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.

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