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The idea that videogames (or at least old-school games) ought to be hard

edited 2014-05-06 17:47:51 in General
Creature - Florida Dragon Turtle Human

...old school elements... like sucking it up and getting better at the game and not having the ending spoon fed to you.

(from a review of DuckTales Remastered)

This might seem odd for me since I frequently play "old-school"/"retro" games.  And sometimes I like them hard.  But not always.  I don't think that games somehow "ought" to be either hard or easy.  Yes, there was some more inconsistency in difficulty, due sometimes to intention and sometimes to design flaws, back in the day, or in different regions.  Some people have attributed this to the Japanese being more hardcore players (though Japanese NES games sometimes tend to be easier), while others have speculated it's because console games couldn't be credit-fed like arcade games are.  But whatever the reason, you have people often speaking of older games being harder, and how newer games are oh-so hand-holdy or they "baby" the player etc. etc. etc..

No, games shouldn't have been more difficult back in the day, unless that was the design intention.  If not, then they should have been designed better.  Yes, some of them were enjoyable even as difficult games, and if it was due to generally not giving the player any clue how to proceed at certain points, then we ought to be talking about whether that was a good thing for the game, and if it's something we want to see in a new game today, how to properly implement it (as I've heard Dark Souls has done, for example).  Difficulty is a gameplay feature that we should be considering as a part of design, asking how well it fits with the narrative.  Games aren't necessarily better or more authentically "retro" because they're harder.  Difficulty should fit the narrative experience the game provides.

TL;DR old games weren't better for being harder (or easier), so stop talking about games being harder "like old games", or reminiscing about how games were better when they were harder, or implying superiority of older, harder games than newer, easier ones.


  • Difficulty is a gameplay feature that we should be considering as a part of design, asking how well it fits with the narrative.  Games aren't necessarily better or more authentically "retro" because they're harder.  Difficulty should fit the narrative experience the game provides.

    Not everything needs to be related to the narrative.  Or rather, not all games need a narrative in the first place and even when they have one there's no requirement that it be more important than the other elements.

  • Creature - Florida Dragon Turtle Human

    Well I meant narrative as in, like, the sequence of how a player feels as they progress through the game.  Not necessarily story.  (I should probably have just said that difficulty should fit the intended experience.)

  • They're somethin' else.

    I enjoy difficult games more than I enjoy easier ones, but if a game is meant more as an experience (ala a truly narrative or aesthetic driven game where the machinery and mechanics of video games gets in the way, oddly enough), I would prefer them to be easier. To this day, I'm rather forgiving of games that take after Bioware and are button prompt story games, since the interactivity does a lot to a story.

    The fact that they are becoming the norm and the measure by which all games are judged, however, does not sit well with me.

  • edited 2014-05-11 03:53:39
    My arms are falling off!

    I like a good challenge, but I prefer that the difficulty come from the game legitimately testing the player's abilities rather than cheap screw-yous (e.g. Castlevania jump physics and sudden, out-of-nowhere attacks that the player would have no way of anticipating), the latter of which plague a lot of "retro" games. 

    I see some of my friends, particularly those around my age (mid-20's) and up, going on about how they miss the old days of gaming when games were hard "and therefore better". Fuck that. You can keep your nostalgia, there are still hard games being produced today, and with better-designed challenges, to boot. Even then, I'll take a slightly easier and well-designed game over a harder and poor-quality one.

  • They're somethin' else.

    Case in point, Demon's Souls:

    Good example of well designed difficulty: Everything

    Bad example: Valley of Defilement

  • edited 2014-05-11 13:13:07

    I don't recall anything wrong with the Valley of Defilement except that it was kind of hard to tell where you had to go and it's less fun than the other levels mostly by virtue of the fact that you couldn't tell where you had to go.  But that doesn't have anything to do with its difficulty overall.

  • Creature - Florida Dragon Turtle Human

    Well actually it seems the same principle applied to that since a lot of criticism of "fake difficulty" has to do with trial-and-error gameplay.

    But then again, I've seen that be a point of praise about the Dark Souls games...

  • Wasn't difficulty just a means of extorting more money out of you back in the arcade era?

  • edited 2014-05-11 16:39:36

    Video games in general are a means of extorting money out of you.

    Or rather, I don't see how the fact that a certain concept is able to be justified by "it makes money" also makes it bad and automatically undesirable.  Yeah, a lot of arcade games were hard so that people wouldn't play them for hours straight and would have to periodically put in more money, but it doesn't mean that people can't or don't legitimately like to play challenging video games.

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