Thursday, October 9, 2008

About the difficulty

Posted by Nicolas (permalink)

Joe Schmo just sent me a very interesting question regarding the difficulty of Portal: Prelude, and I thought I'd have to make a clear and long answer to this, here's what he said:

My friends and I have done Portal time and time again (and many of the challenge rooms too) but we're seriously having alot of difficulty with this.

The nice thing about Portal was that you took the time to FIGURE OUT what to do, and it was a bit of a thinking puzzle. Sure, once you knew what to do you'd maybe have to retry it, but it wasn't that hard to complete.
Here in Portal Prelude, you KNOW exactly what you need to do and how to do it, but the problem comes in the execution. Alot of the puzzles, it seems, requires PINPOINT ACCURACY and leaves little room for mistakes.

I feel that alot more gametesting would've let you see that some things are too hard, and you would've tweaked them to make them more forgiving. For example, getting away from the 4 sentries at the beginning requires split second timing; if you don't shoot exactly where you need to go, you will die. Or flying across the gap in Room 03, or making it across the first electric field. I knew EXACTLY what I had to do, but because of the unforgiving nature of the puzzles, it amounted to this:

Quicksave before the jump
Do the jump, miss it
Quickload and try again
And this repeated at least 20 times.

I'll leave the option out there that maybe it isn't that hard, and I just suck at this game. But like I said earlier, my friends and I have done Portal and its challenge rooms many times with ease. After a few hours of playing we all got frustrated with the game, and stopped playing.

Here is my answer:

Hi Joe,

We always said this game was going to be difficult, but there's something you don't seem to understand. The game was tested, I talked about it a lot, and I already said that we tested the game with hardcore gamers, normal gamers and newbies to Portal. All of them found the game difficult and we lowered the difficulty a bit in some of the areas. At the end, everyone was finishing the game with ease, even the guys who played Portal once by curiosity and never played it again.

If we had to make more difficult logic instead of more difficult execution, it would have required way larger rooms and way more complex puzzles. It would have required 18 months, and not 9. It was just impossible for us to build something as good as Portal, we always said it. Now, I really don't understand the point of all these critics about the difficulty especially the "crouch debate". I personnally finished all of the test chambers with my crouch key unbinded to see if it was still possible. And it is.

Now, the public we're aiming at is definitely NOT the casual gamer, and not the Portal fans who played Portal once and never played it again. We're making this game for true Portal fans, who finished it several times, beat all of the challenges and even downloaded custom maps. We thought we repeated it enough for people to understand, but it doesn't seem to be clear for everyone. But really, at the end, even casual gamers managed to finish it. It's all about trial and error. If you're not fond of trial and error gameplay, then you should just forget about it. Back in the days, games were utterly more difficult, and no one was complaining about beeing almost obliged to cheat in order to finish it, people were just saying "I'm not skilled enough to do that", and not "that game is so retarded I'm going to insult their creators". And even in more recent games like Call of Duty 4 or Crysis, playing in the hardest mode is all about trial and error. You try a strategy and you get killed by a guy 100 meters away without even seeing him. That's exactly the same thing.

Also, a lot of people are complaining because it's too difficult without actually trying to think about what they're doing. I saw some of the people complaining about the difficulty and doing incredibly complex things to get out of the rooms just because they didn't thought about it. Often, the solution is REALLY simple, but people are locked in what they think they must do and don't try to imagine other solutions. Sometimes, they even say "that was f*cking hard, you should have explained it" although there is indeed an explaination on the ground they didn't even look at.

That's the problem with the first room for example. People say "I'm passing through the Portal and I'm getting killed instantly". Well, pretty normal... that's why there's glasses everywhere to see what's going on behind the Portal and find a solution BEFORE acting. People try to portal eveywhere, but sincerely, there's no need to portal anywhere to get past the turrets. When you get out of the blue portal, you just have to run left or right and that's it. No need to do utterly complex things. In Portal, the solutions were rather evident, and sometimes there was even arrows and dots showing you exactly what to do. That's not the case with Portal: Prelude, and almost each room has several solutions. We're not trying to do a clone of Portal here, we're extanding the gameplay to make it a lot more challenging.

That's my two cents.

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