Bringing The Flow: A Player’s Job?

Between S.T.A.L.K.E.R.’s Oblivion Lost and BioShock’s Difficulty And Balance Mod, I’ve discovered a powerful point that seems to be demonstrated through both:

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was always sort of hard, but Oblivion Lost adds a number of new enemies as well as tweaking the old ones to pull nifty new tricks like spawning psychic doubles that gang up on you.  There’s also a random chance of having to avoid nuclear blast.  This mod certainly keeps one on their toes!  The new economy is also nicely retooled to allow you to make a profit only if you’ve been playing like the overcautious scrounger the titular stalkers should be.

One thing I enjoyable Oblivion Lost is that darkness looks really dark.  Walking through the woods in pitch black, hearing the groans of a nearby zombie, is enough to keep ones finger securely on the trigger.

One thing I find enjoyable about Oblivion Lost is that darkness looks really dark. Walking through the woods in pitch black, hearing the groans of a nearby zombie, is enough to keep one's finger securely on the trigger. It's something you wont' find in a more casual-friendly light balance.

BioShock’s “difficulty and balance mod” is not nearly as ambitious, but it does offer a challenge sorely lacking in the vanilla game.  The wrenches are now a very feeble weapon without tonic enhancement.   Respawning at a Vita-Chamber with no repercussions was the main loophole in the game, and the mod now (temporarily?) ramps up the game difficulty further upon respawning, introducing incentive to keep alive.   Double-hitpoint Big Daddies are certainly a challenge, but even your average splicer can now make you pay for sloppiness.

Now, I don’t enjoy having to reload my game constantly, but I do enjoy being challenged, and that’s what those mods do for me. In both cases, the difficulty has been ramped up, and the result is pure gaming gold.

What we have here is genuine game vigilantism at its best.  Fans, annoyed at how easy big-name game developers make games to please the casual market, directly intervened to make games much harder and satisfying.  (It makes me wonder if I could even make Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion more exciting with a little work.)

Balance of Power

So, having to determined that making those games harder made them more enjoyable, the question remains why?

Most obvious answer: a higher difficulty is conductive to flow for a player who is good and used to the games. I’ve completed S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and BioShock before, I don’t need my hand held anymore. (As an established gamer, I may never had particularly needed the game to afford me a casual gamers’ balance.)

It’s also possible that the reason why higher difficulties are appreciated is because both games are power fantasies of sorts.  Pitting the player against pushovers is simply not conductive to a good power fantasy.  If anything, one begins to pity the opposition.  it takes a most formidable foe overcome for the inner beast to beat its chest in triumph.


If anything, my own dabbling in BYOND lately has been a bit of game vigilantism of my own: if the casual market is so very lucrative that hardcore gamers are ignored, they might as well intervene through difficulty mods or (as in the case of BYOND) making their own, harder games.

I had hit a bit of a snag in my latest development in that the game did not seem intuitive, but I realize now that the problem is deeper; My game is simply not made to be conductive to a good challenge.  It seems like I’ve a long, long way to go before I master this knack of flow generation and delivery.  (But then, it once seemed like I’d a long, long way to go before I learned to properly harness the BYOND programming language… that took about a week.)

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