Hard games have all but vanished

Where are all the difficult games?

I have been playing video games for most of my life. I have played games that could fall under almost any catagory you could come up with. One thing has been missing from several games lately, and that is a genuine challenge.
Maybe I'm a little idealistic, or wierd (they seem to overlap) but I like playing games that give me a good challenge. It seems that in many of the games released lately, the devolopers are confusing length with difficulty. The two concepts can be interconnected, but they are not interchangeable.

Take for example: Castlevania for the NES. This game (released in 1987) is relatively short, with only 6 stages. It is also one of the most difficult games I have ever played. In fact, I just recently (May of 2001) was able to complete this game. At this point, you are probably asking yourself, "Why would anyone want to play a game that hard? I mean, there aren't any cheats for it or anything!" The answer is simple: for the gratification. The feeling of completing something that took hours and hours of continuous play is indescribable.

This also brings me to my next point: strategy guides and cheat codes. Since about 2000, almost every time a new, big budget game comes out, the strategy guide comes out the same day (and sometimes days or even weeks before). I understand that not everyone is as "seasoned" as I am, but buying a new game and playing it with the strategy guide is like solving a crossword puzzle with the answer key right next to you. Sure, you get it done, but every time you get stuck, you instinctively reach for the guide to get you through the situations. Now don't get me wrong, I own several strategy guides, but I buy them after I've finished the game to see what I missed.

Cheat codes. Cheat codes have been around since almost the beginning of time. As the video game industry moves forward, it is increasingly expected that a game will have cheat codes in it for "super-invincibility" or "mega-dumb-enemy mode" or something similar. I have personally seen some people, the day they get the game (or maybe a day or two later) run to the Internet to find all the cheats for the game so that they can finish it. In fact, if there are (gasp!) no cheat codes for a game, people will insist that there must be, especially if the game is even a bit more difficult than they are used to. Finishing a game with the cheats (and never finishing the game without using them) is pretty cheap, and does not build skill. If you finish a game this way, you see all there is to see within a couple of days, and then you become bored with it, possibly feeling that you did not get your money's worth. Cheat codes can be fun after you've finished a game to goof around and show your friends how good you are, but they shouldn't be (necessarily) used your first time through any game.

Of course, my view could be skewed somewhat.

Like I said, I have been playing video games for most of my life. It is (remotely) possible that my skills and hand-eye coordination have improved over the last 15+ years to the point that the games aren't any easier, but I'm just that much better. I would like to think that, but it is difficult to argue with the facts I am presented with.