First I want to apologize for missing this past Saturday, life has been pretty chaotic and led me to absentmindedly miss it. My post may be sporadic over the next few weeks because of these unforeseen issues, but I’ll try to get one post put up when I can.
Thank you for understanding!
Today though, I want to talk about how game difficulty has evolved over the years, specifically difficulty levels through the ages.
As a very young gamer, being born a little after the advent of video games, I know games that now most gamers call ‘retro’, but I knew them as brand new or pretty close to it. Super Mario, Donkey Kong Country, Sonic The Hedgehog, and even Duck Hunt, these titles shaped my early childhood. These inspired me to find the beauty and grace in most things video games. Unless you count the Atari 2600 games.. I’m still getting reoccurring nightmares from Superman and E.T. Yeah I know without the Atari we wouldn’t have games as we know them, but all I can say is they have not aged well at all. They are some ugly looking fuckers if you ask me. But that is the curse of being born a bit after gaming because popular and began evolving but before the creation of the powerful tech devs use to create stunning graphics, stretching beyond 8 Bits.
To me I will always be spoiled by the over arching development games have gone through, so I’ll be jaded when it comes to comparing graphics.
The Difficulty Of It All
That aside, being someone who played a lot of the old school/Retro games, both as a kid and recently as an adult, it has given me some perspective on what you call difficulty levels. What inspired me to bring up difficulty is that with the recent release of Crash N’Sane Trilogy, with it being a “new” title, many Youtubers, friends, and random internet people are playing it. Whether they are doing a let’s play or just running through it during their personal time, a common occurrence I’ve seen is plenty of people complaining about how hard it is to play it. Watching people getting flustered and rage quitting over a game that has been out almost 21 years now, it got me thinking.
Is Crash Bandicoot… hard? Not sure if it was as hard as everyone else makes it seems to be when I played it. It was all about timing and platforming, a few levels are still memorized and I haven’t played in forever. It never seemed to be that much of an issue for me, then I have to wonder way are so many people having such a hard time?
Then it hit me, and it was so obvious I’m surprised it didn’t reach out and pinch me. Many of these players having such a hard time had never played the originals. They perceived a challenging level as too hard because they may not have played games to 100% in the days before trophies and refined controls. The ability to reach the 2nd level on a very hard game was the reward itself and it made you feel like a certified badass.
Even gamers my age, I’m included on a few games, never played the more challenging games whatsoever. Either from lack of interest as a kid or because their parents couldn’t or wouldn’t buy them for them. Whatever reason they had, the experience of learning these jumping patterns, enemy spawn points, or how to run through an area filled with pits and enemies without getting hit a single time, all because they had to play the same stretch of level over and over at least 100 times. Limited lives, no checkpoints, no save files or passwords, just 2 lives or less and only allowed to be hit twice before starting all over (Looking at you Ghost N’ Goblins).
It trained a whole generation of gamers to overthink, strategize, and find the will not to snap their very fragile controllers.
The Crux of Difficulty
Games like this were the proving grounds for both devs and skilled players. Game success meant a future career for designers, a future game meant another challenge for the player to conquer. Slowly the difficult games became more difficult, if they weren’t already at maximum. Games like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Pitfall, Megaman, and Contra were already challenging, but as they ramped up the difficulty, those gamers seeking fun more than a challenge became quickly discouraged. I can be counted as someone whose become discouraged over certain titles.
Fun Fact: To this day, I have yet to beat a MegaMan game, I’ve been getting progressively better through the years, but never made it past two of the bosses, maybe 3. These games seem challenging, but also have a mix hint of sadism yet have a set of basics to follow in order to win. It’s hard to say the game isn’t beaten by many, as I know quite a few, but it stands to reason that there are people like me who couldn’t beat it.
Yes it goes back to skill and will, but this also ties into the idea of titles existing that maybe too difficult while trying to be challenging. Battletoads, Ghosts N’ Goblins, Ninja Gaiden (Original), these are all examples of games that seem to number low in the amount of people who actually beat them. How many times have people shoved these games in a drawer in frustration because they couldn’t get past level 1 or 2. There is a very fine line between challenging and ridiculously insane barrages of enemies and bad controls, this then brings us to where games began to ease up (after a long run of keeping the challenge in small bursts).
The Decline of Crap Difficulty
Time’s gone on and tech has improved by leaps and bounds each console generation. During each one, a set of challenging games have filled the void for the old school skill based ones. Though with each generation, the definition of challenge has changed, diminishing the quality of what games used to be.
Those upset by Crash’s difficulty now would find it much easier if they sat back and compared it to games like Contra, GN’G, or Mega Man. Heck if they had beaten Mega Man in the years before and then went on to play Crash, they’d probably be able to breeze right through it. That’s the problem with developers as gaming has aged. They began to focus in the other aspects besides the challenge, ideals like fun, story driven games, and voice acting, which aren’t bad things. Devs tried to keep the player on their toes, but picking Hard Mode in a game pales in comparison to the only mode in certain games from gaming’s yesteryear. Anyone who looks back will realize we definitely have it easier now than back then.
Then again there is the Souls series and they hold the staple for the Hardest games of our current generation. I’d rather spend hours trying to beat a Mega Man game with hours of failure than try to beat a Souls game at all.
Guess It’s all Perspective in the end.