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X-Comical

July 3, 2013

Dear Reader,

Well, there it went.  X-Com’s stricken from the rotation now, thanks to what I can only call extremely poor scaling.  In two play sessions, I went from dominating the game – dominating as in I didn’t lose a single dude on any mission and achieving all my objectives in keeping panic down to losing a guy almost every mission, losing a satellite and a country to panic, to having a total party wipe.

Scaling is very important in a game.  Each level should be a little harder than the last, and so it was with X-Com for the first 80% of the game.  I made it through all the missions – even the alien base – without a single casualty.  Then the purple UFO showed up, destroyed an interceptor, causing an opportunity kill on the local satellite.  That caused me to lose a nation.  Fine.  It’s scaling up, I get it.  Be more careful.

So I was, and I was doing all right, having some wounds but few deaths.  I let the purple UFO escape while I researched the better ship, the Firestorm.  Then I shot the purple UFO down, geared up, and went in.

That mission had three new alien units I’d not encountered yet, each one stronger than anything – anything - I’d seen before.  One of the new units was a heavy mech that apparently got to shoot three times in a single turn.  My entire unit was eventually wiped out.

This is on the normal difficulty, mind you.  Despite being an X-Com veteran, I decided since it was still a new game I’d better play it safe, but even so, I got absolutely destroyed.  I’ve edited out all the profanity this post first had in it, because I’m frankly disgusted by how the game went.

Extra Credits recently did a show on fun difficulty vs. frustrating difficulty in games.  I’ve talked a lot about the same balance in education to various people at various times.  There’s several factors, but the two that I’d identify as the most important are consistency of rules and perception of success.  If you’re going to ramp up the difficulty, fine, but don’t change the rules in the process.  Every unit in the game gets to shoot once per turn, then I hit a unit that shoots three times a turn with no warning and no intermediate two times per turn unit.  That is, formal editing notwithstanding, bullshit.

The second factor in fun difficulty is the perception of success; you see, if I fail but know I’m making progress, I can grit my teeth and push through.  But if I’m just going to keep banging my head into a difficulty wall, being constantly surprised by new situations that cause me to have to completely start over (iron man or bust), then there’s just no reason to go on.  I’d rather go play a game I enjoy, not one that seems impossible because it repeatedly changes the rules with no warning.

So I uninstalled X-Com.  I just about got my Ed value out of it (a dollar an hour), but honestly, I’m deeply disappointed.

Sincerely,

Stubborn (and tired of being frustrated by games)

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Samus permalink
    July 3, 2013 3:08 pm

    From what I know of X-Com, it sounds like it has the difficulty problem that tower defense games have. In tower defense, if you get behind and miss a few creeps, you also miss out on that gold from those creeps. So the problem only gets worse, and you might as well restart the first time you miss a creep.

    My understanding of X-Com is that in order to pass it, you need to restart every mission where you take any losses at all. The later in the game it gets, the more impractical it becomes to bring out a new recruit in the place of one of your most elite troops.

    I experienced something similar in Deus Ex: Human Revolution. You can save at any time in the game, but it feels like the game is balanced around that. I tried not to abuse this, but I certainly used the “save every 30 seconds” strategy in more than a few especially difficult places. It makes it very hard for me to evaluate the difficulty of that game.

  2. July 3, 2013 4:40 pm

    My only playthrough was also Normal Ironman, and I too (almost) had a TPK right where you were at. In fact, I think I only had 1-2 people alive by the time I made it to the screen after the mechs. I pushed onward just to see what I could expect from the final encounter; I fully expected to have to restart the game from scratch. Astonishingly though, it allowed me to start over at the beginning of the purple UFO crash site with everyone alive. I don’t know if that is intended for this final mission or not (since you cannot exit the crash site), but it allowed me to anticipate every bullshit enemy move and make it through with nary a scratch the 2nd time around.

    The whole scenario sort of highlights why I’m always surprised at the love of Ironman modes. I mean, sure, it definitely changes the way you play the game, and attaches a sort of gravity to every decision. But, clearly, there is a limit beyond which you or I or most people would abruptly (but rationally) give up, and that limit edges closer the longer you play the game. That… doesn’t seem like intuitive design to me. Roguelikes get away with it because most of them are over within 1-2 hours, win or lose.

  3. July 3, 2013 7:47 pm

    A big part of me just wants to poke fun at you for ragequitting so dramatically. :)

    You talk a lot about how you have a different game for each of the people you play with, and this seems to me to be a similar concept; of needing a game to fill a specific niche. It doesn’t matter how good the game is if it doesn’t suit your needs.

    I remember when I tried to play Dark Souls; I think I gave it a good two hours, made very very little progress with many many deaths, then gave up and never went back to it. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad game, but it asked too much of me as a player so the point is moot.

    • July 4, 2013 6:47 pm

      I would deserve it, too, but as I’ve been saying, I’ve just been very dissatisfied with a lot of my gaming recently. I don’t really know what the deeper meaning of that dissatisfaction might be, but it’s there, and it turns problems into perceived disasters with regularity.

      I think your point about what I’m being asked of as a player would make a really excellent post for both of us, and perhaps the larger community. What are we willing to give? How has that changed, etc? I’m going to post that on Blog Azeroth and see if we get any bites.

      Thanks for the comment and suggestion!

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