1. Hiatus
2. RIP, Satoru Iwata
3. Let there be Robot Battles
4. Regarding pixel art!
5. 16-bit Star Wars
6. Goodbye, Spock.
7. James Randi Retires
8. More Star Wars on GOG
9. gives you DOS Games
10. Ralph Baer, RIP.
1. Quickie: Impressions June 2014
2. Quickie: Penny Arcade Episode 3
3. Quickie: The Amazing Spider-Man
4. Quickie: Transformers: Fall of Cybertron
5. Quickie: Prototype 2
6. Quickie: Microsoft Kinect
7. Quickie: X-Men Destiny
8. Spider-Man: Edge of Time
9. Quickie: Transformers Dark of the Moon
10. Quickie: Borderlands GOTY
1. Musings 45: Penny Arcade and The Gripping Hand
2. Movie Review: Pacific Rim
3. Movie Review: Wreck-It Ralph
4. Glide Wrapper Repository
5. Movie Review: Winnie The Pooh
6. Musings 44: PC Gaming? Maybe it's on Life Support
7. Video Games Live 2009
8. Movie Review: District 9
9. Musings: Stardock, DRM, and Gamers' Rights
10. Musings: How DRM Hurts PC Gaming
Main Menu

X-bit labs
The Tech Zone
Twin Galaxies


 Log in Problems?
 New User? Sign Up!

Weekly Musings #32 Difficulty Do's and Don'ts
Author: Michael Ahlf 
Date: March 7th 2005

After playing Devil May Cry 3 over the weekend, I've come to the conclusion that Tycho's comments were spot-on, as well as a certain old strip that manages to be relevant to this game as well:

I've been playing games with Gabriel for, oh, I'm going to say eleven years now - and not until Devil May Cry 3 have I seen him raise the controller back and hurl it across the room.

At the risk of sounding like I'm whining - which I may very well be - this is the most true and honest reaction to DMC 3 that I've seen yet.

Over at Gamerankings, DMC 3 is still managing to garner an average 84% rating. Looking empirically at it, that's not that bad; the original Devil May Cry ranks up at 92%, and Devil May Cry sits comfortably at a 72%. I would fervently argue that both DMC 3's and DMC 2's ratings are a result of what I term "score inflation" - let's face it, certain games, either because a big-name publisher is pushing them, because they're sequels to a long-beloved title, or some other form of hubris, just don't get the bad reviews that they should. Devil May Cry 3 is a perfect example of this - it commits any number of sins that Devil May Cry 2 committed, but because it's not DMC 2, reviewers and gamers alike are willing to give it a free pass for being "not as bad as" its predecessor.

Despite this, playing DMC 3, or really any of the DMC titles, is a perfect way to examine the do's and don'ts of creating a "difficult" video game, because the difficulty is not so much a function of the game itself, but piss-poor game design masquerading as "atmosphere."

Without further ado, my list of Do's and Don'ts to create a challenging, yet still FUN, 3D beatdown video game:


  • Give the enemies abilities that are roughly even with the character, or maybe a little superior.
  • Have the enemies telegraph their moves to some realistic degree.
  • Keep the camera far enough back that the player can see the threats that are coming towards him.
  • Give the player realistic dodging and/or blocking abilities.
  • Give the player a wide enough range of attacks that keeping enemies off of his/her back is a realistic goal.


  • Give the player a distinct lack of blocking/dodging options, or blocking/dodging options that have startup delays and cancel delays.
  • Zoom the camera so close in that we can see the character's rippling chest muscles, but can't see the enemy charging up Devastating Attack #3 five feet away.
  • Give the enemies moves that have no telegraphing (The stage 2 boss's charging scythe frenzy is a perfect example).
  • Insist that the player not get hit, then saddle them with a large number of moves that take a long time to complete and have limited threat range.
  • Insist that the player not get hit, then hand the enemies auto-targeting ranged attacks/dash attacks that charge up off-camera.
  • Institute a required "combo" system, yet make the most health-friendly maneuvers in the game the ones that clear enemies away from the character.
  • Institute a required "combo" system as above, but make ranged attacks (guns) either cancel the combo or simply not add to it.

In terms of design, the game's not ALL bad. It is definitely better than DMC 2 was; the ability to switch between two equipped weapons, and two equipped guns, ensures that. However, the difficulty of the game just doesn't come from good game design. If the enemies were legitimately hard to put down, or required skill, I'd have no problem - in fact, I'd probably have enjoyed it a lot more.

The problem is that the game's entire difficulty, at least on normal and hard modes (Dante Must Die and Heaven or Hell modes being something else altogether), is based on bad game design. The close-in camera angles, combined with enemies charging up ranged attacks/teleport attacks/dash attacks from off-screen, are a recipe for frustration. The combo system is entirely counterintuitive, because for most of the game Dante's in areas where he's being encircled by enemies: only a few moves are useful for clearing these enemies out (and thus avoiding getting hit), but repeating moves lowers the combo score.

Most unfortunate of all are the bosses, which still remind the player most fervently of DMC 2's worst mistake. Rather than have unique, fun bosses, we are treated to cheesy, oversized monstrosities. In the first Devil May Cry, defeating bosses was all about learning how they moved and fought; Phantom was tough, but beatable once you learned his telegraphs. Nelo Angelo was difficult for no other reason than his attacks were very similar to Dante's. Griffon, Nightmare, and Mundus were all about learning the telegraphs. In Devil May Cry 2, unfortunately, much of the strategy for defeating bosses was removed and for several of them it was easy to simply find a corner where their attacks would not connect, and blast away with guns. Devil May Cry 3 continues this trend, with multiple bosses encouraging the player to continually play "keep-away" to survive the initial fights. This is especially true for Cerberus, because getting close enough to attack in melee brings the camera close enough that his telegraphs are done off-screen.

I like the premise behind Devil May Cry, and much of the substance. I have a few other gripes with this one, such as the load times and questionable initial button layout, but those can wait. I'm just appalled that Capcom, after claiming that they were trying to clean up the Devil May Cry game mechanics and make it more fun, have created a game that is based more on frustrating the player than about giving us a real challenge.

Got Comments? Send 'em to Michael (at)!
Alternatively, post 'em right here for everyone to see!





Weekly Musings #32: Difficulty Do's and Don'ts

Added:  Monday, March 07, 2005
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf


[ Back to Articles index ]

Home :: Share Your Story
Site contents copyright Glide Underground.
Want to syndicate our news? Hook in to our RSS Feed.