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A lot of people have bemoaned that modern games are way too easy. However, are all of them as easy as they say. And what sort of things can be done to add challenge to games.

Corey Moore, Blogger

July 9, 2012

5 Min Read

Of the games I’ve played over the years, I’ve noticed something. Very rarely did I end up beating my older games, yet with more modern games I either beat them or lose interest. Of course, I’ve had many years to improve my technique and some games where I was too scared to progress don’t scare me as much today. However, I’ve gone back and played some old games and they ended up killing me. Games today are a lot more forgiving than they were back when DOS and the NES reigned supreme. Maybe it’s just me, but have you ever noticed how many people today say they’ve finished a game rather than they say they’ve beat a game?

"That's the way it was, and we LIKED IT!" 

I’ve heard a lot of descriptions of games today compared to games of back when. “Dumbed down”, “Made for ****ing casuals”, “Mainstream” and “Simplified” all come to mind. An easy game isn’t necessarily a bad game, but many gamers demand a challenge.  Games quickly become boring if the player isn’t sufficiently challenged, and eventually, the player may elect for a self-imposed challenge just to spice things up.

There are several kinds of challenges that gamers like to perform, depending upon the game’s genre. Some of them include only using the default gear, getting the lowest completion percentage possible, or go through the game without taking any damage at all. Many games throughout the ages recognize players who complete the game 100% or complete the hardest difficulty, but only few recognize those challenges that fans come up with. One notable example is Shadow Complex, which has an achievement for getting the lowest percentage possible and still beating the game.

While creating a sufficiently difficult game is vital to creating a good challenge, the difficulty should still be fair. Difficulty must never come from bad game design. Sure, a game where the vital plot coupons are in obscure locations that require a series of illogical triggers to even make visible and several more to collect may definitely make a difficult game, but a good challenge it does not. All it does is force the player to wander around aimlessly, fidgeting every button at everything hoping for a reaction of some sort. Imagine if Myst didn’t provide any ingame clues as to where you are supposed to go and what you are supposed to do. Instead of being remembered as a classic, it would be remembered as an incoherent mess of a game.

In a Gamespot review of Metroid Prime 3, one of the things the reviewed marked the game down for was that the controls were too good, as if the Retro should have purposefully made the controls worse to up the challenge.  There is no such thing as controls that are too good. It’s one of the prime factors that separate a good game from a bad one, and purposefully making bad game design choices is a lazy way of creating difficulty.  In fact, I could easily make any game harder by smacking the player in the face every 3 seconds while yelling, “boogity-boogity-boo.” It wouldn’t be fun at all, but still challenging.

Another thing that should be avoided especially is trial-and-error game play. In a good game, the payer should be able to collect all of the knowledge needed and beat the game in one clean run. Forcing the player to play through multiple times just to find the correct path is not only an example of bad game design, but also an example of difficulty that disappears over time. Although it’s hard the first time, it becomes an absolute joke the next time. Note that this is different than simply needing practice to get through hard sections of the game. It does seem like trial and, though the end result is much more reward and even after you complete it, it still isn’t easy the next time. Some unexpectedness can keep a game interesting, but if every task is overcome by playing through over and over, there is a problem.

Dirk the Daring
Dirk the Daring: Patron saint of trial-and-error gameplay and using quicktime events before it was popular. 

 However, for all the complaints about games becoming easier these days, there are still some modern examples of extremely hard games. One of the more famous ones is I Wanna Be the Guy. The game controls well and provides a nice throwback to the days of 8 and 16 bits, but it is also extremely difficult. On almost every screen, there is something hidden that can kill you in one hit, and it often comes from where you least expect it.  Even if you know where the traps are and how the bosses move, you will still need all of your platforming, shooting and dodging skills to make it through the game. True, it relies a lot on trial and error, but it still remains hard even with prior knowledge. Another good example is Halo 3. In additional to the brutal Legendary mode, there are also hidden skulls which add even more challenges, such as having no checkpoints, no radar and enemies being able to dodge your shots.

Should all games strive for I Wanna Be the Guy-level difficulty? Certainly not, simply because that is not what every gamer wants. Some people would rather enjoy the story and others don’t want the game to be absolutely merciless. This is all perfectly fine, despite several people who would proclaim that you are playing it wrong. The main point is not to forget about the gamers who’ve already beaten your game and want a bigger challenge, but have to create their own. By providing these challenges, not only does it show a connection to the gamers who have invented them but will also add longetivity to the game.

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