Talk with any retro gamer and at some point the conversation will probably turn into a moan about how modern games are too easy compared with the titles of yesterday. I know because I’m guilty of this myself. Yet even with my rose-tinted retro gaming glasses on, this is one area where I think perhaps modern games have the edge over older ones.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not in favour of games that give you an Achievement merely for turning your console on or holding the controller the right way round. I like games that offer a decent challenge, but also ones where you at least have a reasonable chance of completing them, regardless of your playing abilities.
The thing is, despite a 30+ year “career” as a gamer, I’m not actually (whisper it) very good at them. I can probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of older games I managed to complete using my own skill, rather than resorting to cheat codes.
It’s no secret that most older games were rock hard. Memory and hardware restrictions often meant that they were relatively short, so to make up for this designers made them tough. Often they didn’t go through any sort of play-testing procedure, so the programmer (who knew everything about the game) underestimated its toughness and over-estimated the abilities of the average player. My gaming history is littered with titles that have been abandoned because I’ve reached the point where I could get no further.
When games were score attack titles this didn’t matter too much. Regardless of how rubbish you were, you could still look to beat your own high score (or those of friends). As games have become more narrative driven, it’s more important that everyone has a reasonable chance of getting to the end. After all, you wouldn’t expect to buy a book only to be told half way through that you could only read the rest of it if you demonstrated that you had a vocabulary that exceeded a certain level, would you?
Don’t get me wrong: I admire the incredible skills of those people who can rack up massive scores on the likes of Defender, Donkey Kong or Pac-Man and I fully appreciate that what is a tough challenge for me is a walk in the park for them. I can well understand the frustration of people who pay £40 for a game that they breeze through with barely a pause for breath; they want a challenge too.
For me, that’s where modern games have an edge over older ones. Generally speaking, older games played the same for everyone; modern games are able to offer a better balance. Some adapt to the ability of the player dynamically, automatically adjusting the difficulty level in response to their playing style. Others, like the Uncharted series or Batman: Arkham titles, offer a range of difficulty levels so that you can choose best suited to your abilities. If there’s the option to change this partway through (without having to start again from scratch), then that’s even better.
So yes, games have certainly got easier they have become more mainstream, but that just means that gaming idiots like me have a realistic chance of seeing the end credits – something I hardly ever did with the old 8 and 16 bit titles.