June 28, 2013
Time to Dial up The Difficulty
As we go into a new generation of gaming this fall, I have looked back at this current one with fondness; but there are glaring issues that this generation have created. This past generation we had the console for everyone (the Wii) a tech powerhouse (the PS3) and a core console (the Xbox 3600). Now my issue I am diving into started just before this generation, but it became more prevalent as this generation continued to roll on; games have become too easy. I recently went back and played Mega Man 9, Bionic Commando: Rearmed, and a hand full of Mega Man NES titles on my 3DS, and I felt like I had missed a step. I felt like I may have been better at games 20 years ago, despite I play more games than ever and now judge them on merit. I played through Bionic Commando: Rearmed over the course of one evening, trying to get all the upgrades and complete the game which turned into a night of precision platforming and quick reactions. Though I wanted to snap my controller in frustration, I felt real reward for accomplishing what I did. As my retro kick was still in full effect I loaded up Mega Man 9 and was defeated by Splash Woman’s stage, which is considered the easiest of the lot. I recently tried to sit though Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 3 on the 3DS and was handed by blue bottom more so than not. I sat back and thought about my results of the past couple days of retro gaming and can place my blame on modern gaming.
In the current industry we want to tell stories and don’t want game mechanics to overshadow the writing. While I enjoy this in some games and genres I still think we need to look at the story as a reward in a sense. Take The Last of US that I have been playing recently. Naughty Dog could have added a regenerative health system and made the game a bit more easy, but they didn’t. I am making note of this game specifically because the writing and story are some of the best gaming has to offer right now. I have never felt so much sorrow, heartache, and terror in a game. The writing, direction, and voice acting take the game to another level, but I feel I get to enjoy these parts with out my hand being held to reach this points. The game requires you to manage inventories, deiced when it is a good time to fight or to run, and to scavenge for items to craft your own health, for with out this you won’t make it very far. The Halo series, my beloved Halo series, had fallen to the easy side after Halo: Combat Evolved. During the original Halo, you could not hide behind cover and simple become well again, you needed to find health packs, and be a bit more thorough before charging into a fight. In Halo 2 and beyond, you could charge into a battle, be hit several times, and then just go hide behind a rock until your boo boo healed. Because of the sale on the Wii U, I recently played Super Mario World (SNES) again and had a blast. It was difficult and it didn’t hold my hand like current entries in the series. Starting in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, they had something called the super guide in place. If you failed a level too many times you could kick in the super guide and it would walk you though on how to beat said level; where is the fun in that? On top of that finding 1-ups and gaining lives through coin collecting was at an all-time high. SO not only do I have 10’s of lives to burn I can also have the game show me how to play it, effectively killing any challenge the game might of had. The Soul series (Demon Souls and Dark Souls) have been the modern bastion of gaming difficulty. The games are difficult and can be mildly off putting from the start; but once you get the combat and how the game works, finishing quests has never been so gratifying.
The industry is a state of flux as we transition from one console generation to the next. New game mechanics can be implemented, new additions to how we program A.I. to out think us can be made, and looking to past to instill the future of gaming’s fun, yet challenging persona. In trying to further this entertainment medium, have we lost a core value? Do I want to save the galaxy by simply pushing a button, or do I want to save it by formulating strategies, using precise skill, and using that grey mushing thing three feet above what I am sitting on? In a world of instant gratification and the attention span that would insult a gnat, games have become lazy. Why spend 10-20 hours in a complex shooter like Half-Life, when in 4-5 hours I can sit on the explosion roller coaster that is Call of Duty. Do we need to cater to everyone? Most certainly, but do it in a way that makes us gamers, no matter the skill level, feel rewarded. Yes, there are difficulty levels, but as seen with the latest Borderlands 2 DLC, we will just through more enemies at you and make them annoying and cheap. Spamming enemies, or throwing so may at you the odds are never going to be in your favor isn’t good design because you come away feeling annoyed or cheated. I am not asking for the Battletoads friendship ending difficulty, but I am pulling my hand away because I am tired of it being held, I want more challenges. This is one thing our medium does better than the rest, it makes us work and think to get an ending or reach a climax in the story. In a movie, you can turn your brain off and enjoy the ride, a movie can be visual fluff. I am paying $10 to see that visual fluff, not investing $60. I hope games like The Last of Us show future game designers that we can have a great story, but we have to work for that reward. I play games and write about games because I love the experience they give me over other mediums. It is an interactive medium that makes you work for your end result, and more games should be fun, yet challenging. I hope that with the hit run of these classic remakes like Bionic Commando, and the wave of classic availability like Nintendo’s Virtual Console, we can strike a balance between a good difficulty and story telling; that game developers can make challenging, yet accessible titles.