While I was home for the holidays, I had the good opportunity to fire up my old NES. Between that, and two recent discussions on video game difficulty, and I thought I had some good blog fodder.
Shamus points out in his video that a lot of "hardcore" players, or at least those of us with a modicum of skill, grew up learning to play on the old NES. We had a lifetime of scaling difficulty, both in game quality and control scheme complexity, to get to where we are, so people who are just joining the party are right to feel overwhelmed by the mess that is modern video gaming.
There's something to be said about the part pertaining to new players. There's a reason games like Bejeweled and Chuzzle are so popular. While there was a time that you would sooner admit to being a chronic bed-wetter before telling girls you played video games, these days it's really easy to convince women to play a game of Wii Sports, Mario Party, Mario Kart, Rock Band, etc.
Still, I find the former more interesting. I think there's a lot of nostalgia that goes into saying, "Video games in the NES era were perfect! We learned to game in a beautiful harmony!"
I think it's many of those older games which paved the way for today's games, which feature crushing difficulty and what Shamus likes to call "Do it again, stupid" (DIAS) syndrome. DIAS is the state where the game presents you with a challenge with little room for error. When you fail, you have to repeat the challenge over and over until you get it right. Sometimes failure sends you back to an earlier point in the game, which leads to a frustrating situation where you might have to play the same 10-20 minutes of a game over and over because of one part you can't get past.
Here's a few examples from the games I picked up this past week:
this link, with a warning for foul language. You controlled the turtles one at a time, going through levels to rescue Splinter from Shredder. Sounds like fun for someone who watched the cartoon every day, right? Except the game was filled with labrynthine levels, rare health pickups or power-ups, and swarms of enemies too big to avoid and too strong to kill quickly. Since you could freely switch between the turtles, you technically had four lives. However, some of the turtles had attacks which were nearly useless. You could "rescue" a turtle who lost all his health, but figuring out where those locations are was a feat in itself. Very few people who played this game ever made it to the end, and even fewer managed to topple Shredder when it happened.
So, a lot of the older games are difficult. So what? My point is that there are games of crushing difficulty from every era. We may remember those games fondly in retrospect, but most of us put them down in frustration at one point or another. We kept up with the hobby because of the games that were within reach of our skill level. Those games can still be good today, and I think it's worth keeping in mind the things which made those games good when looking at the newer games. A game can be easy enough for new players without simplifying it too much. Sure, games like Nintendogs convinced a lot of people to buy a DS, but they can still be challenged by, and enjoy, games like Phoenix Wright.
Not that anyone's asking my opinion on game design theory. I can dream, can't I?
Oh, and no discussion of difficult video games of the past would be complete without pointing you to the Angry Video Game Nerd (again, be wary - he uses lots of foul language).