“I don’t believe in a no-win scenario.”—Captain James T. Kirk
Growing up, I was never a fan of extreme challenges. I’m a hard-wired perfectionist, easily thrown off by unexpected obstacles or changes of plan. Perhaps it’s this desire to get it right the first time that made difficult videogames so frustrating for me when I was younger. From Super Star Wars to Mario Bros., I remember countless instances of trial and inevitable failure as I sat before the glowing TV screen. And yet, I never stopped playing these games. I continued playing them even as they seemed to mock my as-yet undeveloped motor skills with their punishing difficulty levels. There was something indefinably compelling about those punishing videogames. As I grew older, my reflexes sharpened and games suddenly felt easier. The industry (generally speaking) settled into a very specific pattern of behavior: make flashier games with expensive cinematics, while creating very little room for actual failure. Rather than having an ominous “GAME OVER” emblazoned across the screen, most modern games treat character death as nothing more than a minor setback, something that can be easily rectified with another attempt. And this is where games have lost one of their essential qualities; victory means nothing without the threat of defeat.
Recently, I’ve been playing two games quite a lot: Dark Souls (a fantasy action RPG with a notoriously unforgiving difficulty curve) and FTL (also known as Faster-Than-Light, a sci-fi roguelike with procedurally generated hazards and enemies). Death is common in these games, but it also carries weight and meaning. In Dark Souls, death results in a loss of Souls (the currency of the game) and causes the immediate respawning of all enemies in the area. FTL, on the other hand, is a “play till you die” sort of experience. Your starship travels across various sectors of space, pursued by a fleet of Rebel vessels on one side and faced with the threats of the unknown on the other. The random generation of enemies and hazards makes every playthrough unique and tense. In both FTL and Dark Souls, the omnipresent threat of death and possibility of conclusive mission failure create a harsh (but largely fair) game environment that rewards forethought and punishes strategic mistakes. In my experience, frequent failure (or at the very least, the possibility of it occurring) is what makes the victories that much more cathartic in these videogames.
But what does any of this mean for STO? Over the course of the past few months, I’ve seen/heard discussions regarding the subject of endgame difficulty on the official STO forums, the STO Subreddit, and even on Priority One itself. While the current difficulty options for queued events— Normal and Elite—offer players a fair amount of choice as far as enemy scaling is concerned, many in the community have been pushing for a third difficulty setting. The more I think about the idea of an Advanced difficulty, the more I like it. How many times in Star Trek canon have we seen captains faced with apparently unbeatable odds? From the battle against the Borg in Star Trek: First Contact, to the climactic final confrontations in the Wrath of Khan and Nemesis, we’ve seen the likes of Kirk and Picard push their ships and crews nearly to the breaking point. Only through careful planning, coordinated teamwork, and sheer force of will do these captains lead their crews to victory. Why should STO be any different? A difficulty setting that affords each player on a team only one spawn during the course of the queued event, for instance, would create a tense atmosphere and lend a sense of urgency to the group’s struggle. No one said exploring the final frontier would be easy. Yet I’ve learned in the past few years that our most hard-fought battles are often what define us—be it as individuals, or starship captains.
Feel free to share your thoughts on difficulty in STO in the comments section below! Until next time, fly safe and plain sailing!
Copyright © 2013 Priority One Podcast.
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