What Hard Games Can Teach Us About Game Design

Nearly 5 years ago, I wrote a piece about my perception that video games are getting easier, and implied that the degrading difficulty makes the games less rewarding to complete. I’ll admit that it’s supremely frustrating to make it to an end boss or a particularly tough snag and lose a hundred times (or more) in a row, but the draught of elation you enjoy when you finally clear it is made all the sweeter when it’s chasing so many mugs of bitter defeat.

Games that provide a genuine challenge are one of the main reasons I like to keep my old systems around. The games and their tasks present a set of goals to achieve rather than a ‘to-do’ list on your tour of the virtual game world, slogging through the elements that break up the story.

There is a rather lengthy feature over at Gamasutra with a retrospective on some of the most difficult games and what they can teach us about designing games today. Though he paints games like Defender in a more favorable light than I would he makes a lot of good points. I particularly liked this bit:

“But this is not to say that games must be easy. The impulse to make video games easier can be traced to a fundamental change in perception over what a game should be. The older school of thought, which dates back and beyond the days of Space Invaders to the era of pinball, is that a game should measure the player’s skill. Arcade games, in fact, must make it difficult for a player to last for any great length of time in order to keep money coming into the coin box. The newer concept is that a game should provide an experience to the player. The player is to feel like some character, or like he’s participating in a story, or that he’s making some difference in a fictional realm.”

Of course, there is room for both. Indigo Prophecy wasn’t hard in the slightest, but still very good, and by all accounts Ninja Gaiden was supremely difficult while simultaneously a whole lot of fun.

The article is certainly worth a read, especially if mentions one of my favorite overlooked games, Mischief Makers.