What’s happening to our games? No, I’m not talking about just MMORPGs, or even just PC games for that matter, but all games. The days of TMNT’s head-pummeling, patience-wearing underwater levels are all but done for. Back then, a Ninja Turtle game was one of the most hard core available, and it certainly wasn’t alone. Even Nintendo’s ever-living mascot, Mario, got his start with the unfailing ability to make us wring our own necks with controller-wires. To this day, I’ve not actually completed the original Super Mario Bros. through its entirety and without using warps. I remember long nights spent leveling up my hero in Breath of Fire on the SNES just to have it taken from me when I couldn’t get to the next save area before dying. Today, we old-school gamers are so worried about the raging war between the “hardcores” and the “casuals” that we don’t realize just how blurred and non-existent the battle lines are becoming.
These days, you’d be hard-pressed to find a game that offered the same kind of mind-numbing, thumb-blistering, difficulty seen in the lakes of the original Ninja Gaiden… except perhaps in the new Ninja Gaiden which purposefully harkens back to its grandpa with the intention of infuriating those who aim to beat it. Heck, you’d be hard-pressed most of the time to find any game that dares to kill the player’s character and make them actually feel bad about it. Most games don’t feature “Game Over” screens anymore, and those that do offer “RETRY” as an escape route. But is this really a bad thing?
Sure, when I was a kid I had little else to do after school than play videogames and waste hours restarting levels, or grinding slimes to level up my Dragon Warrior. But today, well sadly I don’t have that luxury. I want my games to know that I desperately want to sit at home in my pajamas all afternoon, eating Frosted Shredded Wheat and drinking Kool-Aid, but that I simply can’t. Luckily, for gamers like me, the developers now making games these days grew up around the same games I did, but now face the same problems I do. They know that games can’t punish the player the way A Bard’s Tale once did, or the way Wasteland did. They can’t mercilessly punish us the way Gunstar Heroes did, or break our thumbs the way Shinobi once did. But then, are games getting easier? Are we as gamers just getting better?
I think it’s quite a bit of both, actually. On one hand, I can play Metroid Prime 2 and see that designers know how to make a title difficult, but in a way that teaches you how to handle the challenges as the game progresses. Every enemy has its weak point; it’s only up to the player to exercise it. On the other hand, I can play a game like the new Zelda on Wii and not die once, rarely get stuck on a puzzle, and never feel truly threatened.
At 1st I thought that perhaps this new Zelda was intentionally easier, maybe to help entice the new market Nintendo is aiming for, but then I realized it’s very much like any other Zelda game, and that is the reason it seemed easier to me. That’s the reason any game with similar mechanics to a predecessor will seem easier than the 1st. It becomes familiar. A new puzzle in a new Zelda may be new, but it’s still a Zelda game, it’s still likely going to be about pushing or pulling blocks, and you’re still going to have to use one of your nifty items in some cool way or another.
This same logic, at least for my twisted thinking, can be applied then to all the games we’re seeing these days. There may very well be cases of “easy” games on the market, especially compared to the torture-cartridges of yesteryear, but a large part of why games are getting “easier” has more to do with our ability as humans to apply learned features to new things than anything else. Take LotRO, for example, to bring this little rant finally into a more relevant topic to my readers.
LotRO is, for the lack of a better word, derivative. Because of the controls, the user-interface, the design of classes and the mobs, there’s a sentiment among the vocal players that the game can feel too easy. I don’t think this is a fault of the developers so much as it is a strength of the players. Those of us who have been around the MMO scene for some time, come into LotRO with a knowledge of its inner workings, even without having ever played it. It’s not that Turbine’s game is any easier than WoW, or EQ2, or whatever, but rather that we tend to know what it’s going to throw at us before it has the chance to.
Most games that fall into “genres” suffer this fate. We know what to do in platformers, and it becomes up to the controls to make it worthy of our play. We know how to string combos and special movies in fighters, and it ends up being the difficulty of these that make or break the game. We know what types of plays work well in one football game, and so we try to mold our game around that in another one. We, even as geeky gamers, adapt and overcome.
Games may be becoming easier, as developers and publishers strive to reach out to non-gamer crowds, but rest assured that we “the hardcore” will always have some new crazy adventure to seek out, and put to the test of our keenly developed gamer senses. It makes the kid in me wonder just when something will come along that’s completely different, something we’ve never seen any element of before… and it makes me fear for my free time when it does. Because I’ll just have to beat the thing.