your tv screen. It didn't have to be done, but it added a special something to the game.

I often play titles only to think "Gosh, that was a good idea, but how about..." and come up with a million and one things I'd wished they'd added simply because it would've added so much more to the title.

san

Levels of difficulty I have no problem with in other forms of media, as in literature, music, film and the like; you *can* finish the work, whether you enjoy the experience or not. With games, some people simply *can't* finish the game with a reasonable application of time and effort. Is that fair to the consumer? Video games are heavily marketed to a broad range of consumers, while translated works of the Russian masters remain the purview of the well educated, sophisticated, amibitious or - dependent on one's perspective -- masochistic.

Someone shopping for a book tends to know what he wants, more or less, and isn't likely to have a hard time deciding between the latest Grisham thriller and a volume of Turgenev. A game consumer, on the other hand, may inadvertently select an obtusely difficult game when what he was indeed after was a casual bit of fun. But not advised in advance of the game's difficulty, he has no recourse in the area of refund or full compensatory credit. Caveat emptor, I suppose.

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