Join Date: Jun 2008
Right. Pedle Zelnip (PZ if you don't mind!), I agree pretty much completely. Matty Cheetham and those of a like mind, please take note, as I'm passionate about games and I feel that "difficulty" of the kind found in Flatout, and gamer acceptance/indifference towards it, is a painful plague that permeates much of the gaming world.
First let me start by saying that I am a very capable gamer. I'm not the best or likely even top 100 of any/many multiplayer games, but there's hardly a singleplayer game/mode I can't manage with a little patience - oldskool or otherwise. Contra, Super Contra, Battletoads, Ninja Gaiden (2D games and Black), Ikaruga, Halo 2 on Legendary and suchlike are all games which I am able to contend with, and all games which I would describe as difficult. Flatout, on the other hand is not a game that I would term "difficult", yet it (or rather a precious few achievements) has caused me far more frustration than any of those games. That is because of 2 reasons that PZ touched upon, but I hope to elaborate. Flatout fails in 2 key areas.
1. Heavily chance-based - Arcade games should generally rely on little or (preferably to my mind) no luck whatsoever. Whether you're the best gamer in the world, or the worst, this should be agreed upon. If you're the best you don't want some NooB to beat you because he got a lucky break, and if you are that NooB, you don't want things to be made any harder by the fact that you're also exceptionally unlucky. Flatout is heavily chance-based not only because of many examples in point #2 (detailed below), but also because the AI performs to extremely different standards in each race. Sometimes you can be in first after driving poorly (15-20 seconds of imperfection), and sometimes you can be in 3rd or 4th after a near-perfect lap. This is BEFORE you take into account any collisions that might take place. Lei Bing's uncanny ability to do a runner exemplifies this senseless situation - she is literally impossible to beat if she takes the lead in many scenarios. Thus a poor player may succeed and a perfect player may fail, all on the whim of chance.
2. Technical competence and consistency - Unlike the genuinely difficult games I mentioned above, Flatout does not have very precise gameworld rules. To give an example of how important gameworld rules are, and how fatal contradicting them can be, imagine a Mario game where Mario randomly jumps just slightly higher or lower than he should. There would be no free flowing running and jumping, and instead one would need to be overly cautious, making for a slower, harder, more frustrating experience. Flatout has several such problems.
PZ mentioned "Horrible sluggish controls," and "ridiculous physics". The horrible sluggish controls, coupled with high speed frequently means that even if you had reaction times of 0.001 seconds, you would still not be able to avoid something, and braking or going at slow speeds is just as likely to put you out of the runnings. This means that reflexes become almost null and void in the game, and luck takes their place. This is worsened by the fact that the screen is cluttered with so many objects that can fly and land in any direction and which will usually send you flying or spinning out of control. Often too, those same objects can be completely invisible. The objects are also subject to "ridiculous physics", and as PZ also points out:
"I can plow through a water tower without batting an eye, but a small pylon will throw my car into a flying spin." - So you cannot logically/skilfully discriminate between dangerous or harmless wreckage and even once you have learnt the different types of wreckage, they may behave in unrealistic and/or wildly different ways.
"Or having wreckage that gets stuck on your vehicle. In a derby race I went around a good half a lap with a tire stuck to my roof. Apparently someone decided to lace it with crazy glue so that the poor fool who ran into the tire would be unable to get rid of it." - I should add that a much more common and critical flaw than the "sticky tire/object" is the "sticky opponent" which happens all too often when you collide, especially in the many pile-ups that occur. The AI even behaves maliciously to create this kind of situation, driving solely for your inconvenience rather than your own benefit - i.e. they drive around the front of you to get stuck on your bonnet, then slowly and deliberately drive directly into a tree, dragging you with them.
I believe that problems such as these (or "the plague") are created and sustained by insufficient or inadequate playtesting, developers who don't know how to make a game difficult/challenging without making it unfair, and by a gaming community that cannot tell the difference or doesn't care about the difference. The people who don't care are either genuine elitist gamers who are in the top 0.1% and can contend with anything, or more likely they are people who don't mind wasting their own time with unnecessary retries/learning curves, perhaps because it's all they've ever known and they acept it as an inherent part of gaming - it isn't! The genuine elitist gamers must be prone to ignorance if they expect that it's ok for mainstream games such as Flatout to be that hard, but in truth (being the ridiculously small percentage that they are) their vote shouldn't really count. Instead it's the "Bluffer's" votes that make the worst difference. A bluffer being someone who finds games too hard but in an effort to disguise that fact, they get on Youtube, watch some genuine pro's video, and make comments about how easy it is to do that or how they can do better. Many of these types are likely to use cheats, and so will never care about the genuine difficulty of a game. Their number is so great, that their voices must be heard, and so serious flaws in games continually go unanswered.
Matty Cheetham, I'm not suggesting that you are an ignorant elitist, nor am I suggesting that you are a boastful bluffer. I am simply suggesting that you reconsider both what PZ is actually getting at, and also what you actually want from your games. If you want:
1. Opponents that cheat in various ways to make up for inadequate AI. e.g. break game rules/exceed possibilities/try to make you lose rather than them win - unless that matches the personality of a specific character/scenario
2. Things that you cannot (humanly or otherwise) react to, leading to many restarts and enforced memorisation
3. A great big dollop of luck required to succeed = more restarts
And if you consider those things acceptable properties to increase a game's difficulty, then I cannot criticise you, but I can only disagree with you on a fundamental level and hope that there are few people who feel the same. If however you don't like what you see there, then please don't tell people like Pedle Zelnip to stop complaining, and please instead join him and try to help turn the global gaming community's (apparent) feelings on such matters around in the common interest of better, fairer, more playable games!